Saturday, March 28, 2009

GeekTonic Week In Review: March 28, 2009

I've neglected my blogging schedule a bit this past week, but still managed to share a few posts on the GeekTonic blog this week.  In case you missed anything from the past week, here is a summary of the past week's news and stories on GeekTonic.

Week In Review:


Stay tuned for more in-depth content for Media Gadget Fans at  If you’re in to the Twitter thing, be sure and follow me on twitter under the name GeekTonic.  Thanks for Reading GeekTonic!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Deal of the Day: $20 Off SageTV HD Theater $25 Off Bundle

If you've been sitting on the fence waiting for the SageTV's popular SageTV HD Theater, now is your time. 

  • $20 off SageTV HD Theater $179.95 (Normally Sells for $199.95) plus $12 shipping
  • $25 off SageTV HD Theater and SageTV Media Center for Windows software $224.95 (Normally Sells for $249.95)

To get your $20 or $25 off, use coupon code "MMAD09" at Checkout.  Coupon Expires April 1, 2009

I haven't seen a discount like this for anything SageTV for a very long time.  A great deal!

Curious about the SageTV HD Theater?  Check out the thorough GeekTonic HD Theater review

Interested in what the SageTV HTPC software can do?  Read the GeekTonic Ultimate Guide to SageTV


Stay up to date with all the gadget deals at

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Media Gadget Showcase - Home Theater PC Setup by ZetaVu

Our fourth submission for the GeekTonic Media Gadget Showcase Series is a Home Theater PC and Digital Media-Powered Home.  ZetaVu, a frequent commenter and guest blogger on GeekTonic shows us his HTPC/Digital Media setup includes quite a mixture including Snapstream's BeyondTV HTPC setup, DirecTV, a VCR and even a Betamax!  Read on for his great write-up with photos to share.

NOTE:  This is a guest post by ZetaVu.  To read more about how to submit your photos and/or write-ups for the GeekTonic Media Gadget Showcase Series, read this.  Basic guidelines for writing and submitting a guest post at GeekTonic can be found here.


Ok, I've been meaning to document my home theater setup, and considering it is rainy and nasty outside today looked like the day. That and I think I've gotten it finally to the point where I am happy enough not to tinker with it for a while.

First off, I'll break it down by room. My main home theater is in the family room, which is halfway under ground but makes for a good hub location. More importantly my office is right next to it (behind the tv) and since that is the only room my wife lets me tinker it is essential to the insane wiring setups I feed the house with. It also lets me use my main computer monitor as a second monitor for the htpc computer. I went with a 22" Samsung LCD, beyond the excellent screen quality it has a front panel button that lets me switch between inputs with one press. I also keep my cable modem and router in this room, along with a LaserJet printer/fax that serves as a printer for my htpc if I need one. I've turned the joining wall into a closet (my wife had me put a curtain along the entire wall, meaning I can do whatever I want there and she can cover it up to keep me from embarrassing her).

Samsung 46

My main TV is also a Samsung, 46" LCD, mounted to the wall with a two piece Sanus wall mout LRF118-B1 articulating arm and the Sanus Lr1A-B1 In-Wall Mount. This was an essential purchase as my wife would not tolerate the LCD sticking 4-6" away from the wall, and I wanted a full articulating wall mount. The wall portion of this mount is connected inside the wall between the studs, and when fully compacted the LCD sits less than an inch from the wall. Total cost was about $400 between Amazon and, and well worth it for the WAF.

In-Wall articulating TV mount

Now my setup requires two things, first is complete HTPC integration, and second is computer free operation for when my wife doesn't want to think about it. This means redundant connections to TV and throughout the house, an incredibly simple remote system, and no visible cables or ugly components. Fortunately I had a nice component cabinet with glass doors and a covered base. However, this meant I also had to make an enclosed wire path for the cables, and fortunately having my office behind an enjoining wall helped us out here.

Audio Cabinet

HTPC under the Audio Cabinet

To save on length and give me more flexibility on the component side, I decided to run a straight path between the TV and the component cabinet. This involved strategic drilling and a length of 1" PVC pipe that I fed through holes drilled in the studs (did not want to weaken the wall). Fortunately, I already had a hole cut in my office wall from a previous project, so I could use that as a guide during the process. Everything else was a lot of spackling and painting after the fact. End result was a minimum 10 foot cable length, meaning I could use 12 or 15 foot cables depending how much slack I wanted.

Cables piped through wall

I originally had my HTPC in the office and ran cables through the wall, but I decided it would be more convenient to put it in the bottom of my component cabinet, closer to my receiver and STB's. For temperature control I pulled the back off the bottom of the cabinet, and since I already had the base of that wall opened to outside concrete for my satellite and antenna cables, I was able to take advantage of the natural cooling from the outside underground wall. As a precaution I also added an adjustable speed fan directly on my hard drives, and taped the fan temperature sensor directly on my data drive. I also put my Electroline 8-port antenna amplifier for my OTA antenna (roof mounted arrow style), and my battery backup and surge protectors there. My latest addition was to move my second H20 Directv STB down there, since stacking two STB's generated too much heat in the top part of the cabinet, and my wife objected to the ugly silver STB.


Battery Backup and Cable Amps

In the main component area, I have a VCR and my black H21 STB, along with the Hauppauge HD PVR for that box. Next shelf up is my Yamaha RX V663 receiver, along with my Ipod dock and my home made LCD Smartie display. Tucked away as well is Universal Blaster 100, which sends individual IR blasters to all my components and receives RF inputs from my three identically programmed RF10 remotes. This has eliminated line of site issues for everything but the tv set. It also works on the same RF frequency as Radio shack or Jenson IR extenders, of which I have several.


Receiver and components

RF10 Universal Remote

My HTPC is a custom build, Foxconn NF4UK8AA-8EKRS AMD motherboard with 4200-X2 processor, 2gb Corsair memory, Asus Earthmate 430 PS and PNY 8500 GT video card. My internal tuners are an Hauppauge HVR1600 (which also has the IR remote), and an HVR2250 dual input PCIe. I also have an HVR950 and HD PVR connected by USB. In addition to the Hauppauge remote I also have an ATI Remote Wonder, and can use my PDA via wifi as a remote. I control my STB's with serial cable tuners, null modem cables with Iogear GUC232A usb/serial adaptors. Total hard drive space is 1TB. I also have wireless mouse and keyboard and a second set of usb mouse and keyboard in my office. OS is XP SP2, I use BeyondTV as my PVR and Media Portal for all other HTPC functions. I control all remotes with EventGhost, using keyboard shortcuts in each program so I can program the remotes any way I want. The Hauppauge remote can be programmed into my RF10 learning remotes, meaning I can finally control all my hardware components and my HTPC with one, count it, ONE remote.

Going through the wall to my tv is the power (so I can run it on the surge protector), two HDMI cables (one for my H21 box, one for the Yamaha), one set of component cables and one VGA cable (both go to my HTPC, have not decided which works better yet), a toslink optical to output the TV to my Yamaha, one audio line (HTPC 2 channel) and my amplified antenna coaxial. I had tried using DVI-HDMI for this tv but because of the way NVidia sets up their drivers, my TV won't recognize the external audio input if I send HDMI (it looks for audio through HDMI and my card does not have that). Since I did not see any major quality difference, I use either VGA or component to my main TV, and send the DVI to my monitor in my office. My motherboard also lets me output 2 channel sound through the analog output and SPDIF through the coaxial output simultaneously.

Office monitor

My second STB (the H20) connects to my Yamaha via HDMI. I also connect my VCR to the Yamaha, and use the HDMI from that to the TV if I want to watch those directly (upconverting the VCR). The VCR also has inputs from both STB's and has coaxial output feeding the rest of the house. This lets me play either STB on any other tv in the house (using an RF remote or IR extender to control channels and switch inputs on the VCR). I also have computers by my other two tv's that either run BTV link or can access my server via the webadmin to play shows or live TV. Hence, the versatility.

Velodyne amplified subfwoofer

Polk front speaker

In Wall Sonance Speakers

My family room came pre-installed with Sonance in-wall speakers which were of pretty good quality, so all I needed to do was to add a Velodyne amplified subwoofer and three Polk speakers (center and far back) to get a decently balanced 7.1 surround sound environment (the Yamaha microphone balanced the various speakers quite well). In addition, I setup Zone 2 of my receiver to feed a wireless speaker transmitter, letting me place one set of speakers in our dining room and another set upstairs. I also ran some wires to my backyard deck for Zone2 as well, with an in-wall switch to turn those outdoor speakers on and off. This lets me control audio in any room, or my deck using either the RF remotes or my PDA with wifi. I have a few programs on my HTPC that interact with my PDA, one with Media Portal, one just as a blind media player. These let me view my music library on the PDA and control and navigate the audio from any room.

Upstairs setup

My two other entertainment rooms are my basement and my spare bedroom (which my son has now moved into). The spare bedroom has my old Sony 40" projection tv, just shy of HD resolution. That tv is setup to receive the coaxial from the VCR downstairs, letting it receive either Directv STB. The H20 also has an antenna input for local HD channels, so I was able to pull the converter box off this TV. It also has a local DVD player, my son's Wii, and an s-video connection to his computer in the next room (running BTV Link). That computer also has an ATI Remote Wonder, so he can control BTV Link from the spare bedroom. He has his own custom programmed RF10 remote so he can control all components in the family room from upstairs. I also have a working Betamax VCR setup here, although I expect my remaining Beta movies will be unwatchable soon, however how many people can claim to still have a working Betamax?

Basement Audio System


My last setup is in the basement. I used to have a 19" tv mounted to the wall, but now I just use my old 19" lcd monitor with my ready to be replaces computer. (an old K7S5A motherboard). That system I am using as my Ubuntu Studio test build, although I also have an XP install on it. For Ubuntu I've been using the Beyondtv placeshifter with VLC player. I'm hoping to eventually get BTV Link to work under Wine (or eventually shift to a linux friendly solution) but for now things work well enough not to  mess with it. I also use this computer as my audio capture system (loaded with my Creative Audigy platinum card). Next to it is my old stereo system, including working turntable and cassette player (I have a reel to reel player stashed away as well if the urge ever comes over me. I've used this with Audacity to convert some of my collectors albums into fairly decent MP3 files.

LCD Smartie

And I just completed the last piece to my dual option media network. The Directv STB's are used for recording through BeyondTV as well as watching directly on TV, so there is always the chance that someone will unknowingly change channels on a STB during a recording. Initially I started with my homemade LCD smartie, which lists if there is a current recording, when it ends, when the next recording is, and which STB it is using. This almost worked, whenever my wife remembered to check the LCD before changing channels, but it did nothing if my son was watching up in his room. Next solution was to build an LED alert system using Ledsdriver. I took a usb to serial adaptor, and a serial to ethernet adaptor, and then some old Ethernet connections from work to make a cross room system. I had already wired Ethernet cables to every room in the house and was not using the cable in the spare bedroom. Following the Ledsdriver instructions, I wired up two leds through the Ethernet cable into the spare bedroom. I then made up some batch files that worked off of LCDSmartie to turn the LED's on when each of the STB's was recording. This gave him an alert not to change channels on the stb when the light was on.

Ledsdriver indicator

Ledsdriver - receiver

Ledsdriver - sender

Then, since I use serial port tuners for my boxes, I devised a more advanced batch file that would disable the IR remote on each STB during recordings. This way, even if my family completely ignored all the indicators I setup for them, the still would not be able to change channels during recordings.

Well, that's about it. It's obviously not the most complex or all encompassing system in the world, but it has made our world just that much more convenient.



About ZetaVu:  "ZetaVu is a frequent commenter and Guest-Poster at GeekTonic with a great deal of knowledge with HTPC's and other media gadgets.  I've gotten to know him from the many hours spent on the Snapstream, MediaPortal , AVS and other Forums where you'll often find him (under the same online name).  His past guest posts include iPod Without iTunes and Video Editing Power Tools both of which are great reads.

If you'd like to have your setup or media gadgets highlighted, and want a chance to win some gift certificates read the guidelines for submission here.  We're looking for things as simple as a few photos of your favorite media-related gadgets or as elaborate as the ZetaVu's setup outlined above, Damian's HTPC setup, Dennis's home theater setup from last week and Sodarkangels HTPC build from earlier.  Either way, join in on the GeekTonic flickr group and upload your media gadget photos!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Deal of the Day: Logitech diNovo Mini Keyboard $95

Logitech diNovo Mini Keyboard

I've been told by many folks that this Logitech diNovo Mini Keyboard is one of the best HTPC keyboard options available.  I haven't reviewed it yet but will be doing so.

If you want one, this is the best deal I've seen ever.  Just head to Dell using the link below and enter the 30% coupon code 739PKVBXNL?Z3L

Logitech diNovo Mini Keyboard $95.19 ($135.19 - $40) after coupon 739PKVBXNL?Z3L

found via MissingRemote

Boxee Announces Official Pandora Support, API and More

The Boxee Team was in New York for a meetup and had a few interesting announcements including:

  • New alpha version of Boxee
  • Partnership with Pandora (monetized using their new audio ads)
  • Partnership with RadioTime (a service that lets users play local radio stations - 100k worldwide)
  • More robust API (on which Pandora and RadioTime were built) with support for development in Python
  • New XUL-based framework (Mozilla) for the boxee browser to enable us to more easily interact with any web-based video
  • PBS application developped by and available in their boxee App repository

Pandora in Boxee

RadioTime in Boxee


The official support for Pandora and RadioTime are both great additions.  Knowing that the support is sanctioned by those particular apps is a good thing given the trouble Boxee has had with Hulu.  The new API is a great move that should help Boxee continue to grow and get even better functionality.  Finally the XUL framework sounds a little geeky, but basically that should give Boxee access to consistent Hulu streams.  Unless Hulu cuts off viewing in a firefox browser, Boxee has probably solved the Hulu problem.

I watched the first part of the Boxee Meetup which was streamed over the web and must say things weren't going well for Avner during the beginning of his demo.  They seemed to get things worked out, but it was a little painful to watch the Boxee app not work at first and then see them have audio problems during the demonstration.

Read More at the Boxee Blog

Media Center Plugin Brings Netflix Hulu and more Online Video via PlayIt


The developer for the popular VMCNetflix plugin has created a new Streaming Video plugin for VMC users.  This latest plugin called VMCPlayIt is an add-in for Microsoft Windows Vista Media Center which provides a front-end interface to the PlayOn digital media server software for Vista Media Center PCs and Extenders.  The PlayOn server software (see  currently supports Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, CBS,  CNN, ESPN, and more.




  • Microsoft Windows Vista with Media Center (Premium or Ultimate), or greater OS (I'm not sure if it works on Windows 7 or not)
  • PlayOn Digital Media Server software ( Currently Costs $40
  • A broadband internet connection

I purchased PlayOn when it was in beta to view Netflix, Amazon VOD and Hulu on my SageTV HD Theaters.  It was a bit cheaper at that point and I'm not positive I'd pay the $40 for the current version as it still has some bugs and isn't the easiest to navigate.  But PlayOn does offer a 14 day free trial so if you're a Windows Media Center user, give this thing a try and let us know how its working for you.


Read More about VMCPlayIt and get the download Here


via MissingRemote

Monday, March 23, 2009

Deal of the Day: Hauppauge HD-PVR $154

Hauppauge Computer HD PVR High Definition Personal Video Recorder

It's back.  After selling out of these earlier this month, Dell has the Hauppauge HD-PVR component tuners (read more about it here) back in stock and it's even cheaper with a new coupon code.  Dell has a sale going for the HD-PVR's for $153.99  $219.99 - 30% coupon code 739PKVBXNL?Z3L with Free Shipping!

Dell (affiliate) has the Hauppauge Computer HD PVR High Definition Personal Video Recorder for $219.99 - 25% coupon ($66) = $153.99 Free Shipping.


If you're planning to get one don't wait - the offer expires next week, March 31st 2009 if they don't sell out first.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen TV Schedule

If you're a basketball fan, you've probably been watching the NCAA tournament this year in all of its HD glory.  If so, here's the game times for the next round (sweet sixteen) of the tournament for Thursday and Friday this week:

All Times Eastern

Thursday March 26, 2009

West Bracket - U of Phoenix Stadium - Glendale, AZ

  • 5 Purdue versus 1 Connecticut 7:07 PM
  • 3 Missouri versus  (2) Memphis 9:37 PM

East Bracket - Boston Garden - Boston, MA

  • 4 Xavier versus 1 Pittsburgh 7:27 PM
  • 3 Villanova versus  2 Duke 9:57 PM

Friday March 27, 2008

Midwest - Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN

  • 12 Arizona versus 1 Louisville 7:07 PM
  • 3 Kansas versus 2 Michigan State 9:37 PM

South - FedExForum - Memphis, TN

  • 3 Syracuse versus  2 Oklahoma 7:27 PM
  • 4 Gonzaga versus 1 North Carolina 9:57 PM


So at my house we'll be watching the Missouri Game on Thursday and the Kansas and Oklahoma Game on Friday with an eye on all of the games of course.  I'm hoping against all odds that we'll see three of the four teams that make it to the final four come from the Big 12.  My odds of that happening are fairly slim, but its definitely something to hope for.  All of the games will be aired on CBSHD and CBS depending on your regional market.


The next round (Elite Eight) comes around on Saturday and Sunday.  If I'm not heartbroken (in sports fan terms) for any reason by then I'll publish the game times for those rounds on Friday. 

By the way, if you're a sports fan and care about your sports in HD, be sure and check out the excellent "Living High Def" site by Phil Lozen.  He covers all things Microsoft Media Center and does a regular HD Sports Roundup post talking about all of the sporting events coming up in the next few days.

TV Premieres: What to Watch March 22 - 28

Week 12 of the Winter (almost Spring) 2009 TV Season has arrived.  Several new and returning shows and plenty of basketball in store for the week.  Read on for all of the details.
     Samantha Who?
       Samantha Who? returns on ABC Thursday Night


Premieres and Returning Shows For this Week:

Sunday 03/22/2009

No New Premieres


Monday 03/23/2009

Roommates (9pm on ABC Family) - The series premiere

Sophie (9:30pm on ABC Family) - The series premiere


Tuesday 03/24/2009

College Hill: South Beach (10pm on BET) season premiere


Wednesday 03/25/2009

Survivor: Tocantins (8pm on CBS) The popular reality TV show gets pushed up a night from its normal time due to the much more interesting :) NCAA Basketball Tournament.


Thursday 03/26/2009

The NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournament Returns for the regional semifinal (8pm on CBS)

In the Motherhood (8pm on ABC) series premiere

Samantha Who? (8:30pm on ABC) Samantha Who returns after a break


Friday 03/27/2009

NCAA Basketball Championship (8pm on CBS) regional semifinal double header


Saturday 03/28/2009

NCAA Basketball Championship (8pm on CBS) regional final double header

Nora Roberts' Midnight Bayou (9pm on Lifetime) A made-for-TV movie for the wife


That’s it for this week.  Stay tuned for a few more premieres which you’ll find on GeekTonic this coming Sunday morning and each week on Sundays.  I'm working on the Summer TV Premiere List that should be ready in the next few weeks.


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