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Thursday, April 16, 2009
The seventh submission for the GeekTonic Media Gadget Showcase Series is a Home Theater and HTPC setup by Blaze818, a GeekTonic reader and HTPC enthusiast. Read on for his great write-up with photos to share all about his unique entrance into the HTPC world and how over the years his HTPC setup has evolved into something really nice.
NOTE: This is a guest post by Blaze818. 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.
The Beginning - College Days
My intro into Home theatre PC’s was kind of a train wreck, as I am sure many people have experienced. It all started when my friend got an early TiVo, and since I didn’t have a home phone line (and never will), I had to figure out a way to out-do him. So, I went online and purchased myself an ATI TVWonder due to the low price. That system also had an AMD barthon 2.01ghz and 512 ram, and I don’t really remember the rest. The picture was absolutely horrendous but I pushed on through! In my college house me and my roommate built a stadium seating setup and used a projector, along with a king size bed sheet pinned to the wall for our 120” screen. It didn’t really help the picture, but I didn’t know any other 19 year old kid with a screen that big so we went for it. We got all of the wood from construction dumpsters so the whole thing was pretty much free.
First BeyondTV HTPC System
Taking the HTPC System to the Next Level - My Current Setup
So, after rockin’ the kiddie setup I took things to the next level, and with many “filler” HTPC’s in between I have ended up with what is, in my opinion, a pretty serious setup. I am not going to say that there isn’t better available, but as everyone knows, money is the name of the game.
The HTPC Server
Lian Li PCV 880 HTPC Case
BeyondTV with Metallic Black Theme and widescreen icons
BeyondTV Server Specs
- Maxent 50" 1080i Monitor
- AMD Phenom II X4 920
- Mobo: Gigabyte MA770-UD3
- 4 GB DDR2 1066mhz
- Recorded Shows: WD 250GB x2 RAID 0
- Operating System: WD 250GB SATAII (XP SP3)
- NVidia GeForce 9800 GT
- HVR 1800, HVR 1600, PVR 500, HVR 2250
- Yup...8 tuners 4 QAM, 3 Analogue, 1 Digital STB
- HD PVR (Pace DVR Box)
- Harmony 550 - Firefly Mini
- DiNovo Mini Keyboard
- iPod Touch (remote)
As far as software is concerned, I am currently running BeyondTV(BTV) 4.9.1 6192 (for DVR), Beyond Media (for my DVD collection), Winamp (Music), Intelliremote by melloware (for non-line of sight control of my BTV and Winamp), and that’s about it. Learning from many system failures I like to keep my BTV server slim. In fact the XP installed is an nLited (stripped down) version to get rid of the BS and to make it a little snappier as well. If you are interested in doing something like this to your next XP or Vista install, I suggest you check out an article written by CPU magazine that goes into the necessary background and steps to do it correctly. It took me a few versions to get correct because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really mess up an nLited version of XP.
I know that there are so many other options for playback of my DVD library such as, XBMC and Meedio to name a couple, but I have stayed strong with Beyond Media. I just really like the simplicity of the whole program. I don’t even use the DVD library plug-in available, only because I have so many movies. My library currently consists of about 2,300 DVDs and over 700 GB of television series. I can’t stand missing some of the DVD’s cover art or having to re-label them for the plug-in to find the correct cover art to download. To get around this I simply added my video folders that are network drives to the movies section. I can then work within the file tree that I have created, and maybe more importantly, a system my girlfriend can understand.
Because if there is one thing that I have learned about building this all-encompassing HTPC is that when she isn’t happy…no one is!
But she has been amazingly understanding with my never ending quest.
Snapstream's BeyondMedia with Metallic Black Theme
The Remote Controls that Control It All
NetRemote on my HTC Advantage
Intelliremote may be one of the best universal non-line of sight remotes I have tried, and I have tried quite a few. Another one that I was pretty happy with was NetRemote Media Bridge. I used this software together with my HTC Advantage and it makes Winamp (and many other media programs) your bitch! The major feature I enjoyed was the fact that you can remotely browse your media library and play any of your selections all through your homes network.
Now to my current love Intelliremote. This is a highly customizable, universal network remote that will even do some of the features that EventGhost and even Girder offer. I would like to think that I know a thing or two about computers but I could not for the life of me completely figure out how to make Girder work for me. I could get it to do simple things but never exactly how I wanted it to work, but with a few simple tweaks on the Server side of Intelliremote and with 10 minutes out of my day I had it all figured out. I would also like to give props to the developer because he is on the forums (melloware.com) daily answering almost all questions with amazing customer support. From what I’ve seen, it is pretty hard to find a developer that pays so much attention to all of their iPhone/ iPod Touch apps (13 total).
Melloware also offers a program called ZWave Commander which I use to control my house lights and any other Zwave products I may acquire in the future. ZWave products are amazingly useful (and cool!). I suggest you check it out for yourself because I don’t think I will do a description of the possibilities any justice.
My remote entourage also includes a Harmony 550 and a DiNovo Mini keyboard.
Entourage of Remotes
Intelliremote Interface (Amazing!)
I cannot forget to mention Boxee, as it is a very important part of my setup in the living room and Kitchen PC. As many of you know Boxee offers a variety of online and local media services. As of this article Boxee has released a new update allowing Mac OSX users to access Hulu and Pandora. Windows and Ubuntu still have offerings but nothing that will support Pandora and Hulu at this time, but for now I am fine with using Last.FM and all the other offered online video repositories on my XP and Ubuntu systems. Boxee also offers an iPhone app that is great. It will act as a Wifi remote and even show you the cover art of what is currently playing. So if you haven’t used it I don’t know what you’re waiting for…go on and hop on that band wagon!
iPhone app displaying cover art from Last.FM
My living room setup also includes a satellite media system running MyTheatre.
- Intel Celeron 2.66 ghz
- 1 GB Ram
- OS/Recorded Shows: 150GB Seagate
- ATI Radeon 9550
MyTheatre In Action
The Office Media Server
Now on to the Media Server in the office,
Media Server Specs
- AMD 64 X2 5200
- Asus M3N78 PRO
- 4GB DDR2
- 8TB total storage
- XP (SP3) nLite
Personal Desktop Specs
- Asus M2N-E
- AMD 64 X2 4600
- OS Drive: Velociraptor 150GB
- Storage: 120GB WD SATA II
- Nvidia 8800
- XP (SP3)
- PowerPC G5 2.2
- 7GB Ram
- OS Drive: 120GB WD
- Storage: 250GB WD
From left to right, Server, Personal Desktop, Mac G5 for Graphics
The Office Rig
My office is where I keep most of the good stuff. I have my personal desktop, my server and my Mac G5 for doing all my graphic design work, which I can switch to with the use of a KVM switch.
The server is a headless unit that is controlled by VNC Viewer. There’s not too much going on here, but it does run my FTP server (BPFTP), ZWave Server, Everything search engine server. It also serves up all of the media to the entire house, done by a 10/1000 home network. The FTP server is pretty self explanatory, but my favorite part is the media search engine called Everything. This is a program that will index all of your drives (amazingly fast) and make them searchable. It sounds simple, but wait there’s more! It comes with a built-in HTTP Server and FTP Server. The HTTP server is my favorite because it gives you a simple interface that is accessible anywhere in the world. I seem to use it mostly at the bar where I work. When someone wants to hear a song that I don’t have on my computer there, I can simply search my 185,000 mp3 library. Once the song is found, I can easily download it to the local computer. Visit www.voidtools.com to check it out.
All of the computers in my house are controlled by my trusty PowerBook G4, which sits wedged into my couch pillows in my living room. Every computer has a static ip assigned to it and a VNC Viewer so that I can work on them remotely while I enjoy some TV, because that’s really what it’s all about. I also do most of my tweeting (twitter.com/blaze818), internet surfing and venting on the Snapstream Forums from this command post. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t Google my every waking thought.
A few odds and ends in my house include a BTV Link client in the bedroom. It’s just a Dell tower I acquired in my travels and is only powerful enough to play SD shows. I also have a laptop setup in the kitchen for the girlfriend to look up recipes, stream BTV through place shifting, or listen to music.
Bedroom BeyondTV Link Client PC with TV
Kitchen Laptop Display
I hope that something in my setup has inspired you and I look forward to hearing about everyone else’s so that I can make mine even better. Feel free to e-mail me at "blaze818 at gmail dot com" for questions or comments.
About blaze818: Daniel (blaze818) got his first taste of electronics while in high school by working in an auto electronics shop installing custom sound and computer systems in all kinds of cars. As a Communications PR graduate of Texas Tech University, he expanded his interest from car audio systems into home networking and graphic design. He dove in head first created a virtual movie house, complete with stadium seating, surround sound and full projection viewing that became the place to catch a flick and FEEL the sound. Starting his own graphic design and promotion company, DangerousPromotions.net, while bar tending at night to fill the holes, he gained most of his knowledge about computers, networking and graphic design from research on the Internet. His next step is a planned move to Dallas to immerse himself in the knowledge base of advanced computer technologies available, focusing on gaining full certification in several fields. His goal, to position himself to play in the corporate world of computing. You can find him on Twitter (blaze818) or the Snapstream Forums posting his life away. Thanks to Daniel for sharing his media setup.
If you'd like to have your setup or media gadgets highlighted, and want a chance to win some Amazon.com spending cash via gift certificate 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 the HTPC setup outlined above or any of our past features like:
- ZetaVu's HTPC setup
- Damian's HTPC setup
- Dennis's home theater setup
- Sodarkangels HTPC build
- Wayner's HTPC setup
- Suresh's Home Theater and HTPC Build
Either way, join in on the GeekTonic flickr group and upload your media gadget photos!
Monday, April 13, 2009
This is a guest post by Ray, many know him as GhostLobster on the web
OK, whatever remnants from the U.S.S.R. are still straggling around, you can now extend the finger of your choice at the rest of us and give us a resounding “I told you so!” In this one case, you may have been right. Jere Jones, developer of Show Analyzer, has a Stalin-esq dream of a world in which we all share commercial skipping data as members of a large, happy community that never has to watch Billy Maze and his Mighty Putty again.
Commercial Skipping in HTPC's Today
There are a core group of independent developers who have written applications for home theater computers (HTPCs) which, to paraphrase Andy Vt who is one of the best, Enable Laziness. One of the cornerstone families of these applications is the commercial detection and skipping group. In a very George Jetson-like moment of inspiration, someone realized that holding down the fast forward button during a commercial was just too straining on the thumb, so he/she wrote a tool that would scan a video file, locate the locations of our friend Mr. Maze and his cohorts within the file, and mark the commercials in such a way so that the commercial is skipped over while playing back. “Brilliant!” (holding up a Guinness.) When the dust settled, 2 applications remained as the main players in this arena, Comskip and Jere Jones’ Show Analyzer.
With the recent advancements in the HTPC world, different file formats have emerged necessitating the need for new tools that support new file formats. Comkip and Show Analyzer are evolving to meet these changes. I’m not about to get into a “Which is better and why” debate here, though. They are both great solutions that have their benefits and drawbacks. After listening to Jere’s recent interview on Entertainment 2.0, however, one can’t help but be impressed with his visionary goals.
The 2 biggest drawbacks of commercial detection software are the heavy load they put on your system while they are scanning and analyzing each recording, and inaccuracies in the commercial detection. Nothing is more frustrating than watching 24, and just as Jack Bauer is about apply a cattle prod to someone’s pancreas (As a boy, Jack Bauer interrogated his parents on Easter until they revealed the location and contents of each hidden egg. [from Jack Bauer Facts]), the commercial skip kicks in and moves you to some far less interesting scene in the show. Jere has found a way to remove both of these shortcomings from future versions of Show Analyzer.
Adding a "Social" Element to Commercial Skipping
What if there was a dynamically updated master database of shows and commercials to draw from? When you record a show, Show Analyzer will be able to call upon its resources, provided by other SA users, and use that data to provide the commercial skipping data. In the interview, Jere says he’s found a way to “identify commercials individually and my vision of the end-game is that much like your computer with a virus scanner will log on and download recent definitions for viruses, Show Analyzer will log on and download recent definitions for commercials…Once I get version 1 out, that’s the next step.
“It can take things it learned when analyzing one show, and improve the detection on another show. If you’re doing the definitions of commercials, then that has to wait until that time. But, if we’re doing the actual real-time social network of commercials, then it’s all live.”
Additionally, this method could provide another avenue for show recommendations. “Now I know that someone who watches Lost, typically also watches NCIS or something like that. Now you can get more intelligent recommendations on what shows to watch. I have no idea how I’m going to use that, or how to make it available, because I know privacy is important, but it would be much better than what Netflix is giving you because it’s actually giving you what people are recording and making recommendations based on that. “
The personal security folks out there probably just swallowed their underwear in concern over that tid-bit. However, it is very easy for this information to be completely anonymous. Additionally, a developer as reputable as Jere deserves the benefit of the doubt. However, if you’re the type who has hired a personal security force to protect you in case you attacked by insatiable super-models, then I’m certain that SA will offer the ability to opt-out of this feature.
But wait, there’s more! Closed captioning. “In this social aspect of this, if someone has the captions (for a show), and those get uploaded to the server, then anybody else who records that show who, does not have the captions can get them so that now they don’t have to have exactly the right (tuner) card, and exactly the right drivers, and exactly the right software… The next step of the captions is to translate them up in the cloud so that if the English captions get uploaded, then everybody else has the option of downloading the Spanish captions, or Israeli captions, or Russian captions.” (I knew we’d get to the Russians at some point!)
ShowAnalyzer Will Support Windows 7 Media Center Commercial Detection!
Does all that sound ambitions to you? Yeah, me too! However, if history is any indicator, Jere will be able to deliver. Additionally, with the Windows TV Pack of 2008, and with Windows 7, Microsoft has introduced a new recorded TV format called .wtv. Up until now, all common commercial skipping applications puked all over themselves trying to analyze and detect these files. Jere says he will be able to support commercial detection on .wtv files possibly as soon as the first week in May.
If you act now… As of now, Show Analyzer version 1 is in beta. The good news is that you don’t have to purchase a license to participate in the beta. Just go to Jere’s forum and ask him to add you to the beta and he’ll do so. All testers are accepted. However, remember that this is a beta! By definition, beta means potentially broken and buggy.
I’m curious to know what the general reaction would be to this social computing methodology. Personally, I like it as a solution to 2 pretty big problems with commercial detection. Is our ingrained distrust and personal data paranoia so rampant that people would be put off by this and be subjected to watching ads for the new and improved Garden Weasel? I hope not!
Disclaimer: Any references to politics and other fun stuff is entirely for the purpose of humor and in now way reflects the politics of those persons mentioned in this article ;)
Many thanks to Ray for this guest post. I'm always looking for contributors for guest posts here at GeekTonic - read this for information on how to submit a guest post article.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The team at SageTV continues their constant stream of new beta releases for SageTV 6.5. A little over a week ago they released 6.5.13 which added closed captioning to its list of treasured features along with several additional new features and bug fixes.
My favorite new feature is Closed Captioning Support which has been one of the more requested features along with the subtitle support they added in 6.5.12. In this build closed captioning only works on the HD Theater (HD200), LAN placeshifters and the MacClient. Here's a screen-shot of the menu item (using SageMC add-on) and another one of the closed captioning in action
While I probably won't use this feature all that much, it will be very nice for those that are hearing impaired as well as for those who need to turn down the sound at certain times. I'll use it to show sports when I have company over but want to play music while the game is on. I tried this out with my Hauppauge PVR500 tuner and SilconDust HDHR tuners. It could work with the Hauppauge HD-PVR also, but since Hauppauge hasn't added that feature via a driver update, the HD-PVR doesn't support closed captioning yet.
Here's a few highlights from this beta release:
- Closed Captioning Support! (EIA-608 style) For the HD200, LAN placeshifters and the MacClient. (placeshifters and MacClient only support NTSC currently, they'll be adding ATSC/QAM shortly; the HD200 already does all of them; and this has always been possible on the PC version on Windows, it just wasn't exposed by default) - requires beta firmware update on the HD200. Closed Captioning support for other SageTV devices will be added in future beta updates.
- Added support for IDX/VobSub external subtitle files with SageTVPlayer
- Several bug fixes for subtitle support (subtitle support was just added in the last beta release)
- Picture viewer: when entering this menu, delay starting next image preloading thread if not in a slideshow so the next image is not almost immediately preloaded.
- Many additional bug fixes
SageTV HD Theater (STP-HD200) Beta firmware version "20090403 0" is also now available
Changes for beta version 20090403 0 include the following:
- Added BD subpictures partial support
- Added closed captioning support
- Fix aspect ratio bug
- Fix google video top 100
- Fix embedded SSA decoding
- Fix tiff image decoding
- Updated some Showtime podcast feeds
For more info on the SageTV HD Theater beta firmware head over to the SageTV Forums
Week 15 of the Winter/Spring 2009 TV Season has arrived. A very light lineup but there are a few so read on for all of the details.
Prison Break returns to Fox on Friday
Premieres and Returning Shows For this Week:
- State of the Union (10pm on Showtime - avail in HD) - Tracey Ullman's State of the Union premieres for season 2 on Showtime
- According to Jim (8pm on ABC - avail in HD) According to Jim returns from hiatus on ABC
- The Cougar (10pm on TV Land) A new reality TV series on TVLand with Vivicai A. Fox. Please stop the realityTV nonsense. Pretty please.
- Pitchmen (10pm on Discovery) A new reality series on Discovery. Definitely not on my list of shows to record.
- Prison Break (8pm on Fox - avail in HD) - The "spring" premiere of Prison Break on Fox.
- Grey Gardens (8pm on HBO - avail in HD) - An HBO original film starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.
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. New shows still on the way including: "Sit Down, Shut Up" on Fox, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on USA, and "In Plain Sight" on USA. After that we'll be into the Summer seasons - I'm working on the Summer TV Premiere List that should be ready in the next few weeks.
Most interesting new show from last week?
My vote goes to "Harper's Island." It has a compelling mystery, a little blood and even a little novella-kind of story that makes it something quite different than the normal fare on TV. I also checked out "The Unusuals" which was decent, but it better get more interesting or I'll have to throw it out - I still can't get over them using this show to replace "Life on Mars." The final premiere I watched was "Parks and Recreation" with Amy Poehler - an Office kind of offshoot that was okay, but not funny enough to keep my interest. Parks and Recreation might be removed from my SageTV favorites pretty quickly unless it gets better fast. I haven't watched "Southland" yet - anyone else check it out yet?