Saturday, August 29, 2009

GB-PVR HTPC Software Updates to 1.4.7

The developer of GBPVR has been hard at work updating the free, HTPC software GB-PVR and this weekend released the latest version of the software GBPVR 1.4.7

As far as appearances go, things haven’t changed much with this new version, but as the developer says:

There is a lot behind the scene stuff that'll be useful to a lot of people (for example, CI support, Windows 7 compatibility, scanning improvements etc).

New Features and Improvements Include:

  • Improved compatibility with Windows 7
  • Added CI support for watching DVB pay TV channels outside of North America. Devices supported include Hauppauge WinTV-CI, and CI capable devices from Twinhan, FireDTV and TechnoTrend. You can enable CI support on a per capture source basis, using the new 'common interface' checkbox in the digital capture source settings.
  • added support for DolbyDigital+ audio (also known as E-AC3). This audio format is starting to be used with channels in a few countries (France, Israel etc).
  • Added logic to auto correct the tuning request of any already mapped channels at the end of each scan. Basically if your broadcaster had changed any audio/video pids, you can go into the config app and hit the 'rescan' button, then any channel mappings that match the same frequency and program number will be automatically updated to have the correct PIDs/PMT/PCR etc.
  • QAM users can now choose to use HRC cable frequencies if they needed.
  • At the end of a QAM scan it will ask the user for permission to query the Internet for additional channel information (ie channel names). This query uses the SiliconDust web API. Thank you SiliconDust (the HDHomeRun manufacturer) for offering the use of this service.
  • Added ability to schedule to watch a future show. In TV Guide, press play on a show in the future and it'll highlight blue. App will start live tv and switch to that channel at the specified time. Pretty basic, no popup reminders on the screen.
  • Many PopcornHour improvements to support changes Martin has been making to mvpmcx2. (already made available via patches)
  • Radio stations now included in the digital scan results
  • DVB-S2 now available on Hauppauge devices
  • DVB Subtitles now working again for live preview tv. When you're using the TS Mux it'll also work for timeshift mode tv, and for playback of recordings.
  • Updated channel digital channel scanning screen. Showing details about the selected channel.

Details about many other updates as well as the download and instructions can be found at the GB-PVR Forums

MediaPortal 1.1.0 Beta 1 Arrives

MediaPortal Logo

MediaPortal, one of the more popular open-source and free HTPC software programs released the 1.1.0 (beta) version of MediaPortal 1.  This beta version is a work in progress that will move MediaPortal 1 towards a December 2009 final RC release version.  Many changes are included and it should "shore-up" this version of MediaPortal that we've all come to know.

Significant New Features and Changes Include:

Major changes in this BETA are:

  • WebEPG is now included as a plugin for TV-Server
  • RTSP Streaming IP can be changed in TV-Server configuration
    (This is useful if the default port is in use by any other application.)
  • New OSD's have been slightly reworked and finished
  • TV-Server configuration has been reworked in some areas to enhance the usability, like new tuningformats and simplified scan dialog
  • Options have been added to TV-Server and MediaPortal Configuration to allow to disable and enable Microsoft MediaCenter Services
    (This is required for TV-Server and Microsoft MCE Remote to work properly.)
  • Various memory leaks have been fixed in MediaPortal
  • Various fixes for the Topbar in MediaPortal
  • Improved Windows 7 compatibility
  • Solved problems caused by IPv6 in TV-Server (only IPv4 is supported!)
  • Added dvb-s2 support for ProfRed Cards
  • Added CI menu support for Twinhan/Terratec tuner cards
  • Improved TV error handling for better user experience
  • CI menu and messages are automatically enabled now
  • A few more features have been added to the SkinEngine
  • Audio seek with different speeds for BASS player
  • E-AC3 / DD+ audio stream type support for TV


As the MediaPortal team continues to finish up this final version of MediaPortal 1 this year, the focus for developers moves to MediaPortal 2, the next generation of MediaPortal.  While MediaPortal 2 is a long ways off, they do plan to release public "test" versions of MediaPortal 2 eventually so everyone can get a feel for what it will look like.

For more information, the complete changelog and download links head to the MediaPortal Website

Week In Review – August 29

Lots of news and feature stories this week.

Below is a quick summary of the past week's news and stories on GeekTonic.

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, August 28, 2009

GeekTonic on Entertainment 2.0 Podcast

Entertainment 2.0 Podcast

Quick Programming Note:  Be sure and check out the Entertainment 2.0 Podcast with Adam, Josh, Andy VanTil, creator of DVR-MS Toolbox and myself.  We had a great discussion on the topic of HTPC’s and Why they Aren’t Mainstream

Listen to the Podcast Here: Entertainment 2.0 Episode 43: Why Aren’t HTPCs Mainstream?

Why Home Theater PCs Aren’t Mainstream – and Why They Shouldn’t Be



    Simple or Complicated?

Piles of Cords

The Home Theater PC (HTPC) is far from a mainstream consumer product today.  This discussion comes up time and time again in the HTPC enthusiast circle and this past week rose it’s curious head again.  Here’s the question and my answers:

What is keeping HTPCs from the mainstream?  The Key Obstacles to the HTPC/Media Center going Mainstream?

I think we can all agree that HTPCs, Media Center, SageTV, BeyondTV, XBMC and the rest of these powerful Home Theater PC products are in a very tiny, niche market.  One that is made up of mostly technically adept and/or very determined enthusiasts who want more than a DVR, more than a TiVo – just more flexibility and power where you are in control of your media.

For fun, lets look at the key obstacles keeping HTPCs far from Mainstream:

Note that many (most) of these obstacles were gathered via an interesting Twitter conversation I had with other enthusiasts as well as those who follow (and are aware of) HTPCs to some degree.


The number one obstacle in my opinion is complexity.  This is a tough one that can only be solved by dumbing down the HTPC or at least making it more appliance like.  You can go part-way towards appliance without giving up too much of the flexibility a HTPC gives you but it’s a fine line.

  • Setup & Maintenance Can Be Time Consuming and Requires at Least Some Technical Knowledge.  Many of the things HTPC enthusiasts deal with are things we take for granted, but more mainstream consumers wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to do or even want to expend energy doing.
  • It’s Not Plug & Play - To be mainstream it has to be a simple Set Top Box that you plug in and begin exploring.
  • Tuner Cards Inside Computers = Complications/Confusion – If we have to use an internal tuner card its going to be too complicated for the average Joe UNLESS it’s pre-installed.  If the tuner is USB that helps things but then you have the “is it compatible with given HTPC software”, is it HD?, will it work with my cable/satellite company? how do I change the channel.  The list can go on and on.  There are certainly answers for this, but they aren’t easy enough for the mainstream.  And most computers we buy do NOT come with a tuner card installed.
  • Too Many Hardware/Software Variables – As it stands today, building your own HTPC requires some serious homework – even for the seasoned HTPC enthusiast you better know what hardware and software combinations will work together the best.  And those multitudes of combinations in use makes the support the HTPC software company provides that much harder.
  • Home Network - Lack of home network capability.  How many have network connections to their TVs?  OR a wireless network that can handle HD?
  • Remote Control – Getting the remote control to work everything.  It’s easy for me, but not for the mainstream folk.
  • Self Imposed Complexity – This is sort of a knock on Microsoft or you can look at it as a knock on the organizations that forced MS to put these artificial restrictions on Media Center to get the content they wanted.  Microsoft has self imposed complexity with their many format restrictions, lack of viable extenders (XBox360 being an exception), native DVD and/or Blu-ray playback and other weird limitations.


Getting content into your HTPC and distributing it throughout your network is a growing concern of HTPC enthusiasts these days.   The simple CATV connection just doesn’t cut it anymore – especially with the Cable Companies getting the go-ahead to ignore the FCC rules, limitations of clear QAM and no satellite tuners in sight.  The Hauppauge HD-PVR works great for the geeks like me, but won't work for mainstream.

  • Getting Premium HD channels and even regular, non-OTA HD channels isn’t cut and dry for Cable and Satellite customers with HTPCs.  And I don’t see this getting any easier.  Currently CableCard (for cable) on Microsoft MediaCenter and the Hauppauge HD-PVR are the only two solid solutions for getting that content to the HTPC.  And both have their disadvantages and complications.
  • Blu-ray & DVD for Movies – Want to play a movie stored on your HTPC server and stream it to an extender or other computer?  It isn’t as easy as it should be and ripping it to your hard drive has it’s legal issues regardless of how you look at it.  I can view all ripped and even streamed DVDs and Blu-Rays from my hard drive or my server’s optical drives, but you can’t do this with all HTPCs.
  • Video On Demand – Getting a cable video-on-demand movie or event isn’t in the cards for HTPC users.  Some (myself included) don’t care all that much as the quality is many times lacking and the price is usually too high.  But if that event happens to be a Missouri Football game I might think twice…
  • Compelling default online channels - Hulu, Netflix etc – Another one that isn’t cut and dry is online delivery of content.  Hulu doesn’t want anyone to view their content unless it’s on a computer screen.  Netflix is on the XBox 360 and even Media Center, but not on extenders.  As the media companies inch closer to online distribution of content this will become more of an issue.


While the high price is definitely an obstacle, I personally don't think price is the main issue - if it was then you'd see 50% or more of wealthy households with a HTPC or some sort of media center and that just isn't the case.  It is an issue - one of perceived return on investment by the buyer, but I think a smaller one then the others really.  If we’re talking about HTPCs going mainstream then the price does come into play yes, but I think price is a smaller issue compared to those above.


  • Understanding of the concept of the HTPC – Ever have someone ask you: how do you do that?  And you answer “it’s my HTPC powering all of my TV/Movies/Music/Photos.”  The glazed over look from these people is almost universal – HTCP?  What’s that?  Did you get it from Time Warner?  They don’t even know what MediaCenter is (mine is a SageTV powered – not Microsoft, but still.)
  • Names of HTPCs, Extenders, Etc – Is the name HTPC something so foreign and/or geeky that it won’t sell?  I think it probably is and thats why I like what Microsoft did with “Media Center.”  It sort of gives the meaning that HTPCs are more than just a computer.


  • Too many devices fighting to be the ONE device attached to the screen (HTPC, PCH, WDTV, Laptops, Roku, Blu-ray players, SageTV HD Theater, Windows MC Extenders.)  Even the techno bloggers say “not another box at the TV!”


  • You Want to Put What in My Living Room?  Clutter & complexity of all that HTPC stuff - Server, Tuners, Networks, More computers or extenders or XBox360's around the house.  HD-PVR's and/or cable boxes etc.  Cords galore!
  • Noise – Something that causes some fits is the noise an HTPC or XBox360 emits.  My SageTV HD Theater is silent and that is what we need to make it acceptible


Now that we Have some of the Obstacles Listed, Do we really want it to become mainstream?

I think eventually there will be some sort of device or concept similar to HTPCs that IS mainstream.  It will be easier to use, but won't be as "powerful."

I want something in-between what we have today and mainstream.  It has to be popular enough to garner a force with getting content (online and via tuners) and to make it a profitable business for a larger company like MS, Apple and even the CE manufacturers, but it doesn't have to be as mainstream as the DVD Player for instance!  You give up way too much to make it truly mainstream.

Andy Van Till had a good Twitter quote when I posed the question about mainstream:  "Toasters are 'mainstream', I wonder if that is the right target?"  I think most of us would agree that toasters aren't what we're going for here.  But I think the existing market is EXTREMELY difficult for a company like MS or even Apple to operate in. 

There just isn't a bunch of revenues there with such a small niche of a market.  That's why I think SageTV is pretty successful.  They keep it small because they have to, but that gives them the ability to focus on one single market - the enthusiasts.  And a decent profit to them is a microscopic drop in the bucket to Microsoft.

  You see what I mean here?  There is a real incentive for a small company like SageTV to push forward through the difficult HTPC market with new features and CE devices even if the numbers of users are small compared to a MS or Apple.  Snapstream is another company that was in the market and even with their small size, they've moved on to focus more (or at least split their focus with the enterprise market.

Apple had dabbled with the Apple TV but it's hardly a true HTPC.  And even if they do come out with a home media device in the next months or years I see it being a crippled device in comparison to a full-blown HTPC.  Microsoft will continue with Media Center, but I think they’ll continue down the path of complete focus on the custom integrators as that’s where the customers and the money is.  And its a small enough group of customers to be able to support that group and their needs.  The enthusiast continues to be left to work harder to get the HTPC/Media Center he or she wants.  Some will get that with Microsoft Media Center, some with SageTV, and others will go with the many other options available.  But the mainstream customer will continue on with the crappy DVR and eventually VOD boxes that lock them into the content their way and not the customers way of doing things.

For more, be sure and check out the Entertainment 2.0 Podcast with Adam, Josh, Andy VanTil, creator of DVR-MS Toolbox and myself.  We had a great discussion on this topic and you’ll hear some good viewpoints in the podcast.  Another good post on this topic to check out is Phil Lozen’s at LivingHighDef

Entertainment 2.0 Episode 43: Why Aren’t HTPCs Mainstream?

SageMovie Wall Version 4 Released – a Custom Movie UI for SageTV

Remember that nice looking add-on for SageTV called Sage Movie WallI highlighted earlier this summer?  Well today the next version of SageMovieWall 4.0 arrived with some great new features, improvements and a few new looks.


.  Updates include:

  • Faster UI browsing
  • A "Star Wars" Homepage Theme
  • Improved performance due to "cache all the posters" upon initial load
  • Support for Actor Images
  • Custom Tagging
  • Further Integration with Batch Metadata Tools (BMT) to bring in Metadata, Coverart and more
  • Many, many additional improvements & bug fixes

There’s a lot to show off, but the best way to do that is by sharing a of the few screen-shots to whet your appetite:

The 3D Movie Wall

The 3D Movie Wall lets you navigate through the movie covers and the metatdata changes on the left-hand side.  But the wall has a 3D look to it which with the animations makes it pretty cool on an HD screen.

3D Movie Wall

Actors by Movie

This is one of the many actor views.  From a movie, you can get info on the actors in that movie automatically including what other movies those actors star in from the movies in your library.  So if you just watched a movie with Jim Carrey and are in the mood for another one you can select from the list of other movies in your library with Jim Carrey.  This version also has support for actor photos so you can put a name with the face!

Actors in Movie

Coverflow View

Coverflow is a now familiar look where you scroll left and right through your movie collection.  The look is stunning as the movie background images change as you navigate through the movies.


Coverflow with Info

This screen-shot shows an example of the extra information you can view when you hit the info button on any movie.  This view like most other views is very customizable as well.

CoverFlow Info

Gridview Black

One of the custom “looks” with Coverflow is the background.  This is one of many little custom looks you can have to “make it your own.”  Nice touches of detail by the developer.

GridView Black

MovieWall View

This is the standard view the Sage Movie Wall app was named after.  Simply a wall of movie covers you navigate through to select and/or retrieve further information about.

Wall View


SageMovieWall List View

If you want to put the focus on the individual movie background and still have an easy to read list of your movies, this list view is for you.  I use this one most of the time.

List View


Remember, what you see above is just a drop in the bucket of the many details put into Sage Movie Wall.  You can customize the animations, the look, detail – almost anything within the settings of this add-on.  Sage BMT (Batch Metadata Tools) is required for this app to work well.  Matter of fact I need to do a writeup about the latest version of BMT as it is a very impressive and easy to use tool for getting your metadata and movie/tv art into SageTV.

Want to know more about Sage Movie Wall V4?

Check out Damian’s very detailed how-to with screenshots for the complete how-to on getting SMW set up and installed.

Then check out the forum thread for Sage Movie Wall on the SageTV forums to get more info and the download.

Overall a great job by a Microsoft Media Center convert who has taken charge of the features he wanted in his HTPC and made it better for all of us.  Thanks PluckyHD!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

BeyondTV Plus MediaPortal vs SageTV – Redux Part 2

As many GeekTonic readers know, I was a long-time user of BeyondTV.  I still have BeyondTV installed on a test PC but have since switched to SageTV for my whole-home HTPC needs.  So after posting a how-to on switching from BeyondTV to SageTV I thought I’d share with you a counter-point guest-post by a long-time BeyondTV user who tried to switch to SageTV, but couldn’t make the move in the long run.  ZetaVu is a pretty hard-core user with some pretty specific needs, but you can’t argue that he put some serious time into trying things out.  I’ve noted a few corrections or “clarifying notes” where I thought they would be helpful to other readers, but otherwise I’m posting this review verbatim as provided to me by ZetaVu.  It’s a long one so I’m breaking it out into two parts – one which I posted early Thursday.

NOTE:  This is a guest post by ZetaVu, a GeekTonic reader and frequent guest-blogger on GeekTonic.  Basic guidelines for writing and submitting a guest post at GeekTonic can be found here.

This is part 2 of the article: BeyondTV Plus MediaPortal vs SageTV – Redux   To read Part one click here


Part 2 - Non-PVR functionality – SageTV compared Media Portal

Non-TV setup in SageTV is about on par with Media Portal, however Media Portal offers a configuration program similar to BeyondTV’s Webadmin, where all configurations can be entered or tweaked beyond the initial setup of folders etc. SageTV again requires all changes to be made in the Viewscape or directly to its file (their equivalent to BTV's settings.xml). Media Portal seems to have far more configurable settings, and their configuration program seems to be far better suited for dealing with the various external plugins or internal features.

A little more about Media Portal. It has come a long way in its development. Based in Europe, the MP community really is not well suited for developing the US TV market. Setting up channels in their TV Server is a real chore, and guide data is available only by subscription or HTML stripping. However, the setup is vastly improved. They give you the choice of whether to install the TV Server or not, and then walk you through the other features such as weather, music, videos and pictures. The configuration program lets you go in and adjust all settings and update databases in a non-htpc format. I also edit many of the xml files directly, and again, I have an unfair 3 year head start with MP over Sage. I use my remote to launch the BTV or MP interface, so I really don't skip a beat using the two program combination vs the integrated SageTV product. Others have also used MP to launch the BTV viewscape or simply run BTV as a service and view their videos in MP. They lose some of the BTV options, and need to run Comskip instead of Smartchapter.

First in my Media Portal setup is my music library. I can view by lists or album art, sort by Genre, Artist, Album, File, Year, any data in the ID3 files. Album art is cached and can come from ID3 files, folder.jpg or the internet. I added plugins for an information server that lets me control my music library from a wifi PDA, and a lyrics plugin. Visualizations can be added, and you can switch to other music engines like Foobar or Winamp. It also has typical playlist features and options to download info and recommendation online.

By contrast SageMC has many of the features of Media Portal's interface but with some notable exceptions. First, it has less views. If I want to sort by year or one of the lesser ID3 fields I need to make a playlist for that. Second and more important is the playlist or currently playing access. Media Portal lets me use one keyboard shortcut to add songs, albums, artists, genres, folders etc to the current active playlist, then another shortcut to toggle to this list to browse, shuffle etc. Sage doesn't have anything this convenient, more than tripling the time and effort to make a custom playlist on the fly. MP also lets me toggle between the menu and full screen visualizations with a shortcut.

MP also has some different plugins that will let me remotely browse my music library using a wifi or bluetooth enabled device and gives me full playback control (MPBlue for older versions, Information Server or PPC Remote for current versions). This lets me control my music from anywhere in the house without access to a tv, a real bonus since my house is wired for sound from my central stereo. Sage currently has remote and web interfaces in progress but none at near the level of the Media Portal products. I did not explore other music plugins for Sage, nor did I compare the winamp or other engines available, but in the default systems other music and navigation were similar.

Next feature is Pictures, In Media Portal the pictures section is folder based, thumbnails are generated while browsing then cached (no way to generate and store them ahead of time like the music  and video libraries). The slideshows run in order, no slideshow playlist, but has zoom and rotate features. MP also has several slideshow effects, my favorite is the “floating picture” effect. I did not do much with Sage's default picture section as I had been a fan of Craig's PSE photo plugin from back in the Beyond Media days. This plugin lets you use the tags from an Adobe photoshop elements database to sort files, and lets you pick and filter collections of tags for a slideshow. Unfortunately, the slideshow effects for Sage are very limited, no floating picture, zoom or rotate, so this plugin is not as impressive as it was in Beyond Media. If I can only convince Craig to port it to MP...

MP's Video section lets you add videos to playlists so you can navigate a playlist like chapters on a DVD. I use this feature for home movies, which I save as clips and then can join together depending on who the audience is and what pertains to them. You can also change playback filters, aspect ratios, and use the movie database to download info on the movies like a DVD library. You can also add your own video attributes to this database manually. The DVD program is similar to most, no special comments here.

Sage's video information is fairly similar, and they also let you add videos to a playlist, however their playlist is shared with music where the MP playlists are separate. Regarding the other video attribute features, the only difference I will comment on is that Sage downloads its info on the fly and for MP I've only updated it using the movies database in the configuration program. Here they are closely matched and it comes down to personal preferences. Both MP and BTV have far more in video aspect settings which I think is an advantage. The other really annoying thing with Sage is how videos and folders are organized. I prefer to browse videos by folder location, and organize by subfolder. In BTV and MP folders are listed at the top and then the contents. In Sage, folders are stashed away with the files in the parent folders, alphabetically, and all setup video folders are merged together so I can't distinguish between them. I really need to have one empty master folder with all sub folders in there to organize the way I prefer.

Finally the MP weather section really stands out in my mind. It lets you setup multiple locations and has multiple animated maps per location. It provides four day forecasts, detailed forecast, and the multiple animated dopplers to see what's really going on. SageMC has similar forecast info but for only one location, and while the MC version has maps they are generic maps and none are animated.

In addition, the default program has radio, lastFM, some games and file management plugins built in. Additional plugins can be added for email, RSS feeds, movie showtimes and trailers, recipes, caller ID, on and on. I could spend a week comparing the different plugins, but safe to say both programs are well supported by their plugin communities. For Sage online videos, RSS feeds and email are integrated, these are disabled by default in MediaPortal. Neither program offers a guide browser that I prefer over Firefox.

The one integrated Sage feature that stands out is the online services section, easy access to online videos by type, news, even Home and Garden for the wife factor. Sadly, give it a few days and the novelty runs dry. I had tried a few plugins for online video in MP but when they started running into legal wranglings with Hulu and Netflix I opted just to launch Firefox fullscreen with Zinc. Zinc gives you access to in my opinion the most online content, and has the least issues since it still runs through the web browser, but includes remote functions that work well with Eventghost.

Remote features and Keyboard Shortcuts

The following is an incomplete list of keyboard shortcuts I map in Eventghost to control my HTPC. There is a Sage plugin for Eventghost that has some additional functions not accessible by keyboard shortcuts. The drawback with this si that Sage has to be running when Eventghost starts, otherwise this plugin gets disabled.

Event Beyondtv Media Portal Sage
Play P P Ctrl-D
Stop S B Ctrl-G
Pause space space Ctrl-Shft-S
Fast forward Right F6 (DVD) Ctrl-M
Rewind Left F5 (DVD) Ctrl-N
Forward Frame Space-Right   Ctrl-S
Backward Frame Space-Left    
Skip Forward . (period) Up Ctrl-F
Skip Backward , (comma) Down Ctrl-A
Next Track   F8 Ctrl-Up or PageUp
Previous Track   F7 Ctrl-Down or PageDown
Next Chapter   F8 PageUp
Previous Chapter   F4 PageDown
Skip Forward adjustable   Right Ctrl-F8
Skip Back Adjustable   Left Ctrl-F7
Up Up Up Up
Down Down Down Down
Left Left Left Left
Right Right Right Right
Enter Enter Enter Enter
First Item   Home  
Last Item   End  
Menu/Home Home H  Home
Back Esc Esc Alt-Left
Toggle Playlist/Menu   F1  
Add/Remove Playlist   Y  
Options Menu O Mouse Right-Click Esc or Ctrl-O
Record R  R Ctrl-Y
Show Info I F3 Ctrl-I
Wake/Standby     Ctrl-Z
Shut Down Alt-F4 Alt-F4 Alt-F4
Page Up ] (end bracket) PageUp PageUp or F5
Page Down [ (open bracket) PageDown PageDown or F6
Channel Up ] (end bracket) PageUp Ctrl-Up or PageUp
Channel Down [ (open bracket) PageDown Ctrl-Down or PageDown
Previous Channel L   Eventghost
Update Guide U    
Volume Up + (plus) + (plus) Ctrl-Right
Volume Down - (Minus) - (Minus) Ctrl-Left
Fullscreen/Windows Alt-Enter X Ctrl-Shft-F
Fullscreen Visualizations   F  
Video Aspect ratio Under options O S  Alt-S(4x3) Alt-W(16x9) &Eventghost
Rotate Picture   R   
Zoom Picture   Z or 0-9  
Guide F7   Ctrl-X
TV (LiveTV) F6   Ctrl-V
Recorded Shows F5   Eventghost - library
Mark Watched     Ctrl-W
Mark Favorite     Ctrl-K
Mark Don't Like     Ctrl-J
Delete Delete 0 Delete

This list is far from complete, I did not include any of the Media Portal TV shortcuts or some of the Sage and BTV shortcuts I really never used. Also Many of the non-pvr shortcuts are not available for BTV because it lacks those functions. The SageTV Eventghost plugin also has some actions that there are no shortcuts to, these are marked as Eventghost.

Based on this, the options to mark shows watched, favorites etc are available in SageTV but not BTV. Also, BTV's options let you control video and audio, Sage's options don't let you change audio (SPDIF vs 2CH) but has other options. Three shortcuts that I really miss are Media Portal's Add to playlist, toggle playlist, and fullscreen visualizations. All of these require multiple clicks in Sagetv.

Final Summary, Parts 1 and 2

Well, here is where my bias takes over and I list positives and negatives about each program. Again, take my listing with a grain of salt, I am not a new users evaluating the programs evenly, I am a very experienced BeyondTV and Media Portal user contrasting SageTV to them, and since I'm comfortable with what I know I expect I'll be more apt to find flaws with SageTV.

I find both BeyondTV and Media Portal easier to setup for basic features, and for features such as SPDIF out and commercial detection. SageTV has a much more difficult learning curve, and is limited in versatility. BTV has the Webadmin for tweaking most behind the scenes settings, MP has the configuration program. Sage relies on making changes in the program itself or by editing an xml file. BTV made channel setup much simpler using, and offered more tuner control in my opinion.

PVR performance and features
BeyondTV has taken a step backward in its recent releases for OTA recording quality, however the negatives are limited to channels with on the fringe signal. While Sage handles these channels better it is not without errors. Sage provides more flashy information on shows and channels but lacks features like a signal monitor. Sage puts more energy into marking shows and making suggestions, BTV puts more emphasis in easily accessing video and audio aspects. BTV has DIVX showqueezing in addition to wmv and H.264 that Sage has (Sage also has mpg conversion). Sage also lets you convert part of a file, a feature only available in BTV enterprise. BTV also offers a DVD burning plugin. Commercial detection performance was similar. Sage began to suffer from long delays when starting HD playback, this could have just been an issue with my install however I did not make a lot of changes. Advanced recording options were similar on both programs, but I preferred BTV's recording job and upcoming recording interfaces as they offered listings reaching out up to two weeks. I did not find any issues with either program for guide data errors.

I did not compare Link to Client, but isntead focused on Placeshifting. The BeyondTV placeshifter does not have a LAN feature, it measures connection speed and transcodes accordingly, causing higher server load. You have the option of using VLC with the placeshifter to play files, which lets BTV work with Mac and Linux clients. However, issues with OTA recording cause some HD channels not to have audio in VLC. Overall the playback quality in VLC is excellent but cpu load especially in Linux is high. Sage's placeshifter was very unstable and buggy in my testing, and worked better on Windows than Linux. Video quality for SD shows was very good, but HD video from OTA or H.264 files had wavy edges and stuttering. I could not find ways to improve this quality, as such it is a bust for me.
Other HTPC features
Media Portal has what I consider superior music, weather, and picture slideshow features, although Sage's PSE photo plugin gives you more versatility in choosing pictures for a slideshow, the lack of slideshow effects takes away from this. Their video library and details sections are similar, although I am unhappy with how Sage displays folders and files mixed together. Video playlists are available on both programs, Sage combines Audio and Video, MP separates them. MP offers one click access to add songs/videos to playlists and to toggle in and out, as well as full screen visualizations. Sage requires multiple clicks for this. Sage has an excellent online video addin, however it is not as versatile as the Zinc Firefox plugin.

Overall Impressions
While I am confident that if BeyondTV stopped working today I could live with a switch to SageTV, I don't see enough advantages and in fact have encountered enough negatives to keep my from buying the SageTV program. If I were approaching these products as a new user, I would probably buy SageTV rather than BeyondTV. At this time, I do not see any of the free HTPC programs meeting the performance, ease, and reliability of either of these programs. I think Media Portal is making great strides and if they can improve their TV Server and come up with a reliable US guide solution, I see them as a serious threat to both these products as well as Windows MCE programs. I think the Linux alternatives will eventually be what does in all these options.

On a negative, neither of these programs seems to provide a good Linux client option. I did not explore Sage's linux server version, but I am disappointed in the placeshifter performance in linux (and there is no Client or Link option).

About the author:  "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 Control Your HTPC With EventGhost, iPod Without iTunes, Video Editing Power Tools, and MediaGadget Showcase for his setup all of which are great reads.

Deal of the Day Part 2 - Hauppauge HD-PVR for $150

Hauppauge Computer HD PVR High Definition Personal Video Recorder (1212)
Hold Everything!  Just earlier today I posted a deal of the day about a good Hauppauge HD-PVR deal, but thanks to a commenter it was pointed out that Dell has an even better deal.

I’ll try to make this argument a little stronger.  Have you been on-the-fence about getting a Hauppauge HD-PVR to record all of your TV channels including the encrypted ones on your HTPC?  Well this deal matches the cheapest price for the Hauppauge HD-PVR 1212 since it’s release over a year ago.

Dell has the Hauppauge HD-PVR component tuners (read more about it here) for your HTPC setup now for $149.99 with free shipping:

Hauppauge Computer HD PVR High Definition Personal Video Recorder (1212) for only $150.00 ($179.99 less $30 after $30 rebate -expires 8/31/09) with coupon code 7LXC0FZZR54P3X.  All with Free Shipping!

If you're planning to get one don't wait - the offer expires August 31st 2009.  Thanks to J3G for the tip!

Should Windows Media Center Be Separated from the Windows OS?

Windows Media Center Logo

Charlie Owen, who works for Microsoft and used to work on the team Microsoft Windows Media Center team has been sharing his thoughts on Media Center over the past week or so and it’s definitely been interesting.  His latest post asks the following question:

“Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?

He makes some good points for sure.  The most compelling one is that a distribution model where Media Center is shipped with the Windows OS helps with the awareness “obstacle” that plagues HTPCs even still today.  I agree that the Windows MediaCenter distribution model being used does help with the awareness some – but not enough to matter in my opinion.  I remember discussing this in an interview with Rakesh Agrawal of Snapstream (maker of BeyondTV and Enerprise TV) and it had been his feeling that Microsoft packaging Media Center with Vista would “change and hopefully increase consumers awareness of PC/PVR’s” but he also stated “this did not work out the way he had expected.” 

Agrawal at the time went on to say “because of Microsoft's struggle with driver support and stability, the widespread adoption of Microsoft Vista has not happened they way he had anticipated.  He thought the publicity and push by Microsoft for the HTPC would push PC makers to bundle the video card more with their PC products and this didn't happen.  He also thought that publicity from Microsoft for the HTPC would be stronger than it was.  In the end, Vista has not thus far become a "game-changer" for the media center market.”

I agree with Agrawal.  It wasn’t really the fault of Microsoft, but the awareness argument really never came to pass in my opinion.

Charlie went on to make several other arguments, but I don’t really think any of them were convincing enough to say packaging the HTPC software into the OS worked out all that well.

In conclusion, Charlie asks this:

“Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?”

Here’s my response as an outsider, but one who closely follows Home Theater PCs and the Home Media Gadget space very closely:

I would answer: Packaging MediaCenter with the Windows OS definitely was not the correct decision. I understand the reasons MS did it and I agree it might have helped a tiny bit in making some more aware of MediaCenter, but I believe locking in the development cycle of a true HTPC product cripples that software due to the extremely long, drawn out product update cycles. To stay relevant in the Media Home space you have to keep up with the frequent changes in the environment. And tying any updates to the OS makes MS fall behind other alternatives far too fast. If MS is happy keeping Media Center as a "add-on" to Windows like Windows Media Player, then fine. But I do not agree that it is in the products (MC - not the OS) best interest and I think it was done to the detriment of the larger group of Media Center users – who even after pushing MediaCenter into the OS for these several years, still are made up of enthusiasts – not the
“regular Joe's”

Read Charlie Owen’s entire post at his blog – by the way, I really appreciate Charlie’s recent posts on MediaCenter.  I think it is very helpful to the community as a whole to get a peek into the thoughts of someone who worked so closely with and who still enjoys MediaCenter in his home.


What’s your opinion – should Microsoft have separated Media Center from the OS?  Should they do it now?

Deal of the Day – Hauppauge HD-PVR $175 Free Shipping After Rebate

Hauppauge HD PVR 1212 High Definition Personal Video Recorder

UPDATE!  There’s a cheaper deal – get it for $150 – Read more here

The Hauppauge HD-PVR can be had for about $200 any day of the week if you shop around, but occasionally you’ll see a special where it runs much lower. is running one of those specials today:

Worried about losing your analog channels or more of your QAM channels?  If you would like to be able to record (and watch LiveTV) on all of your TV channels including the encrypted ones on your HTPC you’ll want to check out the Hauppauge HD-PVR 1212.  You can read more about the HD-PVR Recorder here. (affiliate) has the Hauppauge HD PVR 1212 High Definition Personal Video Recorder for $175 after mail-in rebate with free shipping

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BeyondTV Plus MediaPortal vs SageTV – Redux Part 1

As many GeekTonic readers know, I was a long-time user of BeyondTV.  I still have BeyondTV installed on a test PC but have since switched to SageTV for my whole-home HTPC needs.  So after posting a how-to on switching from BeyondTV to SageTV I thought I’d share with you a counter-point guest-post by a long-time BeyondTV user who tried to switch to SageTV, but couldn’t make the move in the long run.  ZetaVu is a pretty hard-core user with some pretty specific needs, but you can’t argue that he put some serious time into trying things out.  I’ve noted a few corrections or “clarifying notes” where I thought they would be helpful to other readers, but otherwise I’m posting this review verbatim as provided to me by ZetaVu.  It’s a long one so I’m breaking it out into two parts – one for Thursday and the second one you can read here.

NOTE:  This is a guest post by ZetaVu, a GeekTonic reader and frequent guest-blogger on GeekTonic.  Basic guidelines for writing and submitting a guest post at GeekTonic can be found here.

This is my third attempt at SageTV, even though it is my first review on the matter. I have been using Snapstream's BeyondTV since 2005, started with version 3.4 and have invested time and energy in the beta programs for every build since. As a result, I am heavily biased towards BeyondTV both from familiarity and preferences. About a year ago I tried Sage out when I became annoyed that Snapstream was reneging on their promise to integrate Beyond Media into BeyondTV. Unlike SageTV, which offers music, pictures, and other applications integrated in their product, BeyondTV had a separate program called Beyond Media that handled media other than TV and video. At the time I did not feel comfortable with Sage and did not see any advantage to switching.

In addition to BeyondTV I was also using Snapstream's Beyond Media as well as Media Portal for my other HTPC components. Media Portal is an open source HTPC program, and although it has its own PVR, I disable that and use it as a companion to BeyondTV. The main issue with free HTPC programs in my opinion is the ability to set up the TV channels and obtain reliable guide data. I find the other components of Media Portal meet all my needs, music, pictures, video library, weather etc. Recently Snapstream discontinued Beyond Media so my current system uses BeyondTV and Media Portal exclusively. Feature wise, I preferred the combination of those two programs over SageTV and its interface the last time I tested it. For that test I only tested the default skin, never installing the SageMC STV.

Now I felt the time was right for a head to head comparison. I have BeyondTV 4.9.2 working as good as it is capable and Media Portal 1.0 tweaked out to my liking. I was however seeing some signal quality issues with over the air recordings so I wanted a second opinion. For this comparison I did some research first, and followed the Geek Tonic guide for SageMC installation. This article covers my notes and impressions of SageTV vs BeyondTV/Media Portal. It encompasses about 40 hours of direct SageTV tweaking and research. Unfortunately that compares to over a thousand hours of BTV and MP experience, so take this as a familiarity biased comparison, honest as I will try to be.

My Setup: I built my HTPC server on a Foxconn NF4UK8AA-8EKRS motherboard with AMD 4200-x2 processor, 2gb Corsair memory, Asus Earthmate 430 power supply, and PNY 8500 GT video card. I have just over 2TB of hard drive space and an NEC DVD burner. My capture cards are a Hauppauge HVR1600 with remote, HVR950 USB, HVR2250 dual tuner, and HD PVR. The HD PVR is connected to a Directv H21 HD receiver via spdif (dolby 5.1) and component, the receiver is locked at 1080i. The 1600 uses one tuner for OTA HD and the other for s-video from a Directv H20 locked at SD. I have four OTA HD inputs all together, each fed from a roof mounted antenna feeding an electroline 8 port amplifier. Both Directv receivers are controlled with serial tuning cables, null modem cables with Iogear Guc232A usb to serial adaptors. I also have ATI Remote Wonder and both this and the Hauppauge remote control the HTPC using Eventghost. I monitor the HTPC with an LCDSmartie. My system is Windows XP Sp2 with all security updates, no antivirus or firewall on the computer (Use firewalled router). Main TV is Samsung LNT-466F connected with component and analog audio, and SPDIF audio going to a Yamaha RX-V663 SS receiver.

Part 1 – SageTV compared to BeyondTV

Setup issues
Clearly since I have been using BeyondTV for four years I can't provide any detail about issues with its setup, I am a master after 100+ reinstalls. What I can do is point out what I found different or particularly with the SageTV install and contrast it with BTV

  1. Serial Tuner for Directv. I currently use null modem to usb to change channels on my Directv H20 and H21 receivers. I could not get this to work for a while, initially I thought I had the wrong com port, but after checking with Brent found I had to change a setting in detailed setup to Fast to get this to work (not very insightful). This experience also brings me to #2
  2. Could not change serial tuner com port after setting up source. Really this means that I miss the Webadmin of BeyondTV, where I can use Firefox to change all my settings in BTV behind the scenes. Navigating through Sage's htpc setup menus got cumbersome really fast. Worse, I could not find a way to edit the com port so I had to remove the tuner and add it again with the correct port.
  3. Cannot disable tuners, can only add or remove, and basic editing. To disable a port you remove it, and while you can add it again, if you use multiple guides you can lose all your changes.
  4. Channel setup – BTV lets you setup a account, where you can go online and setup your channel info. This lets you import the edited guide quickly. In Sage, I have to manually hide channels, and with Directv that's a lot of scrolling and clicking. This was even more frustrating when I removed the tuner to fix the com port and then had to hide all 200 channels I did not want again.
  5. No signal meter on OTA setup – I like to see what my signal strength is per channel.
  6. Advanced setup options: things like enabling spdif, commercial remover, etc, are not part of the base program. Setting these up requires some good advice like the GeekTonic guides, searches through the forum or a lot of reading in the almost 300 page manual (use the one in Help, an online search found older versions). [NOTE FROM EDITOR – The latest documentation is always installed on your computer with the install of SageTV. So just do Start>Programs>SageTV and you’ll see the full help document that corresponds with the version of SageTV you have installed.]

    Overall, setup was far more complicated to get the equivalent features I am used to in BeyondTV. BTV uses a windows installer to setup remote, tuners, channel lists, etc. You can then go into settings within the viewscape to set some of the simple parameters, like whether commercials are automatically detected by Smartchapter or if you want to Showsqueeze files into compressed formats. It also provides access to the DVD plugin for archiving. More complex settings can be made by accessing the Webadmin, the web interface which lets you customize recording and showsqueeze settings, and then anything from network to updating to tuner settings. Finally some advanced features can be set by editing the settings.xml file. Sagetv requires most changes to be made in one of the setting pages, usually detailed settings. Some adjustments require opening external applications and manually running setups, such as SPDIF and Comskip. Sagetv does have a web interface plugin which I did not test at this time. Again, this is a separate install.

    For remote control I use Eventghost rather than the internal remote applications in Sage or BTV. This lets me customize my universal remote or the buttons on my Remote Wonder any way I want. I was able to get most but not all of the PVR remote function is Sage that I used in BTV. BTV has an options shortcut (keyboard O) that lets me change video and audio instantly during playback. Sage does not have this feature and it is missed. A more detailed comparison will be in Part 2 of this article.  [NOTE FROM THE EDITOR – You can customize any keyboard shortcut or IR remote control button from within SageTV without needing EventGhost or Girder – you can use those programs but they definitely are not necessary]

    Recording Quality
    Here I got a little bold and tricky. I just recently got a Hauppauge 2250 dual HD tuner, so I assigned tuner 1 to BeyondTV (actually had both assigned but disabled tuner 2, which is nice to be able to do as an option) and assigned tuner 2 to SageTV. I was capturing over the air (OTA) high def recordings from my roof mounted antenna, fed through an 8-port Electroline amplifier. This let me record the same show (picked my weakest OTA channel) at the exact same time using the same tuner. To my utter amazement, it worked! Both programs recorded the show and I was able to do a complete and concise quality assessment. Mother nature was cooperating as well, I had some nice icy rain to torment my signal as much as possible.

    Initial results had Sage leading on the signal quality front. Head to head, the .mpg (process stream) files Sage created had less pauses or pixilation than the BeyondTV .tp transport stream files. This led me to a long term comparison, recording exclusively with Sage for a week. For this I added my HVR1600 and 950 cards, as well as my HD PVR component/spdif Directv recording, and s-video Directv recording on my HVR1600 card. The more I recorded, the more pauses, stutters, etc in OTA HD I started to catch with Sage. While not without errors, Sage was still catching less errors than BTV 4.9. However, much of this may be related to changes in the way Beyondtv handles OTA transport streams in 4.9. Previous versions of BTV (4.8 and earlier) seemed to perform more similar to Sage. This is an issue Snapstream will need to address since the PVR is what they survive on.

    For the HD PVR I found no difference between Sage and BTV. Both had the same quality and neither locked my system. My Directv receiver output is locked at 1080i, and I capture spdif Dolby 5.1 audio. I did see some wavy texture on a few channels, particularly on black or dark backgrounds, but this was the same for both programs. Likewise I saw no differences on s-video captured from Directv.

    Another feature I like about BTV is the log, which lets me check and diagnose recording or program issues. I've been using this steadily to track which tuners are used for recordings, specifically when I get stuttering or other artifacts. Sage has a log but it tracks everything, and is not enabled by default. Sage however lists the tuner number on recordings, however I did not find a way to set tuner priority, other than to tell Sage to use only that tuner or only a channel assigned to that tuner. [NOTE FROM THE EDITOR – Since ZetaVu tested SageTV logging is now enabled by default and easily turned on/off with a toggle switch in settings.  And tuner priority is configurable within SageTV]

    Stability and Placeshifter
    I put these two together because I really didn't start seeing program lock ups until I started trying out placeshifter. However, Sage lockups are not only caused by placeshifter, I've had the main program lock up on me several times, usually during file playback. The non-placeshifter lockups might be caused by playing back .tp files, I had to add this extension to the file: seeker/video_library_import_filename_extensions list. Maybe the .tp files are causing this, maybe Sage just isn't as stable as btv, or maybe these are learning pains. I used to get a lot of BTV lockups, but then again most of those were in the betas or with older video drivers.

    A recent development that finally turned me off of the SageTV trial (spoiler alert) was the freezes when entering settings and when starting file playback. This started after I enabled Comskip sometime, may or may not have been related to it. Sage would take between 10 and 60 seconds to enter a screen or start video playback in TV. Did not have this issue in Videos, seems to related to Sage TV recordings. Reboot did not fix it, and it was what finally did it in for the wife factor.

    The placeshifter lockups were one of the two issues that killed placeshifter for me. They seemed to be the worst when I tried to use placeshifter from one of my linux boxes. The reason I tested placeshifter rather than client was I wanted to make all my other computers run Ubuntu, and Sage does not have a client for linux. It took me many attempts to get placeshifter to work on windows, I had to open the server port on my router even though I was going to access it on my LAN, had to setup a username and password, and for good measure turned off 3d accelerated. (suggestion from forums)

    I finally got Placeshifter to work from a windows machine, but still could not get it to work from any of my Ubuntu machines. I used the debian installer on 8.1. The ubuntu attempts were getting through to server, I knew this because that was what locked up my server several times. Then, for no reason, it started working, which annoys me more than anything else.

    Both placeshifter weren't very promising, video quality was very poor, even when I turned off all conversion and set it up for LAN usage. With conversion the files are very pixelated. Biggest issues were transport streams and H.264 though. Both had stuttering, freezes, and very wavy edges on video regardless of the settings or platform I ran on. In Windows, CPU was about 30% and in Linux about 80%. By comparison, BeyondTV's placeshifter to vlc (rather than silverlight which is not yet available on Linux, hoping for progress on the Moonlight project) shows much cleaner video, but is a big drain on server and client cpu. The problem with Snapsteam's placeshifter goes back to recording, some channels lose audio in VLC, but not in BeyondTV or Silverlight. This occurred in 4.9, 4.8 recordings did not have this issue, but so far no acknowledgement from Snapstream on the problem despite many bug reports and forum posts. All things considered, Snapstreams Placeshifter beats out Sage for video quality alone, at least to Silverlight, VLC needs work.

    Speaking of the forums, I posted many questions as a newbie to see how the Sage forums respond. I'm used to the Snapstream forums, hell, I'm one of the people that does a lot of the responding there. On Sage my specific questions did a lot better than my general thread talking about my experiments and asking for a lot of suggestions. All in all, I'd say the forums were on par with Snapstream. Sage had a lot more posts but Snapstream seemed to address questions as effectively as Sage forums did. I did not try to use Sage's technical support, so I cannot comment on that. I have all but given up on Snapstream's technical support, their response time to issues has become unacceptable compared to the past, possibly because of less developers and the change in focus to their Enterprise product. The lack of commitment from Snapstream to their consumer customers is probably the biggest reason for defections. Sage also has a 200-300 page manual that was a little over the top, but I found a lot of clues, otherwise GeekTonic and Google were really my best friends when it came to sorting things out.

    PVR extras
    I decided to focus on 4 extras for the PVR portion of Sage to compare it to what was stock in BeyondTV. I did not look into a DVD burning plugin for Sage, I don't use this much in BTV and was starting to run out of trial.

    First was commercial detection. BTV uses either the internal Smartchapter detector or you can add Comskip or another program using customer post processing steps. I tried the Comskip program once in BTV, and didn't see any better results than Smartchapters. Smartchapters works very well in SD and OTA HD recordigns, but it is fairly useless on HD PVR recordings.

    For Sage, you have to install a Comskip Scheduler plugin (comes with Comskip) and configure this using its one program to get it to work. If you use the default skin you also have to add the utility to Sage to use it, but SageMC skins already have this. I could never find the utility, and after installing it didn't work for a while and then suddenly started working. Sadly a lot of things in Sage act that way, see Placeshifter for another example. Once working, Comskip seemed to work perfectly with my recordings, although I didn't get anything for HD PVR recordings (I did update Comskip for this extension). Apart from difficulty in setup, this seems to be an adequate alternative to Smartchapters, in fact I'm considering a second try at Comskip in BTV to see if I can get it to work with my HD PVR recordings.

    Next tweak was audio. In BTV, I click options, keyboard shortcut O to access video aspect ratio and audio for playback. The video aspect comes in useful when recording SD from directv, it lets me switch to Letterbox, fullscreen, 16x9, 4x3 or other aspects to eliminate black bars in the picture. The audio lets me stick with 2-channel audio that feeds my tv or audio receiver, or switch to SPDIF passthrough for shows with Dolby 5.1 to my Receiver. Sage does not have anything this convenient. I can adjust video aspect in playback, but only have 4 options. The audio is far more complicated. TO enable SPDIF, I need to go to settings and switch to AC3Filter, and use the AC3config file outside of Sage to enable and configure SPDIF. Once this is done, I can switch back to analog audio but I need to go through setup again. This is a big drawback for Sage. The bigger drawback is that I was not able to setup SPDIF, all I got was static. Based on the forums this might have been caused by interference from the Arcsoft audio decoders, but by this time I was pretty much through so I did not explore further. Again, ease of setup is important here and in this case it was more that I was willing to deal with this time around.

    Video Conversion, both Sage and BTV have video conversion with a variety of defaults. BTV calls theirs showsqueeze, and I can set recordings to automatically showsqueeze to WMV, DIVX, or H.264 formats, and can create custom parameters in the web interface (Webadmin). Sage has similar functions but it seems to focus on mpg and H.264, not DIVX. Both programs have user generated plugins that can use third party applications like AutoGK or Handbrake, but given the default programming I think I like the showsqueeze funstion better than Sage's video converter. Going through exercizes of trying to simulate most events in Sage and BTV, I find that what BTV does is much easier and more convenient than Sage.

    LCDsmartie, I've used BTVsmartie with a homemade LCD for years to list when a recording was occuring, which tuner, next show and recording times. I recently expanded this to also control some LED's using LEDsDriver, so I could tell from other tvs when a tuner was in use, and in fact to send a disable tuner command via my serial port cable so no one would change Directv channels during recordings. For BTV, the smartie plugin just needs to be placed in LCDSmartie and set accordingly. For Sage, you need to install the getstatusplugin first and then the LCDplugin. Also, the Sage plugin on LCDSmartie's site was more complicated to setup than the BTVSmartie, but I felt that I could get all my screens and actions to work equivalently given time. There is an alternative plugin, MizookLCD, which seems to have more flexibility.

    Sage Extras - PVR

    Last, Sage offers many other extras not found in BTV. Many of these are available in Media Portal, but I rarely use that for video playback So I'll mention them here. Sage offers recording suggestions based on favorites and cued shows, BTV offers community recordings based on most popular shows from Snapstream Buzz. Sage also has views like current movies, genres, and downloads pictures and data for shows. BTV shows less show data but does let you search by genre and actors, keywords etc. There are many other features, most of which I did not explore fully enough to comment on. Media Portal has many of the same show data features in their movie library. As we are pretty much at the point of switching from BeyondTV to Media Portal,
  7. I'll leave the rest of the comparison to part 2 which you can read here.

About the author:  "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 Control Your HTPC With EventGhost, iPod Without iTunes, Video Editing Power Tools, and MediaGadget Showcase for his setup all of which are great reads.

Read Part 2 of this article Here

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fewer Unencrypted QAM & Analog Cable Channels Coming Soon


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled to allow cable companies to use cheap, one-way digital set top boxes with encryption on them via a three-year granting of a waiver to the FCC rule that had prohibited the use of set-top boxes with integrated security functionality.  Sounds harmless enough, but its really a bad thing for many consumers – especially HTPC users.

Here’s the conclusion right from the FCC Ruling itself:

For the reasons stated above, we conclude that the Subject Boxes are eligible for waiver under the “low-cost, limited capability” standard articulated in the 2005 Deferral Order as applied in the Evolution Order because the Subject Boxes are only capable of doing what is necessary to make digital cable programming viewable on analog television sets.

Currently, many cable subscribers can tune any analog channels along with unencrypted QAM channels with their TV tuner or PC tuners without needing a cable box or DVR.  Some even get many of their digital QAM channels unencrypted as well – beyond the local channels.  But once cable operators begin down this path thanks to the exemption granted Monday, they will hand out these cheap DTAs (Digital to Analog Adapters) to the basic & extended basic cable customers (those without DVRs) to tune their channels.  This will allow the cable companies to speed the ending of those remaining analog channels – the ones you can tune without a cable box.  It will also allow those cable companies who still have many of their QAM (digital) channels unencrypted (don’t require a cable box) to encrypt everything except for the local channels.

Jeff Baumgartner of Cable Digital News talks of the 3-year waiver allowing the encryption of DTA signals:

"The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Media Bureau has granted three-year waivers to Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices made by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Thomson (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), and Pace Micro Technology , a decision that looks to benefit Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) the most in the near-term, but could also spur adoption of the devices by numerous other U.S. cable MSOs.
"The waivers give Comcast and, potentially, other operators the green light to deploy those inexpensive, one-way "channel zappers" (they cost about $35 each) with security enabled, thereby sidestepping an integrated security ban that took effect in July 2007. Those waivers will also give MSOs access to simple digital-to-analog converter boxes that cost much less than entry-level, interactive set-tops that rely on removable CableCARDs to decrypt and authorize digital video signals.
(See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)"

Comcast has been pushing out DTAs in large numbers already – just without the security functionality enabled.  This ruling allows them to begin “turning on” the security via a firmware update.

Bottom line - this should slam shut the last remaining door for viewing and/or recording non-local channels without a cable box.  Of course we’re nearing (or at) the time when everyone wants their TV in High Def anyway right? 

You can pour over the FCC Ruling at

via MultiChannel News