Thursday, September 03, 2009

Report: SDV Solved with CableCard Firmware Update Coming Soon

According to Media Center Blogger Chris Lanier, a new OCUR CableCard firmware update is coming soon that will have support for Tuning Adapters as well as a change that will allow for “less DRM on non-flagged CableCard recordings”

So expect this to be one of the positives for MediaCenter fans coming out next week at CEDIA.

via Chris Lanier

Digital Everywhere-Maker of Popular Intl TV Tuners Closes Shop

Austrian TV tuner maker “Digital Everywhere” announced today that they are closing permanently.  Digital Everywhere was the manufacturer of the Digital TV receiver and FireeDTV FloppyDTV – all very popular tuner devices outside of the U.S.


From the Digital Everywhere Forums:

Dear customers,
after several months struggling with very low sales figures, digital everywhere decided to stop its activities.
Manufacturing of products has been stopped and support has been reduced to the minimum.
digital everywhere wants to thanks all its customers and all the users which with their efforts and feedback greatly help in continuosly improving the FireDTV / FloppyDTV.
Hopefully this is only a goodbye.

According to, Digital Everywhere will honor warranties for existing devices sold going forward though.

According to a post on the MediaPortal blog, the company is looking into any possible avenue to keep the floppyDTV and FireDTV devices on the market

While this doesn’t directly affect us in North America, it’s still a very disappointing development in the HTPC world – remember, the fewer HTPC users worldwide there are the less reason for companies to focus on HTPCs.  Hopefully someone will fill the gap created by the loss of Digital Everywhere.

via Digital Everywhere Forums

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Understanding Codecs

DigitalMediaZone Logo

Most HTPC enthusiasts and other computer users have dealt with codecs.  Many have heard the term “codec hell” and in my opinion, one of the ways you keep yourself out of trouble with codecs and make certain you understand chat codec does what for video and music playback is to delve into the different codecs and make sure you understand them.

Adam at the Digital Media Zone has done a great job with a in-depth look at various codecs so I really encourage you to check out the first two parts in his “Understanding Codecs” series:

Understanding Codecs: Part 1- H.264

Understanding Codecs: Part 2 – MPEG-4

Review of Via NSD-7800 Windows Home Server

VIA NSD-7800 8-Drive NAS Storage Solution

MissingRemote has a nice review of an intriguing Windows Home Server computer – the VIA NSD-7800 8-Bay WHS Solution.  Windows Home Server has really taken off as an easy, yet powerful solution.  HTPC users are adopting WHS as a viable solution for storing and serving their media as well.

Here’s a preview of the review on MissingRemote:

The popularity of Windows Home Server as a viable NAS competitor has spawned a number of solutions from HP and Acer, to name a few. Equally as popular however, has been the desire for enthusiasts to roll out and build their very own WHS Server boxes as well. The main restriction with the majority of these cases and available OEM solutions was the limit of four internal hard drives. VIA is tossing their hat into the ring with an 8-Drive bay chassis that comes as a barebones solution. With little effort this chassis can be come your new WHS box holding just under 16 terabytes in a very small form factor.

Excerpt from the review:

However, for enthusiasts it would be hard to ask for more. The system is compact yet one of the largest storage chassis I have seen that does NOT require a rack. Most of us geeks have hard drives lying around anyways so the lack of any storage simply means you can configure the system with the drives you want right from the get-go.

Read the entire review at

Speeding up Windows 7 Media Browser using a Flash Drive

from Hacking Windows 7 Media Center by Michael Healy

USB Drive

Much of the data retrieved by Media Browser is stored on the hard drive and needs to be retrieved frequently as you browse through your movie collection. Information such as movie metadata and covers is constantly being loaded up as you browse through your movie folders. This data retrieval process leads to some extremely slow performance in large collections and it doesn’t get much more frustrating than knowing what movie you want to watch and taking forever to get to the right listing so you can play it. Luckily, there is something we can do about it.

The idea comes from Washy on the Media Browser forums and is much like our previous guides on speeding up the Live TV buffer using a RamDisk or using a flash drive. For this guide we’re going the flash drive route because the amount of data we’re working with is somewhat prohibitive in regard to using a RAMDisk. It would require quite a bit of spare RAM to operate the disk for Media Browser’s data but using a fairly inexpensive flash disk like the Patriot Xporter XT Boost 4GB Flash Drive can really speed up access times when browsing through your library without spending much money.

Once you’ve got your flash drive ready setting up Media Browser to use it instead of the default location is fairly simple…

Read the rest of this entry at Hack7MC >>>

Catch more of Michael's reflections on Windows 7 Media Center at Hack7MC.  I’ve followed Michael’s articles for quite a while now and am pleased that Michael has agreed to contribute some of his excellent Windows 7 Media Center articles to GeekTonic for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2 Million Hits

Today GeekTonic passed the 2 Million pageviews milestone since the blog began three years ago.

GeekTonic Over 2 Million Hits

I remember how excited I was to hit 100,000 just under two years ago and things have been going strong since.

As I said back then, thanks for frequenting GeekTonic!

Month in Review – August 2009

We’re heading into the Labor Day weekend and I thought I’d give you a quick run-down of the top posts of August. 
GeekTonic continues on a steady diet of HTPC and media-tech goodness.  Thanks to you, the readers for reading - I will continue working hard to bring you the content you came here for!

To wrap of August 2009 I wanted to share the most popular posts (as measured by Google Analytics) of the month:



    Other Content from past months on the Most Popular List include:

    More coming soon.  Reviews, giveaways, some pretty exciting news all planned for the coming month.  Stay tuned.

    DIY HDMI and USB Over Ethernet – An Extender Alternative

    Remote Locating your HTPC, or accessing your HTPC Server remotely with video and a remote control.
    HDMI over Ethernet
    Looking for a relatively inexpensive way to connect a TV in your home to your HTPC server?  Perhaps from a long distance?  You won’t want to miss todays Guest post by Clift!  He walks us through the process of “extending” the HD TV signal and the remote control of his HTPC up to a bedroom distant from the HTPC server.  A great how-to that would interest anyone with an HTPC or a desire to DIY!

    NOTE:  This is a guest post by Clift.   Basic guidelines for writing and submitting a guest post at GeekTonic can be found here.
    If you use extenders with your HTPC setup and have ever wished you could switch your TV input and have your HTPC desktop (or other application) available even though the server may be in the basement or a closet somewhere then this guide may be for you.  I have to admit, when I started this project it wasn’t necessarily for that reason.  My wife and I were building a playroom for my daughter and my first choice was to purchase a SageTV media extender (HD100 or HD200).  However, with the amount of TV time she actually gets we decided it may not be worth $200 to get another extender.  She asked why we couldn’t just use the server.  Being that she is not as techie as I am it was a valid question that I would never have asked.  I know the maximum length for VGA, HDMI and USB so I knew that it would never work.  But being the engineer that I am I just love a challenge.  Plus, the idea of saving some money is never a bad idea.
    I had heard of VGA over CAT5 Ethernet cable so that is where I started.  Then I came across HDMI over CAT5e or CAT6.  In my opinion this made more sense as HDMI is the one cable to rule them all or I wouldn’t have to worry about a separate sound cable and HDCP issues.  A quick Google search revealed that USB over CAT5 was possible as well.  I have to admit though, the actual challenge of getting the equipment, running the cabling, setting up the server, and fabricating was tougher than I imagined.  About halfway through this project I figured someone somewhere could benefit from what I was about to learn.  Plus, Brent was nice enough to allow me to chronicle this and post it up on Geektonic for all the readers to see and hopefully get some ideas.  I repeat, though, my particular setup was to save some money.  So keep that in mind because this may not be the ideal way to get SageTV into another room.

    Possible Uses

    Before I get started on the technical stuff I also want to mention that this is my application but there are a number of possibilities for this as well, including (but not limited to):

    • Video On-Demand if using a USB IR receiver and Eventghost or Girder as an IR repeater for the cable box

    • Hulu desktop while still having your server be out of the way

    • Running Windows Media Center, XBMC, etc on your server but still be able to use your extender in the living room and elsewhere

    • Using the server for web browsing or gaming with a wireless or wired USB keyboard AND mouse

    • Using a cloned desktop to send control and watch your HTPC from another room

    • Using the Server as a client in another room (my actual implementation)

    One of the hardest things was keeping costs low.  HDMI over Ethernet is usually over $100 for an HDMI repeater and receiver on both ends.  USB over Ethernet isn’t well documented and pre-built USB to Ethernet dongles are in the range of $45 or sometimes less, but may be of questionable quality.  Also, these devices over-promise their capabilities, and besides they usually take male and female USB to female Ethernet which is not what I wanted.  Often times they quote 150 feet, but good luck getting the USB signal that far.  And the bus-supplied 5V will not even make it half that far.  So it was either find HDMI over Ethernet cheap or build my own VGA over Ethernet cables out of parts from Radio Shack (ahem, I mean “The Shack”).  And then I would have to get a long stereo cable.  Luckily I was able to find HDMI over Ethernet for under $20 from  Now this wasn’t exactly my ideal setup for one good reason: it’s a complete wall plate.  I wanted something that could fit in a standard keystone port or something I could modify a standard wall plate to accommodate so that I could have my USB over Ethernet on the same wall plate.  No dice.  Oh well, I was not complaining since this one got good reviews and the price was right.  At this point I had pretty much decided I was going to build the USB cable myself.  Some of the parts I needed I already had, but I have included in this guide the full parts list below.  Everything can be purchased from for cheap.
    Prod ID





    HDMI over CAT5E / CAT6 Extender Wall Plate (Pair) - Single Port
    50FT 350MHz UTP Cat5e RJ45 Network Cable - Yellow
    CAT 6 500MHz UTP 50FT Cable - Black
    Cat5E RJ-45 Tool-less Keystone Jack
    Wall Plate for Keystone, 4 Hole -White
    USB 2.0 A Male to A Female Extension 28/24AWG Cable - 1.5ft
    3.5 Inches USB 2.0 4 PORT INT/EXT DUAL HUB BAY
    You can use whatever length you want, but be warned over 100ft or so you might run into trouble with the HDMI.  For USB I could not get a reliable signal at over 45ft total length (length of Ethernet cable run in the attic + length of the USB cable from the device + length of the USB to Ethernet cables).  While I was able to get a mouse to work, some other USB devices I tried gave me a “USB Device has malfunctioned” error.
    Why do we need this stuff?

    • HDMI over CAT6 - This is the cheapest you’re going to find anywhere, but Monoprice sells good stuff so no worries.

    • 50 ft CAT6 cable – You need two of these in order for it to work.  I made the mistake of not reading everything and ended up getting only one CAT6 cable so I had to order another one.  Since HDMI is so picky about timing, etc it is better to go with CAT6.  Plus, at around 50ft, you should need CAT6 in order to be able to do 1080P

    • 50 ft CAT5e cable – This is going to be used for the USB over Ethernet

    • CAT5e RJ-45  Keystone Jacks – This is for the in-wall installation of the USB to Ethernet cables we will make later

    • USB 2.0 male to female extension – This is the cable we will cut and splice in order to make the USB to Ethernet cables

    • USB 2.0 Powered HUB – This is very important.  The hub needs to be powered.  The reason for this is that the 5V supplied power from your motherboard USB is not enough to make it 50ft.

    As you can see the total for the above is just under $45 plus $5-10 for shipping.  I already had a USB hub, wall plates, and a USB cable.

    • Make sure your USB device that you will remotely locate is installed and fully functional

    • Make sure your HDMI implementation is working, including sound and HDCP

    • Test the HDMI over CAT6 and USB over CAT5e before running cable through the walls/ceiling/attic/floor

    Installing the HDMI extension is pretty straight forward.  The input and the output are specific, so make sure not to mix those up.  If you are running cables through the walls, one thing to note is that it is a good idea to mark which cable is which.  I did this by wrapping a piece of duct tape to both ends of one cable like this (this picture shows back of one of the HDMI wall plates):

    The rest is pretty standard.  You may want to tape over the bright LED that comes with the HDMI wall plate.
    For the USB installation I have detailed in steps below how I approached it:
    1. Cut about 6-12” of cable on each end of the 50ft USB cable (or as long as you anticipate you will need on each end)
    2. Strip about an inch off each end of the cables you just cut.
    3. Cut the USB cable in half (or whatever ratio you want, but leave at least 6” of clearance on the shortest cable).
    4. Strip about an inch off each end of the USB cable you just cut.
    USB connector is four pins but there is a fifth pin used for ID.  This cable is “married” or joined to the ground cable.  This is the pinout:

    Pin 1
    Wire 1
    +5V DC
    Pin 2
    Wire 2
    Data -
    Pin 3
    Wire 3
    Data +
    Pin 4
    Wire 4
    Wire 5
    Yellow or Braided

    Another thing to remember is that the green and white wires, Data - and Data +, are twisted in the USB cable, so they should be twisted (paired) in the Ethernet/CAT5e cable.  Also, since the USB cable is 4-wire and the Ethernet cable is 8-wire it is actually possible to run 2 USB connections over one CAT5e cable.  Here is the pairing used for just one (use the others as you see fit):
    USB Wire

    CAT5e Wire
    Wire 1

    Wire 7
    Wire 2

    Wire 3
    Wire 3

    Wire 6
    Wire 4, 5
    Black & Yellow/Braided

    Wire 8

    USB Wire

    CAT5e Wire

    5. Strip the individual USB and Ethernet wires from the cables you cut in steps 1 and 3.
    6. Using the chart in step 4, connect the USB cable wires to the CAT5e cable wires and then (optional) solder.  Be sure to insulate each connection, and then electrical tape the cable together or use shrink tubing.  NOTE: My cables look ugly!  I had them looking really good with shrink tubing and everything, but I ended up ripping everything apart while troubleshooting an issue (more on that later) but when I got it working, I was NOT about to rip the cables apart and do it again ;)
    Shrink Tubing
    7. Do this for both the male and female ends of the USB cable to the CAT5e patch we cut earlier.
    8. Now strip about one inch from each end of the long CAT5e cable, but do not strip the individual wires.
    9. Connect the wire to the keystone jack according to the color chart printed on it (use type B)
    Keystone Jack
    10. Do this for both ends.  Tidy up.
    Now you are done making the USB cable and it is time to test it.  Connect the patch cables to either each end of the Ethernet wire and connect the male end to your PC and the female end to your device.  Good luck!  If you get an error when you connect them, then you need a powered USB hub.  Luckily we have one. You did order one didn’t you? 
    Connect everything like so:
    Device -> Female USB to Ethernet -> CAT5e -> Male USB to Ethernet -> Power USB Hub -> PC
    Everything should be good now.  If it isn’t then you may have done something wrong.  Are you using a device with a very long cable?  When using the Microsoft eHome IR Receiver I had trouble getting the PC to recognize the device.  I ended up cutting 8 feet (yeah that’s right, 8 FEET!!!) of cable off and re-splicing the cable together.  Let me tell you, I was a bit apprehensive about doing that but it worked!  The total length of cable I ended up with from USB hub to actual device I estimate at ~45ft.  The only down side was that I ended up destroying my beautiful USB to Ethernet cables while troubleshooting….
    That’s pretty much it.  The only thing that’s left to do is to make the installation clean by installing the wall plates, keystone jacks, etc.  Here are some pictures from my setup. 
    I was able to achieve this for about a quarter of the cost of a new SageTV HD Theater extender, but at 4 times the work.  I enjoyed it, though.  And it turned out better than I thought.
    These are the wires coming out of wall plate.  I ended up caulking around the open hole in the top to keep my daughter from sticking things (and little fingers) in there.
    This is what things look like in the office now, 6-hole wall plate.  I hope I never have to relocate the server.
    Here is a picture of the USB to Ethernet cable coming out of the wall keystone jack and going into the powered USB Hub.


    This is the final product.  I ended up running a separate audio cable because I had trouble getting HDMI audio reliably out of the NVIDIA video card.  I could get audio out of the Radeon HD3200 IGP, but I could not get smooth video.  All cables are anchored/tucked for kid friendliness (I hope).
    About Clift:  Clift is married with a 19 month old daughter.  He has a Bachelor's of Science in Aerospace Engineering and is currently working at a Nuclear Power Station in Florida as a lead quality assurance auditor.  He also wrote about his HTPC setup this summer – be sure and check it out if you missed it.

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Another XBMC Skin Preview - Xperience

    Another week, another XBMC skin preview.  I’ve been studying up on UI design specifically for HTPCs lately and this is yet another promising looking one from XBMC.  Interesting use of windowed screens and animations in the UI.

    Xperience Trailer 1 from Team Blackbolt on Vimeo.

    They call this one Xperience – read more at the website

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    TV Premieres: What to Watch 08/30 – 09/05

    September arrives this week and you know what that means?  That’s right, the TV premieres begin to be pushed down the TV pipes into our DVRs and HTPCs.  I probably spend as much time getting my TV Premiere guides and updates to GeekTonic as I do watch Television, but hey – it’s for you guys right?

    Don’t miss the Ultimate Guide to the 2009 Fall TV Season Premieres with free downloads by premiere date & by show name!

    There aren’t many premieres this week – only Greek.  But there are a few specials and such that you can check out.  In the meantime, check out the link above and download the TV Premiere Listings I just updated (lots has changed since I first posted it).
    Below you’ll find all this weeks premieres through next Sunday.
             Greek Returns to ABC Family Monday

    NOTE: All Times are Listed for EST

    Sunday 08/30/2009

    The CW Fall 2009 Preview Special (6:30pm on CW) – A 30 minute special where you can check out the lineup from CW.  There are a few good, new ones from CW this year.
    36th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards (8pm on CW) – Two hours of Emmy awards.
    Sunday Night Football: Bears at Broncos (8pm on NBC – Available in HD)
    Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (9pm on Comedy) – A 2-hour Futurama movie for the fans.
    High Plains Invaders (9pm on Syfy) – A new Movie on SyFi
    Tool Academy (9pm on VH1) – Season 2 premiere

    Monday 08/31/2009

    Greek (8pm on ABC Family) – Season 3 of the popular teen drama
    CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock (8pm on ABC – Available in HD) – Three hours of Country
    Monday Night Football: Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans (8pm on ESPN – Available in HD) More Favre time
    Youth Knows No Pain (9pm on HBO) – A 90 minute special on HBO

    Tuesday 09/01/2009

    Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World (10pm on Travel Channel– Available in HD) – Series premiere with Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern.  In this series he dives into some of the cultures found around the world.
    Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel (10pm on truTV) – Season 2 premiere
    Surviving Disaster (10pm on Spike) A new series on SpikeTV

    Wednesday 09/02/2009

    CBS Fall Preview (8:30 on CBS) – 30 minutes of CBS promoting their new and returning shows.

    Saturday 09/05/2009

    College Football Missouri vs Illinois (3pm on FoxSports Midwest– Available in HD)  Okay, I added this one because I’m going to be there.  So if you’re watching the game I’ll wave for you ;)
    Saturday Night College Football (8pm on ABC– Available in HD)


    Season Finales this Week:

    • 8/31 10pm “Weeds” finale on Showtime

    • 8/31 10pm “Dance Your Ass Off” finale on Oxygen

    • 8/31 10pm “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” finale on Travel

    Click Here If You Would Like to Get a Weekly E-mail for GeekTonic TV Premieres & News