Saturday, October 31, 2009

Week in Review – October 31 Halloween Edition

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

Busy week at GeekTonic with lots of traffic.  Here’s a roundup of the past weeks posts:

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!
A little Halloween-week bonus for those of you who do the pumpkin carving thing and looking for the best jack-o-lantern templates, check out this comprehensive listing with over 40 different sites.  I’ve added a few new links this week that include some Star Wars and Geek Pumpkin Patterns

Free Halloween Jack O Lantern Templates – Over 40 Sites created and updated by yours truly.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

GeekTonic Deal Watcher

GeekTonic Deals - for the best coupons and discounts in tech

GeekTonic’s Brother Affiliate Site, GeekTonic Deals has been ramping up the deal watching looking for good tech deals including stuff for your home theater, HTPC and other tech needs.  Here’s a few of the recent ones from the last few days:

To keep up with other media gadget deals follow or better yet, add it to your RSS Reader.  I’m prepping GeekTonicDeals to follow the best deals for the coming holiday season so stay tuned.


Don’t miss the Free Halloween Jack O Lantern Templates - Over 40 Sites post I update each year

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Building a Silent XBMC HTPC Lifehacker Guide

XBMC Nettop Box 2

            Lifehacker Photo

Adam Pash at Lifehacker has a passion for HTPCs – especially those of the open-source variety, so it will come as no surprise that he’s put together a very nice HTPC build driven by the excellent XBMC Media Center software.

XBMC Nettop Box

                                   Lifehacker Photo


The Lifehacker guide takes a cheap, nettop and converts it into a silent, set-top XBMC that will fit into just about any room in the home.  This is a must-read guide for those interested in HTPC’s even if you don’t use XBMC, he did a great job with the build so check out the XBMC set-top at Lifehacker

New Windows 7 Laptop – Ideal Install For the Non-Geek

This past week I purchased two new laptops for the extended family.  They didn’t want to pay the extra price for the Apple thing so I encouraged them to wait for Windows 7 to arrive.  Thus far that decision was a good one.  Windows 7 was easy to configure and gave me zero problems even with some older hardware and software they wanted.  Here’s what I did to get their Windows 7 laptop ready for the non-techie to use and enjoy:


  1. Uninstall All Useless Programs (crapware as we call it).  Not as much crapware installed on the laptops I picked up which was a nice surprise but I still had  a few programs to uninstall.  Alternatively you could just reinstall Windows 7 to ensure it is a completely fresh install but I didn’t want to take the time in this case.
  2. Configure users and passwords.
  3. Uninstall the “trial” virus scanner program that was already installed and instead download and install Windows Security Essentials which is a very lightweight virus scanner.  If you feel like you need more you might want to install  AVG Free Anti-Virus which is a capable, but lightweight program I’ve used on other installs.
  4. Install Spybot Search And Destroy.  Yes my family (especially the extended family) will need this eventually
  5. Install VLC Media Player – no more “why won’t this file play on my PC?” comments
  6. Install CCleaner.  Best way to keep that PC clean for free
  7. Install 7Zip.  Best unzipping program available and it’s free
  8. Install Google Talk Chat so they can use that newfangled video camera built into their laptop.  Set them up with a google account if they don’t yet have one.
  9. Install DOPDF for free printing to PDF capability
  10. Pick a nice theme and/or background for them.  Add a few simple, but useful gadgets like weather, time and a photo slideshow.
  11. Set up Remote Desktop or in my case I installed the free version of LogMeIn which I use to remote into my relatives PCs when they need assistance (yes I seem to be the free helpdesk guy for the family…)
  12. Do a complete backup with windows restore and save those DVDs somewhere safe.  Set up a regular backup plan.

Keep in mind these are laptops for family members that live a ways away from me and will be used for those with lower-than-average technical skills.  For instance my mom asked “what is this Media Center thing?”  I let her play around in it and she asked “can I record TV on here?”  I quickly said “no mom” and let it be.  It’s just not worth it in this case ;)


What about you?  Do you have a different method?  Anything in particular you do with a new laptop – particularly Windows 7?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Win a Free Popcorn Hour C-200 Media Player


 Popcorn Hour C200

Last week I reviewed the Popcorn Hour C-200 Media Player – a player that can play about anything and is one of the most flexible pieces of hardware I’ve ever reviewed.  I know for some, saving up the $299 ($311 if you want the IR remote) to buy one might take some time.  And there has been quite a wait-list for those buying one of these devices.  So I have the perfect opportunity for you.

The Popcornhour team has agreed to let me do a giveaway for this review media player so you can try it out for yourself for free!

There are two ways to enter with a maximum of one entry per method:

Entry Method 1: The first way to enter is to simply leave one comment below (in this post).

Entry Method 2: The second way to enter is to comment about this contest on twitter with a “tweet” like this: 

Win a free Popcornhour C-200 Media Player from @geektonic


Thanks again to the Popcorn Hour team for the donated C-200.  I'll pay for shipping to anywhere in the continental U.S. (if you're farther then that we can work out the difference in shipping cost)  Only one entry per method per person.  Winners will be determined at random next week and announced on GeekTonic.

And don't forget, you can You can pick up this media player at the Popcorn Hour website if you can’t wait to win this one.

Read the full GeekTonic Review of the Popcornhour C-200


More reviews and giveaways coming soon so stay tuned to GeekTonic or better yet, subscribe to GeekTonic so you’re sure to not miss anything.

TV Update – November Sweeps

Fall TV is supposed to heat up around this time of the year with the month of November bringing us the traditional “sweeps” period.  So it seems like a good time to check the pulse (if there is any) on a few notable TV shows.  Here’s my take:

  • Dollhouse – for me this season of Dollhouse has been the biggest disappointment.  The last several episodes of the first Dollhouse season gave me some hope but this season has been nothing short of awful.  I’ve removed this one from my favorites list although it probably won’t matter as Fox has removed it from their listings for the sweeps month of November.  December will start with a double-episode of this series, but I expect it to be finished forever after 2009.
  • Fringe – I still like this one, but the writers likely have put themselves on the watch list with a storyline that sort of “jumped the shark” if that’s possible with a sci-fi series like this one.  I still have faith it will survive and be renewed though.
  • The Forgotten – This show was obviously forgotten by the TV audience as it’s never picked up decent ratings from day one.  I expect it to be cancelled
  • Hank – the ratings have been poor and I expect it to be canceled
  • The Middle – This ABC Comedy has a chance, but it’s on the edge.
  • Melrose Place – CW thought Melrose Place would do well, but its ratings have been terrible just like the show itself.  It will get cancelled.
  • Brothers – Fox pulled this awful sitcom from its November lineup as well and moved it to Sundays.  I’m honestly shocked it hasn’t been just cancelled – it’s that bad.
  • Ugly Betty – ABC has had this one on life support.  While its one of my wife’s favorites, it seems to have lost its luster and I predict it will be canceled after this season.
  • Castle – one of my wife’s favorites, this one does fairly well (not great) in the ratings and should make it to renewal.
  • Til Death – this is the third Fox show getting pulled from the November lineup.  This one gets a 4-episode airing just before Christmas while nobody is watching.  It’s as good as dead.
  • Lie to Me – This one is doing okay and is really a quality show for the genre.  It will survive and get renewed.
  • Glee – A fun show that is doing quite well.  Definitely will get renewed.
  • Three Rivers – CBS shows seem to be doing okay for the most part, but Three Rivers has never found an audience.  Expect to see this one cancelled.
  • NBC Shows in General – NBC as a network has consistently had very poor ratings with shows such as Law and Order, Mercy, Trauma, and Parks & Recreation all done terrible in the ratings.  Each of those shows are likely to be cancelled by the end of the season.  Community has a good chance and compared to their lesser shows .  Heroes, The Office and 30 Rock look to survive just because NBC has nothing else.
  • Flash Forward and Modern Family – both have done pretty well and I’ve been watching both.  I worry that Flash Forward is getting less interesting instead of the other way around though.
  • White Collar – If you haven’t seen the premiere of this one yet, check it out on Hulu or Amazon VOD.  It’s good and my favorite new show so far this season.


That’s my take after pouring through the TV ratings.  I’ve watched less TV this season compared to the last few just because my time has been filled with other pursuits, but I do keep up with shows like:

  • The Office
  • Fringe
  • Flash Forward
  • Heroes
  • Glee
  • White Collar

What do you think?  Are you following any new shows this season?  Anything you hated/loved/expect to be cancelled?

Snapstream Emphasizes Enterprise Focus – BeyondTV Product “Mature”

Snapstream Enterprise Logo BeyondTV 4 Logo

Over the past few years we’ve seen Snapstream, maker of HTPC software BeyondTV and Enterprise TV Search Service change their focus more and more towards the enterprise side of their business.  Snapstream started their business with a consumer-based PVR software and over time became one of the best known HTPC (home theater PC) software companies in the business.  But in recent years Snapstream has found a great deal of success with selling a “TV Search Appliance” to businesses who needed a simple, but powerful way to search for and record clips based on search terms and phrases (read this article for more on how the Enterprise product works). 

Snapstream Enterprise Appliance

Today Snapstream stated that their focus was definitely now on Enterprise and any future development for BeyondTV would be small improvements as opposed to major feature adds.  Snapstream considers BeyondTV a “mature” product which means it’s unlikely we’ll see a new “BeyondTV 5” version from Snapstream.

Snapstream Company Timeline:

  • 2003 - Snapstream Personal Video Station was showcased in Bill Gates keynote address at the Windows XP Launch  (somewhat ironic since Windows eventually added their own PVR program to their Windows Operating System)
  • May 2003 - Version 3 of Personal video System was launched in May 2003
  • December 2004 – HTPC Front-end Beyond Media launches to public
  • November 2005 - the latest version of Beyond TV  BTV4 (note there have been many free upgrades since 2005) was released
  • January 2008 - Snapstream ended their trial of free TV listing web service “Couchville”
  • November 2008 - Snapstream discontinued sales of HTPC front-end software Beyond Media
  • December 2008 - Snapstream launches new Snapstream Mini version of Enterprise software
  • October 2009 – Snapstream clarifies the company focus towards Enterprise with continued

Those are only some of the highlights of course, but it gives you a picture of the changes over the years at Snapstream

I interviewed Snapstream founder and CEO, Rakesh Agrawal November 2007 and at that time Agrawal talked about their relatively new (at that time) Enterprise product and said that their plan was to split Snapstream’s focus between the consumer and enterprise product.  He noted that there were many goals in common between the two products and talked about how both would provide synergies to each other.  But there was a noticeable excitement from Agrawal when he talked about the enterprise product and it was obvious that Snapstream had a product with great potential in the Enterprise TV Search Appliance.

Today on the beta section of the Snapstream forums they clarified what customers of BeyondTV can expect going forward.

Here’s an excerpt from the forum post:

“There have been a number of threads on the forums and emails directed to me recently about the future of Beyond TV and where SnapStream is headed.
As such, it seems like a good time to clarify our position going forward for consumer and beta releases.

What's SnapStream's focus these days?
Our focus (by which we mean "what we are working on now") is on polishing our technology to work in the enterprise space in support of our Television Search Appliance. In terms of current new development, this means a new backend tailored to expandability/reliability and writing a ground up new api.

As a consumer user, where does that that leave you?
Beyond TV is a mature DVR product that provides a simple user interface to a powerful recording engine. We still believe that if Beyond TV's feature set meets your needs, you will be a happy user. However, if you are not happy with Beyond TV as is, it means that you will probably not be excited about the changes from our upcoming work…”

To be clear, this direction and focus of Snapstream has been obvious for quite a while.  Many times on their forums and elsewhere Snapstream employees have reiterated their focus on Enterprise.  What is significant is that they have outlined this in writing on their beta forums and attempted to address any questions regarding this shift in focus in that post.  It’s obvious they don’t plan to add any significant features to BeyondTV unless its something that would directly benefit their enterprise product.  They addressed what types of things we might see in the future from BeyondTV with this comment:

“Will there be new betas of the consumer version of Beyond TV?
Yes, but with four main caveats.
1. The new features will be mostly under the hood, so you shouldn't expect a new Full Screen Interface. A new Web Interface is being worked on, however.
2. There is no set schedule as of yet for the next Beyond TV Beta.
3. Since our TV search customers are driving our development, these new releases may or may not interest you as a "consumer" user.
4. Some of the things we're working on may not ever be released to the consumer space.

So what kinds of new development is happening?
*A new, database driven ground up re-write of the base services.
*A focus on increased stability and scalability. For instance we expect our business customers will be able to have more than one machine clustered together to have distributed libraries, tuners and showsqueeze machines. As mentioned above, we haven't decided yet which (if any) of these features will be released to the consumer space.
*A new, web Interface that focuses on simplicity and speed.”

The Snapstream BeyondTV users that exist today will likely stay with BeyondTV for the most part as the product works well and is an easy to use PVR.  But as people look at competing HTPC products with more significant HTPC development this certainly minimizes BeyondTV in the realm of competing HTPC/PVR products going forward in my opinion.


Read the full announcement on the Snapstream Beta Forums

Monday, October 26, 2009

GlideTV Remote Control Gets Reviewed at ZNF

GlideTV 2

My friend Dave Zatz has been using the very unique GlideTV device for a few days now and has his hands-on review of the GlideTV – sort of a remote control/touchpad device for controlling your HTPC, computer or gaming device.  Here’s what Dave had to say about the GlideTV:

“First off,  I experienced none of the touchpad lag or jerkiness I’ve previously encountered using similar solutions such as the Zeevee box remote.”

Did Dave like the GlideTV?  Here’s a hint:

Without a doubt, this is the best remote touchpad I’ve used.

But it wasn’t all roses.  I still can’t wait to try this one – it’s a little pricey, but I’m a sucker for cool gadgets like this…  You can use it to control about anything on a PC but it also controls HTPC programs like Boxee, Front Row, and SageTV without using any GlideTV software at all.  Speaking of SageTV, GlideTV has a little SageTV influence at the company with Mike Machado doing a little work for them alongside his job at SageTV – so the HTPC focus with GlideTV is definitely there.


Read Dave’s full hands-on review at ZatzNotFunny! for his full take – it’s a must read especially for HTPC enthusiasts.

Week in Review – October 26

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

It’s been busy as always these last few weeks, but plenty of news to share:

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!
A little Halloween-week bonus for those of you who do the pumpkin carving thing and looking for the best jack-o-lantern templates, check out this comprehensive listing with over 40 different sites:

Free Halloween Jack O Lantern Templates – Over 40 Sites created and updated by yours truly.  Enjoy!

Playstation 3 Getting Netflix Streaming

Netflix and Sony announced Sunday that that Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) users will soon be getting Netflix streaming to their gaming system – the plan are to have the Netflix functionality sometime in November.  The service will be free to PS3 owners who have a netflix account.

Read the entire Press Release