Reminder: Upload Your Media Center Components To The Database

Please remember to take a few minutes out and upload your system specs at Media Center Components.  It will only take you a few minutes and should not only help when you are ready to build yourself a new Media Center PC, but will also help others who are looking to get started both with older hardware and with new hardware.  Once the database gets large enough, you will be able to use it to find the best hardware that has worked for others.

Only takes a few minutes, check it out here.

Apple TV Gets Upgrades; Still Not For Me

Apple has just released a new revision of their Apple TV.  The main upgrade comes with the $100 160GB hard drive upgrade over the past 40GB.  You can still purchase both, 40GB for $299 and 160GB for $399.  I still say the product sucks, unless you are a big iTunes user.

The other upgrade comes with YouTube support.  A nice edition to show off that 720p iTunes downloads are clearly not ready.  YouTube is a nice addition, Media Center Extender users have been able to do this for a while now and to me it’s clearly a cover feature until Apple can get 720p iTunes content.  I mean really, what better way to show off a device built for “widescreen” TV’s other than low bitrate 4×3 Flash-encoded content (Edit: “YouTube will be encoding its entire back-catalog in H.264 format”).  My question about YouTube support is if you can actually search for content?

On the subject of HD downloads, Jobs said “We’re not selling HD yet, because of the tradeoffs between download time and quality. But that might change in the future…” [Via Macworld].  Understandable reason, but somehow I think there is more to it.  H.264 is the best they are going to get in terms of compression, and the pipe to your house isn’t going to change all that much in the next year.  Other services have been providing 720p downloads for years now.  Sure, it takes a while to download but that is part of the game.

Lastly, Jobs doesn’t seem to sure that the living room is the place for Apple, calling it a “hobby.”  He says “The reason I call it a hobby is, a lot of people have tried and failed to make it a business. And it’s a hard problem. So we’re trying. I think if we work on it and improve things over the next year, 18 months, we can crack that.” [Via Macworld]

Microsoft Launches New Product Category: Surface Computing Comes to Life

First commercially available surface computer from Microsoft breaks down barriers and provides effortless interaction with information using touch, natural gestures and physical objects.

CARLSBAD, Calif. — May 29, 2007 — Picture a surface that can recognize physical objects from a paintbrush to a cell phone and allows hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music and maps. Today at the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer will unveil Microsoft Surface™, the first in a new category of surface computing products from Microsoft that breaks down traditional barriers between people and technology. Surface turns an ordinary tabletop into a vibrant, dynamic surface that provides effortless interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects. Beginning at the end of this year, consumers will be able to interact with Surface in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues.

The intuitive user interface works without a traditional mouse or keyboard, allowing people to interact with content and information on their own or collaboratively with their friends and families, just like in the real world. Surface is a 30-inch display in a table-like form factor that small groups can use at the same time. From digital finger painting to a virtual concierge, Surface brings natural interaction to the digital world in a new and exciting way.

“With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology,” Ballmer said. “We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision.”

The Human Touch

Microsoft Surface puts people in control of their experiences with technology, making everyday tasks entertaining, enjoyable and efficient. Imagine ordering a beverage during a meal with just the tap of a finger. Imagine quickly browsing through music and dragging favorite songs onto a personal playlist by moving a finger across the screen. Imagine creating and sending a personal postcard of vacation pictures instantly to friends and family, while still wearing flip-flops.

Surface also features the ability to recognize physical objects that have identification tags similar to bar codes. This means that when a customer simply sets a wine glass on the surface of a table, a restaurant could provide them with information about the wine they’re ordering, pictures of the vineyard it came from and suggested food pairings tailored to that evening’s menu. The experience could become completely immersive, letting users access information on the wine-growing region and even look at recommended hotels and plan a trip without leaving the table.

Surface computing at Microsoft is an outgrowth of a collaborative effort between the Microsoft Hardware and Microsoft Research teams, which were struck by the opportunity to create technology that would bridge the physical and virtual worlds. What started as a high-level concept grew into a prototype and evolved to today’s market-ready product that will transform the way people shop, dine, entertain and live. It’s a major advancement that moves beyond the traditional user interface to a more natural way of interacting with information. Surface computing, which Microsoft has been working on for a number of years, features four key attributes:

Read Full Press Release

Picture-in-Picture: Would You Use It?

Picture-in-Picture is one of the most requested features that I see.  I personally don’t get PiP, never have and never will.  I’ve had PiP on various TVs in the past, but really never found a good reason to use it.  I can understand why people would, I’m just not one of them.

So I have to ask, if PiP was a feature of Media Center would you use it?

Part of my problem with PiP is the fact that it is going to get really difficult to manage if you have Extender’s in your home.  Say you have two Digital Cable Tuners, one is being used on the local PC and another member of your family is using the second one via an Extender.  If either person wants to start a PiP session, you basically have to prompt both users that one person has requested to steal your tuner.  I have huge doubts that this would work nicely in a home.  I’m sure this would be a nightmare for several users, especially those with kids who could likely care less if they cut of your TV session.

Another problem I can see is basic conflict management with regular everyday recording.  Starting a PiP session means selecting if you wish to continue recording or if you really want to start that PiP session.  Sure, it’s possible to manage both of these issues but I guess I don’t see the reason to even bother.  Do you?

Is This Microsoft’s Future Media Platform/Service?

Dave Zatz wants to know what this odd trademark application is about filed by Microsoft in Australia, and
frankly so do I.  Long Zheng first pointed it, and I have to say that nothing here really makes
sense without stretching the imagination pretty far.

First of all, Microsoft is trying to trademark an image, the “arrowheads diverging from disc” as they put it.  This is followed by the most obscure classification of what it might relate to.  Among them, “Computer software for delivery of broadcast-quality video and television programming over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks; computer software for providing video-on-demand services; downloadable films and TV programs provided via video-on-demand” and much more.  It basically includes a summery of everything involved in delivery of content and then playback and personal distribution of that content.

Here’s the full list of the various “Good and Services” that it would/could provide.

  • Computer software for delivery of broadcast-quality video and television programming over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks
  • Computer software for providing video-on-demand services
  • Downloadable films and TV programs provided via video-on-demand
  • Computer software for transmitting personal photos, video and music over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks
  • Computer software for digital video recording
  • Computer software for providing a programming guide to display available video and television broadcasts and downloads
  • Broadcasting services, providing video and television programming over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks
  • Video-on-demand services via broadband networks
  • Entertainment services
  • Providing information concerning television and video programming
  • Providing online user guides featuring information on television and video programs available over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks and available via video-on-demand services
  • Provision of non-downloadable films and TV programs via a video-on-demand service
  • Distribution of television shows, movies and videos for others

First of all, I’m not a big trademark know-it-all, but why did Microsoft apply for this in Australia?

Many have suggested this might be Microsoft’s counter to Joost, or some type of addition to their IPTV platform.  I really have no idea, so here are some random ramblings about it.  It seems to early to go after Joost, so I’m ruling out a direct product to compete with Joost.

Whatever all of this is will likely revolve around VC-1 to deliver this “broadcast-quality video.”  Using VC-1 opens up this service or product up to various Microsoft devices including Vista PCs, Zune and Xbox 360.  I feel like whatever it is will have the word “Anywhere” in the name.  “Windows Live _______ Anywhere” seems like it would work nicely (maybe even a part of the Xbox LIVE Anywhere?)

So, my best guess for what this could be is some sort of whole home and/or whole life entertainment solution.  It’s everything, anywhere, anytime.  It’s a Slingbox-Media Center-Live Marketplace-“Social” experience.  It works on your Vista PC, Zune, Xbox 360, Windows Mobile phone, etc.

 It would be truly “Connected Entertainment.”  Now, what are the chances of the above?  I have no idea.  It seems like Microsoft would need to partner with a few people to make this work, mainly for a way to provide all that content “over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks.”

To me that doesn’t seem like a simple addition to their IPTV platform, it sounds like a whole different concept based on being able to provide your media anywhere you are and at the same time opening the door for content providers to get their media out the door in new ways.  Maybe it mixes in Windows Home Server to be the center of distribution from inside the home.  Maybe it also would give Media Center users that SoftSled by any other name that we have been looking for.  Maybe this is the key to connecting all of Microsoft’s half-baked products into a single unified product offering.

Only time will tell.  What does it sound like to you?

What Should The TV Team at Microsoft Change In Media Center?

Jessica Zahn, everyone’s best friend and Program Manager on the TV Team at Microsoft is going to be doing a presentation about issues in the Media Center community relating to TV in the next day or so.  Go ahead and hop on over to The Green Button and voice your concerns about current issues, problems, or future requests and Jessica and is going pass on the issues to the rest of the TV Team.

Remember, Jessica is part of the TV Team.  So your requests for non-TV items, while I’m sure they are welcome, don’t really apply to her task.

I came up with a sort list yesterday.  It’s far from complete, but here are some of the things that I’d like to see looked into.  Note that I wouldn’t expect a lot of these to be in the product, but I think it would be great for someone else to pick up the TweakMCE ball and run with it.  Matt Goyer did a great job on the version for Media Center 2005, but he’s now left Microsoft to work at Redfin doing real estate (Redfin was on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, so good job to Matt and the rest of the guys at Redfin!).

I don’t think things like adding online content streams to the EPG should be included in the shipping product, but instead should be hackable using a tool like TweakMCE.  Same goes for things like having WMV show in Recorded TV.  I think the market for features like that is small enough, yet doesn’t seem like it would require a lot of development work that it could be done via a TweakMCE like application.

  • CableCARD w/o new OEM PC.
  • DIRECTV w/o new OEM PC and fast!
  • Better DVB support outside the US (including MHEG-5, etc).
  • Workout a transcoding solution for CableCARD/DIRECTV so it could be put on a Zune and still protected
  • Better sort options for Recorded TV (Air date, etc)
  • Allow WMV content to be shown in Recorded TV.  The metadata is kept in the process, but only DVR-MS file are currently allowed to be display.
  • Ability to add online TV streams to the EPG
  • Some type of “Follow me” feature for moving from Extender to Extender, where it can automagically pick up where you left off.
  • Out of the box support for 4 NTSC/CableCARD/DIRECTV tuners+2 OTA.  Two is great, but limiting for larger households.
  • Whatever everyone else says.

I should also note that Jessica and the rest of the Microsoft employees that have followed her to The Green Button to help support and answer questions is very appreciated.  For a product with a growing community behind it, it’s nice to see more and more direct communication between Microsoft and the community.

Give your feedback here

Issues with ContentLink

I’m having some issues with my ContentLink code, so it’s currently being displayed on the frontpage.  I’m trying to figure out exactly what the problem is but so far I’m not having much luck.

For frequent visitors who don’t wish to view them, please hoover over one of the links and then click on the question mark (“?”) in the top right.  Scroll to the bottom of that page, and it says “…if for any reason you would like to disable ContentLink.”

I’ve been playing with various things to tweak them on the site, and for whatever reason they basically broke two days ago.  I then changed the way the code is applied to the site and added the correct tags so that it shouldn’t be displayed on any of the frontpage content.  However, as you might be able to tell it’s not working right.

I’m trying my best to get it fixed, sorry for it being displayed I’m hoping I can figure out what’s wrong.

Update: I’ve e-mail Kontera’s support to see if they can help me figure some things out.