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.