Sony XL1 200-Disc Changer/Recorder on Sale – $99

Get it while they are hot.  My guess is Sony is getting rid of their stock, and this will most likely be a discounted product in the upcoming months.  At $99, there is no question that there is no money to be made selling PC-based DVD changers to such a small market, especially when use is limited to the local PC and not over Media Center Extenders.  The only other possibility is a Blu-ray version replacing this in the future, since it is Sony you can’t count that out.

Microsoft Announces Availability of New Zune Accessories at Retail

Zune unveils an expanded list of accessory partners to offer existing and new Zune users a wider selection.

REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 30, 2007 — Microsoft Corp. today announced the retail availability of new accessories for its innovative digital media player, Zune. The new first- and third-party accessories will usher in the next generation of Zune digital media players, which will be on shelves Nov. 13.

“Zune is committed to providing customers with choice,” said Scott Erickson, senior director of product management for Zune. “In addition to offering choice among Zune media players, we have also enhanced our accessories program to ensure that Zune users can choose from a robust line of high-quality accessories. By working only with licensed partners, we ensure that consumers have everything they need to enjoy a seamless, end-to-end Zune experience — Microsoft is one of the few companies that can offer this depth of support.”

Zune also announced an expanded third-party accessory partners program, teaming up with leading manufacturers to offer a wide selection of products created exclusively for Zune. Microsoft is collaborating directly with 23 accessory partners to ensure customers have a number of accessory options, complementing and enhancing their Zune experience.

Read Full Press Release

AVerMedia Does QAM in Vista Media Center

AVerMedia has released a beta plug-in to allow unencrypted QAM (aka Clear QAM) support in Vista Media Center.  AVerMedia Product Manger Felix Kolotinsky posted about it last week on The Green Button as well as offered a link to the beta plug-in on their FTP.  The only card supported is the AVerTV Combo PCIe x1 M780 tuner, and it will support both Vista x86 and x64.  There is no Media Center 2005 support.

You can download the plug-in at using the user name: beta and password: betatest.

Reading through the thread when they say this is a beta, they mean it.  I would strongly suggest a full backup before playing with this, and remember it is not a finished product.

For more information, as well as troubleshooting (you will likely need it), check out the thread on The Green Button.

Sony Selling Standalone Digital Cable Tuners

Everyone is shocked to see this morning that Sony is selling Digital Cable Tuners by themselves (Via Engadget) for the low price of $300.  Now, OEMs are only supposed to sell you a DCT (OCUR) if you have purchased a PC from them, and as Sony notes you will still need a “Unit already shipping with ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner.”

It will be interesting to see how long this lasts.  If you are interesting in picking one up, remember you still have to have a CableCARD-ready PC for it to work.  Just because you can buy the tuner doesn’t mean it will work on your home built PC.

This does look like a nice option for those with HP/Sony machines, as both OEMs decided only to ship single tuners machines.

Update:  I wanted to make it super clear for those who have not followed by CableCARD ramblings for the last two years, this will not work in your PC unless you specifically purchased a CableCARD-ready PC (you know if you did).  It will not work in a non-CableCARD-ready PC.  It requires a special BIOS and second COA (Product Key) to work, it doesn’t include these and you can’t get them without the purchase of a new CableCARD-ready PC.  For more, see my Vista CableCARD FAQ.

Also, if someone was to hack the BIOS and COA, CableLabs and Microsoft have external methods to disable it from working.  Remember, half of the concept of a CableCARD is to authenticate you to your cable companies network.  Compromised methods can just be “turned off.”  So, purchase at your own risk if you are trying to hack it.

If you have a CableCARD PC currently, this tuner should work fine as a second tuner

Short Bits: Media Center Future, Slingbox

I think I might finally have decided that Media Center isn’t going to get to the point it should.  It isn’t going to be integrated to the point it should, and I really don’t think Microsoft gets the whole “Connected Entertainment” concept.  They have so many parts there, yet they are so far from it.  Anyone wondering what tipped this off?  Well a great thread with Charlie Owen at his blog.  I respect everyone at Microsoft and I know they all work hard on the products, but I’m so losing my trust in them delivering products that work together.  Maybe I’m being to hard, maybe I’m asking for too much, maybe it is time for me to back out and accpet Microsoft is going to do what they are going to do.

On a different subject, I’ll have a review of a Slingbox SOLO in a few days.  I’ve got a review unit, and I’ve been playing with it for a week.  It works great, I’m just trying to find time to write the review.  Instead I have been putting it off studying for a mountain of tests and replay to Charlie’s post above.

There was something else that was supposed to go into this post, but I forget what it was.

Two Digital Cable Tuner Updates Released

Error message when you try to watch live TV in Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer: “Restricted Content – Display Driver”Full KB Article

Consider the following scenario: You are using an OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver (OCUR) device that is connected to a Windows Vista-based computer. You put the computer in standby or hibernate, and then you resume the computer. In this scenario, when you try to watch live TV in Windows Media Center, you receive the following error message:

Restricted Content – Display Driver

If you wait for 30 seconds after you resume the computer from standby or hibernation, and then try to watch live TV, the problem may not occur. In other cases, you may have to restart the computer to resume live TV playback.

Because of this problem, scheduled recordings may not be recorded.

Windows Media Center stops responding when you resume a Windows Vista-based computer from hibernation.  – Full KB Article

Consider the following scenario:

  • You use a computer that is running Windows Vista Ultimate or Windows Vista Home Premium.
  • The system is configured to use a digital cable tuner.
  • You watch Live TV in Windows Media Center.

You put the computer into hibernation or into sleep, and then you resume the computer.

In this scenario, Windows Media Center may stop responding (hang). Or, Windows Media Center cannot find the OpenCable Unidirectional Cable Receiver (OCUR) tuner. In some scenarios, you can watch TV again if you press the Live TV button several times. In other scenarios, you must restart the computer to watch TV.

Update: Dell Launches XPS 420 to Replace XPS 410

Dell just updated their website to include the new XPS 420 in-place of the XPS 410.  So far, it is hard to say it CableCARD is even offered, as the “Ultimate Entertainment” package can’t be configured on their website.  I imagine this will change in the next few hours, but other than a redesigned case I don’t see much different between the currently available 420 and the 410.

So far CableCARD is not available on two cheaper configurations at all, even when you select their DellCare program.  That leaves the XPS 420 “Ultimate Entertainment” with Blu-ray as the only option that might include it.  Because of this, I wouldn’t expect to be able to configure a Dell machine without Blu-ray.

I’m going to assume the other issues are still there too, like having to purchase a monitor (officially) to put the package together.  We can only hope they did away with having to pay extra for “DellCare” just to configure it with CableCARD.

No word on pricing since it can’t be configued just yet. 

Update: Specs are up and can be configured…but no options for CableCARD.  I’m going to assume this is because they didn’t have their papers to CableLabs in a timey fashion. I will post again when Dell hopefully adds CableCARD as an option.

The XPS 420 does have an integrated SideShow display on the front of the case, not sure it is a big advantage on a desktop but it is nice to see a large OEM pushing SideShow as a feature.  It also can include an “Xcelerator” that speeds up video encoding, much (exactly) like the dozens of USB 2.0 thumb drives that do the same thing.

Microsoft Launches New Xbox 360 Console for Families

New console includes five games, wireless controller and storage to save games — all for the incredible value of $279.99

REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 22, 2007 — Just in time for holiday, Microsoft Corp. today released a new Xbox 360® console that delivers games and content to everyone in the family for an incredible value of $279.99 (U.S. estimated retail price)*. Available in stores beginning today, Xbox 360 Arcade console is the first Xbox 360 console to include five family-friendly games, a wireless controller, a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) connection to enable high-definition output if desired and 256 MB of memory useful for storing games and entertainment content. At $279.99, the Xbox 360 Arcade console will include five best-selling games: “PAC-MAN Championship Edition” (NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc.), “Uno” (Carbonated Games), “Luxor 2” (MumboJumbo), “Boom Boom Rocket” (Electronic Arts Inc.) and “Feeding Frenzy” (Sprout Games).

“As families gather together this holiday, it’s the perfect time to launch a new low-priced, high-value Xbox 360 that plays games, TV shows and music for everyone to enjoy,” said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing, Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “In addition to offering an incredible all-in-one package for families to get right into the fun, the Xbox 360 Arcade system features the industry-leading Family Settings, which allow parents to control what their kids are watching and playing — and we know how important that control is to families around the world.”

Karen Dodge, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer at Toys “R” Us, added, “We are excited to offer this new gaming experience to our customers — children and families — who can now enjoy the fun of Xbox 360 together. Many of this holiday season’s hottest items provide Internet connectivity, and with the online entertainment options available through Xbox LIVE®, Xbox 360 Arcade offers families a great mix of online content and traditional gaming in one console.”

The news of Xbox 360 Arcade comes as part of a broader initiative by Microsoft to bring the Xbox 360 experience to families everywhere. Microsoft also announced today that it is significantly expanding its catalog of high- and standard-definition family fun content that is available on demand direct to the consumer’s living room. This includes the addition of everyone’s favorite characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck from Warner Bros., which will be delivering the first ever “Looney Tunes” cartoons for download on Xbox 360, starting today. In addition, Nickelodeon is adding three new shows to its already large library of more than 300 episodes of TV shows on Xbox LIVE, Microsoft’s premier online gaming and entertainment service, with the inclusion of “Blue’s Clues,” “The Backyardigans” and “iCarly.” “SpongeBob SquarePants Underpants Slam™” (THQ Inc.) and “SHREK-N-ROLL” (Activision) games will also be available exclusively on Xbox LIVE Arcade, the place to download games for Xbox 360 over Xbox LIVE, adding more fun for everyone in the family.

Microsoft’s commitment to family entertainment is complemented by the largest next-generation library of “E”- and “T”-rated games, more than 200 in all, available at retailers nationwide this holiday, including “BEE MOVIE™ GAME” (Activision), “Guitar Hero III®: Legends of Rock” (Activision), “Naruto: Rise of a Ninja” (UbiSoft Entertainment), “Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action” and “Viva Piñata®: Party Animals.”

Ricavision Ships First Vista Media Center Remotes

Ricavision might have delayed their SideShow-based remotes, but they are pushing out their regular redesigned Vista Media Center remote controls.  So far it looks like they are only shipping the regular remote, the universal and multifunction remote appear to be no-shows.

The price seems to be right, with the standalone remote going for only $7 and the remote/receiver combo going for $30.  Most interesting about the combo is that the receiver appears to be RC6 and Bluetooth.  RC6 is the standard protocol for every other Media Center remote that you might already have, so the addition of Bluetooth is nice especially when you consider the low $30 price tag.

Check them out at Ricavision’s website.

Final Zune v2 Thoughts

I got last weekend and reviewed the rest of the comments on my Zune posts from the week before and realized that I needed to clarify a few things.

First of all, I still believe that the Zune is no iPod competitor. Why?  It really doesn’t matter what features are there for the Zune, it is not an iPod.  As I have said in the past, the iPod is 25% a great digital audio player and 75% a product of Apple marketing.  The sales of the iPod didn’t come from the features.  Sure, they helped but overall that is not why the iPod is what it is today.  The name “iPod” is generic now; it is an interchangeable term that millions of people use to describe an MP3 player.  Zune will never match, and therefore Zune will never be a true iPod competitor in my opinion.

Having said that, I look back at some of my previous comments and I want to note that while Zune will never overtake the iPod, I think the best thing Microsoft can do is appeal to niche crowds in order to sell it.  There are features of the Zune that a lot of iPod owners would likely never use, however those same features will bring in niche crowds.  Wireless is an example.  Great feature, but if I buy a Zune for my Dad, an iPod owner, it would never get used.  Same with the social features, same with the FM tuner, same with recorded TV syncing, etc.  All of those features might put the Zune over the top of the iPod based on pure features, but in this iPod world today they become niche features.

Zune v2 is almost what Zune v1 should have been.  But, the lack of integration between Microsoft products is driving me nuts, and it does start to turn me off products from Microsoft even though competing products don’t integrate how I want either.

So the question is would I buy an iPod over a Zune?  The more I think about it, it depends.  I was tempted when I saw those $99 Zunes on Woot yesterday until I saw they were referbs.  The wireless sync is a very nice feature, and depending on how it works for everyone else that might put a Zune in my hands next.  The fact that it still doesn’t integrate with Media Center just plain sucks.  They can call importing recordings into the Zune Software “integration” all they want, but when I pull out a Portable Media Center and can sync using a 10” UI that is what I call integration.  Give me that with the wireless sync and I’ll buy.  Being able to create playlists in Media Center, my main way of listening to music, and then being able to sync that wirelessly with the Zune is what I want.  This needs to work from Extenders too.

Also, I generally go with two players in my collection.  One is for working out (flash based), and one for the car/plane trips/normal listening/etc.  The Zune has no match for the iPod Shuffle yet and it really needs one.  Another one of the iPod strength comes from the fact that there really is one for every member of the house.

 If the Zune can continue to increase features in software (and not require new hardware to get the majority of them) and integrate better with Microsoft’s own software, then I’ll consider it for my next player.

Edit: Aaron posted in the comments, but I wanted to point out his post on The Green Button about his converting to a Zune because of the $99 Woot deal and liking it, at the original price he said he wouldn’t have gone for it.