Short Bits: Worst Tech, Remotes, Ed’s Extender

Apple TV scored the #1 position on Yahoo’s 10 Worst Tech Products for 2007.  I’m no fan of it, but as it appears Apple might finally be launching movie rentals in iTunes it could get a second coming.  Renting movies from the Apple TV would defiantly add significant value, but then again so would iTunes purchases in general from Apple TV. 



Microsoft Surface and Windows Vista also were included in the list.  I can see Windows Vista as the public perception of it is horrible, but not Surface.  The author of the article seemed to be taking Surface as a consumer product, complaining about the requirements and price.  At some point, when technology prices drop that will be true, but Surface was introduced as a business and public display product.

There have been a few new Media Center remotes released into the wild that I don’t think have got any coverage.  MediaGate has a silver remote that looks like all standard Media Center remotes, but they also have a black one that has an interesting design.

Philips has a nice Media Center remote with a display (Via The Green Button) for browsing your music library.  It might not be SideShow, but if music is your main goal you might want to look into it.  Of course, they also have this one which was one of the first Vista remotes seen.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen them officially for sale in the US however.

Ed Bott got his Linksys DMA2100 and seems pretty happy with it.  “It takes about 10-12 seconds to go from a cold start to the Media Center interface” says Bott.  Is it bad when the remote is nearly as big as the actually product?

Ricavision Raises VAVE100 Prices; Now $350

Ricavision has single handedly made me lose the last bit of faith I had in SideShow.  Last month I posted about their VAVE100 finally starting to take shape with pre-orders online for $274 ($24 off, regular price was $299).  That isn’t a bad price considered what good Harmony remotes go for, but today I noticed that the price is now $350!

The key point of SideShow devices was supposed to be that they were going to be low priced devices and that Gadgets would continue to add value to the devices.  Ricavision started with the RICA100 being said to ship at $199, in May it was bumped up to $299 with an August 2007 release date.  Now basically in 2008 we still don’t have shipping remotes and the price has ballooned to $350, nearly double the initial price.

This is really sad as some really good gadgets appear to be taking shape, but $350 for a remote that seemingly will never ship doesn’t interest me anymore.

As a side note, Ricavision is also selling the standalone Windows SideShow Module for $120.  I’m not really sure how it is powered or what is included, but any enterprising hacker want to pick one up and build an in-wall unit?

Short Bits: VC-1 SDK, TiVo Gadget, Awards

Microsoft just released the VC-1 Encoder SDK – Professional is designed to provide file-based and/or real-time encoding capability to general content creation toolsets or dedicated encoding software applications.

Mike Swanson posted an updated version of his TiVo Gadget for Windows Vista (Via ActiveWin).

Don’t forget to vote in The Media Center Show Awards.  I believe voting ends this month, so just a few more days to get your vote in.

Linksys DMA2100 Extender Now Shipping

The first v2 Extender is now officially shipping!  The Linksys DMA2100 is available now from Dell for $250.  It supports playback of MPEG-2, MPEG-4 ASP (DivX/Xvid), and MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) along with being completely silent (no fans).  Getting DivX Working on Linksys Extenders

Update:  Galileo points to the manuals for both the DMA2100 and DMA2200 up online.

There is also a hands-on thread at The Green Button with posters who have the unit in their hands.

Gizmodo says it only support Xvid, this is wrong. (Read Update2)  It supports both DivX and Xvid as they are both really just MPEG-4 ASP.  The difference is that DivX is a registered trademark and thus Linksys would want to get DivX Inc. to certify the device before they say it will play the content.  That crap aside, it plays both DivX and Xvid.

Update 2: A few posters have said they can’t get DivX content to play.  I find it hard to believe that Linksys would limit playback to a FourCC of “Xivd,” but I hope to be able to find out more.  Both DivX and Xvid are MPEG-4 ASP and as long as their is an MPEG-4 ASP compliant decoder both DivX and Xvid can be decoded without any issue.

Update 3: Getting DivX Working on Linksys Extenders

When encoding DivX for this device you most likely can’t use Global Motion Compensation (GMC), Qpel, MPEG quantization, or multiple B-frames.  Disable these in your DivX encoder before encoding.  Once encoded, the features can’t be removed.

Digital Cable Tuners (OCURs) Not Getting SDV Adaptor?

Now that CableLabs and TiVo have announced that they will have an adapter for Switched Digital Video (SDV) on one-way UDCP devices the question has been will the same adaptor (generally refered to as a Tuning Resolver) work with Media Center and OCURs (Digital Cable Tuners/DCTs)?  My first guess was ‘no’ as OCURs are not classified as UDCP devices by CableLabs.  However, OCURs do have a USB connection and can have their firmware updated, both of which are requirements for the adaptor to work.  So where does this leave the possibility of the SDV adaptor working with OCURs?

I’ve asked CableLabs about the issue and while I didn’t get an in-depth reply I did get that they are “working on a two-way solution” [BOCR] and have “not focused on the intermediate” adaptor method for OCURs.

The two-way solution should be BOCR which I have talked about in the past.  The BOCR specs have not been finished yet (or even publicly announced by CableLabs), so this solution is pretty far off.

Does this mean that the adapters will not work with OCURs though?  Clearly CableLabs is not focusing on it, but is there really anything stopping OCUR OEMs have adding support to their firmware?  I have my doubts that ATI/AMD will focus on it, but what about Ceton Corp?

Since Ceton is more focused on CableCARD products (basically all they do, unlike ATI/AMD) they might be the first ones add firmware support for the upcoming adaptor.  We will just have to wait and see if it happens, but we now know that CableLabs isn’t focused on using the adaptor with OCURs.

Note: I never got to my post on Ceton Corp MOCUR, but it is going to rule and will blow ATI’s OCUR out of the water.  It will include M-Card support and a wicked cool add-on card functionality for multiple tuners.  They will also have a BOCR when CableLabs gets around to finishing their side of things with the specs.

First DIRECTV Tuner Details?

DIRECTV and even Sky TV support appear to be picking up speed.  Like many of you, I’ve been awaiting the DIRECTV tuner for Media Center since it was announced.  Microsoft and DIRECTV have been quiet on the subject which has made it hard to find out any details on the upcoming product.



Lucky for us, Microsoft happens to be looking for a few employees to work near the project.  Feel free to apply, but for the rest of us who just want the shipping product here are the first small tidbits of information.



According to the job posting, Microsoft is working with newly developed dual satellite tuners.  Among the basic features will be Pay-Per-View (PPV) access and H.264 HD.  These features aren’t that exciting if you understand how satellite works; you must have two-way communications for it to function so you are not going to run into the one-way OCUR issue and DIRECTV has moved to H.264 for all new HD.  That said, it is now confirmed that it will support both.



In addition, DIRECTV support in Media Center appears to support in-band EPG data.  Instead of using Internet-based EPG listings, it looks as if Media Center will use the EPG data currently delivered by satellite.  This is important for several reasons, but among the top is more accurate data delivered whenever needed.



In a second posting, Microsoft states that they working with satellite TV providers in both the US and in Europe, which could just mean Sky TV users will have something to look forward to next year as well.



Most of these details are not earth shattering, but they do reinforce some points.  First is that the Xbox 360 Extender will have to get a codec upgrade for H.264 in the future.  Currently only the Dashboard supports H.264, so except an upgrade before the DIRECTV tuner ships. Second, I personally never thought about the technical side of this product as the details are not there.  However, now that I see things like PPV and in-band EPG I can see why it might be taking so long.  Just tuning and decrypting the video is one thing, but if these details are right Microsoft taking the in-band services and developing them within Media Center is a huge undertaking.



These tuners will only come with or shortly after a new Media Center release.  We still don’t have official information from Microsoft on the Media Center update or Satellite tuner cards, but hopefully CES will bring something new this year.

Life|ware Launches Version 2.0.3

Latest release of industry-leading digital entertainment and automation software is highlighted by increased functionality, more connected partners and quicker dealer installations. Attendees can see the 2008 CES Innovations Award Honoree live at the groundbreaking Next Gen Home Experience.

Columbus, OH – December 20, 2007 – Life|ware™ by Exceptional Innovation is excited to announce the latest release of its digital entertainment and automation solution. Life|ware version 2.0.3 delivers more functionality and more choice to customers through compelling new features and an expanded roster of connected partners.

Life|ware solutions provide instant and easy access to all of your digital entertainment—photos, home videos, recorded TV, movies, music and more—as well as comprehensive home automation, delivered with at-a-glance views of home subsystems such as lights, security, thermostats and more. By replicating the distinctive Microsoft Windows Vista Media Center interface look, feel and navigation, Life|ware 2.0.3 presents a crisp interface that is intuitive, simple to learn and easy to use.

Life|ware version 2.0.3 makes the Life|ware system more accessible and functional than ever before. Want an e-mail or a text message whenever someone rings the doorbell at your home? It’s a snap with the refined scripting abilities in version 2.0.3, which also ushers in new user interfaces for satellite radio and enhanced IR control of audio video components. Life|ware 2.0.3 also allows you to see up to four security camera feeds on screen at one time.

Many of the improvements in Life|ware’s navigation and usability with version 2.0.3 were based on customer and dealer feedback from the first 1,000 Life|ware installations. “This release is particularly exciting because we could call on a large user base for suggestions,” says Mike Seamons, Life|ware’s vice president of marketing. “We heard those suggestions loud and clear. The result is the most user-friendly and installer-friendly version of Life|ware to date.”

With this release, 14 new subsystems and devices are certified as Life|ware Connected™, including the popular Zon™ audio system and the NuVo® Grand Concerto™ whole home audio system, bringing the total number of devices that work seamlessly with Life|ware to 158 devices from 42 different companies. As a result, the customer has more choices than ever before for a whole home entertainment and automation system.

In addition, Life|ware dealers will benefit from Life|ware Visual Project, an all-new configuration tool that makes what was already the fastest set-up in the business even faster and more direct. A simplified licensing structure will further streamline the system integration process. All of it adds up to more jobs in less time for the installer.

At CES 2008, Life|ware will manage the NextGen Home and numerous subsystem partner products in three fully-automated homes located in the Central Plaza across from Central Hall. The homes will feature Life|ware Connected partners representing categories such as lighting, HVAC, distributed audio and security. Also on hand will be Life|ware’s own hardware, including Life|vision™, Life|link™ and Life|controller™, as well as the award-winning Life|media media servers and Life|point™ high-definition touch panels. The homes will be open to CES Attendees during show hours starting on January 7th and ending on January 10th.

As a 2008 CES Innovations Awards Honoree, CES attendees will also be able to see Life|ware 2.0.3 as well as Life|ware’s LMS 754 media server in the Innovations Design and Engineering Awards Showcase at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Both products were honored in the Integrated Home Systems category and will be on display.

For more information on Life|ware, please visit www.life-ware.com.

About Life|ware
Based in the Westerville suburb of Columbus, Ohio, Exceptional Innovation produces Life|ware™ home control software and hardware for digital living. Life|ware creates a lifestyle experience that allows consumers to enjoy their digital entertainment, wherever and whenever they want, as well as manage their lighting, multi-room audio, HVAC, security, appliances and other subsystems, through a single interface by integrating the digital entertainment functionality of Media Center with whole-house automation and control. Led by software industry professionals with extensive experience with distributed computing based on open standards and open architecture, Exceptional Innovation combines Microsoft development expertise with years of home control experience to deliver simple, seamless, life-enhancing solutions for the digital home.

Short Bits: Zune Tool, Media Center Show, Blockbuster

Not sure if it would be helpful to users, but Microsoft just released a Zune Device Diagnostic Tool.  According to Microsoft, the Zune Device Diagnostic Tool compiles data to help Product Support Services diagnose Zune USB and wireless sync connection problems.

New Media Center Show, #136 - Steven Hughes today.  Don’t forget to vote in the The Media Center Show Awards!

Blockbuster Online is all buy dead now, they just raised their prices again!  3 DVD’s out at once (Unlimited per month) just went from $24.99 to $34.99.  Netflix anyone?  I bought a few Netflix gift certificates for holiday gifts, glad I went that way instead of Blockbuster.

I’ve got a few good posts lined up for before Christmas.  CableCARD news as always, and DIRECTV (could it be?).

Embedded Automation Developing mControl SideShow Gadget

Embedded Automation is working on an mControl Sideshow gadget which is sure to make me go out and purchase a SideShow device (Via Missing Remote).  This type of gadget will prove to be the strength of SideShow, if we can get some hardware released to make it functional.

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Embedded Automation also has a few sneak peeks of v2.10 up on their forum and looks great.  Sneak Peek #1, Sneak Peek #2, Sneak Peek #3.

mControl is one of the only applications to make use of the new Media Center related technologies within Windows Vista and other Microsoft products.  mControl 2.0 has a beautiful MCML UI, they have a Windows Home Server add-in, and now a SideShow gadget is on the way.  What else could you want?

Passive Technologies Intros Blu-ray and HD DVD Combo lifeStation hd

Passive Technologies present the lifeStation hd, offering an immersive audiophile quality experience for all your Standard and High Definition media.

For Passive its all about being able to handle any media anytime. Whether you want to play a cd, a DVD, Standard HD or BluRay, a DivX, an Mpeg, or a WMV, you don’t want to have to worry whether your system can play it. Now with both BluRay and HDDVD playback Passive have ensured that there’s no longer any need to worry about compatibility or future proofing. With support for True HD sound and DTS aswell you can be guaranteed to get the best out of all your HD media for years to come.

And with a Passive system the same attention to detail goes from the lowest to the highest quality MP3, WMA and AAC audio files as it does for full HD Video. For audiophiles there is the custom mCrystal soundboard providing superb analogue and digital outs, bespoke power cleaning circuits, high quality gold connectors as standard and an aluminium chassis with excellent thermal and non-magnetic properties for superb quality crystal clear sound.

One unique feature of the lifeStation range in the Media Center market, is that the lifeStation hd is completely silent. Their machined aluminium chassis and their own Dynachill 3 technology means that heat from the powerful processors is dispersed passively instead of needing noisy fans. The new lifeStation hd, designed for use with Passive’s external storage solutions for multiroom installs, also uses the latest solid state hard drives which have no moving parts so that even the last whisper of a spinning hard drive is removed.

For more information, visit www.passivetechnologies.com.