HP Cutting MediaSmart TV Lineup; Exits LCD TV Business

CED is reporting that HP is ending their run in the LCD TV
business and killing off their MediaSmart HDTV lineup.  I can’t confirm the report myself, but if
true this puts another dent in Microsoft’s vision to have Extender technology
built into HDTVs.  Their focus is now
said to be their MediaSmart Receiver which
I reviewed earlier this year
.    Watch for deals, word is the current displays
will be getting a price cut at Costco stores.

In related news, Samsung has shipped their MediaLive
Extender
which only works with Samsung Series 4 and up displays and you can
still get Linksys Extenders for cheap at Newegg
and Amazon
(thanks Harry!).

Chances Latest Xbox 360 Blu-ray Rumor is True?

I’m a few weeks behind on this one, but those pesky Xbox 360
Blu-ray rumors came back into the spotlight early this month.  Spotlight might actually be the wrong word to
use, as the usual tech blogs didn’t even bother to cover the rumor.  I’ve made it quite clear over the past year
that I
don’t think Blu-ray for the Xbox 360 makes sense for Microsoft
, but X-bit
Labs hears different
. 

According to the October 8th article Microsoft is
working with Toshiba-Samsung Storage Technology Corp (TSST) to manufacturer
external Blu-ray Disc drives for the Xbox 360. 
According to the article the target price is would be $100 – $150 with
an unknown release date.  Microsoft
yet again denied the rumor
with “We have no plans to integrate Blu-ray into
the Xbox experience.”

Interestingly I’ve actually heard more information behind
the scenes (read: non Microsoft behind the scenes) about this rumor than any
other.  Some are saying they have
word from retailers that the product is a-go, but I’m hardly going to believe
that when the source article doesn’t have an expected release date and nothing
from TSST has leaked out.

The only opinion I have to add to this is that with the recent
Xbox 360 price cuts
Microsoft could compete with Sony head-to-head by
offering a Blu-ray Drive, but I still fail to see why they would want to.  I’ve said several times in my other posts
that the Xbox 360 would benefit from a price cut (and fixing RROD issues) more
than it would from getting Blu-ray, and I
think that was proved a few weeks ago.
 
The “it has Blu-ray” factor of the PlayStation 3 has kind of died down,
and Blu-ray is hardly busting into the market and likely will not move much in
the next few months given the current global economic outlook.

Review: Vidabox Premium Wireless Keyboard with Laser Trackball

Just
about a year ago I reviewed Vidabox’s Premium Wireless Keyboard with Optical
Trackball
and came to a pretty simple conclusion; great inexpensive
wireless keyboard that didn’t have a Green Button for Media Center use.  The fact that it didn’t include a Green
Button came as a downer to me as it is the central way to navigate the Media
Center experience. The lack of a Green Button has been on Vidabox’s radar and
they recently released
a newer model using a laser trackball
.

The Vidabox Premium Wireless HTPC Media Center Keyboard with
Laser Trackball includes a 2000dpi laser trackball, a Green Button hotkey at
the top of the keyboard, improved battery life (6+ months), and redesigned
internals to help with better reception via RF. 
Throughout my testing I found that the quoted 30-foot wireless range
held up pretty well without any major drops that can become frustrating.

Back when I reviewed the optical version my big complaints
where the lack of a Green Button and a trackball that moved with the slightest
touch (kills batteries over the long haul and puts a mouse pointer on your
screen).  Both of these issues have been
fixed with the laser trackball version and it is still a solid keyboard that I
would recommend highly.

Buy
here

Included in the box:

Premium Wireless Keyboard with Optical Trackball

Three AA batteries

USB Receiver

Pros:

Inexpensive ($69.99)

Designed for your lap

Laser Trackball/Mouse works very well

Cons:

Control takes getting use to

Photos (Click for
larger view)


Vista SP2 Doesn’t Support Blu-ray Playback

Due to a poorly worded article over at CNET I’ve seen a few
dozen people getting excited about Vista SP2 bringing “support
for Blu-ray drives,”
but everyone should take a quick step back and realize
Vista SP2 will add “support
for burning Blu-ray data discs”
but nothing involving Blu-ray Disc movie
playback.

So far Vista SP2 is basically a collection of previously
planned “Feature Packs” including the Storage
Feature Pack
(where Blu-ray burning comes from), and the Wireless Feature Pack.  My guess is that Microsoft is worried the
press behind Windows 7 is going to kick Vista sales to the curb so they want to
make sure they are keeping it current.

Microsoft.com Forgets About Media Center

Long
Zheng just posted about a recently updated version of Microsoft.com
, so I went
to check out the changes and realized a few things.  First, I think it has been well over a year
since I actually felt the need to checkout Microsoft’s
homepage
.  Second, I realized that Media
Center is nowhere to be found on Microsoft’s homepage.  About the closest you get is Windows Media
Player or Media
Center Peripherals
which apparently is another wording for “mouse and
keyboard.”

Microsoft Releases Media Center SideShow Gadgets

Microsoft has officially
released their Media Center SideShow Gadgets
for public download.  The Gadgets, previously
in beta
, allow you to use a SideShow device to browse the EPG, schedule
recordings, start playback of content (TV, music, videos, pictures) and more.

I’ve yet to test it, but the only thing Microsoft didn’t specifically
mention was Extender support which I hope is still present.  Of course, testing the Gadgets is pretty hard
to do given the lack of SideShow devices. 
Ricavision had promise, until
they went out of business
(website
is now dead
).  Other than that, the
built-in SideShow display on the Dell XPS 420 and then Windows Mobile are
pretty much the only options.

One day SideShow will actually be worth the wait.

Microsoft Releases October Media Center Updates

October 2008 Cumulative Update
for Media Center for Windows Vista
(KB955519)

  • Fixes an issue in which you cannot seek through recorded TV
    shows on Windows Media Center systems that have digital cable tuners.
    Additionally, the recorded TV shows display the incorrect length.
  • Fixes an issue in which Windows Media Center Extenders
    cannot re-connect to a host computer after the host computer resumes from the
    suspend mode or the sleep mode.
  • Fixes an issue which is introduced by KB950126. In this
    issue, a video that is paused may resume if you minimize or maximize the
    Windows Media Center window or if a screen saver starts.
  • Implements support for Digital Rights Management (DRM) free
    copy for digital cable tuners that have the latest digital cable tuner BIOS
    that support DRM free copy.
  • Expands the solution that was introduced in KB950126 to
    improve the experience of recording analog TV broadcasts to include set-top box
    scenarios. Previously, some analog TV broadcasts were blocked with the
    “protected content” message.

October 2008 Cumulative Update
for Media Center TV Pack for Windows Vista
(KB956147)

  • Addresses an issue in which Windows Media Center Extenders
    cannot re-connect to host computer after the computer resumes from the suspend
    or sleep mode.
  • Improves the experience of recording analog TV broadcasts to
    include set-top box scenarios. Previously, some shows were blocked with
    “protected content” messages.

    • Note: This
      solution does not apply to configurations that use analog TV over digital cable
      tuners. The BIOS for the digital cable tuners provide content protection.
  • Addresses an issue in which incorrect PlayReady API is
    called.
  • Addresses an issue in identification of systems with the
    Windows Media Center TV Pack installed for server-related content.
  • Addresses an issue with certain extensibility applications
    that pass the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) protocol-based URLs.
  • Addresses an issue with .wtv files that are listed as
    unsupported file type after the third-party decoders are installed.
  • Addresses an issue with Terrestrial Integrated Services
    Digital Broadcasting (ISDB-T) digital TV signal when it uses component or
    composite output.

Update: Ricavision Misses SideShow Remote Ship Date, Again

It
sure has been a long wait to get a SideShow enabled remote control.  The
once cool feature of Windows Vista was going to allow inexpensive devices with
external displays to grab content from the PC and control it remotely. 
This technology still has a lot of potential, but considering we are just a few
weeks away from at least a pre-beta of Windows 7, it looks like SideShow for
Vista has basically been a flop.

This
is especially
evident with Ricavision’s SideShow remote
which still hasn’t shipped even
after a nearly two year delay.  They have just missing their Summer 2008
ship date that was just way at the first of the year.  I’m hoping at this
point Ricavision is waiting
for Microsoft to finish their Media Center SideShow Gadgets
, but it sure
would be nice to get some good two-way SideShow devices on the market.

Update: CE Pro is reporting that Ricavision
is now out of business.

Okoro Media Systems Introduces New 2009 Low Profile Media Center

Okoro Media Systems,
manufacturer of Digital Entertainment Systems for the high end audio video
market, is pleased to announce the availability of the 2009 OMS-SX100 model.
The OMS-SX100 is an “Ultra Low Profile” Digital Entertainment Systems based on
AMD’s energy efficient Athlon X2 platform. The OMS-SX100 features
cool and quiet operation, 7.1 LPCM HDMI support, 1080P Blu-ray
playback and low power green operation. The 2009 OMS-SX100 Digital
Entertainment System can also handle the needs of customers with
limited space with its 2.7 inch ultra low profile frame. Coupled
with the OMS Slim Blu-ray drive, the unit is Blu-ray profile 2.0
compliant and can decode 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS along with
7.1 Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats. 
 
“Since the release of the low profile series in 2006, Okoro Media Systems
has been working on delivering to our customers the next generation of
ultra low profile systems. Our customers want a powerful machine that can
manage their media, playback Blu-ray titles as well as being green. We
feel that the SX100 will give them a feature packed Digital Entertainment
System in a thin and elegant form factor. ” said Christopher Curry, VP of
Sales & Marketing.
 
The OMS-SX100 is now shipping and has the following standard specifications:
 

  • 45watt Dual Core AMD Processor
  • 8-channel LPCM audio via HDMI
  • 2GB RAM
  • 500GB low power HD storage
  • DVD Burner 
  • HDMI, DVI, VGA output
  • Windows Vista Home Premium

The following options are also available:

  • OMS Slim Blu-ray Drive
  • 4GB RAM upgrade
  • 1TB low power HD upgrade

Coming soon CableCARD and SAGETV HDPVR models and other additional
upgrades. 
 
For more information about the OMS-SX100 Digital Entertainment system, please
visit www.okoromedia.com.

RealNetworks Could be Key to Media Center DVD Streaming

A few weeks back RealNetworks
unveiled RealDVD
, a $30 program designed to legally allow ripping
DVDs.  The legal part might be a bit of a
stretch seeing as Real
has sued the CCA and the MPAA has sued Real back
.  While press about the idea of paying to rip
your DVDs while keeping them protected has been unanimously poor, people need
to keep an open mind about this when it comes to Media Center and other commercial
products.

Several years ago I posted about the idea of enabling
streaming DVDs using Microsoft’s WMDRM to protect the DVDs
.  The concept is the exact same with
RealDVD.  If RealNetworks can win their
suit against the MPAA and CCA, the door is even more wide open for Microsoft to
do exactly the same and rip DVDs wrapped in their DRM (maybe part of what this
patent is about
).  This could enable
streaming to any device including Media Center Extenders and (possibility) Zunes,
or maybe not as Microsoft has a hard time finding a good
business case to do any of the work for such features
.  Even if Microsoft doesn’t jump on, I’ve heard that Real is also interested in developing a Media Center plug-in for RealDVD which could be interesting if they do it right (not sure Real could do that).

Another interesting bit involving ripping of disc, AACS has
still not hit their final version which was expected over the summer.  Still no word if the final version, whenever
finished, will
include support for Managed Copy
.