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


Inexpensive ($69.99)

Designed for your lap

Laser Trackball/Mouse works very well


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.