Quality Video on Demand content (as opposed to live streaming of on air shows which may be coming down the road), including HBO, Cinemax, Stars, and a few other networks is now available for Comcast customers. It’s really a ton of content, and it looks incredible and works perfectly. To get the premium content, you need to subscribe to those channels, obviously.

Comcast promised this was coming, and they’ve done a great job. This really rounds out my options for viewing content wherever I am.  Does it replace Netflix on my iPad? Not yet. But the two complement each other nicely. Comcast promised more and better “TV Everywhere” and they are delivering on that promise.

I fired up the updated Xfinity app that showed as an update and here is a walk through:

First, iPad users will see a new Play Now button. This is the key to streaming to the iPad.

xfin1

After selecting Play Now, you can filter by Network, Genres, Titles, Movies, Series.

xfin1a

Parental Controls are available (but you can elect to not show again)

xfin2

Once an asset is selected, it is fairly quick to load (about 37 seconds over my home 802.11n WiFi)

 

xfin3

xfin4

I’ve selected a Harry Potter movie available on HBO. Note the HBO GO logo

xfin5

And here is a shot showing the movies running on my iPad. Slick.

xfin6

I now have multiple sources for entertainment on my iPad and a larger choice of content. I’m hoping that Live TV streaming is next.

You may have the issue that surfaced recently (December 2010-January 2011)  that the standard FAQ http://support.microsoft.com/kb/977116 steps will not fix.

First, you will need to change yours DNS servers to resolve the issue. The theory is that somewhere along the line, caching DNS/proxy servers have corrupt/bad information that impacts some, but not all US users.

Go to http://www.dnsserverlist.org/ which will automatically determine the best DNS servers based on your IP address. Pick two and carefully get the IP addresses.

Next, you will need to change your network settings on your Windows Media Center PC(s) to use these. This will override any settings on your router and/or the DNS settings provided by your ISP via DHCP:

1. Start Menu, Control Panel

2.  Select "Network And Internet"

3.  Select "Network and Sharing Center"

4. Select "Change adapter settings" on the left side of the screen

5. Right-click your network adapter and then select properties from the menu. (For example: "Wireless Network Connection" or "Local Area Connection")

6. On the Networking tab, double-click "Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4)"

7.  Check "Use the following DNS server addresses"

8. Carefully type in the DNS Server IPs you want to use.

9. Click Ok and Ok again to exit.

 
After doing the above, open an administrative command prompt

1. Select start Menu, then Programs, then Accessories
 
2. Right click "command prompt" and select Run as Administrator

3. Type into the command window
 
ipconfig /flushdns
 
and then press [enter].

4. then type in:
 
cd \ [enter]
 
cd c:\Windows\ehome [enter]
 
start /wait mcupdate -uf [enter]

Wait a bit and Netflix and Internet TV menus should appear when you open Windows Media Center

If the above does not work, please post to http://thegreenbutton.com/forums/t/97522.aspx?
I suggest you watch this thread/subscribe to it via email in case a permanent solution is found so that you can revert your DNS to normal settings.

Redmond WA, January 14, 2011

Wendy Stidmon, MSFT Program Manager, end user beta advocate extraordinaire and champion of the Windows enthusiast community has been terminated. Cause of termination was most likely advocacy for the end user, championing a feedback policy, and engaging the community of enthusiasts.

And no, this information did not come direct from Wendy.  Anyone who has spent time in a Microsoft beta program saw Wendy’s passion and commitment while seeing  the beta programs and enthusiast programs dismantled and deprecated.  It looks to me that the easiest way for Microsoft to silence and disconnect the enthusiast beta community was to cut the communication channel. Wendy was the voice of the community to Microsoft and the conduit to Microsoft for many.

Where Windows Enthusiasts and Testers formerly had a voice in shaping and testing products, yesterday’s termination clearly demonstrates the Sinofsky Syndrome of assuming to know what consumers want, without need of their feedback or participation.

Wendy’s achievements and stature in the enthusiast community are legendary. Formerly the champion of the Butterfly program, by acclamation she was hired by the Windows Beta program (as the result of a “we want Wendy” user campaign). Herding and guiding testers (a daunting task) Wendy has gained the respect and affection of a huge following of worldwide Windows Enthusiasts. All of whom, I am sure, will join with me in mourning the huge loss to the community.

Is Microsoft’s new strategy a one way “take what we give you” imperative? Does Microsoft need the Windows Consumer Enthusiast’s feedback to attempt to regain what has already been lost to Apple? Apparently not.

Wendy, you will be missed and Microsoft has made a huge error in judging the value of its Enthusiast’s community.

For the past few days, every tech site and blog seems to be overly excited about the announcement by LG about the LG Smart TV Upgrader they will be showing at CES 2011 (but likely not to be available until LATE 2011.  According to the specs, this is a DLNA device and some folks are getting excited by this.

Specifications:
Main CPU: BCM7615
DDR 384MB, 1GB Flash
LG Add-on Architecture + Web Browser
AC 100-240V, 50/60 Hz
Wi-Fi, Ethernet, DLNA (DMP)
USB: 1EA (USB mouse, external storage)
Input Devices
- Finger Touch RCU
Premium Content
LG Apps
Size: 11cm x 11cm

I just can’t get excited by this device. It’s just another closed system that features its own LG apps. And the press release mentions Premium Content, without stating if it is extra cost. And the price of this device has not been disclosed.  No info on supported codecs, either.

The DLNA functionality is minimal (it is NOT a digital media renderer/DMR) which means Windows 7 Play To will not work. (But hopefully Windows Media Player streaming will).

Hopefully another vendor will show something at CES that will be fully featured DLNA 1.5 with DMR support.

For any of you attending CES 2011, let me know what DLNA 1.5 DMR add-on devices you discover at the show in The Green Button DLNA forum.

Some of you might be saying, “huh?” and wondering what I’m talking about.  If you are a geek, you probably know that the IPv4 universe of addresses is shrinking and latest estimates are that the IPcalypse will occur in about 30 days. You can follow this on Facebook.

What does this mean? At some point in time, a new web site you want to visit or new web service you want to use may not have an assigned IPv4 address and be reachable over IPv6 only.

Is your ISP working towards insuring that  you can connect to these sites? Mine sure is. Comcast has been working on this for a long time. Of the available technologies, 6 to 4 and native dual stack seem to me to be the most robust. But the catch is that in your home, you need equipment that has implemented one of these technologies, starting with the router at the edge of your network.

I look around and I see a sorry state of affairs for the home user, where there are so few capable devices (let alone firmware upgrades for top of the line dual band wireless routers) that it would appear that the router vendors are planning on forcing consumers to buy entirely new products, most likely to be announced at CES2011.

  • Apple’s Dual Band N Airport Extreme seems the farthest along in out of the box features with firmware 7.5.1,and it is a great performer, provided you are willing to forego things like MAC address cloning, and can limit yourself to 50 clients and not being able to manage via a web browser.
  • D-Link’s flagship DIR-855 has no apparent support for configuring IPv6 features (although their DIR-825 B2 hardware is rumored to have some IPv6 support, but I’ve ordered and returned 4 of them, having received the initial hardware version each time).
  • Netgear’s flagship WNDR3700 (I believe it has recently been rebadged with a new product number)  also shows no sign of IPv6 support.
  • Linksys’s  E3000 (rebadged WRT610N) also shows no signs of official IPv6 support (and it is the worst performer of the bunch).

So, yes, there is open source firmware for some router lines, but the typical home user shouldn’t have to deal with a geeky upgrade and the quirks.

My advice if you are in the market for a new router? Don’t be pulled in by those door buster holiday specials.. You are going to need to purchase a new router in the next 18 months or so unless the vendors ante up and do the right thing.

When my older low end downstairs printer needed all ink cartridges replaced at the same time, I realized that buying a new printer would actually be cheaper.

HP has been trumpeting its latest crop of ink jet printers that feature ePrint, a technology that assigns an email address to each printer and enables you to send mail via a HP web service that is supposed to print documents to your printer from anywhere in the world using email.  I had a $50 BestBuy gift card and they (and HP) are selling the D110 ePrinter for $70. That was a no brainer for me.

Too bad ePrint  needs constant care and feeding by the end user to actually work. Here’s my quick review:

The Good: Printer setup over 802.11n was a breeze, as the printer includes WPS. The printer immediately discovered an available firmware update and I applied the update (and had to reconfigure). I setup the ePrint mail list (which lets you restrict who can send jobs to the printer) and added the email address to my contacts. Next, I used my iPad and was easily able to discover and print a page in Safari.

The Bad: Normal TCP/IP network printing works as expected, except for buggy 64 bit drivers that need to be reinstalled after a computer restart.  This has existed for at least a year and HP thinks reinstalling every restart is an acceptable solution, apparently. Many of their printer support pages all point to the same KB/FAQ so stating. Also,  HP is using the Bonjour protocol on the printer, which enables the IOS functionality. (It is too bad that Apple decided to use their own proprietary protocol, but it is good news for folks like HP who hope to sell new network printers. I assume that the reason that printers connected to local computers work with the new iPxx print function is that Bonjour is installed (and required) on the host computer.

The Ugly: The real travesty is that the ePrint functionality that links the printer to the HP Web Service is badly broken and these printers lose their connection to the Web Service (but ALL other functions continue to work) and that HP has been aware of this since at least August, as evidenced by this 18 page (and growing) thread. HP interns patrolling the forum have marked “power cycle the router or the printer” as an acceptable solution, but there has been no official reply from HP tech support OR a commitment to fix this.

In Conclusion: I suspect that HP needed to release and promote a not ready for primetime function to coincide with the launch of IOS 4.2.1 which enabled printing from an iPxx device. HP’s current list of ePrint enabled printers as of 11/22/2010 includes:

•HP Officejet Pro 8500A e-All-in-One Printer series – A910  for customers worldwide
•HP Officejet 7500 Wide Format All-in-One Printer Series- E910  for customers worldwide
•HP Officejet 6500A e-All-in-One Printer – E710
•HP Photosmart D110 series for North America customers
•HP Photosmart B110 series for Asia and Europe customers
•HP Photosmart B210 series for customers worldwide
•HP Photosmart Premium C310 series for customers worldwide
•HP Photosmart C410 series for customers worldwide
•HP Photosmart Ink Advantage K510 series for Asia and Europe customers
•HP Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One Printer  C510 series for North America and Europe customers
•HP Envy eAll-in-One Printer D410 series for customers world wide

Recommendations: If you need a replacement printer or especially in you want iPxxx print functionality, and can live with having to reinstall drivers on 64 bit Windows at inconvenient times, check out one of these printers. If you are looking for ePrint, it isn’t ready for prime time.

Yes, you read that correctly. The iPxxx devices don’t natively support DLNA functionality, which rules out using Windows 7 Play To”, so I decided to see what could be done, at least as a proof of concept, to try to get this working.

The secret sauce was finding an app called PlugPlayer and installing it on my iPhone and iPad and seeing my iPxx devices show up in the Network Window .

playto-media-devices

I was intrigued, and not expecting much success, used Windows Explorer, right clicked a music file and saw not only my TV and Sonos Players listed, but my iPhone (via PlugPlayer) as well.

playto-iphone

Then, the next task was finding which file formats would be supported.

All my ripped music is now mp3, as I discovered long ago that almost all devices supported this format.

pcplayto-iphone

Clearly, Windows 7 can now stream music to my iPxxx devices.

My individual  jpg image files also presented no problems. Playing a picture stream to my iPad (did not try the iPhone) sort of worked. A sort of intermediary screen was displayed on the iPad with a button labeled “Done” after each image displayed. I could either wait and the next image would display or push this button to see the next image. So this needs some work or tweaking.

Video, on the other hand, was tough. Neither dvr-ms or wtv are apparently supported by my iPxx devices/Plug Player and it appeared that while mp4 files work, there is no buffered instant play and you need to wait for the whole file to be loaded in memory. So, small video files are do-able, but I don’t see any transcoding taking place or any live streaming. I couldn’t get a small mp4 video file (about 1/3 Gig) to actually play without intervention. For proof of concept I took an old unprotected dvr-ms and converted in to a mp4.

I suspect the file was transferring in the background and being cached locally on the device. I actually closed the Play To window on the computer. Five minutes it showed up on the device on a Playlist screen, where I could push the play button and watch the video clip.

play-bsg-mp4-to-iphone

My conclusions – the existing PlugPlayer app is fine for music streaming using Windows 7 Play To, but not so good for images and videos. Still, there is now proof that it is possible to Play To an iPxx device, which opens up possibilities. I may post a message on the PlugPlayer support forum and see if the developer is interested in pursuing these issue.

If you have experience with this app, suggestions for other DLNA controller iPxx that are better, or comments in general, please post on the DLNA forum on The Green Button.

After publishing a piece on how to connect an Internet enabled camera to WMC, iPhones and iPads yesterday, I received a couple of emails basically saying, “great, but I want to monitor more than one camera in a master view like stand alone IP surveillance software”.

I thought about this for a bit and then tested to see if an HTML page could be hosted locally, placed in the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories\Media Center\Media Center Programs folder with the appropriate MCL and PNG file. The answer was yes, and this now opens the door to more customizations.

Further, I thought that the still images needed to be refreshed. Not much value in watching an image on the screen that just sits there. I fired up Microsoft Expression Web and created a page and added in a META REFRESH tag to reload every xx seconds (I used 30 seconds as the interval). While tables should not be used for layout on a page designed to be viewed in a real web browser (a deprecated means of coding), a nested table structure proved perfect for display inside Windows Media Center. I specified the Segoe UI font and ended up with something that looked pretty decent and worked.  Here is the view inside Windows Media Center:

mycameras

Here is the HTML code. You will need to replace the hostname, port, image path as I documented in the post linked above. The mycameras.html file I created contains the following:

<head>
<meta content="en-us" http-equiv="Content-Language">
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="30">

<style type="text/css">
a {
    color: #DDEEFF;
}
a:visited {
    color: #DDEEFF;
}
a:active {
    color: #DDEEFF;
}
a:hover {
    color: #FFFFFF;
}
.style3 {
    font-family: Arial;
    font-size: x-large;
    font-weight: bold;
}
.style4 {
    font-family: "Segoe UI Semibold";
    font-size: x-large;
    border-width: 0;
    text-align: center;
}
.style5 {
    border: 10px solid #FFFFFF;
}
.style6 {
    font-family: "Segoe UI Semibold";
    font-size: x-large;
    text-align: center;
}
</style>
</head>

<body style="color: #99CCFF; ">

<p class="style3">&nbsp;</p>
<table>
    <tr>
        <td>
<table>
    <tr>
        <td class="style4">Parking Lot Cam</td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
        <td class="style5">
        <img alt="" height="480" src="http://hostname.dyndns.org:XYZ/IMAGE.jpg" width="640"></td>
    </tr>
</table>
        </td>
        <td>
<table>
    <tr>
        <td class="style6">Home Office Cam</td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
        <td class="style5">
        <img alt="" height="480" src="http://hostname.dyndns.org:XYZ/cgi-bin/video.jpg?size=3" width="704"></td>
    </tr>
</table>

&nbsp;</td>
    </tr>
</table>
<p class="style3">&nbsp;</p>

The MCL file (mycameras.mcl) is as follows:

<application url="mycameras.html"
name="My Cameras"
bgcolor="RGB(255,255,255)"
startimage=".\mycameras.png"
thumbnailImage=".\mycameras.png"
sharedviewport="false">
</application>

After removing the files I created and used yesterday, I placed the html file, the MCL file, and the new PNG file in the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories\Media Center\Media Center Programs folder. Next I launched Windows Media Center,and  opened Extras.

mycameras.extra

I finished by adding my new My Cameras extra as a top level Extras menu item.

mycameras.main

Now, if I add more cameras, I can just edit the existing HTML. I’m sure I’ll have to change (reduce) the size of the displayed image to get more on a single page, but I now have a personal IP Camera viewport inside Windows Media Center. (And naturally, I’ve added the second camera to my iPhone and iPad Smartvue configuration).

Motivated by the upcoming yearly Halloween onslaught of youngsters and the not so young about to come through my condo complex, I started thinking about how to integrate an Internet capable surveillance camera with my connected home and devices. I’m not a “real” developer, but I’m a pretty smart geek (IMO) and I started looking around for ideas that  I could borrow and customize.

My goals were to be able to check activity in my parking lot/walkway on demand from Windows Media Center, my iPhone, and my iPad. The web is a wonderful wealth of information, and putting this together was not really difficult. And definitely worth sharing with others.

Continue reading

I’m not easily impressed, but my jaw is hanging open today after installing two Sonos S5 Music Players to cover my home with end to end music. I’ve used computers, Media Center Extenders and all kinds of hardware and software in the past to move music around my home, but I always had to cobble together pieces and use separate devices and controllers to get what I wanted.  What did I want? Well, everything imaginable. The list below is not in any particular order:

1. The ability to stream from ANY of my computers (using Play To or anything else) to more than one music player/renderer simultaneously.

2. To be able to control the volume above individually or together.

3. Play Pandora Radio and other Internet sourced digital music

4. Use existing/create new playlists

5. Use iPhones, iPads and  iPxxx whatever to control and manage the device as a remote control (including graphical menus).

6. Use the system as an alarm clock with choices to wake from alarm, music, Internet music, whatever

7. Wireless connectivity in my Living Room

8. A system that was upgradeable.

9. Quality sound

10. Expandability

I’m still stunned that I found a system that does ALL of the above. (And I’m betting I discover more features – I’ve only had a few hours experience with this all, so my exploration and discovery has only just begun).

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