Win 8 Photo’s App and incomplete Facebook and Flickr Albums

Posted Posted in Windows 8

 

There have been multiple user questions and complaints in the Microsoft Community Forums about displaying large cloud based photo collections – Facebook, Flickr, and SkyDrive – in the Windows 8 Metro Photos App.

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User complaints range from not being able to display albums with over 100 pictures to 500 pictures and/or not being able to display when there are a large number of albums themselves.

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There has finally been an explanation for this poor performance from William Sproule, MSFT":

 

The Photos app will attempt to sync a preview resolution copy of your Flickr, Facebook or Skydrive photos onto your machine.  It attempts to pull down the preview file up to 3 times before giving up in most cases.  If you come back to the app more than 15 minutes later and navigate into the folder again (both 15 min and navigate in are required), it should try again.  Repeated attempts like this may enable you to get your full collection cached on your Windows 8 machine.

You can determine the space used by the Photos app (and all modern apps) in modern PC Settings – General – View app sizes button.  If you feel an app is consuming too much space, you can decide to uninstall it to reclaim that space (deletes app data which could include what you might consider documents depending on the app).  For photos, since the app only stores a cache of your Flickr, Facebook and Skydrive files, you can always get to those files again on those services or reinstall the Photos app and cache them again at a later date.

In effect, it would seem a slower speed Internet Connection would mean lower capabilities to pull down these preview files, which might explain why users seem to find different limitations.

Sadly, not a good experience.

Parrot Zik Headphones, iOS and Surface RT

Posted Posted in Surface, Windows 8, Wireless Streaming

 

Over the years, I’ve used several flavors of earphones/headphone for private listening. Starting in around 2005, I decided to go the earphone (canal phone) route and purchased Shure E5’s, for use primarily with an iPod. They were amazing, but extended sessions seamed to lead to wax build up on the device and in my ears and there were two ear infections that I believe were connected to their use. So, I decided a larger, over the ear set of “cans” was the solution and I’ve been happily using Bose Quiet Comfort QC15 ever since they became available in 2009. While not audiophile phones (because one of my requirements was noise cancellation and there just isn’t any such thing – yet – as a set of cans that provides both noise cancellation and audiophile quality), the QC15’s have been great. And as I’ve upgrade to iPhone and iPad devices, these earphones and headphones all continued working and they worked plugged in to any 3.5mm audio jack I’ve used on any device or computer.

One of my “at home” uses for noise cancelling headphones is to shut out noise of all too frequent thunderstorms, plugged in to whatever device I am using that is running on battery power. This includes some late nights laying in bed on my back,  listening to soft symphonic music while violent t-storms rage for a few hours, usually falling asleep. I’ve always had a (probably paranoid) concern about the headphone cords. So for a few months, I’ve been doing research on Bluetooth over the ear headphones.

After a bit of research, and a short demo last winter at the closest Apple Store, and three nights of t-storms last week, I decided it was time to purchase Parrot Zik headphones.

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I picked up a pair of at my local Brookstone’s (5 minutes away vs. 30 minutes for the Apple Store). Brookstone has a 30 day no questions asked return policy, which is how I justified not ordering from Amazon (cheaper), since I had no idea how or if they would work with Bluetooth on my Surface RT, etc. A standard wired audio cable is supplied for wired connections, but that doesn’t interest me.

My pre-purchase research indicated that it was likely that before I could use these with iOS 6, I needed to perform a firmware upgrade since iOS 6 support required V1.03 or higher. (I had the Brookstone store manager check their stock and the most recent firmware they had stamped on boxes was 1.02, so I took that box). I used a Windows 7 machine to perform the upgrade after charging the battery. The firmware upgrade process was a great experience. You plug the headphones in via included micro USB cable, and drag and drop the firmware, safely stop and unplug, and wait for the red light to stop blinking (the device appears as removable storage to Windows).

These headphones are software controlled by either an iOS app or an Android app, and since I’m an iPhone 5 user, this is no problem for me. While I intended to connect to other devices, it was the initial setup that needed to be done on a supported device. Tons of settings, lots of experimentation. All of the settings that can be tweaked by an iOS device are documented online. You use gestures on the right ear cup – up and down to control volume, left and right to advance to next track, and tap to pause and restart – and there are sensors in the ear cup that pause the music if you remove the headphones and dangle around your neck. About a 5 second learning curve.

Let me say here that I think sound quality is great after settings are tweaked. That is my opinion, others may differ. And once you tweak the settings, they stick.

I’d read some comments that the Zik can only be paired with a single device at a time (one of the negatives) so before I attempted to pair with my Surface RT, I used “forget this device” on my iPhone 5. After that, it was simple to pair with my Surface RT. There are several steps that will work to get to the pairing dialog on Surface, RT. What I did.

1. On the Start menu, search for bluetooth by typing the word bluetooth (search Charm, “bluet” is all I needed)

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2. I selected Add Bluetooth device

3. When the Parrot Zik appeared (the firmware version number is included in the device name) I selected it.

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4. That was it, a few second later the device appeared in the Devices list

I opened the Music App and selected an album, and voila, I was in business. All the gestures worked, the quality was terrific, and I was able to roam around my three story condo without losing the connection.

Pro’s and Con’s

As a plus, the Parrot Zik’s have microphone functionality as well, and on my iPhone, I can tap to answer and end calls, ignore an incoming call when I’m already on the phone, etc. and if you are playing music, it pauses while you use the phone.

Well engineered and beautifully styled.

Great sounding

Great software for supported platforms (iOS and Android)

For me, the most serious drawback is that while optional extra batteries are available (I’ve ordered one), no external charger is available.

No App for Windows/Windows x86/Windows RT/Windows Phone (I don’t have one, but…). As is the case with some other higher end devices (Sonos), the lack of an RT app is sad, but not surprising. I do wish that I had apps for both, but since I have an iPhone and an iPad, it isn’t the end of the world. If you are Windows eco-system only, Parrot Zik is NOT for you as there is no way to set the sound and noise cancellation parameters.

I don’t know yet if Parrot Zik headphones work with Skype on Windows RT/Windows. I’m not a big Skype user so either way, this is not a problem for me.

Bottom line, I’m happy and if I feel differently within the 30 day Brookstone return policy, I can return for full refund, but I doubt that is going to happen.

Keep Media Center on top in Windows 8

Posted Posted in Media Center, Windows 8, Windows Media Center

 

There have been a lot of Windows 8 users looking for a solution to keep Windows Media Center on top of other applications. Here’s a quick and dirty registry setting. Use at your own risk, back up your registry, etc. etc.

 

First, find this key on the registry:

 

 

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Settings\MCE.PerUserSettings

 

Right click and edit – change the Value data from 0 to 1

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Reboot and enjoy.

Use Non MSFT Certified Legacy DMRs with W8 Device Charm

Posted Posted in DLNA, Play To, Windows 8

 

My last post detailed the process to add Microsoft non certified devices to the list of supported “Play To” devices in Windows 8 Modern UI Start Screen Apps so that they appeared in the Charms/Devices menu. Once again, if you experiment with this, you will need to verify that your device is a DMR (digital media renderer) that works from the classic desktop explorer/libraries interface by right clicking an asset and verifying Play To appears and that you can successfully send the media to the device).

I already knew my circa 2009 Samsung LN52B750 series TV was not the greatest Play To client (which is why I have been using the WDTV LIVE Hub) but I wanted to enable it to see what kind of results I would get. The LNB Samsung TV series is neither certified by the DLNA.org folks or by Microsoft (just as my Sonos speakers are not certified by either organization).

In DLNA years, 2009 is ancient, and in TV cycle years, prehistoric. Samsung stops issuing firmware updates after 9-12 months so there was really not much hope of improving the DLNA experience after that time. Aggravating, but true. So for most people, the iffy DLNA experience (due to codec and transcoding support) the Microsoft decision to not show these uncertified devices is justified. It would be a support nightmare. But, if you are a geek and accustomed to tinkering with the registry, etc., once again, enabling these devices let you experiment.

Again, this is for geek enthusiasts only and unsupported. Backup your registry and the subkey before you begin. Proceed at your own risk.

Note: I performed this exercise on my Surface Pro and Surface RT with success.

To add the TV to the whitelist, once again, from the Network window, I right clicked the media icon for the TV and accessed the properties.

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Since the DeviceShims registry already listed Samsung Electronics,all I needed to do was add the subkey for Samsung DTV DMR and the 32 bit dword IsLegacyDMR and set the hex value to 1. I did have to take ownership of the Samsung Electronics key and give local users full control in order to perform this modification.

Next step was to reboot.

Concurrent with my experimentation with non MSFT certified DLNA DMR’s, I also was looking to be able to play MKV files and had downloaded the trial of Cyberlink’s Power DVD Mobile from the Windows 8 App Store. (I’ll have more to say about this app soon, but I had a WOW experience; it’s one awesome program).

I opened  my Avatar MKV and it played beautifully on the Surface Pro. Now the moment of truth, could I send to my Samsung TV through the Devices menu. You can see in the screen capture below that both my TV and WDTVLiveHub are available from the Devices charm.

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The answer is a big YES. My Surface Pro displayed the following:

 

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And the output to the TV worked perfectly.

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The picture looked great and there was no lagging/glitching (and sound was in sync – I run audio from the TV out to a home theater system via Digital Optical SPDIF). I won’t say it was a good as watching the original Blue Ray, but close. This same TV has had trouble with mp4’s using Play To where it doesn’t correctly handle the aspect ratio at times. And when I set still digital images via the Device charm, they displayed beautifully.

January Surface RT Update Enables WDTV Live Hub Play To

Posted Posted in Technology, Windows 8

I was more than discouraged when my WDTV Live Hub, which was the poster child for Windows 7 Play To, did not show as a certified device for Windows Store Apps in Windows 8/Surface. Sure, the classic desktop interface worked, but I felt as though a promise had been broken.

I had the latest available firmware from October and others posting on the WD user forums were also miffed.

I happened to check the forums today and noted a couple of new comments. So, I followed the bouncing ball and performed the following steps:

 

1.      Charms, PC Settings, Devices, Delete the Uncertified WDTV Live Hub device

2.      Reboot

3.      Charms, PC Settings, Devices, manually ADD the device after it was discovered and listed

4.      Reboot

After the above, it now appears in the Device list and works. Photos, Music, Videos, even HTML5 browser streaming (nice!)

 

I checked with Microsoft to see how this update was done, since there was nothing listed in the Windows Update history specifically referencing Play To, and received this response:

 

Device certification is not handled in any way via Windows Update.

We have a service, called NCD-AS (auto setup for short) that will automatically find media renderers and pair them (even if they aren’t certified). As part of pairing, PNP updates drivers and metadata packages for a device if available. Every 8 days, this service will check for updated drivers and metadata packages for all media renderers that have been paired.

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