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Thursday, 15 May 2008

Silence your XBOX 360

Here's a mod to silence your XBOX 360 with a new replacement fan.

"It seems like Microsoft , in designing the Xbox 360 , set out to create the loudest game console ever built by mankind—and we wouldn't be surprised if it succeeded. When you turn on a 360 and its rear fans start to spin, it sounds like a Cessna revving up for takeoff. Then the DVD drive kicks in and the Cessna transforms into a full blown 747.

Jason Cross attempted to silence, or at least quiet down, an Xbox 360 some time ago. Since then, ready-made mods have appeared to help with noise. We're talking about the Talismoon Whisper Fan for the 360, made to spec to replace the 360's stock, noisy dual-fan unit."

Reminder Plug-in for Media Center

I saw details of this new plug-in for Media Center on Chris Laniers blog here.

"Ever wanted to have Media Center remind you of specific events while you are watching TV or listening to music? A new Vista Media Center plug-in called Remind Me does just that, ensuring you never miss your appointments or forget to make a phone call.

This is a good concept for a plug-in, but without it connecting to some sort of personal information manager like Outlook I’m not sure it is ready for everyday use. Sync it with Outlook or something like it and I think this would be a great plug-in.

It is a free download, but be sure to donate if you like the plug-in."

The Best Windows Media Center Tweak Ever?

I stumbled across this registry tweak today for improving the TV playback quality. I'm definitely going to give this a try to see what difference it makes? Source here.

"Edit the Registry and change the DefAvgBitRate value to a much higher value than is currently in the system. By default its set to 20000000. I set it to 80000000 and the quality improvement was astonishing! Even my wife noticed!

Where is this key?

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Media Center/Service/Video/Tuners/DVR

Why does this work so well? Simple. What you are doing here is changing the default bitrate that Media Center will record television shows at. Every time you watch television, you are watching recorded TV."

Update: I made the registry change but I'm not sure I noticed a difference in the TV playback quality? Let me know what you think about this ?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Waterproof ear phones!

I can officially confirm that Zune 2 ear phones are water proof, but not quite wash proof!
My dear mother kindly offered to help with some clothes washing and to my horror found she had a confession to make, that my rather expensive Zune 2 ear phones were put through the washing machine.

More amazing is the fact that they still actually work just fine! However the outer fabric cable cover has gone in a few places leaving the inner cable exposed, also the cable is not quite as soft and flexible as it once was, perhaps she was using starch! I'm just glad it wasn't the Zune device itself that got washed!! I'm sure there's a lesson to be learnt in here some where.

Yougle Vista plug-in

I installed the Yougle Vista plug-in a few weeks back and it's an OK plug-in for getting some online media content in to your Media Center.

"Yougle Vista allows you to watch community video - at the moment, video from YouTube, Google Video, DivX Stage 6, DailyMotion, WWITV, music from Shoutcast and (for Australians) The Chasers War on Everything and pictures from Flickr and ICanHasCheezburger - from the comfort of your own lounge, via Vista Media Center."

Yougle Home Page

I was able to watch You Tube video's, which took much longer to load and play than in the IE browser. Look at photograph's from FlickR and listen to some Internet radio stations from Shoutcast.

The reason I say it's an OK plug-in is I found the UI a bit clunky and the menu systems a little tricky to control. Also there where video and audio sources present for Ian Dixon's Media Center show, but when trying to add these it came up with an error and did not work. I think Yougle needs some more work to make it slicker but it is worth trying it out however and I would recommend you take a look at it.

MCE BBC iPlayer plug-in

I saw a thread on the green button here where a chap has written his own Media Center plug-in for the BBC iPlayer. The home page for the plug-in can be found here. I haven't had chance to try this as yet and I am actually moving to Thailand at the end of the month so I won't be able to access BBC iPlayer services out there as it is a UK only based service. However MCE has been crying out for a BBC iPlayer plug-in for ages and this could be the answer until the BBC decides to get their act together and bring out their own MCE plug-in.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Zune 2.5 software / firmware update

The Zune 2.5 Software is out now and brings back some features that were in the original Zune v1 software but were taken out or not finished for the Zune v2 software launch, these features include auto playlists, the ability to edit album and track information (metadata).
Sounds like the market place content has been expanded as well with TV shows, there is currently no market place functionality if you are in the UK or outside of the US, but it was in the pipeline for some time in the first half of this year.

One thing that hacks me off about my Zune 2 80GB device, is I cannot be playing an album and then select another album to be added to the queue like in Media Center, you can add albums and songs to a static quick list but that's pretty point less. Also another thing really missing from the Zune software is the ability to add to library i.e. be able to refresh the library as you can in WMP11. Not sure if these features are in the 2.5 version?

I think in the longer term we need much tighter integration with the XBOX 360, Windows Media Center, Windows Home Server etc. We are still waiting for the complete ecosystem where everything plays nicely together and just works as a connected solution.

It would be great if you could sync your Zune from the Media Center UI. Also I believe any content purchased on the XBOX market place cannot be transferred on to your Zune, so I guess these two market places maybe integrated in to one my MS in the future but who knows?

Zune 2.5: Seven things to know

Zune 2.5 Update Screenshot Tour

Details from Microsoft:-

REDMOND, Wash. — May 5, 2008 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that Zune, the company’s all-in-one digital entertainment brand, is adding new software features and content to the Zune online store, music community and Zune Pass monthly subscription service. Zune is expanding its video store to include downloads of popular television shows from COMEDY CENTRAL, FUNimation® Entertainment, MTV, NBC Universal, Nickelodeon, Starz Media (including Manga Entertainment), Turner Broadcasting, Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC) and VH1 that consumers can sync to their device and enjoy on the go. In addition, by further integrating the Zune music community into the core experience, the new software makes it easier for people to find and listen to the music they want, share it with friends, and take it with them wherever they go — whether they choose a Zune Pass or a la carte MP3 downloads. Zune Pass subscribers can now set up automatic, real-time feeds of the music their friends are listening to and add those songs to their collection or Zune device.

Starting today, consumers can choose from more than 800 episodes of popular television series to download and watch on their computer or their Zune, including COMEDY CENTRAL’s “South Park,” FUNimation’s “Afro Samurai” and “Witchblade,” MTV’s “The Hills,” NBC’s “The Office,” “Heroes” and “30 Rock,” Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” SCI FI Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” and “Eureka,” Starz’s “Ghost in the Shell” and “Street Fighter,” Turner Broadcasting’s “Metalocalypse” and “Robot Chicken,” UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter®” and “Fight Night™,” and VH1’s “Rock of Love” with Bret Michaels. Each television show will be priced at 160 Microsoft Points per episode (approximately $1.99) at launch. With more than 3.5 million tracks, two-thirds of which are available in pure MP3 format, 800 television shows, 4,800 music videos and 3,500 audio and video podcasts, the Zune online store is a great place for consumers to find the entertainment content they want. In addition, the bright, full-color screen on every Zune portable media player delivers a high-quality video experience on the go.

“Partnering with Zune will allow us to develop innovative content offerings for their customers, including flexible pricing and packaging options beginning this fall,” said JB Perrette, president of NBC Universal Digital Distribution. “NBC Universal is excited to offer our hit television shows to Zune customers.”

A Better Way to Experience Music

In a recent study commissioned by Zune, 54 percent of consumers surveyed said they were frustrated when trying to find new music, mostly because they said they didn’t have enough time, didn’t know where to look, or felt that they ended up wasting money on music they didn’t end up liking. At the same time, 89 percent said they would trust a friend or family member’s musical recommendation over a music critic’s.

The growing Zune online music community enables consumers to explore, discover and share music. Members get a free, customizable Zune Card: a snapshot of their favorite tracks and the music they’re playing on their Zune. Previously this personal snapshot resided only on the Web, but with the latest software updates Zune Cards have become much more portable. Now consumers with the Zune Pass subscription have the ability to take what their friends are listening to from the Zune music community on the go via Zune Card personal playlists for easy exploration and access, when and where they want it. The Zune Pass subscription allows consumers to explore millions of tracks with no commitment other than the monthly fee similar to the price of one CD — $14.99 per month.

“Consumers want more than the traditional transactional model of an online music store plus portable device,” said Chris Stephenson, general manager of Global Marketing for Zune at Microsoft. “Zune is putting the strong combination of an online music community together with subscription to deliver a new experience centered on music discovery that’s good for consumers, artists and the industry. This approach exposes consumers to music they might not have otherwise tried, keeps them coming back, and gives them purchasing options that suit their preferences.”

New updates to the Zune online music community include the following:

Syncing Zune Cards to a device. Consumers simply drag and drop Zune Cards from friends to a Zune device and get updates on what friends are listening to every time they sync. If the song is available with Zune Pass, subscribers automatically have the full tracks on their Zune while nonsubscribers have full album information and artwork. If consumers hear something they like, they can add it to their collection with one click. Next time the user syncs his or her Zune, he or she will be asked to confirm the purchase.

Enhanced friends search. Consumers now have the ability to add their name, location and bio to their Zune music community profile, making it easier than ever to find their friends.

Instant friends. The true power of the Zune online music community is unlocked when friends are added and consumers can follow the music they’re listening to. Now, when new Zune owners join the Zune online music community, they’ll find the top music editors from the Zune Marketplace team already added to their friends list, giving them a head start in finding new music.

Artist and album reviews. Inside the Zune music community, members have the ability to write and post their own reviews for artists and albums, providing another community-driven feature to support the exploration and discovery of music. The music community helps to find and recommend the best music.

Reputation badges. Now members of the Zune community can earn badges that are displayed on their Zune Card showing they’re passionate fans or active members.

Windows Live connections. Windows Live Messenger contacts will now be able to see what users are listening to via the Zune software. Clicking on the tracks displayed in the “Now Playing” feature will connect the Windows Live Messenger friend directly to that artist’s page on the Zune Social.

A More Integrated Way to Manage and Enjoy Entertainment

Responding directly to customer feedback, Zune has updated and added features and functionality to address better integration between the software, the online music community and the store. In addition, the updates include frequently requested features such as the ability to sync multiple Zune players at once. Specific feature updates include the following:

Auto playlists. Users can create an auto playlist that updates itself automatically as new music is added.

Browsing videos. Consumers can browse their video collection by genre and series, plus they can preview videos before they play them on full screen.

Editing album and track information. Users are able to edit track or album information (metadata) quickly via multi-select and drag-and-drop. The advanced metadata editing features make it easy to edit multiple tracks or survey albums and artist information.

Organizing collections. In addition to sorting by artist or album, consumers can now sort by genre. While browsing by genre they can further sort music by artist, album or release year.

Gapless playback. Consumers will now be able to listen to an album without the brief gap between tracks, both on their Zune and in the Zune software. This is a must-have for live-concert recordings and compilation albums.

Syncing groups. Zune software now syncs to multiple Zune players simultaneously. Users can prepare which content on their computer to sync even when their Zune isn’t connected. Consumers can create custom sync groups for music, pictures and videos.

Simple commercial removal tool

I installed Life Extender the other week, I wanted an easy to use no hassle way of cutting out the commercials from my Media Center Recorded TV. I'd previously looked at DVR-MS Toolbox but found it over complicated and never really got it working.
Life Extender sounded much more like what I was wanting and seemed ideal. I have had mixed results using Life Extender however on a (UK) DVB-T over the air digital signal. Some times it would not cut out any commercials although just recently it seems to be doing a better job of it and working.

Give it a try and let me know what you think? Or if you are already using Life Extender let me know if you think its any good?

the overview
Lifextender is a dead-simple commercial-removal application designed exclusively for Windows Vista Media Center users. There is ZERO configuration required, however, there are plenty of options if that's your thing.

the name
Because your 30-minute TV shows will now be around 22 minutes long, saving you around 15 minutes for every hour you watch TV, you'll notice that you have a lot more free time. This gives the illusion that your life is being extended... kidding.

the cost
Lifextender is free as in beer, so it costs you nothing. However, if you are in a generous mood, feel free to donate to keep the development alive.

the premise
Lifextender is pretty simple. It scans the directory where Media Center records TV for new TV shows. All new TV shows are queued up to be analyzed and scanned for annoying commercials. After a show has been analyzed, a new file is created from the original with commercials removed, around 3/4 the original size. The original show is then replaced by the new, commercial-free show. Rinse and repeat.

Windows Media Center Movie Browser

I have read about this Media Center feature before, but as its a US only feature and I'm based in the UK, I've never fully checked it out. However I saw on TGB that there is a registry key you can change to enabled this feature is you are outside of the US. I think I will give this a go and report back on how I get on?

The below is taken from Nick White's blog.

Have you ever been in the mood to watch a movie but you don't have a particular one in mind -- and you really don't want to have to go through all the information in the guides to find one that appeals to you? Movie Browser allows you to see a list of movies that are either playing currently or those that will be starting in the near future. While using Movie Browser, you can specify the type of movie you're looking for and search using any of several criteria.

Assuming that you have the correct hardware installed to run Media Center, using the Movie Browser is simple. Open Media Center, select "TV & Movies" and navigate to "Search." You can search by any of the following:

  • Title
  • Keyword
  • Categories
  • Movie Actor
  • Movie Director

If you're connected to the internet, once you select the search criteria you'll also see the cover art from the DVD (in the US). You can even view metadata that may include things like reviews, ratings and cast.

As an example, I did a search for movie actor Brad Pitt. The resulting list showed 44 movies:

Movie Browser 1

Clicking on any one of them gives the option to:

  • Record it when it airs
  • Read the Plot
  • See the Cast Info
  • Read Reviews
  • Look for Similar Movies

My favorite feature on Media Center in Windows Vista is the ability to find a movie and set it to be recorded when it's next scheduled to be shown on TV, even if it isn't currently listed in the guide. Once you select the movie, Media Center will automatically record it for you the next time it’s playing on TV. Although this capability isn't new to Windows Vista, it's still something that isn't known by a lot of Windows Vista users.

In the example above, you'll see that Ocean's Thirteen is not scheduled to air within the timeframe indicated in the guide. But, that doesn't mean that you'll need to continue checking continuously to see when it's going to air. Once I chose Ocean's Thirteen from the menu, the option changed from "Record" to "Record in the Future."

Movie Browser 2

Once I selected "Record in Future," the movie was set to record when it plays on television.

Movie Browser 3

And helpfully, whenever Media Center is opened, you'll see the red "Record" dot to remind you that you have a pending recording session scheduled.

Update: I tried this on my own system and it works to a point, it's actually a great way of seeing what movies are on now and next in Media Center. The problem however is that the covert art images for the movies are missing and not loaded, this is a bug apparently according to this thread here.

This is a bit of a shame as it detracts from the value of the Movie Browser feature.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Cheap touch screen for MCE

I've been think about this for a while now, about purchasing a cheap Nokia 770 Internet Tablet and running a remote control program for MCE called MCEGuru.
It looks pretty good and the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet has a touch screen!
I'm currently using ngRC on my Sony PSP which is a fantastic remote control application for Media Center but I'm not sure if further development is planned for it? I wrote about ngRC previously on my blog
MCEGuru Videos
You Tube Video
MCEGuru Screen shots

Blue-ray coming to XBOX 360 ?

Will Blue-ray be making an appearance on the XBOX 360? I personally doubt it but there are several reports / rumors that it might be!

"A report from Taiwanese news source Economic Daily News says that Pegatron Technology—a recently formed subsidiary of Asus that shouldn't be confused with the Decepticon leader—has received an order from Microsoft to manufacture a Blu-ray equipped model of the Xbox 360"

Xbox 360 Blu-ray Rumor Boomerangs Back

Another Manufacturer Says Xbox 360 Blu-ray Coming This Year

mControl Home Automation on iPhone / iTouch

Chris Lanier posted details about the mControl Home Automation UI being enabled to run on Apple's iPhone / iTouch.

I haven't gotten in to home automation myself as yet, but I plan to at some point in the future and mControl seems to be the most reasonably priced solution for media center and DIY enthusiasts.

mControl forum post

My Movies to open up it's back-end system

I read this first on Ian Dixon's blog, that My Movies are set to open up their back-end system to other front-end movie plug-ins for Media Center. This is a good move in my opinion and can only lead to more greater looking movie collection user interfaces for Media Center.

My Movies Forum Post

We would like to invite other developers or companies to be able to base their front-ends on the My Movies back-end, which means that their users will be able to benefit from all My Movies' back-end features, such as:

- The "Collection Management" program, with advanced data editing capabilities.
- The "Online Collection" option, giving users the option to display their collection to friends.
- The "Folder Monitoring" option, that is able to automatically index titles stored on hard drives.

Special packages of My Movies will be made available to third parties interested in these options, where the My Movies front-end is no longer part of the package, and where configuration for My Movies front-end is not available. These packages will also be redistributeable, unlike the current My Movies packages.

The "Free of Charge Option"

The free of charge option is made available to all non-commercial products, or products based on volunteer donations and is based on the same terms that usage of My Movies is today. Users gain points by either contributing or donating to the My Movies project - these points then gives users access to additional features, or extends default enabled features - as always no features limiting the basic usage will require points. Using this option, My Movies pays for all traffic costs and maintenance costs the users gives, but at the same time benefits from the users contributions to our service.

The "Commercial Option"

The commercial option provides companies with commercial products the option to supply the My Movies back-end products as a company branded option, where users are not restricted by any limitations on contribution or donation points, and where the companies instead pay a small fee for each title the user adds to their collection.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Shoutcast Internet Radio Plug-in for VMC

I'm not an expert on Internet Radio by any means and its one area I'd like to learn more about! I've seen various Internet Radio plug-ins for VMC but I've never really used any. I've recently been listening to 80's music radio stations on Shoutcast however on my Sony PSP, I did a PSP update recently and a new Internet Radio feature appeared and is driven using Shoutcast.

Sornt from German has written a Shoutcast Internet Radio plug-in for VMC called mcShoutCast, which looks pretty interesting. More details can be found here. The screen shots are in German but I believe there is an English version as well. No official support for extenders however from the author.

I think I will have to look in to some of these VMC Internet Radio plug-ins in more detail and give a few a go.

What folder structures for VMC?

There's quite an interesting discussion on the green button here that we are currently having about what folder structures people are using for Vista Media Center. It took me a good while to figure some of this stuff out for myself and this is a pretty good thread for newbie's wanting to get ahead of the game. The discussion also covers aspects of the My Movies add-in and the Zune device.