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Silicon Dust ready to make HDHomerun Prime Announcement?

Silicon Dust updated their Facebook page with a new profile picture and the following message yesterday: “Thursday night…need to get ready for PRIME time.”

We have been waiting for news any day now and it looks like something is right around the corner.

Windows Embedded Media Center Boxes

Well it looks like something that I was predicting is coming true, partially.  The first Media Center dedicated boxes with Windows 7 Embedded are being shown to the public.  Check out what Acer and Asus are showing over at EngadgetHD.

CEDIA is just around the corner and I am expecting/hoping that Microsoft is going to show some support and love to these systems to help build the ecosystem.  It would be great to be able to share protected recorded TV and recording schedules with these devices.  Time will tell.

What’s Been Going On

Things have been awfully hectic and busy with work and personal things.  I am still here and I am still very much onboard with Media Center.  So here are a few things that I have been working on.

  • Writing an article for Residential Systems Magazine:  This past spring I went to the Electronic Home Expo down in Orlando, Fl.  While I was down there I met Gordon van Zuiden from Cyber Manor.  Cyber Manor is the custom installation company that won Micrsoft’s Media Center installation of the year contest in 2008.  Gordon also writes a regular column for an industry trade magazine titled Residential Systems.  Based on a conversation we had over lunch on what we thought the future of Media Center was he offered to give up his regular monthly column to me to get my two cents published.  It was a very generous offer that I accepted and the article is now being published in the July issue.  Here is the link to the online version and the link to the unedited submitted version.
  • Being a guest on the Media Center Show:  Back in early June Ian Dixon from the Digital Lifestyle put out a call for guests for his weekly podcast The Media Center Show.  I contacted him and we recorded an interview on June 15th for use in a future show.  The show has not been posted yet but when it goes up I will definitely post a link.
  • Building a dedicated HTPC: I have kind of hinted around at it but not really talked to much about it but I have moved away from the Dell XPS 420 that was my original Media Center and built my own dedicated HTPC in an HTPC case.   Over the next few weeks I will be posting details on the build including photos. videos and lessons learned.
  • Starting a second blog:  While it seems like I have been writing less around here I am actually working on a writing schedule to post articles on a regular basis on this blog and restarting my second blog.  I still like writing about the content that I watch on my Media Center but I think those posts are better suited for a different blog.  More on that with an official link as it grows.

Well that’s all for now.  I still believe we have an exciting year ahead for Media Center and that the end of 2010 is going to position Media Center to be a great platform for more people in 2011 and beyond.

Windows 7 Embedded & Media Center

Windows Media Center logo

Image via Wikipedia

I am not sure how many of you have kept up with the release of Windows 7 Embedded but it seems that this could be the Media Center dark horse and the one to watch.

What Is It?

So what is Windows 7 Embedded?  It is basically the ability to install Windows 7 directly onto a chip.  What does that mean?  It means you can install Windows 7 or some version of Windows 7 on devices like set top boxes.  Your cable box, game console and cell phone all have embedded software that makes them run.

Microsoft announced that Media Center features and functionality would be part of Windows 7 Embedded.  The cable card features will be missing at first but are expected to be added in the future.

So What?

So why is the important for Media Center?  It allows Media Center to start showing up in multiple for factors.  It would allow for the introduction of a few interesting Media Center products in my opinion:

  1. Media Center DVR:  Companies could create a Media Center set top box that competes with Tivo and other DVR’s.  It would allow them to create a streamlined experience that just works.  It could include a Blu Ray drive and a number of TV tuning options.  It would also increase the probability of a satellite based Media Center like the Dish Network Box demonstrated at CEDIA last year.
  2. New Bare Bones Media Center HTPC Kits: It would be possible to sell/buy Media Center bare bones kits in multiple form factors that the enthusiast could then take and begin to customize.
  3. New Extenders:  This may be where I am completely day dreaming but it would be possible.  The community has wanted a SoftSled extender for as long as I can remember.   SoftSled extenders are basically software versions of OEM only extenders.  This would give enthusiasts the ability to make their own extenders.  Now I do not see this coming but I do see the possibility for an OEM to build an extender that uses Windows 7 Embedded with Media Center running in an extender mode that would only be supplied by Microsoft to OEMs.  If this sees the light of day the extender platform would finally realize it’s potential.  I could still have a small form factor box like my Linkysys DMA 2100 that runs absolutely quiet with a unified TV Tuner pool and recorded TV list but has all of the functionality of an actual Media Center.

Will It Happen?

Well now that we know what some of the possibilities are how likely are we to actually see some of this happen?  At this point I feel it’s 50 / 50.  When I was at CEDIA and asked about extenders there was no news other than the fact that Microsoft likes the extender paradigm.  Could the lack of news been a result of not wanting to spill the beans on Windows 7 Embedded to soon.  Possibly.  It makes sense.  At the end of the day we do not have a roadmap and I do not think we will hear anything new until CEDIA which seems to be the preferred announcement time for Media Center.

The biggest strikes against this that I see are the Xbox 360 and the dissolution of the Media Center Integrator Alliance.  The Xbox 360 continues to become more and more of an alternative set top box.  The only missing component is Live TV which could be ending with option like ESPN 3 integration and the rumored Hulu integration. 

Also the custom integrator channel was seen as the biggest champion for continued Media Center adoption but we have no idea where that support lies.  When I was at EHX in March there were still a lot of integrators that had no idea what Media Center was an how it worked.  If they did know what Media Center was they did not know how to begin selling it to their customers.

The Future

While we cannot predict the future I still feel like Media Center’s glass is half full and not half empty.  With Google entering into the market and Apple rumored to be refreshing Apple TV as an iOS4 product you can bet Microsoft will not let their lead and experience just dissipate.

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Time Warner finally cleans up the channel lineup

Time Warner Cable in the Charlotte, NC area is finally addressing one of my biggest pet peeves with their service:  the organization of their channel lineup. 

If you live in the area then you probably received a letter in the mail with a flyer showing the new lineup that starts on March 30, 2010.  Click the image below for a PDF copy of the new lineup.

new time warner lineup

This annoyed me so much that I could not wait for Time Warner and used the features within Media Center to organize the channels in a way that made sense for me.  Click the image below to see what my custom line-up looks like:

lineup

The ironic part of it is that Time Warner’s new lineup looks a lot like mine.  Almost as if they sneaked a copy of my lineup.  For example, let’s look at my “Family” group versus the new “Kids & Family”:

Family Kids & Family
50 ABC Family HD 200 Disney Channel East (HD – 1200)
51 Disney Channel HD 201 Disney Channel West
52 Disney Chanel West 202 Disney XD
53 Disney XD 205 Nickelodeon
54 Cartoon Network HD 206 Nick Jr
55 Boomerang 207 Nicktoons
56 Nickelodeon 208 TeenNick
57 Nicktoons 210 PBS Kids Sprout
58 Nick Jr 211 Discovery Kids
59 UNC Kids 213 Cartoon Network (HD – 1213)
60 PBS Kids Sprout 214 Boomerang
61 Discovery Kids 215 ABC Family (HD – 1215)
62 TeenNick 216 TV Land
63 TV Land 218 Hallmark Channel
64 Hallmark Channel 221 Family Network
65 FamilyNet 222 American Life TV

As you can see the channel lineups are almost the same except they have more gaps in their numbering.  Also they still have channels in the guide multiple times such as Disney Channel which stays in the non digital tier at 54 and is also at 200 in standard definition grouped with the other Family channels and is also at 1200 in HD.  On my customized lineup Disney Channel shows up once at 51 and in the best quality available.  The channel shows up on all my TV’s regardless of if they are HD or not (I still have on SD set left in the house).

Based on the new grouping I will definitely have less work to do to get my lineup the way I want but I still cannot use their lineup by default.  At the very least I need to remove the duplicates and replace all the SD version of channels with the HD counterpart but that’s pretty much it.  I really do not need to reorder or renumber the channels.

The only thing I am worried about now is that Zap2It updates my guide data correctly and on time so that I do not miss any recordings.  We will see what happens.

Screencast: Change WMC Menus with Media Center Studio

I have had a few requests for this so here it is.  A quick 8 minute video that shows how to do a number of things in Advent’s Media Center Studio.  In this video I create a new “Movies” strip to replace the default movies strip that ships with Media Center. Download the app here: http://www.adventmediacenter.com/

The changes will show up on the PC and on extenders.

Sports Game Alerts

I was browsing through the Sports Lounge strip in Media Center today and came across an option that looks very interesting under the leagues section.  Look at this screenshot:

gamealerts Under each league there are multiple options of what you can see for that sports league.  One of the options is “Show game alerts”.  My question is: how do you turn this on and how does it work?  Can you set your favorite team with an alert so that Windows Media Center alerts you when a game is on?  That would be great with basketball season.  Anyone know about this?