Monday, December 03, 2007

Haven't vanished - although you might think so

Hi All

Been getting quite a few emails lately checking up on me. So I thought I had better post that I am alive and well. Recently had some turmoil in my personal life which didn't leave me much time to post but I should be back on track shortly.

One thing this has meant is I had to build a new MediaCenter for myself and I'm very pleased to be able to recommend the MSI Media Live barebones kit. I've built one of these with a Energy Saving AMD Dual Core, 4gb of memory and a terrabyte of hard disk array and it sings. Probably the easiest PC build I have ever done. One gotcha though - the heatsink, although magnificently effective and quiet, is a right pain to get on. Trick for this is to take the power supply out as it makes it a lot easier to maneuver. Even with this fiddle the whole build took only 2 hours.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tip: dodgy artwork ? Fix it with AVSoft's Album Art Fixer

Link to product on AVSoft's site 

I had forgotten just how good this product was until I had to reinstall my Media Center last week (yes even 'expert's' have to do reinstalls). It basically scans all your music and prompts you where there are problems like missing artwork or Album Artist entries. It then allows you to fi them in a very easy and intuaitive way.

 Very highly recommended and if you use it and like it can i encourage you to donate.

Sorry no 64bit Vista decoder utility

I've tried valiantly. I've scoured registry dumps that readers have kindly sent in. I've analysed all the relative entries - I've even worked out where a 64 bit version of my decoder utility should post the entries. The only problem is that my current 32 bit app is posting in the right place. Unfortunatley the issue is not in this case getting the entry in the right place its the fact that the decoders themselves are not installing properly for 64 bit operation. This is not easilly worked round if possible at all.

So I'm very sorry to disappoint you 64 bit users - I did try...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Neat Vista Trick: Listening to Radio 5 commentary whilst watching TV (BBC2 Tennis)

One thing that happens quite often in the UK is that sporting events and some concerts are covered simultaneously by TV and Radio.

This has led to quit a common scenario where people will mute their tv and watch the pictures whilst listening to the radio commentary however there is an issue with this since digital tv came in.

Basically DVB-T TV signals require a finite amount of time to process so the image is delayed slightly in appearing. Of course this means that Radio and TV are out of sync which is very annoying at sporting events where you can see what has happened before the commentary catches up.

With media center the obvious thing would be to listen to the freeview DVB-T radio 5 source whilst watching the images from another tuner but unfortunately Media Center doesn't let you do that.

This all came to light for me when the friend I recently built the Media Center for,asked me if she could watch the Wimbledon Tennis coverage whilst listening to the BBC Radio 5 commentary.

At first I couldn't see a solution but then it struck me that Radio 5 has an internet stream on the BBC website and I wondered if she could make use of that.

Well she tried that and yes she could play the internet stream at the same time as watching tv but the stream was now slighly delayed over the tv image. She came up with a brilliant work round for this - Pause the tv until the sound was in sync.

Having got that worked out we still had the issue that she was getting both the radio audio from the web stream and the tv audio from media center.

Now Vista's new sound architecture came to the rescue. Opening the sound mixer in Vista shows independant volume controls for each program playing sound. In this case it was simply a matter of muting the Media Center sound source and hey presto Radio Five commentary on the BBC TV Tennis coverage.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My GeeXBox project - Back on Ebay

Regretably I've had to relist my GeeXBox project back on Ebay due to non-payment. Its all boxed up and ready to go so if you fancy a bid click here

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tip of the day - Quieten your Hard Disk with Vista ReadyBoost

A lot has been written about the performance advantage of adding a memory card or usb stick to your Vista machine to make use of the ReadyBoost feature but one interesting side effect is that it can also reduce the amount of access needed to your hard disk and appear to make it quieter.

To quote the official Microsoft blurb:

The flash memory device serves as an additional memory cache—that is, memory that the computer can access much more quickly than it can access data on the hard drive. Windows ReadyBoost relies on the intelligent memory management of Windows SuperFetch and can significantly improve system responsiveness.

Now a lot of this data would normally be held on the hard disk and will need reading regularly, this can be the cause of the chuntering you can hear from lots of hard drives. Putting in a high-speed flash device can significantly reduce this. Obviously its not going to make the drive any quieter when it actually has to access data but it certainly has had avery beneficial effect where I have tried it.

Performance and a quieter life - two for the price of one :-)

Edit: I should point out that the cache is still written to disk so if you swap programs a lot it will still need to write out the changes and you will see less benefit in terms of noise. Q: Why does it still write to disk? A: Have you never pulled out a USB key by accident? The system need something to fall back on.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

My GeeXboX HTPC now on ebay

It's now up on ebay CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Building A Linux Media Extender for your Media Center with GeeXbox

I recently took up a challenge to build a media center PC for a friend. Having scoured Ebay I found what I thought looked like a really nice case for not too much money. It was also a Barebones system coming with DVD, Floppy and Motherboard. The motherboard only supported a Pentium III up to 800mhz but I decided that I could always upgrade this.

When I received it the case lived up to expectations and was pretty small. So small that on opening it up I found my upgrade options were limited. The case comes with a BookPC BKI810 3.3 motherboard (really tiny and would make a great basis for a Car PC) This is a custom BabyATX design based on the Intel 810 chipset and supports Pentium III processors up to 800mhz with a 100mhz front side bus. There are no PCI expansion ports but it does have on-board video (with TV-out), Audio (with SP-Dif out), Ethernet, Modem, COm, Game Port, Printer and USB (1.0) ports.

Whilst this would have run MCE 2005 it wasn't going to cut the mustard for my friends Hi-def vista media center so I went to plan B for that (more on that in a later post). I guess I could have gone with upgrading the BookPC a Pico-ITX Motherboard buy they are a bit too pricey.

All was not lost with this case however, I had been meaning to look into the prospect of building a Media Extender to work with the uPNP capabilities of Windows Media Player 11 in vista.

Note I say Media Extender - not Media center Extender - I wasn't intending to stream Live TV or even watch Recorded TV in native DVRMS format but I already transcode my Recorded TV to WMV files and Media Player 11 can share them via its built in uPNP media server.

uPNP stands for Universal Plug and Play a set of standards for Network devices to talk to each other. Windows Media Player 11 implements what used to be called Windows Media Connect and is a uPNP AV server. Basically this can be contacted by any uPNP AV client to access any Music, Pictures or Video in your Media Player Library.

I added a 800Mhz processor, hetsink, fan, 512mb Ram and a 20Gb hards drive to the motherboard. Checked it all out and it booted to BIOS fine. Got as bit of a shock when my 800mhz procssor was shown as 600mhz but then realised that the processor was 133mhz FSB so on a 100Mhz FSB board it scaled down to 600mhz. Not a problem it should be plenty fast enough for what I wanted.

So all I needed was a uPNP client. I also wanted something that could use the inbuilt DVD player to play audio/dvds.

I decided to keep costs down and experiment with using Linux. I heard of Myth so tried that first. To cut things short I'm not a Linux guru and I struggled with Myth. I first tried KnopMyth which I just couldn't get to play CD's or DVD's. I then found MythDora which was a much more straightforward install and did play CD and DVD but I couldn't work out how to configure it for uPNP - if even that was possible.

I was about to give up on the Linux route when I made a great discovery GeeXBox. This is a Live CD(basically Linux which boots from a CD and doen't need a hard disk) designed for playing Media and it has a uPNP client.

I downloaded the CD image (it comes in .iso format) and burnt it to CD. Put it in the HTPC Dvd Drive booted and, after a few seconds of Linux boot messages) up popped the menu including an open option. Selecting this gave me a uPNP option and selecting this gave me my media center as a uPNP server. I was stuck here for a few seconds as it wouldn't display a list of contents form my Media Center, until I realised, stupidly, that I hadn't gome to my media center pc and allowed the new device to access. (In Vista this is really easy as a toolbox popup appears on the PC as soon as a new device is detected)

Hey presto I had access to all the Music, Photos and Videos on my media center. I choose a Video (which happened to be a divx avi) and it played instantly and smoothly. This was great but alas my next choice a WMV file failed to play.

Codecs! I thought as one does (quick aside in the Media Center world I wonder if the word Codecs should now be added to swear word filters)

Scouring the excellent GeeXBox web site I found I was right the WMV codecs were not included by default and I would have to build my own custom ISO distribution. That sounded horrible - I really didn't want to get into Linux toolchains. Fortunately GeeXBox had that covered and supply a very user friendly ISO builder. It even went as far as downloading the codecs for me. Excellent. One more button press and it built me a new Iso and a quick burn later I had a functioning GeexBox streaming video from my Media Center. It even managed a WMV HD file albeit a bit broken up.

Streaming Audio was just as easy and my new custom build also gave me shoutcast radio. To top things off DVD's play well as do CD audio (although I do have a problem with a couple stuttering on the first track)

So in summary for around 100 pounds you can pick up all the components for a decent media streaming extender and if you do not fancy building it yourself the kit I used here, with the configure GeeXbox disk, will be up on eBay shortly. I'll post the link here.

EDIT: Its up on ebay CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bloggers you should know -Andy VT and his most excellent networked tuner utility

All I can say about this blog from the creator of the DVRMS Toolbox and particularly thisentry - is 'awesome'.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

MCE2005: Microsoft Karaoke Add-In

Don't know how I'd missed this before but I was browsing Microsofts list of Genuine Advantage offers and came across this:

Windows Genuine Advantage Special Offers > Offer Details
Media Center Karaoke Plug-in
Media Center Karaoke Plug-in is designed for Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition. Media Center users can use this plug-in to select audio channels when playing VCD or DVD, can display lyrics included in WMA or MP3 music files, can remove vocals from the song, can also control microphone connected to the PC. With this plug-in, the user can enjoy Karaoke experience in Media Center using popular audio/video media files, e.g. WMP3/WMA, not necessary depend on special Karaoke media files or special devices.

System Requirements
The following hardware and software are required to run Media Center Karaoke Plug-in:

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 or above

Click here for download page

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tip: How to use non-MCE Compatible decoders with my decoder utility

John G posted a great tip in the comments of my Vista Media Center Decoder utility post. He said...
"People have asked me how to get the WinDVD and DSCALER codecs to work in Mediacenter as i reported on their use.

I noticed that whether by accident or design, the Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility will set the "MCE Compatible" flag on a codec to true when you set it as the system default codec.


a) use Xp codec util to set as default
b) run the above Vista MC codec util, the codec will now appear in the list, select it and set.

No responsibility taken for this method.


Thanks John that's excellent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Crossposting on

Just to let you all know that whilst I will continue to update this blog I will also be cross posting on the Ian Dixon's new blogs section.

I did consider just moving my blog over there but I realised that there was just too much content still on here :-)

Almost OffTopic:

Hi all

Apologies that I haven't posted for a while. The primary reason being that I've been busy working on the new version of TheNeverEndingStory site for which I'm the CTO and technology evangelist (love that title)

In case you don't know TheNeverEndingStory is a place where people can collaborate on writing stories and poems. Based on the DocRoc platform it means they can start their own stories, read other people's stories, add pages to stories written by other members and even write the next page of a story written by a famous face - including some best selling authors. Most of all its just plain fun.

Its only been up a few days but it has already attracted some great contributions by members - really compelling content.

So why is this Almost Off-Topic. Well the really exciting news is that I can announce that we will be launching a Vista Media Center version of the site using the Media Center Presentation Layer. Yes I'm getting my hands dirty and ploughing into Media Center Markup Language.

Hopefully a few screen shots will be forthcoming over the next few days. So keep watching.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Terratec Cinergy XS drivers on Vista Update

Almost missed these as they only show up as an optional update, but there is a new updated driver for the Cinergy XS USB DVB Tuner on Windows Vista Update (note the original not the Hybrid or the Diversity version).

This seems to have fixed all the issues I was having with multiple of these tuners in vista such as not tuning immediately to a channel and coming up with No signal messages on recordings.

No mention on the Terratec site yet but I'm sure it will be there shortly.

On a side note if any manufacturer wants to send me any USB TV tuners for review I will be doing a review shortly.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Windows Live for TV Beta

I don't usually post news but for Vista Media Center owners this is too good to missed. The Microsoft Windows Live Team recently announced Windows Live for TV. For some reason the beta is currently only open to US residents which seems a shame.

Basically this beta is the project, formerly known as Nemo and now know as Orbit, which brings the functions of Windows Live to Vista Media Center. The really exciting thing is it brings the full messenger experience including Video Calling.

Now we know why they dropped messenger from the Vista Media Center build.

More info from our friends at

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Announcing the Media Center Show Community

Ian Dixon today updated the Media Center Show forums to the latest community server and announced the Media Center Show community.

This is really exciting and we are looking at ways to integrate my blog into this great community.

So hurry on over and check out the show forums there are great Ask the Expert tips and general discussion to be found