Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Opinion; What the next generation extender really needs...


Ok now I have got your attention time for what our friends stateside like to call an OpEd - an opinionated editorial.

I read a lot of Ian Dixon's post where he talks of the Media Centre as a server hidden away somewhere with extenders delivering content to the TV. It is a very well thought out argument for an effective model of operation.

That Model wouldn't work for me currently. Why not? Well I have a confession - about 70% of the time my Media Centre is not in the 10ft interface. Instead it is browsing the web, conversing in messenger or as I am doing now typing in a blog entry,

I am doing all this on a 37" screen from about 8ft and it is perfectly readable. I will admit I am blessed with good eyesight,  have also tweaked the font sizes up (changing DPI is the way to go)  and occasionally use Zoom in IE7 but it works and is very useful to me.

Others might argue they can do just as well with a laptop, of all places on their lap, and with less eyestrain. It is a fair argument and I do use a laptop for coding or when I want to do private work.

There is the rub the Media Centre is a very public interface people can see what you are doing. I think that is great! All too often we hear people complaining how technology is making us self-centred and anti-social. One of the truly great things about the Media Centre interface is that it is inclusive and social. The same holds true for my use of the web browser etc, People can see what I am doing and join in. It is fantastic for planning things like holidays etc.

Please don't get me wrong I love the 10ft interface for Music, TV and video and it is by far (especially with the enhancements in Windows 7) the nicest way to navigate my media.

I also accept that building a decent quality, quiet Media Centre that can live under a TV is challenging, I've done it  a few times but very challenging, and yes I do have an extender elsewhere in the house as a cheaper, quieter alternative.but it doesn't do everything I want.

It is unfortunate that over the years we have lost Messenger  from the 10ft interface. We have had an attempt at a web browser but it didn't work well for me. So here is my cry. Can someone please build an extender with:

an RF keyboard with a  touchpad (or at least a USB human interface device)

Remote Desktop Protocol built in. With remote desktop I could do all those wonderful things I do on my Media Centre PC now but hmmmm remotely.

That would make me happy and I could follow Ian's advice and put my media Centre away or even use something like a touchsmart. somewhere else in the house to feed my new super extender.

Now for all sorts of cost and licensing issues (not least you can't use Remote Desktop with Home Premium) this is unlikely to happen soon. So I guess I'm stuck with my little media centre under my telly which lets my watch TV, listen to music, show photos, Play blu-ray and HDDVD movies, record tv, watch catch-up and Internet tv and did I mention browse the web, do email and messenger. All in a box smaller than my last video recorder (oops showing my age

Of course WIndows 7 is coming  and that may have some interesting alternatives to using an extender.

P.S. I genuinely don't think that extenders need anymore codecs - transcoding should be done on the fly from any media that the PC can play and the PC should obtain the codecs.It is perfectly feasible to make this a transparent process to the user that they shouldn't need to think about it

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Maplin have RF MCE Keyboard with Built-in touchpad for 30 quid (£29.99) - UPDATE BACK IN STOCK as of 2nd April 2009 but now £49.99

Recently when asked what wireless keyboard I would recommend for Media Center use I have been mentioning the RK-278 MCE Keyboard from Maplin here in the UK. I really like these keyboards they have a good full size keyboard which balances nicely on your lap; a good selection of media center specific keys and most significantly a built-in touchpad. For those of us using Laptops day in day out this is just so much easier to get on with than the joysticks or trackballs that usually inhabit these al in one input devices. So even though they retailed at around 60 quid I thought the extra functionality worthwhile over other cheaper competitors. Now, in time for the holidays, Maplin have dropped the price to just under 30 quid - which is a bargain.

I think this offer is in store only as i can't find the keyboard listed on the website and my local store did not have many left.

They also currently have a rather neat RF based Media Center remote for sub 20 pound as well. CORRECTION: this is actually an infraed remote not RF (I'm sure it said RF on the shelf)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

VMCD 180,000 downloads - wow!

I was rather shocked to find that my Vista Media Center Decoder has just clocked up it's 180,000th download. That is an awful lot of Vista Media Center users tinkering with their codecs. I have no idea how that compares with other VMC tools out there but I'm impressed by the number. Its rather humbling to think of all those people using something I threw together. I just hope it has been useful to those who have downloaded it.

Can I repeat a small plea here: I get a lot of mail from people saying that VMCD is being flagged as being a Trojan by some SpyWare detectors. It is not but it does update the registry which some of the scanners semm to think is trojan-like behaviour. Again I can say the download from my site I have checked and double checked and it is not infected. So here is the plea, if you do get a report that it is a trojan can you report this as a false-positive to your anti-spyware provider. I am quite happy to supply anti-spyware companies with any data they need.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A quick plea - VMCD.exe

Hi All

I've been getting asked alot recently about the fact some (though certainly not all) virus checkers are reporting that the VMCD.exe download has a Trojan.

I have compiled a clean version of my code (which definitely does not do anything untoward) and it is still being reported as such.

I can only conclude this is a false positive caused by the fact vmcd updates the registry

Can I ask that anyone who gets a trojan report in turn report this back to their antivirus company as a false positive. There is usually a form on the antivirus company's website to do this.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Reminder: How to use decoders that do not show up in the VMCD utility


One of the comments that commonly appears in posts about my VMCD utility is "How do i get X decoder to show up in your utility"

For decoders that are XP Media Center compatible this has been explained in this post:


I am also working on adding some of the more common but non MCE Compatible codecs such as FFDShow - more later on that

Sites you should know: CITA Ten Foot products


A recent post reply to a question by Ian Dixon prompted me to take a look at CITA's Ten Foot package of utilities. This turns out to be a really nice collection of add-ins for both XP and Vista Media Center. They may not be the most cutting edge in terms of user experience design and they do run outside of media center but they really do work.

Quoting from their site:

CITA Ten Foot products currently consist of six modules:

  1. Launcher - allows you to launch any of the Ten Foot products and any other programs you want to run. This is not an MCE add-in. The products will work with any Media Centre - or none at all.
  2. Browser - displays web pages full screen with the ability to zoom in for detail. Designed to be operated with a standard remote, the Browser includes many features designed to minimise data entry. You even get a cursor you can work with your remote.
  3. Mail Reader - tracks all your Email accounts and allows you to read Emails at any time. You can delete Emails you don't need; the rest will still be picked up by your normal mail reader. You can password protect sensitive Email accounts.
  4. BitTorrent client - downloads large files (and collections of files) from the Internet and stores them in the right directory ready for you to use them. For example, you can get films, TV programs and music that are published as BitTorrents. The client integrates with the Ten Foot Browser so clicking a link to a torrent starts the download automatically.
  5. File manager - allows you to work with files and folders. Great for organising your videos and giving your files meaningful names.
  6. Program manager - gives you options for minimising, restoring, maximising and closing windows from your armchair.

You can download them from here.

Well worth a look.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stiil here

Although you may doubt it even further I am still about.

Hopefully sometime soon I will be back posting and am hoing to start with how to get ffdshow working with VMCD.

Before I vanish again a quick tip on tracking down Extender configuration errors. If you get a configuration error when adding a new Extender then take a look in the Media Center section of the event viewer (System Tools) you will probably see an error with an error code a a link for web-help on this error. Rather remarkably this web help can be very helpful at diagnosing the problem.