When will this media center thing catch on?

Friday bonus video. Bill Gates from CES 2005 on YouTube.

Okay, so everybody and your grand mother still have no media center at home. Where are they? By now, all of us should own such a magic box. With music, images, movies, broadband and TV in a nice simple interface where everything is available at the touch of a button.

True media centers are still something for the people that are way above average when it comes to interests and knowledge about computers. I have already published my recipe for when gadgets break through. Let’s have a reality check on media centers:

Engineers – is it possible?
-Yes. There are nice boxes out there that offers fantastic capabilities of handling media.

Marketers – have you done your job?
– Partly yes. Microsoft have launched Media Center Edition and done quite a bit of marketing. However, I find most of the marketing pretty lousy. Too much focus on features. They should have focused on the story. What will happen in your home? And, the most important people of them all, the sales people in the shops have no clue. Absolutely no clue.

Economists – is it cheap enough?
– No. Not at all. We need a proper, noiseless, nice looking media center for under $500,- Right now a proper media center is at least $1000,-

Usability – is it easy to use?
Yes. And a huge NO! When it works it is easy to use. As long as it is running I can give the remote of our media center to whomever visiting our living room. No problem. They find music, videos, images, recorded shows, the electronic program guide, the broadband services and the TV channels. It is in fact much easier to use than a traditional setup with separate boxes for DVD, CD, TV and radio. When I have people visiting and they have a look at the media center in our living room just about everyone instantly asks for price and availability.

Trouble is that there are still two major problems with media centers (in addition to price):
1. Setting it up
2. Keeping it running

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference where we put up a digital living room to show people some of the possibilities. We had the most modern and state of the art components you could imagine. A new media center, an HD capable LCD screen and a multi channel amplifier with 6 speakers.

Getting image and sound from the media center was pretty easy. Setting up the TV channels and program guide was as usual a pain. But, getting the image completely right with 1:1 pixel mapping and the audio in six channels was nearly impossible. With my degree in engineering, huge amounts of experience with media centers and several very clever people around me we did not manage to get proper multichannel sound and a perfect HD image out of the media center.

No offense when it comes to your grand mother, but she’ll have to wait a second before this is possible to use for normal people.

I know that a media center is more complex than a regular DVD player, but the vendors need to work on this. Media centers will not be something for the masses before you can buy it (for under $500,-), take it home and connect audio to your amplifier and video to your screen, turn it on, do some simple setup stuff and then use it happily ever after.

And eventually that will happen. “I want one of these, where can I get it?” is the mantra at home when I show people our digital home. No doubt about it, people want the functionality. When you get used to it it is very difficult to imagine a living room full of several different boxes, different remotes and shelves full of plastic containing digital media. Digital media deserves to live a life on hard drives and in the network.

…and by the way, you find more about Bill Gates and stuff going wrong during presentations over at “Nobody’s perect (redux)” on Presentation Zen.

When will this media center thing catch on?

Automatic transfer of files from Media Center to iPod and PSP

VideoSync
I haven’t tried this one out yet, but another product from Pegasys is already my favourite video encoding tool. I use TMPGENc Xpress 4.0 for most of my high quality video encoding already.

VideoSync from the same guys seems like a promising product. It supports DVR-MS files from Windows Media Center Edition (in addition to a bunch of other formats).

The most interesting feature is the possibility to set up a watch folder. Meaning that you can tell the software to constantly watch a folder on your computer and immediately start transcoding and publishing to your favourite mobile device if a new file arrives in this folder.

Update:
You find a very detailed list of alternative methods of transfering video to your iPod here. And a related post on eirikso.com here

Automatic transfer of files from Media Center to iPod and PSP

Controlling your media center from your mobile phone

6630 controlling MCE
Salling Clicker is this fantastic program that lets you control your presentations from your mobile phone. It will show you a preview of your next slide on the phone’s screen and works very well through bluetooth.

Salling Clicker consist of a small program that you install on your Mac or Windows machine and a client software that you install on your mobile phone or PDA. It can communicate through bluetooth or WLAN.

By default it can control a range of players and softwares on your computer. It can also be extended with third party plugins.

It controls Windows Media Player very well. Because WMP is the basis for Windows Media Center Edition it will actually also control the music module of your media center very well.

According to the forum over at Salling.com the developer are working on a special module for Windows Media Center Edition as well.

Currently only one client can be connected at any time. If you connect with a new phone or PDA while another is already connected it will automatically disconnect the other one. I would really like to see a possibility for connecting several clients.

Salling Clicker seems like a very well built program, and connecting the devices was extremely easy.

First I tested it by controlling the music in my media center through WLAN and a Toshiba e805 PDA. No problem.

So I bought a cheap USB based bluetooth device and connected it to my Media Center. It installed immediately without having to add any drivers. One minute later, and I can controll my the music in my media center from my Nokia 6630. Nice.

Looking forward to that native MCE support in Salling Clicker!

…and now I have to start playing around with a connection from Salling Clicker to Girder to give myself complete control of my media center from my Nokia…

Related posts:
HighPad Media Control – PDA Remote for Windows Media Center
Remote control your music collection in MCE

PDA controlling MCE

Controlling your media center from your mobile phone

How to control your amplifier from the MCE IR-blaster

IR Blaster

I just upgraded my home entertainment system with a Pioneer VSX-915 amplifier. Meaning that I now connect my Home Theatre PC to the amp digitally through SPDIF.

To control the volume properly I have to use the volume on the amplifier and not adjust the volume out of my Media Center. The easiest solution is of course to use the remote of the amp, but I don’t want to use two remotes. I only want one remote in my living room and that is the MCE remote.

If you have a relatively new MCE remote you can easily program it to control your amplifier directly. The new MCE remotes has three programable buttons. The TV On / Off and the volume. You program the remote as described here.

But, I have my amplifier inside a cabinet. I could of course buy some kind of IR repeater to catch the remote signal outside the cabinet and beam it out inside to the amplifier.

Remotes

But hey, the MCE remote reciever can be programmed as well, and it even includes a IR blaster to do exactly what you want: beam out IR signals to control a set top box (…or an amplifier).

This is what you need:
Continue reading “How to control your amplifier from the MCE IR-blaster”

How to control your amplifier from the MCE IR-blaster

The silence of the fans

Cabinet Closed Cabinet Open

I have my HTPC and the amplifiers inside a cabinet in the living room. The cabinet is well wentilated and has a specially mounted fan in the bottom to push air though it.

I have described the cabinet here and the mounting of the fan here. To put it short the fan is mounted in rubber bands to eliminate vibrations and noise.

Rubber bands

However, I should have said “was mounted”. The problem is that rubber bands need maintenance. Of course I could try to find better quality rubber bands, but I have choosen another soultion. It works fine so far, so I decided to post a little “How-to” for the people that might want to build something similar.
To fix this mess I used a perforated strip and some parts from a kit for silencing fans and hard drives:

Parts

Mounting the fan using these parts you get rid of nearly all vibrations and can have a fan that push a lot of air through your cabinet. I’ll let the pictures talk for themselves and keep the comment option open for the people that have questions.
Continue reading “The silence of the fans”

The silence of the fans

Web Browser for Media Center Edition

MCE Browser

Browsing standard web pages on a TV screen with a remote is never very comfortable. Most web pages are made for navigation with a mouse and a keyboard.

Still, if you have a media center and an LCD screen it can be interesting to have a quick look at some news headlines, a couple of blogs or something like that.

Doing that from within media center has been difficult until now. Meet the MCE Browser. An excellent little plugin that gives you a browser with zoom functionallity and easy navigation with the arrow keys, OK and channel up/down for browsing links.

(Via Thomas Hawk and The F-Stop Blues)

Web Browser for Media Center Edition