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Matt Goyer leaving Microsoft

August 23, 2006 Leave a comment

Well boo!  I really like Matt and what he’s contributed to both the media center product and the media center community through his blog.  Matt is a Waterloo grad who went to work at Microsoft right out of university and now it appears that he’s looking for something with more room to grow.
For those who don’t know, Matt’s most visible work is that done on the DVD player in Media Center including support for DVD changers and upcoming support for HD-DVD.
Good luck Matt, and thanks for everything you did!

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Categories: Media Center

Vista photo tags to use XMP

August 22, 2006 1 comment

Matt Goyer points out that Windows Vista photo tags will use XMP as the metadata layer.  The topic of tagging was recently discussed in the Pix Blog, with the following statements:

There are a number of competing standards for imaging metadata. That is, different ways of reading and writing metadata for photos. One of the biggest standards, EXIF, is commonly written to photos by most cameras, but has many limitations. It’s somewhat antiquated, fragile, not very flexible, and doesn’t support international languages like Japanese very well. IPTC is a standard that is used pretty widely in journalism applications, but is undergoing a transformation towards an XMP-based system.

XMP is an extensible framework for embedding metadata in files that was developed by Adobe, and is the foundation for our “truth is in the file” goal. All metadata written to photos by Windows Vista will be written to XMP (always directly to the file itself, never to a ‘sidecar’ file). When reading metadata from photos on Windows Vista, we will first look for XMP metadata, but if we don’t find any, we’ll also look for legacy EXIF and IPTC metadata as well. If we find legacy metadata, we’ll write future changes back to both XMP and the legacy metadata blocks (to improve compatibility with legacy applications).

I just tried to test this on my vista box, and surprisingly can’t get any metadata to stick at all so I’ll assume that either my version is buggy or this is a to-be-released feature.  I did do quite a bit of testing early on and the metadata was definintely not in any standard format (at least that’s what my sometimes foggy memory is telling me).  I also came across an older discussion at Scoble’s blog that would seem to prove my memory correct.
I’m thrilled to see this change in direction, it’s something I’ve been pounding my chest about quite a bit over the last year.  My only other thoughts/concerns that hopefully I’ll get to test soon:

  • Will there be a way for me to force the compatibility mode?  Until the world changes a bit more, I may still need to write out IPTC tags.  I plan to dump my current tagging tools if the Microsoft Gallery serves my needs, so legacy data won’t be in my new files to trigger the writing of IPTC tags.  I will however still want IPTC information in there at least until the rest of the world completes its move to XMP (for sharing my files).
  • Is this only in the gallery application, or will tags I add via explorer also get this treatment?  I’m hoping that this extends to all of Windows and not just the gallery app.

Thank you to Microsoft, very much, for listening to the community on this one.  I sincerely appreciate this functionality.

Categories: Media Center

Apparently my world is about to be rocked

August 21, 2006 Leave a comment

Well I haven’t seen it yet, but another tester Robert McLaws has seen a sneak peak of the Vista RC1 Candidate build that is coming our way soon.  Apparently my world is about to be rocked.  When I look around at my little world, there is far too little rocking.  There is barely even a waltz in my world now, more of a ballad with a white man’s overbite.  If there were ever a world in need of rocking it is mine.  I (and my world) await said rockage with great anticipation.
All kidding aside, I’m happy to see someone excited about Vista.  I personally can’t wait until I get a build that is stable enough to re-foist upon my wife and kids.  As it stands we’re back on MCE2005, and god help me now that Prison Break is back on the air if I move back to Vista and Media Center misses an episode.

Categories: Media Center

Worm can opened: MCE Vista featureset (or lack thereof)

July 27, 2006 1 comment

Wow, I am amazed at the flurry of activity this morning after Matt Goyer made a few posts about MCE in Vista and the removal of two (in my opinion very minor) features.  So here’s what’s out there:

No More Caller ID and Messenger (Matt Goyer)
Thoughts on MCE beta feedback (Matt Goyer)
Our loss is your gain (Charlie Owen)

Based on the comments on those posts, other conversations, and the general aura I’m feeling today, these posts seem to have opened the floodgates for people to complain about the upcoming version of MCE that’s bundled with Vista.  I’ve commented over at Matt’s blog, but in general I’m not up in arms about it at all.  The two features being removed were gadgets that, with a good SDK, should not be part of the core anyways.  Media Center 2005 has a whole lot in it and being part of the Vista testing I can confirm that my family *loves* MCE 2005 whenever we revert back to that version.  We’re happy with the featureset it provides and the complaints I get from my wife tend to focus more on small tweaks rather than any major holes, and that’s what we’re seeing build after build from Vista.  In Vista they’ve fixed a couple of my top pet peeves including the need for a third-party video codec and third-party dvd burning plugin which are huge advancements for the general public.  I put them in the category of fixing up something that should’ve been fixed a long time ago, but still it’s a big move forward.

The other big advancement that I’m thrilled with is enhancement of the photo and video section of Media Center.  Everyone, including me, tends to focus on the PVR side of Media Center but I think that photo and video has the opportunity to overtake PVR in terms of number of users.  Everyone has a digital camera these days, and they all need a way to replace the old family slideshow with something equivalent in the digital age.  With Vista, users can easily organize their videos and photos by date, tags, and other information and easily show those on the big screen by date, tags, etc.  The number of people who receive MCE via Vista bundling globally will be huge.  A small number of those people will install aTV tuner, but I think that a huge number will use the MCE photo and video viewing capabilities.  I may be proven wrong, but hey that’s half the fun of stating an opinion.

The biggest disappointment for me is something that has never really been on the product roadmap anyways so I’m not too bummed about it, but that feature would have been network awareness.  I think it’s very realistic to think that there will be more than one Vista Premium PC on the network, and apparently so does the digital media group because they’ve made huge advancements in automatic media sharing at the Windows Media Player level.  It would be fantastic if I could have one machine in the office and another in the living room, they are automatically aware of each other’s content, tuners, and guide settings and can interoperate as part of a media center system.  It doesn’t seem like a huge leap, so maybe this is one of those “surprise” features that will make it in at the last minute.  Fingers and toes crossed.

Let’s end this one on a positive note…  Vista MCE really doesn’t have that many new features, but in my opinion it doesn’t really need many.  MCE 2005 does a good job hitting what the majority of the market needs, and Vista builds on that incrementally.  It’s clear through the testing process that, as Matt states, integrating MCE into the Vista codebase has been a huge challenge and those challenges continue to consume the majority of the development cycles.  If we can take what I see right now in Vista and make it stable then I think that we have a great platform to take to the market.  The shiny gadgets will come from the community who has proven they can do amazing things with a somewhat lackluster MCE2005 SDK and should be able to kick ass with the Vista MCE SDK.

Categories: Media Center

Why no Vista talk from me?

July 12, 2006 2 comments

I’ve been conspicuously silent on MCE for several months now, and there are reasons that go beyond the usual “too busy”.  I’m in a listy mood today so, here’s your list.

  1. Quite simply, Vista doesn’t work on my hardware.   The 64-bit version thrashes my machine like you wouldn’t believe, making it unusable after a few minutes and forcing a hard reboot.  The 32-but version doesn’t display properly at all via SVideo on my hardware.  And when it missed one of the few shows that my wife cares about during the summer, I got the executive order to shut it all down.
  2. Vista doesn’t work with my extenders.  I’m a heavy user of extenders and have written alot about how amazing the extender concept is, and working around some of the 1.0 gotchas.  I only have v1 extenders which do not and will not ever work on Vista.  That’s annoying right now to me and while I’ve tried to work around it anything I’ve come up with is not acceptable to the family.
  3. Vista is not at a point on my hardware where I can legitimately talk about the features and functionality, nor do much useful bug reporting.  Jodie (the wife) finds some of the best software bugs, but we can’t get past the hardware ones to get to the point where we can even do that.  I’d rather remain silent right now, I don’t believe that it’s proper to write too much about issues with beta software.  It’s broken, it’s still very much in development… that’s not news, that’s status quo.
  4. There hasn’t been too much interesting going on with MCE 2005 to be honest.  Although with the price of MCE 2005 machines going very low and some nice hardware sitting on clearance racks it is potentially an exciting time to get some new people onto the bandwagon.  My brother is moving back to the area soon, and as I was setting up MCE2005 again in my home I was thinking “you know, this thing really is quite good and is at the point where it’s relatively bulletproof”.  I think that there are many people out there now who would shell out relatively low dollars for an MCE and a couple extenders and be happy with MCE2005 for years.  I think it’ll take Vista MCE about a year post release to get as solid as 2005 is right now.  That’s not a slam, just more of an expectation based on watching the evolution of MCE on the XP platform – there are alot of moving parts and getting all the permutations and combinations right just takes time (mostly getting the driver creators to all work together).

Now I like the way that it’s going…  I personally find the UI to be sexy and while the thumbnail views take some time to get used to, I found that returning to MCE 2005 after a couple weeks of working with Vista made me miss the thumbnails greatly.  I’m also looking forward to the new SDK and hoping it will allow developers way more freedom to make interfaces that don’t suck.  I installed My Movies the other day on MCE2005 and while the author has done everything he can to make a good UI, the fact that it’s in hosted HTML makes it look like he** on my standard definition TV.  Some new apps are coming out for Vista, including Big Screen photos (Flickr plugin) that should take the 3rd party UI to a new level.

I’m jazzed about the new MCE, really I am.  But until I have more nice things to say I’ll probably remain very silent on the subject.

Categories: Media Center

Just switched to digital cable

July 12, 2006 Leave a comment

I knew my analog cable at the old house was a little flaky – I had the cable techs out several times to try to clean up the signal.  When I threatened to go satellite, they sent over the whole friggin SWAT team to work on the signal but still it had some ghosting issues that drove me nuts.

When I moved, they had a free digital cable bundle offer that I took.  I bought a second digital receiver from a guy on the internet and hooked it up to MCE 2005 just last week.  I continue to be amazed at the picture quality through MCE (I know, I know I’m about four years late to the game here but just humor me).

I have some pretty basic STBs, connected to the ATI Theater 550 tuner cards via composite video and RCA sterero cables so it’s nothing fancy at all.  So while I can definitely say that the video quality across the entire MCE universe is now perfect (perfect standard definition quality that is), I can now also confirm some suspicions I had about the suckage of the ATI analog audio:

  1. Yes, the ATI Theater 550 cards have awful audio quality and stereo separation.  I have old recorded video on my MCE from the analog source and all of the audio basically comes through the center speaker on my audio setup.  Anything recorded off of the digital box behaves on the Dobly Pro Logic system as I would expect, with decent separation and surrounding audio.
  2. Yes, the ATI Theater 550 cards are too quiet and it has never been fixed in any driver.  Seems like it should be very simple to fix, but nobody seems to care.  Now with the audio levels managed by the STB the recordings are coming through at a decent volume.  This improves the entire MCE experience, as now the volume levels are on par with the sound effects (rather than blasting the startup sound though the audio system only to get low volumes on the recordings).

Colour me impressed!  Now the next step in the evil plot is to get that HDTV (just as soon as we stop giving away all of our disposalable income to our renovator).

Categories: Media Center

Command-line shortcuts for Media Center (ehshell.exe)

July 7, 2006 4 comments

There are cases where you need to be able to launch MCE into a
specific part of the application.  This can be accomplished by calling
ehshell.exe with the apprproate command-line switches.

Use the following command-line syntax:
%systemroot%ehomeehshell.exe /homepage:page /pushstartpage:true

Where page is one of the following .xml files:

  • Main Menu:             Home.xml
  • My TV:                 VideoHome.xml
  • Fullscreen TV:         VideoFullscreen.xml
  • Recorded TV:           VideoRecordedPrograms.xml
  • Scheduled Recordings:  VideoToBeRecorded.xml
  • My Videos:             VideoCollection.xml
  • My Pictures:           Photos.xml
  • Radio:                 Radio.xml
  • My Music:              Audio.Home.xml
  • Guide:                 VideoGuide.xml
  • Setup Wizard:          Fr.Welcome.xml
  • Settings:              Options.Home.xml

With information from Bob Cook.

Reposted this article from the internet archives, seems it was lost to the great database failure of 2006.

Categories: Media Center