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Windows 7 RTM – Where’d my d: drive go?

August 12, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the first things I do when setting up Media Center is to dedicate a separate drive for storing all of my recorded TV.  Been doing it since the very first release and “how to put an extra hard drive in your HP 873n” was one of my first newsgroup contributions.  With each subsequent upgrade since that initial release, I format the c: drive, install the new operating system, and then point Media Center to the d: drive to pick up all of the previously recorded TV shows.  I suspect I’m not alone.

I just about had a heart attack after installing the first beta of Windows 7 and all of my Recorded TV had disappeared.  I was most concerned about what my wife would do to me since I hadn’t properly backed up her audience appearances on Dr.Phil and The Price is Right.  Eek!

Turns out it was just a bug, and that the Windows 7 installer forgets to assign a drive letter to your secondary drive in certain scenarios.  It was reported and I had hoped fixed as part of the beta, but alas my Recorded TV was missing again after installing the RTM version of Windows 7.  By the power of Google, I hope that if you found your way here because of a similar panic attack I can show you how to easily fix the problem.

First, navigate to “Computer Management” by clicking on the Start Button and typing in “Computer Management” followed by enter.  You’ll notice here that all of your drives are listed including the one that isn’t currently working.

Now, Windows has automatically assigned the DVD drive the letter d:, but I’d rather have my Recorded TV drive had that letter.  So the first (optional) step is to change the DVD drive to something else so that d: becomes available for Recorded TV.  Right-click on the DVD drive and select “Change drive letter and paths…”.  This will bring up the Change Drive Letter and Paths dialog for the DVD drive.  We want to click on “Change…”.

Next, click on the drive letter dropdown to change “D” to “E” and click OK.  You’ll get a warning that this may cause issues for programs that might expect to find files on that drive, I haven’t noticed any problems since my DVD drive is removable media and no programs point to it.  Click Yes and OK to get back to the main disk management screen.

Now, right-click on the unassigned drive and select “Change drive letter and paths…”.  This will bring up the Change Letter and Paths dialog for the unassigned hard drive.  We want to click on “Add…”.

Click on OK to accept the auto assignment of the letter “D” and click on OK to return to the main disk management screen.

Windows will pop up the autoplay dialog once it detects the new drive.  You can simply close the window by clicking on the X in the top right corner, and close the computer management window as well.
  

You should be back up and running now with your lost drive!

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Categories: Uncategorized

Windows 7 Media Center in Canada

August 10, 2009 1 comment

With the release of Windows 7 comes an updated version of the Media Center component of Windows.  There’s a bevvy of new functionality available, and you can find a good review of the new features by clicking here (link to Engadget).  In this post I’ll point you to some additional flavour that will make your Media Center experience north of the 49th parallel that much more interesting.

 

Over The Air HDTV
Did you know that all of the broadcast stations in Canada and the United States are switching to high-definition? Yep, pull out your old rabbit ears and prepare to be amazed by the eye-popping clarity of the free TV signals flying through our airwaves in Canada’s major cities.  Click here for instructions on how to get Media Center to pull in those signals and turn your PC into Canada’s best high-definition PVR.
In the Windows 7 version, you can now tell Media Center to give preference to high definition broadcasts and using my little hack you can get access to all of the subchannels coming across the US border as well.

 

Cable and Satellite HDTV
For years, you’ve likely heard me complain about the PVR options available from the big cable and satellite companies in Canada.  Once you’ve used Media Center it’s really hard to go back to using a cable company PVR, but until recently that’s been your only option for getting access to high definition cable channels like TSN and Discovery Channel.  With Windows 7, you now have some options for getting high definition cable into Media Center.  You’ll still need a set-top-box from your cable company, but you can opt for the lower-priced non-PVR version and connect it to Media Center using the HD-PVR from Hauppauge (currently requires DVBLink addon to work, I expect native support in a few months).

 

Channel Logos
A hidden feature that is easily exposed using a little program called My Channel Logos adds some nice sizzle to the Media Center interface.  Canadian channel logos are planned for the next release, but for the time being you can get a Canadian logo pack by clicking here.

 

Internet TV
Here’s where I bring you some sad news in the “cool stuff that’s happening but doesn’t work in Canada” category.  Windows 7 adds Internet TV functionality to Media Center, and Hulu desktop can be integrated as well to bring you on-demand access to high quality versions of all of the hottest shows on TV.  Unfortunately due to licensing constraints, Canadians are blocked from these services and all attempts to work around these barriers seem to be plugged very quickly so I can’t recommend anything right now that will make this viable in the long term for the Great White North.  For now, you can get some low-quality versions of your favourite TV shows from the CTV, Global, and CBC.

 

Windows 7 Media Center provides enough compelling new features (Photo Wall, HDTV Recording Priority, Subchannel support, h264 video streaming to XBox 360 Extenders) that I would strongly recommend the upgrade to my fellow Canadians.

Categories: Uncategorized

Enabling ATSC & QAM in Canada for Windows 7 RTM

July 27, 2009 12 comments

I’m thrilled to see so many people have taken up the challenge to get ATSC working in Canada with Windows 7 since the untimely demise of the Vista hack.  Alas, as time marches on some of the holes that made new hacks possible were plugged and more capabilities were removed from Canadians (notably QAM).  I’m pleased to present this new method to enable ATSC and QAM here in Canada with the release version of Windows 7.

First, some background.  Like the United States, Canada has decided to transition all television broadcasts from analog to digital.  These new digital signals have greater effective range, provide a crystal-clear high definition picture, and as with all over the air network TV broadcasts are free and legal to access.  It’s worth noting that over the air signals represent the best high-definition picture quality you can get for network television – better than cable and much better than satellite.  While high definition is available for a fee via cable and satellite, those high definition channels are subject to ever-increasing compression and picture quality degradation as they try to squeeze more and more content into your subscription.  And unlike cable and satellite, over the air broadcasts are not encrypted and can be easily incorporated into a Media Center setup, copied over to your iPod, and are generally easy to use.  The United States has nearly completed their digital transition, and will be shutting down the analog broadcasts in February 2009.  Canada is well into its transition, with most major markets now broadcasting in digital and 100% of the country switching over to digital by 2011 before we shut down our analog transmitters.  Here in Toronto, I can get access to every major US and Canadian network in full high-definition glory using a $40 antenna that I put in my attic.

QAM is very similar except that instead of getting the signals over-the-air using an antenna, the signals travel over your cable company’s network.  However in most of Canada this isn’t useful, as Canadian cable companies tend to encrypt or scramble their signal making it completely useless without buying their cable box.  There are some lucky regions in the country however who do get access to unencrypted QAM, and for those people it’s a virtual nerdvana of digital TV.

Here’s how to get digital high-definition broadcasts into Media Center.

If you’re using Media Center in Windows XP or Windows Vista, follow this link for detailed instructions.

If you’re using Media Center in Windows 7 or Vista with TV Pack 2008, continue reading below.  I’ve tried to provide excruciating detail, but don’t get scared.  It’s not difficult, I’m just going a bit overboard with screenshots and explanation.

Prerequisites:

  • For ATSC, you should get a good quality UHF antenna.  In most cases I’ve read about it comes down to a Channel Master 4221 or Channel Master 4228 depending on your distance from the transmitters.  Consult this handy chart (PDF) to select the right antenna for your area.  I personally have a 4221 in my attic which was both easy to do and very neighbour-friendly.
  • For ATSC, you will need an ATSC tuner for your Media Center PC.  Any tuner that is supported in Windows Media Center will do.
  • For QAM, you will need a QAM tuner for your Media Center PC.  Any tuner that is supported in Windows Media Center will do.
  • None of these items are the sort of thing you can walk into WalMart and find on the shelves, but there are several online vendors including eBay sellers who carry these items.  I personally have purchased from Sensuz, a Toronto-area HTPC dealer, and have been very happy with their service.

Step 1 – Force Media Center to allow ATSC and QAM in Canada

I’ve prepared some files that will automate the process for you.  Simply download and extract the provided zip file (click here) to your desktop or any location on your desktop.  Double-click on the file “EnableATSCandQAM.bat” which will insert some configuration information into the Media Center database that forces ATSC and QAM tuners to be recognized.

Step 2 – Configure Media Center to use your tuners

I’ll walk you through the setup of the tuner in Media Center, although this isn’t any different than what would normally occur out of the box.  Launch Media Center and navigate to Settings, TV, Setup TV Signal.  We want to set up Media Center using the correct region, Canada.  If Media Center doesn’t automatically detect that you’re in Canada, be sure to select a different region and choose “Canada”.

Enter your postal code, and agree to the terms of service (assuming you do indeed agree to the legaleze).

At this point, Media Center will configure all of the signal types that were detected.  For any cable or satellite tuners, it will automatically link to the guide data for the region.  For digital antenna (ATSC) it won’t find any guide data since it’s not officially supported.  No worries, we can add in guide listings later.

Next, Media Center will scan for ATSC and QAM channels.  This process took awhile for me, up to fifteen minutes.
  

Congratulations, your tuners are now set up!  However at this point, you likely won’t have any guide listings associated with the channels that were detected via the scan.

Step 3 – Map guide listings to your ATSC channels

For those of you who have used the Vista hack, you may like me be pleasantly surprised by the way the guide works now.  For each channel on each tuner you can specify which guide listings should be used, which is incredibly flexible.  Media Center also now has some much-welcomed logic in the Advanced Record Settings that allows you to specify that any given recording should be recorded in HD Only, HD Preferred, SD Only, or SD Preferred.  Because of this feature, I personally would recommend that you always attempt to associate your high-definition digital channels with listings from your cable company’s high-definition channel lineup or the US over-the-air listings so that the recording logic works properly.  I’ll walk you through how to set that up.

First, navigate to Settings, TV, Guide, Edit Channels.

Select the channel that you want to work with by clicking on the callsign of the station.

In the settings page for the channel, click on “Edit Listings”

You’ll  now be taken to a list of all the channels that your Media Center is aware of (including channels that were set up via other sources, such as Analog Antenna, Satellite, or my multiple guide listings hack).  This list is organized alphabetically, and you can type in letters to skip to the appropriate point in the list.
Select a channel with HD listings.

If you select a channel that also comes in via some other source (for example you get CBC Toronto on both cable and antenna) you will be presented with the option to merge the guide listings or to copy the listings.  Select “copy” so that you can manage the high definition channel independently.  Once you’ve selected the correct listings, you’ll now see that the listings are associated with the digital ATSC or QAM channel.  Click Save.

Click on save, and at this point you can keep assigning channels or you may choose to go to the guide and test things out before continuing.  Once you assign guide listings to all of your ATSC channels, you’re done the setup and should be able to enjoy pristine high-definition recordings on your computer and throughout your home on your extenders.

 

Questions and Answers

I’ll try to capture some key answers that come in over time here in this section.  To kick things off, here are some things that came to mind for me.

What happens if I select “Merge” instead of “Copy”?
I’ve found that by selecting merge, Media Center assumes that all sources for a given channel are standard definition.

Doesn’t Media Center support Analog Antenna in Canada, and can’t I use those guide listings?
Yes analog antenna is supported and you’ll get the listings for your local channels, but because it’s analog Media Center will assume that all channels that use these guide listings are standard definition.

But isn’t it incredibly stupid for Microsoft to support Analog Antenna but not Digital Antenna, given that analog channels are all shutting down and digital is the government-mandated standard for all of North America?
Yes.

Media Center didn’t automatically detect all of the ATSC channels that I’m able to receive, is there any way I can manually add them?
One of the users at digitalhome.ca maintains a list of all the channels that you should be able to receive in major centers of Canada.  You can use these lists to manually add stations to media center using the functions in Settings, TV, Guide, Add Missing Channels, Add DTV Channel.
Southwestern Ontario
Kitchener-Waterloo
Niagara Region
Toronto & Hamilton Areas
Montreal & Surrounding Areas
Ottawa & Surrounding Areas
Vancouver & Surrounding Areas

I’m not able to find guide data for all of my over the air channels, is there any way for me to get guide data for more channels?
Yes, you can force Media Center to load in guide information from any region using my multiple guide listings hack.  For example, my cable provider Cogeco doesn’t list many of the Buffalo-area over the air stations since they source their high definition content from Detroit instead.  I added the listings for Buffalo over-the-air digital antenna to Media Center using the multiple guide listings hack, and used those to complete the mapping of my channels.

Categories: Uncategorized

Adding Multiple Guide Listings to Windows 7 Media Center

July 27, 2009 3 comments

There are some situations where you would like to manually add more guide listing data to Media Center.  Most notably for those of us who live in Canada near the United States border, it is incredibly useful to add in guide listings that include the broadcast channels that you can receive but are not part of the Canadian antenna guide info.

Step 1a – Easy Instructions for Major Canadian Cities

For those of you who live near major Canadian cities, I’ve prepared a batch file to take care of adding US OTA listings to your media center.  Simply download the zip file (click here), extract the files wherever you like, and run the file “USGuide.bat” with administrator privileges (Right click and select “Run as administrator”).  This will instruct Media Center to add the guide listings for the digital over-the-air channels in the zip code nearest to that city, and add a scheduled task to Windows to download a guide update every morning.  See, I told you that was easy, now you can skip right down to step 2 and assign your guide channels.

Step 1b – Custom Instructions for Other Locales

If you don’t live near a major city, or for whatever reason you want to add some other guide information into Media Center, you’ll need to customize the batch file a bit.  We need to get a key piece of information from Media Center, the guide id, for the guide you wish to add.  To find this, you’ll first need to set up Media Center to work natively in that geography.  Navigate to Tasks, Settings, TV, TV Signal, Set Up TV Signal.  Set up Media Center to use the guide that is most appropriate for your needs (for example, I selected the Rogers Mississauga lineup which has all of the OTA digital channels listed).  Next, navigate to Tasks, Settings, TV, Guide, About Guide Listings and take note of the nine-digit ID number.

Before continuing, you’ll want to get Media Center set up again for your “real” geography.

Now that Media Center is back to normal, we’ll want to instruct Media Center to use the additional guide information that we want.  Because you’ve decided to use a custom location you’ll need to modify the custom MXF file to include the guide ID that you just selected.  In the folder you extracted earlier, navigate into the MXF folder and open the file “CustomGuide.mxf” with notepad.  You’ll notice that in three separate areas I’ve used the Guide ID “189833220”.  Replace that number in all three places with the guide ID that you noted from the “About Guide Listings” page.  Save the file and close notepad. 
 

Assuming that the guide you inserted above is in the same country as your primary Media Center setup, MC will take care of updating the listings every night.  However, if your guide lineup is in a different country (for example, I choose to use guide listings from Buffalo New York) then Media Center will fail when it tries to download on its normal schedule.  We need to add in a scheduled task that will change a registry key fake MC into thinking it’s located in the US, download the listings, then set the registry key back to Canada.  This is all captured in the XMLTask\ImportATSCCustom.xml file, which you can edit pretty quickly using notepad.  Similar to what you did above, replace the number “189833220” with the Guide ID that you noted from the “About Guide Listings” page.  Save the file and close notepad.

Navigate back up a level and run the batch file “USGuide.bat” with administrator privileges (Right click and select “Run as administrator”).  Select option 7 if you’re adding US guide listings (the batch file will set up nightly downloading), option 8 if you’re just adding Canadian listings (we’ll just add the custom lineup to Media Center).

Step 2 – Assign Guide Listings to Channel

Now we want to map any channels that previously had no guide data to the new guide information that we just added to Media Center.

First, navigate to Settings, TV, Guide, Edit Channels.
 

Select the channel that you want to work with by clicking on the callsign of the station. In this example, we’ll pick some an over-the-air digital antenna channel 5.1.

In the settings page for the channel, click on "Edit Listings"

You’ll now be taken to a list of all the channels that your Media Center is aware of (including the guide data that we just added manually).  This list is organized alphabetically, and you can type in letters to skip to the appropriate point in the list.  Assuming that you’re setting up a digital antenna channel, be sure to select a guide data with HD listings.

If you select a channel that also comes in via some other source (for example you get CBC Toronto on both cable and antenna) you will be presented with the option to merge the guide listings or to copy the listings.  I’d suggest "copy" so that you can manage the ATSC channel independently and take advantage of the HD guide logic for that channel.  Once you’ve selected the correct listings, you’ll now see that the listings are associated with the ATSC channel.  Click Save.
 

Click on save, and at this point you can keep assigning channels or you may choose to go to the guide and test things out before continuing.  Once you assign guide listings to all of your ATSC channels, you’re done the setup and should be able to enjoy pristine high-definition recordings on your computer and throughout your home on your extenders.

 

Questions and Answers

I’ve noticed some errors in the mcupdate logs, should I worry?
No.  Due to the nature of this setup, Media Center will try to download US listings daily using the normal update.  Since you’re located in Canada, it will fail and throw an error that the headend ID is invalid.  No worries, that US guide will get updated by another scheduled task at 5am every morning.

Categories: Uncategorized

Microsoft accouncing XBox game writing tool

August 14, 2006 1 comment

Very cool for them to be moving in this direction, I think it might produce some interesting results.  The XNA Game Studio Express will allow regular deveopers and hobbyists write games that can be compiled to run on the 360.  Annual cost is $99.

Let me make my prediction now… this is the vehicle by which the XBox 360 wil lbe eventually hacked.

Categories: Uncategorized

Penlight animation

August 2, 2006 Leave a comment

Here’s another unique gem that I discovered on digg, called the Lightning Doodle Project.  Have you ever lit up a sparkler at night and drawn circles in the air?  Every year around July 1, I remember doing that as a kid and had a great time (okay, I still do it).  Imagine if you recorded that and made a short animated film out of the results.  Click here to see the video.

Categories: Uncategorized

Now this is cool – Photosynth

July 28, 2006 Leave a comment

Sean Alexander pointed out a very interesting Microsoft Labs project whereby many similar photos can be put together to form a 3D model of an area, and browse into details of an area by using a composite of the photos.  As Sean points out, this sort of research could be applied very nicely by a photo-sharing site like Flickr.
They have a demo video up that shows St Peter’s Basilica at the vatican through the eyes of hundreds of similar photos.

Categories: Uncategorized