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January 2008 - Posts

  • Round Peg?

    I haven't been able to put my finger on the why exactly; but lately I've been losing my enthusiasm for Media Center (MC).  At a high level, I've isolated the following potential causes.

    1. Nonexistent platform SDK - The existing SDK is geared towards UI development, adding new experiences to MC like Internet TV for e.g..  While those are cool applications, they aren't the kind of applications that I like to write.  While I can design a serviceable UI when required, it's not something I enjoy, and it's certainly not something that I want to spend my fun time on.  When I look at MC I see a ton of potential for enhancement for the existing experiences (especially because MS seems to leave so many of them unfinished).  The problem is that MC isn't a platform in that sense, the APIs that would allow for it aren't exposed for public consumption, and in many ways the private APIs that MS uses are deliberately written to make access to some types of information inaccessible.  Over time as the DTB addin added functionality, it became a complex set of workarounds, some based on fragile components supposedly supported by MS (*cough* MSAS), others on much less supportable functionality.  The most frustrating aspect of it all, is the longer I work with MC the harder it has become to extend.  I don't see this trend altering course, and as MS capitulates more to the content companies I can only imagine it getting worse.  Looking at the amount of effort required to enhance other areas of the experience, this has become a major point of frustration; Office can do this, why can't MC.
    2. No new features or major functionality in a long time - To clarify, this should read "no new features that are relevant to me".  Other than having a better UI (prettier, better layout, etc),  Vista's MC doesn't offer me anything I didn't have with XP.  I know there's cablecard, the mini guide, and some other things; but none of that is useful to me.  I could live with cablecard if it only meant buying a OEM PC (not saying I wouldn't complain, just that I could live), but the DRM part of the equation reduces the value so much that if I were to go this route I honestly think Tivo or *shudder* the Comcast DVR would be a better option.  In both cases cost is lower and functionality is similar or better.  Maybe I'm missing something, but to my recollection the last major set of new features came with rollup 2.
    3. Lackluster support for existing features - DVD changers anyone?  Can you even buy one of these anymore?  I dreamed of the day when I could pick one of these up and throw it in a closet and expose the discs to all of the MCs on my network.  The implementation for this feature is one of the major reasons I will never buy an extender (well that, and the unrealistic price point).  There are others, but I think this is the best example.
    4. Product Instability - I could understand issue #1 a lot more if the stability was rock solid, it doesn't take much of a wander around TGB to find all kinds of problems.
    5. No upcoming features - Is there anything but DirectTV support coming in Fiji (wasn't that supposed to be out by now?)? DirectTV support looks good on paper, but I really doubt that seeing what MS gave to CableLabs, DirectTV is going to get anything less.  Is there anything else in the pipe?  SP1 has nothing.  HD-DVD integration will probably never happen.  Blue-Ray integration will probably never happen. 
    6. MS community involvement declining - Charlie Owen, Jessica Zahn
    7. Other platforms' promise - i.e. Hauppauge HD component capture card.  From what I've read this is coming to MC's competitors.  And honestly I see it as the kind of product that if implemented correctly, could trigger a sea change in the enthusiast community.  While $250 is pricey, it's cheaper than a OCUR device, and since I can put it my box ABMS instead of needing to get Dell or HP to do it for me, the TCO is much lower. 

  • Retrospective

    Sadly, forum member and DTB contributer jelwood has decided to hang up his green buttoned remote.  Jelwood is a long time user and contributor to DTB; many features and functionality are due to his direct input and contributions. I've probably missed some things, but here's a short list of the big ones that I remember off the top of my head:

    • Extender support
    • Skipping options: dialog, max and min skip values, not skipping past the end of shows
    • Native dvr-ms support in Mencoder and Ffmpeg (huge advance in device support)


    He was nice enough to list out the reasoning behind this decision (after some encouragement).  Given his contributions to this community and the level of experience with both the MC platform both on the PC and using extenders it would be shameful for the perspective to go unheard.  Ideally, it would be great for this feedback to find it's way to someone who can do something about it.  I don't know if there's anyone who reads this that can do that, but the folks in Redmond who make decisions about the platform should take a read and get a true power user's take on things.

  • When a default isn't

    I use Firefox for most of my browsing, and while setting up a new machine recently noticed that while it was set as the default browser links clicked in other applications (SharpReader) were still opening in IE.

    The strange thing is that on a different PC this worked just fine.  So I went digging through the registry on the new machine and found that the http and https extensions were still registered to IE.  There may be a better way to fix this but changing the values directly certainly works too.

    copy/paste this into a .reg file and import.

    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

    @="“%Program Files%Mozilla Firefox\\firefox.exe” -requestPending -osinit -url \"%1\""

    @="“%Program Files%Mozilla Firefox\\firefox.exe” -requestPending -osinit -url \"%1\""

  • WMP Remote Update

    WMP Remote was updated with the following enhancements

    • Added better error handling
    • Added playlist viewing
    • Added ability to select songs within playlist
    • Changed Host field to drop down from text box to support multiple PCs easier
    • Better orientation support
    • Added volume controls
    • Added Shutdown option to cleanup server resources
  • WMF Taketh

    I saw a thread the the Windows Media Framework (WMF) news group about a month ago when someone brought up using the WMASFWriter filter to encode WMA Pro audio.  Having tried to do this unsuccessfully in the past, I was very interested in finding a solution when a couple of the WMF and DShow MVPs started posting. 

    Chris P. suggested an excellent approach and I gave it a go, but I couldn't get it to work at all.  Every time I tried to connect the WMA DMO to the writer the application would bomb with a memory exception.  After spending way too much time working out all of the possible permutations, it turns out that the approach doesn't work with WMF 11 bits.  Chris was using WMF 9 to do his development.

    I think his comment 'Great ... another broken "upgrade".' sums it up better than I ever could.


  • ASF Giveth

    Sometime in the Vista Beta -> RC period I noticed that meta data couldn't be read using DirectShow (DS) while a show was being recorded.  At the time I thought it was a bug (after all it worked just fine in XP), but when it was still there in the RTM build it was very discouraging. 

    I don't know what changed in how the SBE objects interact with the file, but after thinking about it for a while I thought maybe it had something to do with the introduction of Media Foundation (MF).  With all the other things going on I didn't really get a chance to play with it enough, and ended up adding functionality to DTB to work around the issue.  Well the other day Coyote posted a link to a managed version of GraphEdit.  While checking it out I discovered that there was a managed wrapper for MF similar to, so I gave it a shot and figured out how to read meta data from an ASF file (DVR-MS files are ASF files).  Unfortunetly the effort was for nothing as it suffered from the same limitation as the DS.

    There is a happy ending because while looking at the MF documentation on MSDN, I found the ASF Specification.  Armed with this information AsfParse was born.  For now AsfParse just parses the header information and returns meta data, but I plan to complete the implementation as time (and demand) allows.  I've only done preliminary testing, but everything indicates that this will provide access to meta data as the file is recording, and real time PC evaluation can be added back into the Vista version of DTB's feature set.

    AsfParse is licensed under the LGPL, so feel free to use it in your own applications.  If you flesh out the class please let me know so I can update my version. 

  • Preview

    - Key handling is only triggered while recorded tv is played back.  Should address sluggish UI issues.
    - More attempts to detect playing file are made before giving up
    - Addin will fall back to using Restart Manager if unable to detect the file using prefered method
    - Changed wording on file can't be detected message to be more accurate given new detection method
    - Waiting to process messages more descriptive
    - Status writing is more timely
    - Fixed a problem with DVR2WMV usage, should [finally] resolve hanging issues
    - Added reprocess functionality to the addin (press 4 on the remote)
    - Fixed meta data not available during recording issue
    - Added FileName to meta data returned, will not be persisted in file
    - Removed dependancy on Toub dll
    - Removed m71 support
    - Migrated all DirectShow code to use DirectShow.Net interfaces
    - Fixed lost status messages when process ends quickly

    Coding's done, whole lot of testing to do.

    If I promised you something or you'd like your ffmpeg/mencoder profile included OOTB let me know. 

  • Expression

    Danorum wrote an action that uses MS's Expression Encoder to convert dvr-ms files.  He was kind enough to post it in the forum.

    I haven't had a chance to dl expression and try it out yet, but it looks very promising.

  • H.264 -> DVR-MS

    Struck me while I was out walking the dog last night that part of bringing DirectTV tuners to WMC is modifing the SBE to support H.264 video.  If this is correct, this is great news for everyone looking to archive ATSC MPEG content in a smaller format.

  • Vista + Domain - [Domain] Network = Coffee Break

    There is way too much Vista bashing going on out in the wild wild interweb, so it pains me to add fuel to the fire.  I can live with the 30/45 second wait while Vista punishes me for typing the wrong password when I'm not on the same network as my domain; it's a security feature ;).  But this afternoon I waited over 5 minutes for my domain joined laptop which wasn't connected to the domain to log me on after rebooting.  I certainly hope this is something that is fixed in SP1!!! 
    Posted Jan 03 2008, 07:59 PM by babgvant with 5 comment(s)
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