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July 2008 - Posts

  • The Why

    I've been using MC for several years, investing significant time and effort into improving the platform at many different levels. It was very difficult to even get to the point where I would consider another platform. Not only would a new set of rules need to be learned (and passed on to the family), but many of the tools (DTB, RecordingBroker, LcdWriter, etc) developed to make the old system work right will need to be adapted to an entirely new ecosystem.  Having received a few questions around why I'm replatforming (although a different word was used), I've tried to hit the big reasons below.

    No updates in a long time, and none planned until Win7: Ehome has aligned its release schedule with Windows. So no more yearly updates. If they were in a position of strength, instead of being significantly behind the feature curve, maybe this would be understandable. But as it stands, so many features are missing I can only see them getting further behind in each cycle. Looking back 3-4 years it would have been very difficult to predict where the market would go. In such a dynamic environment, shorter/tighter cycles are required; if you're wrong the loss is minimal, if you're right you've kept pace. With the exeception of OCUR, there hasn't been a significant functional change in MC since Rollup 2. MCML is nice, but it doesn't add real functionality to the platform, just form. I want native QAM, a hetrogenous guide, ATSC subchannels, software extender (softsled), modern high definition codec support, and a more cohesive multi-pc environment experience. Living without a couple of these isn't a big deal, but there's a point where the features that are missing outweighs the ones that aren't. I think waiting for Win7 (2010?) is too much of a long shot. If I'm wrong, and Win7 has everything + more than Sage has when it ships I'll happily eat some crow.

    Lack of relevant direction, but who knows: Forced to guess at who ehome designs for, and what its targets are, I can't find a cohesive direction or strategy targeting the needs of the enthusiast. This is made so much worse by the almost complete lack of transparency. We don't know what's coming or when; just that "good things are" at some unspecified, unmentionable, unaccountable point in the future. Looking only at the outputs, I have a hard time seeing how Media Center is targeted at me. Hopefully transparency gets better now that MS has finally gotten officially involved in the community.

    Doing it the hard way, by design: I see a lot of complexity and inflexibility in MC, and I have to wonder how much of it is really necessary. It seems that they would be able to deliver more functionality faster if it didn't try remaking the wheel each time. For those that want to play, it's more difficult than it should be to get simple things working.

    Won't Fix/can't Repro/Not my problem: It's hard for me to accept these kinds of responses for something I'm passionate about. MS needs to do a better job of engaging and supporting the efforts of those who are trying to make the platform better.

    Maybe I need a change: Messing with HTPCs is one of my main hobbies. I want to be excited about the platform, to advocate for it, to be a "fanboi". There was a time when I could do that with MC and it was a defensible position. A time when the platform didn't let me down when it was cutting edge. Sage isn't for everyone. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't interested in tinkering; but it is stable, good looking (after some help), and most importantly capable.

  • Sagetray

    Sagetray listens for "The Green Button" on a MCE Remote and launches SageTV if it is not already running.

    Either create a shortcut to the application in the startup folder, or run sagetray.exe /register to add the application to HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Current Version\Run.

    This application is based on mptray, an application created for MediaPortal.


    UPDATED 7/29/08

    - Fixed an issue where focus wasn't always forced on SageTV


  • Clarity

    Just ordered the HD-PVR bundle from Sage.

    Posted Jul 27 2008, 06:38 PM by babgvant with 11 comment(s)
    Filed under:
  • Giddy

    As you know (if you've been reading anyway) I've been trying out Sage the last few days.  Well something didn't work, so I contacted support to see if it was user error or a bug.  After some emails and a file upload I received the following email:

    "We found the issue and it will be fixed in the next build which should be version 6.4.6."

    First it was pleasantly surprising to receive a response in less than 24 hours.  But even more shocking is that it's getting fixed.  No extended bug reports, no business impact statements, and no "Won't Fix*" responses weeks later.  What is wrong with me, where this kind of response makes me giddy?  Where the relationship b/w me and a vendor is rewarding, open, and positive.

    Somebody pinch me.


    * Of all the responses I've gotten to bug reports over the years "Won't Fix" is my favorite.  It validates your bug while simultaneously refusing to do anything about it; priceless :)

    Posted Jul 24 2008, 07:51 PM by babgvant with 6 comment(s)
    Filed under:
  • Five years gone

    I finally got around to installing Sage over the weekend, and despite being a slight step backwards in UI (after installing SageMC) vs. Vista MC I'm very pleased with the experience.

    Interestingly I wasn't able to find a functional gap that I cared about (or anything that the DTB addin provides that isn't implemented better OOTB). The learning curve is a little steep, especially when configuring video sources, but nothing insurmountable. Coming from MC where much of the complexity is hidden away, or not exposed at all, it was both frustrating and pleasantly rewarding to play with all the settings.

    If installing on Vista:

    1) Install Java first
    2) Change the file permissions on the Sage TV folder in program files to explictly allow your user (or all users) full control. Sage isn't designed to play nice with UAC.

  • Maybe "mainstream" isn't the right target - DVD Streaming

    Some thoughts on Charlie's perspective.

    Mainstream is relative:  If what the majority of users want to use a computer for is mainstream, Media Center isn't mainstream.  Why should it's features or development direction, target that crowd instead of those who actually use the product?  Is MC trying to be the MS Works in this market?  Mainstream and niche should be defined by the market you compete in; could be anecdotal, but this seems to be a pretty mainstream feature request in the HTPC market.

    It's too late:  Sure it should have been implemented a long time ago, but that doesn't mean it's too late. DVD isn't going anywhere for a long time.  Downloads and BR are here, but adoption and available content is minimal; even in decline the current market for DVD video is huge.  Following this argument a little, why not wait out recorded tv?  Eventually it's all going to get replaced by on demand video downloads anyway. 

    Building for the mainstream - OCUR:  If much of the defense perspective around missing the boat on "streaming" is based on the numbers, i.e. it's a niche product.  How does OCUR play?  How much did MS spend bringing OCUR to Vista?  How can it be seen as anything but a niche (and deadend, SDV) feature?

    OMG sneakernet:  Cleansing breath, again, again, wow... Maybe Charlie hasn't seen the numbers; if sneakernet is good enough what is all that storage for?  Most of the time when I sit down to watch something, I don't know what it's going to be; TV, DVD, online video, etc. I use a HTPC to make it easier to browse the content I have, it should faciliate the selection and consumption of that content easily.  If it's offline (in a cabinet somewhere) I might as well not own it, because it's forgotten. 

    Pleasing content owners?:  Maybe I'm naive, but why does MS need to please the content owners?  How is putting a DVDNavigator on an extender something that they are going to care about anyway?  As long as it follows the same rules as every other DVDNavigator how is that an issue?  If playing a VIDEO_TS folder from a remote location is a problem for them, why does the DVDNavigator that ships with Windows support exactly that?

    DVD Library didn't succeed:  MS's implementation of DVD changers was like building a car with three wheels.  Of course it didn't sell well, it didn't work right (umm, cause it didn't stream the dvds).  I would have been first in line to get one of these if I could share the changer with the other boxes on my network; I might have even bought an extender if it really extended.

    Personally I think the feature doesn't exist because none of the big OEMs asked for it.  MS sees OEM as the "real" customers for MC not us.  The underlying problem with this feature (and others) isn't that MS doesn't listen to the customer, it's that we aren't them.

  • A different shade of green - Inertia?

    I've been thinking about replatforming on SageTV lately.  While I haven't downloaded the software to take the trial yet, all the research that I've done is pointing to a highly competitive product.  Off hand I can think of several perceived pros/cons to either platform, but before I start the trial I need to document what I want/need in a platform to adequately measure the outcome. There are two major drivers for me; one is the recent release of the HD-PVR, the other is that I may be adding another TV to the house.

    One grey area is my current model.  Given MC's design, and the limitations in the MC extender platform, I use a peer-based model.  Each PC is a potential pool of content and tuners (one does not have a tuner), leveraging WOL requests when a navigating the UI different PCs can be woken for the different experiences.  For the most part the only drawback is the lack of remote Live Tv, but for me this is a negligible cost as I watch 99% of my TV as Recorded TV (often after recording the entire season).  Sage's extender has features that bring it closer in parity with a PC (lacking only extensibility when non-PC centric functionality is ignored) making the client-server model viable.  I do use the dedicated HTPC's as a PC occasionally; but I'm not sure if that's an artifact of it being a PC or that it's an essential part of the mix. 

    In the past the transitional costs (Java based, learning curve, retraining the family, etc) in tandem with similar feature set w/ MC, was enough to keep me from evaluating it as an alternative.  But I ran across an interesting discussion on TGB which, while unconfirmed, raises the possibility that there may not be a publicly available update to MC until Windows7 (2010?).  There's a good chance that none of it is true (and Charlie says waiting is a good thing ;)), but should it turn out to be true I don't want inertia to be the only thing keeping me in the fold.

    I know this is somewhat rambling, I had hoped that forcing myself to write it up would bring more clarity and focus, hopefully that will come later.

  • Why Extenders?

    After reading another review of a Media Center extender, and seeing all the limitations (two channel audio over HDMI, wha?) i have to wonder [yet again] why this is the "future" of Media Center.

    With all of the things it can't do I would expect an extender to be much cheaper, but looking at the pricing a PC is very comparable (and with some corner cutting could be cheaper).

    I did a quick look on Newegg to see what a decent MC PC would cost.  The result is below:


    cpu (AMD 4600x2) $57.00
    mobo (ECS 780G) $59.99
    ram (2gb) $39.99
    hd (250gb) $57.99
    Vista Premium $99.00


    I purposely didn't include a case or psu because of high variability in price and preference.   While I don't know that I would, it is certainly possible to get a case and PSU while still staying under the $350 price of the HP extender. 

    Instead of praising the extender, we should be screaming at MS to give us remoted live TV, because that's the only feature that is missing and you get all the stuff that doesn't work (or doesn't work well) on the extender for free.


@2008 andy vt
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