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DVRMSToolbox & the TV Pack

One of the first things I learned [the hard way] when I started writing software was the real difference between the public API (objects, methods and functions documented in the SDK), private API (undocumented but accessible objects, methods, and functions) and implementation details.   Of the three, only the public API is guaranteed.  It is a contract between the developer and the platform, like all contracts there are some grey areas, things that are open to interpretation or purposely left vague to allow some wiggle room as the platform expands, but the promise is still valid.  The platform and its support structure stands behind the public API, if it breaks - it gets fixed

Of course in the real world it's often difficult to meet requirements using only the public API so you cheat a little, peak under the covers (dumpbin, reflector, hex editor, etc) take on the risk that what your application is using isn't documented or supported.  Trusting that changing the private API or implementation is costly enough to the platform that it won't happen that often.  Sure it's annoying when that stuff changes but you have no right to complain when it does.

So what does all that mean for DVRMSToolbox (DTB) and the TV Pack?  Some changes were necessary to make WTV work properly inside the application.  Most of DTB uses DirectShow to interact with the files so that aspect of the transition was relatively painless.  Some things, like the metadata parser, are based on implementation (DVR-MS is ASF), so branching was necessary (DirectShow for WTV, ASFParser for DVR-MS) but for the most part everything in DTB that runs outside of Media Center that worked with DVR-MS should work with WTV.  There is one major exception, the RecComp object (edits DVR-MS files) does not work on WTV.  Not a huge issue, as we've already discussed how to convert/change the file format into something that can be edited (and there is an update to ToDVRMS that supports WTV).

Other applications that provided native DVR-MS support (SA, Comskip, Mencoder, etc) will need time to provide the same kind of support for WTV that we enjoyed with DVR-MS.  These tools are all based on implementation so this outcome was not unexpected, even if MS provided container documentation (which they haven't, and may not) it would take a while for tool support to catch up.  I'm confident that over time these tools will get modified to provide the same level of support.  If you were one of the original DTB users, you'll remember that there was a time when DVR-MS had to be converted to mpeg for commercial scanning so this is nothing new. 

The story inside Media Center is different however.  Anyone who's installed the TV Pack and DTB should already know that automatic commercial skipping inside Media Center doesn't work.  While there are aspects of the DTB Addin that rely on unsupported features, the part that does the skipping isn't one of them. 

When a recorded TV file is played back the addin receives a notification from MSAS to start monitoring the position within the file and checking that position against the known list of commercials.  These public API objects uses to determine playback state and position (MediaExperience and therefore its child objects) are not populated (null) during playback, a state that should never occur.  This is a blocking bug in the public API. I have examined other approaches to making the addin work during playback, but because of the breadth of this issue it would be very difficult to make anything work that would be anything close to stable.  At this time I do not plan to pursue a technical solution further.

Personally I find it appalling that the pack would ship with a bug of this magnitude.  Either testing was so cursory that it wasn't discovered, or it was a known issue and the decision was made to ship anyway.  It's hard to say which is worse. 

Microsoft has confirmed that the issue exists, but they do not plan to develop a QFE or even publicly document it via a KB article.  At this point the only option that I have been provided is to write a business impact statement in the hope that the effected population is big enough for MS to care about.  DTB doesn't have any kind of tracking mechanisms to determine install base so determining the effected pool will be difficult.  If you are a TV Pack and DTB user let me know.  Hopefully there will be enough of you to get noticed.

UPDATE - 9/4/08:

While I classified this as a rant (because some parts of it are), please understand that I want to get this fixed and I need your help to do that (if you work at, or run, a major OEM even better). 

As Charlie mentioned below, trashing MS isn't helpful and more importantly this isn't the forum to do that (that's what TGB is for ;)); if you are effected let me know with a comment or an email (avantil at gmail period com); and since not every TV Pack user reads my blog get the word out (thanks to all those who have).  

Also, I should have made it clearer that while I don't agree with MS' process for getting a QFE(business impact and all that); I understand why that is their process and playing by their rules is the only way this is going to get fixed.

Comments

 

millerbrad said:

I'm one of the lucky fools who installed TV Pack and lost DVRMStoolbox functionality.  But, the improved guide keeps me from going back to pre-TVP.

Is MSFT really considering this a bug, or was it intentional?  Disabling commercial skipping isn't exactly a new thing.

September 3, 2008 11:54 AM
 

HT Slider said:

This is very disappointing.  Once again Microsoft seems to be intent on ensuring that the core functionality that the end user is looking for is NOT there.

No flexible HD support (nothing at all for Canada yet, no h.264, no HD-PVR, difficult for 3rd party hardware vendors to write drivers that support HD, etc.),  inability to share all media with other Media Center PCs and Extenders (Recorded/Live TV, on-line unprotected DVD/VOB, DivX, etc.), no Blu-ray support, and even more incredible - very poor support for the individuals who are putting in their time for FREE to add wanted functionality to Media Center.  

Considering that DTB has been one of the #1 topics over at http://thegreenbutton.com/ for years and the discussion now hasn't even been active for 2 years (and it is still one of the most active!!), it is even more incredible that Microsoft won't support a public, published API required to make DTB work.

I simply cannot understand how such a capable piece of software can be lacking such core functionality - especially after so many years.

It is sad to say, but I fully understand why you have started to focus more on Sage TV.

September 3, 2008 12:23 PM
 

babgvant said:

My addin isn't the only one effected.  If they wanted to disable commercial skipping there would be better, more targeted ways to do that.

September 3, 2008 12:27 PM
 

PhyrePhox said:

Thank you for your work in bringing these issues to Microsoft's attention.

This isn't the news I was hoping to get today regarding DTb, but it's not a total surprise, as I have been following the developer for MediaControl in his efforts to solve the issue of MSAS not notifying his plug-in about play state:

damienbt.free.fr/.../viewtopic.php

It appears he has kludged a fix that has the plug-in scan for FFDShow every 5 seconds, which is ugly, but about the only way for it to work right now.

I played with SageTV a bit after you started blogging about it, and there's a lot to like, but I have to say that my patience for MS and Vista has almost run out. I have had to rebuild the system 3 times in the past year, and all it does is MCE (with only your add-in and MediaControl), and download torrents of UK TV shows. I have avoided telling the SO that commercial skip broke because I installed TV Pack, hoping that a solution would magically appear on September 3; now I have to own up to what I did or rebuild the box yet again (this time it is my fault, but the others were not). The TV Pack added some very useful enhancements, but it's not worth losing the add-ins that we have come to rely on.

This media center is the last Windows box in the house, and if Santa brings me a LCD with DVI or HDMI, the old Mac Mini, with its Elgato ATSC tuner and new Hauppauge USB cable tuner, will become our new media center. A version of comskip is available for the EyeTV software, and the developer for EyeTV is promising Canadian TV listings soon.

I was concerned that your new love for SageTV, coupled with your well-documented ire at working around Microsoft's developer "support" would lead to diminished support for this excellent program. Now I see that it's really Microsoft that is killing the usefulness of this product, and making developers like you do all the work and take all the heat for the problems.

Your development skills and terrific customer service can't overcome a product that appears to be, at best, all but unsupported by the manufacturer, and at worst, defective by design.

September 3, 2008 12:28 PM
 

babgvant said:

The TV Pack has a lot of good things, I'd be using it if it weren't broken.  

I will continue to push on MS to support the product properly; but they won't unless there's a solid business case to do the right thing (how backwards is that?).  Honestly, I don't expect anything to happen unless a major OEM thumps them.

September 3, 2008 12:47 PM
 

burndive said:

I'm a TV Pack & DVRMSToolbox user.

Does the RecComp object not being available mean that it won't be possible to have commercials automatically removed from the recordings? (i.e., deleted to save space and preclude the need for software that monitors playing)

I used Lifextender on all my old DVR-MS files because that's what it does.

September 3, 2008 3:24 PM
 

babgvant said:

Yes, the RecComp not working with WTV means that you cannot remove commercials from WTV files directly.

September 3, 2008 5:07 PM
 

mango said:

<Very opinionated response>

Well this makes me want to shout out lots of expletives!

Corporate crap always in the way. They buy out thegreenbutton and webguide and just let them sit and fester until they die.

It seems to me this is almost like a double bluff scenario.- Make the pack in such a way as to undermine all the third party stuff that actually made media center really powerful and great thus regain control of the system as a whole.

Commercial skip is one of the wonders of the PVR world. Heck I just love having 17 minutes of my life back for a 1 hour show.

If MS read this - shame on you.

September 3, 2008 5:49 PM
 

Chris said:

This is unfortunate. I can see how this kind of thing would slip through beta testing, especially if the 3rd party apps weren't involved enough in the testing process.

Alas, to add one to your list, DVRMSToolbox is the main reason I'm a media center user. The extensibility it allows (and the sweet commercial skip) are the main things that cause me to put up with the extra complexity, instead of just getting an HDTivo.

September 3, 2008 7:40 PM
 

charlieo said:

I'd like to chime in here and encourage folks to leave a comment stating you use DVR-MS Toolbox to help Andrew assess the customer impact statement. While it's perhaps cathartic to heap burning coals upon my head (and to some extent, Microsofts name) it does nothing to build a case to get this resolved sooner rather than later. The best thing you can do is stay on topic and let Andrew know you are a user of DTB.

Application compatibility is a tricky art -- you can't possibly test every piece of software written on your platform so you have to pick the ones you feel will give you the broadest range of coverage. Unfortunately DVR-MS Toolbox was not on this short list in the past. Andrew has provided me with a list of use cases for future application compatibility testing.

Seriously, avoid the urge to rail on me or Microsoft -- leave a short comment letting Andrew know you use DVR-MS Toolbox.

Charlie Owen

Microsoft Corporation

September 3, 2008 10:05 PM
 

djsecrist said:

Add me to the list of disappointed users...  I would LOVE to have this working again!  As would my wife...  and kids...  and extended family...  and friends...  Everybody loved the auto commercial skipping at my house!

-Dan

September 3, 2008 11:16 PM
 

tmb017 said:

Tag.  I've been telling my dad how wonderful Media Center is with it's automatic commercial skipping.  I bought him an dma2100 extender to allow him to use my HTPC this season once I get the network upgraded to wireless n.  But I just installed the TV Pack which finally allows me to mix QAM and OTA.  Please fix this.   You're gonna make me look bad.

Tom

September 4, 2008 1:42 AM
 

Ian Dixon's Blog said:

If you use DVR-MS toolbox and enjoy some of the great features like commercial skipping then you need

September 4, 2008 3:42 AM
 

DrFlick said:

We use DVR-MS Toolbox and would like to see the aforementioned broken public API issue resolved.

Regards,

 =D-

Derek R. Flickinger

Interactive Homes, Inc.

September 4, 2008 4:28 AM
 

rawlinpr said:

I use DVRMSToolbox all the time and I love it!. Microsoft need to sort out this problem.

September 4, 2008 5:05 AM
 

sccrgoalie1 said:

I miss DVRMS toolbox.  Please help us to resolve the issue so I can get it back up and working.

Mark

September 4, 2008 5:06 AM
 

jeffmikan said:

This is one of the reasons that I am holding off on the upgrade.  Microsoft. Time to step up.

September 4, 2008 5:34 AM
 

rickardk said:

I really miss DVRMS toolbox .

There are great add-ins are broken in one way or another:

myTV

Media Control

Open Media Library

etc etc

Developers been posting at The Media Center Sandbox so I really hope Microsoft is aware of "problems" that exists (MediaExperience, MSAS state, ReturnToApplication etc etc)

September 4, 2008 5:58 AM
 

dabl said:

I'm a DVRMSToolbox user and would use the TV Pack only if developer support for that application was made possible by Microsoft.

Microsoft: Please provide the developer comunity the information they need to do creative work in support of your product.

September 4, 2008 6:27 AM
 

mschoneman said:

I'm a DVRMSToolbox user and would use the TV Pack only if developer support for that application was made possible by Microsoft.

Microsoft: Please provide the developer comunity the information they need to do creative work in support of your product.

September 4, 2008 7:43 AM
 

martyus said:

Add me to the list of those who would like to see Microsoft fix this bug/problem.

It is unfortunate that this bug exists in the TV Pack and even more appalling that Microsoft refuses to fix it!

Everything about the TV Pack stinks. It was over-hyped, took too long to develop, and failed to deliver. Now Microsoft is trying to downplay/disown the whole TV Pack fiasco.

I have used and liked Media Center since its beginning (2002, 2004, 2005, Vista), but lately, Microsoft's position regarding Media Center is simply disappointing to say the least.

September 4, 2008 8:58 AM
 

duffy said:

I use DVRMSToolbox all the time.  Please Microsoft fix this issue.

September 4, 2008 11:05 AM
 

Jim_IT said:

Andy,

Another happy but again sadly disappointed MC user.  TV pack should be fixed to operate as stated.

Jim

September 4, 2008 11:32 AM
 

inavi said:

I'm currently experimenting with the TV Pack. I like the new functionality in the guide, but at the expense of breaking DTB which has been the foremost favorite app of mine for a media center. I'm debating whether the new guide enhancements (I'm so-so on the other features it provides) are worth keeping it installed or reverting it back to get DTB working again. If there's no support soon in allowing DTB to work on this pack, I'm leaning toward the latter and experimenting with Media Portal at the same time.

September 4, 2008 11:33 AM
 

brian said:

DVRMS Toolbox is/was one of my must have add-ins.  I really miss it with TV Pack.

September 4, 2008 12:03 PM
 

tbppp said:

Definitely use (or used to use) DVRMSToolbox... this bug makes me seriously consider switching to another platform =(

September 4, 2008 1:52 PM
 

zebibyte said:

Another vote for resolving our issue with the TV Pack and DVRMS toolbox, really a great tool and this is an opportunity to show your user community that you support us.

September 4, 2008 2:04 PM
 

sjchmura said:

Add me to the list of people who not only uses DVRMS toolbox, but was considering STRONGLY purchasing an OEM system (VM to be exact) with CableCard/BLu-ray but will not until this is fixed. This is really troubling.

Does MS not understand that VMC plays to a small core audience that buy alot from OEM's and this will hurt them significantly? While I still find it amazing they have no native itunes support in VMC (you have to freeware hack it), at least they could not break their own code.

September 4, 2008 2:43 PM
 

Montyward said:

Please add me to the list as well.  DVRMSToolbox is a critical application for my system.

September 4, 2008 4:04 PM
 

ddman said:

I am also a TV-Pack DTb User.  Despite the recent trend of people switching to Sage, I have always preferred Media Center because of the quality of the programs and add-ins that were being developed (DTb is tops on this list).  I was extremely disappointed to see that DTb (and additionally, WebGuide) are seemingly incompatible with TV-Pack (for now).  I am hoping this changes.  I am a strong believer that the easier it is for people to develop these types of programs, the more use users will find in Media Center as an alternative to DVR provided by the cable companies.

Add me to the list! (and thanks again Andy for developing this great software and taking the time to look into these issues on behalf of all of its users!)

September 4, 2008 6:22 PM
 

cyberhiker said:

Please add me as upset at breaking the API...  I'm running the TV Pack & DVRMSToolbox on a dedicated HTPC.  I added on the TV pack as out in a rural area HDTV is the only way to get an acceptable picture but the old analog guide was often out of sync with the DTV channels.  Now I have a great guide but no DVRMSToolbox :-(

I do understand that with a large number of changes for the release something can break (perhaps there wasn't a regression test for that item?).   It does sound like a number of third party developers have been hit with this issue - hopefully something can be done to resolve it in a timely manner :-)

September 4, 2008 6:23 PM
 

MitchSchaft said:

Hello, SageTV

September 4, 2008 11:35 PM
 

rgreenpc said:

I use it as well. Fix it charlie asap.

September 5, 2008 6:10 AM
 

kmp14 said:

I use DVRMSToolbox with vista, and love it...or used to.  SageTV on XP is looking more attractive.  PLEASE MS, fix the API!!!!

September 5, 2008 8:59 AM
 

jhoff80 said:

TV Pack has broken pretty much every plugin I use:

Lifextender, myTV, MediaControl.

MediaControl has a function to disable the MediaExperience as a workaround for the bug.  myTV crashes when attempting to watch two episodes in a row using it, I think because of the same bug.  (Only happens if you watch the first episode for longer than five minutes for some reason too.)

Lifextender just doesn't support .wtv yet.  I think its immune from this bug because its really a separate program from Media Center.

I haven't used MyMovies in a while, so I don't know how its affected (maybe it has the same issue as myTV?  Not sure.)

Anyway, maybe I shouldn't be posting because I don't actually use DVRMSToolbox, but this bug has affected me as well.

September 6, 2008 7:15 PM
 

wscottcross said:

I am also affected by this bug.  I really miss the ability to skip commercials automatically.  Please fix this bug!

September 6, 2008 7:41 PM
 

artax said:

I too use DVR-MS Toolbox, come on Microsoft please fix the API. Please done drive away your loyal customers.

Dave

September 7, 2008 12:11 AM
 

swoon said:

Add me to the list of folks that wants a fix.

September 7, 2008 7:39 AM
 

dgaust said:

Add me to the list of people who would install TV Pack, but won't because MS fracked it up.

This bug was reported to them during beta testing.. they chose to release anyway. Says something, let's hope the business case of their developers (who are in many ways driving uptake of Media Centre above and beyond what Microsoft are doing) sways them to do the right thing.

September 7, 2008 5:08 PM
 

absolutpi said:

I would greatly appreciate it if Microsoft would address this bug in their API.

September 8, 2008 7:24 AM
 

jaggedaz said:

Even though I was really excited to see that the TV Pack would allow me to view clear QAM channels, I decided not to update since it would break DVR-MS Toolbox and other apps.

The open architecture of Media Center is what lured me away from buying something like AppleTV and it's disappointing to see that MS isn't maximizing this opportunity to build out it's offering by helping 3rd party developers extend their product.  On the surface they seem to encourage development, but I've read several reports that changes to their platform/API are not communicated very well and app developers are left out of the loop.

What's ironic is that MS still has a post on their web site promoting DVR-MS toolbox as a method for removing commercials: windowshelp.microsoft.com/.../couchpotato.mspx.

Microsoft -- consider that at this point in time your target audience/consumer is not your average joe, these are tech savvy people who are willing to test and promote the latest and greatest technologies as long as they have confidence in the platform.  They are your champions and the people who will ultimately convince the not so tech savvy to put a media center in their living room.  That's the plan right?  Help us help you!

September 8, 2008 10:58 AM
 

ilvspase said:

I currently use DVRMS Toolbox on my 3 pre-TV Pack Vista Media Center computers.  I will NOT "upgrade" to hardware with the TV Pack installed until I can be sure that DVRMS Toolbox will be fully functional within Media Center.

September 8, 2008 11:48 AM
 

innesst said:

I use the TV Pack and would like the DVRMS Toolbox  functionality returned.

September 8, 2008 2:04 PM
 

hamiltonguy said:

Hi Andy,  I am a DVMST Toolboox user and I use tvpack.  Hopefully MS can get this resolved quickly.

Thanks.

September 8, 2008 5:16 PM
 

dailo said:

I use TV Pack and am thinking about uninstalling it because with the new lineup of TV coming up I can't imagine live without DVRMSToolbox!

September 8, 2008 10:56 PM
 

rabogie said:

Andy, First again thanks for all your hard work on the DVRMSToolBox!!!!!

Not only do I use it and cannot live without it; the lack of support from MS to allow you to fix it for the TV PACK is not only keeping me from upgrading, but I am seriously looking to SageTV. I'm ready to dump Vista and move back to good ol' XP and run Sage from there. Ever think of moving to Linix?  Thanks again and good luck.

September 10, 2008 2:20 PM
 

MarkG said:

I'm not a user of DTB or VMC - yet!

I'm currently using GBPVR on XP Pro, but I've been thinking about upgrading to Vista to get Media Center and use it with DTB - even though I've sworn for ages that I'd never upgrade to Vista.

This problem is however pushing me to go back to sticking with XP Pro, so listen up Microsoft - you're probably going to miss out yet another sale of Vista if you don't fix this!

September 10, 2008 7:49 PM
 

cw-kid said:

Microsoft please fix the API and save this application!

Thanks

September 12, 2008 12:08 AM
 

EricJ said:

I use the TV Pack and would like the DVRMS Toolbox  functionality returned.

September 12, 2008 10:29 AM
 

rback said:

I am experimenting with TV Pack on a new VMC system I'm building.  I love the QAM support.  But I love DVRMS Toolbox better.  So I'm afraid I'll wait to update my primary VMC system until MS fixes this problem.

September 13, 2008 12:11 AM
 

pharbrian said:

I use DVRMS Toolbox as well. Please fix the API so I can use this great program again and continue showing people how great media center can be.

September 13, 2008 10:12 PM
 

namxnam said:

Please fix the API so that I can use the DVRMS Toolbox functions with the TV Pack.

September 14, 2008 6:21 AM
 

pmaez said:

To be honest, the commercial skip is really the only thing I was using in DVRMSToolbox. Please get this working.

September 15, 2008 10:18 AM
 

rdkerns said:

The new Media Center TV pack has destroyed the the usability of Media Center for me. Until this gets fixed I am going to have to change to other software. Which sucks I was going to start purchasing media center extender for the whole house.

September 16, 2008 8:20 AM
 

jbworks said:

I'm also a DTB user and highly dissapointed with the overall support towards 3rd party VMC developers.

VMC = So much potential, so close but yet so far away.

September 16, 2008 8:23 AM
 

umdivx said:

add me to the list off disgruntled DTB users who are disappointed with the lack of support with the new TV pack.

- Josh

September 16, 2008 12:34 PM
 

mango said:

Yeah.....Hmmm....tisk tisk......oh dear.....

You can do better MS, it's just a case of having a meeting, address the issues, fix the problems.

I will give you a D- and ask that you try again.

P.S. See me after school.

September 17, 2008 8:03 AM
 

owenlloyd said:

Count me as someone who upgrade until I know that commercial skipping will work.

This is a major bummer that MS didn't support it.

September 17, 2008 10:15 PM
 

heula said:

I don't use you're tool but having problem with other plugins like My Movies and MyTV.

There is stopping video bug in TV pack wich means that when stopping a video it's like you pause it.

Really hope MS will solve the bugs in TV pack.

September 18, 2008 10:51 PM
 

Jacobmcgarity said:

I use it on 4 pcs, all of which are new media centers purchased, and I believe that MS should defintely work on these bugs, or I will have to install another os or media center (alike) program to watch tv.  So much for a better media center, more like a sneaky upgrade that changed the face of MCE for those who fell in love with it.  At least fix the problem with commercial skipping.  I would even pay for a fix.

September 20, 2008 2:42 PM
 

j.andy.zamora said:

Although I am not using Vista Media Center with TV Pack, I do use WindowsXP MCE.  Plug-ins such as DTB and My Movies give MCE the advantage it needs over competing solutions such as BeyondTV and SageTV.  Without these plug-ins and the API support that is required to make these plug-ins work, I would quickly move to another platform.

September 22, 2008 7:00 PM
 

ChrisW said:

Yet another disgruntled DTB user who is disappointed with the new TV pack.

Chris.

October 2, 2008 9:02 AM
 

DavidinCT said:

I want my DVR-MS toolbox back !!! Microsoft please fix this issue !!!!!

October 3, 2008 1:05 PM
 

cmgj said:

I use dvrmstoolbox and will not upgrade without the fix from microsoft also!

October 6, 2008 12:52 PM
 

Yogi76 said:

I used to user DVRMSToolbox before I upgraded to TV Pack and would like to do so again. Hopefully, Microsoft will fix the problem.

October 21, 2008 3:57 AM
 

Pashman said:

Too bad these responses are slowiing down.   I'm a Microsoftie and this issue really pisses me off.   I really miss this capability, and it'd be mighty nice to have it back.   My love affair with Media Center is waning, and I'm really trying to keep it in the house.  We really need to foster this 3rd party development with the right level of support.   Let's get this thing resolved.

October 28, 2008 7:42 PM
 

Chinpokomon said:

I've held off installing the TV Pack specifically because of DTB and Lifextender support; or lack there of.  I also use ZuneTVWatcher to transcode shows to my Zune.  All of these 3rd party tools, why I use Media Center in the first place, are now broken with this update.

November 2, 2008 2:20 AM
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