Saturday, February 26, 2011

First Days with the Ceton Infinitv Card

So, this past Thursday I finally installed my Ceton TV card and got it up and running. It took about an hour and a half with a Verizon technician who had never seen that kind of thing before. Since then I've been tweaking the system and am now pretty much satisfied.

One of the first things I was concerned with in switching over to a TV card from the cable box was how to deal with the old remote no longer being available.  One option was to get an IR sensor and use a remote designed for Windows Media Center. The other one was to find apps that would achieve the same results.  After some digging and a few false starts I've settled on two apps, MyRemote for Android and Remote Kitten for iOS. Both of these apps use a separate server installed on the PC to connect up and have fairly comprehensive functionality.

I had previously installed remote apps for XBMC, the official XBMC remote app for Android and iXBMC for iOS. I haven't had any problem with either of these apps.

I also installed Remote Potato, which lets an Android or iOS device control which shows to record and even streams directly from the PC although live TV isn't functional yet.  In the process of researching I also came across Play On, which streams internet media such as Hulu and Netflix and offers a two week trial to check out the software.  Still haven't had a chance to test it out but it certainly looks interesting.

With the remote situation all set it was time to move onto media center software.

Windows Media Center Addons and Tweaks

In setting up WMC there are two sites that are worth checking out first, The Green Button, the official resource for WMC and . Windows Media Center unfortunately doesn't have as large or active a developer community as other media center programs but there are still quite a few useful addons to be found.  A good starting point for finding addons is here.

Because I'm primarily only using WMC for watching and recording live TV I skipped most of the media management stuff.  In fact, my primary goal was to be able to convert recorded shows into a format where they could be easily added to my XBMC library.  This proved harder than I expected.  The two features that are needed for conversion are commercial skipping and file renaming to meet XBMC's file conventions.  WMC doesn't automatically do either.  Its a hassle to get both to work together and I'm still not positive that the setup I have now is working right.  Luckily, most of the shows I'm archiving are for my daughter and a pretty much commercial free.

The last thing left to do is to figure out how to let the other computers in my apartment access the cable tuner on my HTPC.  So far the best I've managed is to temporarily kill my internet connection. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get it to work soon, but it might be that the software just isn't there yet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A little late

Been a bit delayed in writing this up. I was hoping to write a post on setting up my HTPC with the Ceton Infiniti4 TV card but it didn't ship out until a few days ago. It seems there is a good bit of demand, it was almost a six month wait to get it.

In the meantime there have been a couple of interesting developments in the tech world, particularly with regard to media centers.  I'll start with the bad news.

There was a recent article about Microsoft abandoning its media center software for PCs and instead focusing on embedded systems.  It makes some sense, Windows Media Center (WMC) hasn't seen much adoption.  Having played around with it only a little bit I think this could be due to a rather incomplete implementation and some inconsistencies between succeeding generations.  It just requires too many addons and tweaks to make it user friendly.  It will be interesting to see how it fares embedded in media appliances where tweaking could take on an added degree of difficulty.

The reason why the potential demise of WMC for PC's is a downer is because there isn't any other way to get CableCards to work with cable TV.  You need to have a secure platform that prevents user access in order to get certification to be compatible with CableCard and the TV on PC products that compete with Microsoft are open-source and thus have no chance of being approved.  In the same vein, its unlikely that a high def version of the Vudu movie service will be available on PC's other than through WMC.  For now, its only available on the Boxee platform and even there only plays back in standard def.

Now for some good news. There was a major announcement from the XBMC camp a few weeks ago, XBMC has been successfully ported to Apple's AppleTV, Ipod and Iphone.  Its a fantastic accomplishment and with the response its received it will be getting lots of developer attention.

The XBMC announcement puts an interesting spin on the upcoming battle between the second generation Ipad and the Honeycomb (Android 3.0) tablets that will be coming out in the next few months.  So far the Android camp hasn't been doing very well. The first generation of Android tablets were lacking in features and software.  There was a lot of hype about the second generation Honeycomb tablets, and in particular the Motorola Xoom. The Xoom had its first ad during the Super Bowl and the reaction was overall negative.  At the Super Bowl party I attended the reaction was generally "So its like an Ipad then".  On the internet, the reaction was more intense due to the buzz that the first Xoom tablets would require buying into a Verizon data plan and would be around $800.  Since then there's been news that there will be a cheaper, Wifi only, model but that it won't be out until the middle of the year.

From a marketing perspective, this is a stupid move.  Tablet sales have for the most part been primarily Wifi only. I saw some estimates that around 80% or more of Ipad sales were for the cheaper Wifi only models instead of the pricier 3G models that require a monthly data plan.  This means that Xoom sales aren't likely to take off until summertime.  However, between now and then Apple will launch its second generation Ipad.  This will end up hurting sales of the Xoom and other Honeycomb tablets.  Following in the wake of a new Ipad is probably the worst possible time to introduce a tablet.

On a personal note, I've had an Android phone for several months and think its great, if occasionally frustraing. This week, in preparation for getting rid of our cable box I bought an Ipod Touch in hopes that it could be used as a remote for the HTPC that my daughter can use.  I've never really used the Apple interface much before and its quite a change from what I'm used to.

The biggest surprise to me was that I missed the Android market.  On the Apple market so many of the apps being offered have poor ratings or are free to install but require in app payments to get real functionality.  With Android I find you get more functionality for free and its easier to find the best apps in a category.  With Apple it seems that everything that's good will cost you several dollars and even crap is a buck or two.  I guess its just part of the learning curve.

That's it for now. Hopefully the next post will be sooner. Next weekend I should be setting up my new TV card and seeing how much I can integrate it into my home network. Should be fun.