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Voice Controlled Media Center From Amulet

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Amulet Devices has announced a Windows Media Center remote control that has a microphone stick at the top of it, letting you speak into the remote and issue voice commands to your television. They have a video showing how you can name an artist and have Media Center play music by that artist, or ask your TV to change the channel or find the channel airing a specific show, among other possible applications of the remote.

The remote has some position sensing technology built in, letting the remote know when you’ve tilted it towards your mouth. This way, the remote doesn’t follow commands from the TV, switching shows and music based on what comes out of the speakers, but instead only listens when you lift it to specifically issue a command.

Amulet makes these Media Center PCs that work around the voice remote, with a 7-inch touchscreen on the front of the PC and some custom interfaces that work with the remote, dual tuners and other goodies. It looks like it comes with a special browsing interface for album cover art, one that looks similar to Apple’s Cover Flow and you can flick through with your finger on the touch screen, as well as pages of different features that you page through by swiping your hand.

It all looks pretty cool, and the Dublin-based company just unveiled it over the weekend at RDS Dublin. I’m already talking to the company, and I’ll update with more information as they send me it.

November 14th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows | 4 comments



Internet TV Launched For Media Center

If you look in Windows Vista Media Center now, you should see the new Internet TV button. Under there, you’ll get to look at a number of interesting videos, including every single episode of Arrested Development, concerts, movie trailers, music videos, viral videos, sports highlights, news stories and more. All of it is served streaming over the internet, and all of it is free and supported by the occasional ad.

I had the opportunity to talk to some guys from Microsoft about Internet TV at Digital Life, and they explained that this isn’t a full product, but rather a beta test for a bigger setup Microsoft would like to pull off. Basically, they want as many users as possible to try it out, watch as much video as possible, so Microsoft can stress test the system, see what works, and expand it into a full Internet TV platform for Media Center.

I think the whole think works beautifully. Assuming Microsoft can sign up enough content partners, it could provide a ton of free video content for Media Center users. With streaming to Extenders and the Xbox 360, Microsoft will be delivering free content as a major bonus to those who invest in this ecosystem, and it can start selling content as well down the road.

If Microsoft wants to be truly smart, it’ll use this to find a way to deliver extra content to owners of Windows Vista Ultimate as an Ultimate Extra, like free movies, or give them content earlier than everyone else. That’ll settle some of the complainers

photos by abrudtkuhl and @le

October 9th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows | 4 comments

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Digital Life: Microsoft Unveils New Media Center Extenders

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I was at Digital Life Sunday, and I got to see the new Media Center Extenders Microsoft was introducing at the show. There are two actual products that have been announced, the Linksys’ Media Center Extender with DVD player (DMA2200) and without DVD player (DMA2100), and the D-Link DSM-750 MediaLounge HD Media Center Extender. The DMA2100 will be $300, while the others will be $350.

The new Extenders will be able to do exactly what we were told a month ago they could, including stream from Windows Vista and protected HD content, play XviD/XviD, have the latest wifi technology and all sorts of new features.

Niveus was also showing off an Extender, but I’m not sure what to make of it, especially since it’s the size of a full PC, or even an original Xbox.

Some other pictures from the Microsoft booth. I’ll be posting more Digital Life stuff all week.

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October 1st, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Windows | 2 comments

Internet TV Coming To Media Center

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Engadget has revealed that around September 27, Microsoft will unveil a new feature for Windows Media Center, Internet TV. The feature will bring a bunch of on-demand channels into the Media Center interface, letting users watch Sports, Entertainment, News, Top Picks, Music and Movies. Best of all, everything will be ad-supported and free of charge, and picture quality will be somewhere better than standard TV, though a bit less than HDTV.

With the new Internet TV, which will be delivered as a simple software update, owners of Media Center PCs and Extenders, including the Xbox 360, will have access to a lot of free content to enjoy, completely sidestepping traditional television. If Microsoft lined up the right partners for it, got enough content and made it run well on a typical home network, they could wind up with an entirely new tier of television. Can’t wait to see it.

September 9th, 2007 Posted by | General, Media Center, Vista, Windows, XP | one comment

Microsoft Announces New Media Center Extenders

Microsoft, after what has to be more than a year of speculation, finally released some news about the new Media Center Extenders, which allow you to stream music, pictures, video, live and recorded TV from a Media Center PC to set-top boxes all over the house. New devices have been announced from Linksys, D-Link and Niveus Media, incorporating new features like:

  • Support for new media formats, including DivX, Xvid, Windows Media Video HD and H.264
  • First Extenders (not including Xbox 360) to stream HDTV and in high definition and protected HD content
  • HDMI and 1080p to support that HD video
  • New wireless networking options, including 802.11n
  • The new technology can be built into more than set-top boxes, but also into DVD players and new TVs
  • Support for up to four CableCARDs (up from 2)

New Extenders will be demonstrated at CEDIA in Denver over this weekend, as well as at Digital Life in New York at the end of the month.

The Xbox 360 is not getting the new codec support, even though it presumably has the necessary power to do so. Considering all the free features the Sony PlayStation 3 offers that 360 owners have to pay for, you’d think that Microsoft would workt to give owners at least some new codecs.

Engadget says that, because of less processing power, the Extenders don’t perform as well (mostly in terms of interface animations) as the Xbox 360 does. Of course, if the 360 does a better job, why can’t it get more codecs?

September 7th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, XP | 4 comments

Microsoft Hires WebGuide Developer, Software Now Free

WebGuide

Microsoft has gone and hired Doug Berrett, developer of WebGuide. WebGuide is an amazing piece of software that lets you access Windows Media Center (XP or Vista) from a web browser, letting you watch live TV and recordings, schedule new recordings, access music and pictures, all over any internet connection, and do pretty much the same thing through Windows Mobile as well. It’s amazing, and it is now 100% free!

Microsoft hired Doug to work on Media Center development (though not related to the things WebGuide does), so he wrapped up development and removed the $18 price tag. Active development of WebGuide is over, which is a shame, so hopefully someone will think about doing open source updates, though the software is pretty excellent already. Download WebGuide now that it’s free and see what the fuss is about.

Interestingly, there is a recent beta of WebGuide for Windows Home Server. Hopefully Doug will let someone else complete the project, because that is too damn useful to not be finished.
(via Download Squad and Neowin)

September 6th, 2007 Posted by | Corporate, Home Server, Media Center, Server, Windows | no comments



Multiple Media Center Extender-Related Domains Registered By Microsoft

Gary Price continues to find new domain name registrations by Microsoft, catching 39 more this time, including a bunch related to Media Center Extenders. I’m guessing that means Microsoft plans on pushing a new wave of version 2 Extenders, whenever the hell they finally come out. Domains include MediaCenterExtender.net, MediaCenterExtenderSandbox.com, MCExtender.net, ConnectsToMediaCenter.com and ItProMomentum.com.

July 17th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Windows | 2 comments

Version 2 Media Center Extenders In Testing

Microsoft’s Eric Anderson says that he is using a prototype Windows Media Center Extender at home, one of the version 2 (codename: Pika) variety, the first Extender that works with Windows Vista that isn’t an Xbox 360. He gives few details on the device, save that it has a media pipeline that can handle media types that previous Extenders couldn’t handle, so long as the hardware is capable. That means that his particular prototype, because it could play back DivX video, the Extender could play back DivX in Media Center.

It’ll be wonderful for Extenders to finally be able to do more, given the annoying limitations in the past. An extender that can play DivX, XviD, and maybe other types of popular video codecs without the need for workarounds or hacks is a wonderful thing, enough maybe to even get me to buy one. Of course, the real thing Microsoft should do is add the Pika software to the Xbox 360, since the 360′s current Extender technology is hopelessly difficult for the average user.

According to a year old post of Chris Lanier’s that Eric points to, the dev kit Extender, made by Sigma Designs, supports MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264), VC-1 (WMV9), MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2 (DivX/XviD), Dolby Digital, WMA/WMA Pro, MPEG-1/2 Audio, AAC and MP3.

Our partners that are building retail product choose what features (wired and/or wireless, audio outputs, etc) + formats they will support. As it happens, the prototype device I’m using does support divx – and have I mentioned just how cool it is?! :) You’ll just have to wait to see their press releases, but if what I’ve seen is any indication, you won’t be disappointed!

(via Ed Bott)

June 28th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows | 2 comments

June 2007 Update Rollup For Windows Vista Media Center

Microsoft continues to strongly support the Media Center platform, releasing an update rollup for June 2007, although enthusiasts are getting impatient waiting for word of the Fiji update to Media Center. The update, which you can read about and get from here or Windows Update, helps Media Center properly configure combo (ATSC/NTSC) TV tuners, fixes a media playback issue when resizing the window, an audio issue after waking the computer, several fixes for the Media Center Extensibility Platform, and “an update to the Digital Cable Card component to provide better support for interaction between the digital cable tuner, the CableCARD, and Media Center”.
(via Bink)

June 27th, 2007 Posted by | General, Media Center, Windows | no comments

New Media Center Looking Delayed

Chris Lanier, master of all things Media Center, takes a look at Fiji, the long-rumored codename for the next version of Media Center. Basically, Fiji would be the version of Media Center that was supposed to ship with Windows Vista, if they’d only had enough time to finish it. Microsoft announced a beta program 62 days ago (I blogged it and signed up for it), but they’ve yet to actually start sending out the beta or invites to it.

Chris surmises that Fiji is far too delayed at this point to actually ship this year. In fact, he’s heard talk that it won’t show up until the second half of 2008. Oy. Seems like a real shame for the platform, which relies on the support of an enthusiast community as it hopes to hit mainstream, to suffer from such delays.

The main holdups seem to be DirecTV/Dish support and HD DVD playback, which means another Microsoft product held up by big incomple features, when maybe it could have been released already if they had thought simpler in the first place. The best thing for users and the platform would have been concentrating on finishing the Vista update and working on the new features seperately, since all Vista users would benefit from the update, while far fewer will ever use it with satellite TV tuners (and HD DVD might not even be around by late 2008). Is it to late to simplify and just ship it?

June 18th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows | one comment

Microsoft Advertising For 360 Media Center Extender

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Microsoft is running an ad campaign for using the Xbox 360 as a Windows Media Center Extender. Check out the campaign website for the video they’re using.

So, what do you think? It seems clear they are advertising for women, and for men who need to convince their ladies that Media Center is the way to go, but the ad doesn’t seem to communicate lately. I like some of the interaction between the two actors, but the ad doesn’t spend enough time to show why you’d actually want the system. The ad should have communicated these sentences very simply:

  • Windows Media Center runs on your computer with Windows Vista.
  • Media Center can record and pause live TV, show off your photos, videos, and music.
  • With the Xbox 360, you can show Media Center, from your computer, on your TV, without having a computer in the living room.

That’s it! Those are the talking points! And yet, the ad doesn’t really say any of them. Ads need to do more than just be “clever”, when it comes to technology, they need to show how it works. The iPhone’s ads are no more than product demos, and they work. Show enough people Media Center, and the will buy it. Media Center is amazing, but people don’t know how easy it is to use, or even that it exists.

I couldn’t convince my wife that we needed Media Center on our HDTV, and the bugs and crashes only made it harder. I’m a target for this ad campaign, but I wouldn’t be able to convince her that way. Instead, I bought a PC for the TV, and told her it was for her to be able to use email and Facebook without (a) taking away my PC and (b) cluttering the apartment with another computer. The Media Center stuff? I’ll ease her in, and she’s growing to love the ease of watching downloaded videos on the TV without stretching cables all over the place.

Microsoft marketing seems multi-headed these days. Some groups are brilliant, some are morons, and some just miss the mark, like this ad.

Chris Lanier calls it “horrible”

June 14th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360 | 2 comments



The Portable Media Center Is Dead

Microsoft has officially killed the Portable Media Center platform, after three years of mismanaged and not supporting it properly. In theory, Portable Media Center, a universal operating system for video/audio players, was a great, or at least workable idea, but Microsoft never did the things necessary to make it work. To have competed with the iPod, Microsoft needed to issue constant OS updates, improving the interface and giving it new features, and instead, they did nothing, and now it’s dead.

I have two Creative Zen PMCs, and while I wouldn’t mistake them for a quality device, they were cheap and had a lot of capacity, and synced extremely well (most of the time) with Windows Media Center recorded TV shows. For that, I’ll miss the platform. Microsoft screwed the pooch with this one, and it looks like they aren’t moving fast enough on Zune either. Zune owners expect often firmware updates with cool new features, and I’m not sure they’ll ever get what they want how they want it.

May 8th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center | no comments

Media Center PC In Your Car, Starting At $800

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Hipe PC has announced their Driv-N PC, a PC designed for the car. Using a touchscreen and voice recognition, you can control an entire Windows Vista Media Center PC while driving, watching DVDs, listening to CDs or MP3s on the PC, tune in to XM online satellite radio, internet radio, browse the internet, and, when not moving (we hope) work on documents and other things. The Driv-N PC can be installed in the trunk or under the seat, completely out of the way, connecting with a motorized touchscreen that slides out of the dashboard.

The cheapest version, the Driv-N V15, features a Via C7 CPU, one gig of RAM, XM online satellite radio, Windows Vista Home Premium, and a 40 gigabyte hard drive. The motorized touch screens start at $370 for a roof mounted screen, $400 for a dash screen. Wifi’ll add $50, a TV tuner $130, GPS another $120. Still, it looks great, and doesn’t require you to hack your car to get all this is there. And running Media Center on a touchscreen is just cool.
(via Steve Clayton)

May 2nd, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Windows | no comments

Windows Home Server Managed Beta Announced (also new Media Center)

Just got an email from Microsoft announcing a Community Technology Preview Program for Windows Home Server. You can sign up for the beta here.

Microsoft Releases Windows Home Server Community Technology Preview

Hello!

Today, Microsoft announced the release of the Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Windows Home Server. People that are interested in evaluating the Windows Home Server CTP can apply for participation in the program here.

This update to the current Beta 2 provides a wide range of code fixes, user interface improvements and feature enhancements, such as:

A More Complete “Out of the Box” Experience
The CTP offers users a more complete and simplified experience, including an easy, 7 step setup process that appears after the installation of the Windows Home Server software. You can now define a unique name for your home server, and you can also replicate the experience of configuring e a home server with the Windows Home Server software pre-loaded from an existing home computer.

Easier Remote Access Configuration
Users can now setup and configure Remote Access capabilities from the Windows Home Server Console, including selection of a personalized web address from the Windows Live Custom Domains service.

More Control Over Home Network Health Notifications
Users can enable or disable home network health notifications and can dictate where and when various notifications are displayed on their computers.

Improved Password Settings
Users can clearly define their password settings, and designate a password hint to assist in recovering a forgotten Windows Home Server password.

System Add-ins
Users can now add and remove Windows Home Server Add-in programs developed with the Windows Home Server Software Development Kit.

Currently in beta, the Software Development Kit (SDK) provides guidance to software developers interested in building applications for Windows Home Server, using the application programming interface and services in the Windows operating system.. The beta SDK documentation is available at no charge on the Microsoft Developer Network.

What is Windows Home Server?
Windows Home Server will help families with multiple PCs connect their home computers and digital devices, in order to easily store, protect and share their photos, music, videos and documents. More than 60,000 people are participating in the current beta program. This fall Windows Home Server will be broadly available to consumers on new hardware from leading partners, such as the HP MediaSmart Server.

Microsoft also announced a beta test for the next version of Media Center. Head over here and sign up for it, and if accepted you should know before May 31.

Mary Jo Foley says this next version is code-named “Fiji”, and will be an update to Vista Media Center.

According to sources and various blog postings, Fiji will be a collection of fixes and updates to the Media Center functionality that Microsoft delivered in Vista. But it also will include some new features aimed at consumers interested in extending their video/music/photo/TV experiences. sources have said that Fiji will require certain functionality in Vista Service Pack (SP) 1, which is still widely expected to ship before the end of this year.

This post originally was titled “Windows Home Server Public Beta Announced (also new Media Center)”, but TheThirdEye made a good point in the comment that it wasn’t an accurate way of describing it.

April 18th, 2007 Posted by | General, Home Server, Media Center, Server, Vista, Windows | 2 comments

Blockbuster Online Plugin Released For Windows Media Center

Blockbuster MCE pluginBlockbuster MCE plugin Hosted on Zooomr

My parents love using Blockbuster Online. Though it may not have the coolness of Netflix, they rent movies online, return them to the store, and get another one for free. I’m sure if they loved Media Center like I do, or if I loved Blockbuster like they do, or if I just had fifteen bucks to burn every month, I’d love this new plugin for Windows XP Media Center Edition, that lets you find movies and add them to the queue, all without leaving the comfort of your couch. It even lets you watch movie trailers. Sounds like it’s a little buggy, and no word on if it also works on Vista, but still worth at least checking out if you use Blockbuster.
(via Chris Lanier)

April 13th, 2007 Posted by | Media Center, Vista, Windows, XP | no comments

Lets Just Do This All At Once, InsideMicrosoft Edition

On the InsideGoogle blog, I did a bit of housecleaning. I’m sick and tired of writing about week-old news, and I think the readers of my blogs deserve up-to-date news and features. As a result, here is every story, leading basically up to today, that has been sitting in close to a hundred browser tabs on my computer.

Enjoy, and I’m getting back to work:


Long Zheng posted this video of Microsoft’s vision of collaboration in 2010:


Video: Microsoft’s Vision of 2010.


Want to take Windows Mobile 6 for a test drive? Microsoft has a Flash demo you can download and see exactly what it looks like in action.


The New York Times is going to start charging for its Reader application, a Windows Presentation Foundation-powered news reader that brings an incredibly powerful and visually amazing way to read the Times. Dopes. Way to blow a chance to bring the Times to a more tech-savvy generation. They really think people will pay a monthly fee for a newspaper that is available free online?

At least it is free for Times subscribers.


Want to preview PDF files in Outlook? Download this!


What is the Zune’s wifi feature useful for? Tracking down Zune thieves, naturally! If there are only two Zunes in an area, and one is stolen, you can use the other to help your buddy out.


Want to select text vertically in Word and other text editors? Just follow Lifehacker’s helpful tip and hold down the ALT key.


Lifehacker also points out a free RSS reader for Windows Vista Media Center and XP MCE.


Todd Bishop has put together an incredible listing of every single major Microsoft blogger he can find, and its so extensive, its scary. I can’t wait for him to finish the OPML, because I am so subscribing. Read his post for links to the Google Co-Op search engines he created for the list.


Microsoft claims it has no plans to buy video game publisher Take 2, but everyone agrees it’d be stupid not to bid. Take 2 makes the Grand Theft Auto series, and if Microsoft bought the company, or at least the GTA franchise, it would have a dramatic effect on Sony’s ability to compete. GTA is one of the biggest system sellers in history, possibly bigger than Microsoft’s own Halo, with more sales than Halo putting a lot of new PS2s in homes.


Rumors are coming out about Apple’s next generation iMac. The iMac is the centerpiece of Apple’s non-portable computer line, but with a built-in screen, it does not appeal to many typical PC buyers (and the Mac Mini is too limiting in the exact opposite respect). Here’s hoping Apple plans a normal PC; I could just buy it!


It has been virtually confirmed that Microsoft will be selling a $480 limited edition black Xbox 360 called the 360 Elite. It will feature a 120 gigabyte hard drive, an HDMI output, all-black accessories, and probably only run a few hundred thousand units. Once it sells out, it may replace the Xbox 360 Premium at $400, in white plastic.


New Line has bought the rights to a Gears of War movie. Stuart Beattie, writer of Collateral and Pirates of the Carribean is attached to write. I hope to god someone does a Crackdown movie.

March 22nd, 2007 Posted by | Apple, Applications, Blogs, Gears of War, General, Media Center, Office, Outlook, Vista, Windows, Windows Media, Word, Xbox, Xbox 360, XP, Zune | no comments

Let Media Center Record Stuff For You

Chris Lanier blogs about MyTV Genie, a completely free and really cool plugin for Windows Media Center that could completely change the way you watch and record TV. The plugin adds a TiVo-like functionality, letting you rate shows as “Loved”, “Liked” or “Didn’t Like” (with appropriate silly smily faces), and recommending and recording based on your favorite stuff. Even better, if you don’t rate shows, it sees what you watch and record, and does it all automatically for you.

I hate to beat a dead horse, but this is exactly why Apple is going to have trouble in the home media space. Microsoft has been doing this for half a decade now, and a community has been building amazing new functionality for Microsoft’s Media Center software this entire time. Apple TV and Front Row still don’t have DVR functionality, with none announced, and they have to contend with the fact that Apple’s system tends to be more locked down than the stuff Microsoft usually releases.

It’s going to be tough to compete with an ecosystem of plugins, hacks, and user-created features, and with the great community supporting Windows Media Center. I predict Windows Vista is going to take Media Center to the mainstream, with it appearing in all but the cheapest PCs.



January 24th, 2007 Posted by | Apple, General, Media Center, Vista, Windows | no comments

Lesson One: No One Misses The Boat

There are some cliche phrases that are so incorrect, I don’t understand why writers continue to lean on them. One of the worst showed up in a post at Download Squad:

I think Microsoft is putting out some decent software (Vista, Office, etc) but I think they have largely missed the boat on the digital lifestyle. Apple has that covered.

Wow. Forget about the fact that the many, many Media Center enthusiasts would completely disagree. Forget that, if you had to ask which best-selling device is more a part of a “digital lifestyle”, most people would pick the Xbox 360 over the iPod, because the 360 is part of a “connected experience” the iPod lacks, especially unless Apple TV takes off.

No, none of that bothers me. Fine, ignore the success Microsoft’s home entertainment products have enjoyed. I can see how you would argue that they are not as successful as I would claim. However, to claim that Microsoft “missed the boat” is ignoring history.

Did Microsoft “miss the boat” when Windows 1.0 wasn’t as good as the Mac, and didn’t sell? If there was a boat to miss, Microsoft wouldn’t have released version after version until Windows 3.0 garnered enough respect that Windows 95 was able to storm the market and bring about ten years of Microsoft market leadership.

Did Microsoft “miss the boat” with Xbox 1? If there was a boat to miss, then the lower-than-Sony sales of the first Xbox would clearly have translated into even worse sales for the XBox 360, and Microsoft wouldn’t have a chance in this console generation.

Did Apple “miss the boat” with almost every damn thing they did from 1994-1997, until Steve Jobs returned to set things right? If so, there would have been no chance of the Mac gaining market share and the iPod becoming a hugely popular device.

There is no boat to miss. Don’t lean on it, because you just sound stupid. Microsoft’s Zune could fail for fifty years, then all of a sudden be a success. It’s how the market works, anything can happen.

January 12th, 2007 Posted by | Apple, General, Media Center, Windows | 4 comments