Archive for March 2007
A new Online Spotlight addin for Vista MediaCenter was released last night to Vista Media Center usersfrom ‘Showtime’ (a major cabletv/etc/etc company in US) – however like Vongo this one also appears to be for US residents only (ouch – still nothing decent for Australia as yet). This app I (assume) provides VOD services for Media Center (like Vongo).
Rather than being deployed as a MCPL Web Application – this one actually requires the user to download an setup program (19mb) – which installs all the required bits onto your machine. (inc Showtime Player , local MCML addin and also what appears to be some WCF based background downloader components).
Although I was able to circumvent the ‘citizenship test’ on the website (so I could get hold of the installer) – I wasn’t able to succesfully complete the installation (and it reported some ‘Unknown Network Errors’ after it installed the player) – so I’m yet to see what this product actually looks like. I assume these ‘Network Errors’ are actually the result of some stronger citizenship tests (than their website) – and are a user friendly way of saying "You’re not from these parts, F#$^ off!"
So – would be great if one of the US based MediaCenter bloggers (Chris? Missing Remote? Charlie? Aaron?) could do a blog on this with some screenshots/videos?
Adobe has just announced updates (CS3) to it’s current set of design and web tools.
Although the majority of these products aren’t things that I would use – one of them
Macromedia Adobe Fireworks is probably the best rapid prototyping/storyboarding/design tool out there. I was pretty worried that when Adobe aquired Macromedia – Fireworks would be dumped in favour of it’s existing rival Adobe ImageReady (which isn’t nearly as good) – but luckily this is not the case.
The new Fireworks CS3 update includes some significant new changes (wheras the last few versions only had minor changes) – and a lot of these are really enhance it’s usefulness for prototyping/design of MediaCenter and WPF Applications. Although I’m sure these MS technologies are of little interest to Adobe (who have their own rival Flash/Flex technology and also focus on Web Design) – the way you would go about storyboarding and designing these applications are very similar. Hence – the new features added will also directly benefit Media Center + WPF developers.
Some of the more notable additions to Fireworks CS3 which also suit MCPL/WPF developers/designers include (italic text taken from the Adobe Fireworks New Features Page) :
- MultiPage Support : "Use the new Pages panel to create multiple pages in a single document (PNG file), and share layers across multiple pages. Each page can contain its own slices, layers, frames, animations, and canvas settings, making it easy to simulate website flow in a prototype".
- Hierarchical layer organization : "Organize and manage your prototypes with a new hierarchical layer structure — similar to the one in Adobe Photoshop — that enables you to easily organize web layers and pages"
- Intelligent scaling (aka as "NineGrid" in MCPL) : "Intelligently scale buttons and graphic symbols (in vector or bitmap) with 9-slice scaling. Combine 9-slice scaling with the new Auto Shape library to accelerate website and application prototyping."
There’s also a bunch of other new features which focus on reuse of graphics, easier creation of common asset libraries which are also of special interest – along with quite a few new Photoshop style filter image effects not previously available.
One area that also looks very interesting is the support for Adobe Flex and the way you can create UI’s from within the graphical editor. (and then export XML files and assets which can be consumed by Flex). I’m not clear exactly how it all hangs together (and have only seen some brief examples in the flash based presentations) – but it’s possible that some sort of converter could then translate this data for use in MCPL or WPF. At worst case – this also looks like a great tool for visually prototyping Windows Applications + WPF as well due to the inclusion of assets that behave like the various common UI controls (ie. Comboboxes, Lists etc). While you can do all this with Expression Blend – if Adobe can retain the smooth as silk UX you normally get in Fireworks for the Flex design capabilities – this will be a truely awesome feature (as Blend still feels a little clunky).
I also am in hope that Microsoft will one day bring out a product that can provide this feature set (and optimize it for Windows technologies). While their Expression products are great at what they do – there’s definitely a big hole in the area of prototyping/design/storyboarding – as their existing tools all fit into different niches. (ie Blend is good for WPF layout – but has no real design capabilities, Design is a too focused on Vector graphics and comes off more as a DTP/Drawing package with little focus on Application design).
Anyhow I’m looking forward to checking Fireworks CS3 out when it’s released (and you can Preorder it now if you are in the US).
A big congratulations are in order to Ian Dixon’s Media Center Show Podcast – which turned 100 last night (thats 100 shows – not years). This weekly podcast has been an institution in the Media Center community since it began – and has played a huge part in raising awareness for Media Center related products, services, hardware and the platform as a whole.
Ian has also regularly had guests on from the Microsoft MediaCenter Platform team - which has given us an insiders view into the directions and thoughts of what happens on the ‘other side’. (and more importantly – gives a ‘human’ face to the product – reminding us that they too have budgets, constraints, business objectives and goals which may not always be directly aimed at the enthusiast community).
Ian’s guest for the 100th episodee was Charlie Owen from Microsoft - and a very appropriate choice – as Charlie has also played a very prominant role over the past couple of years – evangelizing the Media Center Platform to the general community and to developers. (Charlie was also the guest on show #2). On this episode – they talk about the different offerings from the various launch partners (such as Fox Sports and Vongo) – and also touch on quite a few developer related topics.
I can only imagine how much work must go into putting a show like this together – and it would take an amazing commitment to get a 1+ hour episode out once a week and on time like he does. Ian has also expanded his portfolio recently to include a Vodcast (Media Center Extra), a new MediaCenter Book, and a revamped website/forum known as the Digital Lifestyle. Ian also wrote up an interesting blog post about the experience and some of the initial hitches he faced.
So anyhow – Happy 100th Ian – and hope to see 100′s more!…
To some extent - Windows Media Center (all flavours) has been the forgotten child down here (AU/NZ) over the past few years - and commercial interest has been somewhat limited to OEM’s and System Builders – with not a lot of attention paid to the software/platform development opportunities.
However – partially thanks to the awesome new dev models (namely MCPL and WPF) being offered up with Vista Media Center – and it’s inclusion in Vista Home Premium/Ultimate – it’s starting to raise a quite few more eyebrows.
What’s been the most exciting though – has been the awareness being raised by a number of the dedicated Microsoft DPE’s in Australia and New Zealand over past few months – who have been showing off it’s capabilities and evangelizing the opportunities to developers and IT decision makers in the various Vista + VS2005 related roadshows.
Some of these shows/people include :
Charles Sterling (Brisbane Based DPE) – has been regularly promoting Media Center related development at various seminars, roadshows and User Groups accross Queensland (and interstate). If you live in Brisbane – you can catch Charles (Chuck) at an upcoming event – New Opportunities on the Windows Vista development Platform (hosted by New Horizons) – on 17th April.
Nigel Parker (Auckland/NZ DPE) – who has also been actively promoting Media Center (and WPF) for the past few months.
Andew Coates (Sydney based DPE) – incorporated Media Center examples into his ISV Innovation Days presentation in Melbourne (and other places). I was lucky enough to catch up with Andrew that day for coffee (who’s a great bloke) – and it’s indeed refreshing to see this much enthusiasm.
Shane Morris (Melbourne based DPE – specializing in UX) – has also been showing off Media Center in the "Age of User Experience" roadshow. This roadshow started in Canberra on 28th February and is hitting Melbourne mid April.
I should probably also mention that these guys have been demonstrating+plugging my own "Big Screen" products as part of these abovementioned presentations – so I’m even more (shamelessly) happy about this – and hope it brings in lots of new commercial opportunities both for my company and for other Media Center developers in Australia (and I’m definitely not the only one)..
So a big thanks from me (and on behalf of the Aussie/Kiwi MCE community) to the DPE’s mentioned above!
Also – with a bit of hope – some of this attention will trickle on to the various content aggregators in Australia – and lead to some decent new Australian + NZ Vista Online Spotlight content.
"LinuxMCE is a free, open source add-on to Ubuntu including a 10′ UI, complete whole-house media solution with pvr + distributed media, and the most advanced smarthome solution available. It is stable, easy to use, and requires no knowledge of Linux and only basic computer skills"
That’s the description of a new video posted on google – for (as described above) a Linux alternative to Media Center.
I had a watch – and before it had even finished – I double checked my calendar just to make sure it wasn’t actual April 1st. Go have a look for yourself – and you will see what I mean….
While I give full credit to someone bringing out an ambitious product/compilation like this (and doing something for the community) - the thing that annoys me is that he seems to feel the need to attack Media Center 2005 to get publicity. If he had some valid points, good examples etc – this would be fine (and healthy) – but he doesn’t – and that’s the problem.
There’s probably 15 blog posts full of errors, omissions, misrepresentations and complete baloney that could be typed up about this video (and presented product) - but thought I’d just note down some of my initial thoughts :
- The product is described as a 10′ UI – but it’s quite clearly a 2′ UI. The most telling visual sign being that you pretty much couldn’t read any of the UI text when Linux MCE was shown – however when MCE2005 was shown – everything was perfectly readable. In most places in LinuxMCE it appears 9-12 point fonts are used – something that won’t be visible on a lot of older TV’s (and in general you don’t want to go any lower then 16-18 point). The presenter also rattles on continuously about how much extra information you can see at once – but again doesn’t get that ‘less is more’ with 10′. Also – 10 ‘ ui’s are somewhat defined by being targeted for use with remote controls – however his entire LinuxMCE demo was using an air mouse (which is wireless and provides mid air usage - but a mouse and 2′ by all other names).
- For some strange reason – LinuxMCE was compared against MCE2005 – and non Vista Media Center. If you were doing a fair comparison on games consoles – you wouldn’t pit a Playstation 3 against an Xbox 1 and then conclude Sony was superior would you? Same can be said here – Vista Media Center was shipping well before this video – so any fair comparison should have really been LinuxMCE vs Vista Media Center. Also – not to forget the parts of MCE2005 shown were features/UI examples that were brought to market up to 4 years ago(?) by Microsoft.
- The Air Mouse used for the LinuxMCE is actually a product designed primarily for Windows – but there was no mention of this – nor any comparison of it being used with MCE2005. Yes go check the product page for the Gyration Air Mouse - guess which O/S it’s primarily targeted at. Oh yes it does say in small print down the bottom that ‘other systems supporting USB 1.1 may be supported’ – so I guess that means Linux. As most readers will also know – MCE2005 also supports mouse control – so again – why was this important point missed?
- The actual LinuxMCE UI looks absolutely and tragically terrible – yet the presenter spends the entire time bagging the MCE2005 UI. OK – so the video was bad quality – and I’m also no da vinci when it comes to design – but really this UI sux visually – and this fact was really highlighted each time he showed the MCE2005 UI. The LinuxMCE UI very much reminded me of the similarly poor ui’s found on the very early set top boxes (not Tivo) – and even to some extent the Ansi based DOS programs from the 80′s. I should probably give them some credit here for not ripping off the MCE2005 UI (as almost every PVR software on the planet has done bar Showshifter) – but they would have been a lot better off if they did in this case. Again – the LinuxMCE UI is not 10′ and clearly the designers of this just don’t get what this is.
Ok there’s a load of other things wrong – such as the tired old – ‘out of the box’ argument – and the complete ommision of mentioning all the great MCE2005 software that is available for home automation, mobile, pda’s and non MCE remotes. The comparison table at the end is also woefully inaccurate (see below) – again trying to tell us that only i/r remotes are supported – that their 2′ UI is Media Centric where as the MCE2005 10′ UI is PC Centric – and the clincher ‘Local PC Only’ claim at the end (guess they never heard of an XBox360 or an Extender).
Nothing however was more amusing then the message I received when I went to check out their site –
"Our server has been overwhelmed due to a recent Digg story. The demo video referred to is here: Google Video The setup video referred to will be online soon, and will show that the setup really was plug and play. The full website with forums, wiki and mantis will be back soon. Please check back tomorrow. The download link will be restored then."
One of the reasons for investing in a O/S like Vista is that you have a large, solid and reliable company as back up – who understand and worry about lots of real world issues on your behalf (such as ‘capacity planning’). So right now – if you are a LinuxMCE user – it appears you can’t get any product support from them (or even download it) – because the creator didn’t think about that bit….
Well enough said – go judge for yourself.
Anyhow – here’s a couple of screens from their video – first their comparison table, and underneath the LinuxMCE ‘EPG’ view and then the MCE2005 version of this screen.
Once upon a time – there lived three commercial TV Stations – Channel 7, GTV 9 and Network 10. Times were never better, and the citizens of the land only had to switch on their tubes to get the latest news, current affairs and light entertainment – often hours before the rival Newspapers had a chance to deliver their versions of events.
The lowly peasants were indeed happy – and mostly due to the ‘clever’ television stations having devised an ingenious way of providing these offerings to them for free - by getting other such prophets and purveyors of goods and services to pay for voicing their opinions.
To ensure peace and harmony – the residing king had also passed laws – that protected the citizens from foreign media invaders – and divided the citizens up in equal shares to each of his friends (at least those who had bought him lunch) - the commercial TV stations.
One day, a fierce and ferocious beast – the internet – invaded the land. The commercial TV stations at first ignored this beast - however the citizens however embraced it with open arms.
The commercial TV stations ran to the king with their arms in the air – and said ‘help protect us from this terrible beast – we fear once the citizens have tasted choice – they will never want to listen to us again’. Again the king passed more laws – but being unaware in the many mysterious ways this beast worked – was not able to stop it.
Soon the commercial TV stations saw the errors in their ways – and thanks to their large inheritances – they were able to purchase most of the goods the internet beast had to offer. And once again they lived in harmony with the citizens – and were again able to provide the services for free to them – via charging the same group of prophets eager to voice their opinion in this new medium.
But once again, the peace and harmony was disturbed by a new wave of foreign invaders - that were this time much more ferocious and intelligent then ever before. These included the Earl of Torrent, the Duke of PVR, the Prince of IPTV and by far the nastiest of them all – the Lord of EPG. These new invaders all had one thing in common – they had made close alliances with the internet beast long beforehand – and they were all good friends.
The commercial TV stations once again ran to the king – who passed even tougher and stricter laws – but this time the citizens weren’t listening. The commercial TV stations however this time refused to make peace with these new invaders, and instead squabbled amongst themselves, allowing other less noble citizens to prophecize.
After several years passed, they came up with many solutions. ‘Lets charge the citizens lots of money for what they used to get for free’ said one. ‘Lets make it really poor quality and restrict what they can do with it’ – said another. ‘Ive an even better plan’ – said the richest – ‘lets buy all the goods and never let the citizens see them unless they are awake past midnight and are willing to wait a year or two’. But by far the most devious solution was ‘Lets silence the Lord of EPG once and for all – and not let those pesky citizens know what we are up to at all’.
But unfortunately, by this time – the citizens had in fact also made close alliances with the internet beast, the Earl of Torrent, the Duke of MCE and the Lord of EPG - and no longer subscribed to the ways of the past. Not only that – but they no longer needed to be friends with tv stations – who had long since become irrelevant to their way of life.
The commercial TV stations began to slowly wither and die – many going to the same retirement homes as their poor cousins who previously owned record stores - and no amount of law passing by the king could save them.
The citizens however – lived happily ever after.
One of my favorite comedy shows The Chasers War on Everything (fka CNNNN ) – is starting again next week (March 28th) for Series 2. It’s a locally (Australian) produced show from ABC TV – and probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense if you’re not from these parts. Chasers made the news a few times last year with their stunts (and even managed to get arrested on one occasion) – and cast member Craig Reucassel is at it again with something we will probably see on next weeks show.
So if you’re in Australia – set your pvr’s to record at ABC – 28th March / 9pm for episode 1. They got a pretty raw deal with scheduling (I think they are up against shows like House, Heroes, Prison Break and Medium at this timeslot – so a dual tuner may not help you either) – so luckily there’s a repeat of it 11pm Friday’s – and then some more on ABC2 the following week.
If you’re really worried about missing it – you can also run their countdown clock on your desktop.
Olcay Buyan from MCEDev (author of MCE Customizer) – has been busy creating a great new ‘killer’ addin for Vista Media Center – ‘Media Center Cutter’. A beta version of this app has been shown for the first time at Cebit 2007 (Hannover, Germany) – which started last week.
As the name suggests – this addin allows you to visually edit/cut your DVR-MS files from within Media Center (ie for removal of ads, or removal of pre/post buffering on your files)- using a MCML based User Interface. ’Jobs’ are then sent to a running Windows Service which performs the conversion/processing work for you. (via use of WCF).
The MCML based visual Editor is also done really well (see screenshots below) – and provides a ‘storyboard’ approach to editing – a huge improvement again on previous MCE2005 offerings.
It’s got some really nice ‘smarts’ included as well (that go well beyond the features offered with the MCE2005 ‘cutter’ programs) - for example :
- Automatically scans your Recorded TV folders so you can quickly find your recordings.
- Automatic Exporting/Conversion of videos to other formats (such as WMV, PPC etc) for use with Zune, iPod’s etc.
- Ability to reorder/reposition your ‘cut’ segments within the final file.
- Auto Correction/Resetting/Updating of Pre/Post Padding within the metadata.
- Retains all the DVR-MS Metadata saved by Media Center (so the info displayed in ‘Recorded TV’ section can function as before).
- Auto Conversion ‘Rules’ – ie. ‘Always convert new ‘The Simpsons’ recordings to wmv for my Zune…
- Multilingual Interface - German, English for the initial release.
There’s no release dates just yet – but Olcay tells me it’s coming soon!
Check out these nice screenshots below :
A couple of new updates were released for the Microsoft Expression suite last week – Microsoft Expression "Blend" Release Candidate (formerly known as Expression Interactive) – and Expression "Design" Beta 2.
Microsoft have also announced "Microsoft Expression Studio" – which gives you all 4 of the Expression products in one package (Blend, Design, Web and Media). No pricing details have been released on this as yet.
I’ve spent a bit of time with Blend of late (and have delivered projects/prototypes with Beta1 and Beta2 versions) – and it’s good to see the incramental usabilty improvements between releases. The new RC1 release however doesn’t seem to add any noticable changes/enhancements to UI itself – and instead offers a swag of brand new (and nice looking) demo/tutorial projects – and is worth a download just to see these.
I’m still stuck in two minds as to whether it’s easier/faster to edit XAML code using this product (and other visual designers) – or to just use the XAML Intellisense system which are provided from within VS2005 for raw editing (although a number of things cant ever be done with a visual designer). I guess I’m also pretty disappointed that Intellisense XAML editing didn’t make it’s way into the Blend product - something which I always assumed would be there for the final product (however given it didn’t make an appearence in the Release Candidate – its now looking unlikely).
Another thing that seems to be missing from Blend is the ability to work with XBAP projects (and although a ‘Page’ item template is provided) – you can’t seem to create an XBAP project file without VS2005. To get around this – I ended up creating a WPF Windows application – where the main Window hosted a core Page element - and then migrated the solution into an VS2005 created XBAP Solution once I was done (and this core Page element became the actual host page for the XBAP). Something I haven’t tried yet however is to initially create the XBAP solution in VS2005 and then try to open it in Blend for editing (so it’s possible this is a potential workaround – altough the versioning/clickonce layer might have issues).
These couple of omissions from Blend mean that it’s unlikely this product (or Expression suite) can be used as a ‘one stop shop’ for development for WPF – and any serious apps will still need VS2005 installed to do the hard(er) work. (unless you like coding in Notepad.exe that is).
Hi – just a quick note to let you all know a new version of Big Screen Contacts (v0.9.2.8) has been released. This version extends the trial for another 60 days (to May 16th 2007) – however doesn’t contain any other changes or new features (sorry).
Please visit the Mobilewares Media Center Addins Page – and click through to Big Screen Contacts to get the download.
Please note – if you’re an existing user - all you need to do is uninstall your previous version and reinstall this new one. As your contact cards etc are stored seperately – these will not be impacted by the update (and will continue to appear as before with new version).
Enjoy! (well at least for another 60 days while it’s still free!)..