Archive for May 2007
I was quite stunned to hear the announcements this week that TIVO is (finally) coming to Australia + New Zealand.
It’s not that TIVO isn’t a great product - it’s that along with these announcements is news of a partnership with Channel 7 – and both Channel 7 and Channel Nine saying that they ‘support’ implementation of an industry wide EPG.
If you’ve been a user of the multitude of other ‘EPG’ ready PVR options such as Vista Media Center/MCE2005 or the various Hardware based PVR’s (ie Topfield etc) – you’ll know that the very reason we don’t have any proper EPG’s is that these abovementioned companies (Channel Nine + Channel 7 – the two main culprits) have gone to great lengths to actively prevent this from happening.
The EPG data is already there (has been in place for a long time), it’s in the appropriate formats – but the reality is that anyone who wants to make this data available to the public (for PVR usage) faces the threat of legal action from these companies. These companies have also blatantly refused to negotiate access to this data – with the numerous companies that have approached them.
The only company brave enough to challenge this has been IceTV – a Sydney based company who have stuck their necks out to make XML compliant EPG Data available to the public for a number of different PVR’s – and as a result is now fighting for their survival after being sued by HWW. HWW is a Channel 9 owned company who aggregates a print form EPG to newspapers/media. HWW of course went for maximum damage – and waited until the eve of IceTV’s IPO to decide they were going to sue. Their ground’s for suing IceTV – that they ‘owned the IP on the schedule of programs’. It should also be mentioned here that Channel 7 were also quite keen on suing IceTV as well – and am quite sure if HWW hadn’t done it first it would have been them instead.
So in light of this recent announcement – I’m really starting to get annoyed when I see these statements from the TV Stations (as quoted from the related news item in Fairfax Press) :
Bridget Godwin, head of policy and regulatory at the Seven Network, said the free-to-air TV industry supported the idea of an industry-wide EPG, and she was confident that one was "on the way".
and the absolute clicher from Nine (Channel 9) –
A spokeswoman for Nine said: "We support the concept of an industry-wide EPG and we look forward to working with other participants in the industry to develop this further."
Err… there’s nothing to ‘develop’ further here guys… (yes I’m sure they are aware of this)… the only thing needing ‘development’ is the actual TV Stations commiting not to sue+destroy anyone who actually tries to make this happen.
So really if these stations are really not opposed to have EPG’s or PVR’s available to the public – the whole situation really starts to stink of anti-competative behaviour and abuse of power from the TV Stations.
In fact the only valid reasoning I can see for the current situation to be the way it is – is that in the past – the TV Stations simply hadn’t got their Digital Media strategy together – and are using their monopoly to prevent any new players from entering the PVR and Digital Media market - without offering any equivelent product themselves.
It’s not that the EPG Data is valuable IP to the TV Stations - or they seriously think it being available will alter the piracy situation. It’s that any new PVR player/maker essentially relies on an EPG for it to be a ‘killer’ appliance for the mass market. (otherwise it just remains a ‘specialist’ product used only by those with tech knowhow). Cleverly (and deviously) – by drawing the line in the sand on the EPG access - the TV Networks can then cripple any company wanting to enter this space. It’s really crazy behaviour – as they can’t/won’t get away with it forever – and they are also missing valuable opportunities to obtain realtime/accurate viewing habits/ratings/statistics from users. (not to mention the ability to do historical AND future ratings simply by looking at the user’s schedule).
It’s also been clearly documented/observered in the US that the majority of TIVO users don’t skip ads (in fact a study a couple of years ago found that 80% of users didn’t want to touch their remote control while something was on) – and in fact provides a larger potential audience (as users are no have to chose between shows/stations).
I’m no lawyer – but I’m pretty certain anti-competative behaviour like this classed as a serious offence by the ACCC (Australian Consumer/Corporate Watchdog) – and I’m really quite surprised that they haven’t been pulled up on this. (or maybe it’s simply due to the new players not having enough clout to instigate an investigation). This really is a classic case of the 100 kg gorilla that noone will do anything about.
It’s going to be interesting to see what pans out with this TIVO announcement and if a ‘industry wide EPG’ actually becomes a reality.
And of course the outcome of the IceTV vs HWW/Nine legal battle has yet to be decided – and could really go either way at this stage (however I’m sure Nine’s announcements indicating that they wanted to people to have an EPG isn’t going to be a great closing point).
Unfortunately on this front – it’s unlikely any actual legal precedent will be set over the main question - ’is a program guide / schedule of events considered to be IP – or is it the IP actually just in the products they are advertising?‘. IceTVvsHWW instead seems to be simply a bunfight over who created the data being published.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone being sued for publishing a list of ‘whats on’ at local clubs/nightspots, nor any local rags being sued for mentioning what time a Movie or TV Show is being screened. In fact like with an EPG – noone will go to the theatre or pub – if they aren’t able to find out anything about the event - or when it’s on – so it’s no wonder Channel BitTorrent seems to be winning all the ratings of late down under.
After many years of neglect (yes almost 6 years – yikes!) – I’ve just updated the mobilewares.net site. (woohoo!)
The previous version of the site was a real mess – and had ‘minisites’ slapped on as needed over the years - making it a little confusing for end users – and making it really ambiguous as to what mobilewares was all about (and what the company focus was).
I’m not completely done yet though – but here’s some of the bits I added/changed :
- Created Brand New Home Page / generic Mobilewares information pages (ie contact/profile/about/resources/sitemap etc) – replacing the old index/start page (which just had links to 4 x minisites) and the old ‘corporate’ minisite.
- Reworked the entire Media Center addins site(s) to a consistent look/feel (matching homepage) – with new home pages for Vista Media Center addins and MCE2005 addins.
- Added new product site for Big Screen Photos 2 (includes screenshots – info - etc). Public Beta Download is not yet available (will be soon!). check it out at – http://www.mobilewares.net/mce/bsp2/default.htm
- Updated all the Corporate/Company/Personal about/profile pages (some of these were really really out of date – ie not changed since 2001/2002).
- Added a new "Work in Progress" page. Currently there’s only links back to this blog on there so far (oh and a little extra) – but will hopefull be updated with something new/cool soon (and will be done in tandem with this blog so there’s no need to monitor the page for news – just this blog)
- ‘Conceptually’ - gives the end user a clear/direct understanding of what mobilewares does/is – and provides direct links for the current/important stuff mobilewares has to offer (ie Vista Media Center addins and consulting services).
In most cases – I’ve used the same page/file names – so all old links (coming from other sites) should still work – which was important as I think there over 500+ external pages linking to mobilewares.net (plus of course many links emailed by me to clients – or others).
What I want to get achieved over next couple of weeks (in leadup to launch of Big Screen Photos 2 + Contacts full versions) include :
- Replace/Remove/Archive/Enhance rest of old/legacy pages (ie. old PVR software, mobile phone software etc) – pages are still using old look/feel when you go there.
- Implement full unified SQL/Email verificated registration/licensing system on mobilewares.net for downloads/signups. The SQL-Server/ASP.NET backend for Big Screen Photos 2 is already partially living on mobilewares.net (used for the internal licensing system for the private beta). The system that I will implement will be similar concept to the original one (used for mobile phone applications and old PVR apps – was Access based before SQL server was available) – where user must signup with email address – and then they will be sent a download link (and serial number if applicable).
- Move Entire Download System/Hosting to mobilewares.net. This is currently residing on pvrx.org (hosted by WebHost4Life)- as when it was written – there was no decent tracking/webstats available for the mobilewares.net – only total hits/bandwidth (Brinkster). Recently – Brinkster has implemented a much better webstats system – although still not as comprehensive as WebHost4Life (which auto resolves reverse IP lookups etc) – it will do and I’d sacrifice some reporting capabilities to unify the site.
- Hook up the mobilewares MCPL Online Gallery / Version Checking System (MediaCenter MCML site available from within mobileware addins) – to the new database systems/site – so when I make changes to the main site – it’s reflected here too. (this is now out of date too!).
- Add some pages/info on the Vista Sidebar Gadgets (and other WPF/Silverlight apps) I have been working on (where allowed by clients). There’s a few projects almost done (and some ‘to be done’) – and will be released in coming weeks/months – so once they are out I’ll add some info/screenshots too.
- Add a partners/clients corporate page (with lots of logos links etc to who I do business with)
- Add some links to things like Work in Progress Videos posted on here, Soapbox and Digital Lifestyle.
You’ll see bits and pieces of these changes gradually be implemented over the next couple of weeks (in no particular order).
However – enjoy for now!
Let me know if any bad links/html is happening for you as I tested mainly on IE7 (as Vista users are primary focus) – but also some checks were done with Firefox 1.5 (and no I don’t care if MAC users can’t see it on Safari so don’t tell me).
The first Beta of Big Screen Photos v2 for Vista Media Center was released last night – to a small handfull of users. (new ‘neon’ logo pictured below)
It was really great to get this product out there for others to play with – as it’s been a work in progress (and of passion) here for the last few months – taking up many a midnight hour in amongst my commercial work.
I’m willing to let some additional users test it - so if you want an ‘invite’ please contact me directly (if you have my email) – or using the gadget on bottom right of this blog page (I can’t promise every request will be accepted due to time taken to provide access).
I’ve added quite a few new features to the beta, since the preview video was released a couple of weeks ago – many being very subtle / but pretty useful. (as opposed to entire new screens/experiences). The new website is not yet available (will be launched closer to time of public beta release).
Some screenshots of some of the new bits are –
- Updated New Main Menu featuring film strip graphic – and complete recreation of the Icons here and on other screens (the old ones were crappy looking vector based icons). There’s also some things whizzing past in the background (not clear on this screenshot).
- New Splash Screen (and Copy Protection System). Those glowing balls in the background fly past at different speeds/z positions – and kinda remind me of that 80′s movie ‘Caccoon’. On a more serious note - I’ve launched a new copy protection system which requires users to enter a Serial Number (via a included desktop tool) – and then ‘Activate’ (and reactivate) it online when they go to use it. This way I can control/extend/cancel Serial Numbers from remote – and auto notify users of new updates. It’s a WPA like system and requires ongoing reactivations – but is implemented so the user will not notice or be interrupted at all (or be required to click through any additional screens once activated).
- New functionality in Photo Details Screen. As per the screenshot below – one new page is the ‘Geo Info’ tab which shows you where the photo was taken on a world map and also region map. (subject to it being geotagged by the user – or automatically by their gps enabled camera) – and just below is the registered Country, Region, District and Locality determined by Yahoo! flickr. There’s also quite a few new buttons in the more info page – such as a section for geotagged photos allowing you to quickly find photo’s taken ‘near this location’ by ‘user’ or ‘tag’ (both or none). Also included are links so you can view all the Tags, Photo’s Comments, Sizes and EXIF Tags. (allowing for click through to view photos/searches).
- New Numeric Keypad Shortcuts in Browsing Screens. You can now use the keys 1-6 to directly access other searches/detail pages related to the highlighted photo (clicking OK will take you to full screen photo view) – such as ’1′ to go to the Photo Details page, ’2′ to view the User’s Detail Page, ’5′ to search for more photos like this etc. I had some of these in the original v1 of this product – but there’s much more now – and one brand new feature is the ’9′ key shortcut to ‘filter by group‘. The filter by group function will select just the photos in the group (as per below there are 9 photos in the highlighted group when viewing ‘by tag’) – and take you to a new search results screen with only those photos. This is useful for then triggering slideshows (ie by tag or date etc) or geo browsing just that subset of photos.
- New Browse/Search Screens. There’s a number of new screens/searches availabled from the main menu such as view ‘Latest Photos from My Contacts’ – which will display up to 5 latest photos per each contact in a single search. (a great way of keeping track of friends photos as they are posted). Another search allows you to browse a list of countries and then a list of cities (per selected country) and it will then perform a Search for photos geo tagged to that location. You can search at city or country level – so you can do stuff like find all the latest photos taken in ‘New York’ for example. (good for checking out travel options). Of course – once done – you can click on the ‘GeoBrowse’ button and view them on the world map.
New Settings Screens. There’s also a few configuration options you can set – to make your experience better/worse based on your available connection speed, computer power (the two determining factors of how fast the overall experience will be). In the screenshot below – you can see the page for setting number of items to be returned per page. If you have a slow connection or less powerful machine - you may wish to tune this down to 25 items per page instead of the default 100. (and you can then just use the next page button to view more results).
New Assembly level IP Protection. As mentioned earlier - there’s a new protection system in place. More Importantly however – from a developer/security pov however – an interesting thing I was able to do was fully obfuscate the application right up to the MCML layer (and then some). Normally – obfuscators will only protect your .NET managed code – but all public types/methods/properties used by MCML need to remain in tact (and not be renamed etc). In case of this application though – I wrote some VS Addins to update the MCML + code so the obfuscated/renamed public types are used (greatly reducing its readability – ie instead of [BrowseMaster.GetList] being exposed in MCML (and as a public type) – it would instead read as something garbled like [jkj322323.u349JFE]. Then to make things a real pain in the butt for would be MCML hackers – I applied yet some more kungfu to turn the file into an unreadable nightmare (but of course still readable by Media Center). So the idea is if the developer is persistent enough to get through all the protection from the obfuscator/scrambler I use – and then the first layer of MCML scrambling – then the code will still be quite unreadable and refer to scrambled managed types.
So anyhow thats a quick wrap of some of the new bits in the ‘Private’ beta. Stay tuned for a public beta, a full version (for purchase) and a product website.
Its really good to see a few new MCML addins starting to emerge over the past few weeks from the enthusiast community. Many are still in early beta/alpha versions - but worth a look, and the authors would all appreciate any testing/feedback (and most can be seen frequenting Media Center Sandbox forums).
Some of the ones I’ve caught recently are :
Audiophile (Steven Hattinger) – an album playlist addin for Vista media Center. This addin hooks into the ‘More with This’ function in My Music – and provides extended information on Albums such as viewing large artwork and other provided metadata not normally shown in Media Center.
This program also allows for some basic actions to be performed such as removing the album from WMP library and copying it into another directory. Please see the information page for download link and more details/screenshots.
(Audiophile screenshots below)
Squirrel Stash (Avaxa) : taken from the website. "Password protect your private media files and view them seamlessly in Vista Media Center. Fully functional version allows you to securely protect your pictures, videos and audio files in a seamless Vista Media Center experience. Media files are stored in a reliable and highly-secure encrypted stash and can only be accessed if a valid password is entered.".
This program is still a work in progess (although I think they might be looking for testers) – and it’s looking very Z’ish right now. The free version will allow up to 1gb of storage – and the full version of the software (AUD$34.97) will provide unlimited storage.
(Squirrel Stash screenshots below)
MoreWithMyMusic 0.2.0 (Steven Harding) - an updated version of this addin with a couple of ‘Library Processing’ features for listening to music – such as Normalize/Denormalize feature and Ultrastar Karaoke support. See Steven Hardings post on Sandbox about this or download the installer.
VMCMusicListener (Gordon Moore) : A description from the author : "VMCMusicArtistLister is a Vista Media Center (VMC) foreground addin application that allows you to display in a list every music artist in your [WMP] library. You can press OK on the remote for any artist and get a list of all the songs for that artist. You can then use the right arrow button and select a song. If you press OK it will give you two option: 1) Play the currently selected song. 2) Add all the listed songs to a playlist that will be labelled VMC-Artistname. The entry is also recorded in a wpl file in your Usename|Music|Playlists folder. Please remember that to remove a playlist you should do it from the library of WMP. if you simply delete the file, the entries remain in the Library. If you repeat the operation for the same artist the original playlist will be replaced." You can download the app installer from www.gfmapps.co.uk
Go check them out…
A new update of the Microsoft Windows Vista™ Windows Media Center Software Development Kit v5.1 (formerly v5.0) was made available last night on MSDN Downloads (dated 1-May-07). Note that MSDN currently shows ‘v5.0′ on the download page – and when you go to install it – the default directory path is ‘xx 5.0′ (however this IS actually v5.1).
Some of the changes for this new release (pinched from the included Getting Started Document with the SDK)
- Incorporation into CHM of previously separate MSDN technical articles and team blog postings.
- The MCML Preview Tool Launcher power toy is now included ‘out of the box’ (no separate install).
- Q and Z setup projects now based on WiX 3.0 (was WiX 2.0).
- Shortcuts for the MCML Preview Tool have been added to the Windows Vista Start Menu: One launches standalone, the other within Windows Media Center.
- Registry files (*.reg) added to the Tools folder to enable / disable of launch debugging and error details.
- MCML Sampler source C# files (*.cs) files added.
- Minor fixes and tweaks to the Z sample application.
Note that this is purely a SDK update only (ie changes are isolated to documents, examples other included sample files) – and not a change to the MediaCenter API or MCPL (which would require a major deployment via Windows Update – as it would touch the core MediaCenter files).
I’m still in the process of finding the changed content in the docs – and I (think) have seen a few goodies in there (like better explanations) – but not 100% if I just missed them in v5.0 (as my initial cover to cover reads of the SDK started with the beta versions).