Archive for June 2007
Microsoft Remix07 landed in Melbourne earlier this week – bringing in the who’s who of the Australian (and o/s) tech/blogsphere/digitalmedia scene into the one place.
I’ve had a few really exciting+interesting days as a result – with the absolute highlight being meeting a bunch of people I only ever communicated with via the web.. There was a lot of really well thought out sessions and discussion panels – with a very predictably large focus on Silverlight and the Expression Products.
Unfortunately for me – a lot the sessions that I did get a chance to attend (inbetween meetings) – were still all ‘hello world’ level – as a lot of the attendees are still starting out in these areas (so was what the majority of people wanted to see – and the correct choice by the organizers). One thing that was very good to (finally) see was a session actually dedicated to MCPL / Media Center (by Jason Suess) on interactive advertising opportunities. Hopefully MediaCenter stuff becomes a regular inclusion in future ReMixes (and maybe even TechEd)..
Something that would be a good inclusion in future – might be to have some ReMix++ style sessions – for those who are making/have-made the jump from ‘Hello World’ to ‘Real World’ – and need to know about best practices etc with regards to performance+issues and what techniques do/don’t cut it. I think the closest thing I saw to this was Lee Brimelows (frog) WPF session, were he went through his WPF journey (from his earliest attempts/prototypes through to his current commercial work utilizing WPF) – with the most valuable takeaways being his comments on what you ‘shouldn’t do’ in WPF. (things the manuals/docs won’t tell you and the hello world samples would encourage)..
Michael Kordahi (the delicate genius) posted a bunch of photos to flickr (Flickr photoset) from the event – so these are worth a look if you were there (I’ve found myself on at least a couple these)..
Another big highlight was of course WebJam@Remix on Monday night – where 16 people (including me) presented cool stuff they have been working on/with (limited to 3 mins each) - and the (drunk) audience then voted by SMS to determine the winner.
There was some downright cool presentations – ranging from the completely bizarre/funny (and even cruel and unusual) – like this one pictured below from Nickviz – who managed to somehow incorporate an Elvis routine into his tech presentation - through to incredibly cool/useful stuff (like John’s Traffic/Weather sidebar gadgets) – through to the completely unlikely (Phillip Beadle doing a full DotNetNuke install and writing a blog post in under 3 minutes).
Although I felt my presentation didn’t go as expected – I somehow managed to fudge 2nd place (I think I was way too serious/ and spent the first minute talking – which only left me 2 mins to actually show a couple of screens from Big Screen Photos 2 – not the game plan at all).. Having just under an hours sleep the night before also probably didn’t help things much. I’m waiting for the Webjam site to be updated with the full results as the winning entry (and others) were very cool and I want to link to them.
So I’m now the proud owner of a Wacom Bamboo Tablet (my prize – thanks Wacom for this and Lachlan Hardy for dreaming up such a cool event!)..
This probably means I’m going to have to actually learn how to draw at some point. Unfortunately last time I tried that (as a toddler) – my drawings never seemed to be "fridge worthy" in our household – and instead my parents would tactfully praise the virtues of something else I was better at .. I hear the bamboo can also be used for non-drawing purposes (like supporting gestures etc) – so this is always a good fallback in case the drawing bit doesn’t work out..
In my presentation (with around 5 seconds left) - I showed off a brand new feature/ux in Big Screen Photos 2 (dreamed up last week) – called ‘digital frames’ – which as the name suggests allows you to view a ‘digital frame’ containing photos from a particular user/group etc (determine purely by the context of your browse items and grouping – in a similar manner to the geobrowsing feature). I also included the ‘token’ rotating 3d carousel with reflections (as you highlight each frame the photos contained within that group rotate about the frame).
Anyhow – here’s a couple of pics below to give you an idea of what the new digital frame UX looks like in BSP2 (without trying to turn this into a Work In Progress post) –
A new "Media Center Show" Podcast appeared on TPN (the podcast network) this week – with a new host Michael Wolf from ABI Research. On this show Michael interviews Joe Belfiore - VP of eHome division at Microsoft.
Michael does a pretty good job interviewing Joe (which is quite an impressive effort given it’s his very first show) – and I look forward to hearing Michael’s interviews/shows in the future. (and encourage readers to check it out).
However, I do need to have a little bit of a grumble about some ‘issues’ regarding this new Podcast (and without knowledge of what transpired behind the scenes – I am not sure if these came about via direction from TPN or Michael’s own accord).
People know and respect ‘The Media Center Show’ due to the incredible work Ian Dixon has done with it (not because it’s listed on TPN) – and his associated blog, site and other things that all add to the shows reputation. Ian also won over listeners due to having a really good understanding of both the hardware and software side of things - ie one week he’d be talking to a system builder about hw related issues – and the following week discussing SDK issues with a developer from the MediaCenter team – without missing a beat. From what I can tell – the new host Michael seems pretty clued up about hardware stuff – but maybe isn’t so strong on the software or dev side of things (which will ultimately take the show in a different direction). Michael even mentions that he’s not yet running Vista MediaCenter.
So my more specific points I was a little disappointed with –
First off – It’s pretty weird (and confusing for the public) that the podcast is also named ‘The Media Center Show’. Yes - I caught the v2.01 bit at the end – but this actually indicates that v1 is obselete/redundant (not – hey the original creator decided to move his show). It would have been a better idea if the podcast had been called something different (given a new host/new direction etc) – no matter who actually ‘legally’ owned the name (it just would have been the ‘right’ thing to do).
Secondly – there was pretty much no indication/mention of Ian’s involvement with the show in this podcast I listened to (i didn’t catch all of it – but if it was there it wasn’t prominently placed). I really would have expected/liked that at the start of the show – a few moments could have been spent thanking/acknowledging everything Ian has done with the show (and how you are following in his footsteps) – and clearly explaining to the public about the existence of the two shows. (and repeating this in the associated blog entry).
The other thing I noticed was that the format/length/feel of the show (another bit that Ian defined/created – not TPN) was very much the same as before. I though that maybe some steps could have been taken to looking at a new format and finding some other original way to really differentiate this new podcast over Ian’s one. (as it comes accross as more of a ‘copy’ of what Ian’s creation - rather than something that is fresh and original).
Putting these points aside – I do wish Michael luck with his new podcast (and I’ll be a future listener). There’s definitely room for two of these shows in the marketplace (and more so if they diversify into different areas) – and many I’m sure will listen to both (rather than chosing one or the other). I also think Michael will also gain a lot more kudos/respect/trust from the community doing the ‘right’ thing in relation to these points I mentioned.
Some of the other things (paid stuff) I’ve been working on apart from Media Center related applications – has been some Vista SideBar + Desktop apps (WPF etc.). I’ve been allowed to talk about a couple of these projects here (ones that are no longer commercially sensitive – due to them being out in the wild already).
For whats being shown here - mobilewares (err… me, myself and I) have been working closely with a New Zealand based company Mabode - who are comprised of some very well known/credible/connected NZ folk (including some current/former Microsofties like Jay Templeton). I won’t go too much into the Mabode-mobilewares relationship yet (maybe a later post) – however over the past 6 months – I’ve been introduced to a lot of really interesting opportunities/projects through them – and hope to have some exciting announcements on Vista + Media Center related products coming out of the work being done (with some very cool content if you are from these parts).
Microsoft Australia & New Zealand Technet SideBar Gadget
This gadget (docked+flyout view /and/ undocked shown below) – is designed for IT Pros in Australia+NZ – and provides a way to monitor news/alerts from Microsoft TechNet. This gadget went live on gallery this morning (and will appear in the Microsoft TechNet newsletters etc) – and if you want to download it – head to this link -> www.microsoft.com.au/technetgadget .
The following sums this one up (from the download page on live gallery) :
The Microsoft TechNet Gadget for Australia and New Zealand delivers information from several of the common news feeds and security alerts. It supports up to 6 feeds with TechNet Highlights and Basic Security Alerts as default options. A range of other feeds are selectable with options for more comprehensive security alerts, Australian and New Zealand IT News and TechNet Virtual Labs. You can see items that have been read or unread at a glance. The security ticker glows red when there is something that you have not seen before. The integrated TechNet Search means you can type a search query and it will launch a web browser window with the TechNet Search results.
The settings window is pictured below :
All Blacks (New Zealand Rugby Team) Sidebar Gadget (With WPF)
The All Blacks rugby gadget is still a project "in progress". Please also note these screenshots do not represent the final product (and in fact I made some bad typos in there with regards to display of trademarks/logos) – and are taken from the prototype that has been shown to a few people. Theres still a few dominos to line up before it’s out (layouts+specs+datafeeds etc still being finalized) – so I’m not going to volunteer any info about release dates.
I’m not quite up with all this ‘rugby’ stuff – as where I live, ‘Australian Rules Football’ is the main winter sports code (and rugby is not very well known or understood) . However – I’m quickly learning that following All Blacks is some sort of religious/spiritual experience for many New Zealanders (so I’m very careful here to do a good job).
This gadget has been developed using WPF for the Flyout content (html for the docked part) - and I had quite a bit of fun working on this. This was partially due to having freerun of allblacks.com site for pretty theme/graphics/videos and data - but also becauses Expression Blend is starting to become mine and VS2005′s good friend (I’m slowly learning to appreciate the finer points of this program and how it can increase productivity – not drain it).
One very cool bit – is that almost all the content being displayed is feeding directly off Async XML data sources (via the various Data Binding functions in WPF) – so this saves quite a bit of behind the scenes code. In the past I’d always sourced data behind the scenes and then updated the UI when it was available.
Anyhow here’s (quite a few) screenshots from the Gadget below (with flyout). You’ll notice that this gadget has quite a few more browsing experiences exposed via the flyout than a typical 1 or 2 function gadget – and so this falls a little more into category of a ‘desktop’ gadget than a Sidebar gadget (ie. has multiple drilldown tabs + its own Video Player).
PS : For the MediaCenter fans reading this – this one above IS being designed with ’10 foot’ in mind…
Microsoft released a very (hugely) important hotfix for Australian Vista MediaCenter users yesterday - fixing a ’localized’ issue that caused channels to completely disappear from the EPG/lineup at unpredictable times. For me this would occur every 1-2 weeks – and was normally only fixable by reinstalling the tuner card drivers , rerunning the entire EPG setup process from scratch and then rescheduling all the series recordings – a very unwelcome event. (although a small ‘trick’ using the miniguide occasionally worked). On quite a few occasions WAF dropped considerably – and MCE2005 was booted instead to restore peace (god forbid should we fail to record desperate housewives - even if the channel disappeared 10 minutes into the recording).
It’s not 100% clear who was at fault for this (or if it was even a ‘bug’) – as a couple of the Australian TV Stations (Channel Seven and SBS) were regularly changing around their subchannel lineup – which even seemed to affect many non Vista MediaCenter DVB-T viewers (ie even those with Set top boxes) . Australia also has a pretty weird/different implementation and set of laws regarding use of DVB-T – so this also makes it much harder for o/s based companies to handle all the subtleties of our systems (ie Commercial stations aren’t allowed to run any additional decent content with their subchannels – so use it for more random things like creating a ‘scoreboard channel’ while televising some live sport – and hence reconfigure them regularly.).
The ‘unreliability’ factor caused by this issue meant that the only real way to ensure you didn’t miss recordings was to doublecheck your system when the show started (so you could actually make sure it was recording) – and you simply couldn’t trust it not to happen if you were away on holidays. This also caused considerable headaches for OEM System Builders wishing to sell Vista Media Center PC’s – as helping a customer re-setup their tuners every couple of weeks would quite quickly drain their profit margin and might have made selling a machine a liability (and a guaranteed way to get an unhappy customer).
So as you can see – this hotfix brings a great deal of joy to us Aussies. Just to give you an idea – the thread discussing this on xpmediacentre.com.au had a whopping 25956 views (with 579 replies across 58 pages).
There’s a couple of people who stepped out well and beyond the call of duty to make this hotfix available- and I thought I’d pay homage to them here –
First off is Keith Chambers (a well-know/respected guy in the MediaCenter community) – who initially raised the issue with Microsoft – and then tirelessly monitored machines, kept logs, ran tests and did everything necessary to make this fix a reality (keep in mind this problem could not be readily reproduced locally – as it might have taken up to 7-14 days or so to occur – and AFIK could not be reproduced in the US at all due to different tv standards/systems). Keith did all this in his own time/expense – and showed considerable patience on this – thanks heaps!!
Also on the Microsoft side of things – ex-patriot Mike Hayton – championed the cause well and truely beyond what was considered part of his job. (he’s actually from New Zealand – but generally Australians like to claim any famous kiwis as their own – ie. Rusell Crowe, Mel Gibson, etc). Not only did Mike get the fix created, tested + released - but he also made a huge effort to keep everyone in the loop via the forums – no matter whether it was on the weekend or middle of the night over there. (and this too made a big difference to the community – as many would have switched to other platforms if there had been no light at the end of the tunnel!).. (Update : Mike Hayton tells me Mel Gibson is not a New Zealander… Seems noone wants to claim Mel these days..)
So anyhow thanks guys (and I’m sure a bunch of additional people were working behind the scenes on this too – like the Australian beta testers and devs at Microsoft) – and fingers crossed it brings an end to the problems.
Disclaimer : the author of this article also has a vested interest in having as many Aussies as possible using Vista Media Center (as they won’t be able to run his software – and might end up buying an AppleTv – ouch). 8)
I’m somewhat confused and disappointed all at the same time – to learn that Silverlight doesn’t appear to be natively supported on Vista 64bit. (although you can run it via WOW64 layer in Internet Explorer 7).
Lack of native 64bit support means that once again - there’s no decent/clean solutions for using Silverlight for Windows Sidebar gadgets (as WOW64 doesn’t appear to be used/supported in here) – and if you try to use any of the Silverlight gadget samples out there you will get the mangled message below.
Note that as with XBAP – the loading message ignores the host dimensions – and doesn’t gracefully resize itself (to accomodate the 132 pixel wide maxmimum size provided by a docked gadget) – although at least this time you can see more of the text (with XBAP you only catch part of the first word on the loading message).
If I click through on the above ’Get Microsoft Silverlight’ message – IE is launched – and of course since Silverlight is already installed (32 bit version) – there’s nothing to download or install at that point.
Note that I also experienced similar behaviour trying to load Silverlight 1.1 Alpha in Sidebar (above sample is Silverlight 1.0).
UPDATE : I actually found a workaround/hack in this post which mentions that you can ‘kill’ the 64bit sidebar.exe process – and launch the 32 bit version instead to get all the 32bit goodness working on Vista64 (the one in the Program Files x86 folder). While this might solve some problems for the more technically minded – I can’t see it being widely implemented by the general public – so still remains an undesirable/unsupported scenario. (however maybe if someone wrote a dead-easy-to-use util that makes all the appropriate system changes and makes the 32bit version load by default – then this could be the answer?).
Silverlight – not really ‘cross platform’ (yet)….
So once again I’m pretty disappointed to learn that 64bit Vista (once again) has been treated as a second class citizen in the world of Windows Sidebar + WPF (and any other containers using similar underlying hosting technique).
So I’m going to really question use of the phrase ‘cross platform support‘ in relation to Silverlight. ie. there’s a Mac version and a 32bit windows version – so at the end of the day it’s not too disimilar to MS Office or Adobe Photoshop which allow loading of files created on either platform (and I’ve NEVER heard anyone call these products ‘cross platform’).
What I really would have liked (well expected actually) – was native Silverlight support on 64 bit Windows and PocketPC platforms. While I get the desire for Microsoft to ‘target’ Mac designers and get some Kudos in the Apple press – it’s a half baked effort (you won’t be running Expression Blend on Mac anytime soon) - Microsoft should really have worried about ‘their own back yard’ as the first point of call (ie. existing/popular o/s platforms that are out there today).
So what options are left for Sidebar Gadgets (that look like they were created this decade)….
Although ‘unsupported’ your current options for Sidebar Gadgets seem to be the following :
|Technology||Vista32 Sidebar||Vista64 Sidebar|
|Supported||(same as 32bit)|
|Loose XAML||Unsupported (but will work with slow/clunky loading experience)||(same as 32bit)|
|XBAP||Unsupported (but will work with slow/clunky loading experience). |
If used only in Flyout – user experience is somewhat cleaner (delay is relegated to the flyout).
|(same as 32bit)|
|WPF (ElementHost inside ActiveX wrapper)||Unsupported – but will work (possibly quickest way to instantiate a WPF app in Sidebar 32).||Doesn’t work (32bit ActiveX not supported in Sidebar).|
|Silverlight 1.1 Alpha|
(XAML + .NET)
|Not officially supported – but works.||Doesn’t Work (no 64bit native Silverlight 1.1 version available).|
|Flash||Not officially supported – but works.||Doesn’t Work (no 64bit native flash version available).|
Anyhow – I’m really hoping to see this whole situation changed in future (Vista SP1??) – but I’m not really holding my breath (as there are no announcements thus far indicating anything will be improved).
Something I’m really looking forward to is ReMix ’07 - which is coming to Melbourne, Australia in a couple of weeks (25th + 26th June) – a conference geared at Web and RIA development+design (with a strong WPF + Expression flavor). Remix07 is a cutdown version of Mix07 that was held in Las Vegas a couple of months ago – with some new/updated content thrown in (they aren’t quite as talkative here – and it will be a 48 hr conversation instead of 72).
It’s not often we get such a fine calibre of speakers, content, and tech specialists assembled locally and all in the same room (many coming from overseas+interstate) – so this is going to be a very interesting event.
If you want to go - but haven’t booked your spot - well sorry .. your too late - as they have now completely sold out and registration is closed!.
However – if you are registered to come – and are a reader of this blog / are into Media Center developement (or you’re something doing cool with WPF) - ping me a message if you want to catch up for a chat/coffee.
I should also mention (warn) that I was talked into filling a slot at Webjam 2 (being held at Galactic Circus at 5:30pm on day 1 of ReMix) – where 16 presenters will each have just 3 minutes to demonstrate something cool they have been working on. First prize is a funky Wacom tablet. Voting/Winners will be decided ‘Idol’ style (well a geeky version that is – and everyone will be over 12) – with ReMix attendees having exclusive SMS voting rights . I’m possibly going to be showing off Big Screen Photos 2 (for Vista Media Center) - but might demo something else instead – depending on whats ready /or/ working by then (and what sort of equipment + internet connections are available for the demo).
There’s still actually some slots left for Webjam – so if you want to join in the madness and have something cool to show off – then don’t forget to check yourself in for your 3 minutes of stagefright at this address. I’d love to see a few other people do some Media Center stuff as well (and I know there’s a bunch of great developers in Australia so come on out).
See (some of) you there!
This is the promised follow up post (to the previous one on Big Screen Movies aka codename ‘Fatlady’) – and I thought I’d use it to talk about how some of the movie + metadata management works in this product.
What Metadata/Imagery Big Screen Movies will work with (and look for).
Similarly to DVD Library – Big Screen Movies scans for metadata information and images for a movie in the folder that the movie title resides.
In the case of DVD Library – a file ‘<moviename>.dvdid.xml’ is searched for (which in turn provides a reference to another XML metadata file in your common directory with data downloaded from AMG) – or alternatively it will locate a cover image if a file ‘folder.jpg’ exists. In the case of DVR-MS files – metadata is extracted directly from the dvr-ms file (which comes from the EPG).
Big Screen Movies follows a similar path – but allows a whole lot more data to be used – and a lot more images to be provided (ie you can provide back covers, gallery items, different resolution pictures etc).
The main XML metadata file (prefixed with .bsdvd.xml and .bsvideo.xml is a new schema that I came up with (well actually it’s a XML Serialization of a .NET class structure – but it can be read back fine) – and it’s a really comprehensive spec which allows for lots of different information (ie more than just Chapters, Synopsis etc - things like detailed cast/crew lists, dvd specific information like features, subtitles, tracks, easter eggs etc).
If you want to check out what a Big Screen Movies bsdvd.xml file looks like – see this link Example .bsdvd.xml file. Note this is not finalized (Element names are not all 100% and many should be moved to attributes).
Similarly with images – Big Screen Movies looks for image files based on the same filename – and rather than just looking for folder.jpg (or dvrmsfilename.jpg) – it uses the double-dot notation to find different bits : ie. if you provide a file with the extension .back.jpg - then it will pick this up and use it for the back cover. You can also provide different cover sizes and all sorts of other miscelaneous imagery (for the gallery when viewing a movie title) – ie. <folder/moviename>.<anything>.jpg.
Offline + Online Title support (and a lot of cool opportunities for 3rd party developers).
Since Big Screen Movies supports offline ‘movies’ too (that could mean a HD-DVD title on your Shelf, something showing at the Movies or Coming Soon, or even a movie available from a Video On Demand service – or a movie you leant your mate)- you can also drop these files into special directories (located in the program data folders) – and they will be picked up by the scan and made available.
Via this feature (and the fact that even online content uses this open/parsable XML file format) – it opens up opportunities for other developers to write supporting tools (ie. Image cover grabbers, metadata importers etc) in the same way people have done for DVD Library functionality. Developers may also write tools that add titles/metadata from other places – such as an app that extracts lists of movies/metadata from Blockbuster or a coming soon at the movies list from Amazon (or elsewhere).
I whipped up the following diagram to better explain what sort of metadata and content can be referenced with Big Screen Movies.
The top of the diagram being what DVD Library does today and the bottom half being what Big Screen Movies adds to the pot – /and/ the yellow boxes in the middle indicate the "new" types of media/content that can be catalogued/browsed.
Please click on the diagram to see the large version (as you probably can’t read whats below)…
The Big Screen Movies Manager/Editor
The Big Screen Manager allows you to edit and manager your Movie Titles (which then appear inside the Big Screen Movies) – and provides the ability to add/remove/import/edit your metadata and imagery.
The basic pretext behind how Big Screen Movies works – is that an end user would ultimately add titles to their movie collection a lot less frequently than they would actually load up the addin/watch a movie – hence there’s no need to rescan everything each time you load up the addin as Vista Media Center DVD Library does. (Vista Media Center DVD Library’s focus is on locally available content only so this makes sense).
Instead – the manager program builds (and manages) a lean/mean database/indexing file (using .net binary serialization) which is loaded into memory when the addin is launched. (hence the UI already knows where everything is – and whats available.). When you go in and actually view a movie title – some (re)scanning is performed at that point if deemed necessary (as it doesn’t need to know about all the metadata and online availability up until that point).
There will be some auto scanning / index building features actually inside the Media Center UI – however this won’t do everything and will be triggered manually.
Double clicking on a movie will allow you to edit all the included metadata (this is still a little unfinished as you will see in the UI below) :
A few wizards are provided to simply importing/scanning of metadata. The screen below is part of the import ‘DVD Profiler’ XML Data wizard – and has quite a few smarts to enable it to find and match up with your existing titles. (ie. if straight title or UPCID matching doesn’t find the right title – it will also try to extract the DISCID’s from the DVD Profiler data and match it with the saved dvdid.xml information). Other wizards are also provided to do things like scanning your drives for new/updated/removed content (ie DVD’s on hd, avi, wmv, dvr-ms files etc).
Ok thats all I’m going to say/show for the time being about this product (well there’s a plethora of reading material in this post and the previous one so this wont be an issue!)…
When I have some more updates/progress to share (or the Fatlady is singing) I will post them here ….
Please also see the ‘faq’ in the previous post for some of the common questions.
There’s a new (exciting? killer? lemon?) Big Screen product that’s been in development these past few weeks (inbetween everything else) – something which I briefly mentioned on my Work In Progress page (on the new updated mobilewares site) – "Big Screen Movies". I also opened my big mouth on a couple of forums about this product (and even posted a screenshot) – which resulted in a flurry of ‘will it do feature x + y’ and ‘can I beta test it’ type emails.
So this post is all about this product – and also update everyone on whats up with Big Screen TV Series as well – as it’s somewhat related (and is also the product I get the most emails/comments about).
Here’s a couple of teaser pics of Big Screen Movies (don’t try to read to much into these yet – they might completely change between now and release) – the main browsing screen (with some 3d covers – note the edges/shadowcasting effects) – and below this – the details screen for a movie.
I thought I’d take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book (and others) – and give some awe inspiring(?) (or just plain odd/silly) codenames to my products. Although I won’t be the first on that count either (odd/silly that is) – as we already have codename ‘Fiji’ from Microsoft – and I think there was possibly 2 (or even 3?) military coups in Fiji since Microsoft’s product started development (are they just trying to tell us something here).
So anyhow – here’s the wrap :
- Big Screen TV Series – CodeName "Gaza". As you saw from screenshots posted back in early dec ’06 – this product has been working/running for some time now – but not released to the public yet. Apart from it not being bulletproof enough for release yet – the main showstopper has been the uncertianty regarding the data it uses/downloads – and I basically don’t have a team of lawyers handy to make sure I’m not going to get into any legal trouble. I won’t go into all the details here – but it’s a case of ‘who really owns the data’ – as it’s really unclear where the IP lies in the episode data etc. There’s also a legal battle raging over a very similar topic in Australia (NineMSN vs IceTV) which is somewhat testing the ‘ownership’ factor of this kind of information.
So anyhow given the arguments/disagreements and numerous people claiming to own the same data - I thought ‘Gaza’ was a good choice of code name. (although ‘Beijing’ was a second choice here)
One approach I was taking on this product to try to avoid this issue is to make a really comprehensive Desktop based editor/manager which allowed users to edit all the data from their own materials (and remove the auto-import features). The problem there though is that there aren’t any ‘other’ programs around (that I know of) – that will edit/manage this data for you – so it would require quite a significant effort by the end user to add all the info in the first place.
So anyhow - codename ‘Gaza’ remains in copyright limbo still – and doesn’t have any release date as such… (so sorry to disappoint everyone that is waiting). If anyone knows of a completely legal/easy way for this all to work – or you for example work at MSN TV/Movies or TV.com and you want to supply a good clean/legal feed then please contact me. A user has also come forward and expressed interest in writing a 3rd party tool that would download the data and ‘talk’ to Big Screen TV Series – so this may also be a potential way forward if it eventuates. If I have any updates on this – I’ll post about it – otherwise in limbo it will remain.
- Big Screen Movies – CodeName "FatLady". You probably haven’t visited ‘FatLady’ before – and no it isn’t a place – but just a reminder that this product will be out ‘when the fat lady sings’… (so please don’t all send me ‘can we have it – is it ready’ style emails as per BSTV). What I will say – is that it’s going to happen a lot sooner though then codename Gaza – as there’s no showstoppers with data preventing it’s release.
In a nutshell – Big Screen Movies is essentially a replacement for DVD Library/Gallery feature found in Vista Media Center. Although DVD Library is very cool – there’s a bunch of limitations imposed on what types and formats of movies you can browse/view, what metadata and imagery is available (if you’re not in the US the DvD info is a real problem) – and also doesn’t catalog your offline movies (ie DVD’s sitting on the shelf don’t appear until they are inserted in a drive).
Big Screen Movies essentially removes these limitations by treating all types of Movies (online/offline, other formats etc) as equal citizens (ie the same sort of metadata etc can be provided regardless of location/format) – and then ups the ante by supporting a brand new XML metadata file and allowing all manner of imagery and media to be displayed (ie. back covers, gallery images, movie preview etc).
To save you having to enter all this new Metadata (and also to save me having to worry about copyrighted data issues) – Big Screen Movies Management program (Windows Desktop App) provides both it’s own movie editor – and also allows importing/synchronization of information/imagery from DVD Profiler and other Metadata sources. (which provide very rich multi region metadata for DVD movies – well beyond that coming from AMG).
I’m going to go into a little more detail about this product below (and try to set some expectations right on what this product will and wont do) – but in summary – in the same way Gaza aims to be a replacement/enhancement to the inbuilt ‘Recorded TV’ section – FatLady (Big Screen Movies) is a replacement/enhanced version of the ‘DVD Library’ found in Vista Media Center.
I should also mention that FatLady is a reference to a female opera singer that sings the closing number – and in no way discriminating or villifying people with weight problems.
What is (and isn’t) Big Screen Movies – CodeName "FatLady"?
As mentioned above - FatLady aims to be the ‘DVD Library’ but on steroids.. so in more detail - here’s a comparisson of what ‘DVD Library’ offers vs what FatLady provides (note this is NOT a final list – just a snapshot based on the current dev version).
|Feature||Vista Media Center DVD Library||Big Screen Movies Codename Fatlady|
|Disc Media||DVD, HD-DVD, BluRay (also playable from local harddrive)||DVD, HD-DVD, BluRay (also playable from local harddrive)|
|Offline Media||No Offline Media Support – Information/Item Not Available for Movie unless Actual Movie is residing on HD, DVD Drive or Changer.||Allows you to catalog/browse Movies that aren’t online – such as Movies sitting in your own DVD Library on the shelf. (you will be prompted to insert Correct Disc if you try to playback an offline/shelf title).
Also supports ‘other’ locations of movies such as Wishlist, OnLoan, Rental, ToOwn, OnlineDownload, At Theatres, Coming Soon – which in turn allows FatLady to be used for a lot more than just viewing locally available files/media.
|Video Files||DVR-MS Files (Must be marked ‘IsMovie’ and available via RecordedTV directories)||Any CODEC/FORMAT MediaCenter can normally play (ie dvr-ms, wmv, divx, avi, mpg, mov etc) – subject to appropriate codec being installed. Transcode 360 support (or other) is also being looked at for Extender usage.|
|Image Support||Small/Large Image Covers supplied by AMG /or/ single Folder/File.JPG (for dvd’s using Folder.JPG will disable AMG Metadata info).||Supports All Options from DVD Library (Folder.JPG, AMG URL’s etc) – however they don’t exclude availability of MetaData.|
- Unlimited number of images
- Front + Back Covers
- Small/Medium/Large Versions of Covers
- Movie Posters
- Any other Images you want can also be associated with a movie for viewing in UI (ie Cast, Scene’s etc).
|MetaData Sources||DVDID.XML/AMG MetaData (for DVDs/BR/HDDVD)|
DVR-MS File MetaData (For Movies from TV – data originally sourced from EPG).
|Everything as supported by DVD Library.|
Supports new Big Screen Movies Movie XML File Format (.bsdvd.xml and .bsvideo.xml).
Supports Importing from Other DVD Management software such as DVD Profiler.
|Management Software||N/A. Movies are autoscanned via DVDID or DVR-MS Metadata auto scanned.||Big Screen Movies Manager Software provided. Gives comprehensive editing/importing/management capabilities for your collection. |
Collection is persisted via temporary Movie Index – plus portable .xml/.jpg files that can reside with your Video/Media files. (similar to how the .dvdid.xml file is created along with your online DVD in Media Center).
Recorded TV Movies available immediately – other content such as Online/Changer/Drive based DVD’s may take 10-30+ seconds (or more) to appear as information is scanned each time it’s loaded. (on systems with a large amount of titles on the harddrive).
|Instant Load ~2 seconds – (subject to Addin DLL being cached) – otherwise some additional o/head on very first load.|
Movie ‘Index’ is created/managed by management software (and can be rescanned in UI) – so already available when you load Addin (no scanning required).
When you go to view Movie Details – then some additional checks may be performed to verify existence of required files (if applicable).
|MetaData Viewable in UI||Single Page of Information displayed when Movie is Selected.|
Data Provided by DVDID Providor or DVR-MS Metadata.
|Comprehensive ‘Movie Details’ Section when Movie is Clicked. Displays/Visualizes all data supplied by BSDVD.xml/BSVIDEO.xml file – including these extra things you don’t see in DVD Library : |
- Comprehensive Movie Details (inc Extended Overviews, Genre Support, Easter Eggs, Notes, Reviews, User Ratings and much more.)
- Imagery – supports bigger larger cover sizes, back covers, posters, and gallery pictures per each movie
- Comprehensive DVD Feature/Format information. (ie. Extras offered, types of Media – and other information normally on dvd back cover)
- Viewable Chapter/Scene List.
- Comprehensive Actor/Production Crew listings (including Parts played, VoiceOver info and roles performed).
- Detailed Video Track information (ie Aspect Ratio’s, Angles)
- Detailed AudioTrack information (with logos/details of all languages and types of streams offered)
|Box Set + Additional Disc support.||N/A. All Discs treated as seperate titles (but share same metadata)||Support for grouping Discs/Files/Offline titles into Boxsets. (user is prompted for appropriate Media if not available locally).|
|TV Series Boxset Support||Very Basic – As above (for boxsets)||User can associate Recorded TV Files and other Video files to a TV Series ‘BoxSet’ – hence provides a partial solution to those wanting to catalog TV Shows (where a tv series has been released on Boxset).|
|Changer Support/DISCID Scanning||Supported||Not going to be supported initially …|
Just to also point out – you’ll note above that Big Screen Movies won’t initially support changers (don’t have one to test with) or scanning of DISCID’s – however these may be added in future (so it won’t quite do all the tricks of DVD Library yet).
I’m about to write a follow up post on Big Screen Movies with a diagram (of how/where data can come from) and some screenshots of the Manager program. So please read the next (imminent) post for even more information.
However just before I do that – I thought I’d include a mini faq (and have a stab at what questions people are going to ask) –
Q. Is Big Screen Movies Bigger/Louder/Funnier then Brian Binnerups My Movie’s plugin – and which one should I install?
A. ‘No’ – Big Screen Movies aims to replace DVD Library (well – almost all of it’s features) and will directly target these existing DVD Library users. If you are using My Movies – its likely you have specific needs that My Movies solves (and My Movies does a really nice job in many areas such as supporting MCE2005, external players and a bunch of other cool things) – and Big Screen Movies is NOT aiming to add these sort of features. (however may add transcode360 support – or something else for Xbox’s)
Also more pertinently – today - you can also only install My Movies (Big Screen Movies isn’t ready yet!) – so I think that answers this question too.
Q. Will Big Screen Movies provide feature X, Y or Z. Will it (or can you make it) take your dog for a walk or make you breakfast?
What I’ve written here (and in the next post) is what it does (and is currently intending to do). I’m first focusing on getting all of the abovementioned functionality bulletproof and releasable – as I think all of it is essential for the base product. When I’m ready for some feature requests / and to let others try it I’ll make an announcement – otherwise please read this as a ’vision’ statement of where it’s currently heading (but may not necessarily end up).
Q. You’re graphics and UI’s suck (and I can’t stand different UI’s) – can you make it look EXACTLY like Vista Media Center DVD Library?
The above screenshot is preliminary prototype of what it looks like right now (and some things are just there for experimentation purposes) – so don’t try to get too much out of it (there’s a lot more to see as well). I know people are going to want a similar experience to Vista – so I’m still looking at options (and may in fact just have support UI theme’s to make everyone happy).
I’m also in two (or three) minds as to whether the Movie browsing should be a vertical scrolling list (ie as in MCE2005) – a Horizontal one (as in Vista) or a 4xway menu (similar to VMC main menu but lists scroll continuously left/right and up/down changes categories). I’m currently finding the Vertical style (as per screenshot) actually maximizes the browsing area for widescreen (so you can essentially see more covers at once) – and allows the side buttons to be hidden/retracted when not focused.
Q. When can I beta test it? How much will it cost?
As mentioned above – when I’m ready to let others try it I’ll make an announcement… I’m currently estimating a public beta may be available by August (as I have a lot on my plate right now getting the other products ready for commercial release – and am going on holidays end of July). As far as cost etc – I’m making some announcements soon on commercial release of some of the Big Screen Products (and the incredibly cheap prices I’m going to sell them for) – and as Big Screen Movies will eventually be a commerical product (after an extensive beta) – it’s not going to break the bank (and will set you back a few beers at most).
A couple of beta updates of the Vista Media Center Big Screen products have just been released on the mobilewares site. (these were a little overdue – sorry!)
These new betas have trial periods extended to 1st August 2007 (and previous versions have now expired). Not much else has changed in them – and I am still finalizing some of the new features + activation/verification code (similar to the new licensing/registration system found in Big Screen Photos v2 – but simpler!)
Please see below for product info + downloads :
Big Screen Headlines (v0.8.6.10 - aka ‘R10′) – Click Here to visit the Big Screen Headlines Site and Download the new Beta
Big Screen Contacts (v0.9.3.9 – aka ‘R9′) – Click Here to visit the Big Screen Contacts Site and Download the new Beta
Right now these downloads are available via direct download link – however note that this will be changed (possibly this weekend) – to a new registration page which will require entry of your email address (and links/details will then be emailed to you).