Archive for January 2009
Down here in Melbourne (Australia) – we’re experiencing an extreme summer heatwave – and it’s predicted that this week will be the hottest one for over 100 years (1908).
Monday started out reasonably warm (mid 30’s) – yesterday reached 42 C (~108 F)– and today the top temperature across the city reached 43.7 C (that’s around 110.5 F). The forecasts for the next 3 days are max temperatures ranging from 41C to 43C (tommorow) – so we won’t get any relief until at least Sunday.
I’m normally a big fan of hot weather (and love the warm evenings) – but once it gets ridiculously hot (37C or more) - it can be pretty hard to get any work done (or a good nights sleep).
Funnily enough – we also received a notice in the mail last week – that our (normally quiet) suburban street/block is going to be used all day tomorrow for one of those stupid new medical/reality shows (‘dial 000 emergency?’ or something along those lines). We were informed not to be ‘alarmed’ if we saw any ambulances or people walking around the street covered in blood. I wonder if it will still go ahead as planned – and hope they aren’t re-enacting a ‘winter’ scene (where the actors won’t be able to dress down).
An update of the Windows Media Center SDK for Windows 7 (Beta 1/7000) has just been made available on Connect – and will be launched via MSDN very soon.
In terms of what’s new – the actual API available to Windows 7 Media Center Developers appears to be the same as what was released previously (see my earlier post - Media Center SDK v6.0 (Windows 7 M3) First Impressions for more information) – so no new surprises to report on this front.
What has changed in the SDK however – is that the documentation for the new API features is now much more complete and improved (and there are only a few ‘undocumented’ sections remaining to fill in) – and there’s a new sample application – titled ‘M’ – which shows off the basics of developing addins with the new iTV (Interactive TV) Framework.
Thanks to the now almost complete iTV Framework documentation (and sample) – it’s now a lot clearer how it’s supposed to fit in to Media Center – and how it can be used. (NB: currently – TVPack2008 and Windows 7 Media Center users are actually using an internal application based on the iTV framework when they use Teletext and switch between the available Audio Streams).
In a nutshell – iTV applications are addins (or Interactive Applications) which are targeted to be used either with a nominated program – or a channel (or group of channels from a broadcaster). These applications are designed to tightly interact with the actual broadcast content on offer – and allow for scenarios such as (reworded loosely from the SDK) -
- Enhancing existing Programs – multiple camera views, chat with other viewers, highlights, polls, commentry etc.
- Video On Demand – which can be linked to live broadcast content (replays/highlights/voting etc) – or trigger pay per view and on demand services.
- Overlays – non interactive content that is added to existing broadcast.
- Interaction with TV Program – such as getting additional information on what you are watching (ie. cast/crew/reviews/community ratings etc).
- Interaction with TV Content – Viewing Trailers, triggering Series Recording, IM and VOIP and more..
This of course allows for very similar ideas found in MHEG/MHEG5 iTV applications – to be created by Windows developers (using a combination of .NET and C++/COM code – rather than Java) – and due to it being deployed to a local machine – would allow for substantially more interaction with the local machine (ie. users may be able to upload photos from a local HD to a TV Show server via an iTV application – wheras MHEG would be sandboxed and not able to access any drives). The actual UI for these iTv addins can be developed using both MCPL rendering/technology (for the Overlay content) – and low(er) level .NET System.Drawing namespace (for rendering on the VideoSurface).
Unlike MHEG (which are deployed over the air) – it appears the iTV applications need to first be installed on the local machine before they can be used/triggered (either via .MSI file or automatically downloaded by mcupdate if being distributed by Microsoft).
Unfortunately – the iTV development platform won’t be usable by your average 3rd party developer – as it needs to be triggered via either data being transmitted on the Tuner Source (ie. ‘tags’ which are broadcast by the provider at predefined moments) – or via the Headend (which I assume is referring to the source of your EPG data). Both of these are generally not available to VMC addin developers – who normally make products for a global audience – rather than targetting a particular channel or show – and generally wouldn’t have any association with the tuner or headend being used.
To assist with development/testing of these iTV Applications – a new developer tool called the ‘PBDA Device Simulator’ is available (via Connect) – which allows developers to simulate PBDA tuner devices, create additional channels/transport streams and insert tag packets into the stream (which can then trigger the iTV applications).
Whether we’ll get to see many offerings using the iTv framework remains to be seen (I’m sure the US users will get something at least) – as it’s unlikely broadcasters will create applications specifically for a program (or channel) being watched on Media Center – however it may make sense if they are already providing MHEG or other interactive content (and can reuse some of the data/infrastructure). I’m curious to know how similar the iTV Framework is to the dev platform offered for MS MediaRoom platform (which also uses MCPL) – as it would probably be a quicker path for providers already making MediaRoom content to extend their offerings to Media Center users in other locations.
CHANNEL LOGOS ON THE EPG GRID
Further to the previous couple of posts (where I showed off channel logos in the details area of the EPG) – I figured out how to enable the EPG Channel logos on the actual grid. This is more desirable – as you can see all the channel logos – rather than just getting it when you highlight a show. Instead the logo + channel number are displayed – instead of the channel name + number.
Rather than 7MC thinking it’s a broadband/internet tv channel (where logo is on the left – and you can’t see the epg data) – in this example – these remain as tunable channels (so you can still watch them …).
Here’s what it looks like (nb: the EIT data went offline for Channel 9 + HD – not as a result of what i have done…). Also note that I didn’t reinstate the channel logos down the bottom (as this is set against a different db value) :
Similarly – the logos appear in the live tv miniguide :
USING MEDIA CENTER TO BROWSE UPCOMING/LATEST MOVIES ON DVD AND AT THE MOVIES
I also had a thought – that the ‘Movies on TV’ Browser – could ALSO be used to browse upcoming/latest Movie releases (both on DVD and at the Movies). Because of the ease of linking to Movie Metadata (see last post) – where you only need to supply a title and a couple of other fields to get detailed information – I figured it would be a good way to get other movie data. (in case of other content like DVD’s on the harddrive – you need to determine DVDID’s etc before this will work – quite a bit of manual work).
I also figured that I could add some additional channels (and categories) – which would be hidden in the guide (via use of custom lineup) – but would appear in the Movies on TV Browser. The additional channels are then named after the content – ie . ‘COMING SOON (DVD)’.
So I gave it a shot and hears what it looks like for a movie called ‘Meet Bill’ – which is coming out on DVD in Australia next week (note that I’d unmapped other EPG data at this point – hence the lack of other movies / covers coming up) :
You’ll notice it says COMING SOON… on the details section at the bottom (this might instead say NOW PLAYING AT MOVIES etc)…
When you drill down on the title – then you can get the full metadata (without me supplying any). The channel name of ‘COMING SOON..’ is also displayed up the top. I can then use either the EPG Scheduled Starttime/EndTime or the Original Air Date field (see below)(to represent the date that this movie is coming out at the rental store (or cinema) :
Unfortunately for this though – it appears that AMG only really have dvd covers for movies already released on DVD/TV in the US – so for some of the newer titles both at movies and on dvd (I tried Valkyrie for example – starting soon at the movies) – I could get the rich metadata but no cover. I think however – its possible to actually override a dvd cover link via the metadata and solve that problem.
Also – for actually getting the list of titles coming soon (or recently released) – there’s a lot of rss feeds out there that could be scraped/converted (if someone in the community gets the urge) – representing movies, dvd releases and downloadable content (netflicks etc)..
Additionally – you’ll see that the ‘record’ button still appears – so I’ll either have to remember not to press that (doh!) or find some way of making particular channels non recordable.
the fun continues….
In my previous post i mentioned I’d unlocked the ability to load Custom EPG Data (and Channel Logos) in Windows 7 ..
Now (thanks to a tip on the forum from a spanish user) – I’ve also now enabled the automatic Metadata lookup going for movies using custom EPG data (where rich metadata is automatically matched from the AMG webservice) – a luxury normally only available to US (and Canadian?) users.
In this example below – the movie Sahara is showing on FTA tv tonight in Australia. I only needed to have the title (and a couple of other fields) enabled – and presto – lots of goodness was downloaded/displayed on my system. (well at least for movies made after early 1990’s)…
Below is the synopsis Tab – the short summary is from the EIT guide – the long synopsis is from AMG (as is the Movie Cover) :
You also now get a similar movies tab – which is populated completely with metadata from AMG (none of these similar movies are showing on tv). You can of course drill down to any matched movie and get more info on that.
Also – no need to provide the actors/directors etc in the EPG anymore for Movies – the AMG metadata also provides all this :
You can then click on an actor and it brings up a Movies by Actor page. (and gets everything from AMG – none of these titles are on my system).
The ‘Movies on TV’ feature is also now enabled on the start menu too. Via the 4 pivots – Now, Next, Top Rated and Genres – you can view upcoming tv movies with cover images etc like the dvd library (and then easily do single click recording/drilldown) – but you need to ensure it will be matched with something (so if its not showing now/next then it needs to have a user rating or genre).
I wonder if similar functionality exists for automatically grabbing TV Series information (not sure if the amg service provides this sort of data)?
I mentioned in my last post that I’d been trying to figure out how to load in custom EPG data into 7MC (Windows 7 Media Center). In Australia (since TVPack2008) – we’ve been unable to use anything except EIT EPG data (inband transmitted epg) – which even on a good day is pretty poor quality. Also – many Australians (and people in other parts of the globe) are missing epg data for various channels (in Australia theres no EIT epg data at all for pay tv) and want a way to load in the data.
Anyhow – I’ve now been able to successfully load in my own MXF epg data (via loadmxf.exe) – which was generated by an XMLTV to MXF converter I whipped up. The amount of metadata you can supply for the new format is really rich – and there’s all sorts of new fields to investigate and see if they are being brought through to the 7MC UI (some of the features such as providing an image for a show doesnt seem to be enabled on the 7mc beta).
I thought I’d post some screenshots to show what I’ve managed to achieve. Note that in the screens below – I’ve been loading in data against an unused DVB-T station (well – at least not by me) – ‘SBS Radio 2’ – and have supplied data for another channel ‘ABC1’. Most of the other epg data you see (on other channels) is from the EIT epg data (as your able to mix/match different sources). I did my testing this way as I was actually recording stuff on another channel at the time. (Heroes – on 7HD) – and didn’t want to screw anything up..
1. Example of a Program with supplied custom Title/Year/Star Rating/Description (and Channel Logo) :
2. Similar example – but this time showing a Title/SubTitle/Description. (this is important for Australians as no Subtitle field is provided for EIT data – a real pain when recording a series).
3. Example of popup details screen (with star rating, year etc). The program is flagged as being a movie (something that doesnt work so well on EIT) – so the thumbnail displayed is different to normal shows (which normally has a tv screen). I tried to supply custom logo for the actual show (via similar technique to how the channel logo was displayed) – but this doesn’t seem to be used (yet?) by 7MC. Alternatively – an ID can be provided for the movie which i suspect can be used to retrieve the AMG metaservices (similar to how the DVD library works).
4. Example of MiniGuide browse – again showing the Title/Subtitle/Channel Logo.
5. Example of sample Recorded TV Show (no thumbnail yet) – but the important bit is the Title + Episode Title are available now (unlike my other EIT based recordings).
Being a ‘prototype’ solution – there’s still quite a bit of work to do to clean this import process up (and I want to see what other metadata goodies can be imported and brought through to the UI).
I’m not sure if or when I’ll release something to the public on how to get this going (whether it be the info on the MXF format – or some set of tools for getting the job done) – but thought I’d post this entry to show that at least it ‘can’ be done…
It also appears the MXF import tool also allows for lots of other things to be imported/manipulated on the system – such as configuration (potentially provides a way to add more than 4 tuners?), sports data, custom internet tv channels, tv series/season info and more… (lots and lots of things to investigate).. It appears that pretty much all the dynamic data in Media Center is stored in the same db and customizable via MXF files. (including a lot of the stuff that used to be in the VMC registry).
Windows 7 beta 1 (Build 7000) was officially launched to the public today – and can be downloaded from here right now (note that due to the huge demand there may be some problems getting through). There’s a limit of 2.5 million serial numbers available (which will allow usage through to the hard expiry date of August 2009)– so it’s first in best dressed – and if you miss out – you’ll instead be limited to the 30 day activation grace period.
With this build also comes with an important fix that prevents MP3 files corruption – so it’s important to apply this patch right after installation. The number of people who already obtained this build via channel BT just after Xmas were hit by this issue (and dvr-ms playback issues) – and is probably a good lesson as to why you should be waiting for official releases..
The version made available to the public is similar to the ‘Ultimate’ release (minus the Ultimate Extra’s and some of those other bits) – but for Media Center users this means you’ll be able to use up to 4 tuners. (rather than 2 as per Home Premium).
I’ve been playing with this for a couple of days now (as it was made available to connect, msdn + technet subscribers on Thursday) – and it’s been running really well for me so far. The entire o/s installed and was fully configured in under 60 minutes (and required almost no intervention from me) – so I was again very impressed.
I’m running with 4 DVB-T tuners (1 Aver PCIE Dual Tuner + 2 x different Aver DVBT PCI single tuners) – and also noticed that for the first time (for me) I can also use the FM Tuner for radio. While build 6801 contained the critical PVR related bugs (also present in the initial TVPack2008 release) – the recent fixes for TVPack2008 have also been carried forward into this Windows 7 build – and has allowed me to run this as my primary Media Center machine.
The Media Center UI has been improved quite a bit on the previous release (particularly in the area of the popup information panels) – and the new miniguide is now available as well (which shows 2 full rows of the EPG while you are watching TV). Also enabled for this release are the US Only ‘Internet TV’ content – which now comes up inside the EPG itself (and are available as ‘channels’ inside the EPG). The other overlay tabs/pivots available during the Live TV/DVD/Video playback still seem to be largely unfinished – for example you can’t actually see the synopsis without clicking through to the popup details panel.
This release was wonderfully timed to coincide with my repaired coffee machine arriving back from Sunbeam – so I was able to put in a few hours last night into looking at importing 3rd party EPG Data (the scenario most desired by Australian users since TVPack2008 came out and clobbered the existing web service based EPG providers).
I (think) I made some progress – and have successfully gotten loadmxf.exe to import some test EPG Data from an MXF file – but I still can’t see it inside the MCE UI itself. However – when checking the log files generated by mcstore – it tells me I’ve successfully imported xx objects into the default ObjectStore (so something is happening at least). One unresolved issue (which is probably preventing the data from being visible) is I haven’t been able to successfully link the Schedule Entries to a service – only to a Program (and am getting ‘unresolved forward reference’ messages if I supply the service guid with the entry).
From what I’ve seen of the metadata that (can?) be loaded in – it certainly looks like there’s a bunch of possibilities there for 3rd parties to inject lots rich metadata into the system. This is not just in the form of Series/Episode/Actor data – but also potentially imagery (channel and series logos) and a much larger set of ‘known’ attributes about programs. I also have a hunch that 3rd party developers may also be able to insert custom EPG channels – similar to the Internet TV ones (loading them in via loadmxf.exe) – which offer new services and point to different custom MCML Web Applications. (which would be very nice indeed and finally give developers 1st class access into the Live TV experience). Of course none of this will be official supported by Microsoft…
Also – If you want to get some help/ask some questions about Windows 7 – come and visit the Windows 7 Beta TechNet forums . (I’m now an official MVP Moderator in these forums – so thought I’d better give it a plug).
I’ve just updated all of the Big Screen Product Installers on bigscreenglobal.com so they now support Windows 7 (just tested on the Windows 7 Beta1 Build 7000 – officially released today).
These installers have now been tested/confirmed to work (without any special hacks) on all of the following configurations :
- Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate (32 bit and 64 bit)
- Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate with TVPack 2008 (32 bit and 64 bit)
- Windows 7 Home Premium/Ultimate (32 bit and 64 bit)
As before – all current Windows Vista + Windows 7 supported Media Center Extenders (XBox360, LinksSys DMA2x00, DLink etc) are also supported (and auto detected) by these products.
As per before – all registered (and trial) users can download these updated installers free of charge – and existing licenses/serial numbers will continue to work. (ie. no additional charge for Windows 7 support)
NB: You can double check you have the correct installer by look for the ‘D’ postfix on the file name (eg. BSWV2_R14D.zip). If you need to get the new file – just go back to the product download page on your bigscreenglobal account.
Big Screen Contacts v2 Back Online for Trial/Purchase
I’ve also re-enabled the Big Screen Contacts v2 product signup/download (this was made unavailable for a while) – so if you were wanting to check out this product (or purchase it) it’s there now.
Hurry – the Big Screen XMAS/NY Promotion ends in 7 days!!
The Big Screen XMAS/NY Special will be finished on January 15. If you want to get any of the Big Screen titles for USD$14.95 each you’ve got just 7 days left to do so – otherwise you’ll miss out on saving up to 40% off RRP.