Friday, June 30, 2006

Media Center Extender Setup and Windows Live OneCare: Issues and Resolutions

Aaron Stebner has made a few blog postings in the last week or so with regards to Media Center Extenders, including potential issues with the installation process, and potential issues if Windows Live OneCare is installed.

Aaron has consolidated links to all his previous blog postings with regards to the set up of the Media Center Extender software on the PC into a 'Troubleshooting guide for Xbox 360 PC setup issues'. While the title seems to indicate that it is for Xbox 360 Media Center Extenders only, this information also applies to V1 Media Center Extender users, as the latest version of the PC software for the Media Center Extenders is the same software that is used for the Xbox 360 Media Center Extenders.

With Windows Live OneCare providing firewall functionality, there is the potential that this can interfere with Media Center Extender operations, especially if OneCare is installed after the successful setup of your Extender. This fits in well with one of my previous blog entries about Media Center Extenders vs Firewalls.

If you are having issues with your Media Center Extender after setting up OneCare, these links should help you restore functionality:

If you are having any other issues with your Media Center Extender, please visit the microsoft.public.windows.mediacenter newsgroup to see if your issue has previously been resolved. If not, feel free to post all details of the issues that you are having to the newsgroup. There are numerous posters, including Microsoft MVPs that can offer useful suggestions. In addition, both Todd Bowra and Jenelle Coberly, two Microsoft employees from the eHome team, have been doing a great job supporting those who have been having issues with their Media Center Extenders.


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Updated NVidia PureVideo Decoder

NVidia just released an update to its PureVideo Decoder, taking it up to version 1.02-223. As discussed before in a previous blog entry 'Media Center, MPEG2 Decoders, Now and the Future', this is one of the most commonly used MPEG2 decoders for Media Center.

What’s New in Version 1.02-223

From the release notes, version 1.02-223 of the NVIDIA PureVideo Decoder includes the following changes and fixes since version 1.02-196:

Feature Change

  • Removed the Smart De-interlacing mode.
    Use the NVIDIA Control Panel to control driver cadence - (the ATI driver provides this functionality in the Catalyst Control Center as well)

Windows Media Player

  • Windows Media Player 10: Fixed a problem where playback of some transport stream files, such as MPEG2 HD, resulted in an “unsupported file type” error message stating that Windows Media Player cannot play the file.
  • Windows Media Player 10: Fixed a problem where playing a DVD in overlay mode and then switching between windowed and full-screen DOS resulted in a gray video window.

Decoder APIs

  • Fixed a memory leak in the trp demux GetProgramInfo() interface.
  • Fixed a probelm where the PureVideo Decoder did not play an HD stream from a recorded source.

The 30 day trial is available at the NVidia PureVideo Decoder download site (along with the 30 day trial activation information). Those with previous versions can upgrade using the download at this site, and your existing activation information.


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Thursday, June 29, 2006

When did I become the Social Convenor?

Through a conversation that I had with Ben, a fellow planner who is now in Yellowknife, he commented that I had become the new social convenor. Upon further reflection, he is not too far from the truth.

Over the past three days, I have organized get-togethers for three various groups of people, from my volunteer committee for the tennis tournament (yes, I will start blogging about that soon, as things are really starting to get underway now), to high school friends, to university friends. Granted, all of them were nothing super fancy; it was simply a meet and eat and talk type of event.

The get-together with several of my high school friends was a going-away dinner for one of my friends. She had decided to move out west to Calgary so we had to do something before she left. It was a fun dinner, and having my brother there as the sacrificial lamb at the table certainly made for some lively banter (things certainly have not changed at all since our ICCL days). All the best in your move out west, Steph. I am sure you will have a blast out there.

Last night, a bunch of us planners got together at Duff's Famous Wings. With Duff's being well known in Toronto for its wings as noted by the name of the restaurant, we were lucky to even get seating for our whole party. It was nice to see everyone together again as it was a different group than the ones that convocated a couple weeks ago (i.e. they either convocated last year [due to the split regular/co-op stream], missed convocation, or will convocate next year). Shannon came in from Burlington with her boyfriend to join us, which was nice since I haven't seen her since the Oxford trip. Rickett was his usual rowdy self; there's nothing like having beers with him while he shares new stories about his work at the TRCA and the latest from Stratford. With Rickett, Isaiah and Lindsay present, it was a nice reunion for them... one of these days, Mat and Andy will need to come up to re-live their Dublin stories. Vince and his girlfriend, Irene also came out [still waiting for those Tibet pics], as did Emily. We should definitely do this more often, and it seems like there will be more opportunities over this summer and beyond.

Ben says that he will take up the reins of being the social convenor when he returns from Yellowknife. I'll believe it when I see him move back here to Southern Ontario. Until then, I guess I better get started on the invites for a barbeque with my high school friends in mid-July.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

ATI and Nvidia Driver Updates

ATI released a couple of new drivers that might be useful to Media Center 2005 users.

For those of you with a ATI Radeon 9500 based video card or higher, the Catalyst 6.6 drivers have been released as of yesterday. This marks the first set of Catalyst drivers where older ATI Radeon cards (9250 or lower) are not supported anymore.

ATI has also released new drivers for their Theater 550 based tv tuner cards. Support for their new Theater 650 based tv tuner cards is now rolled into the Theater 550 driver package.

Get the above listed updates from here:

Nvidia has also released new drivers that might be useful to Media Center 2005 users.

The new Forceware 91.31 drivers for their video cards has was released on June 23. Highlights include the inclusion of the new NVIDIA Control Panel, as well as new NVIDIA PureVideo features and enhancements.

Get the new Forceware 91.31 drivers for Media Center here:


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Monday, June 26, 2006

Plan 480: Oxford Exchange 2005 - Class Picture


For the 34 students that participated in the Plan 480 - Oxford Exchange Trip in 2005, this photo should bring back memories (it merely took us 13 months to finally get this photo).

I hope everyone is doing well, wherever you have been, wherever you are or wherever you are going.


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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Windows Vista Build 5456.5 vs. Xbox 360 Extenders

For those of you on the Windows Vista Beta through connect.microsoft.com (as opposed to the Consumer Preview Program), Build 5456.5 was released earlier this afternoon.

For those that Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender with Windows Vista, you should note the following:

Support for Xbox 360 as a Media Center extender is not included in this Vista build. In order to continue using the Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender with Vista, please remain on Beta 2 (build 5384). Support for the Xbox 360 as an Extender will be available in a future Vista build.

It does not appear that this build will be available for the Consumer Preview Program. This can be confirmed here, where it is stated that:

When you register for the Customer Preview Program you will receive the Beta 2 release plus Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 (RC1) — the next major pre-release of Windows Vista — when it is available later this year.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Media Center Trick Play Functionality

Many Media Center users have taken advantage of the ability to receive broadcast television shows with VCR-like functions such as pause, rewind, fast forward, replay and skip, collectively known as 'trick play', all while rendering a live video stream.

These functions are all easily accessible via the Media Center Remote, as the buttons are all quite clearly marked. For example, you can skip forward 29 seconds by pressing the Skip button, you can skip backwards 7 seconds by pressing the Replay button, or you can Rewind or Fast Forward at multiple speeds via repeated presses of the Rew or Fwd buttons.

However, there are trick play functions that might not be so obvious. Media Center offers three additional trick play modes, including frame by frame advance and slow motion advance.

How do you access these modes while watching Live or Recorded TV?

Advanced Trick Play Functionality

  • Frame by Frame advance (forward)
    • Press the Pause button, then hit Skip button
  • Frame by Frame advance (backward)
    • Press the Pause button, then hit Replay button
  • Slow motion advance (forward)
    • Press the Pause button, then hit Fwd button

These advanced trick play functions are great for sports (such as the reviewing offside calls or dives at the World Cup) and I am sure you can find other ways to use this function. These functions work in both Media Center 2005 and Vista. In addition, the keyboard shortcuts for Skip, Replay and Fwd, once the Live/Recorded TV is paused, will do the same thing. See here for a list of Media Center 2005 keyboard shortcuts.

Note that the above three trick play functions are not available on Media Center Extenders and the Xbox Media Center Extender or the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender.


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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Media Center Extenders vs Firewalls (MCE2005 and Vista)

Media Center Extenders use network ports to communicate over the network with PCs running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 or Windows Vista. The Media Center Extender applications using these ports may find themselves blocked by a firewall running on your Media Center PC. If this is the case, you need to re-configure your firewall to allow these applications to use the ports that it needs.

Media Center 2005 computers

If you use only the Windows Firewall, the Extender setup program should have set up all the application and port exceptions for you. The four items that should have an exception setup are:

  • Media Center (c:\windows\ehome\ehshell.exe)
  • Media Center Extender Service (UDP 3776)
  • Remote Media Center Experience (TCP 3390)
  • UPnP Framework

To confirm that your settings are correct, see this page. For users of these popular firewalls, see these following pages corresponding to your software.

For those using some other firewall, here is a list of application and the ports they use.

ApplicationProtocol/PortDirectionNetwork
ehshell.exeTCP 5555InboundLocal Subnet
ehshell.exeUDP 7777InboundLocal Subnet
Mcrdsvc.exeUDP 3776InboundLocal Subnet
Svchost.exeUDP 1900InboundLocal Subnet
Svchost.exeTCP 3390InboundLocal Subnet
MCXNetTw.exeRandomOutboundLocal Subnet
MCRMgr.exeTCP 3932OutboundLocal Subnet
Ehexthost.exeRandomOutboundInternet

Windows Vista (Beta 2) computers

For those of you using Media Center Extenders in Windows Vista, here is a list of applications and ports that are used as of Beta 2. Note that this list may not be finalized yet and that there may be more changes prior to Windows Vista's Release to Manufacturing.

ApplicationProtocol/PortDirectionNetwork
svchost.exeUDP 1900InboundLocal Subnet
svchost.exeTCP 3390InboundLocal Subnet
svchost.exeTCP 2177Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
svchost.exeUDP 2177Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
systemTCP 10244Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
ehshell.exeTCP 554Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
ehshell.exeUDP 5004, 5005Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
ehshell.exeTCP 8554-8558Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
ehshell.exeUDP 50004-50013Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
ehshell.exeUDP 7777-7781Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet

If you are using the Windows Firewall in Windows Vista, make sure the following exceptions are enabled (this should take care of the above exceptions).

  • Media Center
  • Media Center Extender
  • Media Center Extender HTTP Streaming
  • Network Discovery
  • UPnP Framework
  • Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service (qWAVE)

I hope this helps those who are having issues configuring their firewalls so that your Media Center Extenders will work for you.

Update - June 25, 2006 - Added list of exceptions for MCE2005 and Vista's built-in Firewall

Update - June 30, 2006 - Those with Extender issues after installing Windows Live OneCare should take a look at this blog entry


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Canadian Governement's Official Apology for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act

For Chinese Canadians that were affected by the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, June 22, 2006 is a day many thought would never come.

Today, the Government of Canada is scheduled to make an official apology in Parliament for the over 63 years of legislated racism towards Chinese Canadians. To some, the connection to this story is obvious, as I am Chinese; however, there is also a personal connection for me to this, as my maternal grandfather was affected by the Chinese Head Tax when he came over to Canada in 1918, before he eventually returned to Hong Kong in the early 1930s.

The Chinese were the only ethnic group ever assessed a head tax for entering Canada. In contrast, during the same period, British and European immigrants were given money to help pay their way across the Atlantic. You can find more information about Chinese Immigrantion in Canada, the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act and its impact can be found here or here.

In the past, there have instances where Canada has mistreated certain portions of its population. This includes mistreatment the First Nations, the Chinese, and the Japanese among others. Canada has come a long way in changing its past behaviour, to a point where we have an international reputation as a truly humanitarian country that embraces diversity and multiculturalism. From discriminating against Chinese in the past, Canada, in recent times, is now far more inclusive, as seen by the appointment of a Governor General of Chinese heritage (Adrienne Clarkson in 1999).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology for the fact that the tax was imposed, saying "the government of Canada recognizes the stigma and exclusion" the tax represented. He also promised "symbolic payments" to Chinese immigrants who paid a head tax to Canada between 1885 and 1923. The apology is an opportunity for Canadians to learn about a chapter of their country's history, "that we did actually target a particular group through laws and policies that were effectively racist."

Susan Eng, of the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers and Families, called it a historic day.

For the government to step up to the plate and say we take responsibility for our wrongs, I think it sends a major message to all Canadians of the kind of values we hold dear.

Hopefully, by learning about our past, we won't repeat the same mistakes in the future. More information leading up to today's events can be found here and news about today's announcement can be found here.

AMD X2 CPU Issues with Live/Recorded TV in Media Center

This is such a common issue on the Media Center newsgroups that I thought I would talk about it here. It comes up daily, so I think it is safe to assume that many people are affected by this, especially those in the Do -It-Yourself (DIY) crowd [most OEMs ought to know about this issue, and should have implemented the fix that I describe below].

For those of you with AMD X2 (dual core) CPUs, you will likely run into issues with Live TV or Recorded TV. Symptoms include stuttering of content, to freezing and even crashes of the computer.

The solution to this is to download the latest AMD CPU drivers (latest version v 1.3.2.0 released July 2006). Note that this issue isn't isolated to Media Center, it also occurs in various games).

This is an issue that has been known for some time, and has been blogged about here and here.

The issue is related to CPU power management issues with dual core processors. Without the fixes, the timing indices of the Live TV/Recorded TV are affected, due to various timing issues, which leads to stuttering (and in extreme cases, freezing or crashing) upon playback (yes, even Live TV is recorded and played back, albeit rather quickly).

For those of you that have recorded a lot of content with an AMD X2 CPU before updating the CPU driver, unfortunately, their timing indices will remain affected (i.e. the updated CPU driver does not fix existing recordings). Recorded TV content created after the installation of the CPU driver should be fine as reported by nearly everybody on the newsgroups that have implemented this fix.

Moral of this story? If you have an AMD X2 CPU, install the latest AMD CPU driver immediately, otherwise, your Recorded TV (and Live TV) will be suffer from stuttering that can't otherwise be fixed.

Update - July 24, 2006 - Link to blog entry about updated revision (v 1.3.2) of the AMD CPU Driver and updated links in this blog entry

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hardware Implementation of Media Center Upgrade Scenarios

Continuing on with some useful Media Center related info released at WinHEC 2006, here is a presentation with the title Hardware Implementation of Media Center Upgrade Scenarios.

Within this slide deck are essentially three sub-sections:

  • Windows Media Center Hardware Requirements
  • Upgrades for Windows Media Center in Windows Vista
  • Components for Media Center in Windows Vista

In the 'Windows Media Center Hardware Requirements' section, it is noted that Microsoft is moving away from Media Center specific criteria lists, such as the MCE Hardware Requirement lists, or Designed for Media Center Edition lists. Instead, they are setting up the Windows Vista Media Center requirements to align with the requirements for the 'Premium' level of the Windows Logo Program and tests in the Windows Driver Kit. This should alleviate the need to consult yet another list to see if a computer is Media Center capable.

Of course, there are some minimum hardware specs. Highlights include:

  • CPU
    • x86/x64-instruction set
    • No minimum CPU speed
    • CPU utilization is key measurement
  • Memory
    • 512 MB minimum
    • 1 GB or more recommended for Windows Vista Media Center
    • 1 GB system memory for UMA systems
    • Minimum of 64 MB video memory reserved for graphics
    • Minimum of 128 MB video memory with a 128-bit interface for High Definition TV
  • Tuner/Encoder
    • Meets the Premium level WLP logo
    • Digital TV tuners use the Broadcast Driver Architecture (BDA)
    • No true hybrid tuner support (this is coming post-Vista)
  • Hard Drive
    • Performance (RPM, cache size, etc)
    • 100 GB free PVR storage space (recommended)
    • 40 GB for mobile (recommended)
  • DVD Decoder
    • Microsoft MPEG-2 decoder supports
      • DVD Playback
      • Television recording and playback
      • DVD Video burning
    • Non-Microsoft MPEG-2 decoders
      • Does not affect Microsoft MPEG-2 decoder

In the 'Upgrades For Windows Media Center In Windows Vista' section, a description of the changes in the Vista upgrade process are outline. Essentially, a 'clean' operating system is installed, and then application settings are migrated. Only certain operating system settings are migrated. Specific to Media Center upgrades, approximately 100 files and settings are migrated, including scheduled recordings, recording history, installed applications, audio and video preferences are migrated. However, it should be noted that even after the upgrade, Media Center upgraders will have to go through the First Run Wizard, as many of Media Center's settings are now stored in difference places (more items in the registry essentially).

Here is the a list of the SKUs that you will need in order to upgrade from previous operating systems.

Windows Vista Upgrade Paths

In the 'Components For Media Center In Windows Vista' section, three pieces of hardware are highlighted.

  • Graphics
  • Audio
  • Tuner

For Graphics, HDCP will be required for the playback of Digital Cable, HD-DVD, and other premium media formats when using DVI and HDMI. HDTV Display support, with DVI or HDMI inputs, will also be needed to display the abovementioned sources.

For Audio, Vista moves toward the new Universal Audio Architecture, which should make it easier for hardware device manufacturers to expose more functionality to end users.

For Tuners, there is a focus on MPEG2 encoding, how hybrid tuners are handled in Vista and in the future, better scanning of broadcast frequencies to ensure discovery of all channels, 64 bit drivers for tuners that have shipped in the last 1-2 years, and protected content, starting with OCUR for 2006 and then pBDA support in 2007 and Video Quality Certification through the Imaging Science Foundation. I've talked about some of items on the tv roadmap for 2007 in the blog posting 'Preparing for TV Beyond Vista'.

All in all, Microsoft is truly focusing on integrating Media Center into its Vista offerings, and has taken steps to make it easier for customers to ensure that they are purchasing computers that are ready for Media Center right off the bat. All the above initiatives aim to do this in a better manner than what we see today. Feel free to take a further look at the slide deck for more details.

What do you think? Is this better than what we see today? Will this help end users?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Urban Forum - Information dissemination through blogging

Continuing on with my blog entry about the World Urban Forum being held in Vancouver, I thought it would be interesting to direct people interested in this topic toward a blog that in its own words:

... will answer your questions and to point the way to events, issues and people that will maximize your ability to benefit from the World Urban Forum.

The World Urban Forum blog is being written (or ghost-written) by Charles Kelly, who was appointed by the Government of Canada to be the Commissioner General of the Secretariat for World Urban Forum 3.

Over the last few days, he has blogged about some great topics with the aim of generating discussion, including Mobilizing citizens to make cities more liveable, Changing the Shape of Cities, Sustainability – What does it mean? and Showing the way! Tomorrow’s Urban Leaders can Guide Us to the Future.

In his latest entry, he discusses how youths of the world are already helping to solve the most dangerous and difficult challenges facing cities today such as crime, poverty, slums, HIV, water, poor sanitation, illiteracy and hunger. He notes that while "it is more than evident that we of the older generation do not have a monopoly on ideas", that older folks do currently hold the all important purse strings. I believe this highlights one of the reasons why networking is so important. The ability to listen to new ideas and to engage in dialogue will do nothing but wonders when you need to make a pitch to people coming from all different backgrounds and/or professions.

Whether you agree with the topics that Chris Kelly is blogging about or not, think about what kind of impact you can make, whether it is on a global scale, or even something in your local community. Talk to people, exchange ideas, learn from mistakes, try new approaches... this is what they are doing at the World Urban Forum. Read about what they are discussing through the WUF blog, and hopefully you can get involved in the process in your own way.

Blog Layout Update

As many of you may have observed, I've just recently updated the layout of my blog. I think it works much better than the old layout. Hopefully everything is working right. If you notice anything peculiar, please let me know.

Unfortunately, at this point, I wish I did a little more research into what blog platform to use (evidently, three minutes was clearly not enough). If I had to re-do this blog thing now, Blogger likely would not have been my first choice.

Why would I think this? For the following reasons:

  1. Lack of posting categories
  2. Lack of a true trackback facility
  3. Lack of RSS feeds for comments
  4. (Related to point 1) Lack of RSS feeds for posting categories
  5. Inflexibility of Blogger to host files other than photos
  6. Need for better template creation/editing tools
  7. There's probably more, but they aren't immediately coming to mind

The lack of posting categories would have been a real stopping point for me. I know that some of my blog topics cover areas that have different audiences (i.e. Media Center-related posts for those interested in Media Center, Personal events (like Convocation from University) and reflections for my friends, Planning-related items for planners, etc). Without a true method of creating posting categories, it's not easy to dig through blog postings to find stuff that interest these subsets of those that wish to read my blog. While Blogger Help links to one possible workaround, posting categories ought to be added natively to Blogger.

Blogger's 'Links to this Post' is a poor attempt at emulating the trackback features found in other blogging platforms. Blogger should look into improving this so that it is on par with what Six Apart has done with Movable Type.

Other blogging platforms have RSS feeds for comments left on blog entries. Currently, I have to eyeball the bottom of each posting via the main page or the monthly archive pages to see if there are any new comments. Clearly, there must be a better way.

RSS feeds for posting categories. If Blogger adds post categories, it would make sense to allow for separate feeds for each category in addition to a feed for all postings. However, without posting categories first, it's the old case of "can't have one without the other."

At this time, the only thing that Blogger will store for me on its server are image files. If I had (for example) a registry file that would help Media Center users, or a pdf file that I want to distribute to my readers, I wouldn't be able to use Blogger to host these files for me. Files like this would have to be hosted elsewhere. Not cool for a service that ought to be all-inclusive.

In terms of assisting users implement new templates, there ought to be a better creation and preview tools. The current tools are a bit lacking (example, see this Movable Type-based Style Generator). It took far too long for me to modify this layout to make various aspects look 'right'.

Agree with some of my points? Are there any workarounds to the points that I raised? Am I missing something obvious? Now that I've started blogging here, I don't really want to switch (or maybe I should switch). Please let me know your thoughts.

In the meantime, I hope Google is working on these Blogger shortcomings to make its service better for its users. I would like to think that they have improvements in mind, but we won't know until we see the changes.

Monday, June 19, 2006

World Urban Forum 2006 - Vancouver, BC

As a recently graduated urban planner, there is a conference that is currently underway that I was interested to hear about.

World Urban Forum 2006

The 3rd World Urban Forum aims to bring delegates from around the world, including urban planners, academics, politicians and business people, to take part in discussions and networking sessions designed to promote positive dialogue and co-operation between key players in urban development and city management. These collaborations will be necessary to come up with solutions to make city life sustainable against a backdrop of rising urban populations.

Figures from the United Nations estimate that by the end of 2007, the majority of the world's population will be living in urban areas. The BBC has a interactive map of Urban Growth from the 1950's onward that highlights why this is becoming such an important issue on a global scale.

On the agenda for discussion are items that associated with the trend toward urbanism, including issues of poverty, pollution and urban growth. This five-day meeting is sponsored by the UN Habitat agency and is being held in Vancouver, the western Canadian city that is widely lauded for its high quality of life. This is the third such meeting of its kind, and it occurs 30 years after the first UN-backed meeting, also in Vancouver, to discuss human settlement.

More information about the World Urban Forum can be found at either its website or through UN Habitat.

Optimizing Video Quality for Windows XP Media Center

This document was released last year, but the concepts described within it still apply.

Optimizing Video Quality for Windows XP Media Center Edition - 2.2 MB Word doc file.

This paper provides information about components that contribute to video quality on computers running the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. This paper is for manufacturers of systems that run Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and for anyone interested in a technical discussion of video quality for the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system.

While this document is intended for platform designers and manufacturers of Media Center PCs, it can also serve as a good primer on the technical underpinnings of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 TV Tuning and Quality.

Included in this paper are topics on:

  • TV Tuner/Capture/Compressor Device
  • MPEG-2 Video Decompressor
  • Graphics Hardware
  • Display
  • Summary of Recommendations for the Best Viewing Experience
  • Measuring Video Quality


The summary of recommendations for the best viewing experience are split into two categories, one for the Media Center PC (hardware) and one for the Media Center software.

Media Center PC:

  • Always use a high-quality 75 ohm impedance coaxial cable, rather than the free cables that come packaged with a VCR or WebTV® box.
  • For S-video capture input, always use a high-quality cable, such as those manufactured by Monster Cable or BetterCables, rather than the free cables that come packaged with a graphics adapter or DVD player.
  • Verify the signal integrity from cable or off-air sources by using an analog set-top box or television.
  • Confirm that the coaxial cable is attached to the correct RF input on the computer.
  • Confirm that the appropriate signal type is selected.
  • Review custom video settings for the encoder to ensure that they match the settings for the Media Center PC.
  • Use only displays that have a properly formatted EDID and properly report their native resolution.
  • Set the display monitor to the correct resolution.
  • Calibrate the display monitor to the video industry standard for the correct appearance of white, using the controls on the display monitor or a DVD title for step-by-step calibration.

Media Center:

  • Run the desktop at a refresh rate that matches the TV video source (60 Hz for NTSC).
  • Always set the desktop resolution to match the aspect ratio of the display monitor.
  • For video quality problems with a particular DVD, adjust the handling of interlaced video through video decoder settings, if available. (for example, the Nvidia Purevideo decoder allows you to change the deinterlaced mode)
  • Ensure that recording quality is set to "best" in Media Center.
  • Run Media Center TV full-screen for best performance.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New Media Center Extender information released at WinHEC 2006

Continuing on with information released at WinHEC 2006, there is some great information about future plans for Media Center Extenders.

One of the tracks at WinHEC 2006 was dedicated towards Media Center Extenders, and as such, there are three slidedecks that may be useful to those interested in this topic.

For those interested in Media Center Extenders, these three slidedecks are great sources of information to find out the historical context behind Media Center Extenders, and Microsoft's future plans for Media Center Extender technology.

Windows Media Center SDK for Windows Vista Beta 2 now available to the public

I previously blogged about the availability of the Windows Media Center SDK for Windows Vista Beta 2 on connect.microsoft.com for registered beta testers.

As of June 13th, this SDK is available to the public. You can download it by clicking here.

A great place for discussion of Media Center development issues is The Media Center Sandbox and its associated development forum. For anyone interested in developing additions to the Media Center platform, those two sites should be among your first points of information.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Preparing For TV Beyond Windows Vista

Robert Schlabbach, a fellow Media Center MVP and creator of the PPPoE client RASPPPoE, pointed me toward an interesting Powerpoint slide deck that was shown at WinHEC 2006. This slide deck was used for the presentation Preparing For TV Beyond Windows Vista.

This presentation overview included:

  • Future Technologies
    • Worldwide Digital TV
    • Enabling Premium Content
    • Europe and Japan
    • Hybrid Tuners
  • Call to Action

The presentation describes the worldwide move toward Digital TV, and how Microsoft intends to work toward integrating Digital TV into its future eHome products (such as Media Center). While this is a great opportunity, there are challenges that Microsoft will face, particular in the area of premium content from content providers.

Today (with Media Center 2005), for the most part, premium content is done through analog via set top box output. In order to go digital, end to end content protection and rights management is becoming a requirement. Various ways to do this, depending on where you are in the world, including US Digital Cable, Japan ARIB ISDB-T/S, Conditional Access (CA) protected content and US ATSC Broadcast Flag equivalents, are brought up and the need for a common API and crypto solution is mentioned by way of the proposed Protected Broadcast Driver Architecture.

In the presentation, it states serveral commitments that Microsoft is working to improve support for the various worldwide TV standards for 2007. Examples include:

  • Japan
    • PBDA tuners for ISDB-T and ISDB-S
      • Premium content with B-CAS support
    • Live and recorded HD/SD TV
    • Interactive TV (BML)
    • In-band guide (SI/EPG)
    • Protected content pipeline
      • Video, audio, and data
    • ARIB TR-B14/B15 compliance
  • Europe
    • DVB-T and DVB-S/S2 free-to-air and DVB-CI
    • Hybrid tuners
    • Merged program guide (PAL/DVB-T/DVB-S)
    • DVB-T subtitling and DVB Teletext
    • In-band EPG for DVB services
    • Interactive TV with MHEG5
    • Improved service scanning
    • FM radio station naming and analog TV channel renaming

Support for hybrid tuners is also coming, due to stakeholders concerns, including:

  • demands by OEMs for crossover solution tuners
  • regulatory mandates for future proofing today's TV receiver devices
  • demands by users for flexibility to protect investments of existing hardware
  • demands by developers to simplify the driver model

A basic outline of the requirements that a hybrid tuner must meet are further elaborated on within the presentation.

All in all, it is a pretty interesting presentation describing what Microsoft hopes to deliver on the TV front for future products. If these features make it into a future Media Center revision or other Microsoft products, it would go a long way in helping push along the inevitable convergence of PC and television.

Feel free to take a more in-depth look at the presentation slides. If you have any comments, feel free to leave them here.

Update - June 22, 2006 - updated URL to updated slides

Convocation Pictures

As promised in a previous blog entry, here are some Convocation pictures. While I understand that Convocation is a time for our families, I wish that us, the students, had more time for ourselves. To those who were able to make it, it was great to see all of you together one last time. Hopefully, in the upcoming years, I will continue to be in touch with most of you.

Here is a sampling of pictures that I have.

Convocation Stage

Convocation stage for the 92nd Convocation carried at at the University of Waterloo

Tiff and me

Tiff and me (and Templar on the left) - Tiff's off to study Law at U of T in September

Johnathan and me

Johnathan and me (congrats Johnathan on the Diploma of Excellence for GIS)

Holding my degree

This is the degree.

Parents and me

My parents and me

Derek and me

Derek and me (Derek's off to Teacher's College this September)

Family shot

Family shot

Dawn, me and Derek

Dawn, me and Derek (the three of us worked together at the City of Mississauga for our first co-op term... ah the memories). Dawn's off to University College London this September for her Masters with her boyfriend and our fellow classmate, Ian.

Parents and me in front of the floral arrangement

My parents and me in front of the floral arrangement.

Deb and me

Deb and me (congrats on your engagement, Deb)

Sherwin and me (with his relatives)

Sherman and me (with his relatives, who co-incidentally are family friends of ours)

Gary and me

My brother, Gary, and me in the Great Hall of the Student Life Centre

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Congratulations Thomas van Geest

As I mentioned yesterday, there can be various reasons why some people can't make it to convocation. I mentioned Ben's case yesterday. Today, I'll bring up Tom's circumstances.

After finishing his studies in December 2005, Tom intended to go traveling through Africa. Those plans changed when he was offered an internship in Kenya. More details of his internship have been mentioned in the University News Release service and the FES faculty e-newsletter.

Unfortunately, this internship meant that Tom was not able to come back to Waterloo for convocation, and he was definitely missed by us all.

So why am I congratulating Tom in the title of this blog posting? Prior to going to convocation, I noticed in the June 14th UW Bulletin entry that Tom was awarded the departmental award for highest academic achievement of graduating undergraduate students in the School of Planning. Everyone else found out at the actual Convocation ceremony. To those that know Tom, this distinction comes as no surprise.

Cheers to Tom, wherever his adventures take him. Don't eat all the hippos over there.

Tom in Africa.
Tom's shirt is the same colour as the hoods that we got during convocation.
Co-incidence?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pre-Convocation Get-Together

With the Convocation for the Faculty of Environmental Studies in the morning, it was pretty clear that it would be difficult to really organize a get-together right after the Convocation ceremony. We had talked about having a get-together pre-convocation way back in December, and Craig took the initiative of pulling everything together.

We met up at the Huether, a popular hangout for us in Uptown Waterloo. While we have things like telephone and MSN to help us contact each other, it really doesn't compare to actually meeting up in person. Everyone updated each other on current situations, and for those with business cards, we did the obligatory card exchange. It was also a night where we bought up previous memories, and shared our plans and hopes for the future.

Here are a few pictures.

Natalie, me and Craig

Natalie, me, Dawn, Craig, Joe and Lindsay

Look close!

Of course, with convocation, not everyone could make it for any number of reasons. Ben Petch was one of these people. In his own words, he...

Graduated, got a job and drove to Yellowknife to work for the City.

Since the commute between Waterloo and Yellowknife isn't the exactly the easiest trip to make, Ben decided to grace us with his presense in an alternate manner; hence, the bottle of Baby Duck Sparkling Wine with a modified label.

More about Convocation to come shortly (including pictures).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Thoughts on the Eve of Convocation

It seems like just yesterday that I started my studies at the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo back in September of 2001. Fast-forward to now, and we are on the verge of walking out with our degrees.

To everyone that I started with back in the autumn of 2001 that are in co-op program who are convocating tomorrow, and to those that are in the regular program who convocated at this time last year, to former students turned friends and to everyone else in between, it has been a blast. So many memories that will be the basis of great stories for years to come.

Looking forward to seeing many of you at our get-together tonight, and then at the ceremonies tomorrow. To those that can't make it to convocation tomorrow, we'll miss you.

Special shout out to those that started in September 2001 that are convocating tomorrow: Alvin Chan, Derek Chan, Craig Devitt, Amy Didrikson, Ian Hamilton, Meghan House (yeah, we'll count you in this list), Antonia Krijan, Shannon LeBlond, Helen Leung, Vincent Luk, Hitoshi Murakami, Joe Nethery, Dawn Osterbauer, Greg Oulahen, Ben Petch, Lindsay Reinhardt, Natalie Shirley, Johnathan Tang, Thomas van Geest, Mat Vaughan and Brandon Ward.

Networking issues: Xbox 360 Extender/Vista Beta 2

Here are a couple of known issues and workarounds if you are having network connectivity issues between Microsoft Vista Beta 2 and the Media Center/Xbox360 Extender.

Network Category must be set to Private to Add an Extender

Description: When a network card is added to the PC the Network Category is set to Public by default and the Windows firewall is configured to prevent discover of Upnp Devices on the network. This discovery is required to find the Media Center Extender on the network.

Resolution: Change your network category in network center from "public" to "private". You can do this in the Network Center (This activity will require admin rights):

  1. Go to control panel
  2. Choose "Network and Internet"
  3. Choose "Network Center"
  4. In the network details section, Choose "Switch Category" until the network category says "private network".
  5. Restart task to Add Extender

Xbox 360 is stuck on the contacting screen and the Vista Media Center based PC is connected over wireless.

Description: If the Vista Media Center based PC is connected to the network with a wireless network card, and the network information was not saved for anyone using the computer, then the network could disconnect every time the Media Center Extender connects.

Resolution: To save your wireless network configuration for all users, remove the wireless profile from the Vista Media Center based PC and re-add it as an all user profile setting.

  1. Select the start menu and "Network" on the right side.
  2. In the Network window menu select "Network Center".
  3. On the left pane select "Network List"
  4. Select "Reorder Wireless Networks" from the menu
  5. Highlight the Wireless Network you wish to remove and select Remove from the menu
  6. Re-add profile by select network tray icon and select "connect to..."
  7. Connect to the network and save the profile by checking "Save this Network" and "Make this network available to anyone."

Monday, June 12, 2006

A few more Vista Beta 2/Xbox 360 Extender known issues

For those of you using Microsoft Vista Vista Beta 2 who want to take advantage of Xbox 360 Extender functionality with Vista's Media Center, here are a couple more known issues that you should be aware of:

Zoom non-functional from Xbox 360 Media Center Extender
Description: The zoom options available in the contextual menu when watching TV or video on the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender are non-functional. This feature will be available in a future update.
Closed Captioning not available on Xbox 360 Media Center Extender
Description: Closed Captioning is not available when watching TV on the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender. This feature will be available in a future update.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Xbox 360/Vista Beta 2

For those of you who have tried Microsoft Windows Vista Beta 2 with their Xbox 360's through the Media Center and its Extender functionality, here are two known issues that you may or may not have run into.

The first issue is that you may have noticed that the transitions and animation are not available through the Xbox 360 Extender. This is intended as noted below here.

Transitions and animation not available on the Extender
Description: The smooth transitions and animation available on the Media Center PC are not currently available on the Extender. You will notice the differences between the PC and Extender experience as you navigate through start menus and change from one feature area to another. UI transitions and animations on the Xbox 360 will be enabled in a future update.

As for another known issue, for those of you who have had the "Wrong Region, This disc's region code is incorrect for this console" error, the Xbox 360 Extender bits in Vista Beta 2 are for Region 1 only. Microsoft plans to open up the Extender functionality to other regions later on in the beta.

Hope this clears up two things that have been commonly asked about Microsoft Windows Vista Beta 2, Media Center and the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender functionality that is found in the current release.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Vista Beta 2 Released to Public, Media Center Implications

As many of you already know, the Windows Vista Beta 2 Customer Preview Program is now open to everyone. You can check out the details at the Vista CPP site here or go right to the downloads here.

For those of you who want to try Media Center functionality in Vista, make sure you have a compatible tv tuner. Media Center in general requires that the tv tuner output MPEG2 without any CPU assistance. All in Wonder* cards, and your typical $30 tv tuner card won't do the trick.

*The most recent of AIW cards provide tv tuner support via a software solution, but it pales in comparison to a card that does it all in hardware.

For best results, the following TV Tuner cards are recommended:

  • Cards based on ATI Theater 550 chipset (including the ATI TV Wonder Elite)
  • Adaptec AVC-3610 USB
  • ASUStek Falcon2, Europa, Tiger, Tiger-s
  • Hauppauge PVR-150/500, PVR-USB2
  • Lumanate Angel PCI
  • ADS PTV-380-W
  • Pinnacle 310i

Driver support for the following TV Tuner cards will be available in Vista via Windows Update (with more likely to come in the future):

  • ATI Theater 550, DTV Wonder
  • Adaptec AVC-3610 USB
  • ASUStek Blackbird, Falcon2, Europa, Tiger, Tiger-s, Mercur
  • Hauppauge PVR-150/500, PVR-250/350, PVR-USB2
  • Hauppauge HVR-900, HVR-1100, HVR-1300, Nova-T
  • Lifeview LR1212, LR0214, LR0301, LR0303, LR0304, LR0306, LR3306, LR0307, LR3307, LR0314, LR0315, LR0502, LR1502, LR2502, LR3502
  • Lumanate Maui1, Maui3, Angel PCI
  • ADS PTV-380-W
  • Creatix CTX917
  • Pinnacle 100i, 110i, 300i, 310i
  • Sony ENX-26
  • VBox USB-A 3560

If your tv tuner is not listed here, but is on the Designed for Media Center list, it may still work under Vista if you use the drivers that are currently available.

For those of you with All-in-Wonder cards that currently enjoy CPU assisted MPEG2 decoding, your tv tuners will not work in Vista until ATI releases the encoding support software designed for Vista. Judging by past experience, this likely won't happen until much closer to Vista's Release to Manufacturing date (if it happens at all).

If you have any questions about tv tuner support in Vista, feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to answer back ASAP.

Equally important to the tv experience is Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) support. Areas with EPG support for the Vista beta include the following locales.

  • AT Austria
  • BE Belgium
  • CA Canada
  • CZ Czech Republic
  • DK Denmark
  • FI Finland
  • FR France
  • DE Germany
  • IE Ireland
  • IT Italy
  • JP Japan
  • KR Korea
  • MX Mexico
  • NL Netherlands
  • NO Norway
  • PL Poland
  • PT Portugal
  • RU Russian Federation
  • ES Spain
  • SE Sweden
  • CH Switzerland
  • TR Turkey
  • GB United Kingdom
  • US United States

If your locale is not listed above, then there isn't any EPG support yet. Microsoft is constantly working on increasing the number of locales where EPG data is provided, so you may see it in the near future.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

2006 Toronto Ride for Heart Event Photos

As promised in my previous blog posting, here are some photos from the 2006 Ride for Heart in Toronto. The first four photos are from various media sources, and the rest are from me.

2006 Ride for Heart Start Line

More than 13 000 cyclists and inline skaters participated in the Becel Heart & Stroke Ride For Heart, raising more than two million dollars for the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Toronto on June 4, 2006 (CNW Group/Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario)

Gardiner Expressway East approaching Spadina

Participants begin their ride on the Gardiner Expressway in the 2006 Becel Ride for Heart on Sunday June 4, 2006. (E. Gardiner)

DVP Northbound approaching Bloor Viaduct

Cyclists head north on the Don Valley Parkway under the Bloor Street Viaduct in the 2006 Becel Ride for Heart on Sunday June 4, 2006. (Don Valli)

York Mills Road Keep Right!

Here I am approaching the 50 km turnaround at York Mills Rd. When I was doing the stretch between Don Mills and Eglinton (the hardest stretch of the bike ride in my opinion), I had seriously considered packing it in and just riding home once I reached York Mills Rd. However, once I arrived here, I actually felt like completing the course was possible. Approximate time into the ride - 1h 10m.

DVP Northbound offramp to York Mills

I've seen this view all too many a times, but from the inside of a car (this is about a couple kilometres from where I live). A quick left and it is time to head back to the CNE grounds (25 km away).

DVP Southbound approaching Lawrence

Heading southbound on the DVP approaching Lawrence Avenue East. There are still a lot of people behind me; however, they are almost done the hard half of the ride.

Compass Sign promoting Ride for Heart

Even the overhead electronic signs on the DVP have been altered (by the City's Traffic Management Centre) to encourage the bike riders along.

Speed Check

I reached a top speed of 50.3 km/h. That's still 39.7 km/h slower than the posted speed limit. (Actually, I might have been going faster, as I think my speedometer was incorrectly calibrated)

Water

Water was passed around to the bikers at the rest stations. While water was great, people really should not have discarded the bottles on the road (as mentioned in my previous blog posting).

Toronto Skyline

A unique photo opportunity of the Toronto skyline from the east. The CN Tower, First Canadian Place, Scotia Plaza, Canada Trust Tower, TD Tower, Rogers Centre (nee Skydome) and more can be seen from this unique vantage point.

Finish Line

The finish line! 1 hour and 57 minutes after starting. I think they could have made this finish line a little nicer..

Finish Line

Neil, Crystal and I in the pre-requisite group shot with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's 'Heart' mascot (I don't know... sort of looks like a headless chicken to me).

All in all, it was a great day on many accounts. I am looking forward to doing it again next year if I am in Toronto. My goal would be to complete the 50 km course in 1h 45m (12m faster than this year).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Toronto International Airport Wi-Fi Update

Just noticed that the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) announced that Lester B Pearson International Airport in Toronto now has Wi-Fi service in Terminal 1.

They also announced that Wi-Fi negotiations for Terminal 3 was recently completed and that they look forward to announcing the introduction of this service in the near future.

Now, what they don't tell you in the press release is that the Wi-Fi service is not free. I called them yesterday and was told that service would cost either:

  • $9.95 for a 24 hour day pass; or,
  • $6.95 for 15 minutes, and 25¢ for each additional minute.

It is disappointing that this service will not be free. Robert Scoble blogged free Wi-Fi being rare in airports, and he reports that Rex Hammock has started a list of US airports that offer free Wi-Fi service. Anyone know of a list for non-US airports?

Now, for those that dislike paying for stuff that ought to be free, here is a tip for those who want free Wi-Fi access in airports where there is an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge. If you find this lounge, you can get free Wi-Fi access via the wireless spillover that invariably occurs. Currently, the list of cities that I know with these Maple Leaf lounges include Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saint John's and Los Angeles, with more to come.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Vista Media Center - Guide Favorites

Matt Goyer posted a blog entry describing the new Favorites filtering option for the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) in Vista's Media Center. Basically, Media Center will monitor the channels that you most often watch (roughly 7 channels) and display these seven channels in the filtered output.

This is a new filtering option, joining the previous filter options of 'On Now', 'Sports', 'Kids', 'Movies', 'News' and 'Specials' found in Media Center 2005. Unfortunately, there isn't a way to specify your own 'Favorite' channels, as the thinking behind this is that the most commonly viewed channels will match your 'Favorite' channels.

How do you filter by Favorites

  • Enter the guide (press the Guide button or Control-G on the keyboard);
  • Enter the context menu on it by pressing More Info on the remote, or CTRL-D on the keyboard, or right clicking with your mouse;
  • Select ‘Filter Guide’ on the context menu you’ll see some more options (Alternatively, skip these first three steps by pressing 'Guide' twice on your remote, or Control-G twice on your keyboard); and,
  • Select ‘Favorites’ will narrow the guide down to your favorite channels.

What are some of the downsides toward Media Center choosing the favorites automatically for you? Two things that immediately came to mind for me are:

  • Your channel choices are now public to others with access to your computer (maybe you don't want someone else to know that you watch a certain channel); and,
  • Your most commonly watched channels may not be your favorite channels.

What do you think of this new feature?

Configuring network shares as watched folders for Media Center recorded TV content

For many people, there is a common desire to store Recorded TV content on a network drive. It's a great idea in theory, as any non-copy protected recorded tv show can be shared between multiple computers capable of playing back the dvr-ms file format that Media Center records in. In practice, it is not that simple.

Getting the Recorded TV shows to show up in Media Center under the Recorded TV section of My TV takes a little more work, due to share permissions. Basically, ehSched and ehRecvr, the two services that Media Center relies on, run under a different context than the user that you are logged in as... it uses the 'Local System' account in all released versions of Media Center. As a result, simply sticking the UNC path to the share location isn't enough. Why? By default, you set share permissions up for the user, but that doesn't help the 'Local System' account (so Media Center would not read the files and add it to your list).

In a recent blog posting, Aaron Stebner, a Program Manager on the Windows Media Center team at Microsoft refers to a list of instructions posted on thegreenbutton.com, a popular Media Center enthusiast site, that instructs a user as to how to properly set up the user permissions so that the Local System account can access your share with the Recorded TV.

Aaron also adds an interesting tidbit for users of Media Center in Vista.

The Windows Media Center services that manage recorded TV (ehSched and ehRecvr) run in the Network Service context in Windows Vista, whereas they ran in the Local System context in Windows XP Media Center Edition. Therefore, you will need to add Network Service permissions in addition to the permissions listed in the forum post to get things to work correctly within Windows Media Center.

Do make note of the caveats that Aaron lists in the blog entry... especially the points about supportability and security.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ride for Heart Post Mortem

The 2006 Ride for Heart has come and gone. More than 13,000 cyclists and skaters took over the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway for the Becel Ride For Heart for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. This popular annual event raises funds and awareness for heart disease and stroke – still the number one killers of Canadians.

I went downtown to the starting location on the west side of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds with my friend Neil and his girlfriend Crystal. It had been raining all of Saturday, so thankfully, the bad weather went away at night. Conditions were perfect for the ride. In fact, even before the start, I wish I didn't bring my jacket, as it was already quite warm. At about 8:50, we started the actual ride. The course itself was no surprise; it started at the Dunn Street on-ramp to the Gardiner, went east to the DVP, then north on the DVP to York Mills, and then back to the start. You can see a pdf file of the route here. I was able to achieve my goal of finishing the 50 kilometer course in under two hours (finished it in 1 hour 57 minutes). The first half of the course took me about 1 hour and 12 minutes, and coming back, took roughly 45 minutes including a few photo breaks. I intend to post some pictures in the next couple of days (both my pictures, and some that were taken by the media).

Some people definitely took this opportunity to take pictures of the Toronto skyline. Short of renting a helicopter, or knowing someone in one of the lakefront condos, these kind of photo opportunities don't occur everyday. It is too bad that all I had was a crappy Canon A80. My brother is coming back from Hong Kong tomorrow with a Canon SD700, which would have been a much better camera for picture taking (I guess his Canon 1D would have even been better, albeit a much more weighty solution).

Assuming I'm in Toronto next year, I'll definitely look forward to doing it again and hope that I can get a few more of my friends to take part. That said, I would do a few things differently next year. Among those include:

  • Getting more than 20 minutes of sleep the night prior to the event;
  • Registering/arriving earlier, perhaps even choosing the 7:15 start time, so that stragglers can be avoided (more on that later), and also have better sightline for pictures; and,
  • Eating a little bit more before the ride.

I was a bit disappointed at some of the riding etiquette that was shown by some of the riders on the course. Granted, I can understand that for many, it is their first time doing this type of a ride, but some things really should be common sense. This includes:

  • The left lane should be be left clear for those that are passing/faster cyclists. On more than a few occasions, slow riders poking along at about 10 km/h drifted over into the left lane. That's simply a recipe for disaster, especially when there are people storming the course at 30-50 km/h. Stay to the right unless you are passing, simple as that;
  • When you are done with the free water that the organizers gave out at the rest stations, don't toss the bottle out on the middle of the road. The people ahead of you had enough respect not to do toss their bottle onto your path, so you should respect those behind you in the same manner;
  • The same goes for any food you might bring. I shock my head when I saw banana peels discarded on the Don Valley, right at the part where most people would be approaching top speeds;
  • Hold your line. Even if you are going slow, don't weave. Passing cyclists expect you to hold your line, any unexpected movement could lead to serious accidents.

Lastly, people really should check the condition of their bikes before heading out on a ride like this. Sure, tire punctures may occur and seat adjustments may be necessary, but when you can't shift gears, you can't brake, or you have a squeeky drive train, the time to look after those issues is before the ride, not during or after the ride.

As with real life, a lot of things are simply common sense. Sometimes, a little more of that would make things much easier for a lot of people.

Despite all this, it was still an amazing event. I really hope that the Heart and Stroke Foundation reaches its fundraising goal of $2.15 million, and that public awareness for this cause that affects so many people has been increased. While the event may be over, I hope people continue to donate to the Heart and Stroke Foundation so that it can continue its research and education programs, and I hope both the participates of this event and the general public continue to pursue activities that contribute to healthy living.

Becel Heart Shaped Stress Toy

Too much stress can actually harm your health and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you are stressed out, use this heart shaped stress toy from Becel to relieve your stress!

Update June 07, 2006 - Pictures are now available here.

Confidence Inspiring Typos (Media Center in Vista Beta 2)

Ed Bott noticed something interesting in the version of Media Center that is in Vista Beta 2.

Let's see if you can see it...

Vista Media Center About screen

Hint: It's a word that starts with a 'T'. See it? ooooo

For what it is worth, Matt Goyer reports that this typo has been fixed in a recent blog entry.

On that note, shouldn't the copyright year be bumped up? (I guess I know the answer to this one... they'll do it closer to RTM, whenever that is <ducks>)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Microsoft MVP Search

Need to find an Microsoft MVP? Not sure where to start? A recent addition to the Microsoft MVP site is the MVP Search. You can search for MVPs by their name or via the Advanced version of the page, their Competency, Country, or even by State/Province or City. This search applet searches through the Microsoft MVP Awardee directory, which contains a listing of all the MVPs that want to share their information publicly.

For example, if you search for MVP's with the last name 'Tsang', you'll find both me (Jason Tsang) and my brother (Gary Tsang).

If you ever need to find a Microsoft MVP, your search should be a lot easier now.

Final Countdown for the Ride for Heart

As previously mentioned in a couple of blog postings (here and here), tomorrow is the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Ride for Heart. This event is Canada's largest one-day charity cycling/rollerblading event. Toronto's famous Gardiner & DVP expressways, Calgary's Memorial Drive and Edmonton's River Valley Trail have all been reserved exclusively for this event.

This event is a fundraising event for heart and stroke research. Since heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death for Canadian men and women, this cause likely affects you or someone you know. The Heart and Stroke Foundation, the largest non-commissioned source of funds for heart and stroke research in Canada, hopes to raise $2.15 million for this cause.

Where does this money go?

  • Research funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation has helped reduce the number of deaths caused by heart disease and stroke by more than 50% since 1980.
  • Scientific advances because of research funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation means earlier diagnoses, better treatments and new insights into the prevention of heart disease and stroke for the people in your community, your province, your country – and around the world.
  • The Foundation currently funds over 250 hospital- and university-based investigative teams across the province. Because of this research we are seeing advances not even dreamed of 50 years ago.

If you want more information about donating to this great cuase, please visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation's donation page here.

Microsoft (Office 2007, Save to PDF) vs Adobe

So by now, most people know about the dispute between Adobe and Microsoft in regards to the Save to PDF feature that Microsoft wanted to add into its Office 2007 lineup (see here for the initial announcements that were made during the 2005 Global MVP Summit). Unfortunately, Adobe seems to have put the brakes onto this idea. Microsoft will still make Save to PDF available to its customers; however, it will come in the form of a free download.

I don't understand Adobe's stance on this matter. Why can other companies add this functionality to their programs (Corel products such as Wordperfect, CorelDraw etc). Even other Microsoft products have some form of Save to PDF available (Office for Macs).

Here are a couple of links to other sites (that take opposing viewpoints) that talk about this...

Brian Jones - Microsoft Office PM
Joe Wilcox - JupiterResearch Senior Analyst

Unfortunately, the customer loses no matter which side is 'correct'.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Want to test Media Center Extenders?

If you are interested in testing some of the eHome team's latest and greatest software, Matt Goyer just posted an interesting item on his blog (found here).

Want to beta test our latest and greatest stuff? If you’re into MCX you can sign up to be a XBox Media Center Extender tester. Or if you’re in the Seattle area we’re having a Windows Vista install fair June 10th at the Redmond campus. Bring your PC and we’ll install Vista on it. If you’re interested email me and I’ll forward you an email with more details.

Above is two ways you can get involved if you are interested. I can tell you from past experience that while there are never any guarantees, if they are happy with your feedback, your chances of continuing to test various items improves a lot.

You can e-mail Matt at the following e-mail address... Matt.Goyer *at* microsoft *dot* com

Update: June 2, 2006 - For the Xbox Media Center Extender test: "We had an overwhelming amount of volunteers for this beta test. The testing pool is now full. We thank you for your interest."

Upcoming Portable Media Center Devices

Here is a sneak peak into the latest Portable Media Center devices that should be coming out soon. What are Portable Media Centers? From Microsoft's website...

Portable Media Centers put all of your favorite video, music, and pictures at your fingertips wherever you are. Take digital entertainment from your computer with you on the go, including recorded TV shows, downloaded videos, home movies, music, and photos.

Two models have been previewed on Microsoft's "Coming Soon" section of the Portable Media Center site. These two models are the Toshiba Gigabeat S Series and the Tatung V620.

Toshiba Gigabeat S Series Portable Media Center

Toshiba Gigabeat S Series Portable Media Center

The Toshiba Gigabeat S Series Portable Media Center offers a vivid 2.4" color display and an extended storage capacity, so you can take your favorite digital media with you. Download recorded TV shows from TiVo Series2 or feature-length movies from movie studio Web sites, and then watch them on your Portable Media Center or a TV. Listen to music and download album art from online music providers. Tune into your favorite FM radio station with the unique FM tuner feature. Create impressive photo shows set to music, or enjoy interactive gaming with integrated audio for Microsoft Xbox 360.

Listed Features include:

  • Compact dimensions with up to 60 gigabytes (GB) of storage space
  • FM radio tuner
  • Extended battery life (12 hours of audio and up to 2.5 hours of video)
  • Familiar Windows Mobile software navigation
  • Compatible with popular media file formats, including .wma, .wmv, .wav, JPEG, and MP3
  • Media download from Media Center PCs
  • Recorded TV download from TiVo Series2
    Audio integration with Xbox 360
  • Available in Piano Black and Piano White

Specs

  • Display: 2.4" QVGA (320 x 240) LCD screen
  • Storage: 30 GB or 60 GB hard drive
  • Battery hours: 12 of audio/2.5 of video
  • MPU: Freescale i.MX
  • System requirements: Microsoft Windows Media Player 10

Tatung V620 Portable Media Center

Tatung V620 Portable Media Center

The Tatung V620 Portable Media Center offers a sizable 3.5” color display and a large storage capacity, so you can take your favorite digital media with you. Download recorded TV shows from TiVo Series2 or feature-length movies from movie studio Web sites, and then watch them on your Portable Media Center or a TV. Or use the video record feature to make your own movies. Listen to your favorite music and download album art from online music providers. Create impressive photo shows set to music, or enjoy interactive gaming with integrated audio for Microsoft Xbox 360.

Features

  • 3.5” wide screen, ideal for easier viewing
  • 20 gigabytes (GB) of storage space
  • Compatible with popular media file formats, including .wma, .wmv, .wav, JPEG, and MP3
  • Familiar Windows Mobile software navigation
  • Media download from Media Center PCs
  • Recorded TV download from TiVo Series2
  • Audio integration with Xbox 360
  • Video recording

Specifications

  • Display: 3.5” QVGA (320 x 240) LCD screen
  • Storage: 20 GB hard drive
  • Battery hours: 20 of audio/5 of video
  • MPU: Texas Instruments DM320
  • System requirements: Microsoft Windows Media Player 10

It looks like these new Portable Media Centers have address some of the shortcomings of the previous generations of Portable Media Centers. With better quality screens, longer battery life, faster MPUs and improved integration to Media Center, Tivo, 3rd party music and movie providers and Xbox 360, hopefully these devices prove to be more popular than their predecessor.

Both of these devices are set to be available for "Spring 2006" (North American or Asustralian ?)

Improved UI aspects in Vista Media Center

For as long as I've been using Media Center (since the first betas in early spring of 2002), I've always been annoyed at the transport control toolbar, and the actions that prompt it to appear.

In Media Center revisions prior to Vista, the transport control toolbar looked like the highlighted area in the picture below.

MCE2005 Transport Bar Example

As you can see, the old transport control bar would block out tickers completely, and other on-screen elements of the tv shows that you are watching.

For Vista, they have made some changes to improve this. Here is a screenshot of what the transport control bar looks like in Beta 2 of Vista.

Vista MCE Transport Bar Example

As you can see, the transport control bar is much less obtrusive, and is actually slightly transparent, so you can see content underneath it.

Now that they have improved this aspect of the transport control toolbar, I would like to focus on the second annoying behaviour that I've encountered. Right now, when there is ANY mouse action over the Media Center application (whether Media Center is in full screen or windowed mode), the transport control toolbar will show up. I've made a suggestion that the transport control toolbar appear only if I actually click on the mouse while it is over the Media Center application. Why? I'm someone who typically runs Media Center in windowed mode on my desktop while I do other things in the background (such as writing blog entries, replying to e-mails and newsgroup posts etc). As it stands now, if I move my mouse over the Media Center window, my content that I'm viewing gets blocked. Unfortunately, my idea seems to have been passed over. What suggestions do you have to make this a better user experience for people? I'd definitely be open to suggestions to bring forward to the product team.