Wander over to Chris Anderson's First Take: XBox 360 Media Center Extender and read through the comments -- Chris gives us some great feedback to ponder regarding Media Center in Windows Vista.

One thing I want to highlight here from those comments is our Jump In List feature, which I'm not sure many people know is available to them.

Jump In List is a feature whereby you can navigate galleries or lists alphabetically by pressing number keys on the Media Center remote control (aka 'triple tap'). Press the 2 button on the remote once for A, twice for B, three times for C and a fourth time for the numeral 4. (The 3 button is used for D,E F and 3, the 4 button is used for G,H,I and 4, etc.) It makes navigating large libraries much simpler than constant up / down or page up/down button presses. I will admit triple tap does carry a bit of a learning curve, but once users learn, it's super efficient. It's also one of the standard interaction models for most all of the current crop of cell phones so folks who use one of those will feel right at home. Jump In List works in Media Center just about anywhere there is a gallery (visual representation of items) or textual list of items including videos, pictures, music and TV features.



Categories: Media Center | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 8:14:49 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

[Note: I've moved this FAQ to XBox 360, Media Center Extender and Media Center PC FAQ. Any updates will now occur in that post.]

I've just arrived back from a partner roadshow late this past Saturday (we presented in Redmond, Los Angeles and New York). I really enjoyed some quotes today which were echoes of what we presented to partners last week.

Chris Anderson in First Take: XBox 360 Media Center Extender

"What's important about the Media Center is that it takes the DVR concept and extends it to all forms of content, whether broadcast or downloaded from the Web. By having a broadband-connected PC at its core, it's by nature a full-featured connected device that can keep up with the pace of innovation in digital media online. If the Xbox 360 and the new content marketplaces of its associated Xbox Live service continue to take off, we really could have the beginnings of a Long Tail platform that could challenge broadcast TV."

Russell Beattie in XBox 360 As A Windows Media Center Extension: Context is King

"The most amazing thing about this is how it controls context. Your PC remains a PC, your Video Game Console remains just that, but when they’re put together, a third functionality emerges to help manage all your media. Maybe that can be seen as complexity (one box with a simplified interface might be better), but to me it seems like a pretty neat Trojan Horse for Microsoft’s vision of the digital home."

A couple of FAQ from the partner roadshow which are appropriate to air broadly here...

Q: Does every XBox 360 come with the Media Center Extender software built in?

A: Yes.

Q: How does that work with the XBox 360 Core System which doesn't have a hard drive?

A: The Media Center Extender software for XBox 360 is sent over the wire each time you launch Media Center on the XBox 360.

Q: If you are sending the bits over the wire each time, doesn't the MCX boot time really suffer?

A: Not enough for most folks to notice. We have spent a lot of time optimizing the code sent over the wire to make sure it's fast.

Q: Is the Media Center Extender software cached on the XBox 360 hard drive, if present?

A: Yes.

Q: Is the Media Center user interface on XBox 360 the same GDI version (sans animations) as the version 1 Media Center Extenders?

No. We ported the Media Center renderer over to the XBox 360 so the Media Center user interface renders in full fidelity on the XBox 360 just as it does on the Media Center PC itself. For the most part, consumers won't be able to tell a difference between the two.

Q: Will high definition content play on the XBox 360, and if so, what formats?

A: Yes, high definition content will play on the XBox 360 via the Media Center user interface using the DVR-MS (Recorded TV) and WMV format (up to 1080p). This includes high definition digital cable content using the recently announced CableCard module.

Q: Will Online Spotlight experiences (and those available via Marketplace or other third parties) work on the XBox 360 Media Center Extender?

A: Yes.

Q: Is the XBox 360 as loud as my old XBox?

A: No. In fact, when running the Media Center Extender software, it's virtually silent with the fans at their lowest setting. From my experience, it's quieter than the VCR in my kids playroom when running MCX.

Q: Will the XBox360 will have other codecs available for it (e.g. Xvid, Divx).

A: Yes and no. The Media Center Extender for XBox 360 can support PCM audio when a custom DirectShow filter is installed and registered, meaning you can use [insert audio codec name here] as long as it uses this approach. See Registering a Custom File Type for more information. Video codecs natively on the XBox 360 are currently limited to MPEG1, MPEG2, DVR-MS and WMV.

Q: If the Media Center Extender software is sent to the XBox 360 each time you launch the Media Center, does that mean that the XBox 360 will automagically inherit the new Vista MCE interface when used with a Vista MCE?

A: The plans for Media Center Extender for XBox 360 in the Windows Vista timeframe haven't yet been announced. [Sort of a lame answer, I know -- sorry -- there are some things they won't let me talk about yet.]

Q: Will my first generation Media Center Extender (hardware or XBox MCX) continue to work when I use the new Media Center Extender for XBox 360?

A: Yes

Q: Can you fast-forward and rewind music stored on the host MCE computer using the Xbox 360 Extender.

A: No

Q: Can you play back AVI files?

No

If you have any other questions, leave 'em here and I will track down the answer and update this post.



Categories: Media Center | XBox 360 | Comments [10] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 5:51:19 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

We will continue to support the Hosted HTML development model even though new things are coming down the pipe for Media Center in Windows Vista. We posted a couple of resources for those who will continue to push the envelope for HTML applications in Media Center.

Developing Services and Applications for Microsoft Windows® XP Media Center Edition 2005 is designed to provide an in depth, yet high level overview of developing an experience for Media Center in Hosted HTML.

The Powerpoint Presentation Overview of the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SDK is a companion piece with a bunch more visuals. It also delves briefly into Media Center Add Ins as well as the Click To Record features. It's perfect to give your design and development groups an introduction to creating experiences for Media Center.



Categories: Media Center Application Design | Media Center SDK Code Sample | Comments [8] | # | Posted on Friday, November 11, 2005 4:02:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I finished listening to Ian Dixon's The Windows Media Center Show #32 - DRM yesterday. Bob Weber of Strategy Kinetics, LLC and Marcus Matthias of Microsoft do an excellent job of laying out the basics of DRM, the problems, opportunities and future trends. This is a 'must listen' for anyone with a vested interest in the issues surrounding DRM.



Categories: DRM | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Friday, November 11, 2005 2:15:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I've had a 256 MB Creative Muvo TX FM for a while now, and really love the tiny size and features of the device. As my first portable music device since a Sony Discman, it rocked -- but it was time to graduate to something with a bit more storage space, especially given the six cross country flights I'm taking between now and the new year.

So, I went down to my local Best Buy to check out some portable devices with more storage space. After looking at all of the choices, I narrowed it down to the Creative Zen Micro and Apple iPod Nano. Seriously, I had been leaning towards an iPod after talking with Michael and Matt, two Microsoft Media Center employees who own iPods.

The Apple iPod Nano had a color screen and came in 2GB ($199) and 4GB ($249) versions based on flash memory technology. The Nano is super thin and light -- 1.5 ounces at 1.6 x 3.5 x 0.27 inches. I'm used to replacing the AAA batteries in the Muvo, so this feature is actually something to which I've grown accustomed. Based on everything I've read, the battery issues with iPods are a thing of the past, so I'm not concerned there. Anyway, the battery doesn't appear to be end user replaceable in the iPod Nano. The Apple website has gobs of information on how to care for and extend battery life, but apparently if you need to replace the battery you must send it in to be serviced. You can see album art with the Nano, but according to a conversation with my friend Michael I'll need third party tools to take my medium sized collection of already ripped WMA files and convert them to MP3, then get the album art. He tells me iTunes won't fetch album art for any music already in my collection, but does for tracks purchased through the iTunes Music Service. The Nano has lot's of wow factor, and would be an obvious draw for many people.

The Creative Zen Micro has a black and white screen and came in a 6GB ($199) version based on microdrive technology. It's quite small at 3.8 ounces and 2 x 3.3 x 0.7 inches. While that measures at over 3 times the size (by volume) of the iPod Nano, it's very close to the same ballpark (within 10%) when compared to the iPod itself, which is also based on microdrive technology. The battery is user replaceable, and you can purchase additional batteries for around $40. I occasionally fly to Asia from Seattle, so having multiple batteries for the >12 hour flight is a plus. No album art with the Zen, but all other metadata is roughly equivalent to the Nano. I can also transfer my existing WMA files as is with no conversion necessary. The Zen micro is nice looking, but doesn't have quite the 'ooooo ahhhhhh' factor of the Nano.

The user interfaces, nuances notwithstanding, seemed largely interchangeable between the two devices.  I'll give the Nano the edge here -- it's somewhat more usable when you first pick up the devices. The difference became negligible after using each for about 10 minutes each -- I could accomplish the same task on each device in about the same amount of time.

There are two features present on the Zen Micro which are important to me, but probably less so to others.  Like the Muvo, it can double as a removable storage device for data files. I've found this feature very convenient in the past on trade show floors or roadshows setting up demo machines. It also has the ability to tune FM radio stations which comes in handy if I want to watch TV at the Pro Club while exercising instead of listening to music.

I basically came to the conclusion I would be equally happy with either device.

I ran the numbers on storage - the Zen Micro came out clearly on top...

  • 2GB iPod Nano = $99.50 per GB
  • 4GB iPod Nano = $62.25 per GB
  • 6GB Creative Zen Micro = $33.17 per GB

Best Buy was also running a special where you got a $50 Best Buy gift card for free if you bought the Creative Zen Micro, dropping the price per GB to around $25 for that device. This coupled with the added features (removable disk feature and FM tuning) finally tipped the scales in favor of the Creative Zen Micro. It seemed to have the biggest bang for my buck.



Categories: iPod | WMA | Comments [8] | # | Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2005 7:56:46 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I'm in New York next Wednesday (11/16) late afternoon through midday Saturday (11/19).

Anyone want to get together one of those two days to chat...?

Looking for a great tour guide for Saturday morning. :-)



Categories: Geek Dinner | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Wednesday, November 9, 2005 3:29:05 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Dear Lord, give me back the Muppets + Star Wars -- good, old fashioned parody.

Star Wars fans are either gonna love this or hate it -- you can't ride the fence this time. From the Shameless Marketing Let's Plug Our DVD On Sale This Month Department: http://www.nbc.com/The_Apprentice_4/starwars/ or http://www.starwars.com/episode-iii/release/video/apprentice_st.html.

Update: Found more work from the aforementioned department: The Star Wars Holiday Special



Categories: Star Wars | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 8, 2005 7:06:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I don't think Rob Pegoraro can make up his mind about whether he likes some of the Media Center features.

In Microsoft's Improved Media Center Still Falls Short (December 2004) he writes...

'The biggest change in this 2005 release is an expanded set of photo-editing tools, designed for use from across the room with the remote control. You can now fix red-eye effects, adjust a picture's contrast and even crop it, then burn a photo album to CDs or DVDs (although the disc-burning screen invites confusion by presenting "audio CD" as the default choice). These automated, one-button shortcuts worked surprisingly well. But how often will you want to edit a picture from that far away?'

This past Sunday in Apple's Front Row Comes Closer to Couch-Driven Computing he writes...

'Where Media Center comes with a long list of features and options, Front Row does only four things: You can play music, you can look at your photos, cue up a DVD or watch video files stored on your hard drive or online. It doesn't lump in irrelevant commands (for example, Media Center's bizarre inclusion of photo-editing tools), it has no preferences screen for you to mull over, and its remote control consists of just six buttons.'

How can you go from 'These automated, one-button shortcuts worked surprisingly well' to 'bizarre inclusion of photo-editing tools'...?



Categories: Front Row | Media Center | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 8, 2005 6:45:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I've been using this puppy for the last few months to create Media Center Add In applications. It's great!

http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/express/visualcsharp/

You can also get all of the Express Editions (Web Developer, Basic, C#, C++ and J#) as handy-dandy CD IMG files at http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/express/support/install/.

Enjoy!



Categories: Media Center Application Design | Media Center SDK Code Sample | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Monday, November 7, 2005 8:31:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Courtesy of Jake Ludington...

How to automatically convert DVR-MS files for PSP Playback

Thanks, Jake -- the PSP continues to look more attractive to me.



Categories: Media Center | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Sunday, November 6, 2005 11:03:35 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Every year I struggle with what to get my brother for his birthday. No matter what I do, he manages to one-up my gift. For example, this year he sent me 78 episodes of the original Star Trek series on VHS tape. I mean, seriously, how can I even begin to top that...??!?!!

I would just send him cash, but my wife says that would be too impersonal and doesn't indicate I put any thought into the gift. Hmmm, OK. Tomorrow, I'm gonna go down to the Home Depot and get him a gift card. There, I thought about it, personally drove someplace and am NOT sending him cash. Sibling social faux pas averted.

Well, almost. Tomorrow is actually his birthday, and he lives on the east coast, and it's too late to Fedex anything now, and my wife has been telling me everyday this week to get him something, and I've said 'got it covered' everyday this week.

Anyway...

My brother got married this past June. His bride Christy is a wonderful young lady I might add. He definitely married up...but I digress.

At the rehearsal dinner, he got all emotional / girlie on me, blubbering slightly, and saying nice things about me in front of the entire wedding party. 'Yadda yadda yadda I look up to you yadda yadda yadda you're my hero yadda yadda yadda you're my idol yadda yadda yadda Clay Aiken is cute but he ain't got nothin' on you brother yadda yadda yadda' and so on.

[That quote is a paraphrase since I don't remember *exactly* what he said. It was something close to that, as I recall.]

The thing is, I don't deserve any sort of accolades. Well...maybe the one about Clay Aiken...but I digress (again).

I'm just a brother -- one who has great respect for his younger brother.  Here is just a sampling of what I have learned from Evan over the years...

1) Younger brothers get the girl. While I was Mr. Geek all during elementary, junior and senior high school, he was Mr. Casanova. That cat always had the prettiest girl. I was jealous, but couldn't admit it. I was the older brother and it would be way uncool to be jealous of my younger brother. It's the law of the jungle.

2) Younger brothers get the jock genes. I was Dennis Rodman playing basketball -- I could do a pretty good job of keeping you from scoring, but couldn't dribble or shoot worth a darn. I actually scored points for the other team once. Talk about embarrassing. Evan was Michael Jordan -- graceful, quick, sly smile on his face when he faked you out and left you to pull up your drawers from around your ankles. He looked good in the uniform, too -- Bruce Lee-ish.

3) Younger brothers refuse to accept they will NEVER win a wrestling match with their older brother. Inevitably, whenever we are together for the holidays, Evan comes up behind me and starts something he can't finish. It's sad, really. It's like Barney Fife (him) vs. Andre the Giant (me). He may be 'wiry' but I outweigh him by, like, 875 pounds or something. Seriously, next time, bring a 2x4 and a couple of your buddies -- anything less is simply an insult.

4) Younger brothers succeed in the face of adversity. Evan is the son of divorced parents (like his older brother and younger sister) and has followed in their footsteps in that regard. He has lived on the corner of Dysfunction Junction for most of his childhood and some of his early adulthood. Even so, he is one of the most positive people I know on the face of the planet. Quick to laugh. Always a smile. Full of the infectious joy of life.

5) Younger brothers won't stop loving you. Many years ago, Evan came over to the house to discuss a matter of great importance. I disagreed very strongly with his proposed course of action. I was verbally brutal, unrelenting. My words may have been filled with truth, but they sure weren't given in love. Looking back on that exchange, I believe he had every right to write me off as both his brother and his friend. Luckily for me he didn't. By his grace and unspoken forgiveness I continue to have the pleasure of sharing his life (although it's not nearly often enough due to the distance between the states of Washington and Virginia).

So...Happy Birthday, Evan...and may that day be filled with family and friends who love you very much.

Your Brother,

Andre the Giant



Categories: Happy Birthday | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Saturday, November 5, 2005 7:30:30 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I don't add folks to my blogroll very often, and the traffic my links might provide wouldn't really add up to a hill of beans for anyone who is represented. Even so, I believe the people I keep here on a permanent basis should be those who are reputable sources of information you can trust.

Therefore, I'm happy to welcome the following folks to my blogroll...

Aaron Stebner -- Aaron is doing a wonderful job helping the community with Emerald install and media playback issues. His mastery of all things setup is fantastic and he has personally helped me on more than one occasion with Visual Studio and partner machine setups. The great thing about Aaron: He is 10 times more helpful in person than he is on his blog, and is one of the most positive people I have ever met. Aaron and I are going to have the pleasure of working closer together over the coming year as we march closer to the launch of Media Center for Windows Vista. Stay tuned. :-)

David Fleischman -- David is one of those great guys who helps us get software actually out the door and into your hands. Software impacting millions of customers doesn't happen overnight, and his latest post Adding a Feature to Media Center gives you some great insight into that process.  The comments in that post are worth their weight in gold if you play a part in shipping great software.

Ed Bott -- I've had the pleasure of having lunch with Ed once, and it was refreshing -- for someone so smart, he's about as humble and unassuming as they come. His blog is one of the most informative and authoritative ones out there -- you come away satisfied with almost every post he makes. I consider his taking the time to create a Media Center specific feed quite a compliment to our product. I aspire to have my own writing be as concise and clear as his -- I've got a long way to go. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to add him to my list -- he should have been there on day one.

Peter Rosser -- I'll confess I don't know Peter well at all, which kind of means I'm breaking the rule I outline in my opening paragraph. His office is between mine and the front door / cafeteria / rest rooms, so I pass by it a good bit. His monitor is always filled with code, and he is almost always sitting there intently focused on same. He is a Software Design Engineer on our Media Center TV team -- that means he is wicked smart (all of them are - you have to be if you are going to get TV working in Windows). Seriously, anyone who writes code like this has to be a wiz. I only hope the code I write is 1/100th as sharp. As it is, I'm still trying to figure out what his blog title means -- I think it has something to do with the Da Vinci Code.



Categories: Media Center | Blog | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Saturday, November 5, 2005 5:55:08 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Ed responded kindly to my Lot's of People Seem Up In Arms About Sony Copy Protection post with It’s not about copy protection.

He's totally right -- it's not about copy protection.

It's about theft.

Ed is an author by trade. He makes a living selling words printed on a page. If he can't earn money writing great books because people steal them he will find another way to make a living. I'm pretty sure he is married. His wife will not allow him to not make a living. :-)

So, in response to his wife's need for him to make a living...

  • His most recent book is only available for the general public via purchase at a store (virtual like Amazon or brick and mortar like Borders). The store has a lock on the front door. Even though I personally wouldn't dream of stealing Ed's book the store still has a lock on the front door. Even though I'm not a criminal, the store is treating me like one.
  • When I purchase Ed's book I agree to at least two 'End User License Agreements'. The first is the store policy governing any purchase I make. The second is the terms and conditions of the legal tender I use to pay for the book (cash, credit card, debit card, bartered chickens). If I don't agree, I can't walk out of the store with Ed's book. Did I read all of the fine print in those EULAs?
  • When I open up Ed's book I find something like the following in the very early pages: 'Copyright © 2005 by Someone. All rights reserved. No part of the contents of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.' Even after purchasing this book, I don't appear to have any rights except to read it silently in its original form unless I want to take extra steps to get permission. I wasn't explicitly made aware of that by the store or any store employee prior to purchase.
  • 'The printed book is difficult and expensive to copy, and it’s nearly impossible to make a copy that looks and works like the original.' He has made it extremely difficult (but not impossible) for me to make a backup copy of the book.
  • Ed's book installs knowledge into my head without 'providing an easy and straightforward way for me to completely undo the changes if I so choose.'

Yep, Ed Bott has Analog Rights Management (ARM™) protecting his copyrighted material.

How nefarious!

I'm still gonna buy his books, though. That is my choice.

Ed has chosen to include a PDF version of the book on the CD included with your purchase. It doesn't have any form of DRM. That was his choice.



Categories: DRM | Comments [10] | # | Posted on Thursday, November 3, 2005 8:33:30 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

People are all abuzz about Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far by Mark Russinovich. Ed Bott has posted no less than 4 entries on the subject alone in about 8 hours, the latest being Is Sony Violating The Law?

A couple of thoughts...

1) Why aren't people attacking folks who steal digital content (music, TV shows, movies, etc.) with the same zeal and passion.

2) Why has Ed picked a delivery system for his latest professional writing with such unfriendly DRM and obvious disrespect for my fair use rights?



Categories: DRM | Comments [11] | # | Posted on Thursday, November 3, 2005 5:11:47 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   
Categories: Media Center | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 1, 2005 9:54:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   
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