I thought this video from on10.net was pretty cool -- check it out: http://on10.net/Blogs/TheShow/6849/

I wonder if you could expand this out to a Windows Media Center client for participation -- I bet execs would absolutely love that type of feature.

Categories: Miscellaneous | Windows Vista | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Thursday, September 21, 2006 4:49:39 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

In an email conversation with Seth Jayson (see this post) he mentioned one of the 'flies in the ointment' of the XBox 360 media capabilities (including Media Center Extender) compared to the announced Apple iTV was the 'sometimes loud fan in the XBox'.

I've been using the XBox 360 Media Center Extender for a couple of months now and the fan noise has never seemed overbearing to me or my family. I can see where an audiophile who wants absolute silence would not be overjoyed by the fan noise, but then again those folks will spend a lot more than $299 to fuel their quest for sonic perfection.

Curious, I borrowed a decibel meter this evening to see how loud the XBox 360 fans would become during normal use of the XBox 360 as a Media Center Extender. Unfortunately, the lowest measurement of the unit was 50db, making it less than ideal to measure the sound generated at a reasonable, normal distance from the unit (like 10'). According to this Wikipedia entry 50db is the equivalent of a 'quiet restaurant inside'.

Still, I thought the test would be interesting -- so I launched the Media Center Extender on the XBox 360 and kicked off a high definition recorded TV show (Law & Order, a favorite) and let it play for 30 minutes before taking measurements.

Anyone care to guess how close to the XBox 360 and where I had to put the meter to get it to register a continuous 50db...?

I guess you could say this is the audio equivalent of guessing how many M&Ms are in the jar. :-) Leave a comment with your guess.

Meanwhile, I'm going to track down a more sensitive decibel meter.

Categories: Media Center | Media Center Extender | XBox 360 | Comments [31] | # | Posted on Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:19:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

By default, when a user clicks on an entry point in the Windows Media Center UI to launch a Windows Media Center application, a new instance of the Windows Media Center hosting process (ehExtHost.exe) is created and a new instance of the application is started within that hosting process.


In addition, Windows Media Center maintains a back stack of up to 8 applications so that the user can press the back button on the remote control and return to the previous experience.  If a user clicks on an application entry point more than once, each instance of the application is also added to the Windows Media Center back stack up to the limit of 8 instances.


Because of this back stack behavior, it is possible to have up to 8 instances of the same Windows Media Center application running in separate ehExtHost processes on the user’s system.  Having multiple instances of the same Windows Media Center application running on the system simultaneously can cause the following problems: 

  • Performance – large applications can quickly consume a lot of system resources and slow down the overall system performance.  This is particularly problematic for hosted XBAP applications because XBAPs are hosted by another executable named PresentationHost.exe in addition to ehExtHost.exe.
  • Shared resources – if a Media Center application reads from and writes to shared data sources on the file system or in the registry, having multiple instances running at the same time can cause resource contention problems, race conditions and other problems in the application code. 

It is possible to code a Windows Media Center application to prevent multiple instances from being launched and running at the same time on the user’s system.  Jossef Goldberg, a program manager on the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) team, has posted a sample application to demonstrate how to accomplish this.  His example, which can be downloaded from this location, provides sample code for an XBAP application, but the concepts can be applied equally to Media Center Markup Language (MCML) applications or Windows Media Center Presentation Layer background applications.


This sample application includes 2 pieces:

  1. A stub application entry point that is used to ensure single instancing
  2. The “real” application entry point that contains the code and UI that the user sees within Windows Media Center

Both entry points are registered with Windows Media Center using the RegisterApplication API or the RegisterMceApp utility.  However, only the stub entry point will appear within the Windows Media Center UI and allow the user to click on it to invoke it.  The real entry point is registered with a hidden category so that the user cannot invoke it directly, which allows the stub entry point to manage invokation of the real entry point.

A mutex is created at the beginning of the Launch method in the stub entry point that is called by Windows Media Center when the user clicks on an entry point in the UI.  If the mutex is acquired successfully, the stub entry point code calls the LaunchEntryPoint API to create a new instance of the real entry point.  If the mutex is already held and cannot be created, the stub entry point code calls the ReturnToApplication API to navigate to the instance of the real entry point that is already running in the Windows Media Center back stack.


The following is an example implementation of the Launch method for a Windows Media Center stub entry point that can be used to ensure that at most a single instance of an application will be running at any given time.  You will need to replace <application_guid> and <entrypoint_guid> with the actual GUID values for your real entry point.

public void Launch(AddInHost host)
    // Create a named Mutex to check if an instance of this application is already running
    bool bMyMutexWasCreated;
    Mutex myMutex = new Mutex(true, "MyMediaCenterMutex", out bMyMutexWasCreated);

    if (!bMyMutexWasCreated) 
      // If we get here, the application is already running; bring it to the foreground
      // If we get here, the application is not running; launch it now
      host.MediaCenterEnvironment.LaunchEntryPoint(new Guid("{<application_guid>}"), new Guid("{<entrypoint_guid>}"), null);     

You can also try out a runnable XBAP sample application that implements the above algorithm by downloading the ZIP file at this location and following the instructions in LaunchSingleInstance_ReadMe.doc inside of the ZIP file.



Categories: Sample | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Sunday, September 17, 2006 8:16:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Mosey on over to Caseys blog post and check this out. I'm convinced Casey can make a Media Center PC do just about anything! This little bit of artificial intelligence is pretty neat...

mobileRecord is an MSN instant messaging bot that allows you to schedule TV recordings on your Media Center Edition PC. you communicate with the bot using Messenger, and the bot communicates with your MCE PC through a client application.

Wow. Just, wow.

Categories: Media Center | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 16, 2006 3:28:41 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Update: After some email exchanges between the two of us Seth slightly clarified his article by adding 'The video is' to the paragraph I excerpt below (change is shown in italics). He still does a fairly poor job of telling the overall story here -- but I'm still working on him. :-)

I'm a big fan of The Motley Fool, so it pains me to some extent to write this, but someone has to, so guess it will be me.

In Apple's Latest Victims, Seth writes the following, speaking of the media playback capabilities of the XBox 360...

"It's capable of streaming media directly from a PC, with one big hitch. The video is only supposed to work with the Media Center OS. This was a ridiculous mistake, in my opinion, because so few Media Center OSes exist out there. It not only should have supported streaming from plain vanilla Windows XP, it should have run more file types."

Wrong. In two places.

First, the XBox 360 works out of the box with any version of Windows XP to Play music and manage playlists and view pictures. In addition, it supports playback of content from portable media player devices (compatible device list here) *including* the Apple iPod (but not FairPlay tracks -- talk to Apple about that :-) ). Seth has a good point about compatibility with more file types, but support for [insert codec here] is largely a matter of return on investment. We also stream more media types with the Media Center Extender features of XBox 360 when you have a Windows Media Center enabled SKU of Windows. In addition to audio and pictures, we have video (WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2) and Recorded TV. Plus all of the media available from partners in Online Spotlight (MTV, NPR, Akimbo to name a few).

Second, there are more than a few Media Center PCs out there: 16 million according to the last group of public numbers. In addition, greater than 50% of the personal computers being sold today come with Windows Media Center. With Windows Vista, we expect the percentage to increase with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate (the two SKUs with Windows Media Center included).

So, Seth, you could actually forego the iTV even before it ships with a trip to your local retailer. Tonight.

P.S. Isn't it odd Seth owns Microsoft stock and The Motley Fool has it listed as an Inside Value recommendation, but managed to publish this article without basic fact checking? See the links above to the public XBox.com site above which clearly enumerate these features.

P.S. Even more interesting to me is they offer RSS feeds for stories, but no way for me to leave comments about them. That might be because they are offering financial advice, perhaps...?

Categories: Apple | iPod | Media Center | Media Center Extender | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 16, 2006 3:00:04 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Update: I added a few stations and changed the registration to use the /allusers switch (so this will show up on Media Center Extender) so pay attention to the setup instructions below.

Coding Friday resulted in a little Windows Media Center Presentation Layer Web Application called Veronicas Radio, named after a Program Manager on the Windows Media Center team who came to me one day and said 'hey, it would be cool if I could have all of my favorite streaming radio stations in a customized UI, just for me'. At least I remember the conversation going something like that. Anywho...

I took the helix we did for the Q app (see http://play.mediacentersandbox.com/mcml/rc1/helix.mcml for the codeless version) and added a call to PlayMedia to create a streaming radio URI. After applying a Gaussian blur to one of the sample pictures which ship with Windows to represent a background (nice pink) and station images (culled / created from their respective websites) we now have something that looks like this in Windows Media Center...

You can install this web app to your Diamond RC1 machine as follows:

  1. Download http://play.mediacentersandbox.com/mcml/rc1/setup.veronicasradio.zip
  2. Unzip the contents to your local machine.
  3. Open a command prompt with Administrator priviledges.
  4. Run setup.veronicasradio.cmd.
  5. Launch Windows Media Center and Select ‘Veronicas Radio’ in Program Library.

We think it would be pretty cool to see what other mods or hacks folks could do with the helix. Hit this URL with IE > View Source: http://play.mediacentersandbox.com/mcml/rc1/veronicasradio.mcml, modify to your liking, post to your own web server, post an installer (everything you need is in the install download for Veronicas Radio) and let's see what neat mashups you can create.


Categories: Sample | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 16, 2006 12:26:48 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I recorded this on Sunday night and got around to narrating this evening. Enjoy...

Categories: Media Center | Windows Vista | Comments [7] | # | Posted on Thursday, September 14, 2006 9:28:19 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Alexander Grundner: "In respect to iTV, Media Extenders for Windows Media Center and third party digital media adapters have been doing this duty for over two years now. What's so revolutionary (at least these days) about a device that streams videos from your PC to your TV wirelessly?"

Michael Gartenberg: "They key to the announcement is understanding that there's a seamless end to end experience for consumers for consuming digital content both within the home and outside the home."

Om Malik: "In the post-PC, device world, content is what sells the hardware, at least for hardware. More music, more movies, more television means iPod becomes da platform."

Paul Thurrott: "Overall, the iTV looks solid but it's lacking one key feature: DVR. It's literally a dull terminal, albeit one with a gorgeous UI. That doesn't mean that Apple can't add DVR capabilities to Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) of course. And you know what? I hope they do. Anyway, so far, so good. It's not the uber-box some people expected, but I'll be first in line to get one."

Robert Scoble: [Addressing Steve Jobs] "Your UI looks an awful lot like Windows Media Center. Almost a total copy. So, who is copying whom? What’s next, a Tablet PC copy?"

Mike Torres: "You know though, Apple is truly at the top of its game these days.  Even more so than a year ago - or 4+ years ago when I bought my first-gen 10GB iPod.  As much as I critique their lock-in model, they never cease to wow me with how much they're able to do, and the innovation and quality bar they set for others.  I applaud them."

Omar Shahine: "If Apple would just support WMA and get HBO to offer their shows for download I'd be set, I'd never consider any other device or audio software for my desktop/laptop (still need Windows Media Center though). Zune better ship soon so that we can get started on v2 and of course v3. Apple has a massive head start and I'm not sure anyone will ever catch up (or that it matters)."

Steve Makofsky: "Looks like it's time to whip out the credit card."

Thomas Hawk: "And then we have iTV. So let's see. I'm going to pay $300 for a little dongle that will allow me the privlige of paying Apple $10-$15 to buy movies from them at less than DVD quality to watch on my new HDTV Plasma? I can just stick with Netflix, pay a heck of a lot less and not have to buy the $300 little dongle thing."

Ed Bott: So, will someone please tell me why I want to replace my Xbox 360 with an Apple-branded device that only plays tunes from one music store, allows me to pay $15 for a movie encoded at 640 by 480 that looks like crap on my widescreen HDTV, and is unable to record or stream TV programming?

My take: Things are becoming mildy interesting at this point. Apple built out the personal content side first and has a very strong position there (iTunes Store + iPod). We built out the home content side first and have a very strong position there (Windows Media Center + XBox 360 Media Center Extender). Apple is making a foray into the home content side (iTV). We are making our foray into the personal content side (Zune). Holiday '08 is shaping up to be very interesting.

So, who is the dark horse none of us are seeing at the moment...?

Categories: Apple | Media Center | Comments [16] | # | Posted on Thursday, September 14, 2006 4:56:11 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Chris and I have been having an offline, private email chat today -- all of it good discussion -- I'll leave it up to him to share what he wishes from that exchange of thoughts. Truly, thanks for engaging, Chris, both publicly and privately -- and pushing us on these issues. Chris has also been posting comments both here and here. He still can't bring himself to accept the challenge (yet). Rather, he wants to claim the following...

"We're comparing apples and oranges, discussing different qualities of each, and you're wanting me to put an orange up against your apple."

Nice subtle inflection point, by the way, comparing your Linux orange with my Windows apple. (I caught the 'wink', so perhaps not too subtle.) If I buy into this statement I would be de facto conceding Mac OS X is better than Windows Vista (or even Windows XP) -- which it isn't (in my opinion). But I digress.

Right before that statement Chris compares and contrasts the features quite boldly:

"When I rave about XGL, it's because of what it's doing - and how it does what it does. Nothing even comes close to that in Windows Vista - in pure features or implementation. If there's a challenge (in my mind), it's already been settled. Vista's new Win+Tab feature vs. the XGL shortcuts in a Linux DE."

In my way of thinking, you can't have it both ways. Either we can compare these things, or we can't. If we can't, then don't.

So, while he is deciding on whether to accept the challenge: I installed SUSE 10.1 tonight. I have *only* installed (accepting all defaults except for prompts such as user name and password stuff) and booted to the desktop -- then turned off the machine. I learned some things (you can't help but learn if you choose to install) which I will share at a later date.

Chris, you better accept (or decline) fast -- while I'm still relatively ignorant.

P.S. Hurry -- I'm downloading the Mandriva ISO now...!

Categories: Linux | Windows Vista | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 9:19:21 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

You gotta give props to Steve Jobs and Apple marketing -- once again a brilliant job of telling the value proposition Microsoft has been selling for a couple of years now. Maybe our marketing team should hire Apple for our campaigns. :-)


Categories: Apple | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Tuesday, September 12, 2006 7:22:45 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Update: Chris continues the talk, but no walk yet. He added a response elsewhere: http://channels.lockergnome.com/windows/archives/20060911_windows_vista_thoughts.phtml but curiously still has not accepted the challenge.

In The Windows Vista Challenge Chris responds to my challenge, but noticeably does not (yet) accept the challenge. He asks everyone to go read John Naughton. The quote he pulls from John includes the following:

"And yet while Microsoft engineers were trudging through their death march, the open source community shipped a series of major upgrades to the Linux operating system. How can hackers, scattered across the globe, working for no pay, linked only by the net and shared values, apparently outperform the smartest software company on the planet?"

And then Chris goes on to make a few more points in support of this assetion by John and summarizes with this:

"There is no perfect operating system, and I’m certainly not suggesting that Linux and/or OS X are totally teh shiz. What I am saying, however, is that as far as cohesive, compelling user experiences go - I believe that Vista’s Aero fails (on the whole)."

But he seems to indicate with Linux + XGL you do get 'the shiz'...

'You can operate an XGL desktop perfectly without having to upgrade your video card first. To add insult to injury, XGL sports infinitely better (and reasonably more) eye candy than Aero does. Windows Vista is hardware hungry, no doubt - and I’m challenging Microsoft’s assertion that Aero is a “breakthrough user experience.”'

'XGL, on the other hand, is breakthrough...'

So, if Linux really is outperforming Windows, and XGL really is that breakthrough, this challenge should be an absolute walk in the park for Chris. Come on, Chris -- put your money (figuratively speaking) where your mouth is and accept the challenge. It totally works for me if you want to use Mandriva Linux 2007 RC1 instead of SUSE 10.1.

Categories: Linux | Windows Vista | Comments [5] | # | Posted on Monday, September 11, 2006 7:44:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

[ Changed title -- first one was kinda / sorta over the top all by itself -- let my emotions peek through :-) ]

Normally, I find Chris Pirillo's blog an enjoyable read, but not lately. It's tough hearing you and teammates esentially being called a bunch of idiots every time you read his posts as of late. OK, he did have one semi-positive post here, but still couldn't find it in his heart to write something totally positive -- note the twist of the knife in the last post. He's got a serious bug up the ole wazoo in regards to Windows Vista, and the cream the doctor prescribed doesn't seem to be easing his discomfort.

His pointing to XGL running on Linux was seriously laughable, though. I understand Chris wants to make a point about the UI / user experience in Windows Vista, but it seems to me you have to look at the entire user experience, starting with installation. I'm downloading the distro identified by Wikipedia which ships XGL as a "a non-default in one major Linux distribution, SUSE 10.1". (I'm not clear whether the DVD ISO contains XGL -- we will have to see. I and might have to go with the Internet install which 'contains all packaged software for SUSE Linux'.)

Let's have a head to head competition on identical hardware, Chris. Windows Vista RC1 (Beta Software) vs. SUSE Linux 10.1 (Released Software).

You and Ponzi are even invited over to the house (Nancy can cook y'all some good North Carolina i.e., southern cooking the likes of which you can't find much of, if any, here in Seattle.)  I'll even let you run the Linux install, just so nobody can claim I stacked the deck against you.

Up to the challenge...?

Categories: Linux | Windows Vista | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Monday, September 11, 2006 5:58:06 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   
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