Windows 7 Media Centre - taking the plunge
By Adam TURNER
Lets hope upgrading to Windows 7 Media Centre is smoother than Vista.
After fighting with my Vista Media Centre for several years I decided I had nothing to lose by trying out Windows 7. My Vista Media Centre has been a fickle and temperamental beast, dinting my WAF so badly that I eventually decided to go down the TiVo path so the family would have a PVR that "just works". Now the Vista Media Centre is no longer mission critical, I can afford to tinker around with it to see if I can get better results from Windows 7.
Rather than do an upgrade, I decided to do a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition 32 bit on a spare partition. It's now a tri-boot machine, running XP Media Centre, Vista Home Premium and 7 Ultimate. The install went smoothly and Windows 7 happily found drivers for the Gigabyte NVIDIA 8600 GTS graphics card, DNTV Live! Dual Hybrid PCI-Express S2 TV tuner, USB remote receiver and ASUS P5B-VM motherboard. The only thing I needed to install manually was the JMicron Controller Drivers.
I've disabled the LCD readout in my SilverStone GD01MX case because, under Vista, I found the LCD's flaky Soundgraph software to be the cause of many of my problems. I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible, so once I get it running smoothly I'll restrict third-party apps to AnyDVD HD and IceTV (which is still in beta for Windows 7).
The media centre set-up went smoothly, detecting my tuners and finding all the channels. At first I thought the live TV picture was a little disappointing, but I think I'd just forgotten how terrible free-to-air television looks sometimes. Frasier in GO! (Channel 99) looks absolutely appalling - as if I'd switched off the MPEG-2 hardware decoding - but it looks just as crap on my TiVo. Even worse than the terrible Foxtel standard-def picture. The networks will have to do better if they want to convince people of the merits of digital.
I remember it took a bit of tweaking with Vista to get the right driver version and MPEG-2 codec to achieve a great HD picture. There was also the driver waiting game, holding my breath to see what the latest NVIDIA drivers would fix, and what they would break. I remember at first NVIDIA under Vista didn't support hardware MPEG acceleration for Vista's default MPEG codec. Switching to an ATI card came with its own set of problems.
When I was experimenting with different MPEG-2 codecs under Vista, I remember the Vista Media Centre Decoder utility was a very handy tool - making it easy to switch between codecs to find the best results. Thankfully it has been upgraded to support Windows 7. It looks like switching codecs might be a bit more complicated for Windows 7.
I really hope Windows 7 takes less fine tuning than Vista took and, when I get it working, that it stays working. I also seriously hope NVIDIA and ATI aren't going to make us play the driver waiting game again with Windows 7. For once I'd like a Windows media centre that "just works" all the time, not just when it feels like it.
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Harmony 900 RF remote - Logitech giveth and Logitech taketh away
By Adam TURNER
Forget about line of sight, Logitech's Harmony 900 universal remote comes with an RF repeater for controlling gear that's hidden away.
The new 900 looks and feels like the Harmony ONE and can control up to 15 devices in your lounge room via infrared. It also has a built-in radio transmitter, so it can send commands to infrared "mini-blasters" positioned to control gear hidden away in cupboards or even another room. If you're looking to build a hideaway home theatre, or just move a few noisy devices into the next room, the Harmony 900 could be the one for you.
The Harmony 900 is an upgrade to the 890, which I don't think was ever officially available in Australia. The 900 has adopted the new sleek design of the Harmony ONE, but thankfully it brings back the four coloured buttons that were lost when Logitech released the Harmony ONE and abandoned the idea of separate US and European models. The Red, Green, Yellow and Blue buttons are useful if you've got a pay TV box, plus some Blu-ray players also utiliise them for accessing advanced features.
Unfortunately Logitech is still up to its old trick of stripping out features. In the case of the 900 it's the ability to customise multi-step macros. You can still create macros to control multiple devices with one button press, but according to CNET you can't dip in and manually edit the commands in each macro. Stripping out such flexibility might help Logitech save a few dollars in tech support, but it's also going to burn loyal customers who love the look of the new remotes but aren't prepared to sacrifice functionality.
Speaking of sacrificing functionality, the new Harmony 700 is a major disappointment. It costs the same as the old Harmony 785 but it can only control six devices and lacks a recharge cradle - putting in on par with the cheaper Harmony 525.
The sexy new design of the Logitech Harmony remotes is alluring but, as with most things in life, you need to think with your head and not your loins. If you care more about substance than style, you might want to hang on to that old Logitech Harmony for a while yet.
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Telstra unveils T-Hub tablet - should the Big T stick to its knitting?
By Adam TURNER
With an Apple tablet on the horizon, what hope has Telstra's home tablet got?
Australia's incumbent telco is desperate to offer extra services rather than just simple data pipes, which are becoming a commodity. That's why it's always had a strained relationship with Apple because, like Cupertino, Telstra is obsessed with owning the customer and milking them for every cent they've got via services and content.
In an effort to be more than a bit-shifter, Telstra announced the seven-inch T-Hub tablet at its annual investor day on Wednesday. Accompanied by a cordless handset, the tablet is designed to offer access to online services such as Bigpond and Sensis content plus YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. It will even access online radio and act as a digital photo frame when not in use. Haymarket rising star Ben Grubb gave it a good write up over at CRN.
The T-Hub sounds impressive. If such an announcement had come from Cupertino, the queues would already be around the block at the Apple store. Instead it's come from Telstra, a telco that's not renowned for its ground-breaking products nor its user-friendliness. Actually all Telstra is renowned for is arrogance, shocking customer service and hampering Australia's broadband growth at every turn.
I'm really interested to see if the T-Hub offers a full web browser, or just easy access to Telstra's walled garden of content plus a few key services such as Facebook. Sadly the offerings from Bigpond Movies and Music absolutely suck compared to the iTunes store. It's also interesting that the T-Hub relies on a PSTN phone service in an age when Naked DSL is exploding (much to Telstra's distress).
Telstra says the T-Hub is aiming for the same touch screen calling experience as the iPhone and HTC. So has every other hardware manufacturer over the last few years and generally they've failed miserably.
It's always dangerous to dismiss offhand a new player in the market, such as Telstra's arrogant "stick to your knitting" comment aimed at Apple's iPhone. Even so, I feel confident to predict that the T-Hub will pale in comparison to the iPhone, let alone the mythical Apple tablet.
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Forget Windows 7, watch a PS3 slam into a Bravia
By Adam TURNER
How do you get people's attention during Windows 7 week? You crash a PlayStation 3 into a Sony Bravia and put the slo-mo replay on YouTube.
People love watching stuff crash or blow up in slow motion, but slamming a games console into a big arse TV at 80 km/h is the kind of stunt you'd expect to see on Mythbusters or Top Gear. It's not something you'd expect from Sony. I guess some people will do anything for attention in Windows 7 week.
Sony only put the clip up on YouTube for 24 hours on Wednesday as a "teaser" but, like many people in the industry, I didn't find time to look until today. It's gone from Sony's official page, but the folks at Gizmag wanted to be sure everyone gets to see what happens when a PS3 flies into a Bravia travelling at 22 metres per second. So here it is, courtesy of the Gizmag YouTube page. Enjoy.
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Freeview Australia's FUD campaign turns on Dvico
By Adam TURNER
After deliberately confusing Australians over the nature of Freeview, Freeview Australia has mounted a legal attack on Dvico for using the Freeview UK logo.
The Australian Freeview campaign has been built around Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Rather than offering consumers a wide range of new services, it's basically a rebranding of existing services designed to trick/scare people into buying Freeview-branded equipment that doesn't allow ad-skipping or recordings to be easily copied off the device.
Naturally there has been some confusion with the Freeview UK campaign, not helped by the fact Freeview Australia adopted an almost identical logo. In Australia, the Freeview campaign has benefited from such confusion as people assumed the local service would match the breadth of the UK offering.
Meanwhile Dvico has been selling its Tvix range of PVRs for several years. Admittedly they might not be the best PVRs on the market, but one of their key strengths is flexibility. They're also one of the few devices to work with Australia's IceTV electronic program guide, which was forced to fight off a major legal challenge from the Nine Network.
As a product available in many countries, Dvico's Tvix range naturally displays the Freeview UK logo. It's certainly not the only digital television equipment on sale in Australia to display the Freeview UK logo.
After the Australian launch of the TViX M-6600N Personal Video Recorder this week, Freeview Australia has the nerve to demand that Dvico remove the Freeview UK logo from its packaging. Dvico has not licenced the Freeview Australia logo, nor is it likely to considering it would be forced to disable many of the best features in its PVRs in order to get Freeview Australia certification. This still doesn't give Freeview Australia the right to demand Dvico remove the Freeview UK logo, considering Dvico's PVRs are compliant with the Freeview UK system.
Freeview Australia deliberately created confusion around the Freeview branding and is now using the confusion to harass vendors such as Dvico. Sources tell me Dvico is yet to decide whether to remove the Freeview UK logo from its packaging and materials. This latest attack in Freeview Australia's FUD campaign is yet another reason for Australians to ignore the Freeview logo when they go shopping for digital television gear.
UPDATE Oct 21:
Sydney - 21 October, 2009 - DViCO today announced that it will not be seeking endorsement from Freeview (Australia). Although the products currently carry the Freeview UK logo and all marketing material currently displays this, it will remove that logo from materials and packaging used in Australia to avoid confusion.
Steve Xiao, managing director of Also Technology, the exclusive distributor in Australia for DViCO products, commented: “The DViCO products offer an exceptional all in one solution for the home media market. We don’t believe Australian consumers would want to miss out on the product’s abilities such as ad skipping which we believe would have to be disabled if we sought Freeview Australia endorsement.”
Freeview launched in October 2002 in the UK and provides free-to-air digital TV channels, radio stations and interactive services through an aerial. Freeview is managed by DTV Services Ltd, a company owned and run by its five shareholders - BBC, BSkyB, Channel 4, ITV and Arqiva.
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