Bring on Elgato EyeTV Netstream

I’m not the biggest fan of Sky TV even though I’ve been a customer of theirs for about eight years now. The way that you are locked into their eco-system and how you watch media the way they want you and not what is most applicable to you to doesn’t appeal to me. Sky Go and other new features have helped the situation for a number of people but it doesn’t help me using a Windows Phone or Windows 8 devices as none of their apps are available on these platforms (for clarification, by Windows 8, I mean impressive UI native Windows 8 apps and not desktop apps). I’ve long wanted to break into the IPTV and streaming TV markets, originally with SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun product and now Elgato’s EyeTV Netstream and now is the time to strike.

Me and @NickyCGreen got an email from Sky at the weekend to tell us that our bill was going from a promotional rate to the standard rate, almost doubling to £40 a month. I was happy enough to pay for Sky at £20 a month and actually, I didn’t even consider this was a promotional rate. Just because something is easy though isn’t justification for buying it, certainly when it’s £40 a month. All we really watch on TV these days is FTA (Free to Air) content like BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4 and the kids watch a little bit of kids TV too like Pop and CBeebies. We don’t have sports or movies add-ons and we don’t have any other services like Sky Go, broadband or phone from them, this is just for basic TV with HD.I  was pretty staggered that Sky will expect me to pay £40 for this basic service so I decided that now was the time to strike the IPTV drum.

I’ve long courted SiliconDust and their HDHomeRun product line but they have let the European products stagnate and not updated them to meet the x2 standards such as DVB-T2 (Freeview HD) or DVB-S2 (FreeSat HD) which means that you can only get the SD (Standard Definition) variants of Freeview or FreeSat on the HDHomeRun. On my search for other products, I came across Elgato and their EyeTV product line. On first inspection, it looks quite Apple focused with a lot of detail on Mac OS X software, AirPlay support along with mobile device support for iOS iPhone and iPad devices but they do support Windows and Windows Media Center also which is enough for me to be happy.

Elgato EyeTV Netstream Sat

I decided to dip my toes into the line-up today by ordering an Elgato EyeTV Netstream Sat, a single tuner DVB-S2 FreeSat network tuner. For those of you who don’t know what any of that means, it basically means that I can connect one of the satellite feeds from my Sky MiniDish into the box of tricks from Elgato and it will output those FreeSat HD pictures onto my home network to be consumed by any device I choose.

I’ve gone with a single tuner to start with as a proof of concept to the wife and kids, I’m going to be configuring this single feed on the Windows Media Center PC in the living room to test out the Media Center Live TV interface, that basics like live TV and channel switcing all work as planned and also that none of the codec changes I’ve made to support .mkv playback effect the TV experience. Once I can get this working and other basics like the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide), I can start to experiment a bit more like. Tricks like the MCL (My Channel Logos) plugin to add the UK channel icons to the EPG are nice additions and make the experience much sweeter.

Aside from watching live TV and optimising that experience, the next thing I’m going to be playing with is the Windows Server 2012 Essentials integration with Media Center. A feature has existed since the days of the first Windows Home Server which allowed the server to move TV recordings to a share on the server and replace that recording with a stub on the Media Center. For me, this is the best feature of Windows Media Center and Windows Server 2012 Essentials coming together. The HTPC (Home Theatre PC) records a programme from the network tuner as normal and once the recording completes, the server moves the recording to the backend Recorded TV share. The result is that the recording then is available anywhere I can access the server from. For me, this means any other Windows PC in the house, my Windows Phone using the My Server app or any internet enabled device which supports Silverlight. Windows Server 2012 Essentials (and notably R2 with it’s tablet and touch device improvements) allow you to use Silverlight Adaptive Streaming to deliver video and audio content from the server to any device you can think of (so long as it supports Silverlight).

Isn’t that a much better way to be able to consume your media? Exactly how you want, wherever you want on whatever device you want and not paying a penny for a subscription service in the process?

I tried, as I always do with product purchases to o a tonne of research before laying down the money but nearly all of the videos I can find on YouTube for Elgato EyeTV Netstream are in German which doesn’t really help me. I’ll be sure to post up a nice review of how setting up the EyeTV Netstream and getting it to play with Windows Media Center goes. If the test goes well, I’ll be sending some more of my money Elgato’s way to beef that single tuner into a dual tuner with their EyeTV Sat Free extender for the Netstream and I’ll then be doubling down to give me four network tuners throughout the house so that I don’t have to worry about recording conflicts or scheduling problems.

If the excitement of unboxing the product doesn’t overwhelm me (these things normally do) then I may even try and get a video on YouTube to get some English language demo’s of the product out there.

 

 

Media Center Auto-Start on Windows 8

With my backend server update to Windows Server 2012, I was keen to get my media front-end up to Windows 8 also to take advantage of SMB 3.0 for improved performance of opening and accessing the media stored on the server. I rebuilt the front-end about two weeks ago, taking advantage of the free Media Pack upgrade prior January 31st. I had already tested the components I use to make my media center tick including Shark007 Codec Pack, MyMovies and MediaControl so I knew all was good.

After installing Windows, the software needed and configuring auto-login for the media center service account, I proceeded to copy the shortcut I used in Windows 7 to launch the Media Center application into the Startup start menu group for the account. In Windows 8, the Startup group can be found in %AppData%MicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgrmsStart-Up. With the shortcut added, I restarted the machine to test the result.

In Windows 8, to help attract people to the new Start Screen, the Start Screen automatically opens at login of any account. What I found was that this screen would pop over the Windows Media Center application which is hardly seamless for a keyboard and mouse free front-end. Using the remote, I clicked the Desktop tile on the Start Screen and Media Center appeared as expected, but I couldn’t control it. The reason was that although the application was now visible, it didn’t have focus so any inputs were ignored. Attaching a mouse to the machine and clicking anywhere in the Media Center interface restored focus but short of writing an AutoIt macro to do that for me (which is a nasty hack) this isn’t what I wanted or needed.

Luckily, a colleague pointed me in the direction of a Group Policy setting used sometimes in Remote Desktop Services or kiosk computer scenarios where the Explorer interface is hidden and a default application launched in it’s place. The setting still existed in Windows 8, so I gave it a shot and guess what? It works perfectly. I’m in the fortunate position that I am using Windows Server 2012 Essentials in a domain scenario so I was able to apply the Group Policy from the server, however this fix will work equally well for a non-domain scenario.

The policy setting can be found under User Settings > Administrative Templates > System. The setting is named Custom User Interface.

Enable the setting and specify the name of the application you want to launch. In my case, it is %WinDir%eHomeeShell.exe /nostartupanimation /mediamode.

It’s highly recommended to use environment variables here and not local paths if you can as I have done above. This will also work for Windows XP, Vista and 7 along with working for XBMC, Plex and other media clients you may use besides Windows Media Center. The byproduct of this is that startup performance is actually improved as you are no longer waiting for the Explorer shell interface to launch, and it prevents a few processes from running on the machine, giving you a little more CPU and Memory available.

As you will see, I use a couple of switches with my Windows Media Center startup to control the behaviour of it, which I would also recommend. These two switches stop the animation of the Media Center logo upon startup which I find saves about a second in load times and the second enters Media Mode. In this mode, Media Center’s close and minimize buttons are disabled causing Media Center to always run full screen and cannot be closed unless you use the manual Exit Media Mode option in the menu.

In the next couple of days, I’ll try and get a YouTube video up demonstrating the process for configuring this setting both via Windows Server 2012 Essentials domain and locally using the Local Group Policy Editor.

Windows Home Server Vail Streaming Done How it Should Be

I was just looking at this video on Channel 9 about Windows Home Server Vail, and I noticed something I didn’t discover in my play with the Public Beta. Scroll through to 6:35 onwards.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

What you’ll see, is that at 7:07 the guy hovers over one of the images in the flowing album cover background and selects an option for play.

Zune 4.1 and 4.2 along with Windows Media Center have the same style interface with the flowing covers, however neither of them can do this click to play thing, and I have to wonder why.

The first time I used by Zune player I kept trying to click and wondering why it didn’t work – It’s a natural reaction I think, so congratulations Windows Home Server team for getting it right. I look forward to the Zune team and Windows Media Center team looking at your work here and adopting it for themselves.

On the downside however, I would have liked to have seem some Zune integration in Home Server Vail, especially as Windows Phone 7 and Xbox are making good inroads.

Music Library Masterpiece: Part 2

As my music library undertaking continues to get the better of me, I thought I’d post about a few things that have happened since I last wrote anything:

1: FLAC Vs. MP3 and CBR Vs. VBR

I have spent a lot of time reading about FLAC Vs. MP3 and come to the conclusion (with the help of GoldWave and some Bandstop filters) that I can’t tell the difference between an MP3 and a FLAC file, but let’s be clear here. When I say MP3, I don’t mean some tatty old 64 Kbps file that was thrown together the day MP3 was invented. I’m talking about an MP3 which was ripped from a FLAC file at VBR –V0 using LAME encoder.

Using the Bandstop in GoldWave and some research online, I found that the MP3 has audio data all the way up to about 20,000 Hz, which is the point at which all I start to hear is echoes  and silence which means that the extra 20MB of disk space occupied by the FLAC just isn’t worth it.

I used to rip all my old stuff in CBR 320 Kbps until I read an article online discussing the finer points of CBR Vs. VBR which lead me to realise that VBR –V0 gives the same if not better quality audio for smaller file sizes due to the variable element of it. What I think mislead me with VBR in the past is that a VBR –V0 file reports in Windows as the average bit rate of the track and not the maximum. A Texas song I have here for example shows itself as 266 Kbps but the waveform within the file proves it has the same info as the CBR 320 Kbps file.

2: Stereo Vs. Joint Stereo

It’s too complicated to go into here, but basically LAME encoder uses the better of two algorithms which means Joint Stereo  is as good as the forced stereo.

3: I think I hate Windows Media Player – Still undecided though

From my last post you will know I’m taking a lot of time to get the 500×500 px high resolution artwork for all my albums so that they will look delicious on my Zune and possibly Windows Media Center or Xbox in the future. To my disgust today, I noticed that a lot of my artworks are now 200×200 px and that a lot of the AlbumArtSmall_??????????????.jpg files have returned. My only assumption is that this is the doing of Windows Media Center when I re-added all my music to it for the purpose of streaming to the PS3.

Not impressed to say the least. Although the MP3’s have the 500×500 px versions embedded still, the folder.jpg version is still important. The next step is to re-apply the high resolution versions and then mark them as Read-Only to see if this stops Windows Media Player changing them.

Sky+ HD Multi-Room Shared Planner

I got some anonymous information last night from a friend about a service Sky are considering introducing here in the UK.

The service looks as if it’s going to be called Sky+ HD Multi-Room Shared Planner – What a mouthful.

The premise of it is that you have multiple Sky+ HD boxes in your house, and you can share recorded TV amongst those boxes throughout your house. The service also touts that you will be able to connect to your Sky+ HD boxes via your PC and access that content also.

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