media en Getting Started With KODI(XBMC) <!--paging_filter--><h3><span style="font-weight: normal;"><img src="/files/u154082/splash1-600x336.png" alt="kodi" title="kodi" width="250" height="140" style="float: right;" />Get the most out of your HTPC with KODI</span></h3> <p>It may have started as a media center for the original Xbox, but KODI (formerly&nbsp;<strong><a href="" target="_blank">XBMC</a>) </strong>has since evolved into a full-fledged application with a huge library of add-ons generated by diehard fans and users. Available on pretty much every platform you’d want to install it on—Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, and more—it’s a stellar way to get all of your content onto a big screen without having to deal with a mouse and keyboard, unless you want to.</p> <p>Before you get started, it’s important to realize that KODI might not be the best option if you rely heavily on streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, or Amazon Instant Video. Most services aren’t officially supported and have flaky implementations that don’t always work. The point of an HTPC, after all, is to make it easier for you to consume media.&nbsp;</p> <h4><span style="font-weight: normal;">Installation and Setup</span>&nbsp;</h4> <p>The first step is getting&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;downloaded and installed. Head on over to the KODI<a href="" target="_blank">&nbsp;website</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">download</a> the version that’s appropriate for your hardware.</p> <p>If you don’t have old hardware lying around to use as an impromptu home theater PC (HTPC), building or buying a dedicated HTPC isn’t a bad idea. With options like the&nbsp;KODI-compatible <a href="" target="_blank">Raspberry Pi</a> starting at only $25, you can get a decent system up and running without breaking the bank—<a href="" target="_blank">unless you want to</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The ideal HTPC is small, quiet, and suitably fast. You don’t need the latest and greatest hardware, but having a processor capable of playing 720p or 1080p video is essential. Hard-drive space is another key component if you aren’t going to stream content online or over your local network.&nbsp;</p> <p>Alongside the computer, you’ll want some sort of remote control. If you’ve got one lying around, you’ll probably be able to get it working with&nbsp;KODI. You’ve also got the option of using your smartphone to control&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;remotely. Official&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;remotes are available on both <a href="" target="_blank">iOS</a> and <a href=";hl=en" target="_blank">Android</a> and are a great way to control playback without resorting to a keyboard and mouse.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/yatse.jpg" alt="Yatse" title="Yatse" width="288" height="512" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a href="" target="_blank">Yatse</a> isn’t an official remote, but it does support streaming to your Android device.</strong></p> <p>That’s not to say that a keyboard and mouse aren’t useful, because a <a href="" target="_blank">good wireless keyboard</a> with an integrated track pad can be a lifesaver. Having said that, the&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;interface is designed to be navigated with d-pad controls and works best with a remote.&nbsp;</p> <h4><span style="font-weight: normal;">Audio and Video Settings</span></h4> <p>KODI does a great job of setting itself up when you first start it up, but you’ll want to make sure that all of your audio and video settings are correct. Scroll over to the System tab of the home menu and select Settings. &nbsp;Once you’re in the Settings menu, drill down into the System tab on the left to access&nbsp;KODI’s basic settings.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/system_settings_page.jpg" alt="XBMC Settings" title="XBMC Settings" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p>Make sure that&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;is set to an appropriate resolution for your monitor or TV. If you’re running&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;on a system hooked up to multiple displays, you can set&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;to blank other displays and select which screen&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;should be displayed on. Move onto the Audio output tab to fiddle with your audio settings. Here you can choose your audio output, what your speaker setup is, and whether or not your setup supports various technologies—Dolby Digital, DTS, TrueHD, DTS-HD, et cetera.</p> <h4><span style="font-weight: normal;">Importing Your Content</span></h4> <p>Now that you’ve got&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;up and running, your next step should be to make all of your content available on your HTPC. It could just be a matter of copying over the terabytes of movies and music you’ve collected over the years, or installing an add-on or two to access online streaming services.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/add_music_source.png" alt="XBMC Add Music Source" title="XBMC Add Music Source" width="620" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>KODI may not find all of your media automatically, but adding new sources is a cinch.</strong></p> <p>If you’ve got all of your media stored locally, the process is really simple. Drill down into the Music or Video menus and click Add source, browse for the folder containing your music, and add it to the list as a source. With the default skin, click the play button on the bottom-left to access detailed playback controls.</p> <p><em>Read-on to learn about our favorite add-ons, services, and skins.</em></p> <hr /> <h4><span style="font-size: 1.17em;">Add-ons and Services</span></h4> <p>It’s more than a little surprising just how many add-ons are available on&nbsp;KODI. They range from things like CollegeHumor, to the TWiT network, and even Khan Academy. Download and install an app—usually from inside&nbsp;KODI—and you’ll be presented with basic menus that let you navigate a staggering amount of video and audio content. The only problem with&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;add-ons is that some of them aren’t regularly updated and many popular services aren’t supported.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/list_of_add-ons.jpg" alt="Cherry Music" title="Cherry Music" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We don’t know what CherryMusic is, but it’s proof that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: normal; text-align: start;">KODI</span>&nbsp;has a huge library of add-ons.</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">NetfliXMBC</a> is absolutely essential if you’re a heavy Netflix user. Installing this add-on isn’t as easy as the others and requires a bit of work. Start off by downloading <a href="" target="_blank">AddonScripterDE’s repository</a>. Launch&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;and go into the Settings menu, Add-Ons, and click Install from ZIP File. Find the ZIP you just downloaded and the repository should now be installed. Click Get Add-Ons and select AddonScripterDE’s Beta Repo. Now when you check under Video Add-Ons, you should see NetfliXBMC. Install it, enter in your Netflix information, and then switch the Win Browser from Chrome to IExplorer. If you’re not using a keyboard, you’ll also need to set up alternate controls for your remote.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/netflixbmc_controls.png" alt="NetfliXMBC Controls" title="NetfliXMBC Controls" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">YouTube</a> add-on is great if you spend a lot of time on YouTube. Navigating the add-on can be a bit tedious if you aren’t using a mouse and keyboard, but it’s manageable and gives you a chance to catch up on the latest cat videos without leaving your couch. We particularly love the ability to easily view official YouTube feeds—most viewed, trending videos, top rated, et cetera.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Spotimc</a> is an easy-to-install Spotify add-on that’s currently in beta. It’s not available in the official&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;repository, but installing it is simply a matter of downloading the latest release and going to Home &gt; System &gt; Settings &gt; Add-ons &gt; Install from zip file and selecting the zip that you downloaded. It’s a little slow, but it gives you an easy way to get Spotify onto your TV.</p> <p>This unofficial&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Hulu add-on</a> gives you full access to Hulu in&nbsp;KODI. Download <a href="" target="_blank">BlueCop's repository</a> to get access to it. It works as you'd expect and even has the added benefit of semi-skippable commercials—fast forward through them with no penalty.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Yatse</a>’s our favorite Android-based remote for&nbsp;KODI. It’s a clean, well-thought-out app for Android phones and tablets that gives you full control over&nbsp;KODI. The $3.99 upgrade even gives you the ability to stream content from KODI&nbsp;directly to your phone.&nbsp;</p> <h4><span style="font-weight: normal;">Making It Look Nice</span></h4> <p>KODI’s default skin, Confluency, looks great. If you want to mix it up, there are plenty of options available. Some of our favorite skins are <a href="" target="_blank">Aeon Nox</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Aeon MQ 5</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">re-Touched</a> if you’re running&nbsp;KODI&nbsp;on a device with a touchscreen.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/aeon_mq_3.jpg" alt="Aeon MQ 5" title="Aeon MQ 5" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It doesn't all look this good, but Aeon MQ 5 is slick and sexy.</strong></p> <p>Installing a skin is simple. Dive into Settings &gt; Appearance &gt; Skin and click Get More. Pick the skins you want, and you’ll even get notifications once they’re ready for use. Head back into the skins menu and swap between them at will.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/re-touched_2.png" alt="re-Touched 2" title="re-Touched 2" width="620" height="349" style="font-weight: bold; text-align: center;" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-weight: bold; text-align: center;">A great skin for touchscreen devices; finger-friendly and clean.</span></p> <p>All that’s left now is to sit down and catch up on your backlog!&nbsp;</p> frodo htpc kodi media media center NetFlix xbmc How-Tos Mon, 15 Dec 2014 23:54:30 +0000 Ben Kim 26968 at Future Tense: 3DTV Redux <!--paging_filter--><p>I saw my first 3D movie in 1953. It was <em>House Of Wax</em>, starring Vincent Price, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, and featured a pretty scary newcomer named Charles Bronson. It was directed by Andre de Toth, who ironically only had one good eye.</p> <p>To this day, it remains one of my favorite 3D movies, and I wish Warner Bros. would get off their butts and release it on 3D Blu-Ray, perhaps a double set with <em>Phantom Of The Rue Morgue</em>, starring Karl Malden. I’d also like Universal to release a box set of <em>The Creature From The Black Lagoon</em>, <em>Revenge Of The Creature</em>, <em>The Creature Walks Among Us</em> (not in 3D) and <em>It Came From Outer Space</em>.</p> <p>There are a lot of other classic films made in 3D that deserve to be released on Blu-Ray: <em>Kiss Me Kate</em>, <em>Dial M For Murder</em> (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland), <em>Money From Home</em> (Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis), <em>The French Line</em> (Jane Russell), <em>Miss Sadie Thompson</em> (Rita Hayworth, Jose Ferrer), and more.</p> <p>Most of the negatives still survive and a set of good Blu-Ray transfers would find a home on the shelves of many 3D enthusiasts. A lot of the 3D films made in the fifties were pretty miserable, nothing more than hasty exploitation efforts, but there are still some that have earned a place in history as an important artifact of the time. I’d include <em>Cat Women Of The Moon</em> and <em>Robot Monster</em> on that list—particularly Robot Monster which is arguably one of the worst movies ever made, but its 3D was some of the best. Go figure.</p> <p>Over a year ago, I wrote in this space that 3D TV is inevitable in the home theater market. I still feel that way, and I’ll explain why—</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/futuretense-3dtv-tv.jpg" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>But first let me acknowledge the inevitable complaints that are going to show up in the comment thread. “I can’t see 3D” “It’s a gimmick” “It’s just another way for the big corporations to loot my wallet” “It’s a fad” “I don’t like it” “It’s too expensive” “It doesn’t work well” “It gives me a headache” “I don’t like the goofy glasses” and “I don’t want to be bothered.” “The technology isn’t perfect yet.” These complaints show up in every comment thread about 3D TV and they will probably show up here as well.</p> <p>I’m not dismissing the complaints. They are real for the people who are complaining. Nevertheless, many people do like 3D TV and despite many justifiable objections and concerns, 3D TV is inevitable.</p> <p>First of all, any TV with a refresh rate of 120hz is 3D capable. You might not buy a TV for its 3D capability, but all the high-end sets now have refresh rates of 120hz or 240hz. Some manufacturers are even flirting with 480hz. Plasma sets have 600hz refresh rates. It costs little for the manufacturer to add an emitter and advertise the set as 3D ready. You might not want a 3D set, but when you buy your next big screen TV, the top of the line models will all be 3D capable, and that feature is steadily working its way down the product line, with more and more sets having that capability every year.</p> <p>There are two kinds of 3D TVs, passive and active. Passive sets use circular polarized glasses, the same kind you’d use for a Real-3D presentation. But such sets interleave the scan lines, so odd-numbered scan lines go to one eye and even-numbered scan lines go to the other. On a 1080P set, you’re only getting 540 scan lines to each eye, half the hi-def resolution. Some people can see the scan lines, others sit far enough back and don’t notice them.</p> <p>More common are sets that use <a href="" target="_blank">active-shutter glasses</a>. These glasses are a little heavier and need to be recharged every 70 hours. The TV alternates left and right eye images and the glasses are synchronized by an RF or infra-red emitter, so each eye sees the correct eye image at 60 frames per second.</p> <p>There is some light loss in both systems, but not significant, and you can always pump up the brightness. Polarized sets are less prone to ghosting or double-images. Active shutter sets have greater resolution.</p> <p>A justifiable concern for any 3D fan is that source material remains limited and some of it just isn’t worth the effort. And some of the travelogues have artifacts where the depth effect gets confused if there is fast sideways motion. I suspect it has something to do with the way the image is encoded and delivered. I also expect that this will eventually be resolved as the technology continues to improve.</p> <p>Most 3D Blu-Ray movies look good on a home screen, several have been spectacular.&nbsp; DirecTV has five 3D channels. They repeat a lot of the material, but they’re also increasing the variety every month. DirecTV has also been showing 3D movies on a pay-per-view channel.&nbsp; So if you’re a 3D enthusiast, you do have an increasing menu of films to watch, with more being released every month.</p> <p>If you’re going to get a new set—3D or not—get the biggest screen you can afford, especially if you want a theatrical experience. The bigger your screen, the more dramatic the effect—especially for 3D. 1080p 3D projectors are also becoming affordable and would allow you to fill a whole wall. So far, these are all active-shutter. (There are companies that will set up two projectors in sync so you can use polarized glasses too.)</p> <p>Right now, 3D TV is mostly in the homes of early adopters and enthusiasts. Given the state of the economy, it’s likely to remain that way for another year or two, maybe even longer. But that gives manufacturers an opportunity to continue improving the technology and studios to expand the number of available films in release. The big studios have recognized that having a 3D release of a film can add as much as 40% to the box office gross. A 3D film is kind of like going on a dark ride at an amusement park, it has an “event” quality. So most of the major pictures planned the summer season and the holiday season will have a 3D release.</p> <p>Remember, the studios, the theaters, and the TV manufacturers have invested billions into 3D technology. The box office numbers justify continuing that investment for the theaters. It’s going to take a lot longer for the home market to catch up because the operative equation is always the availability of content and the availability of hardware on which to view the content, but as more and more event films have 3D releases on Blu-Ray, as more and more Blu-Ray players and sets arrive in homes, 3D capability will continue to spread.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/futuretense-3dtv-glasses.jpg" width="620" height="353" /></p> <p>As long as 3D requires “the goofy glasses” it will exist in its own kind of specialty niche—the same way laserdiscs existed in the eighties. The laserdisc never became mainstream, but it had a strong enough customer base to justify a large library of releases. 3D TV that requires glasses will never replace HDTV as we have it today. But having a set with 3D capability will make it more likely that you will watch “event television” and selected movies in 3D.</p> <p><em>Titanic</em> and <em>Star Wars</em> are being re-released in 3D. The next <em>Star Trek</em> movie is (allegedly) planned for 3D. Those audiences will turn out and they will very likely buy the 3D discs for their home libraries as well. Someday the Super Bowl or the Rose Parade will be broadcast in 3D and you can bet a lot of people will pull out their 3D glasses for that. Perhaps hit shows like <em>Glee</em> or <em>Big Bang Theory</em> or <em>Hawaii Five-O</em> will someday shoot special episodes in 3D and fans of those shows will turn on their 3D channels just for that.</p> <p>After nearly eight years of success in the theaters and with a growing number of 3D films released every year, and many more scheduled, I think it’s fair to say that 3D has found its audience and become a mainstream format in its own right. I expect that the same audience that loves 3D movies will also embrace 3D for the home-theater experience. It’s just going to take a while.</p> <p>What do you think?</p> 3D TV future tech media movies televisions Future Tense Columns Features Wed, 25 Jan 2012 20:15:39 +0000 David Gerrold 22414 at In Search of the Suite Spot: 3 Media Creation Packages Face Off <!--paging_filter--><h3>We test three "do-everything" packages for media creation and management to find the one that strikes the perfect balance of features, performance, and ease-of-use</h3> <p>When friends or family members you haven’t seen in years suddenly show up at your front door, the proper thing to do is invite them in, find out whom they’re married to these days, and then reminisce about old times over a tall glass of Guinness. What you don’t do is drag out a two-ton box full of photo albums and Super-8 tapes and bore your company to tears, like you might have done before the digital era drop-kicked that kind of coma-inducing behavior into obsolescence. That might still work for your computer-illiterate parents, but this is a different time, and you’re much more likely to have your memories and adventures preserved as digital bits scattered all over your hard drive. In the back of your mind, you keep meaning to organize your digital photos, home movies, and even your epic music collection, and wouldn’t it be rad to mash them together? After all, a home-brewed DVD with a custom soundtrack and visual effects would dazzle your friends and relatives in ways a simple photo album and unorganized video can’t.</p> <p>This is where fully fledged media suites come into play. They not only help you organize and spice up your digital collection, they’re also capable of converting music and videos into formats better suited for portable devices, like your handheld game player, smartphone, or tablet. Today’s media suites are all about managing and manipulating your content so you can view it whenever, wherever, and however you want, and not simply burning to disc like you did in the 1990s.</p> <p>To help you choose the right one, we rounded up three of the biggest, most popular media suites around: CyberLink Media Suite 9 Ultra, Nero 11 Platinum, and Roxio Creator 2012 Pro. Each one brings a barrelful of tricks to the digital party, so we narrowed our focus to the tasks you’re most likely to use over and over again. Specifically, we’re testing for Blu-ray/DVD/3D playback, DVD/Blu-ray burning, basic video and photo editing chores, and transcoding. Is there a suite that stands head and shoulders above the others? Let’s find out!</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u112496/sf4large_0.jpg" alt="media suite" width="620" height="461" /></p> <h2>Media Suites Compared</h2> <p>Comparing media suites isn't easy. Each of the three suites in this roundup comes with a laundry list of features and bullet points, and it really starts to get overwhelming when you consider that each of the individual programs included within each suite has its own list of selling points. This chart compares the three on a macro level, skipping over most of the features that apply to all three suites—like making DVD backups, for example—and focusing instead on differentiating features that actually matter to the end user. Are you rocking a touch screen? Roxio is the only one with a mode specifically for touch screens. Is overburning important to you? Nero does it; the others don't. This isn't by any stretch an all-inclusive list of features, but it does reveal some key differences that could play a part in your decision to drop a wad of cash on one suite over the other.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th>Nero 11 Platinum</th> <th class="head-light">CyberLink Media Suite 9</th> <th>Roxio Creator 2012 Pro</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>Blu-ray Playback/Burning</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> </tr> <tr> <td>3D Support</td> <td>N</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> </tr> <tr> <td>System Backups</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Overburning</td> <td>Y</td> <td>N</td> <td>N</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Photo Tags</td> <td>N</td> <td>Y</td> <td>N</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Social Media Integration</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> <td>Y</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Touch-screen Option</td> <td>N</td> <td>N</td> <td>Y</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> </div> </div> <hr /> <h2 style="clear: both;">Nero 11 Platinum</h2> <h3>Heavy-footed, clumsy, and slow</h3> <p>To say Nero’s been around the block a time or two is like saying Brett Favre’s played in a few football games: both are gross understatements. If you’ve been building computers for any length of time, or have ever purchased an optical recorder, then you’ve probably come across Nero in some shape or form. It’s been around since 1997, back when Bill Clinton was still president, the Internet was an infant, and Windows 95 ruled the roost. Back then, there wasn’t a need for media suites, and you would use Nero Burning ROM for burning copies of audio CDs, backing up data to optical discs, copying games, and, well, not much else. Computers and technology have changed significantly since then, and so has Nero, which is now a multifaceted suite of media tools with a price tag to match its robust feature-set.</p> <p>Nero 11 Platinum is Nero AG’s (formerly Ahead Software) top-of-the-line software suite that retails for $110. It includes 10 individual programs of various utility, each of which fires up independently of the others. You would think that wielding so many individual programs would turn into an organizational nightmare, but Nero does a good job of wrangling them into a Welcome menu that lists each one in a sidebar. Navigating within each program is another story entirely.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-nerokwik.jpg" width="500" height="377" /><br /><strong>Kwik Media is Nero's new media organizer for photos, videos, and music. It's also available as a <a href="" target="_blank">free download</a>.</strong></p> <p>Our biggest gripe with Nero is the steep learning curve, at least compared to the other suites in this roundup. That’s too bad, because underneath the clunky controls, there’s a lot you can do with Nero. We got our first taste of sour grapes when trying to edit movies with Nero Video. This brings up a Welcome screen with six tiles: Capture, Edit &amp; Import, Create &amp; Export, Projects, Tools, and Product Info. Logic dictates that we should start with the Edit &amp; Import tile, but your only options are to Make Movie or Slide Show, Import from AVCHD Camera, Import AVCHD from Disc, and Import AVCHD from Hard Drive. That’s fine if your video is AVCHD, but what if it isn’t? If you choose one of the AVCHD import options, Nero freaks out and tells you it can’t recognize your video because it’s the wrong format. The video editor loads anyway, and once you dismiss the error message, you’re free to drag-and-drop your non-AVCHD video into the editor and begin manipulating it. Alternately, you can choose the unintuitive option of Make Movie or Slide Show to edit your flicks. Yet another way to get to the same place is through the Create &amp; Export tile, which brings up a window to import and then edit your videos. It’s all very redundant and bound to confuse your mom and dad, who just want to add some pizazz to their vacation videos.</p> <p>Once you’ve stumbled through the front door and are finally able to edit home movies, Nero provides an assortment of tools to spruce up your clips, all of which are organized within a fairly feature-rich dashboard. New to Nero 11 is an Express Editing configuration that lets you sprinkle in video effects, clipart, text, speech bubbles, picture-in-picture effects, and add other snazzy doodads by dropping them into a storyboard format. You’re given a generous amount to play with, such as 50 transition effects alone, made even more robust by being able to tweak each one’s properties. Even with the Express Editing feature, it’s still a bit more complicated than it needs to be, but if you take the time to learn the interface, it’s possible to produce a prosumer-grade video.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-nerorecode.jpg" width="500" height="376" /><br /><strong>Nero's drag-and-drop interface makes it incredibly easy to transcode videos—we just wish there were more model-specific profiles to choose from.</strong></p> <p>Nero Recode offers a far easier UI to work with, and it’s a piece of pie to convert your HD videos into mobile-friendly formats for viewing on the go. If you want to port video shot from your Flip camera over to your smartphone, for example, all you need to do is drag and plop the video into the indicated box and select the device you want to watch it on. There are preconfigured profiles for most major gadgets, including the iPad, iPod, iPhone, PlayStation 3, PSP, and Xbox 360, as well as a catch-all category simply called Mobile devices. It’s curious Nero opted not to include profiles for some of the more popular Android devices, like the Xoom tablet and Galaxy smartphone, and it’s even more quirky that you can’t create your own profiles, though you can edit any of the existing ones and adjust the audio and video settings to suit your specific gear. More savvy video buffs will appreciate additional fine-grain control in the form of being able to choose the specific resizing method and deinterlace mode.</p> <p>While Nero doesn’t make it obvious, it does support overburning, a sometimes buggy technology that allows for recording audio and data beyond a disc’s rated capacity by filling in the lead-in area of a CD or DVD. Blu-ray playback and burning are also supported, but not 3D.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-nerophotoedit.jpg" width="500" height="377" /><br /><strong>Simple photo editing controls in Nero feel more like an afterthought than a bona fide feature addition.</strong></p> <p>Some basic photo editing tools are included in Nero, with an emphasis on basic. Serious photographers will want to steer clear, but for things like cropping and removing freaky red eyes, it gets the job done. There are also a handful of effects to play with, for the 1 percent out there who actually use these gimmicks. Nero placed a much greater emphasis on organizing and sharing photos (and other media) than it did on manipulating them, and it appears to have been bitten by the app store bug. Nero Kwik Media is Nero’s new front-end for rounding up all your photos, videos, music, playlists, slide shows, photo albums, and more. It’s sort of a hyper version of Windows 7’s Library feature, and you can add functionality by downloading plugins through Nero’s Market. Most of the plugins are already included with the Platinum suite, but you’ll want to grab Nero Kwik Faces so you can tag your pictures and later search through your photo library by friends and family.</p> <p>With a little more TLC to the UI, this could be the media suite to beat. As it stands, it’s the one that gets beat.</p> <div class="verdict" style="float: left; display: inline; margin: 0 10px 20px 0;"><img src="" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> <div style="float: left; display: inline;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><strong>Nero 11 Platinum</strong></span><strong><br />$110</strong><br /><strong><a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /></strong></div> <h2 style="margin-top:30px; clear:both;">CyberLink Media Suite 9 Ultra</h2> <h3>This all-in-one suite gets very little wrong and nearly everything right</h3> <p>CyberLink Media Suite 9 is available in three different flavors and subsequent price points: Centra ($70), Pro ($100), and Ultra ($130). Ultra is the only version that supports Blu-ray playback, which seems like a hefty premium, especially over the Centra package, but if watching Blu-ray discs is all you’re after, CyberLink’s PowerDVD 11 Ultra software sells for a more reasonable $100. PowerDVD 10 BD Express is included in CyberLink’s flagship media suite reviewed here, in addition to tools for Blu-ray and DVD authoring, transcoding, photo and video editing, and data burning to a variety of formats and media, including BDXL discs.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-cyberlinkphotoedit.jpg" width="500" height="377" /><br /><strong>CyberLink's straighten tool plops a grid on top of your photo, making it easy to fix crooked images or intentionally tilt them for a cool perspective shot.</strong></p> <p>Like Nero, CyberLink shoehorns nearly a dozen different programs into a single media suite, only CyberLink does a far superior job of organizing them within a front-end that creates the illusion it’s all just one piece of software. CyberLink sometimes ruins the illusion by requiring individual updates for each program and making attempts to upsell many of them (lame!), but otherwise it offers a dexterous UI that bounces you from program to program without a hint of clumsiness. The main menu contains a row of labeled icons along the bottom: Movie, Video, Photo, Music, Data &amp; Backup, Device, and Utilities. Clicking any of them instantly brings up a list of related tasks at your disposal. If you want to rip an audio CD, you’ll find that option by clicking—you guessed it—Music, with additional links to Play Music, Make an Audio CD, Make an MP3 Disc, Make a WMA Disc, and Edit Audio. We found we couldn’t rip directly to MP3, but had no problem converting to that format. Each option fires up the appropriate program and discards the main menu you were just in, and when you’re finished fiddling around and exit a program, CyberLink shuttles you back to the main window. It’s all very slick, and smooth to boot, which is surprising when you consider how big and heavy this media suite is (around 2.4GB).</p> <p>We were really awestruck by how insanely easy it is to convert videos to play on a plethora of portable devices and media players. CyberLink’s MediaEspresso software is billed as an “ultra-fast universal media converter,” and it’s one of the cogs included in this wonderful machine. A MediaEspresso Windows gadget sits at the bottom‑right of the desktop in the shape of a coffee cup and changes shape depending on what portable device you plug into your PC. Attach an iPhone 4S, for example, and the coffee cup turns into an iPhone. More than just eye candy, MediaEspresso works behind the scenes, loading the appropriate profile for your gear—when you drag and drop a video you shot with your pocket camera into the widget, it immediately starts transcoding it into a format that works with your iPhone, Galaxy S II, Zune, or whatever. There are preconfigured profiles for more than 90 devices, as well as catch-all profiles in case your specific model isn’t in MediaEspresso’s database. It’s a crapshoot when you start getting into the latest hardware: MediaEspresso has profiles for Asus’s Transformer tablet and the HTC Flyer, but not Motorola’s Droid X2 smartphone. Of course, you can always edit any of these profiles, or even create your own.</p> <p>CyberLink’s video transcoding is not only super simple, it’s also fast—and capable of cleaning up your media. There are a few video quality enhancements you can enable to improve the overall lighting, remove noise, and improve sharpness. In many cases, these optional enhancements result in better‑looking videos, though they can sometimes add significantly to the time it takes to transcode a video. And while CyberLink supports GPU acceleration, there are some notable omissions, like AMD’s 5700 and 5800 series graphics cards.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-cyberlinkmediaconvert.jpg" width="500" height="377" /><br /><strong>Are your videos too dark? Try enabling CyberLink's TrueTheater AutoLight option in the Settings menu to lighten things up.</strong></p> <p>Should you want to watch movies instead of transcode them, CyberLink’s PowerDVD software is another capable tool. It supports Blu-ray, 3D, and HD video files, and comes with an assortment of gadgets for videophiles who like to spend as much time tinkering as they do consuming. You can play with the lighting, aspect ratio, and audio, and can upconvert movies or convert them to 3D on the fly. In 3D mode, you can adjust the 3D scene depth with a slider to reduce (or induce) eye fatigue, and there are options for both stereoscopic and anaglyph (red and cyan glasses) 3D modes. Very cool.</p> <p>We weren’t quite as impressed with the process of editing and touching up photos. This is one of the few areas where CyberLink feels a little bit clunky, and before you can edit your snapshots, you first have to import them. Doing so brings up a new window and requires a few mouse clicks, and then you have to hit the Back button to see your imported photos. Right-clicking your photos gives you the option of editing them, and as is common with a jack-of-all-trades suite such as this one, CyberLink leaves a lot to be desired. You’ll find only basic enhancement options like crop, red-eye removal, and some color‑fixing dials, along with a handful of special effects, if for some reason you really want to make your photo appear old and yellow (CyberLink calls it “Antique”). You can also touch up videos with similarly basic controls, as well as remove camera shake.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-cyberlinkvideoedit.jpg" width="500" height="368" /><br /><strong>When&nbsp; you're finished editing a movie in CyberLink, you can output your masterpiece to a variety of file formats or upload it directly to YouTube or Facebook.</strong></p> <p>For editing movies, CyberLink includes the complete retail edition of PowerDirector 8 Ultra, which is both a blessing and a curse. There’s a learning curve associated with full-featured editors, and this one is no exception, though it’s nowhere near as complicated as something like Sony Vegas. Spend some time learning the interface, and it won’t be long before you’re dazzling friends and family with B-movie conversions of your home videos.</p> <p>What’s left is mostly standard fare, things like burning disc images, creating disc labels, and backing up data. But these things, along with everything else, are generally better than the competition, and everything is extremely well organized.</p> <p>CyberLink is fast, flexible, and easy to use; just the way we like it.</p> <div class="verdict" style="float: left; display: inline; margin: 0 10px 20px 0;"><img src="" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> <div style="float: left; display: inline;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><strong>CyberLink Media Suite 9 Ultra</strong></span><strong><br />$130</strong><br /><strong><a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /></strong></div> <hr /> <h2 style="clear:both;">Roxio Creator 2012 Pro</h2> <h3>Proof that a bundled photo editor doesn't have to suck</h3> <p>The way we see it, $130 is a big investment for software, even a fully loaded media suite. So once we resign ourselves to spending a jester’s ransom for a chunk of computer code, the very last thing we want to see is a banner ad on the main screen proposing we drop another 40 bucks into the till, yet that’s the first thing Roxio does as it tries to hawk a USB capture device for converting video from VHS, Hi8, and V8 to DVD. But hey, you’ll save $10 off the list price, so there’s that. With a little digging, we discovered you can remove this and other solicitations by heading to Tools &gt; Preferences and unchecking the box that offers to “Display relevant production information and offers from Roxio.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-roxiobanner.jpg" width="627" height="452" /><br /><strong>Roxio commits the cardinal sin of trying to upsell customers, who have already spent $130 for the flagship suite, on more media related products. Thankfully, you can turn off the annoying banner ad.</strong></p> <p>First impression out of the way, Roxio quickly gets to work atoning for its money-grubbing introduction. The main menu isn’t as sleek or slick as CyberLink’s, but it’s just as straightforward and easy to navigate. A total of seven frequent tasks appear on the home screen so you can jump right in and copy a disc, burn an audio CD, or edit video, among other things. On the left side of the menu are five additional tabs to choose from—Data/Copy, Video/Movies, Music/Audio, Photo, and Learning Center—and each one brings up a new set of options.</p> <p>Roxio is the only media suite in this roundup to give any serious consideration to photo editing. It’s not nearly as robust as Photoshop, GIMP, or even lower-level consumer editors like Photoshop Elements, but where CyberLink and Nero offer only a bare-bones editor, the one built into Roxio offers quite the expansive toolset. The basics are there, like red-eye removal and color enhancements, but so is an advanced tool that’s slightly similar to Photoshop’s awesome spot healing brush for removing blemishes from photos. There’s a wrinkle removal tool to help you stay one step ahead of father time, and another one for touching up scratches, although both of these are little more than glorified blur brushes. A second tab introduces more editing utensils, including a cloning tool we didn’t expect to find. One of the most useful items is a customizable touch‑up brush with nearly a dozen different uses. You can stroke parts of your photo to turn it black and white or apply certain effects like lighten, darken, sharpen, soften, desaturate, and more. You’re able to fine-tune each brush, as well, adjusting the size, edge fading, and transparency level. On top of it all, Roxio provides a plethora of special effects, clip art, frames, and other items so you can tap into your inner Rembrandt (or Picasso, as it were).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-roxiophotoeditor.jpg" /><br /><strong>It's not Photoshop, but you can do much more with your photos in Roxio than you can with CyberLink or Nero.</strong></p> <p>You can also convert 2D images into 3D in a variety of formats, including anaglyph (old-school blue-and-cyan glasses) and both side-by-side (Nvidia 3D Vision) and top/bottom stereoscopic configurations. What’s more, Roxio affords a bit of fine-grain control over how the final image will look. Don’t fret, tweaking a 3D image isn’t as complicated as it sounds, at least not in Roxio. You start by opening a 2D image in Roxio’s 3D Photo Creator. The photo you select is automatically converted to 3D, but before you save it, you can adjust its 3D effect using a graphical dial in the edit window. There’s also a grayscale button, in case you find it easier to work your 3D mojo without color (this is just for editing—it won’t save your photo in grayscale), and a crop tool. When you feel you’ve leveled up your 3D editing skills and are ready for a bigger challenge, Roxio provides a second method for creating 3D photos by letting you select independent images for both the left and right eye. In other words, it won’t be long before you start driving your family nuts by insisting they hold a pose while you take multiple shots from different angles. Stay still, Bobby!</p> <p>Creating a DVD movie is just as easy, albeit harder to find because the option is not clearly labeled on the main menu. Whereas there’s an option to “Create 3D Photos” on the Photo tab, there’s no “Create 3D DVDs/Movies” under the Video/Movies tab. To get to it, you click “Create DVDs” and then you can select either 2D or 3D. There are two options for 3D movies, standard definition (DVD) and high definition (AVCHD Blu-ray). Both support anaglyph and a wide range of stereoscopic formats.</p> <p>Whether you’re editing a 2D or 3D movie, the process is fairly straightforward and easy. Roxio uses a storyboard format in which you drag videos, photos, and music to wherever you want them to appear in your timeline. There’s an option to stabilize video, and a whole bunch of special effects and transitions to spice things up. If you want to take the lazy route, another option is to have Roxio automatically edit your videos by choosing from a set of themes, but the results are often hokey.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-roxioconvert.jpg" width="550" height="394" /><br /><strong>Roxio makes it incredibly easy to fetch a video from YouTube and convert it to your Android tablet, or just about any other mobile device.</strong></p> <p>Many of Roxio’s abilities come with an advanced option, and that includes ripping music. Clicking Rip is the fastest way to get the job done, but selecting Rip-Advanced gives you access to higher bitrates. Roxio supports a medley of audio codecs, including AAC, AC3, FLAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, OGG, WAV, and WMA.</p> <p>Transcoding video is equally versatile and virtually dummy-proof. It’s not quite as streamlined as CyberLink’s program, but there are a plethora of device profiles to choose from, both by type (tablet, smartphone, etc.) and brand. Unfortunately, while you can edit any of these profiles, you can’t save the changes or create custom ones. You can, however, pull source video from online sites like DailyMotion, YouTube, and, ahem, other types of Tube and convert them to your specific device.</p> <p>Roxio isn’t as slick as CyberLink, and it lacks features like face tagging and overburning. But it’s easy to use and is the only media suite of the bunch to include a photo editor that doesn’t feel like an amped‑up version of MSPaint.</p> <div class="verdict" style="float: left; display: inline; margin: 0 10px 20px 0;"><img src="" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> <div style="float: left; display: inline;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><strong>Roxio Creator 2012 Pro</strong></span><strong><br />$130</strong><br /><strong><a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /></strong></div> <h2 style="clear:both; margin-top:30px;">Roll Your Own</h2> <h3>How to create a media suite from free apps</h3> <p>Our DIY mentality doesn’t just apply to hardware and building PCs, it’s applicable in the world of software, too. Each one of these full-fledged media suites will set you back a Benjamin or more, and one thing they all have in common is that each is really just a collection of individual programs served on a pricey platter—some more elegantly organized than others. If you’re willing to give up certain premium features and don’t mind managing multiple applications on your own, it’s entirely possible to put together a low- or no-cost home‑brewed media suite of your own. Consider this your penny-pinching cheat sheet.</p> <p><strong>Overcoming the Blu-ray Blues</strong><br />Getting a Blu-ray movie to play on your PC for free is tricky, though not impossible. There just aren’t many free players out there, and if you find one, be careful—it might be a rebadged (and unauthorized) version of a paid program (i.e., pirated). In most cases, your Blu-ray drive or BD-equipped PC should have shipped with a lightweight player. If it didn’t, or if you bought your system used, you can either pay a small premium for a dedicated player app, or rip your Blu-ray and view it on VLC (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) or any media player that supports MKV (Matroska) file formats. MakeMKV (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) is a popular program that decrypts and rips Blu-ray discs to MKV, though you’re technically circumventing copy protection here. As long as it’s for fair-use backups, we don’t have a problem with that.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-vlc.jpg" width="625" height="483" /><br /><strong>Forget Windows Media Player, VideoLAN's VLC player will play just about any media file you throw at it, including MKV files.</strong></p> <p><strong>Burn, Baby, Burn!</strong><br />Again, your optical drive should have shipped with at least an OEM version of Nero or some other disc burning software, but if not, there are plenty of free alternatives to do the trick. And if you’re using Windows 7, you can burn CDs, DVDs, and BDs without any third-party software, including ISO and IMG files. Alternately, both CDBurnerXP (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and ImgBurn (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) work well.</p> <p><strong>Photo Finish</strong><br />Whether you’re looking to touch up a photo by adjusting the brightness and removing those evil-looking red eyes, or you want to go crazy with layers and an advanced toolbox filled with virtual utensils, there’s a free photo editor out there tailor-made just for you. For the former, Google’s Picasa 3 (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) is a no-cost editor nearly identical to the one built into CyberLink’s Media Suite 9 Ultra. It’s great for making quick edits and even shows a histogram and camera information. Another option is Photoshop. No, not the über-expensive photo editor, but the online version (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>), where you can store, edit, and share photos at no cost.</p> <p>For professional-level editing, GIMP (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>), is a free, open-source alternative to the mega-version of Photoshop. It’s arguably just as powerful and fleshed out, and you can do some amazing things in GIMP, once you've learned the interface.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mediasuite-picasa.jpg" width="520" height="392" /><br /><strong>Picasa isn't as powerful as GIMP, but it's nowhere near as complicated, either. For quick-and-dirty edits, Picasa is hard to beat.</strong></p> <p><strong>Lights, Camera, Action!</strong><br />If you’re rocking a copy of Windows 7, Microsoft’s Windows Live Movie Maker (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) is sufficient for basic video editing with transitions and other effects, but it’s not a high-level editor by any means. Alternately, Avidemux (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and VirtualDub (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) are both general-purpose editors with a wider range of codec support, but they’re a bit intimidating for less savvy users. There isn’t much middle ground here, and this is one of the areas you sacrifice by rolling your own media suite.</p> <p><strong>Rip It and Rock Out!</strong><br />Ripping your gnarly collection of audio CDs to MP3 format so you can listen to those old-school Beastie Boys beats on your media player is easy. But ripping archival-quality MP3s from CDs? That takes a little more work than those one-click solutions you’ll find in Windows Media Player and iTunes. If that’s something you want to do, you’ll need an audio grabber—Exact Audio Copy (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>)—and the LAME MP3 encoder (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>). Once you’ve gone and grabbed those, point your browser to our <a href="" target="_blank">online guide to ripping high-quality MP3s</a>.&nbsp;</p> Blu-ray cyberlink media suite 9 ultra dvd media multimedia nero 11 platinum roxio creator 2012 pro Software From the Magazine Features Mon, 16 Jan 2012 21:33:18 +0000 Paul Lilly 21616 at So, a Movie about Farmville is Happening <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u69/farmville_saw.jpg" width="228" height="180" style="float: right;" />After Freddy Got Fingered, we really shouldn't be surprised at the junk Hollywood will cast on the silver screen. Yet somehow we're still a little shocked that Farmville is making the move from Facebook to the local cinema, or at least that's what IGN was able to extrapolate from a recent interview with Toy Story writers Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen.</p> <p>The duo <a href="">told IGN</a> they're working on a number of new projects and are in "conversations with Zynga to do something with one of their brands." They didn't come right out and mention Farmville, only heavily hinted at that being the subject of a new movie.</p> <p>"Can't really say too much on that front yet, but 'Old MacDonald' didn't have a factory, if you get our drift," the writers said.</p> <p>No he certainly did not, nor was Mr. MacDonald involved with the mafia, at least as far as we know. But he did have a farm, and if the talks continue to progress, we'll have a Farmville flick.</p> apps casual games farmville games media movies Social Networking Software Videogames Zynga News Mon, 10 Oct 2011 13:47:14 +0000 Paul Lilly 20755 at Toshiba Doubles Size of All-in-One Lineup with DX735 <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u46168/dx735.jpg" width="228" height="205" style="float: right;" />Last month, Toshiba ended its decade-long absence from the desktop market with the 21.5-inch DX1210 all-in-one (AIO) PC. Now the electronics conglomerate has effectively doubled the size of its AIO lineup by adding another product to it. The new <a href="">DX735 features a 23-inch full HD multi-touch display</a> with a “stylish and space-saving TV-like design.” Specs after the jump.</p> <p>The DX735, which will be available exclusively from Best Buy beginning October 2, has a base price of $956.99. Toshiba wants you to factor in the <a href="">DX735’s utility as a complete “home media hub” and not just as a PC</a> when looking at the price.</p> <p>"Our All-in-One systems blend the best of Toshiba's PC and visual product expertise for families and students looking to enjoy TV, watch DVDs and play games," said Carl Pinto, vice president of product development, Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., Digital Products Division.</p> <p>Let’s turn our attention to DX735 the PC. It boasts a 2nd Generation Intel i5/i7 processor, 1TB of hard drive storage, 4GB of RAM, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a DVD SuperMulti Drive and one HDMI-in port. On the entertainment front, it features “Onkyo stereo speakers professionally tuned by experts at Waves and feature Waves MaxxAudio sound.” It also packs a technology Toshiba likes to call Sleep &amp; Music, which makes it possible for the user to use the AIO’s Onkyo speakers even when the machine is off. But that’s not all as the DX735 has one more trick up its sleeve in the form of “Resolution+ video upconversion technology that breathes new life into standard-def video and DVDs.”</p> aio all-in-one Desktop Gaming hd hdmi-in media pc toshiba News Thu, 29 Sep 2011 04:39:33 +0000 Pulkit Chandna 20573 at The Founder of the E-Book Has Died <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u46173/michaelhart.jpg" alt="Michael Hart" width="228" height="176" style="float: right;" />While many of us might consider e-books to be a relatively new phenomena, in reality they have existed almost as long as the Internet itself. Public domain junkies have no doubt made at least one or more visit to the Project Gutenberg archives, but what they probably don’t realize is that the movement to digitize public works under this name has been around since 1971. Why the history lesson you ask? Well, it seemed appropriate to reflect on the history of e-books today following the news that the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael S. Hart, <a href="">passed away</a> of unknown causes last week at the age of 64.</p> <p>According to his <a href="">obituary</a> posted on the Project Gutenberg website, Hart worked as an adjunct professor at the Unversity of Illnois for most of his career, but digitizing public works was always his passion. "I get little notes in the email, saying 'Hey! I just (found) Project Gutenberg, and this is great stuff," Hart told WILL radio in Urbana in a 2003 interview. "You get people that (it) just tickles their fancy, and they just read and read and read, and they're so happy about it."</p> <p>The first several dozen works added to the Gutenberg archive were hand typed by Hart and others, which as you can imagine, wasn’t the most efficient way to do the job. "This mission is, as much as possible, to encourage all those who are interested in making eBooks and helping to give them away," Hart wrote on the project's website, then later noted: "Project Gutenberg is not in the business of establishing standards."</p> <p>To close out we’ll simply say if you haven’t checked out <a href="">Project Gutenberg</a> for your next book we highly recommend you take a peak. You might be surprised at just how many amazing books you can download legally these days without spending a dime.</p> dead e-book media project Gutenberg News Sun, 11 Sep 2011 14:53:14 +0000 Justin Kerr 20251 at New M-Disc Technology Promises Permanent Data Retention <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u138055/m_disc.jpg" width="228" height="188" style="float: right;" />More and more folks are turning to cloud services like Dropbox to store their oh-so-precious private data, but when it comes to truly valuable info, it's still a good idea to keep a physical backup disc around in case those virtual services crap out on you. Then again, CDs and DVDs scratch <em>waaaaay</em> too easily and have limited shelf lives. If you've ever been screwed by a big gouge across an important backup disc, you might want to check out the new optical media that's hitting the market soon. Supposedly, it lasts forever, and the Department of Defense vouches for its resiliency.</p> <p>They're called M-Discs and they're being brought to market a start-up company called Millenniata, <a href="">Computerworld reports</a>. M-Discs ditch the traditional reflective layer found in standard physical media discs and instead etch the information directly into the body of the multi-layered disc itself, which is made of an undisclosed stone-like substance. Millenniata says that any device that can read a DVD can read an M-Disc – the only special equipment necessary in the whole process is an M-Disc burner. </p> <p>That's cool in and of itself, but Millenniata also claims that M-Discs are darned near impervious to damage. They told Computerworld you can toss an M-Disc in liquid nitrogen, then dump boiling water all over it, and nary a byte of data will be damaged. A DoD study found no data loss after subjecting the M-Disc to grueling conditions -- a claim no other disc can make. </p> <p>Although LG's supplying the initial round of M-Disc burners, Millenniata's CEO says that any DVD hardware manufacturer can make the jump to M-Disc by installing a firmware upgrade on their machines. The M-Disc's staying power comes at the cost of burn speed, however; you can only write to them at a 4x rate. At that speed, it's almost a good thing that M-Discs will only be able to match standard DVD capacities of 4.7GB when they hit the shelves in October for $3 a pop. Millenniata puts their money where their mouth is by offering a lifetime warranty for the discs.</p> <p><em>Image credit:</em></p> burning CD dvd Hardware m-disc media optical disc optical drive News Mon, 08 Aug 2011 17:27:55 +0000 Brad Chacos 19797 at 9 Gadgets and Services That Deliver Sports Everywhere You Go <!--paging_filter--><p>Technological progress grows at different rates depending on the industry, and few industries have gained as much growth in the last several years as sports entertainment. With companies like ESPN leading the way in HD and then 3D television, the sports industry has pushed the rest of the entertainment business to improve and innovate.</p> <p>There are a variety of ways to watch, listen, and follow your sports team these days. Things are almost to the point where a simply having a cable TV service isn’t enough to really get the full experience. We’re going to take a look at a number of services and gadgets that will both enhance your sports viewing experience and provide more flexibility in how and where you watch your sports.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/mlb_tv.jpg" width="500" height="401" /></p> <h3>Services</h3> <p>Sports related services are a microcosm of the technology industry as a whole. There are some free services, some subscription-based and some that are only available with a subscription to another service. We’ll take a look at some of the services that are available from different providers, but be aware that these services are subject to change, and blackout restrictions often apply.</p> <p><strong>LEAGUES</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u112496/mlb.jpg" alt="mlb tv" width="318" height="159" /><br /></strong></p> <p>The national pastime is also one of the most difficult to follow on the professional level due to the sheer number of games in a season and the wide range of times in which the games are played. Fortunately Major League Baseball has a number of different services that will allow you to keep up with your favorite team or fantasy players. <a href="" target="_blank"></a> is baseball’s streaming video service, and allows you to watch both live game broadcasts and full game archives. Premium and mobile services are also available for at different price points. The Premium subscription will allow you to view both home and away broadcasts, and offers live DVR-type controls as well as the ability to simultaneously watch multiple games using split-screen or picture-in-picture.</p> <p>We’re rapidly approaching the start of the NFL season, though whether the season is played as scheduled remains to be seen. Regardless of what happens between the owners and the player’s union, the NFL has a couple of different services that will allow you to keep up with your favorite team. Though the NFL doesn’t stream game video live in the U.S., <a href="" target="_blank">NFL Rewind</a> will let you view games on-demand and commercial-free after the fact. <a href="" target="_blank">NFL Audio Pass</a> is a live service, allowing you to get play-by-play announcements in real-time with commentary from home, away, national, and even Spanish language broadcasts. If you happen to live outside the U.S. or Mexico, <a href="" target="_blank">NFL Game Pass</a> allows you to watch live HD video broadcasts.</p> <p>Right now we’re sandwiched between one of the most exciting NBA seasons in recent memory and a potentially delayed and shortened 2011-2012 season. Once Lebron and Kobe get back on the court, the NBA will have you covered with their NBA League Pass services. Though the details of specific services are up in the air during the offseason, typically the NBA offers both live audio and video streams of their games. Visit the <a href="" target="_blank">NBA League Pass home page</a> for more details and to sign up for notifications as new information is released.</p> <p>Thankfully the NHL is not currently going through a labor dispute, but it’s still the offseason. When the teams get back on the ice the NHL has several levels of service for their Gamecenter product. The baseline Gamecenter product allows you to watch postgame highlight videos and track the scores. Gamecenter Premium adds the ability to listen to live broadcasts and watch in-game highlights. NHL Gamecenter Live provides live and archived game video, as well as access to over 800 classic NHL games.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/sprint-football.jpg" width="288" height="480" /></p> <p><strong>CELLULAR PROVIDERS</strong></p> <p>Smart phones are a great way to follow sports events when you are away from the TV, and mobile providers are using sports-related services as a way to entice new customers. A perfect example is Sprint, who has partnerships with both the NFL and NASCAR. Through these partnerships Sprint customers get exclusive applications and access to live audio, video, and statistics. Other cellular providers offer similar features but availability is sometimes limited on a phone-by-phone basis. Check with your provider to see what may be available to you.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/espn3.jpg" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><strong>ESPN</strong></p> <p>We mentioned it at the top of the article, but ESPN is one of the most technologically advanced companies in the entertainment industry. In addition to their TV services ESPN offers live streaming of their various channels through <a href="" target="_blank">ESPN Networks</a>, based on partnerships with traditional television providers. ESPN also broadcasts much of their content through <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Access to ESPN3 is determined by your internet provider and their partnership with ESPN.</p> <p>In addition to streaming video ESPN is a great source of audio commentary both through <a href="" target="_blank">ESPNRadio</a> and the <a href="" target="_blank">ESPN PodCenter</a>, which provides a huge number of podcasts covering all different sports and leagues. <a href="" target="_blank">ESPN Insider</a> gives users premium-level access to ESPN content and comes bundled with a subscription to ESPN the Magazine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Gadgets</h3> <p>Sports fans have been buying new gear to complement their fandom for years. Binoculars, FM radio headphones, portable Televisions, and satellite radios have all made the rounds as the latest and greatest gizmo. Times change though, and technology waits for waits for no man.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/boxee_box.jpg" width="500" height="333" /></p> <p><strong>BOXEE BOX</strong></p> <p>As set-top boxes go, the Boxee Box has to be one of the most intriguing. Boxee itself is an offshoot of XBMC (Xbox Media Center) and is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X. The Boxee Box hardware is a joint venture between Boxee and Dlink, and features one of the most distinctive profiles you will ever see. For the sports fan the Boxee Box supports MLB.TV, bringing the experience to your living room and allowing you to watch the full complement of games on your big screen. Hockey fans get both NHL GameCenter Live and NHL Vault, which gives you access to classic games. The Boxee Box can be found at a number of online retailers in the neighborhood of $200.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/roku_ufc.jpg" width="436" height="400" /></p> <p><strong>ROKU XDS</strong></p> <p>Though Roku hardware isn’t nearly as edgy as the Boxee, The Roku XDS offers similar functionality for a lower price. Like the Boxee Roku integrates with NHL GameCenter Live and the NHL Vault. NBA fans can get their game on with Roku, watching League Pass games live. Even UFC fans get some love from Roku, getting live and on-demand match video and more. The Roku XDS can be purchased from Roku&nbsp; or other electronics dealers for $99.99.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/espn3-on-xbox.jpg" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p><strong>XBOX 360</strong></p> <p>We all know of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 as one of the premiere gaming systems on the planet, behind the PC of course. But if you have an Xbox Live Gold account and a qualifying ISP your Xbox has access to all the sports video that ESPN3 has to offer. ESPN on the Xbox also fully supports Kinect, meaning you can control the entire experience with your hands and your voice. Kinect also facilitates a social watching experience, allowing your Xbox Live avatar to interact with those of your friends while watching your games.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/nascarsprint-cupmobile-full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/nascarsprint-cupmobile.jpg" width="320" height="480" /></a></p> <p><strong>SAMSUNG EPIG 4G</strong></p> <p>Though the Epic 4G isn’t the only Android device that supports Sprint’s exclusive applications, with the 4” SuperAMOLED screen and 4G connectivity it’s certainly one of our favorites. The Epic 4G gives you access to Sprint Football Live and the associated news, statistics, video, and insider information that every sports fan craves. Fantasy Football die-hards will get their money’s worth with the wealth of information available through Sprint Football Live.<br />Racing fans won’t know how they lived without NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile. Live radio broadcasts, live in-car audio for the various drivers, and more statistics and data than you will know what to do with are at your fingertips, always available on your mobile phone.</p> <p>If neither Football nor Racing are your thing, Sprint doesn’t stop there. Sprint TV offers ESPN MobileTV, SPEED, and NBC Sports on your mobile phone. The best part is that on Sprint all of the previously mentioned apps are free with a data plan. As an Android phone the Epic 4G has access to thousands of apps in the Android Market. There are a host of sports-related apps from ESPN, Major League Baseball, Yahoo, and countless others.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/slingbox_prohd.jpg" width="600" height="217" /></p> <p><strong>SLINGBOX</strong></p> <p>A Slingbox is a device that “place-shifts” your TV signal, or allows you to watch your TV signal from somewhere else. The Slingbox itself is a device that connects to your home network and your TV connection and currently comes in two models, the <a href="" target="_blank">Slingbox Solo</a> and the <a href="" target="_blank">Slingbox Pro-HD</a>. The hardware talks to a service that allows you to watch a live stream in your web browser or within a smart phone app. Best of all the device is smart enough to communicate with your satellite, cable, DVR, or other set-top box. Simply configure the device once and you will be able to view all of your TV channels while on the go.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/watch_espn_ipad.jpg" width="500" height="399" /></p> <p><strong>APPLE IPAD 2</strong></p> <p>Apple’s iPad devices certainly have their limitations, but there is a place for them in the sports fan’s bag of tricks. Even for simple web browsing there is a lot of value to having such a lightweight device as a companion while watching games on the weekend. Scores, statistics, and fantasy trades are a couple of taps away with an iPad.</p> <p>The real benefit to using an iPad instead of an Android tablet or one of the many competitors cropping up these days is simply a matter of apps. Almost all of the usual suspects in the sports world have built apps for the iPad, and most of them have made good use of the larger screen. Most are free, though there are a few that will set you back a few dollars.</p> <p>ESPN makes use of its various services by offering multiple iPad apps. ScoreCenter XL is ESPN’s standard app for tracking scores, news, and statistics and allows you to log in to your account in order to remember your favorite leagues or teams. WatchESPN allows you to watch live ESPN streams on your iPad (though we may have found a bug that disabled audio through the internal speaker. The issue appears to be related to the iPad's mute switch being configured as a screen orientation lock). Many of the sports leagues themselves even offer viewing of their streaming video services through their iPad apps, though regional blackout rules still apply.</p> <p>Your favorite sports magazines are available on your iPad through ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated apps. Podcasts offer another wealth of free content that spans all niches. Fantasy sports lovers will find a massive array of apps that support their favorite leagues and services.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/sec_video.jpg" width="500" height="351" /></p> <p>Technology enhances every facet of our daily lives, and sports entertainment is a perfect example of an area where this is true. Regardless of what sports you follow there are a plethora of ways to enjoy your favorite team. The key is to know where to look for services and gadgets that will give you access to more games, or provide increased flexibility to follow your games while on the go.</p> <p>One difficulty for sports fans is the college sports. College football for example has no single league to fall back to, and games may not be scheduled for a time or specific media outlet until a week or two before the game. Fans are required to take this on a game-by-game basis to determine the best way to follow a particular team. Also different conferences such as the SEC may have their own method of delivering games on-demand after the fact. The key is to educate yourself on the various outlets that are available to you for the specific league or teams for which you are most interested.</p> <p>We know this isn’t an exhaustive list of every sports-related technology out there, and would love to hear what you use to get your game on. Let us know in the comment section what sites, services, or gadgets enhance your life as a sports fan.</p> ESPN Hardware maximum tech media Media Applications Sports streaming Media Streaming Smartphones Features Tue, 12 Jul 2011 19:47:23 +0000 Tim Ferrill 19415 at Build It: Convert Your Home Office Into the Ultimate Home Theatre <!--paging_filter--><h3>Is it possible to convert a standard home office into a surround sound home theater with minimal fuss?</h3> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u139222/homeofficefloorplanduo600_0.jpg" width="600" height="288" /></p> <p>I have an average-size spare bedroom that mostly functions as a home office and gaming room, and has been used primarily by me. Given the cramped quarters of San Francisco apartments, I set out to make the room less me-centric and more family-friendly by transforming this home office into a home office theater. The goal was to create a room suitable for three things: normal PC computing, big-screen surround sound movie viewing with no reconfiguration needed, and big-screen gaming. Ancillary goals were to make the room feel less like a cluttered man cave, and to avoid breaking the bank.</p> <p>For the most part, I think I got this one right.</p> <p>Ingredients</p> <ul> <li>Yamaha YSP-2200 Digital Sound Projector <strong>$715</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Epson PowerLite 8700UB <strong>$2345</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Atdec TH-WH-PJ-FM Telehook Universal Projector Flush Mount <strong>$55</strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/artprojectormount-full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/artprojectormount-small.jpg" width="150" height="76" style="float: right;" /></a> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Elite Screens Manual 120-inch Pull Down Projection Screen, 16:9 Aspect Ratio <strong>$160</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Ceton InfiniTV4 Digital Cable Quad-Tuner card <strong>$400</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Warpia StreamHD Wireless PC to TV 1080P <strong>$140</strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/warpiastreamer-full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/warpiastreamer-small.jpg" width="120" height="120" style="float: right;" /></a> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Logitech Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote Control <strong>$60 (used)</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Logitech diNovo Edge Bluetooth Keyboard <strong>$155</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Razer Onza Tournament Edition <strong>$50</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Glide TV Navigator <strong>$50</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>50x 60-inch Vinyl Pull Down Shade <strong>$60</strong> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li>Cables: 2x 35ft. HDMI High-Speed Cables <strong>$54 each</strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/hdmicables-full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/hdmicables-smll.jpg" width="120" height="120" style="float: right;" /></a> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank"></a></li> </ul> </li> <li><strong>TOTAL: $4298</strong></li> </ul> <h3>Component Spotlight: Audio</h3> <p><strong>YAMAHA SP-2200 DIGITAL SOUND PROJECTOR</strong></p> <p>This is the secret sauce of my digital home theater build. The YSP-2200 delivers big, rich home theater sound at what feels like a bargain rate.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/yamaha-ysp-2200full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/yamaha-ysp-2200-500.jpg" width="500" height="400" /></a><br /><strong>Yamaha's YSP-2200 Digital Sound Projector produces accurate tones in all ranges and accurate surround sound effects.</strong></p> <p>The trick with this build is that I wanted to be able to connect my PC as well as my PlayStation 3 to the 1080p projector. Prior to this, I’d heard considerable praise heaped on Yamaha’s sound projector, and Maximum Tech editor Michael Brown recommended I check out Yamaha’s YSP-2200. I’m glad I did.</p> <p>The YSP-2200 consists of two parts: a 37.13x3x5.75-inch center unit and a 17.13x5.38x13.75-inch subwoofer. It uses complex algorithms and an automated self-calibration routine to determine the acoustic properties of any room, and then projects discrete sound channels at walls and other barriers in the room to recreate the surround sound experience. Frankly, the 5.1 and 7.1 modes really surprised me given the size, enough so that it’s hard to imagine ever buying a space-consuming six- or seven-speaker set again.</p> <p>It also supports HDMI 1.4a, making it 3D-compatible down the road. Not surprisingly, given the acoustic quality and reduced footprint, this is a category that is quickly gaining in popularity. We’re starting to see more and more sound projectors on the market every year. It’s worth noting that Yamaha makes both lower-end and higher-end sound projectors, as do a number of audio companies, including Boston Acoustics and Polk.</p> <h3>Component Spotlight: Video</h3> <p><strong>EPSON 8700UB</strong></p> <p>So much for not breaking the bank. The moment we got our hands on Epson’s 8700UB projector, we knew it was destined to be the visual centerpiece of this project. Truth be told, it’s not that easy to find high-quality 1080p projectors that don’t cost a fortune. The low-end of the price scale in this category includes Optoma’s highly touted HD20 ($900 retail), and Epson’s PowerLite 8350 ($1,100 retail).</p> <p>The picture quality of the 8700UB is superb, and the 1,600 lumen output (which increases to 1,830 in Dynamic mode) allows it to function surprisingly well with some ambient light present.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/epson-projector-full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/epson-projector-600.jpg" width="600" height="311" /></a><br /><strong>You can find cheaper 1080p projectors, but few deliver the sharpness, brightness, and image-throw versatility of Epson's 8700UB.</strong></p> <p>I really love two of this projector’s features. First, an adjustable 2.1:1 manual zoom lens allows you to throw a 110-inch diagonal image from variable distances ranging from 11 feet, 9 inches all the way to 25 feet, 1 inch. This allowed me to run a 120-inch image in my 15x13-foot room. Second, the projector allows you to shift the image position vertically and horizontally, which allowed for convenient installation in the corner of my room. (It’s worth noting that using the zoom lens does reduce the brightness—Projector Central reports that this drop-off can range from 18 to 36 percent, depending on zoom level).</p> <p>I spent a lot of time contemplating a wide variety of projection screens to go with the Epson projector. I drooled over a number of higher-end motorized screens, dreaming of push-button conversion to theater mode before settling on a simple manual screen with a 1.1 gain. It works great. (Gain indicates the reflectivity of any screen or projection surface. A 1.0 gain is considered normal. Most conventional screens have gains in the 1.0 to 1.3 range.)</p> <p>Regardless of the lumens and the slightly reflective screen, I still found that the best condition for the greatest visual quality was darkness. With notions of weekend-long sessions of Portal 2 and Shogun 2 in mind, I purchased an inexpensive vinyl pull-down shade for the large window in this room. In an effort to keep my girlfriend happy, I installed the shade inside of the room’s curtains. Success!</p> <h3>Other Important Components</h3> <p>If you remember <a href="" target="_blank">last year’s 3D HTPC build</a>, you may recall that we used a number of interesting accessories. I transferred a few of the devices we used back then to work with this home theater.</p> <p>The no-brainer of the batch was Ceton’s InfiniTV 4. Its four-tuner capacity makes it a recording workhorse, and Ceton recently introduced the ability to split the four tuners among other Windows systems on a network, which makes for easy live streaming. We’ll explain how to make this work below, but it’s worth noting that you’ll also need to get your hands on a multituner CableCARD from your cable provider if you want to use it.</p> <p>Similarly, I found that Logitech’s diNovo Bluetooth keyboard and Glide TV’s remote control mouse granted me full range of Media Center controls and some basic gaming controls at a distance. Razer’s Onza Tournament Edition controller rounds out my collection of input devices.</p> <p>More and more, Warpia’s StreamHD is becoming an essential part of my home theater. It’s great because it allows my friends and family to quickly and easily run media (including music) from their laptops to the big screen and receiver. A USB dongle plugs into a laptop, which then wirelessly transmits up to a 1080p signal to the soundbar and then on to the projector. As I mentioned in <a href="" target="_blank">my review of the StreamHD</a>, some compression artifacts are visible at the higher resolutions, but picture quality is surprisingly clean.</p> <hr /> <h3>Key Steps In Home Office Conversion<br />Step 1: Rearrange the Room</h3> <p>The first step in converting my office into a hybrid office theater was to rearrange the furniture, desk, and equipment. Oh, the equipment.</p> <p>Prior to the conversion, I had a typical office setup, with a desk facing the window, and an old 36-inch CRT (hey, at least it was 1080p) and stereo system situated on a 7-foot-long wooden media cabinet. Inside the cabinet was my cable box and PlayStation 3.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/homeofficefloorplanbeforefull.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/homeofficefloorplanbefore480.jpg" width="496" height="480" /></a><br /><strong>BEFORE: In terms of shape and size, this layout worked perfect as a makeshift office. However, the TV, cable box, and room layout make it inherently antisocial. The computer is essentially the center of the room, and the weird angles caused by the TV and couch aren't very inviting.</strong></p> <p>One of the goals of this project was to upgrade the CRT to a more impressive-looking (and larger) projection display more suitable for games and HD movies. My other goal was to be able to extend my PC’s desktop onto a projected image for gaming, movies, videos, and more. Secondary goals were to ditch my cable box and enable PS3 action on the big screen.</p> <p>The worst part about redesigning an office/theater room is that you have to spend a whole lot of time unplugging cables. After a few hours, the room was littered with about 45 different types of cables. I placed them all in a box and set them aside. With the hope that I’d never have to use them again, I removed the TV, cable box, speakers, and more from the room. I then set about shifting the furniture around to find the ideal arrangement.</p> <p>Ultimately, I discovered that the most effective configuration for watching media on the projector would be to use the longest dimension of the room for theater viewing. This allowed for a more theater-like feel, and it conveniently allowed me to place my computer in an ideal location on the far side of the room across from the door.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/homeofficefloorplanafterfull.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/homeofficefloorplanafter480.jpg" width="493" height="480" /></a><br /><strong>AFTER: After shifting the furniture around two times, I finally locked in on a format that allows the room to function as an office, home theater, and den. The window provides natural light for the room while working or lounging. And using the longest part of the room as the theater throw makes for a more cinematic experience.</strong></p> <p>Prior to rearranging the furniture, I measured the couch, desk, and media cabinet and made some sketches. However, after spending several half-days arranging and rearranging the furniture in this room, it became clear to me that the only way to find the optimum configuration is to explore as many possibilities as you can.</p> <h3>Step 2: Mount the Projector</h3> <p>In an effort to avoid having to hard mount my projector to the ceiling multiple times, I used a makeshift series of boxes situated in the corner of this room for a few weeks until I was absolutely certain the room configuration was right.</p> <p>After examining a series of projector ceiling mounts, I took a chance on a mount a friend recommended: Atdec’s flush-mounting telehook device. At $55, it’s affordable, but also sturdy. Out of the box, it looks a little bit like a spider—this flexible design allows it to easily latch onto a number of projectors.</p> <p>The first step in mounting the projector is to detach the ceiling/wall mount mechanism so that you can more easily attach the mount to the projector (below, left). This is easily accomplished using the included hex wrench.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep1full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep1.jpg" /></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;<a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep2full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep2.jpg" width="300" height="342" /></a></p> <p>The next step is to determine the center of gravity for your projector. This is important because you want to make sure the projector is properly balanced when you attach it to the mount. You can do this by holding the projector with your hands, and sliding your fingers back and forth on the x and y axis until the projector feels balanced. Mark these axes with a pencil or pen (above, right). The area where they intersect is where you’re going to locate the center of the flush mount.</p> <p>Now it’s time to attach the mount to the projector. To do this, you’ll need to place the projector mount in the center point, and then screw the appropriate-length mounting arms to the center mount. Once you do this, you can tighten up all the mounting arms, and you can then attach the entire mount to the screw holes on the projector (below, left). Use the rubber standoffs to ensure a snug connection (below, right).</p> <p>You’re pretty much done from here. All you have to do now is attach the ceiling/wall mount to your ceiling, which is easily accomplished, and then attach the projector mount to it. The whole process shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep3full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep3.jpg" width="300" height="342" /></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep4full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/mountprojectorstep4.jpg" width="300" height="342" /></a></p> <h3>Step 3: Run and Connect Cables</h3> <p>The YSP-2200 has three HDMI inputs and one HDMI output as well as optical, S/PDIF, and analog audio inputs. This allowed me the convenience of running all my video sources—PC, PS3, and Warpia StreamHD—directly to the soundbar. I could then run a single, long HDMI cable from the soundbar directly to the projector.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/routecableyamaha-full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/routecableyamaha-600.jpg" width="600" height="282" /></a><br /><strong>Like many mid- to high-end receivers, Yamaha's YSP-2200 allows you to run all your video cables through the device to the display.</strong></p> <p>One quick note on HDMI cabling: If you’re going to have a long run, like I do, from either your speakers to your projector, and/or from your PC to the projector, it’s important to know the limitations. Typically, high-speed HDMI cables are capable of longer runs, up to 15 meters (almost 50 feet). They’re also able to transmit 1080p and greater signals. Standard HDMI cables are not able to transmit signals over long distances, and top out at 1080i.</p> <p>I also took advantage of this cable-reconnect job to organize my cables a little more effectively. I zip-tied the slack loops on my cables, and also clipped the long HDMI runs from my PC to the Yamaha YSP-2200 and from the YSP-2200 to the Epson projector.</p> <h3>Step 4: Get TV Tuner Up and Running</h3> <p>Installing and initializing the Ceton InfiniTV 4 tuner card was a snap. I plugged the device into my rig, plugged my CableCARD into the tuner, installed the drivers, and then initialized the card directly in Windows Media Center (below, left).</p> <p>I chose to keep two of the card’s four tuners assigned to my office PC, and I wanted to assign the other two available tuners to the computer connected to the big screen in my living room at the front of my house. This would effectively allow my household to record and watch TV shows in two different locations with only a single CableCARD device managing the content.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep1full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep1.jpg" width="300" height="184" /></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep2full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep2.jpg" width="300" height="184" /></a></p> <p>The process for accomplishing this was easy. Once Windows Media Center detected the four individual tuners the InfiniTV 4 card provided, I deselected tuners 3 and 4, leaving only tuners 1 and 2 available for my home office PC (above, right).</p> <p>Later, after I had completed the setup for the office, I used the InfiniTV Network Tuner setup on my living room PC. First, Windows Media Center detected the two available tuners (below, left); it showed the two tuners already in use as grayed out. I quickly selected tuners 3 and 4 (below, right), and was finished.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep3full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep3.jpg" width="300" height="184" /></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <a class="thickbox" href="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep4full.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u139222/infinitvsetupstep4.jpg" width="300" height="184" /></a><br /><strong>I was able to assign two of the InfiniTV's tuners to my office PC and two to other PCs on my network.</strong></p> <h3>Assessing the Outcome</h3> <p>Between rearranging the furniture and mounting the projector, this project took several weeks to complete, which makes the end result all the more satisfying. I now have a room that is able to function as a basic office, and with a few quick adjustments, I can quickly turn it into a full-on 1080p theater with surround sound and a 110-inch, 16:9 screen. The best part is that I can now play games and movies using my PC or the PlayStation 3.</p> <p>The real surprise here is the YSP-2200. Holy cow, it’s great, so much so that I am kind of kicking myself for buying a 5.1 system for my living room’s sound system last year.</p> <p>Also impressive is the Atdec projector mount. Being able to easily tuck my projector into the top corner of my office frees up lots of space and adds a professional touch that enhances the sense of being in a home theater.</p> <p>If I had to do anything differently, I’d have used a rigid tension-mounted projector screen instead of a pull-down one. The non-tension pull-down screen works well, but the naturally curved surface produces some slightly distorted images. If I had used an $800 projector, this would be excusable, but a $2,200 projector demands a screen more appropriate for a higher-end home theater.</p> <p>But in general, this project was a rousing success. The very best part is that I’ve just become a hero in the eyes of my girlfriend—who no longer has to wonder why two full-time professionals are dedicating an entire room solely to productivity—and my friends. Movie and game nights are way more fun now.</p> build it digital sound projector home office htpc media projectors 2011 August 2011 Speakers Systems From the Magazine Features How-Tos Mon, 27 Jun 2011 21:30:20 +0000 George Jones 19210 at Windows App of the Week: VLC Media Player <!--paging_filter--><p>Why do I like VLC Media Player? Because it plays media. That’s pretty apparent in the title, however, so hear me out: The bane of Windows Media Player is that it straps a whole ton of accessories and add-ons into the picture when all you want to do is play a movie file. You don’t want to fuss with the library. You don’t want to go through a bunch of crappy skins or rudimentary add-ons. You don’t want to wait for Windows Media Player to load. You want a video. End of story.</p> <p>Well, VLC Media Player does just that: It plays a wider range of videos than what the seemingly paltry Windows Media Player is able to handle. And if its supported formats aren’t enough, you can always install a variety of third-party codecs (or codec packs) that allow you to view files of all shapes, sizes, and configurations. It also lets you watch DVDs (or DVD images), play VCDs (who uses those, anyway?), and rock out to standard audio CDs within a lightweight, straightforward environment.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u112496/playall.png" alt="playall" width="504" height="325" /></p> <p>Of course, you’re a Maximum PC reader, so you’re probably interested in all the nuts and bolts that this little player has packed within its open-source frame. Here’s a fun one: Using the minimal-resource VLC Media Player, you can set up a live stream of your desktop that other VLC Media Player users can easily connect to within their respective programs. If you’re planning a business meeting and need everyone to see your screen for some reason, you can’t get much easier than a VLC-based stream.</p> <p>VLC also comes with a comprehensive list of audio and video effects that you can activate at your leisure, including: graphic equalizers and spatializers; image hue, contrast, and saturation adjustments; a one-button “video wall,” video clone, and text-adding feature. You can select different audio and video tracks that you want to listen to or watch within a piece of media and, if necessary, adjust the audio channels on-the-fly. And you can even speed up or slow down your movies as if you had a big ol’ time-shifting dial right in front of you—now paging Dr. Who.</p> <p>Heck, you can even use VLC to set a video as your Windows wallpaper. The list goes on.</p> <p>In short, VLC Media Player is the open-source buffet to your Windows Media Player appetizer. You owe it to yourself to get a hearty meal of media, and VLC Media Player is the best way you’re going to do so.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u16580/05192011_vlc_620.jpg" width="620" height="480" /></p> <p>Download it <a href="">here</a>!</p> <p><em>Former Maximum PC Editor David Murphy is a fan of apps. If you have apps that <strong>you're</strong>&nbsp;a fan of, let him know <a href="">@thedavidmurphy</a>!</em></p> app of the week file format media open-source playback player Software video Windows Features Web Exclusive Wed, 25 May 2011 17:22:04 +0000 David Murphy 18640 at Google Buys Mobile Music Sync Firm Pushlife for $25 Million <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u46173/pushlife.png" alt="PushLife" width="198" height="60" style="float: right;" />Google hasn’t officially announced that it’s entering the music game yet, but with yesterday’s acquisition of Canadian based music startup Pushlife for a cool <a href=";subj=news&amp;tag=2547-1_3-0-20">$25 million</a>, its clear the search giant is looking to make a few improvements to Androids media capabilities. Pushlife was founded by former Research in Motion employee Ray Reddy who had a passion for bringing iTunes style sync to other smartphone platforms, a hobby that seems to have paid off quite handsomely.</p> <p>It is unclear at this point if Google plans to implement Pushlife’s software sync “as is”, or if they were simply after the technology and the engineering expertise for a larger rollout. A sync solution is of course sorely needed on the Android platform, but evangelists will no doubt be surprised Google didn’t go after something a bit more fleshed out such as DoubleTwist.</p> <p>DoubleTwist offers many of the same iTunes sync capabilities Pushlife advertises, along with a very slick interface, and wireless sync. The biggest difference between DoubleTwist and Pushlife, from what we can tell, is the music store relationship. While DoubleTwist is very clearly in bed with Amazon, Pushlife has established relationships with at least a few major labels directly, and was rumored to be going after carrier billing for song purchases. </p> <p>When asked for a comment Google wouldn’t verify the exact terms of the sale, but did say: “We believe the team has a wealth of experience building cool mobile applications, and we think they'll make a great addition to our mobile team."</p> acquisition android Google itunes media mobile music Software News Sun, 10 Apr 2011 16:22:46 +0000 Justin Kerr 18061 at Panasonic Readies 100GB Rewritable Blu-ray Disc <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u69/panasonic_100gb_blu-ray.jpg" width="228" height="108" style="float: right;" />Not a lot of folks can justify paying a premium for a Blu-ray burner and then the media to go along with it. At the other end of the pricing spectrum, DVD burners and media are dirt cheap, and so are mechanical hard drives, for that matter. But if you are going to spend a portion of your fun money on Blu-ray backups, it certainly helps if you can write to discs more than once, something you'll be able to do with Panasonic's upcoming 100GB rewritable Blu-ray disc.</p> <p>According to <a href="">TechOn</a>, Panasonic's Digital AVC Marketing Division is gearing up to release a rewritable single-sided three-layer Blu-ray disc with 100GB of capacity on April 15, 2011. Panasonic says it's the world's first 100GB Blu-ray disc than can be written to more than once.</p> <p>The new disc supports 2x speed writes and is compatible with BDXL Part1 Version3. And at 100GB, it's twice as large as existing single-sided two-layer Blu-ray discs. Panasonic says you'll be able to archive 12 hours of a terrestrial digital TV program in the DR mode (with a transfer rate of 17Mbps) and about eight hours and 40 minutes of a BS digital TV program in the DR mode (transfer rate of 24Mbps).</p> <p>No word yet on price.</p> <p>Image Credit: Panasonic</p> 100GB Blu-ray disc Hardware media panasonic rewritable storage News Tue, 05 Apr 2011 14:30:59 +0000 Paul Lilly 17981 at Rip, Watch and Organize Everything: The Ultimate Media Guide <!--paging_filter--><h3>Ditch the discs! We show you how to rip, convert, store, and stream all your media—while retaining the highest possible level of quality</h3> <p>Listen up, mediaphiles, because this might just be the last time we tackle the preservation of physical media in the hallowed pages of Maximum PC.</p> <p>Yes, the times are changing. Yes, we’ve cut back on purchasing CDs, DVDs, and BDs lately. Yes, we still have plenty of discs lying around in jewel cases on dusty shelves or in enormous three-ring binders. And yes—most definitely yes—we want to be able to access all these movies and songs from our PC, television, and our shiny new smartphone.</p> <p><img src="/files/u127998/mediaguide.jpg" width="600" height="374" /></p> <p>Is it legal to rip your own media? Mostly. In the United States, the circumvention of copy protection and playback control systems is prohibited by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). However, recent “fair use” rulings have relaxed the circumvention rules in specific cases. Our take is that as long as you’re not pirating the content, you’re good, but for a fairly complete rundown of the most current interpretation of the DMCA, point your browser to <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.</p> <p>As always, we’re curious to hear about the tips, tricks, software, and apps you use in your pursuit of the perfect media library. Tell us your deepest secrets at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h2>Rip All of Your Media</h2> <h3>The first step is to transform your collection of CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs into files that can be played on the platform of your choice</h3> <p>Before we start blindly converting discs into files, take a moment to consider where and how the resulting files will be used. You may be interested in converting disc-based content for playback on a specific platform such as a PC, smartphone, portable player, HDTV, or game console. Or, you may want to simply archive a disc so that there is no sacrifice in features or quality.</p> <p>For either scenario, the choice of file format is crucial. An ISO image is perfect for storing a complete copy of a particular disc, and these image files are easily played on a PC or on some stand-alone players. However, that same file may be too large or simply incompatible with a device like a smartphone or game console. Likewise, container, or “wrapper,” file formats, such as MKV (Matroska) and AVI (Audio Video Interleaved), can comprise any number of encoded audio/video (AV) file formats that may or may not be compatible with a particular player. See the “AV Formats” sidebar on the facing page for our guidance, but as a general rule, if you are unsure of the target platform (or there are several) for your disc collection, you should losslessly archive your media so that you can convert it into whatever file format is desired at a later date.</p> <h3>How to Rip an Audio CD</h3> <p>Sure, you could use iTunes or Windows Media Player to create lossy or lossless encodes of your favorite CD audio tracks. However, if you want to ensure that your rips are 100 percent error free, then you need an application that supports AccurateRip (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>), which verifies each ripped track against an Internet database that contains data on more than 1.7 million audio discs. AccurateRip is supported by our favorite free and paid ripping applications—Exact Audio Copy (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and dBpoweramp Reference ($38, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>). These programs also support hardware error detection (C2), which helps ensure precise positioning of the drive’s read head in relationship to the CD data track.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/dbpoweramp_options.jpg" width="405" height="415" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>One of our favorite ripping applications, dBpoweramp is a multithreaded app that uses AccurateRip technology to ensure perfect rips of your audio CDs.</strong></p> <p>We’re partial to dBpoweramp Reference for its inclusion of a batch ripper and batch audio-conversion tool, which includes extensive and easily updated audio codec support. The batch audio converter is ideal for tasks such as converting a collection of losslessly encoded FLAC tracks into the Apple Lossless format for your iPhone and into Ogg Vorbis for use with other media players. It’s also superb at finding and filling in metadata, such as artist name, song title, and album art information.</p> <p>Finally, dBpoweramp’s Codec Central website (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) is the place to go for one-click installations of the most popular audio codecs. To preserve your folder structure when batch-converting an audio archive into other formats, set the output folder to the desired destination (your work folder), and then select Dynamic Naming and change it to: [origpath]\[origfilename].</p> <h3>How to Rip DVD Video</h3> <p>Nowadays, decrypting DVD-Video is a painless task and the antiripping technology that some discs employ is easily circumvented. Tools such as the free DVDFab HD Decrypter (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and AnyDVD HD ($110 for a two-year subscription, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) offer one-click options for dumping the contents of a DVD-Video disc to a folder on a hard drive. This folder structure can then be written back to a recordable DVD or to an ISO image file using a free tool like ImgBurn (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>). </p> <p>You can also convert ripped DVDs to various file formats using freely available encoding tools such as HandBrake (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) or RipBot264 (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>). HandBrake’s native support of DVD file folders makes it slightly easier to use, but RipBot264 can get the job done by pointing the program at the main movie’s first VOB file (they are approximately 1GB) located in the VIDEO_TS folder—it will find and assimilate any related VOB files automagically. </p> <p>One particularly handy feature of AnyDVD is its ability to bypass DVD encryption without actually ripping the disc. With AnyDVD running in the background, the contents of the inserted DVD can be accessed directly by any of the aforementioned tools. AnyDVD also offers the option to rip a DVD directly to an ISO image file that can be mounted in a virtual DVD drive such as SlySoft’s free Virtual CloneDrive program (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>). When used in combination with the My Movies for WMC program (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>), you’ll be able to pull down your entire movie archive in a stream. Some multimedia player programs such as VLC (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and even some stand-alone players support the playback of DVD ISO files.<br />&nbsp;<br />When backing up a DVD movie to a single-layer DVD-R (DVD5), you can improve picture quality by ripping only the main movie, deselecting unneeded audio tracks (stereo instead of 5.1-channel audio helps, too), and deselecting captioning information (also known as “Subpicture”). Finally, there is no reason to transcode DVD video into a resolution greater than 720x480 (the format’s native resolution).</p> <h3>How to Rip Blu-ray Video</h3> <p>Blu-ray’s constantly updated protection schemes require ripping software that’s regularly updated. Once again, we’ll use DVDFab and AnyDVD HD. One thing we particularly like about AnyDVD is that it allows for the playback of Blu-ray movies on PCs that lack a protected video path. One convenience here is that the main movie on a BD often consists of a single .m2ts file located in the .../BDMV/STREAM/ subdirectory. Sort by file size and it’s usually the largest one. Once decrypted, this .m2ts file can be transcoded with free tools like HandBrake or RipBot264.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/bd_stream_folder.jpg" width="500" height="402" /><br /><strong>The largest file in a Blu-ray’s STREAM folder is the main movie title.</strong></p> <p>Ripping a 3D Blu-ray movie is a little trickier. A complete ISO image of a 3D Blu-ray movie will play just fine on a PC running 3D-compatible player software, such as ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Theater 5, Corel’s WinDVD 2010, or CyberLink’s PowerDVD 10. If you are interested in transcoding 3D Blu-ray video, DVDFab offers paid options for one-click conversions into a variety of popular file formats. (The feature is available to try free for 30 days, but it will watermark the output.)</p> <p>Don’t spend extra for Blu-ray movies that include a “digital copy” for use with compatible mobile devices. You can often achieve better picture quality, a smaller-size file, and wider compatibility by transcoding the movie’s .m2ts file yourself. HandBrake has a convenient selection of encoder presets that are particularly great at this task. The program’s picture tab allows you to adjust the output resolution of your encodes, and the video tab provides quality controls that can be used to target a specific bitrate or file size. </p> <p>If you plan to transcode Blu-ray video into a highly compressed format to save storage space, plan on reducing the video resolution as well—a 35GB Blu-ray rip at 1080p converts quite nicely into a much smaller 720p file. Make sure to set the width to 1280 under the picture-size setting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h2>Choosing the Right File Format</h2> <p>Not surprisingly, choosing the right AV file formats to convert to largely depends on the devices you own. Here’s some general guidance based on common usage.</p> <h3>Mobile Devices</h3> <p><strong>Video:</strong> The MPEG-4/H.264 AV formats are ideal for most mobile devices, including the iPhone and Android-based products. When possible, encode using H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC/Part 10) video and two-channel LC (Low Complexity) AAC audio, as this combination provides good quality and compression and wide support. Common H.264 container file extensions include .mp4, .m4v, and .mov.</p> <p><strong>Audio:</strong> Android-based phones lack native support for most popular lossless audio formats (WAV is not a useful option). Android devices do, however, support the free Ogg Vorbis format, which produces superior musical reproduction vs. other lossy formats using similar bitrates—particularly when encoding with lossless channel coupling (Ogg quality-level “-q 6” or greater). For iPhone/iPad audio, Apple Lossless sounds the best, but you can save storage space by going with high-bitrate LC AAC.</p> <h3>DLNA</h3> <p>The only required formats in the spec are JPG pictures, two-channel LPCM audio, and MPEG-2 video. Several optional media formats are also available, and MPEG-4 with AAC audio is becoming increasingly popular. DLNA for mobile devices requires the support of MPEG-4 AVC (aka H.264) video with LC AAC audio—a format easily created with free tools like HandBrake.</p> <h3>Xbox 360</h3> <p>We recommend AVI and DivX—these containers are the only formats that support Dolby Digital audio (2.0 and 5.1 channel). Using H.264, the encoding resolution can go as high as 1080p30 at up to 10Mb/s, but audio must be two-channel LC AAC.</p> <h3>PlayStation 3</h3> <p>The PS3’s lack of support for DTS audio (in files) makes playback of some ripped content problematic. Transcoding DTS audio into two-channel LC AAC ensures excellent compatibility, but surround sound (5.1 channel) is no longer an option. Files with AC3 audio (Dolby Digital) are playable on the PS3, but the video must be transcoded into MPEG-2 if not already in that format. Another workaround for these types of files is to use a real-time transcoder application such as PS3 Media Server.</p> <hr /> <h2>Store Your Media Library</h2> <h3>How to choose the right storage method and make the most of the hardware you already have on hand</h3> <p>As hardware prices continue to fall, cost is no longer the barrier between you and obscene amounts of storage. The real puzzle is choosing a storage method that makes your library accessible to other devices on your network. Let’s take a look at different options for both storing your media and sharing it throughout your network.</p> <h3>Share Files on Your PC</h3> <p>Right or wrong, the classic method of sharing your media across multiple devices is the good old-fashioned file share. Windows 7 does a better job of making this user friendly with HomeGroups. Using a HomeGroup, you can create a relationship between multiple Windows 7 PCs using a single password. This allows you to share your music, pictures, and videos among multiple computers with ease. In conjunction with Windows Media Player, a HomeGroup also allows you to turn your PC into a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) digital media server (DMS), making your content available to a wide range of playback devices, such as your gaming system or TV.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/media_streaming_options.jpg" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Windows 7 can be easily configured to share your media library to other DLNA-capable devices on your network.</strong></p> <p>HomeGroups can be managed in the Network and Sharing Center control panel. In addition to allowing access to your digital media, HomeGroups also handle your Document and Printer sharing. In the Media Streaming options you can choose what types of media you share and what devices on your network are allowed to access your media library.</p> <p>If you’re serious about streaming your PC-based media, be sure to familiarize yourself with the Stream menu in Windows Media Player 12. You can use it to allow devices to play media from your local hard drive, and you can easily allow remote control of Windows Media Player itself. (For Windows XP or Vista users, the same functionality can be achieved using Windows Media Player 11 or 12, though the configuration process isn’t as intuitive.)</p> <p>Using your PC as your media server will also allow you to use advanced features that may not be possible using other solutions. For example, one of the optional fields for music and video is the Parental Rating field. Assuming these fields are populated, you can control which playback devices on your network can access which ratings. For example, you could specify that the kids’ computer could only see media with a maximum rating of PG-13, while the home theater system could play any rating. Media that doesn’t fit your prescribed rating simply doesn’t appear in the library.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/customize_media_streaming_settings.jpg" width="500" height="331" /></p> <p><strong>If you have children and/or sensitive content, use the advanced settings to specify media types and potential ratings.</strong></p> <h3>Network Attached Storage (NAS)</h3> <p>A NAS appliance is one of the most cost- effective methods for centralizing your media. For a few hundred dollars you can purchase a solution that will provide you with multiple terabytes of storage. If you’re really serious about streaming your media to your TV or home theater, you should focus on NAS options that are certified DLNA digital media servers. </p> <p>A NAS that is a certified digital media server will perform all of the heavy lifting in terms of indexing your media and creating a library structure that is accessible from other DLNA devices on your network. Promise Technology’s SmartStor Zero ($290, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) offers two drive bays and effortless setup and installation. Performance is snappy—the included Gigabit Ethernet coupled with multiple RAID options (assuming you’re using multiple drives) make it a solid choice in our book. Other NAS devices we’ve reviewed favorably over the last year include Seagate’s BlackArmor NAS 220 (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and Qnap’s TS-239 Pro Turbo NAS (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>). </p> <p>One other feature we like about NAS is that many manufacturers have partnered with established cloud services or have created their own means of allowing you to access your media from anywhere via laptops, phones, and tablets.</p> <h3>Windows Home Server</h3> <p>Our only real concern regarding WHS 2011, beyond the removal of the Drive Extender feature, is support. In light of HP’s decision to cancel its WHS product line, will Microsoft continue to support the OS? Assuming that it does, and assuming that you live in a Windows-centric world, this remains the premium choice for creating and managing a centralized media library.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/other_libraries.jpg" width="500" height="403" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Users on the network can browse music and video in shared media libraries without leaving Windows Media Player.</strong></p> <p>Native support for DLNA comes in Windows Home Server 2011, but there are a plethora of software tools for folks using previous versions. Additionally, Windows Home Server allows you to configure access from outside your network, giving you the ability to download and even stream content located on your server. </p> <p>Most off-the-shelf Windows Home Servers come with a preinstalled DLNA stack, making configuration a breeze. If you already have or are rolling your own custom-built server, there are several options for making your library accessible to DLNA devices; Twonky Server ($20, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) and TVersity (free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) are our recommendations for turning your Home Server into a DMS.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/home_server_media_settings.jpg" width="600" height="455" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Windows Home Server 2011 features a built-in DLNA digital media server. Options pertaining to video quality and shared file types are configurable.</strong></p> <p>The biggest upside to using Windows Home Server as your centralized storage solution is how well it integrates with the Windows 7 computers that you already have in place. Windows Home Server will actually integrate into the Libraries feature of Windows 7, making it easy for anyone to add music or pictures to your library without having to learn a new UI. An added bonus is that if you’re using Windows Media Center, all of your recorded TV can also be automatically dropped onto your home server, making storage and sharing of new TV episodes an automated process.</p> <p>For detailed instructions on building out a home server, point your browser to <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h2>How Do You Organize 4TB of Data? Diligently!</h2> <p>Regardless of your storage method, you’ll initially want to spend some time making sure you have an optimized file hierarchy for your library. When accessing your content through DLNA, your media will be structured automatically using metadata such as ID3 tags, but you’ll want to perform some fine-tuning in order to make sure everything is easy to locate. There may also be situations where you simply want to move the files and folders around, in which case you will want to have everything organized in a uniform manner. </p> <p>How you use file names and folder structure is up to your personal preferences, but planning ahead and keeping it consistent is a must. For any sufficiently large collection of files, well-crafted folder hierarchies help keep things organized and accessible. Some examples of optimum folder structures for AV file collections include:</p> <p>/.../Media/Video/Movies/DVD<br />/.../Media/Video/Movies/HD<br />/.../Media/Video/TV<br />/.../Media/Audio/Music/[File Format]/Artist/Album/Track</p> <p>It’s also a good idea to create a work folder for your ripped AV output that is separate from your carefully organized archive collection. Things can get messy quickly if a ripper/encoder application hiccups and scatters tracks/files across numerous folders. It’s much easier to contain and clean up such a mess if it is limited to a noncritical work folder.</p> <hr /> <h2>Stream Your Media</h2> <h3>How to share and access your media library from a variety of devices across your network—and beyond!</h3> <p>Here’s where all your hard work, organization, and emphasis on fidelity pays off. TVs, Blu-ray players, PCs, mobile phones, and tablets are just a few of the devices that can easily gain access to a DLNA-certified digital media server. The good news is that finding a DLNA device to play your media is a really simple process. These days, most consumer electronic devices support DLNA out of the box, making this a fairly painless process.</p> <h3>DLNA and Why You Should Use It</h3> <p>The primary function of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), strictly speaking, is to provide a standard method of streaming music, video, and pictures to various devices around your home. The DLNA standards specify profiles that fulfill different roles in the streaming process. As an organization, DLNA members include industry heavyweights such as Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/play_to.jpg" width="320" height="437" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Windows Media Player will allow you to play music or video to a DLNA-certified digital media renderer, such as an Xbox 360.</strong></p> <p>DLNA was spawned from Universal Plug n Play Audio Visual (UPnP AV) and uses web standards such as HTTP, XML, and SOAP to move data between devices. The real benefit of the standard is that the technology is open, which means that devices from competing manufacturers will be compatible. Currently, there are more than 9,000 DLNA-certified devices with more being added every day. Since DLNA is recognized as an international standard and is backed by the biggest manufacturers of consumer electronic devices in the industry, it’s a safe bet that DLNA will be around for a while.</p> <h3>Optimize Your DLNA Setup</h3> <p>The networking aspect of DLNA may be your biggest technological hurdle in getting everything working effectively. DLNA-certified products are going to have to be networked in order to communicate, and extending your network to your home theater system can be… trying.</p> <p>Wireless networking offers convenience, but the trade-off in most cases is reduced performance and stability when compared to a wired network connection. In addition, many DLNA-certified products don’t support wireless networking, so an Ethernet converter or gaming adapter may be required. Performance on your network can be a key issue with DLNA, especially if you want to stream a video in HD with six channels of audio. To give you an idea of the data involved, the bitrate for DVD quality video is around 9.8Mb/s, while a Blu-ray comes in at around 40Mb/s. </p> <p>On paper, a 54Mb/s 802.11g network should be enough to handle anything you throw at it, but with interference or distance that number usually drops dramatically.</p> <h3>DLNA Alternatives</h3> <p>DLNA isn’t a great solution for streaming video from a service like Hulu or Netflix, and it’s not a technology for mirroring your computer’s display on your HDTV. A better solution for mirroring your display is Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology. WiDi uses an integrated chip in a compatible laptop to talk wirelessly to an adapter that is connected to your TV. The requirements for WiDi are strict; the hardware has to be preinstalled in a laptop, and only Netgear and D-Link currently offer adapters. </p> <p>Testing WiDi with a Sony VIAO EA Series laptop and a Netgear PTV1000 WiDi adapter revealed the major upside of WiDi—it’s a completely seamless experience. Running the client application on a compatible laptop will scan for available adapters and show you previous connections. Once the adapter is selected you are only a couple clicks away from displaying your laptop screen on your TV.</p> <p>Another more affordable option that works surprisingly well is Warpia’s StreamHD product, which uses USB Ultra-Wideband (UWB) to transmit up to a 1080p signal (and digital audio) over line-of-sight distances up to 30 feet. We’ll have a full review next month, but so far we’re impressed with the quality of the wireless signal.</p> <h3>Core Components of DLNA</h3> <p>Once you have your digital media server built and populated with your media library, there are a couple methods for browsing and playing back your media. The most popular role for playing back media from a DMS is that of a digital media player (DMP). With a DMP you can find your server, browse the content library, and select media for playback. Any number of devices can function as a DMP—from popular gaming consoles like Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 to tablets like the iPad to TVs and Blu-ray players. When you use Windows Media Player to browse a media library other than your own, the PC you are browsing with is functioning as a DMP, while the device hosting the library is acting as the DMS.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/mpc0511p029.jpg" width="373" height="480" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>TOP: A DLNA-certified digital media player is used to browse and play media stored on a digital media server. </strong></p> <p>BOTTOM: A digital media controller can browse a digital media server, and play music and videos to a digital media renderer.</p> <p>The other popular scenario with DLNA utilizes the digital media server as the source for media, but uses two separate means for selecting and playing the media. A digital media controller (DMC), which could be a PC or a mobile device, browses the server and selects the media. The DMC then sends the music or video to a digital media renderer (DMR) for playback. Classic examples of a DMR would be the Xbox 360 or a DMR-capable HDTV.</p> <p>Here are some practical examples of DLNA at work:</p> <ul> <li>Playing Video in Windows Media Player In Windows Media Player 12, you can quickly and easily browse your locally stored media. Additionally, WMP will recognize DLNA digital media servers located on your network. When using Windows Media Player in Library mode, you can view digital media servers on your network under Other Libraries. From there you can simply drill down in the tree view to select the video you wish to play.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Playing music to a home theater receiver If your home theater receiver supports DMR functionality, like the Onyko TX-NR807 ($1,000; <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) receiver we tested, it’s a cinch to queue a playlist to access within Windows Media Player. Clicking the Play tab at the top of the window will toggle the playlist pane, onto which you can drag music to build your playlist. If your DMR is on the network, the Play To menu at the top of the pane will be enabled. Choosing your receiver from the menu will send your playlist to the DMR. This scenario works equally well with other DMRs, like an Xbox 360.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Using a mobile device to start a video on your TV The scenario that will earn you the most geek cred is using a mobile device to play media stored on your digital media server to your DMR-capable TV. Using free DLNA software like Fusion Stream for iPhone/iPad (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>) or Skifta for Android (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>), you can select and browse digital media servers on your network. After choosing a video, the software-based digital media controller then allows you to choose the digital media renderer on which to play the video.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Displaying pictures from your phone to a TV Many of us have experienced the situation where we have pictures located on our phone that we want to share with a group of people. With a DMR-capable TV, such as the Samsung Series 7 HDTV, you can simply share the pictures from your phone or tablet to the big screen, making it possible for the whole family to view your handiwork. One hurdle is the limited number of TVs that function as a digital media renderer, as opposed to those supporting the digital media player role. Skifta for Android allows you to get around this by serving as an intermediary DMS, so you can browse the mobile device itself using a TV that supports the DMP role.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Watching video on your phone or tablet How often do you have a desire to watch a movie, only to find that someone else is using the TV? As an alternative, you can use a tablet to browse the digital media server that is hosting your videos, select a movie, and begin watching it on the tablet’s screen. Some DLNA software solutions will even allow you to download videos or music for later use offline.</li> </ul> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>DLNA-Certified Products</h3> <p>With upward of 9,000 DLNA-certified products, it can be a chore to find devices that fulfill the different roles you need. DLNA has a couple of tools to help with this process. First, DLNA-certified products all carry the DLNA logo. Many products will support DLNA without being officially certified, though in the case of computers and mobile devices, the certification is based on software capabilities and is generally only an indication that the device manufacturer pursued the certification.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/ptv1000.jpg" width="600" height="137" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>In conjunction with an Intel Wireless Display–capable laptop, Netgear’s PTV1000 adapter will allow you to mirror your PCs display to your HDTV.</strong></p> <p>DLNA also has a web-based tool allowing you to search for specific devices based on manufacturer, role, and model. This database lists every DLNA-certified product and what roles and media types the device supports.</p> <p>You now only have one very important step left: Kick back and enjoy your media!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h2>5 Ways to Access Your Media Library from the Internet</h2> <h3>1. Windows Home Server</h3> <p>The introduction of a Windows Home Server onto your network introduces a plethora of additional functionality. One of the coolest features is the ability to download or stream all of the documents and media stored on your home server from the web. Beyond that, Windows Home Server will even facilitate a Remote Desktop session to any capable member PC on the network, all from a single web page.</p> <p><strong>$100, <a href="" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <h3>2. PogoPlug</h3> <p>It’s really hard to describe the PogoPlug in just a few sentences, but essentially it’s a cloud-centric NAS appliance. The PogoPlug hardware itself doesn’t contain storage, but that is easily remedied with the four USB ports. The free My PogoPlug service will provide you with a web-based method for accessing your files and also makes sharing those files with others a breeze. Free PogoPlug mobile applications are available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and WebOS devices.</p> <p><strong>$99, <a href="" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <h3>3. Orb Live</h3> <p>Orb Live is based on a software install on your PC called Orb Caster. In addition to indexing the media files on your PC and sharing them to your mobile device, Orb will allow you to watch live TV on your iPhone or Android device through a connected PC with a TV tuner card. Orb Live can also transcribe ESPN3 and other Internet TV so that it’s watchable on your phone and provide you with live access to compatible webcams that are attached to the host PC. An Orb plugin is available for Netgear’s ReadyNAS Ultra line of products. Mobile apps come in both free versions with limited functionality and full versions for $9.99. Yes, it’s awesome.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Free ($10 for mobile apps), <a href="" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <h3>4. Tonido</h3> <p>Blending the best of both worlds, Tonido offers both hardware and software solutions to take your media to your own personal cloud. Most of the applications are free, including the mobile clients. The hardware solution is a low-powered home server dubbed the TonidoPlug, which features a single USB port, and costs $99.</p> <p><strong>Free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /></strong></p> <h3>5. Skifta</h3> <p>If you use an Android device, Skifta is an absolute must-have. Not only does Skifta function as a DLNA-certified digital media controller, but in conjunction with a PC-based application, it will allow you to remotely connect and stream content from any DLNA digital media server on your home network. Netgear also shows Skifta some love with an add-on for ReadyNAS Ultra appliances. To top it all off, Skifta lets you push your remote stream to a digital media renderer wherever you are.</p> <p><strong>Free, <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h2>Life after Media: 6 Cloud-Based Alternatives</h2> <p>Everybody knows about Netflix and Pandora, but there are a host of other online content providers that offer high-quality (even HD) content for little to no cost. These six services grant you a wealth of content no matter where you are—as long as you have an Internet connection.</p> <h3>Amazon Video on Demand</h3> <p>Yes, that Amazon. Amazon is becoming a sleeper in the digital content space; it has been adding to its digital content selection for years now and offers digital versions of movies and TV episodes for rental or purchase. Amazon is also making a move in the subscription market with Amazon Prime. Subscribers get unlimited access to more than 5,000 commercial-free movies and TV shows, and this number will grow over time. The service, initially formed to give subscribers unlimited free shipping on all purchases, costs $79 per year. Many Internet-capable TVs and set-top boxes, including Roku, support Amazon Video On Demand, even at HD resolutions.</p> <p><strong>$79, <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>Hulu Plus</h3> <p>We’ve covered this one before, but it’s so ubiquitous that it bears repeating. Hulu Plus’s premium service gives you the ability to watch Hulu on devices like the iPhone/iPad and Roku set-top boxes. The other primary benefit of a Hulu Plus subscription is the ability to watch the full current season of TV shows. Monthly subscriptions cost $7.99, and a one-week free trial is available.</p> <p><strong>$7.99/month, <a href="" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <h3>ESPN3</h3> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/espn3.jpg" width="600" height="358" /></p> <p>If you haven’t been paying attention, ESPN is one of the most technologically advanced media entertainment companies in the universe. From 3D television broadcasts to state-of-the-art web apps, ESPN is constantly pushing the boundaries of technology. ESPN3 is one of the biggest streaming video endeavors to date. While it offers archived video, ESPN broadcasts much of its content live. Offering features such as picture-in-picture, live score updates, and bookmarked timelines to allow you to find the key moments in your game, ESPN3 is a “must bookmark,” in our minds, for sports fans. And, as if that weren’t enough, ESPN has partnered with Microsoft to bring ESPN3 to the Xbox 360 for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. The only real caveat to ESPN3’s world domination is its licensing structure. ESPN3 is free to use, as long as your Internet service provider has a partnership with ESPN.</p> <p><strong>Cable or high-speed pkg required, <a href="" target="_blank"> </a></strong></p> <h3>Bitbop</h3> <p>Billed as an alternative to Hulu Plus, Bitbop is a streaming video service for mobile phones backed by Fox Mobile. Supporting Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry, Bitbop provides access to many popular TV shows, some of which are not available on other services. The service will run you $9.99 per month, with movies available on a pay-per-download basis. Unlike many other streaming video options, the Bitbop application will allow you to download content so that you can watch it later.</p> <p><strong>$9.99/month, <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>Slingbox</h3> <p>Sling Media is another innovative company with an established presence. Its Slingbox product doesn’t remove the need for a cable or satellite TV provider. Instead, it feeds off of and further enables your TV dependency. There are two components to the Slingbox system. The Slingbox itself is a piece of hardware that connects to your TV service and your home network. The second component is an application for your mobile phone or tablet. The point of the system is to allow you to view live TV from your home on your mobile device from anywhere you have Internet connectivity. There are currently two hardware options—the Slingbox Pro-HD and the Slingbox Solo. Mobile applications exist for all of the major mobile platforms.</p> <p><strong>$180 Slingbox Solo / $300 Slingbox Pro HD, <a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /></strong></p> <h3>Zune Pass</h3> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u127998/zune.jpg" width="600" height="426" /></p> <p>Microsoft’s music and video store, Zune, offers digital downloads for prices comparable to the competition. The Zune Pass is one of the hidden gems in media streaming and purchasing; this subscription-based service gives you the ability to download or stream unlimited music from the Zune library. In addition to the free content, you are allowed to download and keep 10 free tracks per month in MP3 format. Zune is available for PC, Xbox 360, and Zune HD, but is especially powerful with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 devices, as you can download and stream music over the air.</p> <p><strong>$14.99 per month / $150 per year, <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-image-teaser"> <div class="field-label"><p><strong>Teaser Image:</strong>&nbsp;<p></div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <img class="imagefield imagefield-field_image_teaser" width="300" height="168" alt="" src="" /> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-source-site"> <div class="field-label"><p><strong>Source Site:</strong>&nbsp;<p></div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Maximum Tech </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-source-link"> <div class="field-label"><p><strong>Source Link:</strong>&nbsp;<p></div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> </div> </div> </div> audio blu-ray rip DLNA dvd ripping game console maximum tech media media streaming Microsoft Windows 7 nas ripping ripping software Software video Windows Windows Home Server windows home server 2011 2011 May 2011 From the Magazine Features How-Tos Mon, 04 Apr 2011 19:11:17 +0000 Robert Heron and Tim Ferrill 17849 at Update v1.9 for Hulu Plus on Roku Now Available <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u69/roku_hulu.jpg" width="228" height="222" style="float: right;" />Hulu has just <a href=";utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+HuluBlog+%28Hulu+Blog+-+Home%29">released</a> a new version of its Hulu Plus app for the Roku set-top box player. You should automatically receive the update to version 1.9 the next time you launch the Hulu Plus app on Roku, though you can also force the update by opening and exiting the Roku Channel Store.</p> <p>There aren't any major changes with the 1.9 update, just a few minor enhancements. These include:</p> <ul> <li>Improved playback reporting to help the Hulu team improve the playback experience</li> <li>UI tweaks to compensate for device overscan</li> <li>Additional improvements and bug fixes</li> </ul> <p>And that's it. Hulu says the update doesn't address the playback issue observed by users who leave the player paused for several minutes or users with very fast network connections, but a firmware update by Roku does. Roku says it has begun <a href=";t=38754">rolling out</a> a new firmware version, version 2.9 built 1553. The firmware adds the following:</p> <ul> <li>Clickable banner ad</li> <li>Several media player improvements, including optimizations to support numerous new content partners</li> <li>Optimized playback of MKV files to reduce unnecessary re-buffers</li> <li>Wi-Fi mode now displayed in network settings (only used to assist Roku Customer Support with troubleshooting wireless connection issues)</li> <li>Other minor fixes</li> </ul> <p>The Roku firmware is being distributed over the next week. Likewise, you can manually grab and apply it now by going to Settings &gt; Player info &gt; Check for Update.</p> app firmware hulu plus maximum tech media movies Roku Software streaming update News Fri, 01 Apr 2011 14:12:58 +0000 Paul Lilly 17935 at New Xbox 360 Disc Format isn't Blu-Ray <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u69/halo_reach_0.jpg" width="228" height="228" style="float: right;" />When Microsoft's Major Nelson <a href="">announced</a> a public preview of an "updated Xbox 360 disc format," the Internet was immediately abuzz with speculation that Blu-ray was finally coming to Redmond's flagship console. We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but that isn't the case. As has been the case with every previous rumor suggesting the Xbox 360 is getting a Blu-ray drive, it's not happening, and it probably never will. Want to know what this new format is? Hit the jump.</p> <p>Eurogamer's <a href="">Digital Foundry</a> says "a highly placed development source has confirmed...that the new disc format being beta tested in a new dashboard upgrade adds 1GB to the storage of the Xbox 360 game discs."</p> <p>As it stands, the maximum space reserved for game data on current discs is 6.8GB out of a maximum of 7.95GB on a standard dual-layer DVD. The remaining 1+GB is for a DVD-Video partition and anti-piracy security sectors. The new format either does away with this partition entirely or greatly reduces it.</p> Blu-ray console disc Hardware maximum tech media Videogames Xbox 360 News Wed, 30 Mar 2011 15:23:32 +0000 Paul Lilly 17887 at