Windows 8.1 Ready for Windows 8 Upgrade

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

With the biggest enticement of upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1 being the return of the ill-fated start button, Microsoft has released the upgrade version of software. Navigating to the Windows page will get you to the download link. The only way you will get the download link (at this time) is if you are on a machine with Windows 8 installed. Otherwise it will direct you to a page to upgrade.

Upgrades for Windows 8 are free. If you have Windows 7 or earlier you will have to pay $119.99 for the update. If you want to switch from Home editions to Professional ediction, that will cost $199.99

Of course, 8.1 will also have ability to connect with XBox 360 (and XBox One when released), Skype, file access from anywhere and many more features.

Windows 8.1 also drops us deeper in the rabbit’s hole to a unified OS and forcing us to use the Metro screen more. My biggest gripe on this is programs like Skype, which lost a lot of functionality when the Metro screen upgrade came out.

Windows also took out media center. While I was promised a free upgrade back in Windows 8 (and never got it), the service is now separate from Microsoft and will cost you $99.99 to get it.

Sad.

 

VidaBox vCase3 $50 Coupon Deal

If you are a Home Theater PC fan then you probably know the name VidaBox.  They are a high-end manufacturer of HTPC’s, media servers, and accessories.  In addition to that they also sell a few components for DIYers.  One such component is the vCase3, which is a PC case that enthusiasts can use to build their dream system in.

The vCase3 is sleek component that fits perfectly into a media rack.  Despite it’s size it has space for 3 HDD’s which allows users to pack in up to 9 GB (by current standards).  The HDD storage is rubberized and suspended to cut down on noise.  The front panel contains 2 USB ports and a card reader.  It has space for a Blu-Ray drive (full size, not slim) and takes as standard ATX power supply.

The regular price is $239, but right now they are offering a coupon code that gives a $50 discount.  You can visit the vCase3 site and when purchasing the box use the coupon code SPRING11.

The Xi3 Modular Microcomputer

David Politis of Xi3 Microcomputers (http://xi3.org/) presents the Xi3 Modular Computer. It is an extremely small form factor and operates on only 20 watts of power, yet contains a dual-core AMD Athlon x86 processor operating at 2 gigahertz. The standard model ships with 2 gigabytes of DDR 2 RAM and 8 gigabytes of solid SSD solid state drive memory.

The Xi3 is revolutionary in several different respects. Not only is the unit as small as possible, the motherboard is broken down into three modular, replaceable components. Thus it becomes possible to upgrade to the latest technologies such as USB 3.0 once it becomes widely available in the near future or to higher-performance future CPU processors.

Imagine the Xi3 as the heart of a high-performance, low-engergy-drain, absolutely silent-running Media Center PC. Since it’s x86 architecture running on a dual-core processor on a high-performance SSD drive it can easily boot Windows 7 Ultimate in 30 seconds flat.

Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

Please Support our CES 2011 Sponsors

Get your 14 day Free Trial of Audible Gold to start Listening to great Books!
Save 25% on 4GH Hosting 1yr Subscriptions Save 25% Promo Code CES2.
Sponsor: The New Luxor, Las Vegas Deals Start @ $40.00 best rates guaranteed

Vidabox Liiv Controller LC-200 Coming Soon

Vidabox, one of the top-of-the-line Media Center manufacturers, put out a press release today about a new product they are calling the Liiv Controller.  It will be officially shown for the first time at the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) show which will be held from February 1-3 in Amsterdam, but we have a special early look.

So what is the Liiv Controller?  Quite simply it’s a box, which looks similar to any stereo component, that allows you to control your home media from an iPad.  Now, we aren’t talking about an iPad remote control app here, this is a lot more sophisticated.  The LC-200 is a rack-mountable component that integrated into your home theater and works with Media Center.

It allows you to control, browse, and play any media right from your iPad.  You can control up to 4 separate zones with 6 separate IR control so that you can handle your TV, Audio/video receiver, DVR, Blu-ray/DVD player, as well as other components.  It has 2 RS-232 Serial Ports, 2-way iPod playback controls, is remotely manageable, streams internet radio, and uses vAutomation 2.0 which allows you to program and configure it from any web browser, including the one on your iPad.

There is now pricing available at this point but a release date has been slated for sometime in the second quarter of 2011.  This is one that you’ll want to take a long look at if it lives up to its hype and if you are a home theater/automation geek.

Black Friday Deal For A Great Media Center Keyboard

Just a quick heads-up for anyone looking for a great Media Center (HTPC) keyboard.  Vidabox is offering their keyboard today for US $55.  I reviewed this keyboard a while back.  I have been using it for over a year now and still love it.  It has small trackball at the top right and the left/right click mouse buttons are on the top left.  In between are a host of buttons for Play, Fast Forward, Rewind, Pause, etc., which are compatible with Windows Media Center.  The keyboard works via RF so you don’t need direct line of site to your HTPC and don’t even have to open the cabinet door of your entertainment rack. It’s about the size of a laptop keyboard so it fits nicely in the drawer of the coffee table too.

I paid $79 when I purchased mine, but it now retails for $62 and is only $55 today.  I am almost tempted to buy a second one just in case something happens to the first.  It’s that good.

Vidabox Releases RoomClientV2 Today

Vidabox has been busy lately.  For the second consecutive week they have announced a new product.  Today it is the RoomClinetV2, which is a media extender for streaming Blu-Ray, DVD, music, and photos from a media server.

This is a sleek, slim box that you can fit almost anywhere.  It packs Intel Dual Core 1.8 GHz processor, 2GB of DDR2-800MHz RAM, a slot-loading Blu-ray/DVD±RW/CD drive, and a 80GB 7200 rpm hard drive.  “The RoomClientV2 is our least expensive extender to date with a built-in Blu-ray drive,” explains Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox, LLC. “We’ve combined full 1080p, high definition Blu-ray playback, along with our comprehensive suite of media streaming capabilities for both online and stored content – all into a single, ultra-compact unit.”

They claim it can be mounted to the rear of any HDTV and is especially effective for such locations as a bedroom because of maximum noise level of only 28 dBA.  The size is listed as: Height 1.5″, Width 7.37″, Depth 11.03″, and a weight of only 3lb, 1oz.

As for connectivity, it has 1 front USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port, 1 rear USB 3.0 port, 10/100/1000 LAN port, eSATA port, 1 optical SPDIF-out, 3.5mm analog 2.0 stereo out, 1 HDMI 1.2 output, and 1 DVI output.

Front view

Rear view

Top view



The High End Of Media With Vidabox

Vidabox (pronounced Vee-da-box) is a high-end computer/entertainment manufacturer.  This is a comprehensive whole-house solution for those who want the best, but are also willing to pay for it.  The Home Theater PC’s, Media Servers, and Controllers are all top-of-the-line and they are all ready to take your home to the next level.  And, the customer service is top-notch.

If you are looking for an end-to-end solution then this may be where you want to begin.  They have Media Centers, servers, extenders, and accessories.  You’ll still need to go elsewhere for your TV and A/V receiver, but they’d be hard-pressed to compete in that area with such heavyweights as Pioneer, Samsung (for TV’s), Yamaha, and Harman-Kardon (for receivers).

The Media Center PC’s come in a range of options with storage going from 2TB to 18TB, with the higher end being a RAID5 solution.  Blu-Ray drives are standard on all versions, as is Windows 7, built-in card readers, and TV tuner cards.

The servers are rack-mountable and range in storage from 8TB to 44TB.  Like all servers, they are headless – no monitor, keyboard, mouse, or remote is needed.  All servers are RAID-enabled.

They also make extenders with several different models available.  That will allow you to expand your Media Center and server out to your whole home.

But, perhaps my favorite products are the accessories.  A while back I reviewed the wireless keyboard/mouse with RF, which I have used for more than a year and absolutely love.  They also have something called the vController which is compatible with iPad and allows full remote control of your home entertainment system.

This system is not cheap, but if you want products that give you everything possible in today’s world of ever-changing home media then it may be the best solution that money can buy.  Combine it with good TV’s and receivers and you’ll be set.  And Windows Media Center has lots of home automation plug-ins available if you’d like to really expand what all of this hardware can do.

Onkyo Receivers Adding Windows 7 Support

Onkyo, one of the world’s leaders in A/V receivers, made a big announcement on June 29, 2010.  Their new receivers, the TX-NR3008 and TX-NR5008, are now, not only DLNA certified, but also Compatible with Windows 7.  This means they support the Windows Play To feature.

So, what does all of this mean?  In Microsoft’s own words this is what it means:

Play To allows you to seamlessly play music, video, and photos through your home network to any network media device that carries the Compatible with Windows 7 logo.

If you haven’t used Play To, it’s pretty simple.  From any PC on your network you can open Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer, right-click an audio track, and choose “Play To”.  If you don’t see the Play To option then you can download the plugin HERE.  A Play To icon also appears above the Now Playing list in Windows Media Player.  This does require Windows 7.

My guess is that we will be seeing many of these Windows 7 and networking features added to home theater devices in the near future.

Pursuit Of The Ultimate Media Extender

Hacked Apple TVFor some time now I’ve been experimenting with different ways of getting Internet-based video to my widescreen LCD HD televisions.

Often people think, why not simply hook up a regular desktop computer up to the TV. A desktop computer can be set up to play back virtually any video file type. The problem is, desktop and laptop computers are optimized for use on a desktop, not from a living room chair.

Is the ultimate media extender a set top box of some sort? The trouble with most set top boxes is that they are either walled gardens, or they miss the boat in very important ways.

A media extender should be able to play files stored on a home network, as well as be able to easily stream from services such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. Once set up, everything should be accessible through a simple remote control. Also, for my purposes, I’m willing to pay up to $250 for a box for each television in my house. It should also be able to play ripped DVD collection files that have been ripped to a central home server or network attached storage device.

I’ve hit on an interesting combination that seems to do everything I want it to that involves hacking a standard Apple TV and adding Playon TV server software to another computer on my home network. Playon TV software sells for $39.99.

Recently I purchased a commercial Apple TV hack called ATV Flash, which sells for $49.95. You download either the Windows or Mac version and install it on your computer. When you run the program it will ask you to insert an empty USB memory stick that it will write the installation files to. Then you plug the USB memory stick into your Apple TV and power it up. It will upgrade the Apple TV to be able to play a much wider variety of files, as well as adding Boxee and XMBC playback. It also retains all of the standard Apple TV functionality.

Next, I added the Playon TV software to my HP Windows Home Server. It could have easily been any other computer on my home network that meets the software’s minimum performance requirements. Once Playon TV was installed, I added my credentials for my Netflix account, as well as my Hulu account.

Finally, on my hacked Apple TV I simply start the XBMC application and navigate to UpNP devices on my home network, where Playon TV shows up. I now have access to Hulu and Netflix right on my Apple TV.

The Apple TV itself does not have enough processor horsepower to play back Netflix or Hulu Flash streaming without stuttering and freezing. However, playing it through the Playon TV software causes much of the processing to take place on my Windows Home Server machine, which has plenty of horsepower. Playon TV works by converting the Hulu and Netflix Flash streams into UpNP streams that the hacked Apple TV running XMBC can easily play without stuttering.

So, with this setup I’ve got access to all of my regular iTunes material, including HD and SD video podcasts, as well as a wide variety of streaming material from popular services such as Netflix and Hulu. It would be easy for me to buy additional Apple TV units, apply the ATV Flash hack to them, and attach them to other HDTV’s in my house.

Big Screen EPG for Windows 7 Finally Released

If you have been using Windows Media Center for a while then you may remember Big Screen EPG for Vista MC.  If you aren’t familiar with this program, let me first point out that EPG stands Electronic Program Guide.  In a nutshell, this is the guide data that your DVR (in this case your PC) uses for shows, channels, times, etc.  They have been rather slow to get out a version for Windows 7, but it has finally arrived.

Media Center, of course, comes with guide data that updates regularly and, in general, is pretty good.  Big Screen EPG is more of an enhancement than a necessity.  It does add a fair amount of flexibility though.  Per their website:

► Import EPG Data from one or more XMLTV Based Sources

► Comes with an Easy to use Configuration Tool – providing Setup Wizards and intuitive Customization Functionality

► Intelligent Unique Program and Series Detection Features – allows more Reliable and Powerful Scheduled Recording in Media Center

► Automatic Series Matching and Image/Metadata Import – with an inbuilt database of over 20,000 shows

► Import Logos for all your Channels

► Runs when you’re not around using the Inbuilt Scheduled Task Management Helper

As far as price, it’s a great deal at $19.95 for a 2 year license that allows you to install it on up to 5 PC’s.  It’s compatible with IPTV sources as well.  The controls and setup wizards allow for an incredible amount of control.  And, the interface is simply beautiful.

In short, it’s a worthwhile add-on for your HTPC.  Again, not necessary, but, given the price and the great interface and controls, it’s certainly worth the small fee they are asking.