iPhone as a Remote Control for XBMC (Xbox Media Center)

March 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment, iPhone, News, Video

While searching for the ultimate FREE home media center application, I came across XBMC (Xbox Media Center). XBMC was originally created for the first-generation Xbox game console, but it is now available for Linux, Mac OS X (Leopard, Tiger, and Apple TV), Windows (Vista, XP). There is even a live CD version called XBMC Live.

XBMC plays most video formats, and I find it the ultimate player for playing HD movies. For additional features and recommended hardware, please refer to the official XBMC site.

I currently have XBMC installed on my Windows Vista Ultimate (x64), and it is running absolutely flawlessly. My windows machine is connected to my Mitsubishi HC1600 HD DLP Projector, and oh boy…do I have a movie theater in my living room?

After appreciating this set-up for a few weeks, I decided to create a similar one for my bedroom (less the projector), and this time I wanted to use my Mac Book. Fortunately XBMC has a build for Mac OS X, but for a greater positive surprise, I found that there is a XBMC port specifically designed for OS X: Plex. Plex works absolutely amazing and it utilizes both cores of the Mac Book, which is crucial for watching HD Movies.

Now that I have a fully functioning home media center in my living room and bedroom, I couldn’t wish for anything else but a remote that will control them all.

Being an iPhone addict, I searched for XBMC on App Store and was pleasantly surprised. There is an application called XBMC Remote that allows you to control XBMC (or Plex) through your WiFi. That was exactly what I was hoping for and installed the software immediately. XBMC Remote costs $2.99, but is worth every penny. In addition, there is an application called xbmcontrol which is free, but XBMC Remote works better for me.

Setting up XBMC to work with your XBMC Remote is very easy and it takes about a minute:

1. Open XBMC (or Plex) and Navigate to Settings. Write down or remember the IP address.

XBMC Config

2. Enter settings and scroll down to Servers

XBMC Server

3. Highlight (arrow right) Enable Web Server and enable it (hit Enter). Port 80 is preselected and you may leave it as is unless you have a web server on the same subnet accepting connections on port 80. Adding a password is optional.

4. Go to App Store on your iPhone and search for xbmc remote. Install the application and open it.

5. You’ll have to first configure it, by adding a XBMC Host. Select Add Host

XBMC Remote - Settings

6. Enter a title of your choice. Enter the same port number you used on your XBMC or just leave it 80 if you didn’t change it. For Host/IP enter the IP address of your XBMC (the one you remembered from step 1).

XBMC Remote - Config

Select Done and you are all set. Tap on your newly created host, select more and tap on Remote. Now you have a fully functional remote control for your XBMC or Plex. The remote could be used with Buttons or Gestures.

XBMC Remote - Buttons

Pinnacle Systems PCTV HD mini Stick

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment, Hot Devices

, Brilliant HDTV and 100% DIGITAL

Pinnacle PCTV HD mini Stick is an ultra-compact, USB-powered TV tuner that’s the perfect match for super-slim laptops. The integrated signal booster improves reception sensitivity even if the signal isn’t strong. The easy-to-use TVCenter Pro software lets you watch, TimeShift and record TV. You can enjoy TV in full-screen mode or in a scalable window while using other applications. PCTV HD mini Stick comes with a mini remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna.

* Ultra-compact HDTV tuner stick with super-strong reception
* Watch free HDTV on your PC – no service fees
* Supports both digital over-the-air TV (ATSC1) and unencrypted digital cable TV (ClearQAM2)
* Includes mini-remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna
* Turns your PC into a PVR with TimeShifting: pause, rewind TV
* Stereo sound
* Electronic Program Guide (EPG3)
* Automatically record shows to your hard drive in MPEG-1/2 or DivX4 formats, or direct-to-DVD
* Compatible with Windows Media Center5 (Windows Vista™ Home Premium or Ultimate; remote kit sold separately)
* New: built-in slide-cap to protect the USB connector
* New: integrated signal booster improves sensitivity for over-the-air HDTV reception
* Bonus: VideoSpin video editing software
* Bonus: travel bag

Windows Version: $119.99
Mac Version: $129.99

Logitech Squeezebox Boom

November 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment

Plug it in. Turn it on. Rock the house.
Introducing Logitech Squeezebox Boom: the compact all-in-one network music player that combines award-winning Logitech Squeezebox functionality with an integrated amplifier and speakers to deliver crystal clear sound—in any room in your home.

There are no additional accessories needed, or network cables to connect. Just plug it in, follow the setup wizard, and enjoy your digital music collection.

Sanyo intros ultra-portable LCD front projector

November 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment, News

Sanyo on Wednesday announced a new addition to its line-up of ultra-portable projectors with the PLC-XW57. Meant for business and classroom use, the 3LCD projector weighs less than seven pounds, and sports 1024×768-pixel resolution. Its 2,000 lumens brightness rating comes courtesy of a 200W bulb and lets the PLC-XW57 throw up images in bright rooms.

For security, there is a password protection feature that locks out the controls, including the remote control. For connections, there is a pair of VGA terminals, with one switchable to an output, along with component, S-video and composite video inputs. Video resolutions up to 1080i are supported. A network jack and USB port are built into the projector. The 1W built-in speaker delivers sound via a signal incoming from a pair of RCA inputs and 3.5mm jack.

A 1/4x to 16x digital zoom and 1.2x optical zoom lets the PLC-XW57 create images as large as 100 inches from as little as 11 to 14 feet away. The can adjust from an offset orientation up to 20 degrees from the wall thanks to vertical keystone correction function. A Blackboard mode adjusts the output colors to make images appear color-correct even on non-white projection surfaces.

Other features built into the PLC-XW57 include Sanyo’s 3D Automatic Uniformity Correction Control (AUCC) that balances uneven color and brightness gradations, fan noise control that reduces the speed of the fan depending on the projector’s temperature, along with a Countdown or Immediate projection mode that will either wait for the lamp to heat up before throwing up an image or throw one up right away.

The PLC-XW57 is available now, priced at $895.

Denon AVR-689 7.1 A/V Receiver

November 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment, News

Packed with features to maximize audio and video fidelity, the AVR-689 is a powerful 7.1 channel receiver that incorporates the latest surround sound decoding technologies, along with sophisticated video signal handling and upconversion that allows both HDMI v1.3a video inputs as well as providing component video output.

The surround section features the same precision 32 bit floating point DSP technology found on our top-line models, and includes a full array of surround sound decoding functions, including Dolby Digital EX as well as DTS ES 6.1 discrete and matrix decoders for the most thrilling, theater-like surround sound experience. For improved acoustic accuracy, the AVR-689 features Audyssey MultEQ in-room acoustic measurement and correction that fine-tunes the listening space via the supplied microphone, with up to six measurement points to ensure even tonal balance. In addition, the AVR-689 is among the first to feature Audyssey’s remarkable Dynamic Volume processing, which eliminates irritating jumps in volume between TV shows and commercials, as well as Audyssey Dynamic EQ to ensure rich bass and smooth tonal balance, even at low volume levels. All seven amplifier channels feature equal power and lowest distortion, and the AVR-689 is equipped with dual zone multi-room capability that lets you run a 5.1 channel surround speaker system in the main room, while providing independent stereo audio to a pair of speakers in another room.

Wal-Mart devoting more space to Blu-ray

November 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment, Hot Devices

While I love Blu-ray, I’ve been a bit apprehensive about switching out my library to the newer format. After all, all of those estimates says Blu-ray will be history in a few years, anyway. But Wal-Mart is trying to help out the HD disc cause.

In fact, the super store is going to be devoting more shelf space to titles. But in order to do this, they will be getting rid of some of the space devoted to CDs. This is due to the fact that CD sales have dropped about 23% since more and more people download music these days.

This might be a good move, since consumers seems to like the idea of having a tangible, physical movie for their collection, but are perfectly okay with a digital-only copy of a CD. Hopefully, this will help Blu-ray and give them the boost in sales they need. Now, if someone would only make the discs less expensive.

Wireless carriers open the network to embedded devices

Where’s the next big evolution in wireless?  The tier 1 operators think there’s tremendous growth opportunity in embedding wireless connectivity into all types of devices and appliances.

With penetration rates hitting 85 percent and above in the U.S., wireless carriers are quickly realizing that the next big growth opportunity lies in not just connecting people to their networks, but in connecting devices.  And those devices aren’t just the typical wireless handsets but all types of consumer electronics goods and appliances. Basically, any type of device-digital camera, personal music player or navigation device-can be outfitted with wireless.

This is the reason Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility have formed targeted open development business units and it’s why Sprint Nextel’s Xohm Business Unit is encouraging big vendors such as Intel and Nokia to “self-certify” their WiMAX gear to speed device time to market.

PCMCIA cards that connect the carrier’s network to the laptop are a good first step but the only way carriers will reap the rewards of their 3G/4G network investment is to give the consumer an embedded device.

“Whatever device it gets embedded in is OK with me, as long as I have the ability to place it on my network,” said Tony Lewis, vide president of Open Development for Verizon Wireless.

That’s an almost radical position for Verizon Wireless which, most everyone would agree, has a reputation of being something of a control freak when it comes to its network.

“This was met with some skepticism early on but I think folks have come to find out how serious we are and how significant this is and, more importantly, how quick and easy it is to get onto the Verizon Wireless network now,” Lewis said.

Sprint Nextel’s Xohm Business Unit comes from the opposite extreme. Within a couple weeks of its WiMAX launch in Baltimore, Xohm could point to a dozen laptops with embedded WiMAX capability available in retail and 20 more in the pipeline being certified. In the next three to five years, Xohm expects to see “smaller devices really starting to take off in terms of volume. These devices will be digital cameras, video cameras … music devices, e-books. From sheer volume they’re going to be very big,” said Bin Shen, vice president of product management and partnership development at Sprint’s Xohm Business Unit.

Embedding rather than having external USB or card-based technology is important because embedded devices “go through the more conventional consumer electronics device channels,” Shen said. “We all agree in order to drive the wireless broadband and the data adoption you really have to go through an embedded device model.”

AT&T’s 3G product focus is on embedded connectivity with such devices as Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) and Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) that look like small Internet-specific computers.

“When you get to ease-of-use, a plug-and-play for the customer, embedded is going to be the future, especially as you go into some of these other (non-laptop) devices,” said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T. “I believe embedded is the only way to go.”

All the carriers talk about being open, but vendors must go through a screening process to get on their networks. Devices must work within a proprietary scheme, at least with Verizon Wireless and AT&T, and must be certified by all the carriers. Sprint’s WiMAX is an IP-based technology that’s available around the world but devices still need an OK to be on Xohm.

The big difference is how the networks will handle the devices, said Shen, pointing out that data is an add-on for voice-centric 3G and “WiMAX is designed for a really high-speed broadband network.”

However, WiMAX has its limits when it comes to footprint. Sprint’s Xohm Business Unit is expected to merge with Clearwire to form the “new” Clearwire with a $3.2 billion investment from Google, Comcast, Intel and others. That merger is expected to close by year-end and while the “new” Clearwire is promising nationwide ubiquity, AT&T and Verizon Wireless are everywhere now.

“Pretty much everybody has a handset… so where’s the next big momentum in this industry? It’s in the connected devices. An embedded module is a radio chip that would be placed in that device,” Lewis said. “It could be as extreme as your refrigerator or toaster; it could be as useful as medical devices; as fun as gaming devices; attaching things not just to your car but to your parking space, your front door, your medicine cabinet.”

As long as there’s a Verizon connection, Verizon’s open to partnering with any number of device manufacturers and is willing to simplify its certification process. In the end, though, it becomes a Verizon Wireless product built by an outside vendor.

“I want to qualify it for my network. I want to have the ability to have as many devices as possible working on this network. If a manufacturer chooses to go to another network that’s certainly their option to do that,” Lewis said. “This is giving consumers their choice on which network they want to operate this device.”

Perhaps the best example to date of a wildly successful embedded device is the Apple iPhone which really is not open at all.

“We’re having very nice success with the iPhone (and) the only way we got there was because I knew that when Apple walked into my office they weren’t walking into Verizon’s tomorrow. We could really open up and give them all of our details and work on new things and build new capabilities,” Lurie said.

While admitting that the new era of open embedded devices will go both ways–exclusive and non-exclusive–Lurie believes that the relationship with the carrier, not the technology, will drive the market.

“Many of these consumer electronics players have never done mobility before… so they’re looking at their core partner to help them build mobility, build a distribution model, build the device. Those are the things they’re going to want to do with a partner to start and possibly down the road that will change,” he said.

What won’t change is the carriers’ focus on the embedded device as Velcro to bind consumers to their networks and grow revenues beyond voice.

“This is the natural evolution of utilizing one of the greatest assets we have, the network, (and) more importantly giving our consumers even more choices than they have today,” said Lewis. “There are lots of opportunities for folks out there to do some innovative things if they know they have an open network.”

Tivo owners to get Netflix through the box

October 31, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Entertainment

Netflix movie streaming is coming to TiVo by the end of the year. Testing begins immediately, with general availability in early December for those with HD- and Series3-class machines.

The world takes another step closer to the glorious entertainment future of One Box To Rule Them All.