03.17.10

Dual Boot Andriod and Windows Mobile

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:10 am by mike

It looks like there’s a ROM download to allow an HTC Touch Pro 2 (Tilt 2 for AT&T customers) to dual boot both WM 6.5 and Android.
http://pocketnow.com/tweaks-hacks/android-update-on-the-touch-pro2-it-rocks
There is the potential to brick the phone, so I think I’ll wait a while before trying it.

02.28.10

One Month with the HTC Tilt 2

Posted in Mobile at 9:36 pm by mike

So I’ve been happily using an old Samsung Blackjack (the original) for at least 2 years now (maybe more).   Turns out there was a recall, and AT&T sent me a new one for free about a year ago, so I had a new phone again.   Recently, HTC offered a trade in program with $100 credit for my Blackjack if I upgraded to an HTC phone. (This offer has been extended through April)   Given my upgrade cost for the Tilt 2 was $150 with a $50 rebate from AT&T, free smart phone #2 was a no-brainer.

I was able to upgrade the old Blackjack to WM 6.1 (which provided support for the on-board GPS), hence most my needs were being met by the following apps:

  • TCPMP for streaming RadioParadise and KQED (NPR)
  • BeyondPod which downloads podcasts directly to the phone
  • Built-in Outlook for work email
  • Google Maps (with GPS)
  • Skyfire for full Javascript and Flash support
  • Tethered Internet connection

The Blackjack even supported Bluetooth Stereo A2DP.   In short, 3 years ago, I was doing everything with WM 6.0 and the Blackjack that the IPhone couldn’t.    Lately, they finally relented on the streaming media,  added support for A2DP and I hear Outlook support is improved (assuming you fork out the $ for the apps that support them), but you still have to doc your IPhone to update your podcasts and we know Apple will never pay Adobe a penny for Flash, though I imagine they will give up the ghost on tethering soon.

Of course, Safari on the IPhone is still the most usable hand-held browser out there (even sans-Flash), and Pocket IE on WM 6.1 is nothing for anyone to be proud of.    Skyfire is an interesting solution, but the experience still leaves much to be desired over a 3G link.  But I still find putting  WMIE in mobile mode, and setting the home page to nytimes.com, makes a fast and simple news reader.

So I was basically looking for three things in my next phone: a bigger screen, a better web browser and Wifi support.   I also knew I had to have a full keyboard.    When the Motorola Droid was released, I seriously started considering a purchase, until I was offered the Tilt 2 free.

The Good

So the Tilt 2 is AT&T’s branding for the HTC Touch Pro 2.   Even though this phone is almost 1 year old, it still has an impressive feature set with a 3.6″ 480×800 touchscreen, full QWERTY keyboard, GPS, WiFI, BT and a 3.2MP camera.   Some features I’m quite happy with:

  1. The keyboard:   The buttons on the keyboard are very big, which is perfect for someone with large thumbs like mine.   I have a very hard time typing on my wife’s IPhone on-screen keyboard and also hate the fact that screen rel-estate is lost.

    Nice fat keys for fat thumbs

    Note, while the letters are in standard QWERTY positions, they replaced the numbers in the top row with commonly used punctuations.   So the : / and @ characters are easily typed without a shift function.   The downside is that all numbers require a FN shift, but a simple double press on the FN key acts as a numlock, so the trade-off feels like the right one.

  2. Standard mini-usb connector!  It means I find an extra data and charging cable at the local dollar store for $1.29 (no shipping) and I can charge using the same USB/Car Converter used by my wife’s IPhone.
  3. Seamless Bluetooth connectivity.   The new phone coincided with the purchase of a 2010 Mazda CX-9 (welcome to family life).   Once I paired the phone, it switches to the car speakers seemlessly and downloaded my phone book to the car’s system.   Through newer BT protocols, the touchscreen GPS/control system on the car can select and play music and podcasts from the phone.
  4. Swapable battery.   I was easy enough to find an extra battery for $12.99 at the CellPhoneShop along with a standalone battery charger, which includes a USB port as a bonus.   Throw in a $1.29 mini USB cable, and you have an extra phone charger as well.
  5. Active Sync vs Disk Drive vs Tether:  Each time you plug into a PC, it gives you three choices, and I often switch between all three modes.   It’s the little things that count.
  6. 16GB HDSD card support.  I’m still using the 4GB card I had in the Samsung, which made moving my data over trivial.  Waiting for the price to get under $20 for the 16GB versions.
  7. Touchscreen (sometimes).   Below, I don’t have many nice things to say about the touchscreen interface, but there are a couple apps where it seems to work well: Outlook, GoogleMaps and BeyondPod.   When using the web browsers, it turns out to be a bit of a wash.
  8. ROM Development Community.   It seems HTC is quite open with their specs, allowing the Mobile hacking community to create all sorts of customizations.   I probably won’t try this unless I need the phone unlocked for Europe.   There’s also a dual-sim adaptor available!   This seems to be a common hack in the Far East.

The Bad

So as with any device (and especially Windows Mobile 6.1 as pointed out by Ballmer) there are a number of disappointments in store as the technology is just beginning to catch up with what we really want.

  1. No standard headset connection.  I told a small fib when I said the phone had a standard mini  USB connector.   They actually added a few more pins to support the headset connection.   Any mini cable still works for data and charging, but you have to use the same connector for the headset.     If you want to use a standard headset, they make this screwy connector which also allows you to charge the phone while the headset is plugged in. This is a passable solution for the other car which doesn’t support bluetooth, but it’s just another accessory you are forced to buy (they give you one with the phone) rather than using standard headset or even just ear phones for listening.   It does provide another mini-port, so you can use the HTC headset and charge at the same time.
  2. Windows Mobile 6.5 IE.   Much to my suprise, OOTB, the phone is configured with Opera 9.5 as the default browser.   I decided to try IE with the touchscreen “Zoom bar” (more on that later).    IE was configured in desktop mode, but it basically crashed the first time a tried it, and pretty much everytime after that.   I finally switched IE to mobile mode, and it was much happier.   As mentioned above, I only use it to read nytimes.com now.
  3. Opera 9.5:   As I was writing this, I went to the Opera web site and just downloaded the 10.3 Beta.   Although it doesn’t crash, I was disappointed at the performance.   Also, it seems very reluctant to use the WiFi interface (I haven’t put a sniffer on my network to prove this), but I notice no difference when I hook up to WiFi in the Opera browser performance, while BeyondPod and Skyfire scream on the WiFi connection.
  4. Touchscreen Performance: Best I can tell, the key problem with the phone (and WM 6.1) is the response time to touch actions.   Sure, the WM UI isn’t designed for a touch screen, and things generally work better when using the stylus, but there’s a terrible delay when using a browser between when you slide your finger across the “Zoom bar” and when the action actually takes place.    There are a number of hacks you can make to the phone to improve performance.   I guess I don’t understand why these aren’t done OOTB.
  5. FM Radio.   Why waste the electronics space when every FM station in the western world also has an Internet stream? Also there’s no way to enter a radio station address, you can only search?   Create more space for heat dissipation, and turn up the processor clock.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the upgrade from the Samsung Blackjack, especially given the cost (OK, it was actually $38 in sales tax).   Two of my three goals were hit head on: bigger screen & WiFI support.    Bonus value was a better keyboard and better BT connectivity.    I haven’t given up hope on the web browser just yet.    I now have Opera 10.3 to play with and WM 7 is around the corner and looking compelling.   And if for some reason they don’t make the upgrade available, then I can always reprogram the ROM and install Android…

02.27.10

Improved Commerical Skip

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 8:32 pm by mike

Many thanks to Spockers at the Dragon Global forms for posting his ShowAnalyzer global.conf file.    Commercial skipping is now much improved and no longer being confused by the odd opening scenes in Damages and Fringe.   Seems the tuning effort is a continuous process and if I get anymore info, I’ll post it here.

02.13.10

More 7MC and Video Streaming

Posted in Home Theater at 3:17 pm by mike

So I finally carved some time out after the 11PM feeding to do some more Media Center upgrades.    Following a tip from this 7MC config page, I installed the Adobe Flash 10.1 Beta to address a flash performance problem I was noticing.  This, plus the ATI Catalyst 10.1 drivers did the trick.  I now suspect it was a driver problem all along, since the release notes call out a problem dropping frames in Flash.    Now Hulu playback is pretty much flawless.

I also took the opportunity to upgrade to DVRMS Toolbox 1.2.2.0, along with the latest DTBAdd-in for Windows 7 and ShowAnalyzer.   The latest DBTAdd-in has a fix for the null MediaExperience bug which I was forcing me to restart Media Center in order to get commercial skip working.      I’m hoping the upgrade to ShowAnalyzer will improve the over-aggressive commercial removal when watching Fringe.   But it’s been almost perfect on all the other shows.

I’ve also recently begun to play with Handbrake for converting videos for streaming from Amazon S3.   Converted a whole set of Girls basketball games from a tournament in Wisconsin.    These were raw captures from a Canon GL2 which even though it’s only an SD video camera, still runs around $2K.     I ended up encoding them 3 different times: 1600kbps@30fps, 800kbps@15fps, 400kbps@15fps, all mpeg4/H.264.   It turns out the average Internet connection in Wisconsin isn’t quite the same as Comcast in San Francisco.   I was very impressed at how good the 400kbps videos looked.   The page is a mix of all three, so you can see the difference yourself.   Also, I need to plug Flowplayer which made the integration with S3 a painless cut & paste operation.

Funny thing is that DVRMSToolkit can do all the things Handbrake does, but the UI’s are designed for vastly different purposes.

Finally, the home theater consulting and installation work is beginning to pick up.   On the list of things to do is tossing up a gallery of my installations.

11.20.09

Watching NFL games online

Posted in Home Theater at 8:53 pm by mike

One of the upsides of having a Home Theater PC connected to your big screen is the ability to watch streaming media from the comfort of your couch.   With that in mind, I’ve been playing with various online streaming sites to watch out-of-market NFL games as well as been investigating streaming technology for my own business use.     There are basically three categories of service out there:  Legitimate offers with NFL licensing, pirate P2P sites and a couple offshore fraud sites after a quick credit card charge.   Let’s call them: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

Or the legitimate sites.     First of all, the NFL is streaming every Thursday night game on the NFL Live site.    The coverage of the game is a little different than the standard TV coverage, but I actually like it better.     In this format, they’ve decided to not be so concerned with realtime tracking of the game.    Instead, they will often cut away from the game to highlight the last touchdown drive or other interesting set of downs.   This includes detailed slow-motion/rewind/whiteboard analysis which football strategy fans such as myself are sure to appreciate.   It reminds me of post game film review back with the coaches in High School, just with better technology.     They then cut back to the game with the luxury of jumping back in time if something interesting happened, or simply catching you up on the current action.     Currently, there are far fewer commercials in the stream than you would see on TV (the stream is pretty heavily front-loaded before the action starts).

On the downside, the player does NOT allow you to expand the video to full screen.    It is also resolution aware, so decreasing your resolution will not make the image any larger.   The one trick that does work is using the Windows magnifier app, but you have to make sure not to bump your mouse.   Also, hit F11 to hide your browser bar and tabs.

NFL Live streaming of Thursday night football

NFL Live

As you can see, the quality is nothing special, but much better than you’ll get off the P2P sites listed below.   Also, definitely not a simple 10ft interface for the naive Media Center user, but easy enough if you have a wireless keyboard.

ESPN 360 has a streaming player  download which will expand to full screen mode.    The quality is definitely a step up from above.    It appears the player can handle HD video, but it appears most the content is in SD format.    On the big screen, you still get a number of lighting and compression artifacts coming through.

ESPN 360 Video quality

ESPN 360 Video quality

While they have plenty of MLB and NBA games, along with College and CFL football, I have yet to see any NFL games here.   They are also partnering with Comcast, who is exploring more streaming options for paying customers via comcast.net.   There may be some potential here, but given the traditional tight-fisted greediness of the NFL, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Finally, the NFL also offers Game Rewind.    This is actually an impressive service.   For $24.99 (mid-season price) you get access to the entire archive of 2008 and 2009 seasons.   So in order to write a complete review, I just had to order and try it…

The video quality is by far the best out of all the options.    It happens to use the same player as ESPN360, which means ESPN could be streaming this same quality if they wanted to.

Best Video quality by far

Best Video quality by far

Once again, the full 1920×1200 image.   The snapshot doesn’t really do the picture justice.   There may be some loss in the PNG compression as well.    So I’m pretty happy with the quality, but I suspect I won’t use this all that much.    There is a mode which will let you watch 4 games at a time, switching 3 small screens into the main one.    It seems like a great idea, but the fact none of this is available until after the game is over, it’s difficult to even justify the $25.     I probably should of done the $7.99 for one week just to check it out.   Not a bad option if there’s one game you missed and you just have to see it.

On my wish list for both of these is a Media Center plug-in and the ability to control the app with the remote.   I may hack something together to do this in my copious spare time.

The Ugly

So the truth is, you want to watch your game when its actually happening, and not after you’ve seen the score go by on the ESPN Ticker.    Well it turns out you can do this, but now we’re probably crossing some DMCA lines, especially as far as the NFL is concerned.    On the otherhand, these games are being broadcast over the air in other markets.   If I have a very powerful TV antenna which gets a signal from another market, who’s to say I’m violating any copyrights?    Well, if you want, you can think of the following as antenna extenders:

There are basically three or four sites out there that act as a central clearing house for users who happen to be streaming a particular NFL game. Unfortunately, the quality is extremely variable, if you can get the stream at all.      Here are some I’ve had some luck with:

MyP2P – Will usually show you a number of streams to choose from for each game.  All the streams require some sort of StreamTorrent player.  Quality is actually improved if there are more people near you watching the stream.    Most of the sites appear to be in the EU or Australia, which tells me the NFL cracks down on these when it can.  They also show various TV shows including some premium channels, but I really can’t imagine trying to watch those at this quality level given so many other choices.

Justin.tv – Justin.TV seems to have higher quality streams using a built in flash player.    Of course since they are a legitimate company based in the US, they need to be a little better behaved.   I don’t know if they proactively filter for the NFL games or not, but after the first quarter or so,the game is often replaced with a DMCA take-down notice.   Here’s a snapshot from this weekend’s Minnesota game.   Although the quality is low, the feed appears to be the Fox satelitte feed in that there are no commercials.   Probably coming from overseas:

Justin.TV Fox Football Feed

Justin.TV Fox Football Feed

ATDHE.NET These folks appear to be based out of France.   It’s also a clearing house, so you may get an mms stream which Windows Media Player can handle or sometimes it seems to redirect you back to Justin TV.

UStream.tv – UStream is another legitimate company which will probably take down an NFL game fairly quickly.   They are partnering with many content producers, so they will have other high quality broadcasts.

There are other similar sites as well, often they will point back to one of the three above.    The problem with most of these is that they take advertising from some very questionable players…

The Bad

So even a google search for NFL streaming will bring a couple of these shysters up in the ad blocks.    They basically try to sell you either a PC Satellite TV or a tag line like “Watch NFL & College Football Online Access All Games Live in HD Quality”.    In fact, I bet my AdSense plugin pulls a couple of them up right now:

What these slimballs do is charge you somewhere between $29-99 and then redirect you to the sites listed above. I’ve listed a couple of them here, with the names edited so they don’t get any free SEO out of my posting.

  • www the-honest-review com – gotta love the name
  • www live-football-now1 info
  • livefootballstream info/
  • www squidoo com/watch-nfl-online
  • live-online-now tv/ncaaf

I’ll try to keep this slimeball list up-to-date as I find more.   You’ll also find a number of BS blog sites recommending these services.     First red flag on these websites is you can’t find any “About Us” link on the page, and the Terms of Service mention a Bahamas or other off-shore country.    All their credit card processing and support is done through legit companies, so if you do get suckered by one of these, your credit card company will have no problem reversing the charges.

In summary, the options out there are getting better, especially as 10Mbit+ home connections become the norm.    It would be really nice if the NFL offered a pay-per-view for a specific game, but I believe they are still locked into an exclusive deal with DirectTV.    It would be interesting to know when that expires and whether they plan to keep it exclusive…

11.14.09

RadioParadise High Fidelity Streams

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:57 pm by mike

So RadioParadise turned off their 192K MP3 stream in favor of  Octoshape, a peer-to-peer Windows Media Player plugin to get RadioParadise in 192k format, unfortunately I experienced quite a few drop outs and choppy sound.    Possibly there aren’t enough users yet to get critical mass.  Interestingly, Comcast took down the FAQ which claimed they don’t interfere with P2P traffic.   The FCC came down on them for doing this last year, but with everything they are doing to fight the Net Neutrality movement, I wouldn’t put it past them.   I switched to the 128K ACC+ stream with the Orban plugin.   No drop outs and the quality sounds pretty good.   Note that ACC+ received a much higher quality rating than MP3 on the MUSHRA score.

11.02.09

“The Future of DVD” Panel and Happy Hour

Posted in Home Theater at 5:39 pm by mike

Join EFF in San Francisco Monday for Discussion on Hollywood vs. Consumers’ Rights

Please join the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for a panel discussion on “The Future of DVD” at the Varnish Gallery in San Francisco on Monday, November 9, at 5:30pm.

Panelists include Kaleidescape CEO Michael Malcolm, RealNetworks Vice President and General Counsel Bill Way, and EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. “The Future of DVD” will examine the legal battles over DVD rentals, ripping, backups, home media servers, and portable media players. These questions surrounding RealDVD, Kaleidescape, and Redbox underscore the continuing struggle between Hollywood, consumers, and innovators over the future of the DVD.

“The Future of DVD” panel is free and open to the public, and includes a hosted bar sponsored by RealNetworks.  For more information or to RSVP please email events@eff.org.

WHAT:
“The Future of DVD” Panel and Happy Hour

WHEN:
Monday, November 9
5:30pm to …

WHERE:
Varnish Gallery
77 Natoma St.
San Francisco, CA

10.21.09

Orijnal’s Hulu Desktop WMC Fix

Posted in Windows at 5:06 pm by mike

Orijnal at thegreenbutton.com threw together a quick fix to eliminate the various remote control problems people ran into when combining the Hulu Desktop with the Hulu plugin.   You can read this thread for all the gory details.   I’ve just offered to host the file for him, so shoot any complains his way.  🙂

Instructions From Orijnal:

Just unzip it and put a copy of it in the StartUp folder in the Start Menu (to ensures it’s running when the machine starts up). Make sure it’s running, before you try it out (you’ll see a little hulu logo in your system tray). I spent about a half hour on this, and certainly haven’t done extensive testing, but I haven’t run into any problems with it, yet. It works on 7MC and should work on Vista as well.

Worked like a champ for me.

10.20.09

HTPC Config Posted

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 10:26 pm by mike

I’m now keeping a running page of the HTPC configuration.    This is mostly for my own reference so I can remember what I’ve done and I’ll be keeping it up to date as things change.

10.19.09

Windows 7 Installation – Part 1

Posted in Home Theater, Windows at 8:48 am by mike

OK, my first hiccup while installing the SSD drive was not having an extra SATA cable!   Solved for $10 (probably $9 more than I needed to spend) with a quick trip to Radio Shack on my wife’s scooter.   Decided to time the installation since I got to figure the SSD will make a significant difference.

Total installation time for Windows 7 Ultimate: 17 miinutes, 30 seconds.   Subtract at least a minute for my typing and pauses.

Unfortunately, it took me twice that time to put the machine back together and get all the cables reconnected.    Digital Cable connectors can be quite problematic at times.

Step #2.   Download latest ATI Catalyst software for the video card.  Windows Update automatically found something, but it didn’t install the full ATI Catalyst system.

That’s as far as I got yesterday.  Family responsibilities cut into my fun and I needed to switch back to Vista to record shows during prime-time.   Copying over the channel and recording settings is going to be the most time consuming part of the project.

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