Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

Vista Media Center – Are we there yet?

Posted on February 2nd, 2007 in Gadgets, Windows | 1 Comment »

In a word; No, not really, maybe, kind of, Yes. Got that? Clear as mud, isn’t it?

Eric with Media Remote

You might recall last month I started on a quest to investigate the viability of replacing my preferred DVR solution (DirecTV + Tivo) with Vista MCE and off-air HD. You can read about it in: Vista + HDTV = Tivo Killer?

After working with the Artec HD USB 2.0 dongle on my Vista Ultimate test rig (Intel Core 2 Duo based system) for the last few weeks, I can answer you with any of the above, just depends on the time you happen to ask the question.

Basically, the core functionality of off-air DVR recording in HD is there. The most challenging aspect of this feat was the positioning of the provided indoor antenna and dealing with Vista driver issues. Once these issues were settled both Vista and the Artec T14A performed well.

I will comment that playback and live TV viewing was choppy at times, I believe this was due to I/O and CPU strain. Vista records its files to a .dvr-ms file type. And it’s big, no make that VERY BIG. One hour of programming is about 9 Gig. I’m guessing that is due to a lack of compression, while this is a plus for quality, it is a bit unnecessary (with all the great codecs out there today), fills even a big HD quickly, and impacts playback performance.

My test box was low end Core 2 Duo based system (E6300 running @ 1.86) with two gigs of RAM, an NVIDIA 6600GT, and dual SATA drives. With I/O issues in mind I set the recorder location to the D: (not the system) drive, but even this did not completely alleviate the jitters and jumpiness of playback.

But believe it or not it’s not even these technical/performance challenges that bring me to the “kind of, maybe” answer.

Since navigating Vista MCE is pure eye candy you might ask what is my reservation in deploying it as my primary HDTV media hub? While it is true Microsoft has done a wonderful job ripping off all the best interface cues from Tivo, OSX and others, it has not solved the seamless integration problem that is required to live in my media room.

Listen, simply put I want it all. I enjoy DirecTV programming and happen to believe they offer the best service for the price in SD at least. As beautiful as off-air HD is I don’t want to limit myself to the 15 or so local stations I can get with an off-air solution. I want the off-air HD to be my primary for network programming, but I need a DirecTV USB or PCI tuner solution. Come on guys, you promised this type of integration at CES 2006, lets get on with it.

Finally the “No” or is that “No, not yet.”

One of the most compelling aspects of the Vista MCE strategy is its extendibility via the Xbox 360. As I stated previously, the demo at this year’s CES with one Vista Media Center feeding five remote Xboxs was jaw dropping. For $299 not only do I get a full fledged gaming console, it offers me complete access to my digital content (music, photos, DVDs, downloaded content, live and recorded TV) stored elsewhere on my home computer running Vista Home Premium or Ultimate. Sounds great right?

Try to get your local Best Buy or Fry’s employee confirm this functionality or, heaven forbid, demo it. No, unfortunately this solution is still in the Uber Geek, early adopter phase of life. I am hopefully 2007 might mark the turning point for this, but it’s at least 6 months out, if it’s going to happen at all this year.

So thus concludes my search for a perfectly unified HD + digital media player solution for my media room, at least for a month or so, till then I have some CSI episodes to go watch on my Tivo.

Hi-Tech Shopping aid for the ADHD

Posted on January 27th, 2007 in Gadgets | 2 Comments »

The Smart Shopper

With a catchy title like that I could easily be describing any of us. Our days are packed with too much to remember that when we finally make it to the store or out to run errands, the mind goes blank. That’s were the Smart Shopper comes in handy.

I saw this gadget at this year’s CES, and have to admit, where many similar devices have tried (and failed) in the past, the Smart Shopper might just have what it takes to succeed. First off, the Smart Shopper is voice activated – just build your grocery or to-do list with audible commands, rather than an awkward text or button interface. What’s more there is no training like so many ill fated voice based systems, it just works. The designers claim a vocabulary of over 2500 items/words. When I worked with the demo model at the show it did in fact recognize my commands and added them to the list.

Next, it’s tech, but not too much. This is a device targeted for the kitchen / home, not an IT department, therefore it does not boast a whole bunch of jargon and buzzword features – Bluetooth interoperability, no; 802.11 connectivity, nope, micro SD compatibility, not a chance, but it does sport a really nice magnet allowing you to affix it the fridge or any other metal surface.  In fact by comparison to most devices at CES, the Smart Shopper was kind of bulky, and down right un-sexy. But that is great! No tons of flashing LEDs to further distract you, remember why you needed this list manager in the first place – Oh, yea to get organized and simplify my life.

The Smart Shopper is available now online at for a reasonable $149, another big plus – a reasonable price-point.

So if you are looking for some Bling, go invest in a new cell phone or one of those unduly complicated new universal remotes, but if you want a helpful gadget for the kitchen look no farther then the Smart Shopper.

Vista + HDTV = Tivo Killer?

Posted on January 18th, 2007 in Gadgets | 4 Comments »

After my rocky start with the Vista deployment (See my two stories: Vista – The Fresh Install & Vista – The Upgrade: Not so much) I am now moving on to my most ambitious Vista tweaking yet “insert dramatic music here”… Vista as a Media Center.

Artec T14A

To that end I have picked up the Artec T14A USB2 ATSC receiver. Thus far it’s been a trying install but that has been due to tracking down the right Vista Drivers. After talking with the right folks in support I now have the critical driver – Level (linked here if you need it.)  Once this was installed my TV tuner came to life.

Artec T14A Antenna

Not only does the Artec T14A feature a small Dongle for the actual USB device; it’s also features a compact / travel friendly Antenna. Despite its size and flexible construction performance of this antenna seamed very good on the CES trade show floor.

Next up is the bevy of test on the product, but stay tuned, this could just prove to be the long awaited media center to put an end to the loving caresses I reserve only for my Tivo, oh and my family too I suppose.

Go Kennedale Wildcats

Posted on January 12th, 2007 in Gadgets | No Comments »

Kennedale Wildcats Homescreen

So I wanted to show off a little school pride for Kennedale on my Moto Q, and thought hey maybe others would like to put the wildcats on their background. Follow the link and you can install this onto a Motorola Q or it should work on any Windows Mobile 5 device.

Motorola Q Backgrounds

Posted on January 5th, 2007 in Gadgets | No Comments »

Sample Homepage

Ok it’s Friday, so time for something Fun! As many of you know I am a recent convert to the Moto Q, I do still miss my Treo, but love the Outlook integration of the Windows OS on the Q – win some, lose some.  At any rate it’s high time I customize my Q and I’ve found a wonderful free source for homescreens, not the crappy ones that it ships with. 

Check out the variety at and great workmanship, Ray Daley operates this design company and has been kind enough to put up a few freebies for us, check them out.

Motorola Q Update

Posted on January 4th, 2007 in Gadgets | No Comments »

New Motorola Black Q

A new year and a new Q – Now at Verizon you can order the new Black Moto Q and rumor has it that it will be showing up for Sprint customers soon as well. There does not appear to be to be any spec differences between the Silver and Black, however the new model ships with a fresh firmware build, boasting better power management (ah, rejoice!). 

Not all is lost for those with the existing Silver models, the firmware is downloadable from Moto directly.

Installation on mine was similar to prior updates, and yes – it wipes out all your data, so backup your rings and photos first.