Aug 16, 2009

What is a HDMI Matrix Switcher?

Recently I have bought a HD projector to add to my living room setup. I am a fan of buying good quality hardware and I purchased the Mitsubishi HC5500 which has been working very well. I like to pay less for cables and switches so I don't buy name brands and have really loved accessories from Monoprice for that reason. I was looking for a solution on how to have the projector and TV connected to all of my HD sources. I first started out with a HDMI 5X1 switch from Monoprice which worked very well for connecting my 4 sources but I still had to get up and switch HDMI cables between the TV and the projector. I then bought a HDMI splitter which went from 1X2. This worked to connect to my switch effectively making it 5X2 which was what I wanted.

Then some logistics of this particular setup came up and was not exactly what I wanted. The projector I have is 1080p and the tv I have is 720p. When the splitter negotiates the HDCP handshake and gets the resolution info back from both of the displays it picks the least common denominator of the resolutions (as far as I can tell) and sends that back as the resolution that the display can support. So I would have to watch things in 720p when both were connected. Of course you can set the source to be whatever resolution you want and one display would work then the other would not.

So then I was browsing Monoprice yet again and realized I could have bought what is called a matrix switcher which is a 4X2 HDMI device. The beauty of this device is that you can choose what source goes to which display or effectively split to both displays. It can even support one source going to a single display while a different source goes to your second display simultaneously. I didn't know such a device existed so I thought I would pass this on as a lesson I learned. I still like the other stuff I bought for use other places but could have forgone the purchases.

This solved my resolution problem because I can choose a single display to send the source to so it does not reduce the resolution based on the other display. This would still be a problem if I used it as a splitter but since the projector and tv are in the same room I don't really have a problem. This has an IR port for control so I just integrated this matrix switcher into my Logitech universal remote activities.

Jan 22, 2009

Vudu Inc. Customer Service Report: Great

Vudu Inc. makes the Vudu set-top box that streams up to 1080p movies to your TV. The box works amazingly well, but more on that later. I wanted to share with you my brief and satisfying encounter with their customer service. Recently Vudu has had a sale on their box going from $299 to $99 dollars so I bought one being a long time fan of the capabilities.

The Fedex delivery man got lazy and put on the tracking number that he could not find my house in the middle of the suburbs of a small town. I called Fedex and demanded the money for shipping back as I still did not get my package on the 6th day. The said they could only talk to the company who had the shipping account which was Vudu of course. I sent an email off to Vudu not expecting much of a response. I got this back the next day.

Thank you for contacting VUDU. I can certainly appreciate how you feel regarding this issue. I've had a couple of incidents with Fed Ex myself. Although we are not responsible for Fed Ex's actions, in a gesture of appreciation for joining the VUDU community, I will credit your account the cost of shipping ($9). Please send me a notification when you've activated your VUDU box and I'll add the credit on for you. Welcome to VUDU!

Best regards,
Jimmy Houn
VUDU Customer Care

This made my day. I finally got the box and have started reviewing it. I have no trouble at first but eventually I start to have some choppy playback. I have rented a couple of HDX movies by now and none of them are playing correctly. I sent another email to customer support and get another positive response.

Hi Jark,
I think the problem here is a software glitch, possibly a codec issue. We have not had any widespread issues with playback of HD or HDX content. Please reboot your box (unplug it) and then try the playback of those movies. I've credited your account for $19.96 for the cost of the HD and HDX rentals.

Best regards,
Jimmy Houn
VUDU Customer Care

Well the advice worked and I have not had any playback problems with the Vudu box. Now I get to rent even more movies with the 20 dollars back in credit. So I want to thank Vudu and Jimmy Houn for doing an excellent job and let anyone who sees this to expect good things from them. I will review the Vudu box after I have had some time to really experience it.

Jan 18, 2009

SageTV HD Theater

This is a video of the SageTV HD Theater HD200 accessing Hulu that I found on EngadgetHD. You can buy it now.

Jan 13, 2009

Media Center Extension for Firefox using ZViewer Beta

When I was following the coverage for CES on the ZeeVee device, a QAM local broadcaster, I noticed they were giving away their software for free called Zviewer Beta. This software was developed to make a nice interface for when one streams the pc to the HDTV. The ZeeVee application does not need the ZeeVee box to run. Better yet this was built on top of Firefox 3 which you can download a stand alone installer or just install the extension just as any other Firefox plugin.

Below is a list of the plug-in bundle that is installed

When the install is finished (6.8Mb) Firefox needs a restart and then the launching icon is in the upper right hand corner. Below is an example of what the UI looks like. Of course one can full screen Firefox. Another advantage of running as a Firefox plugin is the ability to run this extension in a tab. As you can see from the screen shots I am running Windows XP in a virtual machine and taking screen shots of that because my main system is a Mac Pro.

This highlights one of the weaknesses of the program. As of yet this will only run on Windows with Firefox 3. Because of the platform choice of Firefox, one would expect other OS's to be supported in the future.
This is drilling down into the menu system which looks really good. Hulu is well supported.

One of the better things about the software is the unified search function over all of the streaming media. This works well. I would like to see a step further with integration. Right now when you choose a show it takes you directly to the webpage of the episode and starts it streaming. It would be nicer if it integrated the stream similar to the way Boxee does this.

Local media folders are supported.

And the result of is beautiful layout with automatic screen shots of random parts of the movie.

Supported Applications
This application is great for organizing your streaming experience all into one interface. It feels very lightweight and well thought out. The interface would be well used on a media center pc as a 10ft display for all of your streaming television watching.

Jan 11, 2009

Vudu Box Back to $299 and Out of Stock

Vudu recently dropped their box price from $299 to $99 dollars during the holiday season. I was able buy one of these during the sale and will be getting it tomorrow in the mail. I guess their promotion went well because their website is showing that they are out of stock on the box itself and everything is back up to normal prices now. I was a bit apprehensive about buying a potential paperweight if the roomers were true about them shutting down. I think this may be a good sign that they just picked up a couple more subscribers. If they go out of business I will have some fun trying to hack the box. It at least has a 250GB hard drive that is probably a laptop drive. After review of this box I will put my thoughts on the Vudu box here.

6 Best DVR Applications according to pole at Lifehacker

This Lifehacker article lays out the 6 most popular DVR applications as shown by their recent pole. I thought it was worth a read. They really need to update the screenshots for MythTV. They are so much better looking than that now! Here are some better screen shots of MythTV. This is the theme I use. Article Link where you can now go and vote for your favorite. Go MythTV!

Jan 10, 2009

Windows 7 Media Center

This video from Engadget HD intrigued me enough to download the beta for Windows 7. I am going to put it on a drive and play with the media center part. In the video the media center interface is being accessed through a touch screen.

Jan 8, 2009

The Analog Hole and Recording HDMI with HDCP

I wrote a little while ago on recording HD using what is called the "analog hole" in my previous post. Since this article has been popular I wanted to revisit it and update it for 2009.

One of my main reasons for building a MythTV was so that I could record HD and SD programming and then do anything I wanted with it. No DRM, no expiration dates, and no hassles. At the time I was also worried about the broadcast flag and I wanted a system that would totally ignore anything similar down the road. I have succeeded in building a system that records HD over cable with QAM and records SD from basic cable. The current trend is to have a set top box or DVR provide the premium HD content that I currently don't have the ability to record. This set me searching for a solution that allows me to record the premium HD content and have the same freedom I have with my current recordings. I also don't want to go buy a special computer with altered bios in order to support cable card recording with Windows Vista Media Center such as Dell and others provide.

Recording Component HD using the Analog Hole

This was the reason that I got excited about the HD-PVR made by Hauppauge. This device is designed specifically to record the analog component HD signal from a cable box or DVR which cannot ever have any copy protection.

The cable company's only recourse would be to turn off or degrade the component HD which would render all HD TV's that were not HDMI with HDCP pretty worthless. I will not put it past them but it would take time to do without alienating customers. Look at the long drawn out analog TV cutoff that may be extended yet again by Obama.

There are very early drivers for the HD-PVR to work with MythTV but I am waiting for these to mature into a beta release before I go down this road. SageTV and BeyondTV both offer support for this and I have read the results are excellent.

Recording HDMI with HDCP

That leaves one thinking of a fool-proof method of recording HDMI with HDCP which is explicitly what the HDCP encryption guards against. There is one solution that I first read about at the MythTV wiki. One can accomplish recording any HDMI source with HDCP including a Blueray or cable box by the use of two products. The updated HD Fury II that can be bought here connected to the Hauppauge HD-PVR.

The HD Fury 2 is designed to allow older TV's, projectors, monitors display HD content from an HDMI source protected with HDCP which these devices can not display. The Fury works by communicating with the HDMI source one would like to record and does the handoff to satisfy the HDCP encryption. Instead of immediately displaying this decoded stream like a TV would the Fury outputs this now analog stream to component or VGA. Once this stream is converted from HDMI to Component then it is analog and has no encryption. One would then connect the component cables to the HD-PVR to record this digital stream at a very high quality.

This solution works with Windows, Mac, and Linux

As of right now the HD-PVR can be used with Windows with the included software, SageTV, and a beta version of BeyondTV. For the Mac, Elagato has a beta version of eyetv that supports the HD-PVR. Linux can use the alpha drivers that allow this solution to work with MythTV.

At the time of this post HD Fury II costs 250 dollars and the HD-PVR is around 200 dollars bring the total cost to 550 dollars. This is a hefty price tag but may be worth it for people like me that want to record premium content in HD but want to have control of the hardware and the recording.

Jan 5, 2009

My Roku Netflix Box is now in HD

Last night I got the 1.5 firmware update on my Roku Netflix Box. The new interface shows clearly that they plan to add new channels to this interface which was confirmed by the announcement today that Amazon on demand is coming to the box. I must have gotten used to the font on the old interface being stretched because now the font looks entirely too skinny.

The quality is as good as an upconverted DVD which is excellent for streaming media. My connection is through the wifi and has no appreciable lag to show for it. Most movies are now starting up with all four stars and doing that quickly. It seems that they fixed the glitch I read about last month or just bought a truckload of bandwidth.

I am starting to love this Roku box as it is becoming the digital swiss army knife of streaming. When all of the major networks have a Roku channel I will be even happier!