Dec 21

SageTV Review: Animusic

This isn’t so much a tip as a plug. We were watching our local PBS station and saw part of a show called Animusic 2, the second of a collection of animated, computer-generated music videos. I immediately fell in love! I found the DVD at Amazon.com as well as the official Animusic site and bought both Animusic and Animusic 2 DVD’s.

So what makes this relevant to SageTV? Well, SageTV plays these DVD’s perfectly, and they look absolutely stunning on our 42" Westinghouse W4207 Widescreen LCD HD monitor. This collection of musical shorts really demonstrates how music and computer animation can come together to create a stunning, engaging experience. Once you see it, you’ll want to show it to family and friends.

The Animusic site has lots of nice sample videos and screenshots, and offers lots of interesting onfo about these DVD’s. I highly recommend these!

Screenshot from Animusic:
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Screenshot from Animusic 2:
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Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-review-animusic

Dec 19

Joomla! Tip #1: Editing the LUSH Template

I installed a new Joomla Template that I purchased from JoomlaShack. It is a very slick template with a style and feature set that I wanted. Unfortunatly, the colors weren’t really what I wanted, so I decided to try to tweak the colors myself. It turned into a larger undertaking than I expected, but in the end, I learned how to use a new application, and I think the results were pretty good. Read on to see how to edit the JoomlaShack LUSH template….

I was able to change the colors on the LUSH template by following JoomlaShack’s (rather sparse) instructions. It took some time, and was tedious, but it really wasn’t that difficult (at least from my perspective.) There are a number of ways to change the images, but the recommended way by JoomlaShack is to use the "Macromedia Fireworks 8" application to edit the images. Unfortunately, Fireworks is not a cheap program (at about $200+ USD) but you can download a fully functional trial version from the Macromedia site for free. I’m actually considering investing in it because I now understand how to use it, but it is a lot of money.

The changes required two steps:

1. Modifying the graphics:
Using Fireworks, I opened the file "Fireworks_lush001.png" found in the "Graphic Source Files" folder of the LUSH template. This is where all the magic happens.

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The entire template image set is contained in this one .png file.

I next clicked the bottom-left icon under the "Web" section on the Fireworks toolbar to "Hide slices".

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Then I clicked on each graphic element that I wanted to change, clicked the color selector in the Properties pane, and adjusted the colors to my liking.

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I did this for all graphic elements I wanted to change.

Next, I clicked the bottom-right icon under the "Web" section on the Fireworks toolbar to "Show slices".

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Notice that this overlays "slice" outlines on the template. These slices define each graphic element, and were defined by JoomlaShack. Be sure to not change any of these slice definitions!

Finally, I exported all the images using "File > Export" from the menu. I then copied these new images to replace the originals in the template.

2. Tweaking the CSS code:
I then made some minor updates to the CSS file changing some of the color codes using a text editor. This really took a lot of trial and error because I’m not a CSS expert, and the template CSS, though documented, can be difficult to decipher. I still have some color tweaks left to do, but they should be minor.

Tip #1:
Be very sure to save a backup of ALL of your original template files before you make any changes! You never know when you may want the originals.

Tip #2:
Should you decide to attempt making changes, I suggest creating a new "mainmenu" item in Joomla that refers to any existing page. Call it something like "Test Page", or some such. Then assign the LUSH template to only that page. You can then tweak to your heart’s content without affecting the rest of your site.

Tip #2:
Joomla Template files are simply .ZIP files containing the required files. You should be able to easily replace CSS files and image files within the template file. You could install and uninstall and install to test changes, but there’s an easier way. I did all of my editing (graphics and CSS) offline . Instead of uninstalling and re-installing the template, I just manually uploaded (via FTP) any changed files directly to the template directory on my Web host. Once I got things to where I liked them, I then downloaded the whole template directory as a backup.

The process is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it is certainly customizable, and the results can look pretty good.

Thanks to Andrew Smith of the UK for his interest in modifying the LUSH template. His inquiry was my inspiration for this tip!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/joomla-tips/joomla-tip-1-editing-the-lush-template

Dec 06

SageTV Review: Westinghouse W2407 42″ HD Monitor

After building a Home Theater PC (HTPC) based on the SageTV PVR software, I decided that a 27" tube TV with an S-Video connection just wasn’t up to the task of providing maximum performance and display quality that a SageTV-based HTPC can provide. Thanks to an excellent "Black Friday" deal at Best Buy, I was able to economically add a new W4207 to our home theater setup. Read on for my review of this excellent value in LCD HD monitors, and how it fits into my SageTV setup….

CLARIFICATION
I’d like to start off by clarifying one thing: The Westinghouse W4207 is not a TV–it is an HD monitor. This is determined by the fact that the W4207 does not have a built-in tuner. It will not tune analog or digital cable, and it will not tune OTA HD broadcasts. In order to view any content, you must connect it to an external source such as a Cable box, Satellite box, PVR, HTPC, DVD player, or VCR. Depending on your circumstances, this omission could be considered a "pro" because it lowers the overall price, or a "con" because you need an external tuner device. I am using the W4207 in conjunction with an HTPC which handles all video sources, so for me, it is a non-issue. So in this review, I’ll be using the term "TV" and "monitor" interchangeably.

BACKGROUND
I have been researching LCD flat panel TV’s for a while, and I originally decided that the Westinghouse LVM-42W2 42" 1080p HD monitor would be my best option. For the price (currently at between $1200 and $1500) this 1080p HD monitor is an excellent choice, and its reviews were very favorable. I was very close to purchasing one, but I wanted to put off the purchase until some pre- or post-Christmas sales surfaced. Unfortunately, the LVM-42W2′s were recently discontinued by Best Buy, and they are only available (from my location, anyway) via mail order. So, I began investigating other options, and along the way, the W4207 came onto the radar.

I have to admit that I bought the W4207 mostly on faith. The W4207 is a brand new Westinghouse model, and this specific model has no performance or service track record. In fact, I hadn’t actually seen one in the store, but I had read a lot about it. I read some excellent comments and reviews over at the AVS Forum, and knowing the reliability of the AVS Forum, I decided to give the W4207 a try. And besides, Best Buy does have a return policy….

So I went to Best Buy at 3:00am on Black Friday, and was amazed to see somewhere between 300 and 400 people already waiting in line! This group was a hard-core group of savings warriors with tents, cots, coolers, etc. So I promptly turned around, went home, and went back to sleep–This was simply not worth it. At around 9:30am, I decided to stop by Best Buy again to look at other models, assuming that the W4207 was sold out. A guy in the TV department said that they still had 4-5 left, so I immediately bought one. So far, I love it!

Most reviews of the W4207 tend to be very honest. This means that the W4207 is not the perfect HD monitor, but considering its low price point (MSRP is $1499) it is very competitive with other similar models, so its shortcomings tend to be forgivable.

RESOLUTION
One point of note is the fact that the W4207 is a 720p monitor, a potential step down from 1080p monitors. It will handle 420p, 420i, 720p, 720i, and 1080i content, but not 1080p content. But I have to wonder if 1080p displays are currently the Betamax of HD displays. By this, I mean that though 1080p displays are generally superior to 720p displays, they also tend to be more expensive, generally out of the range of many consumers. 720p displays are currently much more affordable while at the same time giving excellent display quality results. And most HD offerings through OTA, cable, and satellite providers are not 1080p broadcasts. Obviously, purists and videophiles will disagree, but for the typical consumer, I believe 720p displays are the current best choice, understanding that this may change in the next few years.

For me, the choice of 1080p vs. 720p really boiled down to two factors: price and quality. The price was very attractive (especially with the Black Friday specials) so that was a no-brainer. As for the quality, based on what I said above, I decided that 1080p simply was something that I don’t need at this time. My HTPC records 2 SD cable sources, so no matter how good the display is, I’m still limited by SD quality. The SageTV’s UI is simply stunning being crisp and clear on the W4207, DVD’s look excellent, and HD videos look stunning. But considering that 90% of our TV viewing is SD cable, I believe that anything more than 720p is really overkill for us.

SIZE
At 42", the W4207 provides an amazing image from a couch at about 12 feet away. It doesn’t overpower the room, image quality looks great from that distance, and I don’t feel overwhelmed by its size. Yet it is big enough to make out old It’s a huge step up from our old 27" tube TV look puny.

PICTURE QUALITY
I’m certainly no videophile, so my observations are solely based on my viewing relatives’, friends’, and in-store HD setups. I personally think the picture quality is stunning. Viewing a Windows XP screen via a DVI connection is crisp and clear, so running the SageTV PVR software presents a very crisp, clean, smooth User Interface. From 12 feet away, everything is very readable. But SageTV’s UI is designed for that. Windows XP navigation such as using Internet Explorer was still a bit small at 12 feet, but increasing the default font size significantly improved things.

I next connected our MOXI HD DVR via component cables, and HD content looked excellent. It wasn’t quite as crisp as my HTPC connected via DVI, but it still blows the doors off of SD content.

Which brings me to one down side: like most large-screen TV’s, Standard Definition playback is OK, and it all really depends on the source. Raw analog cable running through a SageTV-based HTPC is very watchable. Tweaking capture, decoder, and video driver settings can certainly improve things, but the fact is that when you blow up a small image to a large screen, so you’re inevitably going to see some noise, artifacts, etc. SD cable through a digital STB (again, recorded through a SageTV-based HTPC) does look better than raw analog. Probably 90% of our TV viewing consists of SD recordings off of cable, so the trade-off in quality to have everything consolidated through our HTPC is worth it.

Oh, and DVD’s look great. Seeing a video image on a huge screen is very nice!

ASPECT RATIOS
The W4207 only has two aspect ration settings: Standard and Full. Standard is a "pass-through" setting such that whatever is fed is displayed in the format fed. Full basically zooms in the image. Depending on your source, (SD, HD, letterboxed, pillerboxed, etc.) the resulting image will vary. It would have been nice if there were more settings, but it turns out that for my use, I’ll most likely always keep this set to Standard and let SageTV handle any aspect ratio adjustments.

That said, some tinkering may need to be done on your source to get the aspect ratio how you like it. Nothing’s worse then watching a letterboxed SD recording that is also pillboxes. Switching to "full" can often make it much better.

COLOR AND BRIGHTNESS
Again, not being a videophile, I can only comment based on simple observation. Colors seem to pop out very nicely. Going through the on-screen adjustments, you can easily manage hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, color temperature, etc. I actually found the default to give very nice results, but by displaying several "color bar" and "test pattern" screens from my connected PC, I was able to adjust things very nicely. Default brightness and backlight intensity were a bit high, so I had to back them down a bit to prevent squinting. Probably my only complaint is that when the lights are out, blacks aren’t as black as I would want them to be, but my understanding is that it is typical of LCD’s.

INPUTS
Inspired by Neo in The Matrix, I have to say, "Inputs…lots of inputs!" There’s VGA, 2 DVI, HDMI, 2 Component, composite, and S-Video. Under most circumstances, you should be pretty covered. I have our HTPC connected through DVI.

One other feature I really like is the "auto-sensing" input feature. When you connect a source, the W4207 automatically switches to that input. It relieves you from having to cycle through the available inputs to find the display you want like many other Westinghouse models. This may annoy some, but I find it to be an excellent addition.

REMOTE
The remote is pretty standard, and though there are a couple buttons that don’t do anything, it’s pretty intuitive. I really like the fact that the inputs have separate buttons. It makes moving from input to input so easy. There’s nothing more frustrating than to have to cycle through inputs, especially on models that have long input switching delays.

One thing missing on the remote that is missing on most is programability. These days, I really can’t understand why companies don’t include universal or programmable remotes. I’ll probably purchase a Harmony remote to consolidate everything, but until then, the remote sits prominently along side its colleagues….

PROS
Great overall quality (construction and picture)
Excellent value, if bought discounted or not
Colors are vivid and deep
Brightness is excellent, even in lighted rooms
Lots of advanced connections allowing excellent expandability
Remote has a decent feel and buttons are pretty logical

CONS
Limited aspect ratio settings
No advanced picture quality adjustments
No HD tuner (may or may not be a con depending on your needs)
The remote has some unused buttons. Why?
The remote is not programmable

CONCLUSION
I find the W4207 to be an excellent choice for those seeking great image quality at a reasonable price. The fact that I was able to take advantage of the unusual Black Friday deals certainly helped, but even at its full retail price, I think it is something to definitely consider. Westinghouse has an excellent reputation for quality and customer satisfaction, so I’m hoping that the performance and service record for the W4207 holds true. There are certainly better choices available, specifically when considering feature-for-feature comparisons, but at the price, it’s an excellent value.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-review-westinghouse-w2407-42-hd-monitor

Nov 10

Gmail Tip #56: Five New Features Launched!

Gmail has just rolled out 5 new features to add to Gmail’s arsenal including new Mobile Phone access.

-Gmail On Your Mobile Phone
-Forward all
-Reply on top
-Embarrassment-reducing new message notifications
-Chat while your friends are offline

Read on to see the details of these new features….

Gmail On Your Mobile Phone
Point your phone to gmail.com/app, download it the app, and you can access Gmail on your phone with just a click or two.

Some neat features:

  • It has the same Gmail interface you know and love
  • Your account stays synchronized whether you access it from your computer or the phone
  • You can easily view attachments such as photos, documents and .pdf files

To learn more about Gmail for mobile devices, visit this page: http://www.google.com/mobile/gmail/#utm_source=en-cpp-g4mc-gmnew&utm_medium=cpp&utm_campaign=en

Just be sure to check out the phone compatibility at their Supported Mobile Phone link at http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=50425 Not all phones are supported (mine isn’t.)

Forward all
When viewing a conversation, you can now click the "Forward all" link to forward the entire conversation instead of just one message.

Reply on top
ReplyNow you don’t hacve to scroll all the way to the bottom of a message to find the “Reply” link. Now there’s a Reply button right on top. It also has a nice dropdown menu with many other options. Just click the little dropdown arrow. And don’t forget that if you have Keyboard Shortcuts enabled, you can always press the "r" key to reply.

Embarassment-reducing new message notifications
Have you ever replied to a message only to find out that someone sent a reply right before you? Now, if someone sends a reply while you’re in the middle of reading or replying to a conversation, you’ll get a notification that a new message has arrived. Click "update conversation" to upate the view to see what you’ve missed.

Chat while your friends are offline
If you’re chatting with a friend who goes offline, your friend will be able to see whatever you typed the next time he or she goes online.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/gmail-tips/gmail-tip-56-five-new-features-launched

Nov 07

SageTV Tip #3: All About My SageTV HTPC

I decided to build a Home Theater PC (HTPC), and with SageTV at its core, it is proving to be an excellent choice. Read on to learn why I decided to build a HTPC, what componets I chose, the issues I had, and my plans for the future….

Why did I build an HTPC?
I’ve been a long-time DVR user, having used several ReplayTV models and a Moxi HD DVR. Each of these "standalone" DVR’s have excellent features, are very capable, and have stood the test of time (I purchased the first ReplayTV box very shortly after its initial release.) That said, there are three issues that were bugging me that caused me to decide to build an HTPC to replace them:

1. None of my ReplayTV boxes could reliably control our Motorola DCT-2000 Cable box. Unfortunately, cable companies don’t give you a lot of choice in Digital Cable boxes, so the DCT-2000 is what I have. My ReplayTV 2xxx series boxes worked fairly well, but my 5xxx box wouldn’t control reliably. Yes, I read the workarounds. Yes, I searched Google and the AVS Forum, and followed countless instructions on getting it to work, but it was never unstable. The setup required an IR blaster, and the remote control codes were repeatably unreliable. Despite the fact that both ReplayTV and the DCT-2000 had serial connectors, ReplayTV couldn’t control the Cable box via the serial port. It could control several DirecTV Satellite receivers just fine, but not the DCT-2000. Apparantly, it wasn’t a priority to ReplayTV. So, we ended up switching to a Moxi DVR through our Cable company–which leads me to my next gripe….

2. Moxi is an EXCELLENT DVR offering many great features. I loved it. My wife loved it. My in-laws all loved it enough that they got them too. But the problem was that Moxi was becoming cost-prohibitive. Like most cable companies, initially, we had a great subscription package, but after the homeymoon as a new cable customer was over, the overall price of cable went up…way up. Every month, we had to shell out multiple fees that included such things as "Digital Receiver", "Digital Access", and "Moxi PVR service", all of which added up to just under $20.00 per month just for the privilege of using a Moxi DVR that we did not own. And that was before any actual programming was added it. My brother-in-law has two Moxi boxes, so for him, the Moxi-specific cost was doubled.

3. Both ReplayTV and Moxi imposed limitations that they simply wouldn’t lift. I was very active on several ReplayTV and Moxi forums, and I even did beta testing for both, so I was intimately familiar with the functions and features available. I feel that I could also objectively reveal excellent features as will as the shortcomings and lacking features of both. Specific to ReplayTV, users asked and asked for various features, but more often than not, it fell on deaf ears. Specific to Moxi, while it is an amazingly feature-rich product, the entire Moxi feature set is completely controlled by the cable company. Though Moxi itself offers excellent features and functions, the availability and configuration of these features and functions is controlled exclusively by the Cable company. If they decide it’s not profitable for them to enable existing functionality, or to configure a certain function in a specific way, then they won’t. The user is at the mercy of the cable company’s decisions.

So, determined that I wanted reliability, extendable features, and full control, I decided to roll my own.

The components
I worked with an experienced colleague at work who helped me pick out the components best suited for the task and within my price range, and settled on the following setup:

ASUS M2N-E Socket AM2 NVIDIA nForce 570 Ultra MCP ATX AMD Motherboard
AMD Athlon 64 3200+ Orleans 2.0GHz Socket AM2 Processor
1GB Kingston RAM
NEC ND-3550A 16X DVD±R DVD Burner
Seagate Barracuda 320GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive
Antec Overture II Piano-black/Silver Steel ATX Desktop Computer Case
2 x Hauppauge WINTV-PVR-150
Windows XP Pro SP2
SageTV v6 Beta

I purchased everything through NewEgg.com. Unfortunatly, the Seagate Hard Drive was damaged with lots of bad sector errors, and the front of the Antec case had three broken clips, but RMA’s to both Antec and NewEgg.com yielded quick replacements. Both Newegg and Antec provided great customer service, and I highly recommend them both.

While waiting for the new hard drive, I decided to install an older IDE Hard Drive to serve as the "OS Drive". I later added the 320GB Sata drive as a "media storage" drive. I did this to physically separate out the application from the data, improving performance and reliability. I’ll probably replace the IDE OS drive with a small SATA drive in the future.

Setup was pretty straight forward. I installed Windows XP Pro, installed all the required drivers, and connected to the Internet to update to the latest drivers and download the latest apps. Next, I installed the two Hauppauge PVR-150 tuner cards, and the installed SageTV following the setup instructions. In short order, I was watching live TV and scheduling recordings.

OK, I have admit that it wasn’t really that easy. I did have to content with a hard disk crash, and I messed things up in SageTV’s configuration way beyond repair, so I did end up re-installing a couple times, but the truth is that setting up a SageTV system really is not a difficult process. It’s not a newbie task, but you certainly don’t need to be a computer expert.

Video quality
One thing that bugged me was that I was quite disappointed with the S-video output quality on my TV. I tweaked and tweaked and tweaked my nVIDIA and SageTV settings, and it just wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. Watching shows like Fox News or CNN Headline News seemed jerky and choppy. It was mostly noticable while watching the "crawl" at the bottom of both of these shows. After some advice from the SageTV forums, I purchased nVIDIA’s PureVideo drivers, and the results on my S-video TV were worth every penny. It’s still not as quality a picture as our Moxi DVR, but it does look good. Down the road, I’m planning on purchasing a new LCD tv, so that should significantly improve the picture quality over my old tube TV.

Plugins
I next visited the SageTV Customizations forum and found several excellent "plugins" that extended and improved some of SageTV’s core functions. For example, I can now search the Internet Movie Database right from within SageTV with the results integrated very nicely. I next installed an enhancement to the "Stop" button function that adds much needed features. I also installed a Plugin that lets you customize all of the menus letting you order them as you wish, and add and remove entries. Finally, I installed a plugin that provides remote Web access that lets me manage SageTV’s recording functions from anywhere I have Web access. It’s so nice to be able to schedule a recording without having to be sitting in fornt of the TV. These plugins are excellent examples of how SageTV lets users tailor things to their specific needs.

Clients
I next installed the Hauppauge MediaMVP box. This is a small hardware device that connects to the network and any TV. It looks on the network for a SageTV server, and if it finds one, it downloads and runs a SageTV client application. It comes with a remote, so you can control all SageTV functions frmo another TV in your house. It was really cool to be able to start watching a recording in our living room, and then stop it and resume watching where we left off in our bedroom. And the MVP lets you also listen to MP3′s and watch ripped DVD’s.

I then installed the PlaceShifter client on my laptop. This client lets me remotely access SageTV from anywhere I have an Internet connection. We went on a vacation, and I was able to watch both live TV and recorded shows remotely. The quality was not great, but it was watchable.

What I now have
So I now have a Home Theater PC that provides two tuners (one analog cable, and one digital cable) for programming content, and I can add more tuners later if needed. We view everything through an older 27" tube TV, and it looks pretty good. The user interface is clean, and I have tweaked it to make it more intuitive for us. we can listen to my MP3 collection, and we can watch favorite DVD’s. Every morning, we can check the latest weather conditions through SageTV. I was able to (fairly) easily burn to DVD a show that my parents had missed.

All of this was very seamless (except the DVD burning, but that’s for another article) and all from a single box. For me, SageTV is what ReplayTV could have been…

The future
Our setup works very will, but like everything else, I have to look to the future. I am considering the following additions and upgrades:

  • Add additional storage to accommodate more ripped DVD’s. We have a sizable collection of DVD’s, but it’s s much easier to manage them and watch them if they are ripped.
  • Move lots of other digital pictures over to SageTV.
  • Organize and move lots of other MP3′s over to SageTV.
  • Upgrade our old tube TV to an LCD TV. I have been looking at a Westinghouse 42" LCD HD monitor, and it looks very, very nice for the money.
  • Add a UPS to the mix for protection.
  • Improve and simplify the DVD burning process.
  • Investigate RAID or other backup method.
  • Look into a Universal Remote to consolidate remotes.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-tip-3-all-about-my-sagetv-htpc

Nov 07

SageTV Tip #2: Why did I choose SageTV?

After reviewing the major Personal Video Recorder (PVR) software offerings, I decided that SageTV was my application of choice. Its feature set and price point made it very attractive, and there were several other "features" that swayed my decision. Read on to see why I chose SageTV over the competition….

There are several excellent PVR offerings to choose from, and they all have their benefits. These range from free applications like GB-PVR and MythTV to commercial applications like BeyondTV and SageTV. These applications are all excellent, offer feature sets that are surprisingly complete (although, some are more complete than others), and have excellent user and developer support.

The free offerings are amazingly robust. I found that GB-PVR and MythTV to be very interesting solutions. There are other free offerings, but these two were the "biggies" that caught my eye.

GB-PVR
GB-PVR is clean, and feature-rich, and has a close user following. It runs on Windows, and offers some nice functions in a slick UI. But from what I understand, GB-PVR is a closed-source application with limited development resources. It also fell short in a couple areas that I was looking for.

MythTV

MythTV is an Open Source PVR application that runs on Linux. It really is the benchmark for most PVR software offerings. It has a huge user community, and offers many features found nowhere else. Its Linux dependence, however, is both a blessing and a curse. Linux is an wonderfully stable, robust, and powerful free Open Source operating system that can very easily handle all the tasks of a PVR. But it also comes with the baggage of administering a Linux system. To its credit, Linux is now a lot easier to setup and manage these days, but to be used effectively, it still requires a lot of technical knowhow.

As much as I respect and like the free offerings, two things swayed me toward commercial products: First, I wanted to keep things Windows-centric. My home PC’s are all Windows XP boxes, so I wanted to keep things consistent. Second, I felt that if I was going to invest the money into an HTPC, I also wanted to invest in a PVR company that provides good support and continued R&D. That brought me to two other excellent choices:

BeyondTV
I next looked at BeyondTV, and it looked very solid and feature-rich. As a PVR, it really packs a punch. It’s feature set is very complete, and its user interface is simple and slick. But unfortunately, it fell short in other areas, notably in its integration of photo viewing, MP3 management, and video playing capabilities. These were integrated as an add-on to the core package that lacked the seamless integration I was looking for. If you want a solid PVR, BeyondTV is an excellent choice. But if you want to manage other media, you may want to check other options.

SageTV
When I tried SageTV, I was immediately hooked. SageTV integrated everything I was looking for: PVR, MP3, Photos, Video, and DVD Playback–all in one slick UI. The integration of the media functions is very tight, making the overall user experience consistent, easy, and pleasing to use. SageTV also integrates other goodies like Weather forecasts into its UI, and as of the latest beta version (v6), includes two other Online capabilities: Google Video, and TV Editorials. SageTV, the company, seems to be very solid and innovative, and their support is very responsive. In fact, not more than a week after I purchased version 5, they came out with a much-improved, beta release! And for a beta, it is very, very stable.

SageTV also has a very active user community of very dedicated users. The users are knowledgeable, kind, and have a real passion for making SageTV a success. You can find solid and reliable answers to any SageTV-related question in the user forums.

Another thing that hooked me on SageTV is in how its architecture was designed. It has an open API that enables developers to create third-party "plugins" and enhancements that extend and improve upon the core product. In fact, several of these plugins are, in my opinion, so well written that they really should be part of the core! All registered users gain easy access to SageTV’s Studio application that allows complete customization of the product. While it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s also not rocket science. I was able to make a couple tweaks without too much hassle.

One point of note: You may notice that I excluded Windows Media Center edition 2005 (MCE). While MCE is an excellent, mature, and feature-rich product, it also comes with the baggage imposed by Microsoft that I simply didn’t want to deal with. Overall, MCE is an excellent product, and if you are fully Microsoft-centric, the go for it. But if you want total control over your PVR, you have to look elsewhere.

So, is SageTV perfect? No. But it is maturing into a very powerful media center application. And with its varied client applications, and its extendibility through third-party plugins, it is not a limited product. Coming from the "standalone" DVR world having used ReplayTV and Moxi DVR’s for years, I can say that SageTV is very refreshing. It really packs a lot in, and works very, very will as a home theater PVR solution.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-tip-2-why-did-i-choose-sagetv

Nov 07

SageTV Tip #1: What is SageTV?

SageTV is a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) software application that runs on a Windows or Linux PC. It provides not only excellent PVR function, but also integrates the management and playback of your Music, Photos, DVD’s, and Video files. Read on to see just what SageTV is, and what it can do for you….

But what’s a PVR? A is a program that simply captures video input from a variety of sources (typically Cable, Satellite, or OTA antennas) records them to a hard disk, and then provides a facility for you to playback the recordings either immediately (live TV) or at a later time (recordings). You can pause, rewind, and fast forward the recordings just like a with VCR, but unlike a VCR, you don’t have to wait for the show to finish recording and rewind the tape before you can watch it. Also unlike a VCR, your recording capacity is not limited to the length of a single tape–it’s limited only by your hard disk space. PVR’s also provide various functions to help you find shows t record, and to manage those recordings.

Enter SageTV. SageTV provides all of these PVR functions plus many other advanced functions including sophisticated search capabilities, advanced scheduling options. And by installing some of the free "plugins", you can add Internet Movie Database lookups, remote control via a Web interface, Internet Radio, DVD burning, Caller ID, and a slew of other features and enhancements.

SageTV also tightly integrates playback and management of Music (MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc.), photos, and video files. And it can even play DVD’s and DVD files. In one place, you can manage all of your diverse multimedia from your entire MP3 collection to the photos of your latest trip. SageTV also integrates several online features including updated weather reports and Google videos.

The SageTV PVR software currently comes in four flavors: SageTV Media Center, SageTV Client, SageTV PlaceShifter, and SageTV Media Extender. Each has its own purpose, and all work together in harmony.

SageTV Media Center
This is the "core" client/server product that runs on several flavors of Windows and Linux. This is the main application that runs on your Home Theater PC (HTPC) and manages all recordings, Electronic Program Guide (EPG) updates, and all "backend" processing having to do with SageTV. It includes a client application that runs on the server which provides the user interface. SageTV Media Center is the essential SageTV application providing complete PVR functionality. If you purchase nothing else, you purchase this application. The remaining applications are "extensions" to this core that allow you take the SageTV "experience" to other locations.

SageTV Client
The Client application is run on another computer on your LAN. It connects over your local network to your SageTV Media Center server, and provides full access and control of your SageTV system. It can run on a desktop or laptop, and can be run wired or wirelessly. It’s an excellent way to leverage a spare PC. Just like on the main HTPC, you can view Live TV, watch recordings, etc. The small cost of the SageTV Client inexpensively extends your SageTV throughout your house.

SageTV Client License for MVP
This client application runs on Hauppauge’s MediaMVP box. This box is a small hardware device with an ethernet jack and video and audio outputs that connects directly to any TV in your house. The MediaMVP client lets you watch and manage SageTV over your LAN on another TV. The main difference between the Client and the MVP client is that the MediaMVP does not require a PC to run. The MediaMVP includes a hardware decoder providing excellent quality output. And connecting is typically as simple as plugging in a few cables and powering it on. So for about a hundred bucks, you can extend almost all of your SageTV capabilities to any other TV in the house without having to invest in additional PC’s.

SageTV PlaceShifter
This is a remote, over-the-Internet, client that is similar to SageTV Client, but is designed to run remotely, putside your LAN and over the Internet. For example, say you are in a hotel room with your laptop. You connect your laptop to your hotel’s wired or wireless Internet conenction, fire up SageTV PlaceShifter, connect to your home SageTV server over the Internet, and voila, you are watching Live TV, watching previously recorded shows, scheduling new shows to record, listening to MP3′s, viewing photos, the list goes on! Because video compression is done to make the video more transporable over the Internet, the video quality is not as good as viewed on the Server, but it is very watchable. Though SageTV PlaceShifter is watchable fullscreen, I recommend watching it in a smaller window to make the video appear crisper.

Important Note About Clients
There is one important thing to understand about these client applications: They all interact with SageTV Media Center separately and independently from the Server’s client application. This means that what you see on these client applications is is separate from what you see on the Server’s client application. In other wirds, someone can be at home watching SageTV (live TV, a recorded show, a DVD, whatever) and you can be away watching a different recorded show through a PlaceShifter client, and it won’t interfere with whoever is at home. There are some limitations based on how many tuners you have. That said, it’s all very transparent and easy to use.

SageTV is not without its idiosyncracies, but it provides a solid, pleasent viewing experience that competes very will with the competition. If you want specific details about SageTV’s products, first check out SageTV’s site. Then, do a Google Search on SageTV and SageTV reviews. There are many excellent reviews and descriptions of SageTV.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-tip-1-what-is-sagetv

Jul 25

Gmail Tip #55: Excluding Chat from Search Results

Here's a tip inspired by a question from Ethan Lipman, an active Gmail Chat user. He wants to be able to search his Gmail messages for key words, but the Search Results often return hits from his Chat session logs. Read on to find out how to simply exclude Chat session logs from your Search Results….

The solution turns out to be really simple, but not necessarily obvious. It appears that all Gmail Chat session logs are simply standard messages Labeled with a hidden Label of "Chat". So this means that many functions you use on Labels should work.

So, to exclude all Chat session logs from your Search Results, add the following text to your search string:

 -label:Chat

Likewise, if you wanted to include words found ONLY in Chat session logs, just add the following to your search string:

 +label:Chat

…making sure that it is the only "label:" string (unless you also want to include other Labels.)

Thanks to Ethan Lipman for the question!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/gmail-tips/gmail-tip-55-excluding-chat-from-search-results

Jul 12

Gmail Tip #54: New Feature! Select ALL conversations

{josquote}New feature!{/josquote}Deleting Spam and emptying Trash in Gmail just got a whole lot easier! Instead of being limited to deleting just a page-at-a-time, Gmail now lets you select all Spam and Trash conversations for deletion in one simple step. Read on to see some screenshots of the new features…

One of the great annoyances of managing Gmail has been in dealing with Spam and Trash. When you had  more than screenful of messages, clicking "select all" would only select all messages on the current screen. Deleting numerous messages could mean navigating multiple screens just to select and delete.

The Trash view now displays the message "Empty Trash now (messages that have been in Trash more than 30 days will be automatically deleted)"  Here's a screenshot:

{mosimage} 

When you click on the "Empty Trash now" link, Gmail will display a confirmation prompt displaying the number of conversations it will delete. Click "OK" to delete, or "Cancel" to not delete.

For Spam, the Spam view now displays the message "Delete all spam messages now (messages that have been in Spam more than 30 days will be automatically deleted)" Here's a screenshot:

 {mosimage}

Clicking on the "Delete all spam messages now" link displays a confirmation prompt displaying the number of conversations in Spam to delete. Click "OK" to delete, or "Cancel" to not delete.

Yet another example of Google refining Gmail's capabilities.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/gmail-tips/gmail-tip-54-new-feature-select-all-conversations

Jul 12

Google Notebook Tip #10: Printing Individual Notes

At this time, Google Notebook only lets you print out entire Notebooks, not selected Notes. This can become very frustrating, especially if a Notebook contains a LOT of notes, and you only want to print one of them. So until Google adds a "Print selected notes" function, I have a workaround for this that's a bit of a kludge, but it works. Read on for details…

Open the Notebook that contains the note you want to print.

Next, click the "Actions…" dropdown and select "Print notebook". This will open another window or tab containing a formatted page of the entire Notebook and will open the Print dialog. Printing this, of course, will print the entire notebook and that is what we don't want, so…

Dismiss the Print dialog box by clicking the Cancel button, and navigate to the note you want to print.

Using your mouse, click on the beginning of the note, and hold the mouse button down. Drag the mouse cursor to the end of the note or notes you want to print. Release the mouse button, and you should now have a selected section of text and/or images.

Next, click "File" on your menu bar and select "Print…" from the menu. This opens the Print dialog again. Note: If you are using Internet Explorer, do not just click the print icon on your browser's toolbar–you must open the Print dialog!

Finally, click the "Selection" radio button, and then click the OK button.

Only the text you selected should print!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/google-notebook-tips/google-notebook-tip-10-printing-individual-notes

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