Toshiba LED screen

Toshiba 40TL963B

My Samsung LCD gave up the ghost recently and although its fixable with a soldering iron and new capacitor. I pretty much decided a while ago that its time for an upgrade. I bought the Samsung almost 6 years ago I think and it was one of those 720p/1080i LCDs.

I finally bought a Toshiba 40TL963B because it seemed to have most things I wanted.

Top of the list DLNA, Freeview HD, USB recording (well its useful now and then) and of course 1080p. You will notice I didn’t include 3D because frankly the idea and reality of 3D at home makes me break out in hives on the inside of my mouth. Funny thing is the Toshiba actually supports 3D but I won’t be using it ever. Worst still it has that turn 2D into 3D mode which makes me break into hives in places I’d rather not say.

I decided to stick to 40 inch because the next one up was 46 inch rather than 42 inch. It certainly looks smaller because the bezel is about 15mm deep around most of the frame.

To date I haven’t really drove the screen because my xbmc box is set to output 720p. The freeview HD tuner works well and I was pleased to be able to see the paralympics in HD. Things look great in HD and as the review says, SD content looks a bit smudgy. Its ok but noticeably bad. The review is right about that and also about the black level which looks like black ink (this is a good thing). Actually when I changed the Xbox 360 to 1080p and loaded up Geometry wars 2, it felt like I was play on a surface which was best described as the night sky.

Not even touched the Toshiba web TV crap except to get DLNA working, XBMC blows away everything Toshiba’s places item can do and will ever do.

So generally I’m happy with my purchase. I didn’t want 3D but the price difference meant I would only be paying an extra 30 pounds for 3D capability and I would also get higher refresh rates too. Yes it could be nicer about SD content but its only on Freeview SD content I notice it.

Boxee & Plex go for the cloud

In the old days it was kind of clear

  • XBMC was the original and was a lovely but a little rough around the edges, maybe the kind of person you have to explain before taking him home to meet the parents.
  • Boxee was XBMC’s social and flirty younger sister who wanted to settle down and become famous.
  • Plex was the good younger brother who acted older than he was and went to oxford to hang around talking to hipsters.

Ok thats the way I think about it at least…

But its interesting that Boxee has started to slice of ties with the original XBMC community (too famous too fast?) and also started to making in-roads on Plex with there new cloud system called cloudee.

I stick with XBMC because I like the rough around the edges style. But I will be the first to say, I’ve got nothing against the cloud for home entertainment, just doesn’t really feature in my life right now.

Imagine XBMC with Leap…

Ever since the microsoft kinect was hacked to work with non xbox machines, xbmc hackers have been messing or modifying there setups to support gesture control. So popular was the idea of controlling media with gestures, even the BBC adopted this in the Xbox version of iplayer. However the limits of the kinect was being discovered by the XBMC hackers.

After the first rush for controlling media using your whole body, came the idea of using just your arm then finally just the hand. But the Microsoft kinect didn’t have the density to support this. Now leap motion have brought out their own kinect style solution.

XBMC users should love Leapmotion specially with driver support for windows, mac and Linux.

Supporting not only fingers but even pencils and pens too. all the things needed to really make the xbmc interface amazing.

Welcoming the App Bazaar

App Store

I know theres tons of blogs and views beating up Android for its different device capabilities and how un-developer friendly it is (sure I blogged about this before?) but I’m calling ball on it all. Ok I’m not a developer but frankly opportunistic developers/people are seeing the beyond this whole fragmentation debate and thinking theres lots we can do here.

Being a free and open kind of guy, I draw lines between Apple/Microsoft’s app stores and Cathedral, Android/The Web and the Bazaar/Market. Yes I went thereEric S Raymond on your ass (not literally of course)

Amazon just recently celebrated their first birthday of their own app store, which you can install alongside Google’s market I mean play store (I can’t be the only one who thinks this sounds like a Durex thing?). There were reports that the Amazon store was actually making the developers using it more revenue than Google’s play store. This can be seen as a good and a bad thing, but for me the choice is a good thing. Google set out give people the choice in a over protected market and they have achieved some great things, including opening the door for other companies to make a tidy business.

A long time ago I gave a thumbs up to Boxee for doing something similar. This is old hat for GNU/Linux for example which has had the ability to add repositories from anywhere you trust (or don’t trust, even!). For example I’m a fan of OMGUbuntu and Webupd8, both which run their own repositories or if you prefer app stores as such.

I haven’t even began to play with some of the repos in XBMC yet, but I remember seeing quite a few for Boxee which were all aimed at providing p0rn and nothing else. And to be fair its a business model which I could imagine would work very well. Certainly something Google and Amazon may not want in their own stores, but theres certainly enough demand to warrant its own ecosystem (like it or not). The same is very true of the darknet stores such as the jailbroken Cydia store.

Plex media server ups the media server game

plex media server screenshot

Plex has always been on my horizon as its part of the future change in home entertainment, however Technicalfault shared a link to a blog post from the Plex media server team.

In this aint your grandfathers DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), the Plex media server team (PMS) outline why the inclusion of Plutinosoft’s fabulous DLNA SDK, makes PMS the best DLNA server.

The result (besides a lingering scent of cologne and flowers) is the world’s best DLNA server. No, really. I’m not prone to hyperbole. This DLNA server can do things that no other DLNA server on the planet can do. And the coolest part is that with this new release, all the content served up by your Plex Media Server is now accessible by an insane amount of new devices, including ones that may already be in your homes (your LG washing machine doesn’t have DLNA? Send it back!)

So somewhere between all the hype and banging of chests, there might be something interesting…

I’ve never bought into the Plex way of doing things mainly because XBMC works for me. Plex although based on XBMC favors a ecosystem which seems to be about streaming from the server to their client. But reading the news about the PMS beta, I thought maybe I could use it on my server instead of using UPnP servers like Ushare and Mediatomb. I had just build my new server and had not yet installed a UPnP server yet. So after twelve47 sent me a link to the ubuntu beta, I installed it and tried it out.

My first thoughts is it won’t change much of the way I do things at home. I haven’t created a Plex account and frankly the ability to do transcoding is pretty much lost on my setup. I tend to watch 99% of things on my XBMC box in the living room. I do have another XBMC box in my bedroom room but I tend not to use it much (although this changed recently when I replaced my desktop machine with the XBMC box). So now I listen to my podcasts in the morning using XBMC…

XBMC does actually have a DLNA server built in, so I was interested to see which one is most standard complaint or works with devices around the flat?

UPnP and DLNA from a early time years ago has always captured the imagination. When I had my Nokia N80 work phone, I tried to get DLNA working, and for the most part it didn’t quite work. You could see the devices, but for the most part the services wouldn’t be compatible. When Microsoft added DLNA to the Xbox 360, things started looking up. Interestingly the Playstation3 has always had it.

This is also why I find the whole Apple Airplay such a joke because as usual, apple make it simpler (as they do own the ecosystem and the products) then claim it as there own (or at least there fanboys do). Funny enough XBMC now even supports AirPlay.

You could see the XBMC UPnP server but not actually stream anything, or even browse. So I was interested to see if this would be be any different with PMS?

For music… I can tell you its better than the XBMC UPnP server, as I was able to stream music without too much of a problem. This has never quite worked with XBMC UPnP server but PMS handled everything just fine.

However for Video what surprised me was the fact XBMC UPnP server and Plex Media Server could both stream my whole movie and TV collection without too much hassle. Obviously work had been done on XBMC UPnP since I last looked at it. I guess Plex does have the upper hand on the Xbox 360 because of the transcoding, but as default it down samples my glorious multichannel audio down to stereo, which seriously sucks for me. Couldn’t see at a glance where to turn on AC3/DTS comparability in Plex. Pictures is another area which XBMC UPnP server seems to fall short, while Plex was able to handle my complete collection without breaking a sweat.

So with the Xbox 360 sorted… I tried the other device which I’ve been playing with, the Wifi UPnP enabled Picture frame I picked up very cheap a while ago. Unfortunately although it did see the Plex server, it couldn’t do anything with it…

Although it didn’t work, the interesting part of the Plex Media Server is the ability to get down and nasty with DLNA and a XML config.

DLNA is a rather broad and flexible standard, and different devices interpret the standard in different ways. Some by design, some due to device bugs accident. This makes it impossible for a media server that supports DLNA to provide a one-size-fits-all implementation of the standard. Instead, the server must adapt to different clients by recognizing them and changing its behavior accordingly. A client profile is the basic unit of information that Plex Media Server uses for this purpose.

And this is where it gets very interesting… I’ll attempt to reverse engineer my picture frame’s DLNA support so I can share pictures with it and hopefully be able push forward with the conversation I had with Jas about extending my digital artifacts out into the real world.

Anything I buy now pretty much must have support for DLNA and the ability to hack Plex to get it working with the different devices is a very good thing.

Android has some great DLNA clients and I’m already thinking about hooking up my Archos Tablet (which I’m using as a desktop alarm clock, thanks to the kick stand and my Samsung Tablet 7+) to other things around the flat. Even thinking once I get my HTC 1x (yes I ordered one) instead of selling my HTC desire, maybe I could hook it up into different parts of my flat? This is why I find the Google Open Accessory API (ADK) really interesting and a certain nod to the future…

For now I’m keeping Plex Media Server on the server, and it may find more use in the future but generally right now I’m using Samba and NFS to stream media around the flat. My hope is XBMC now on version 11 (eden) will spend a little time on their UPnP server, as it was the best for a long time.

The weight or attention of media

Talking to Adrian late last night… He mentioned something to do with weight and video.

Then today, I started thinking wouldn’t it be interesting to apply a weight model to films/media based on their attention required?

For example: Tinker tailor soldier spy

I have this ready to watch at a touch of a button but everytime I see it pop up, I think well I’m busy doing all this other stuff, I can’t really spare the attention right now. This is also the same for most of the subtitled media I own.

I actually had decided to watch it on my Tablet on the way into work but I’m still busy reading kindle most times.

So attention is actually the metric but its displayed in a form of weight. I know there will be a debate about the weighting of certainly films for example is Donnie Darko a heavy weight or actually quite light? I remember having debates with Sarah about the depth of the film. She couldn’t understand where me and Dave were getting all this additional detail from but sitting down and watching it again and pointing out certain parts got the points across.

Another perfect example is Primer. You could watch the film and think, oh interesting but not all that. Then someone clues you into the Primer Timeline (spoiler alert!) So how would you weight that film? Very heavy or medium? I guess the same would apply to Fight Club?

I’m assuming something like the crowd based rating system would solve the problem, plus its only a guide. The weighting could also clue you into the fact theres more to a film than you may have first spotted. But likewise the opposite is true?

Once again, you heard it hear first, go use but attribution back here please.

Will I move to Ubuntu TV?

Ubuntu TV was launched at CES yesterday and frankly I wasn’t that surprised by the move (rumors for a while) but to see it actually live with Unity was actually quite impressive. There is no doubt Ubuntu really has thought about the design of it all much more than even I’d expect. And for all manufacturers its totally free as beer/as software, which will tempt some… Although I do worry about a patent showdown in the near future.

Unity remember came originally from the Netbook Remix, so it actually works well from the start. Specially if you look at some of the Lens being built for Ubuntu.

Although I do praise the idea of Ubuntu TV, I’ll be sticking with XBMC simply because its a much better interface, cleverly crafted and has the development momentum. Bring on Eden… Worth noting I installed Ubuntu TV on a PC at work for a quick demo.

TV Tracking done correctly

TV tracking with trakt.tv

At last the almost perfect TV tracker has been realised by the guys behind Trak.tv.

I say almost perfect because it doesn’t seem to support the social aspect of what tioti was planning. Trak.tv isn’t far off and i’m not totally sure if it doesn’t have it yet. I don’t have any friends on Trak.tv yet, so that might be the thing holding it all back. Time to ping my friends, I think.

The other thing which I think is a little painful is having to select that you watched previous episodes. You could assume that if I watched episode 3 of season 4 of Breakin Bad. It could assume I’d seen the previous ones but then again I guess it would be wrong to assume.

Anyhow, its excellent to see this being developed in the background and xbmc getting really into the quantified self movement

Full TV tracker with trakt.tv

Hacking together my digital artifacts with a wifi picture frame

My Wifi UPnP digital picture frame

For a long time now

I’ve been thinking about the problem of digital artifacts in a physical world. I remember clearly, a fantastic conversation I had with the amazing Jas Dhaliwal about this exact subject when he was up in Manchester recently.

He was looking through my book collection and DVD collection and we got talking about how most of the books on my shelf I’ve never actual read through. Not because I don’t read but because of my dyslexia and I far prefer to read digital books. Which begs the question, what am I doing with a ton of interesting books? Why don’t I just get rid of them and buy the digital equivalents?

Well two reasons…

  1. Physical artefacts are much easier to lend to people and much more likely to be taken seriously by friends currently.
  2. Physical artefacts are easier, cheaper and better suited for display.  And I want to display who I am through my choices of the media I buy (rightly or wrongly*)
* Now you could have a massive debate about should you be defined by the things you own or what but… frankly this isn’t the time do that.
As Jas said in the latest techgrumps, its all about the digital artefacts representing you… And with that all in mind, I bought a wifi enabled picture frame for a very good price at my local Currys outlet store.
I bought one before but it was crap because it couldn’t connect to anything on my local network, just remote services. However this one does have the advantage of Universal Plug n Play, which raises it above most of the wifi enabled picture frames.
I complained on the same techgrumps podcast that I couldn’t get anything to talk to it but I finally used Ushare and bingo everything started working. So right now, I got the plan to either,
  1. Install Ushare on my xbmc box so I can share movie fan art and titles from XBMC
  2. Setup a rsync between my xbmc box and my server (already running uShare)
  3. Move the xbmc database to my server which has the benefit of a shared library system.
  4. Investigate the built in xbmc UPnP server
Either way, it looks like I’ll be keeping the photo frame strictly for the purpose of replacing my digital film collection with something an analogue artefact. This is also where a large scale eink display would be ideal.
I’ll post something along these lines on the XBMC forums to see what people think. Maybe they might even be able to help, the recent fan art stuff certainly will help too

XBMC and Fan Art romps onwards

XBMC Fan Art logos

Found via the latest XBMC blog post.

Fan Art TV

…Joins the already amazing… The TVDB and The Movie DB, as great places to collect FanArt and add them to the already amazing XBMC experiences. Literary the XBMC guys and community are innovating like crazy and it doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. Total Kudos to this amazing project, I can’t imagine consuming media without it.

These additional features would be dramatically less useful if not for fanart.tv. Fanart.tv is a crowd-sourced website, much like thetvdb and TMDb, designed to provide all the additional little features that we each would have to spend hours amassing on our own. Kode, the fanart.tv developer, is always appreciative of additional art or art requests, and asks only that you follow the rules that may be found here.

Its also worth metioning from the other end of the scale, the amazing Trak.tv and Sharethe.tv. Think of them as the last.FM of Films and TV.

When you look at other media centres, they just look plain and boring in comparison… There’s certainly something about making customising simple and easy which is very compelling…

Textuality almost the idea we had but poorly done

INST MSGS - Episode 11 - U H8 ME

A long time ago Channel4 posted a contest based around writing a play. Having never written a play before me and Sarah (my exwife) went about writing a play based around the interactions of people via social technologies.

The concept was simple, people interacted on stage in different ways, you could see what there really thinking about or mean via a large screen above them. Honestly quite a bit of the influence from my end came from the very early project by Jun Group called Welcome to the scene. (a candidate for something to re-look at me thinks)

I was intrigued when I read about textuality in my cousins movie collection of course in XBMC.

Now to be fair it only managed 3.4 stars out of 10 on IMDB so its not exactly inception but its worth watching to see how the concept we came to was executed by others. If I had the time and resources I would like to still see it as a play.

It was actually proposed to the contact theatre as their young and talented improv artists could maybe do something quite amazing with it, but I’ve never really picked up on it.

Lastly Revision3’s INST MSGS, rings a bell when re-looking at this whole area.

INST MSGS is a web anthology series that dramatizes social media. Based on everything from submitted instant message conversations to found Craigslists ads, INST MSGS shines a satirical light on modern (mis) communication.

Virtual goods on display

I was talking to Si Lumb on one of our short get togethers (really need to get together more with him, as we always cover so much)

We got talking about many things including… [1][2][3][4]

ideas on how virtual wardrobes, bookshelves and DVD racks are an area ripe for a startup UIs for filtering, sorting and organising are in massive need of a makeover, as digital browsing is awful. where are the "experience" adventures, like the film "The Game"? Surely there’s a market? Why can’t movies make more of the "trial" approach – give away the opening scene instead of trailer lies

 How conditioning to multitask/multiscreen makes watching passively feel antiquated. Why Red Dead Redemption is an amazing achievement yet inaccessible to girls because of gunplay & controls. On game completion: why Portal is something you have to play the whole way through and deserves the time. TV box sets and why 6 seasons of 25 episodes is a real commitment – and is it really worth it?

In short we covered a lot including some of the thoughts we had on Digitalization of the DVD rack.

The problem is when you have mainly digital or virtual goods, how do you show and share your collection with friends and family?

I’ve been thinking about how to show my media collections in the real world. On XBMC, there is a great screensaver which shows all the fan art/backdrops on your machine as a slow slideshow. Great but I don’t always have my TV on and energy wise its hardly very efficient. So I’ve been thinking, since I learned about sharethe.tv. It might be possible to push this information to a digital photoframe.

In actual fact, I had planned to buy a special wifi connected photoframe today at the local currys/pcworld clearance centre to do the task. But forgot after my scooter ride turned very cold out near Huddersfield.

The thinking is I can create a feed (some how) which the photoframe will accept. In actual fact with a bit of XSL knowhow, it should be possible to create a combination of the information of the movie from IMDB with the fan art of TMDB.

Ultimately I’d like to experiment with a Android Tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab running a cut-down/custom Android XBMC remote. Of course I’m not the only one who is thinking this, other hackers have tried the XBMC remote on a android tablet. But no ones really developed a photoframe interface optimized for showing your collection.