TiVo HME

TiVo announced their latest goodie: TiVo HME.

The HME is a SDK (yeah I know, TLA’s all over the place), allowing third-party applications to make use of the TiVo display. It looks like JavaHMO, but with the added integration the possibilities seem limitless. The SDK download includes the early adopters version of the kit, a couple of sample applications, and a desktop simulator to test out your applications. You’ll need TiVo 7.1 to use HME.

The sample screens look stunning. This could be very big, and I think TiVo sees this as their next step in software development. They’ve set up a developer’s challenge as well.

Meanwhile, several forums have popped up describing HME. One is a spin-off from the PVR Blog, the HME PVR Blog. Another is a forum on tivocommunity.com, listed under the Underground Playground. Both (and others I’ve undoubtedly missed) look very interesting, and I’ll most certainly will give HME a whirl over the weekend!

TiVoToGo experiences

Well, apart from yesterday’s short post about the Crossbar system, all plans went out the door the last two weeks. Why? TiVoToGo.

About a week and a half ago my TiVo gleefully reported that it wanted to reboot. Yes! Version 7.1 was downloaded. The reboot and install took not that long (about 20 minutes). Several things have changed as far as I can see:

  • The TiVo-Slow shortcut to get to the Settings menu no longer works. This quickly became our fast way to put the TiVo in Standby. Oh well.
  • The Now Playing list includes the title of an episode.
  • The To Do list includes the title of an episode.
  • Menu’s are a little slower – overall the reaction time of the TiVo seems slower.
  • The commercial-skip (Select-Play-Select-3-0-Select) still works (yeah!).
  • Oh yeah, I can transfer recordings to my PC…

I transferred a couple of shows to my PC, and using 802.11b it was faster than I expected. The average transfer speed was between 400-500Kb/s. If you’re transferring shows, don’t sit and stare at the screen: it will take a while, depending on the quality you recorded the show with. I had a fairly big recording still hanging around on my TiVo (Ronald Reagan’s funeral broadcast – 6 hours at Basic), which I transferred during the night. You’ll do a lot of things during the night if you do show transfers and DVD creation.

Playing back the show on my 19″ monitor was surprisingly easy: apparently I had a good codec installed on my system, so after transferring the file, all I had to do is right-click the .tivo file and tell Windows Media Player to open it. I was asked for the Tivo Desktop password I created 2 weeks ago (a short moment of panic, what was the password?), and then the recording started playing. The quality was pretty good, and I was watching a show on my own private 19″ TV. Purty kewl…:)

After playing around with it a little bit, the next piece I needed was a DVD burner (that was the reason I’d kept the Reagan thing around – my wife recorded it and wanted it preserved. I already copied it to VHS tape, but wanted something easier). After looking at the local shops (I was too impatient to wait for a mail-order burner) the choice was between a Plextor PX-716A and a Sony DRU-710A. Both internal burners, both with support for Dual Layer, very similar, even in price. I decided on the Plextor purely because I’d read about their excellent reputation in the past. So far, I’ve had nothing to complain. The Plextor comes bundled with a Roxio DVD authoring product, so I immediately created a little test DVD. No problems!

So I had the means to transfer files from the TiVo, and I had a means to record files to a DVD. Now the middle part: editing .tivo files.

Since the Roxio software didn’t want to read the .tivo file directly, I figured I had two options: try to convert the .tivo file to a regular .mpeg file, or use the Sonic MyDVD trial software. I researched the first one a bit, and it looked workable, but I wanted to use the ‘consumer’ product first.

Downloading and installing Sonic MyDVD is simple. You click on the link TiVo provides to download the trial version, and after supplying some contact information the download commences. It’s about 280Mb, so don’t do it over dial-up… While it’s downloading, you’ll receive an e-mail with a license code. This will allow you to use MyDVD for 2 weeks or 50 starts. The big advantage MyDVD has is that it can transfer files directly from your TiVo, and it opens .tivo files.

The first project I tried was editing the season premier of Battlestar Galactica. This was a two hour show I recorded at High Quality. After transferring it to the PC, I started removing the commercials. Editing proved a little easier with MyDVD than with the Roxio editor: you’d just split the file at the beginning of the commercial, repeat the process at the end of the commercial, and delete the commercial afterwards. The only way I could find in Roxio was copy the clip, and change the beginning and endings of the two clips – this could be a problem with files running into the gigabytes…

Sonic MyDVD comes with a ton of menu editing options and templates. It was very easy to create a little menu, and add the show’s signature tune as a background option. The show length after editing out the commercials was about 1h 18m, so I selected the Standard Play quality to create the DVD. I first created the disk image from MyDVD (I was not going to waste one of the DVD’s if something went wrong), which takes a considerable amount of time – a couple (4-5) hours on a 1.4GHz with 700+Mb memory. The next morning (I told you you’d be doing a lot of night processing) I burnt the resulting file to DVD with Roxio (the MyDVD trial doesn’t seem to include the option to burn a .iso file to DVD), and tried it out on the TV. Pretty good quality: only during quick camera movements did we see some kind of delays in the display, and there were some artifacts around light/dark transition areas. Considering that the SciFi channel is one of the basic channels, and therefore sometimes pretty fuzzy, I was happy with the results. On to bigger projects.

The Reagan funeral proved more of a challenge, but only because of the size of the file. I tried to use the ‘Fit to DVD’ option in MyDVD, however, I must have ran out of disk space, because the next morning an “Unknown error” greeted me. I split the program in two (hey, 6 hours is too much anyway – even Lord Of The Rings comes on two DVD’s at least!) 3 hour projects, removed the commercials and news, and added chapters to indicate interesting points. I just finished burning the first project, and will check out the results tonight on the TV.

So far, I think MyDVD is worth the $50 they want from you if you use the TiVo promotion. It’s very simple to capture, edit and create a DVD. It lacks some of the advanced features in professional editing software, but then again that professional editing software can easily run you a couple of hundred if not thousand dollars. I’ll probably have to try out the capturing next, since my wife has become excited about the DVD burner now and wants to transfer our vacation video’s to DVD. I hope she doesn’t become too upset if I start editing the 6 hours she shot, and wind up with a 1 hour DVD…

Crossbar AV Cast System

I just came across an entry in www.tivoblog.com where the author describes his experiences with Crossbar Media’s AV Cast system. It looks pretty interesting, but at that cost you’d almost buy a second TiVo recorder at $99, and add a wireless adapter for about $50.

Still, it could allow for faster viewing of programs, even with two TiVo’s linked together in the same room, with a wired network. It could even take away the need for having a cable box and TiVo recorder in the bedroom.

A new router in the home

I’ve installed a new router over the weekend.

Some time ago I was thinking about the setup of our home network. I bought a Linksys BEFSR41 Cable/DSL Router years ago when we first signed up for Internet over the cable. Then when we moved to our new home, and we’d have computers upstairs and downstairs, I added a Linksys WAP54G. Now downstairs we have a PC with a wireless card, and a TiVo with a wireless USB adapter. Adding the XBox would mean another wireless adapter, and when we want to add a TiVo in the master bedroom would mean yet another wireless adapter. Time to rethink this.

It occurred to me that with three devices downstairs that wanted to be added to the home network, they could all share one wireless connection. So my idea was to use the existing WAP54G as an uplink to the new wireless broadband router WRT54G, and the BEFSR41 as a hub for the three devices. That would only require buying the WRT54G.

The first step was completed this weekend: I transferred all connections and settings from the BEFSR41/WAP54G duo over to the WRT54G. All went well, except for one little hiccup: it is advised to beef up security on your wireless devices. One of the small steps you can take is not broadcasting your SSID (the name of the network). However, even after I specified the name in all the devices, they wouldn’t connect. The solution proved to be frighteningly simple: broadcast the SSID, let your devices connect, then turn of the SSID broadcasting. Apparently somehow the network devices “remember” the SSID after seeing it…

The next step will be trying to let the WAP54G talk to the WRT54G somehow. But that will be a project for another weekend.

TiVoToGo released

TiVo has a belated Christmas present for us. After about half a year of delays, they finally released TiVoToGo. This service allows you to download, view and (real soon now) burn DVD’s on your PC from shows recorded on your TiVo.

Here is the official TivoToGo page. If you have TiVo, be prepared for some waiting: apparently even after signing up on the priority list it can take several weeks to receive the latest version of the TiVo software (version 7.1-X).

Also, TiVoToGo is not for everybody: currently it seems that only the stand-alone TiVo series 2 boxes will receive this upgrade. Not only that, but the accompanying new version of the TiVo Desktop (version 2.0) is currently only available for Windows. Last but not least, it seems you need a codec for MPEG-2. The ones that I have seen advertised are commercial versions – hopefully there is also some free codec available to watch the stuff you recorded yourself…

Even with all these limitations, I’m pretty excited about this, as it will allow me to watch processes running and TV at the same time, without the need for an extra box. I’ll share some info whenever the TiVo box has its updated software.

Stupid programmers and the neutral zone

Isn’t a holiday weekend great? I finally had some time to sit down and see what happens with all those triggers and programs that I wrote. After all, I still had the problem that sometimes the lamp in the living room would react to X10 signals, and sometimes it wouldn’t. And this seemed to be the only item.

Stupid Programmers

When I started analyzing the log file, it looked like the lamp never reacted to the button macros. All the other lights did, but when you look at the log file for the living room lamp, there was no entry that it had been turned off or on by that button macro. That narrowed it down: I probably forgot to reload the code.

After reloading the code, it still wouldn’t respond. Well, maybe I need to do a force reload. That would be the sure-fire way to reload the code (which looked absolutely fine!). Still no go. Desparation was setting in at that point: I didn’t get any error messages, so I thought everything was fine. Or wasn’t it?

The setup that I have has a separate Linux box taking care of the MisterHouse program. I use a browser on a Windows box to tell MisterHouse to reload code. This triggers the program on the Linux box to start reloading and compiling stuff. And that’s where the error messages are displayed: not in an error log, not on the window displayed when you reload the code – but on the screen where MisterHouse is sending the output.

And sure enough – there was an error. When adding the code to turn the living room lamp on and off by pressing a button, I also added some code I wanted to use for an outdoor light. However, the outdoor light was not defined yet. So, MisterHouse complains that I’m using a variable that hasn’t been defined, and reuses the previous version of the code. Which didn’t include my living room lamp.

I quickly commented out the section with the outdoor light, and forced a reload. Presto! There were no more error messages. And when I tested out the buttons, everything worked like it should.

The Neutral Zone

I had bought a ToggleLinc PLC switch to control one of our outside lights. After resolving the erratic living room light, I was confident that we didn’t have any more X10 signal issues. So, what do you do when you have a working system? Right: you change it.

I added the ToggleLinc in the garage, and fixed a logic problem at the same time (the switch closest to the house controlled the outside light, the one fartest away controlled the garage light – I think it should be reversed). So, armed with screwdriver, flashlight, and new switch, I set out to install the ToggleLinc.

It was pretty straightforward. The only thing that threw me off was that there were two black wires attached to the old switch. Hmm. One is supposed to be the Live wire, the other is the Load wire. That’s when I found out I was missing one tool: a Volt meter.

The first attempt didn’t work: the little green LED didn’t come on. Maybe I had the wrong black wire designated as Live. So I switched the two black wires around. Still no go. Scratch head, check connections. Everything looks OK. The two black wires connected to Live and Load, the Ground wire connected, the Neutral wire capped. Just like the drawing. Hmm… the drawing does show the Neutral wire with dashes – making me believe it was an optional connection. Well, not according to the troubleshooting section:

  • “My switch only has two wires”
  • “Won’t work – you need the Neutral wire, or you need to use a SwitchLinc.”

Luckily the neutral wires were there, just bunched up together at the back of the box. I hooked up the Neutral wire to them, and lo and behold – everything worked. Programming the switch with the correct address was a snap, and now we have a porch light going on at dusk and turning off at dawn.

Opening the blog – the story so far

Well, after some deliberation I decided to keep a log (more precise a blog) of the adventures in X10 automation. This log is started after I’ve been fiddling around with X10 automation for a while, so in brief the setup that I have:

The two appliance modules haven’t been installed yet, because when I tried to install them, it looked like we had a problem with the two phases in our home, and some trouble with weak signal. When using Smarthome’s trouble-shooting guide, the advise was to install a repeater-coupler. After installing this the systems seems to work more reliable (one of the lamp modules would react only every now and then to signals it seemed, but reacts to them every time since installing the repeater-coupler), but I haven’t had a chance yet to readdress the issue with the ApplianceLinc’s.

As controlling software I use MisterHouse. It’s running on an old Pentium PC, with barely enough memory etc. to support the web interface. But it’s enough to run Linux and MisterHouse, and it’s running a whole lot more stable than the Windows version that was on there.

I’ll try and keep an account of my adventures into X10 in this blog. Home automation can be fun, but also very frustrating at times…