the htpc revisted

Back in the day, a long long time ago, I really got my original Xbox to hack it. Not to play “back up games” but to share and stream media. That’s right, I really wanted to use XBox Media Center to take the content on the Internet out of the computer room, and into my living space.

… and it was good.

I helped others get an original Xbox for streaming media. Most notably, I helped my German brother-in-law get his set up, so his kids could watch German TV and Movies off of the PC.  He subscribed to a German TV service that would allow him to download German TV to his PC. His Xbox and XMBC would allow his family to watch the shows in the living room.

… and he was happy.

Later, I got a Roku M500, and if you had given me a chance to talk about it, I would have told you that it was the coolest thing I had ever bought in my life. I loved this thing.

… and it was great.

But my Roku 500 rolled off the entertainment center and broke. My Xbox got long it the tooth, and our DVD player gave up the ghost and all of a sudden were faced with an opportunity to upgrade to a Blu-Ray.  My wife didn’t want another gaming console, (to which I am referring to the PS3 before you suggest it), and I really couldn’t argue against it. We had heard good things about Samsung Blu-Ray players, but we ultimately had a bad experience with a Samsung BD-P1590. But I had a taste. Streaming Netflix, Pandora, Blu-ray…  If a Blu-Ray player didn’t have Streaming Netflix, I’m not interested.

… and so it began.

So, most everyone will tell you the PS3 is the way to go, and for the most part I would agree.  However, I had a taste of something else.

Since we are down a DVD player, I’ve been hooking my laptop up to the TV via S-Video and RCA jacks into the audio. My laptop is nothing special. It’s running Windows 7. But what is special, is the choice apps I have been running on it:

Boxee

And not to mention, Windows Media Center, (which is also VERY cool!).

After playing with Boxee, XMBC, and Hulu Desktop, Windows Media Center, (part of Win7), on this laptop, I was thinking I wanted more than what the PS3 has to offer for an HTPC. I was floored! They make PC cases that look like audio equipment, so this merits further investigation.

I figure my shopping list would consist of the following, and would consider my current situation and future growth:

  • HTPC Case
  • Multi-core CPU + motherboard
  • Digital audio out, (either on-board or PCI card)
  • Component (w/ HDMI) video output
  • Descent OS: Currently thinking about Win7 but open to other options
  • Wireless keyboard
  • Multimedia PC remote

This set up would totally get me started and be ready for future upgrades, (We still have a really nice rear CRT projection TV with only component-in).  I’d love to hear any other tips or suggestions anyone has. Please let me know your thoughts!

Samsung BD-P1590 is a big stinkeroni

apologies

Look, I feel really bad about this.  I usually don’t complain about product on my blog, but this has really gotten me worked up. I’ll also provide a quick review.

the good

Our old, progressive scan DVD player gave up the ghost a couple of months ago.  I have been lobbying for a Sony PS3 but haven’t been able to get “executive approval” for the purchase, so when Costco had a deal on the Samsung BD-P1590, we got the green light to pick it up.  At first glance, it has some nice features:

  • Pandora support
  • Youtube
  • Blockbuster
  • Netflix
Don't buy it.

Don't buy it.

My Dad has the Samsung 2550 and it was pretty cool.  We liked the Pandora and Netflix integration so at this price, it looked pretty good.

the bad

We bought the unit, brought it home, and I began hooking it up.  First off, it doesn’t have COAX out.  It’s either standard RCA jacks or TOSlink out.  I had to rewire the Xbox.

But once I got it hooked up, the first thing it wanted to do was upgrade the firmware.  A guy we talked to at Costco said he upgraded the day before and he said it was good.  Once it rebooted, I popped in my Pink Floyd concert DVD and it looked great, (I don’t have any Blu-ray, yet).

pink_floyd_pulse

Then we signed up for Pandora and Netflix.  Pandora sounded great!  It was tickling my subwoofer and sounded really good.  Then we ate dinner and I heard the unit beep and it powered off.  I guess it shuts down if it is idle.

Then, when you hit the power button, the display says “LOAD” and that’s it. I can open and close the tray but nothing else.  I tried the various ways I’ve found to “reset” the unit, and none of them worked.

I found an “offical” forum over at CNET:

Samsung 2009 Blu-ray Player Firmware Update Available Now

by blu-ray chic Samsung staff – 9/3/09 10:06 AM

All, 
Firmware has been posted today for 09 models. (other models to follow, please be patient).
I’m in the process of updating my players and will share the results when I’m through. However, please feel free to use this thread to report any issues with your upgrades, findings, thoughts, etc…
When you post your info, please be sure to let us know how you upgraded (USB, CD, Network) and any pertinent details. 

IMPORTANT: Please note the launch of our new website. The download center is currently not showing f/w details such as what’s been corrected or worse, what file type is which. 
If you have a network connection, this is the easiest way to update. Simply turn the power on and wait a moment before you receive a notification for the new firmware. 
If you choose to use CD or USB updates, the first one listed is the USB update. The second which ends in ISO is the disc update. These updates need to be installed only once, not twice like the first update. However, if you’ve never updated your player, you may need to install the update twice. Again, please share your findings with us all. Thanks for your participation! 

What should these upgrades address?

A/V sync issues
Title compatibility 
NTP should be defaulted to on after reset or power failure
Error msg “your Netflix Keys have been hacked”
And finally – to provide Blockbuster and YouTube support.. (crossing fingers that I haven’t spoken too soon)

As soon as I get the final details I’ll let ya’ll know.

Best of luck to you all! ;)

And according to the thread, I am not the only one with a bricked unit.  Again, I am one not to bitch, but this was OUT OF THE box and we got to enjoy for less than 15 minutes.  Seriously, I will spend more time in the car taking it back then the amount of time we got to use it.

the rub

And here’s the rub.  If I was to exchange it at Costco, ANY replacement Samsung BD-P1590 I get is probably subject to the same fate.  I did nothing special or weird to my unit.

If you were me, what would you do?

what’s your inspiration

I’ve written in the past about things that get my creativity going. I think in my last example, I went on about Mel Brook’s History of the World, Part I. What a great movie. There are other movies that just knock my socks off. Young Frankenstein is an other example of a super creative movie. I’ll admit, I love anything that has well done, double entendre. I even like it more when I say something that is double entendre, and half the people get it, and the other half have blank looks on their faces. Hilarious… Okay, I’ll get my mind out of the gutter.

Innovation and creativity are funny things. For me, I find it can be a balancing act. There have been times in my life when I feel like I am on fire and I am really being innovative and rocking. Then, something happens, and it feels like a punch in gut and I get “thinkers block” and I am paralyzed. In the past, this paralyzed feeling has in some cases lasted years. For example, I used to try to work on my Mom’s house when I lived there. Nothing would work and I felt like a worthless handy man. I eventually gave up trying to do things around the house. Years later, I realized my shortcomings as a handyman were really lack of experience (naturally) and the builder took a lot of shortcuts. When my wife and I bought our first home (which was built in 1947), something clicked and I became the handyman that I always wanted to be.

When I was in high school and in college, I worked on my own cars. Then something happened and I became an inept mechanic and I felt like I had no business under the hood. When I had my old Mercedes diesel, (I still wish I had that car), something happened and I was back under the hood changing glow plugs and brake pads. Now, with our modern cars, (a Volvo and VW Eurovan), I am back to changing brakes pads and rotors and saving thousands of dollars in dealer repair costs and offering to help others with their cars.

Sure, part of it is confidence, but I don’t think that’s just it. I remember when I read “Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and the only thing I remember is how the author said something along the lines of “I have a motorcycle, it makes sense to me to understand how it works and to learn how to work on it” and he said one of his friends just let the repair shop deal with the problems.

Part of it, is also just being willing to try it… figure it out… make it work. I’m lucky. My wife tolerates my experiments. I heard her tell the kids one day, “Don’t worry, Daddy can fix it. Daddy can fix anything.” Wow, not only was that a boost in my confidence, but it showed me that my family thinks I can fix anything! I felt like a Super-fix-it-man!

I’ll give you another example how this translates into my life. If you have kids and pets, you probably already know the value of a carpet shampooer. I’m not talking the professional kind you rent, rather the consumer grade ones. We’ve had one for about six years. The hose, that allows you to use the hand attachments broke where the handle tilts back. We can easily afford a new shampooer but otherwise the unit still works really well for cleaning the carpets. The other night I was out for a run and it happened to be trash night in our neighborhood. Someone was throwing out a newer version of the shampooer we have. My first thought was, “Cool, maybe I can use that hose…” and I went and gave the discarded shampooer the once over. As I titled the handle back, I saw that the hose ripped in the exact same place so I wasn’t interested.

My point with all of this, is that… well I don’t know. I guess since my family thinks I can fix anything, I feel like I can.

Back to the creativity and innovation thoughts… The other night, I was watching TV with the kids. I was really tired of cartoons so I was trying to find something we could watch, (deep sea creatures and sharks are always a big hit with the kids). In a rare occurrence, we tuned to catch the very beginning of the Pink Panther movie. I grew up with these movies and remember seeing them in the movie theater in Chicago with my Grandma. I forgot how clever and creative the beginning segments are. I’ve always like the Pink Panther cartoons. He’s very expressive and can make you laugh without saying a word. So the opening credits were great. The kids loved it. It made me think where I got my sense of humor from.

Over at Chris Brogan’s blog, he’s got a neat post about the “Bucket Meme” and it was something I was going to write about here, but my time is already short this morning so I’ll have to get it in the next post.

austin powers is the snake to my mongoose…

I was watching Austin Powers the other night. I love those movies. As Bob pointed out in the comments on the Invisible Sandwich post, I do get a good bit of laughter from low brow humor. The funny thing is, when Austin Powers first came out, I thought it would be dumb. I didn’t think I liked that sort of humor. My mom and sister encouraged me to see it and they were right. I loved it. I was hooked.

Looking back, I remember I saw a movie when I was in high school. I saw it at one of the first “parties” I went to where no adults were around. I don’t know how many people saw this movie, but I still think it was really funny.

The user comments on imbd sums it up pretty good. 1984 was a big year for me as I began to form my identity. I think I probably saw this in 1988 or so since we had it on VHS. Talk about low brow humor, this movie had it all. I am still laughing as I type this. I agree that it is temping to highlight certain scenes but I think if I did and you hadn’t seen the movie, you just wouldn’t get it since it would be out of context.

This movie was a hidden gem, and growing up I came across other hidden gems. I used to work at a record shop when I was in college and we rented movies. I got to see a lot of really good movies during that time. One of the things that I found somewhat interesting is the connections you could find amongst several movies. I was turned on to Jim Jarmusch in college. He is still one of my favorite film makers. Using him as a starting point, there are connections in various ways between, Joe Strummer, Dick Rude, Alex Cox, Tom Waits, David Johansen, John Lurie, Nick Cave, Neil Young, Iggy Pop, The Pogues, Elvis Costello, and other actors who have been in various movies with the above people. Aside from the movies, there is other evidence, like The Sons of Lee Marvin and the excellent “Fishing with John” series.

Fishing with John: John and Dennis Hopper

Let me get back on track here for a minute with the funny movies that I have seen over the years. Honestly, I could go on and on about good movies, but I started talking about low brow humor and here I am now talking about Indie films and conspiracy theories. If you’ve made it this far, I apologize.

Okay, so back to the low brow. I’ve never really enjoyed movies like Fast Times or Porky’s. I think I like the low brow with a certain level of intelligence behind it. Animal House was like that. It was low brow alright, but it was put together intelligently and was done well. A movie that I happened to catch on the premium movie channels was:

  • EuroTrip

Despite the alluring, yet misleading cover on the website, I found this movie to be a real surprise. First it was really well done. The story was interesting and situations the characters found themselves in was gut busting funny for me. I liked it so much, I found it used at a rental store, (when I first got a DVD player, the first previously viewed DVD I bought was Duece Bigalow for $1. I still maintain it was the best $1 I ever spent!). What was interesting about this movie, given the humor, was the attention to detail. This movie came out well before Pope Paul John II passed away. And in the movie, they did this whole scene around everyone mistakenly thinking the Pope died. I followed the Pope’s death and the appointment of the new Pope pretty closely and watched the movie afterward, they pretty much got it right. It is a fun movie, but my Dad said it was too much for him.

i want my two hours back.

Last night, after everyone went to bed, I began to watch a movie, called Firewall with Harrison Ford. The movie kept me interested but when it was done, I was disappointed. And the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got. Here’s my big secret.

I haven’t told ANYONE I watched this movie; it’s been a secret.

I didn’t mean to keep it a secret. I wanted to tell people that I thought it was a bad movie. I wanted to make fun of it with my friends. But for some reason, it is almost like I am ashamed to tell people I watched it. Actually, not this movie specifically, but I guess I am more burned up about the fact that I stayed up extra late to watch it. I guess the ROI is in the negative.

So, why didn’t I like this movie? Well, it was full of fluff. It had real potential. The story was interesting and there were plenty of places for the story to take a unique twist, but I guess it was like it was “phoning it in…”

I’ve always like Harrison Ford so don’t get me wrong. I just think the story got really weak at about the 1/2 point and the ending was a huge let down. I haven’t read any of the real reviews but I probably will as soon as I post this.