Obama’s team requests to postpone transition: I mean the digital TV transition on Feb 17, 2009.

Clip art from Microsoft Office Online An interesting metaphor given the wet, rainy weather we have this week in the Redmond area: 40 days and nights from now, the television world should be changing to digital broadcast in the States.

But not if Obama’s team request for a delay in digital TV transition is heard. As Joelle Tessler, technology writer for AP reported today (January 8, 2009)…

"President-elect Barack Obama is urging Congress to postpone the Feb. 17 switch from analog to digital television broadcasting, arguing that too many Americans who rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air channels won’t be ready.

"In a letter to key lawmakers Thursday, Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta said the digital transition needs to be delayed largely because the Commerce Department has run out of money for coupons to subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers. People who don’t have cable or satellite service or a new TV with a digital tuner will need the converter boxes to keep their older analog sets working.

"Obama officials are also concerned that the government is not doing enough to help Americans – particularly those in rural, poor or minority communities – prepare for and navigate the transition."

The story was reported broadly, but isn’t met with broad support: this from PBS President Paula Kerger who called digital delays "inexcusable." As Mark Dawidziak (Plain Dealer Television Critic) reports…

"Paula Kerger, the president of PBS, used her semi-annual meeting with the nation’s TV critics to wag an admonishing finger at the federal overseers of the Feb. 17 switch to digital television. She is particularly distressed that viewers seeking coupons for converter boxes are being on a waiting list. "I’m very disheartened to hear that, a month before the DTV deadline, the federal government has run out of money to help citizens purchase digital converter boxes," Kerger said.

"Consumers need those coupons, and they need them now, and to put them on a waiting list, which is what is happening, is inexcusable."

This is nothing new: as reported last year, government officials chided the Digital TV transition effort.  Kim Hart wrote in the Washington Post (July 11, 2008) that the "billion-dollar program to help consumers prepare for the upcoming switch to digital television has been mismanaged and is running out of money, key lawmakers said, prompting concerns that millions of TV viewers could be left in the dark."

Further, Hart wrote that the Digital TV transition wouldn’t be as easy as it had been advertised.

Generally, if you have a television that receives TV channels locally via the analogue antenna on your roof or atop the TV itself, you’ll likely need a new digital converter box and antenna to receive your local channels. 

If you have a Windows XP Media Center or Windows Vista computer coupled with an analogue broadcast tuner card, you’ll need to either upgrade to a suitable and supported digital tuner card or USB peripheral, or connect a digital converter box after February 17, 2009.  This will enable your computer to receive what’s called local "over-the-air" (aka OTA) television broadcasts with a digital antenna.  See the site DTV Answers: What you need to know about the February 17, 2009 switch to DTV.  This site provides info on the switch from the old analogue TV signals to digital television, or DTV.  For more information, visit the US FCC website on the digital TV transition at

(Where was this kind of site and promotional effort when the government was preparing for the change to daylight saving time in the States?)

As I noted in a this prior post, a majority of Americans today receive television via cable and satellite connections (70% are connected to cable). So if you subscribe to cable, satellite or fiber-provided television then you should be unaffected: for the most part, analog television receivers should continue to work as normal before with cable TV and satellite TV receivers, plus other video devices such as camcorders and VCRs.

Key word there: "should."

It turns out that the national digital transition is not the only digital television challenge.

As Brier Dudley, Seattle Times staff columnist, reported in his article "A digital switch on way for some cable customers, too" (last Dec 10th, 2008) that Comcast decided to take the opportunity in February to make a digital switch of their own, "a move that will affect more than 1 million households in Washington state." The move will require cable box needed for just about every television.  (See more FAQs in his post on "Comcast digital switch stirs more questions.")

Comcast’s advertising here exclaimed that "current customers don’t have to do anything" come 2-17-09.  That’s not quite accurate. As I noted in a Tweet to comcastcares (to Comcast’s rep on Twitter), the challenge is that most digital ready TVs, DVRs & PCs (with Windows Media Center) will now need a new converter set-top box if I want to receive stations above channel 30 on Comcast’s local channel map given the in-house cable connections to TVs are analogue.  And that means that most digital-ready televisions won’t be able to decrypt the encoded digital channels from Comcast above channel 30. 

Although local cable subscribers will continue to get the local main affiliates in the lower channel map (single digits) plus a few local access stations, home shopping and the Discovery Channel, much of the programming we watch at home (CNN, CNBC, SciFi and of course MTV) will require inserting a digital converter into the mix.

Not pretty.

Comcast is also placing a limit of two free digital to analog boxes per home.  Recently, the fount of knowledge that is USA Today reported that the there are more TVs in the average American home than people…

"That threshold was crossed within the past two years [of 9/21/2006], according to Nielsen Media Research. There are 2.73 TV sets in the typical home and 2.55 people, the researchers said."

… so it appears that this may not equate to (as Comcast advertising stated) the "same experience as you have today" if you have more than two televisions.  YMMV.

I wasn’t planning on adding yet another set top box to my television system, another remote and adding the intricacies of an IR blaster if I want to seamlessly integrate the set top converter box with my DVR and Media Center.

As noted in the article "You don’t need satellite TV when times get tough" from CNET News (December 19, 2008) Marguerite Reardon covered what one family found when they decided to cut some of their expenses at home, including their satellite television subscription…

"[Debra James of Oakland] said she found a wealth of legitimate sources for TV programming online. Sites such as Hulu, Fancast, Joost, YouTube, and most major TV networks’ Web sites offer TV shows and other video content for free. Using an existing rooftop antenna, James plugged her TV into the hook-up to get more than 50 high-definition TV channels over-the-air. The cost for these HD channels: zero.

"And instead of spending an extra $20 a month for HBO or any other premium movie channels, James subscribed to a $17-a-month Netflix service, which allows her to rent three movies at a time…"

We may vote with our feet and move off the cable television grid and see if we can implement a similar experience at home.

Tags: Windows, Media Center, television, DVR, Obama, policy.

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NBC Video Direct restores world order at home, saves my bacon

As I Twittered (tweeted? I’ll get this right), sometimes you forget to do something: pick up milk on the way home, feed the cat or empty the dishwasher.  On the whole, not so serious.  And with a digital vide recorder or a Media Center PC, you shouldn’t have to worry about missing an episode of your favourite show.

That is, unless you forget to program the system to record your favourite show. 

That happened to me this week, as I neglected to restart recording of The Office on NBC.

Luckily, imageNBC Video Rewind is available on the NBC 24/7 Video page, where you can view full-length episodes of NBC shows (posted the morning the day after they air), including 30 Rock, Heroes and others.  You can also watch quick recap, two-minute replays that provide a Cliff Notes video clip of the show.

As we found with, we were able to find episodes of The Office on the web, available for streaming for free to your computer, live over the web.  ABC and CBS also make many of their popular shows available for viewing on and on respectively, with many available in HD.

But most interesting over the compressed streaming video (fine for travel and desktop viewing) is full SD and HD video, downloaded to your PC.  Normally relegated to Bit Torrent file downloads, we’d rather have a network blessed (read "legal") way to get vide to our Media Center computer (or any PC for that matter). 

Thankfully, there’s the beta for NBC Video Direct, where full episodes are available for download. Using NBC Direct (now in beta), you can download full episodes to your Windows PCs.  We first installed the NBC Direct player (available free) and then after registering were able to download HD versions of current and past favourites (do you miss Erin Gray in Buck Rogers?).  For The Office one hour premier, it took about 10-15 minutes or so at home to get the full HD file.

Last fall, the New York Times said that the NBC Direct Beta was "not quite ready for prime-time" but a lot changes in a year.  There’s a full list of shows available, the performance was flawless and overall our experience this week has been quite positive.

So, next time you neglect to program your DVR or PC to record a show from cable, satellite or broadcast, remember that there is a fallback for many of your favourite shows. 

I'm a PC I'm a PC Life without Walls

Tags: NBC, Windows, Media Center, television, DVR.

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Ready to watch the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Windows Vista Media Center can help

If you are interested in catching up with all the Olympics but don’t have the time to wade through (or be awake for) the sporting event of you choice (the freestyle swimming, fencing, soccer and the Decathalon here at home), we’re pleased to announce NBC Olympics On The Go — powered by TVTonic on Windows Vista Media Center.  This is an Internet-delivered catch-up TV service from NBC Universal powered by Wavexpress’ TVTonic platform.

If you’re in the States, this free download-and-play service utilizes Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate (full system requirements) and features (according to the site)…

  • download & watch full length Olympic events
  • watch while “on the go” and off-line
  • hours of video covering over 20 Olympic sports
  • subscribe to your favorite events for automatic delivery to your PC

We have an event tomorrow night that conflicts with the opening ceremony: with this option, we will get to see the entire opening ceremony.

Very cool.

Plus, today over at Engadget (Aug 7th 2008), Richard Lawler provides “the full rundown on the different ways the Games are coming home and how to take advantage of them all.”

There’s no doubt about it, no matter what the air quality — or the political climate — is like, these will be the best Olympics ever to watch from home (maybe 2012, eh Oscar?) With every moment captured in high definition and available right away, viewers will have their choice of sports to watch at all times, on a number of different platforms. Whether you’re new to HD — and are absolutely sure your HDTV is set up properly — in the last four years or still have nightmares punctuated by “We’ve got chips…and salsa” (we’ve formed a support group for the survivors of 2004) we’ll do our part to make sure you’re equipped to get the most possible out of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Ready to watch the 2008 Beijing Olympics? – Engadget HD

Tags: Microsoft, Media Center, Olympics, NBC, HDTV


Is the Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 too much? It depends…

Last year I posted an entry on how to choose the best computer which included an article by Mike Himowitz, columnist at the Baltimore Sun.  Himowitz wrote the article “Sticker tells shopper key parts of a laptop” which covers “the specific components of a portable PC.”

Overall, I like Mike’s advice: I’ve found it to be direct and to the point, with few sidetracks.

Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000Last week, I walked by the new Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 at the Microsoft Company Store.  I use the Wireless Laser Desktop 4000 at work and at home with the comfort curve key layout, and I thought that it would be a nice addition to our home Media Center set up.  Heck, the 8000 would look great on the desk of our home office, too.  The web site touts that the 8000 is “designed to make it easier than ever to control PC media from your desk, your lap–or even from the comfort of your couch.”

Opening the paper this morning, I found that Himowitz has a review of the Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 reprinted in today’s Seattle Times (originally from his article in the Sun, “Tinkling these keys isn’t worth $260“).

“Reality check — $260 for a keyboard and mouse? That’s almost four times as much as I spent for the wireless combo I use with the computer that’s hooked up to our HDTV set. What could you possibly get for that much money?

“As it turns out, you get the same thing you get when you buy a Mercedes instead of a Camry: more luxury and styling and gimmicks. There’s a somewhat bigger payoff for couch potatoes, but is it enough to justify almost $300?”

In short, Mike said that the answer is no.

Unlike Mike’s experience, where had trouble getting used to the Comfort Curve key layout after more than a week of use, I find that the design is my preferred layout.  After I used the keyboard for about a month, I found that the design fits my hands quite nicely. In fact, I have difficulty going back to a laptop after spending time working on my desktop system.

Mike asked the real question, and offers his answer:

“But are all these features worth close to $300?

“Bottom line: I wouldn’t pay that much. But if you (a) have the money, (b) think you can get used to this lap-friendly, wireless keyboard and (c) want it packaged with a superb laser mouse, you won’t be disappointed.”

Once again, I agree with Mike. $300 is a lot for a keyboard and mouse, even if you do have the money.  It’s certainly a nice improvement over the older (and retired) Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center

Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000There are several other Comfort Curve design mouse and keyboard sets available, including the equally svelte Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000 (which CNET reviewed and ranked sightly lower than the 8000).  I think that the backlit keyboard and four USB Ports make the 8000 a better choice for a home theatre, but the 7000 is a good addition to any Media Center setup for the US$129 street price I’ve seen recently.  For home office use, the Wireless Laser Desktop 4000 and Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 are both good, affordable choices.

CNET has a review of the 8000 mouse and keyboard bundle, giving it a 7.0 out of 10, highlighting that the system is rechargeable, and easy-to-use with smart backlighting.  But CNET disses it for being “expensive…” and for having a “clunky recharging station.”

I’m still thinking about that investment… so far I have not brought one home, as elegant as it is.  But with a street price of around $249, it’s nearing what I consider a reasonable premium over the 7000.  If you’ve invested a hefty sum into a Media Center PC and home theatre setup, the 8000 is probably a small portion of the overall cost of the setup.  And it could be an easy to appreciate premium: with your remote control, the keyboard and mouse are pieces that you use with your Media Center system nearly every day.

Tags: tips, Windows Vista, Media Center, hardware, keyboard, mouse, Mike Himowitz.


CES 2008: Getting around Las Vegas on the Media Center Express

For those of you going to CES, Nick reports on the Windows Vista blog today that there will be one more way (aside from ) to cruise around Viva Las Vegas… the new the Windows Vista Media Center Express:

“This year at CES we’re partnering with PodTech to provide ground transportation specifically for bloggers attending CES via the Windows Vista Media Center Express.  This is an executive-class coach with a distinctive, custom exterior design, so you’ll know it when you see it. 

“We dreamed up the Media Center Express as a way to help bloggers get between the CES BlogHaus at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino and CES 2008 at the Las Vegas Conference Center, while also providing them an entertaining, hands-on experience with cool technology — and of course refreshments — en route.  (If you’ve ever been to CES, then you know how difficult it can be to negotiate the Las Vegas streets while competing with the 150K other people in attendance.) 

“We’ve equipped the bus with PCs and hardware showcasing some of the best aspects of Windows Vista, namely, Windows Media Center and Certified for Windows Vista devices.” 

If you’re going to CES, register for the BlogHaus at the Bellagio so you can take advantage of the Media Center Express.  The Bellagio BlogHaus will be open on Sunday, January 6, from 4pm to 2am, and then each day of the show from 7am to 2am (Thursday from 7am to 12noon).

Tags: Microsoft, podtech, CES 2008, CES, BlogHaus.