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Friday, 26 November 2010

WHS V2 Vail = Fail – Tell Microsoft your thoughts on them removing Drive Extender

You have probably heard by now that some bright sparks at Microsoft have decided that removing Drive Extender from Windows Home Server Version 2 (Codename Vail) is a good idea! Well its not and it will probably kill off the WHS platform in my opinion.

I was reading this post on the subject at and in the comments I noticed a link to a thread on the Microsoft Connect (Beta) website.

You will need a Connect account to access this page or you will get an error, but I highly suggest if you want to vote and express your comments to Microsoft this is probably the best place to do it. So please take the time to register and get on Connect if you can. You can find the thread on Connect here.

There are currently 2852 Votes in favour of keeping Drive Extender in Vail and 37 against. There are currently 775 comments that have been posted by users.

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The comment I posted on the Microsoft Connect thread can be seen below and clearly expresses my disbelief in this announcement.

I am totally shocked and amazed that Microsoft would think that removing Drive Extender from WHS V2 would be a good idea. Duh which idiots make these decisions?
I just got the link to this Connect thread from this blog post here:
Microsoft please read the user comments on the above blog post and the many other blog posts on the Internet, where this news about Drive Extender being removed has been announced.
The comments left on this Microsoft Connect thread are only a tiny minority of users who have a Connect login account, there must be 1000's of others who also want to see that Drive Extender does remain in the WHS product, who can't post here.
I certainly won't be upgrading to WHS V2 if Drive Extender is removed and neither will our Media Center customers.
Sort it out Microsoft and get your act together !

Stuart aka CW-KID

Microsoft Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP

Thursday, 25 November 2010

VipID Custom Intro Videos – Now open for user registration

I previously wrote about a new beta website from VipID I was testing, which enabled you to easily create your own custom Home Theatre Into Videos, if you missed that post check it out here.

The news today is that the VipID beta website is now open for user registration, so if you fancy checking it out, head over to here and create yourself an account.

The VipID website addresses: or

Monday, 22 November 2010

Amulet Voice Remote Control – Part3

In part two I took a look at the Amulet Media Center add-in screens and eventually established that the voice commands not only work in these new areas, but also in the native parts of Media Center, for example I was also able to go in to the regular Windows 7 Media Center Music library and use voice commands like Play Artists (artist name) and Play Some (genre name). Being able to use most of the voice commands in the native parts of Media Center really makes this remote control more appealing.

I have also been using the Amulet voice remote control recently for my Media Center Live TV and it works very well, you can simply say: Go To TV Guide to launch the guide, then use commands like Watch Channel BBC1 or Watch Channel ITV1 etc to change channels which is pretty cool. You can also navigate around the TV guide using commands like Show Guide at (time) on (date) or Show Channel (channel name) at (time) on (date) etc. So for example you can use a voice command like: Show Channel BBC1 Tomorrow at 13:00

I have scanned the voice commands quick reference cards that came with the remote control in the box, so you can see a full list of voice commands that can be used with the Amulet remote control. This should give you a much better idea of what can be done using voice commands alone!

Amulet Quick Reference Cards (Voice Commands)

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Amulet – TV Guide

Amulet - TV and Video

Amulet - Music

Amulet – General

You can see that the Amulet user interface add-in areas are well designed and nicely animated. I especially like the Pictures area and how the Polaroid like tiles move in to position as new photo folders are displayed on screen. The Music interface also has some animation with the cover flow in the top left hand side displaying random album covers, also how the albums appear in the right hand pane for the currently selected artist is nicely done. I did have some issues with high CPU usage whilst in the Amulet Music area during music playback, however disabling the playback time counter in the Amulet.ini file seemed to improve this issue greatly. Amulet are hopefully looking in to this problem.

The Amulet movies / videos area I found a little confusing initially as it displays your media files in a flat view, i.e. it does not keep the folder hierarchy / sub folders, it displays your video files all at the same level, which can mean quiet long lists of video files, however Amulet say that this type of view is better suited for speech. I am yet to add my shared movie folders on my WHS into the Amulet media indexer, I need to do this and it will be a good test of the system as I have over 1400 titles.

Navigating around the Media Center TV Guide using speach is great, once you get use to the correct voice commands. Just saying Watch Channel BBC1 and it changing to that channel is brilliant, you can use commands like Record That to record a program you currently have selected in the guide.

In part 4 I will be looking at using Amulet with my shared movie folders on the WHS and also taking a look at the Amulet.ini file and some of the things you can customise in there.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Amulet Voice Remote Control – Part2


You can see Amulet in action on the Amulet YouTube Video channel here

It seems some of my assumptions about the need for the Amulet Media Center UI screens have been wrong. Eddy Carroll from Amulet has informed me that:

"While we do have our own Amulet UI screens, these are not required to access movies or videos using voice. We provide them as a convenience if you need reminding what items are in your collection (hence the fairly flat hierarchy), and to provide more onscreen feedback while you're getting used to the voice commands.

However, you can use commands like PLAY ARTIST, WATCH MOVIE, etc. from anywhere within Media Center, such as the traditional Music Library or Movie Library pages and they will work just as they would on the Amulet UI pages. In fact, pretty much all of the Amulet commands work independently of the Amulet UI screens (with a couple of small context-sensitive exceptions, such as SHOW EPISODE which depends on having previously said the name of a TV series to watch; in this case, the Amulet UI screens will be showing you the list of episodes to choose from)."

I didn't realise that more of the voice commands would also work in the native areas of Media Center as well, as I was so busy checking out the new Amulet user interface areas, so this is an important point that should be noted.

Original Post:

In part one I looked at the Amulet remote control hardware and software installation, in part two we are going to take a look at the Amulet’s Media Center add-in software. You can use the Voice Remote to navigate around the normal areas of Media Center like the movie, music, pictures and video libraries. You can use voice commands like Go To Start, Go To Movie Library, Go To My Music, Go To My Pictures, Go To My Videos. These commands will take you to the native areas of Media Center. You can then use voice commands such as Go Up, Go Down, Go Left, Go Right and Select or OK etc to navigate around. You can also say things like Go Up 1 Go Down 5 etc 1-9.

You can also edit the Amulet .ini file and add in custom voice commands for launching 3rd party Media Center add-ins like My Movies and TunerFree MCE. I tested adding custom commands for all my 3rd party add-ins and this works very well, so now for example I can say Go To My Movies and then My Movies is launched. You also get onscreen text feedback after you say a voice command and the computer voice speaks your command back to you e.g. it says “Launching My Movies” after I have used the Go To My Movies voice command. I believe you can also add custom commands to launch external programs and .cmd files etc which could be very handy.

This is all well and good but in order to say commands like Show Artists or Genres XYZ, Play Artist or Album XYZ, Play Song XYZ, Watch Channel XYZ, Play Movie XYZ etc Amulet needed to develop their own user interface within Media Center. After installing Amulet you will see a new Media Center menu strip. On here are the following icons:

Music / TV + Movies / Photos / Settings / Help Videos


To go to the special Amulet Music UI for example, you say the voice command: Go To Music, instead of Go To My Music which would take you to the native music library.

Music UI:

The Amulet Music UI is better than I had imagined, when I first saw videos of this remote in action at CES I wasn’t keen on the whole idea of replacing use of parts of the native 7MC UI with their own. However doing just that was probably the only way a voice system like this would work I think. On the screenshot below, the covers you can see on the top left are just random covers that are animated in a cover flow like style and move about. The middle pane is where the details are, e.g. you can see the artists / genres / albums. You can say Show Artists and it then lists all artists in a list in the middle of the screen. Or Show Genres etc, You can then use voice commands like Play Artist {artist name} Play Album {album name} Play Some {genre name} etc. I did find that my artists list was long 350 odd artists and scrolling up and down the list either using the directional buttons on the remote control or using navigation voice commands like Page Down was quiet slow going. It’s OK if you know which artist you want to play as you just say it, but if you want to browse the list and look at what’s available I found this a little more difficult.

If you say Show Artists Snow Patrol for example their albums are shown on the right hand side, these kind of sweep up from the bottom right of the screen when they appear, again sometimes I found the amount of time for the artist to appear after I had spoken my voice command to be quiet slow but then other times it would only take a few seconds to appear, this maybe an isolated issue with my setup however, as Amulet say artists are normally displayed within a few seconds.

I won’t say it detected the right artist name every time because it didn’t, some times I would say one name and it would come up with something completely different, was probably my Yorkshire accent it didn’t like, maybe you could improve this by training your PC more using the native speech recognition learning in Windows 7. But on the whole Amulet was fairly accurate.

You can use voice commands like Pause Song, Continue, Next / Previous Song, Fast Forward Song. One feature I really like is Info, this works in other areas as well but in music you can say stuff like: Name That Song, Who Sings That, What Song Is This? and the Amulet voice speaks and tells you, very cool indeed! You can also control the Media Center volume levels with commands like Quiet (mute), Medium Volume, Full Volume etc.


TV + Movies UI:

You can use voice commands such as: Show Movies, Show Videos, Show TV Shows, Show Home Movies then you can use commands like Play Video XYZ, Play Movie XYZ etc. Amulet has its own background file scanner that index’s your media files. I haven’t fully figured out how it does this and how it knows to put a certain video file in to the correct category, they are using for some of their metadata. I’ve had mixed results, it picked up all my Recorded TV correctly, some things were classed as Movies which I thought should not have been, it seemed to detect all my home videos off my camcorder / digital camera correctly and group them together. Initially only some of my downloaded TV shows were appearing in the TV Shows area, You can run the scanner manually from the start menu after doing this a few times more missing items started to appear.

The TV + Movies area of the Amulet UI is still the part I know the least about and I am still in the process of working stuff out, so I will not cover this anymore today, I may recover this area again in a future post when I have got to grips with it better.


Photos UI:

The Photos area is very nicely animated and easy to use, You just say Play SlideShow (name of folder) So for example I could say Play Slide Show Abigale’s 2nd Birthday and the folder of photos would start in a slideshow. I’ve also noticed you don’t always have to say the full name of an item you want to play, some times saying just the first or second word is enough for it to pick up the right thing, this is handy if you have something with a long name like a movie title you can just say the first part of it. There is a command to play all your photos in a Slideshow this is GO TO SlideShow, by default it looks in the C:\Users\Public\Pictures folder I had to edit the Amulet.ini file to point it to my main photos folder on my WHS. I like the photo functionality of Amulet its simple and easy to use and looks good!



There are various settings you can change in the Amulet settings area, you can add a welcome message, so now every time Media Center is opened after a short wait it says “"Welcome Harrison Family”' I found this helpful as after I hear this I know Amulet is ready for voice commands, as it seems a little slow after you have launched Media Center until its ready to accept any commands. You can also change the voice from some bloke called Paul to Microsoft Anna, change volume settings and other Listener / Talker settings.


Help Videos:

The Help Videos are useful and I was glad they were there!


Well I think that’s enough for part two, overall I am still very impressed with the Amulet voice remote control, there are some issues and kinks I need to iron out with how some of my video files are being indexed hopefully I can sort this out and talk in more detail about the Movies / Videos area of the Amulet UI.

I’m not sure yet what I will cover in Part 3, maybe more about the Movies / Videos area, or maybe I can talk about some of the custom configuration and editing this Amulet.ini file, I believe Amulet have plans to make adding custom commands and other things you need to edit in this .ini file, easier with a GUI maybe in Media Center itself.

The other thing I’ve not really looked at yet is how you can control Live TV with the remote, so I may look at this in part 3, so stay tuned, if anyone has any questions about it please feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Amulet Voice Remote Control – Part1

I’m going to be taking an in depth look at the Amulet voice remote control for Windows Media Center. Amulet contacted me and asked if I would like to look at an evaluation unit. As I always like to try new gadgets I said yes I would, thank you very much!

The concept is you can control and navigate around Windows Media Center using your voice, sound cool? well it is!

Firstly their website can be found here and I recommend you view the demo video here before reading my series of blog posts about this remote control! I believe you can purchase these remote controls already in the US and they will be launched in the UK soon, I don’t have any details of when and how much yet.

What’s in the box:





Well you get the remote control, a rechargeable battery for the remote, a USB lead to charge up the remote, software installation disk, a well written and easy to follow quick start guide and two cards that have the various voice commands you can use and the USB dongle that plugs in to the PC. A charging cradle for the remote to sit in might have been a nice option, but I guess that would push up the overall cost of the unit.

First impression of the remote control itself, is that it feels well made and a quality product, it looks good as well! The button layout is very similar to your standard MCE remote control. Most of the buttons are back-lit in white, except the number and teletext buttons at the bottom, as soon as you pick up the remote control it lights up automatically. The big circle thing at the top lights up red when you tilt the remote control upwards towards yourself, this means Amulet is listening to you and ready for your voice command.

One negative thing I have to say about the hardware is when you press any of the buttons they click, you hear a clicking sound. I would prefer them to be silent especially the directional arrows and OK button that get pressed allot, the clicking got to me after a while.

Whilst this remote control is not an advanced universal remote control like Harmony and the Pronto range it does have some universal remote control features, for example I was able to quickly and easily program it to control my HDTV’s volume up and down and TV power toggle. The four coloured teletext type buttons at the bottom can also be programmed to control other devices.

Eddy Carroll from Amulet explained this feature to me so I’ve quoted what he said about it below:

‘'The four coloured teletext keys at the bottom of the remote double as device keymap selection buttons. The default keymap is Media Center itself. You can train any of the keys in the other four keymaps by entering learning mode, then pressing a coloured key followed by the key you want to learn (e.g. press and release Red, then press Play, to learn the Play function on the red keymap). In normal use, you press Red to select the red keymap, and all remote buttons then follow the red keymap until you return to Media Center mode by pressing the green Start button.

So for example, you could program Red with the full set of TV buttons, blue with a DVD player or set-top box, yellow with your amplifier codes, etc. Memory for learnt commands is somewhat limited, so you won't be able to fully populate every keymap, but there is certainly enough for the basic functions.”

I certainly wasn’t expecting this level of support for controlling other devices so this appears to be very good!

Setup was easy, insert the already pre-charged battery in to the remote control, plug the USB dongle into the back of the PC, no drivers were required from me, it just installed itself as an audio device. I then inserted the software CD which auto runs and starts the setup.

Setup process:






After setup Amulet starts to scan your media files in the background behind the Media Center window it launches.


Amulet have their own scanning software that indexes your media content. By default Amulet only looks in the Windows 7 / WMP12 / Media Center library folders i.e. Music, Pictures, Videos etc. So if your like me and do not use the native 7MC movie library for your DVD’s etc, then Amulet won’t find these movies, you have to edit an .ini file to add in additional locations of your media content, for example that might be located on your WHS or NAS.

In part two we will be looking at what gets installed in to Media Center and how the Amulet add-in user interface looks and works.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

My Movies for iPad

My Movies for iPad has been released. Unfortunately I haven’t got an iPad to test this out with, but it sounds pretty good!

The below is from the My Movies newsletter.

“It is with great pleasure that I can send out this newsletter and let you know that "My Movies for iPad" is now available on the App Store. You can see the application on the iTunes website here.

Many of you are already familiar with or users of My Movies for iPhone Light or My Movies for iPhone Pro - My Movies for iPad is designed to work either as a standalone product, or along with the iPhone, Android or Windows Desktop software which means that you simply log on to your user account, and let the iPad application synchronize your full collection automatically.

Users of My Movies for Windows Media Center will find the iPad application even more interesting, due to the fact that it can connect to your My Movies for Windows Media Center and allow you to start playback of titles on the media center directly from the iPad. The current version allows for use with one Media Center and only on the host machine, which means it will not operate on extenders - we are however already working on the next update for this functionality, and the next version will support multiple hosts and multiple attached extenders, and will feature a full remote control functionality for Windows Media Center.

The application is available now for a price of USD 6.99, EUR 5.49 or GBP 3.99. This newsletter can only go though a small list of the full functionality, and we recommend that you take a look at our "My Movies for iPad" product page, which includes detailed descriptions and a full screenshot gallery - the page is available here.”

Monday, 1 November 2010

Introducing VIPID Home Cinema Custom Intros

I’ve been beta testing a new website that allows you to easily create your own custom Home Cinema intro videos. Such as the 20th Century Fox, Pixar and Universal intros, where you can change the text to your own and then have the video rendered by the website. These intro clips could then be used with My Movies for Media Center that supports playback of intro clips before the main film is started. Can Media Browser do this as well?

On this page you select the template from which you wish to create your intro clip from, there are currently 11 templates.


Its just a case of entering your own text in to the different fields, selecting the desired resolution from the left hand side, i.e. 1080P or 720P and clicking the Create button!


Also on the left hand side you can see how many points you need to create this particular video. I selected 1080P which is 650 points, 720P is 550 points, points translate in to $$$ and you can purchase different packages with different amounts of points.

After clicking the Create button you are shown a page like the one below. This is called the cooking progress. I found in IE that the progress percentage bar was a bit irratic and didn’t always move unless you refreshed the page, it worked much better in Firefox however. One of the Developers I have spoken too called Andrey from Russia said they were aware of the issues in IE and were working on fixes.


The Video creation or cooking time can take between 5-10 minutes, which is very fast for rendering clips like this!

Once your video has finished cooking you can go to the My Videos area and see your completed videos. Here you can preview the videos and download them. The videos are currently only created in .MP4 and .FLV (Flash) formats, although Andrey informs me they do have possible plans for other file types such as .AVI, .MPG and .WMV


Download page:


I don’t have the final URL web address of the VIPID website that will be used when the site goes live to users, but when I have it I will update this post and let you know!

Overall a great website that does exactly what you’d expect and it is very easy and fast to use. Highly recommended!

20TH Century Fox – Custom Intro Video


The VIPID website addresses will be: or

I've also been informed by the VIPID Team that 480x270 resolution videos will be free, but you cannot create more than 3 within a 24hrs period.

Easily create Home Cinema intro videos

This is a sneak preview of a video I created using a new Home Cinema custom intro creation website, that is currently in private beta. The site should launch in a few weeks time and I will post again soon with more details about it and how you can sign up, it will be a paid service, but what a service! you can create Hi-Res 1080P / 720P clips like the one below in about 5 minutes and its extremely simple to use. It doesn’t get any easier than this!

Custom Pixar Intro Video