Subject: General Tech | October 28, 2012 - 04:55 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: wmc, windows media center, Windows 8 Pro, windows 8, microsoft, free
Microsoft has decided to separate Windows Media Center from its latest operating system, making it a paid add-on to Windows 8 Pro. This has the consequence of making users wanting to upgrade their home theater PCs to Windows 8 have to pay not only for the more expensive Pro version but the add-on pack with WMC as well. Needless to say, I was less than pleased to hear that news. Especially, since CableCard users are stuck with WMC if they want to watch or record any shows flagged with anything more restrictive than copy freely (copy once, copy never).
Fortunately, Microsoft has backed away ever so slightly from that position by giving away free WMC keys to users until January 31, 2013. You will still need to pony up for the Pro version of Windows 8, but at least you will not have to pay for the add-on pack to get what is essentially the same media center that is available in Windows 7.
You can obtain a key by heading over to this Microsoft web page and entering your email address. The company is offering up a single key per email address. Even if you do not currently have Windows 8, it might be prudent to grab a key just in case. Note that you will need to activate the key by January 2013 or it will expire, however.
Once you have Windows 8 Pro installed, to add Windows Media Center, open up the Start Screen and search for “add features.” Click on “Settings” and then “Add features to Windows 8.” You will then be prompted for a product key, and once you input the key Microsoft emailed to you, follow the remaining prompts to install it. A restart will be required (and is automatic, so save any open documents!), and then you can get your WMC fix.
The promotion will end on January 2013 so grab the free keys while they last!
Read more about Windows 8 at PC Perspective.
Subject: General Tech | July 4, 2012 - 02:31 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: vlc, videolan, media player, free, app, Android
VideoLAN, the developers behind the popular free and open source media player VLC have crafted an Android version that has recently reached beta status. For everyone not in North America, you can grab the free VLC application from the Google Play Store. The restriction is reportedly a result of the developers not having access to American versions of the smartphones in question. If you are in North America and would still like to test out the app, you will need to grab it from either the VideoLAN nightly build server or the Jenkins server which both compile and store the latest builds on a daily basis. Once you’ve downloaded that app, navigate to it on your Android phone and choose to open it with the Package Installer.
The build is a bit rough around the edges, and performance leaves a lot to be desired, but it is still early in the development cycle. Especially if you are running an older single core phone (or even one that has no NEON hardware acceleration), VLC will struggle with even 720p content. The team is asking everyone to run a few tests for them and to report back using this form to help them gather needed performance data and to identify bugs.
As far as what phones will be compatible, Jenkins has complied daily builds that will work with phones using hardware as old as ARMv5 and as new as ARMv7 with NEON. VLC for Android is also compatible with Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 SoCs using the nightly builds. ExtremeTech notes that the chips with the NEON SIMD hardware includes Qualcomm Snapdragon S2/3/4, Samsung Exynos, TI OMAP 4/5, and Tegra 3 processors. If your phone does not have one of those SoCs, you should download one of the non-NEON nightly builds depending on which version of ARM it is based on. VideoLAN recommends using gsmarena.com as a reference for which chipset your phone uses but I did not have success if using it to track down the specific chipset in my Samsung Infuse. I had to turn to the search engines for help there. If you aren’t able to find the information, feel free to tell us your phone model in the comments and I’ll try to help you figure out the SoC it uses.
Below you will find a video showing off the latest VLC for Android build as we install it and test it with a variety of video and audio files. From my testing, the performance has gotten slightly better with the latest nightly build (#123), but the video and audio drift out of sync very quickly and the video frame rate is nowhere near as smooth as the built in Videos application. The performance /should/ improve as the app gets closer to final release, however. I’m hoping that VLC for Android will become an even better, and free, alternative to the paid-for VPlayer application that I also have on my phone for the files that the Videos app struggles with.
VLC for Android playing back a DVD of Live Free or Die Hard (480p, H.264 MP4)
Anyway, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the latest Android VLC app.
As a reminder, here are some useful links to getting the VLC app and assisting with the development process:
- VideoLAN Forums
- VideoLAN for Android Homepage
Download VLC for Android
Subject: General Tech | February 24, 2012 - 02:48 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: storage, media, Internet, free, cloud, box, backup
The online storage space is really starting to heat up as companies start getting competitive to grab their share of the 'cloud storage user base' pie. Dropbox is a popular file syncing and online storage space solution offering 2GB free and routinely offering extra free space to those that want it though promotions and referrals. On the other side of things, Microsoft offers 25GB of online storage space with SkyDrive minus the computer syncing (currently) for free to those with a Windows Live (or Hotmail) account and they are in the process of overhauling the service to make it easier to use. Besides those two juggernauts, there are several alternative solutions that offer extra space or cheaper paid storage in order to remain competitive with the larger services. One such service that has not gotten the same amount of public recognition is a site called Box.com. They primarily provide Internet based (paid) storage for businesses; however, it seems that they are starting to make a big push to get deeper into the consumer market.
The company is currently offering 50 GB (yes, you read that right) of free online storage space for life (or at least the life of the company) if you install their recently updated Android application and sign up for an account (or sign into an existing account) within the next 30 days (as of writing, that would mean 3/24/2012).
Further, if you download the Android Box application before March 23, 2012 at 11:59 they will up the individual file size limit from 25 MB per file to 100 mb per file. Although that is still not big enough for movies, the increased per file limit makes it easy to backup your photos even in RAW.
Once you download the Box android application from the Android Market, and sign up (or sign into an existing account) a message will pop up indicating that you have been given 50 GB of free storage and it is immediately accessible. There are a few caveats; however. The Box.com service has mobile applications that are free; however, they do not provide a free application for Windows or Mac. To get the desktop/laptop syncing service, you will need to upgrade to a paid Business or Enterprise account. Also, the Android application itself may concern some users as one of the application permissions during installation includes access to your contact list. The company has stated that this is necessary to make the sharing and collaboration process easy for the user. It certainly would not be the first application to ask for (to the user) strange permissions, however. You could always install the app on an Android VM or another phone if you're that paranoid (heh).
While you do not get a desktop application for free, you can still access your files (and the increased 50 GB of storage) from the website, and they do allow bulk uploads that can include multiple sub-folders. One snag that I ran into was that if the uploader identified any file in a folder as being over 100 MB, it would refuse to upload the entire folder. This may be a bug or an issue on my end; however, I was not able to figure out a way to just skip that one file and upload the rest of the files in the folder.
The batch uploader allows uploading multiple subfolders via drag and drop.
One thing that I enjoyed about the process (aside from the plentiful storage) was that they made it easy to sign up, all they ask for is an email (which doesn't need to be verified to get access to storage) and password. It's kind of nice to not have to slog through the process of handing out a bunch of personal information just for an online account!
I'm currently uploading my photos to the site to back them up (I learned two years ago that it can never hurt to have too many backups!) and the upload is going smoothly. The website batch uploader is Flash based and does not require IE like SkyDrive does, so that's a positive thing in my book. Let us know in the comments if you've tried Box out before, and how you're going to use the 50 GB of cloud storage. It really seems like the cloud / Internet based storage market is heating up, and this is a good thing for end users as it means more options, more innovation, and cheaper prices! If Box.com isn't for you, Dropbox and SkyDrive are also offering plenty of free storage space.
Microsoft Allegedly Overhauling SkyDrive With Increased Paid Storage, Applications, and Other Goodies
Subject: General Tech | February 20, 2012 - 11:12 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: storage, skydrive, paid storage, free, cloud backup, bitlocker, app integration
Update: Some of the rumors have been confirmed by Microsoft in a blog post, though the individual file size increase was a bit off. Microsoft will be allowing files up to 2 GB in size as compared to the rumored 300 MB file sizes.
Every so often, I run across a rumor that sounds almost too good to be true. On the other hand, it sounds so good that I just can't stop myself from being excited about it. Over the weekend, I saw an article that talked about Windows Live Skydrive offering paid storage tiers and I now really want this to come to fruition.
For those curious, SkyDrive is Microsoft's "cloud storage" service that gives users 25 GB of free storage space to hold files. There are some restrictions with the individual file size (that can be worked around if you really want to backup a home movie for example), but otherwise it is a boatload of space for free and saved my butt when the, um, "formatting catastrophe" of 2010 happened by having most of my digital photos backed up!
SkyDrive as it is now, funny old photos and all!
The service is connected to your Microsoft Live or hotmail account and can be accessed by navigating to skydrive.live.com. There are some usability issues with the service; however, including the fact that it's a pain in the rear to upload more than one or two files. The website doesn't make it easy to batch upload, say, a folder or folders only a file at a time. Further, it is not nearly as easy to manage those files once they are in the SkyDrive as it should be. Now, if you use IE, the SkyDrive website will allow you to upload multiple files easier; however, the other browsers are left without a way to do it. There is also the aforementioned individual file size limit of 100 MB per file.
The exciting bit about the rumors and (allegedly) leaked screen shots is that if they stay true the service is about to get a whole lot better by offering cheap storage and fixing many of the issues people have had with the service.
The leaked image
On the storage front, Microsoft is allegedly adding new paid storage tiers and increasing the individual file size limit to 300 MB (from 100 MB). Among the new plans are 20 GB, 50 GB, and 100 GB offerings (which is in addition to the free 25 GB of space) for $10, $25, and $50 a year respectively. Not a bad price at all in my opinion! Assuming the pricing is accurate, they are vastly undercutting the competition. Dropbox, for example, is currently offering 50 GB for $99 a year and 100 GB for $199 per year. Granted, Dropbox has syncing functionality, no individual file size limit, and is a much easier to use service with an established user base, but at these prices the Microsoft offering is likely to win over many people who just want some cheap off site backup space!
|Paid Storage Space||SkyDrive (Price Per Year)||Dropbox (Price Per Year)|
Dropbox pricing just for comparision.
While there are currently mobile applications for Windows Phone and Apple iOS smart phones, users must turn to third party explorer extensions (like SDExplorer) for Windows OS integration on the desktop. More leaked images seem to suggest that Microsoft will be launching applications for Windows and Mac operating systems to better integrate SkyDrive into the OS (and hopefully enable easier cloud file management). SDExplorer is a third party extension that I used to upload all my photos to SkyDrive and it allows mounting the SkyDrive account as a "hard drive" under Windows Explorer. Unfortunately, it costs money to get the full feature set, so hopefully Microsoft can provide similar (or more) features for free with their OS.
In addition, Microsoft will allegedly be adding URL shortening for public and shared SkyDrive file links as well as the ability to share files to Twitter and Facebook from within the SkyDrive website. For the latter, there are already APIs and Microsoft is likely just leveraging them to make sharing files a bit more convenient. On the other hand, Microsoft will be using their own URL shortening service via the sdrv.ms domain instead of integrating with an existing service.
As a user of Libre Office (the fork off of what was once Open Office), I deal a lot with .odt files, which is the open document standard. For users of Microsoft's web application of Office, they have been forced to save files to the Microsoft standards; however, rumors suggest that the service will soon support creating and saving to the .odt, .odp, and .ods document formats. If you are using Office Web Apps, then you are already likely fairly integrated into the Office universe, and this feature won't mean much. On the other hand, this will help out others who may need to edit one of the Libre Office created documents backed up to their SkyDrive on the go. Better compatibility is always a step in the right direction for MS after all.
Last up on the rumor pile for SkyDrive is the ability to store BitLocker recovery keys directly to SkyDrive so that you have a backup should you ever forget your encryption password. The flip side of that convenience feature is that it provides another attack vector should someone attempt to get their hands on your encryption keys, and it is a location that you must depend on someone else to keep secure. As weird as it may sound, you might want to encrypt your encryption key before uploading it to any "cloud" service (heh), just in case. Still, it's good to have options.
Needless to say, there was quite the leak this weekend over Microsoft SkyDrive features! It is a lot to take in, but in my opinion it sounds like they are really giving the service special attention it needs to get it into fighting form. And if the rumors hold true it will be much more comptetitive with other cloud storage backup options as a result of the overhaul. I'm excited about this, obviously, but what about you? Do you use SkyDrive?
Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2012 - 09:32 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: storage space, share files, free storage, free space, free, dropbox 1.3.13, dropbox, cloud storage, backup files
Update: Dropbox is still running the beta testing extra space promotion. The latest Experimental Forum Build is version
1.3.15 1.3.19. Dropbox is still running the promotion; however, users from here on out will be limited to 3 GB total extra space. Anyone that got in before 1.3.19 and earned 5 GB will continue to keep the full 5 GB of extra space. More information is available here.
I recently needed some video files from the PC Perspective office, and we decided to use the Dropbox file sharing service to get them to me. i hit a bit of a snag; however, when I realized that I had nowhere near the amount of storage needed. Fortunately, I was able to download the individual files from the shared folder on the Dropbox website. It was sort of a nod at the idea that one can never have too much storage space, however.
That got me searching around the Internet for ideas on how to increase my available storage space for free, and fortunately came across a forum post on the Dropbox website for a beta version of the program wherein they were offering 5 GB of extra (and free!) storage space to those adventurous enough to test out the program by uploading 4.5 GB of photos or videos (which you can rename, move, or delete afterwards if you wish). The extra free space you get will remain even if you move or delete the uploaded photos and after the beta period, barring any unforseen decision change on Dropbox's part. Further, I found the process easy enough that it was worth sharing with our readers who may use the file sharing and backup service themselves.
According to their latest forum post, the new Dropbox beta application is version 1.3.13 (though the beta started at version 1.3) which fixes a few bugs, but more importantly, adds a new feature that automatically uploads photos and videos from SD cards (and other storage devices that store photos and videos in a "DCIM" folder) and other storage devices on the PC application and your Android smart phone using a beta of the Dropbox Android app. The first photo or video upload imported into Dropbox grants you a 500 MB "bonus," and then for every 500 MB of photos and videos that you allow Dropbox to import, they will give you an additional 500 MB of free additional storage space, up to a total of 5 GB (including the starting bonus). Let's get into exactly how you go about auto-importing photos.
On the Windows PC side of things, you will need to download the latest Dropbox beta build which is currently version 1.3.13. Once download from the link in the previous sentence, install it (if you already have the program installed, just install over the previous install), and then log into your account (or create a new one*). Next, make sure that you have AutoPlay enabled via Windows Control Panel (it should be by default). You should be all set to import as many photos and videos as your internet connection can handle to get all your free space. Pop in an SD card or other USB storage device into your computer via USB. Windows should open up an AutoPlay dialog box in response. There should further be a new option in the AutoPlay window titled "Import pictures and videos using Dropbox." Select that and Dropbox will begin uploading them to their cloud storage servers in a new folder called "Camera Uploads." Once the batch of photos are uploaded, Dropbox pops up a notification in notification area (lower right of the window) as seen in the photo above.
You can also use a beta of the Dropbox client on your Android powered smartphone to upload photos and videos to the service, and to apply towards your free Dropbox space. While not yet on the Android Market, you can download the beta application as a .apk file to your phone, and then install it from that downloaded file. The apk package in question is the Dropbox Experimental Android Forum Build 2.0.9 and can be downloaded via a link at the bottom of this article. All that's needed on the Android side of things (at least on my Samsung Infuse 4G), is to start up the application and log in. After that, any photos or videos I take with my phone's camera are automatically uploaded to the dropbox service. Although Google already has a similar automatic uploading service to its Google+ website, the Dropbox application is even a bit more useful because they are not only "in the cloud" but sitting on my desktop at home.
The Android Dropbox beta application
Unfortunately, Linux and Macintosh users are out of luck on the extra free space; however, I'm sure they will get a chance at it when the beta Dropbox application is closer to completion. Now that you know how to get your hands on some free space, go forth and beef up those Dropbox accounts! Some other methods for free space include adding a .edu email account to your account (to make it a Student Account) for an extra 500 MB of storage space an an increase referral bonus of 500 MB per referral, completing the various tutorials and quests on the Dropbox website, and getting referral sign ups. Do you use Dropbox, and if so what do you like (or hate) about it? Community discussion engage!
*Speaking of referrals, this is a referral link that costs you nothing and will give me and you an extra 250 MB of storage space. If; however, you're not into that sort of thing (for some odd reason), you can create a new account by heading over their main website at dropbox.com
Subject: General Tech | August 10, 2011 - 03:02 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gaming, soldner, free
Söldner (Marine Corps) Community Edition is now free (as in beer) and you really should pick it up as it is well worth the price. If memory serves it was originally a buggy game that reached for the sky without paying attention to their footing, it is now an even buggier game with extra vehicles and features. At one point the game would handle 100 people playing, 50 to a team, which was even more confusing than you think. Terrain could be destroyed, though with some intersting clipping issues you could also discover small hills and other terrain that would kill you for touching it ... they were definately not lava. Hit the link at Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN and try it for yourself.
"Oh my goodness, I have no idea how this news has taken five days to reach me, but by golly thank goodness it finally has. Söldner, one of the most buggy and hilarious games of all time, is now completely free! Get it. Get it NOW."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Alice Madness Returns: PhysX and 3D Vision Tested on all NVIDIA GeForce GTX 500 Series Video Cards @Hi Tech Legion
- Is Alpha Centauri Set To Return? @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Pirates of Black Cove PC Review @ eTeknix
- The Third Bit Of Metro: Last Light Footage @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Accuracy takes power: one man's 3GHz quest to build a perfect SNES emulator @ Ars Technica
- Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Review (PC) @ Kitguru Gaming
- Bodycount hands-on - Xbox 360, PS3, PC @ HEXUS
- Over 30 minutes of Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City gameplay footage @ HEXUS
- Rage HD - iPad 2 optmised V2.1 @ HEXUS
- TwistDock for PS3 Review @ HardwareHeaven
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | May 24, 2011 - 02:29 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: xfx, sapphire, powercolor, msi, his, free, dirt 3, amd
If you haven't heard of DiRT 3 by now, you've been missing one of the more technically innovative games developed recently. Racing fans will go overboard for the choice of cars, spanning 50 years of racing history, which you can compete with in races across all terrain types and the more artistic will like the freestyle gymkhana events.
The techies will be impressed by the depth of support for DX11 features and we're not just talking about tessellation added on as an afterthought. The game was designed from the ground up to take advantage of the best graphics cards and to move the way light and shadows interact beyond DX10 HDR and the features other new games have been using.
Whichever you are, picking up a new Radeon card from Sapphire, Powercolor, MSI, HIS or XFX nets you a free copy of the game! How can you go wrong with that?
Being a Gaming Evolved title, we worked with Codemasters very closely on this one - DiRT 3 makes advances in graphics technologies, taking full advantage of the DirectX™ 11 API, first supported by AMD Radeon graphics. Here’s a glimpse of what DiRT 3 is truly capable of doing – giving players the ultimate visual experience:
- Shader Model 5.0 Contact Hardening Shadows
- DirectCompute Accelerated High Definition Ambient Occlusion
- Optimized Hardware Tessellation
We believe DiRT 3 is such a great game, that we’ve been working with our AIB partners to make this game widely accessible to everyone who buys an AMD Radeon graphics card from our select AIBs, FOR FREE – please visit www.amd.com/dirt3 for more details.