Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Installing Windows and Preparing for Media Center

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


Now that we've walked through installing all our hardware in our previous article, we’re ready to install our operating system and configure it to get the most out of Media Center.  As I mentioned before, I originally was planning to do this build with Windows 8 Professional and the Windows 8 Media Center pack, but there’s a few things that Microsoft has removed from Media Center in the new version that make using it for a Media Center a non-starter in my opinion.  Not being able to boot directly into Media Center and having to boot into Metro and then launch Media Center is a deal breaker for me so I fell back to what’s been working great for me these past few years, Windows 7 Home Premium.

 

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Before we even start with our Operating System install, there are a few settings you are going to want to configure in your BIOS/UEFI for the best system performance and stability.

  •  First, ensure that your Hard Drive/SATA controllers are in “AHCI Mode” as opposed to IDE or Legacy IDE.  AHCI stands for “Advanced Host Controller Interface” and offers some features and performance improvements over the old IDE interface such as hot swapping of drives and NCQ (Native Command Queuing). 

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  • Some motherboards will allow you to detect if there is a mouse and/or keyboard connected and stop the boot process if it does not see them.  Since we’ll likely not be running the media center with a mouse/keyboard attached, make sure to disable this.
  • Set the primary hard drive (your SSD or the big spindle drive if you don’t have a SSD) as the First boot device.  You may want to temporarily set the CD/DVD drive to be the First boot device to complete your Windows installation and then go back in and change the First boot device back to your primary hard drive.

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Now that we have our motherboard BIOS/UEFI ready to go, continue reading for the installation and preparation of Windows 7!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

The Skinny about Cutting the Cord

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


There was a time in the not too long past that having a Cable or Satellite TV subscription was just a given.  Like water, phone or electricity, if you wanted to watch anything other than a few local networks or crazy UHF stations you had to pay your local cable /satellite conglomerate a tidy little sum to pump the channels into your TV.

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That’s where I was back in January of 2010.  Staring at a $150 bill for Time Warner Cable with the “Basic Package + HD” and a pair of TiVo’s I began to wonder if I was just wasting money since 80% of our regular viewing consisted of a dozen or so shows scattered across only four or five channels.  Within a month, and after some deliberation, we decided we’d try to ‘cut the cord’ and since that time I’ve happily saved nearly $5,000 that would have been lining the pockets of some Time Warner/TiVo executives.  Ponder that for a moment, $5,000 spent on television.  Even after I factor out the cost of hardware I needed to buy and setup, that’s enough money to buy a new big screen TV every year and then some.

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Regardless of what big cable and satellite companies say, between 2008 and 2011, 2.65 million households dropped cable/satellite subscriptions.  A recent survey found that 9 percent of the people surveyed had cancelled their cable subscriptions in the last year and Time Warner Cable alone has had 10 straight quarters of Pay for TV customer losses.

This multipart series on PC Perspective will walk you through the process of becoming a “Cord Cutter” yourself.  Starting with some thoughts on whether or not cutting the cable is right for you we’ll walk you through everything from start to finish.

  • Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
  • Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
  • Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
  • Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
  • Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options

I’ll also include a few little personal tidbits from My Experiences in my quest to cut the cord and stay that way for the last few years.  

To Cut, or Not to Cut, That is the Question…

While dropping your cable or satellite subscription can save you some serious money, it’s not for everyone.  Television is a central part of the entertainment for many households, and you need to look at it from all angles before you call your provider and tell them you want out.  Cutting the cord may require some concessions and serious changes to the way you get your television content.  While you might not mind some inconvenience, your significant other or children may have a meltdown if they can’t get their regular fix of Honey Boo Boo or Yo Gabba Gabba the moment it’s aired.

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Regardless, with some consideration and pre-work you can determine if cutting the cord is right for you and make the transition nice and smooth if you decide to kick your cable or satellite provider to the curb.

If you’re willing to take that chance, read on to see if Cord Cutting is for you!

DirecTV Prepping Ultra-HDTV

Subject: General Tech | June 1, 2012 - 11:41 PM |
Tagged: tv, satellite, hdtv, direcTV

US Satellite TV provider DirecTV is upgrading its network and is preparing to deploy Ultra-HDTV services in the future. They are planning to offer both 4K and 8K direct to home streams of TV programming once their users have moved off of Ku band satellites and to Ka band, which the ITU World Radiocommunications Conference in Geneva has named the future carrier of U-HDTV streams.

According to the Advanced Television website, DirecTV is planning for a future transition to Ultra HDTV. Earlier this year, we covered a news article about a Panasonic plasma television that can display 8K images. It was developed in cooperation with Japanese TV broadcaster NHK, and it seems like North American providers are also looking towards these future standards.

DirecTV’s Senior Vice President of R&D and Space and Communications Philip Goswitz has stated that in four to five years, the service provider will likely end it’s Ku-band satellite transmissions as they are currently migrating DirecTV's customers to Ka-band services which has much more bandwidth (currently used for HDTV transmission) than Ku-band. In addition, the company is working on deploying Reverse Band Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) services.

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Unfortunately, Goswitz did not state any hard numbers on when DirecTV might make the transition to Ultra-HDTV. The company did state its desire to implement it as soon as possible to keep a competitive edge over cable and IPTV (like AT&T’s Uverse) services. Some numbers being thrown around online indicate that Ultra-HDTV might be available in North America as soon as 2020, though Japan may see UHDTV signals much sooner thanks to Japanese broadcaster NHK heavily developing compression, transmission, and capture devices relating to UHDTV. NHK has managed in the past to compress a UHDTV signal to a 250 Mb/s MPEG2 stream, which is a huge feat considering the uncompressed signal is around 24 Gb/s!

Philip Goswitz was further quoted in stating "4000-line is exciting to us because of its image quality, and the potential for glasses-free 3D."

Compression and bandwidth are going to be the deciding factors in whether DirecTV and other satellite TV providers are able to deliver UHDTV signals to users’ homes. While 8K video sources are scarce themselves, 4K cameras do exist and are being used to film certain movies. 4K adoption is definitely coming–although it is still a few years out at least–and the UHDTV standard is ready to support 4K streams. Over the air and IPTV are the likely candidates for early 4K and 8K transmissions, but DirecTV seems ready dive it as soon as the compression technology, source material, and user adoption is there.

Image courtesy Chris Waits via Flickr Creative Commons

Beauty is in the ears of the beholder; a second opinion on Corsair's SP2500 2.1 speakers

Subject: General Tech | May 9, 2011 - 03:05 PM |
Tagged: tweeter, subwoofer, speakers, sp2500, satellite, corsair, bass, audio, 2.1

Not too long ago Josh reviewed Corsair's 2.1 speaker set which goes by the name of SP2500 and then later Ryan gave it away to a reader.  He was very happy with the way that they performed, but seeing as how judging audio quality can be quite subjective and as most of our readers did not get a set of speakers perhaps a second opinion is a good idea.  To that end you can read about the same set of speakers as they were reviewed over at The Tech Report

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"Corsair has supplemented its line of audio products with a premium 2.1 speaker set. Is it worth the $250 asking price?"

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Audio Corner