Connected Home EXPRESS--December 10, 2003

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Windows Scripting Solutions


1. Getting Connected

- Preserving Your Holiday Memories

2. News and Views

- AOL Offers $299 PC to Subscribers

- Gateway's New Media Center PC

- HP to Join Digital Music Craze

- Next-Generation DVD Format War Looming

- PlayStation 3 Might Keep an Eye on You

- Video Games Are Hot!

- Gi-Fi Set To Smoke Wi-Fi

3. Announcements

- Work with SQL Server?

- Free eBook--Migrating to Windows Server 2003, Active Directory, and Exchange 2003

4. Quick Poll

- Results of Previous Poll: Home Theater Monitor Preference

- New Poll: Digital Camera Resolution

5. Resource

- Tip: Stock Up on Media

6. Event

- New--3 Microsoft Security Road Shows!

7. New and Improved

- A Lightning-Fast Disk Drive

- Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!

8. Contact Us - See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

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==== 1. Getting Connected ==== By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]

Preserving Your Holiday Memories

With the holidays upon us, our minds naturally turn to friends and family. Here in the Boston area, we're digging out from under three feet of snow, which adds to the spirit of the season but complicates our gift-shopping efforts. We typically spend much of this time of year battling crowds in stores and on the roads, but with the weather conspiring to make our rituals even more difficult, we have less time for shopping than usual.

Thanks to the wonders of online shopping, however, record numbers of consumers will be taking their credit cards to Web sites such as,, and rather than visiting their brick-and-mortar equivalents. However, despite this trend toward online shopping, the gifts you give don't need to be store-bought, regardless of where they came from. Sometimes, gifts that are handmade and from the heart are the best gifts, and in a curious bit of irony, technology is giving us new tools with which to make compelling personal gifts. In this edition of Connected Home Express, I'd like to introduce you to some applications you can use to share photographs and home movies with your loved ones, for the holiday season and beyond.

Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how much is a movie worth? Thanks to the wonderful Microsoft Plus! Photo Story 2 tool in Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition (DME--$20, for Windows XP only), anyone can make a cool animated movie of a photo collection, then package the movie on a DVD player-compatible Video CD (VCD). I've written about Plus! DME and Plus! Photo Story 2 extensively in the past, and you can find further information at my SuperSite for Windows.

Sonic MyDVD 5

Sonic Solutions' Sonic MyDVD has been a must-have application since last year's version 4 debuted. This year, the company turns it up a notch with MyDVD 5, which ships in three versions: MyDVD 5 ($50), MyDVD 5 Deluxe ($70), and MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 ($100). All versions sport a slightly revised UI, which builds on the success of the previous version's UI and adds a handy front end for creating or modifying projects, transferring video directly to DVD, and other tasks; a new Direct-to-VCD Wizard; new support for QuickTime video import; new drag-and-drop button reordering (but, alas, still no graphic customizations on link buttons); and new static and animated menu styles. MyDVD is still the simplest and best PC-based way to transfer video onto a custom DVD, and with its integrated photo-slideshow feature, you can easily create DVD movies that combine full-motion video with slideshows. (A better solution, however, would be to use Plus! Photo Story 2 in tandem with MyDVD 5. Plus! Photo Story 2's movies import just fine into MyDVD and are more nicely animated.)

Moving up to MyDVD 5 Deluxe, Sonic adds a handy new video-capture tool that's no longer a separate bundled application. The Deluxe version also adds Dolby Digital encoding, which lets you fit 50 percent more video and audio content per disk because of its compression--a huge savings when you consider that today's recordable DVDs support only 1 hour of content.

MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 includes all the features of the other two versions and adds unlimited MP3 ripping through a separate application called RecordNow!, which also lets you create duplicate copies of your CDs and DVDs and create custom-mix CDs. Studio Deluxe also includes the CinePlayer DVD movie player and Sonic Express Labeler, which helps you create DVD and CD labels.

One feature that sets MyDVD apart from the competition is its support for the OpenDVD standard. This technology lets you optionally save information on any disk you create (CD or DVD) so that you can later edit the information on the disk even if you've deleted the MyDVD project or any of the source files, or are using a different computer with OpenDVD-compatible software. MyDVD 5 is also fully compatible with Microsoft's somewhat proprietary Windows XP Media Center Recorded TV (.dvr-ms) format, letting you write shows you've recorded on a Media Center PC to DVD.

I highly recommend MyDVD, although you can skip the higher-end versions if you don't need the tools in Studio Deluxe or are comfortable with editing movies in Microsoft Windows Movie Maker 2, a free add-on for XP users. However, with MyDVD 5 Deluxe and up, you can edit some movie types that Windows Movie Maker 2 can't handle, including QuickTime, and that functionality might be worth the price of the upgrade.

Online Photo Gifts

Online photo services such as Ofoto ( ) offer a wealth of photo-related gift possibilities, including photo enlargements and poster prints, cool photo calendars, frames, and photo albums. I've been using Ofoto for a few years now and have printed three calendars and two sets of holiday greeting cards. Run by Kodak, Ofoto is one of the best online photo services available and features excellent prices.

Another fun choice is MyPublisher ( ), which lets you share your photos in professionally bound and designed coffee-table books that are identical to those that Apple Computer offers in its excellent (and free) iPhoto application for Macintosh users. MyPublisher helps you design your hardcover book with the help of a downloadable Bookmaking tool that steps you through the process. First, you choose the photos you want. (I created an album of a recent trip to Germany for friends.) Then, you organize the photos in the order you'd like them to appear in the book. You can optionally provide a text title for each photo, and you can visually preview the layout of the book. You can also choose whether the book uses single-sided or double-side printing. (I chose single-sided.) The software also features book themes, such as Traditional and Modern, that provide unique layouts. Finally, you can choose from different cover colors--including blue, red, green, and black--and two cover types: linen hardcover binding and leather hardcover binding. (The latter costs $10 extra.)

The cost of your book will depend on its length and the number of photos you use. (The book requires a 10-page minimum.) Prices start at about $30; a 15-page book costs about $45 for linen binding.

However you choose to spend the holidays, sharing photographs and movies with family and friends is a sure bet--especially if those folks don't live nearby. How are you using technology this year to make the holidays more personal?

==== 2. News and Views ==== An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman ([email protected])

AOL Offers $299 PC to Subscribers

AOL is offering an interesting and inexpensive PC system to customers who agree to subscribe to AOL 9.0 Optimized (at $23.90 a month) for a year. New subscribers can purchase a PC for just $299. The system includes a 1.7GHz Celeron processor, 256MB of RAM, a 56Kbps modem, a 40GB hard disk, 10/100MHz Ethernet, and Windows XP Home Edition--along with AOL 9.0 Optimized, of course. The system isn't exactly a barn buster, but at $300, it's not a shabby deal if you're considering AOL anyway.

Gateway's New Media Center PC

The first Media Center PCs appeared more than a year ago, and finally a major PC manufacturer has finally released a Media Center system that doesn't look like a PC but rather a stereo component. Gateway's new FMC-901 Family Media Center PC comes in an attractive case that looks like it belongs in the stereo rack by the family TV rather than in your home office. The system starts at $850 for a 2.6GHz Celeron processor and $1800 for a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor with DVD burner. The company also sells an interesting all-in-one (Apple Computer iMac-like) Media Center PC that includes all the PC components behind the sleek wide-screen LCD. Let's hope other companies follow Gateway's lead and introduce designs for Media Center PCs that don't just look like other PCs.

HP to Join Digital Music Craze

Early next year, HP will join a large and growing list of companies--including Apple, Best Buy,, Dell, Microsoft, Musicmatch, and Napster--that offer online music stores. HP will apparently launch a cobranded version of Musicmatch's music store--a plan that's similar to Dell's music-store initiative. Also, like Dell and Gateway, the company has a consumer-electronics initiative under way and will launch a portable hard disk-based digital-music device as part of that effort. The device will join the already crowded field of portable music devices, which is currently dominated by Apple's popular iPod.

Next-Generation DVD Format War Looming

After three votes and amended voting rules, the DVD Forum has finally passed a proposal for a next-generation DVD technology called HD-DVD. The DVD Forum is responsible for the DVD, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM formats, and includes more than 200 companies (e.g., NEC, Philips, Sony, Toshiba). The HD-DVD format had trouble obtaining approval because many companies in the DVD Forum support a competing format called Blu-ray DVD. The approval of the HD-DVD proposal sets up a battle between technologies: Which format will become the next storage medium for high-definition video and large-capacity data? The battle is expected to cause further confusion and stunt market growth, similar to what happened during the DVD-R/W and DVD+R/W recording format battles, which has been taking place for the past few years but still hasn't found a winner. Many manufacturers have begun to support both DVD-recordable formats, but such cooperation will probably not be an option for HD-DVD and Blu-ray because of the different technology each will use. The HD-DVD format uses a violet laser-based optical disk system and can store from 15GB to 20GB per disk. The Blu-ray format uses a blue laser-based optical disk system and stores about 25GB per disk.

PlayStation 3 Might Keep an Eye on You

Giving a whole new meaning to the notion that your video game console is watching you, Sony PlayStation 3 might include technology that does just that. According to recent comments by a Sony executive, next-generation PlayStation consoles will include motion-sensor and camera hardware similar to Sony's EyeToy accessory for today's PlayStation 2. The technology would let users control games by using eye and finger movements, as well as gestures. The company is also working on technology for the console that will recognize facial expressions so that it can sense when you're sad or happy and react accordingly. However, that technology isn't expected to appear until PlayStation 4 hits stores, sometime in a distant future when man is at war with machines.

Video Games Are Hot!

You might have to wait until 2005 to get your hands on a next-generation video game consoles, but users are still snapping up today's machines. The systems experienced stronger-than-expected sales during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Nintendo's recently revived GameCube sold more than 500,000 units during the holiday weekend, which is twice the number the company sold in the entire month of October. In late September, the GameCube saw a price drop from $149 to $99, which helped spark new interest in the console. Sony's dominant PlayStation 2 console sold 1 million units in November, also double the number sold in October. Microsoft didn't release numbers, but the company said the Xbox continues to be in second place and its sales were up 7 percent from the same period last year during the Thanksgiving weekend. The company also saw a 435 percent rise in week-over-week sales of its popular game Halo, after reducing its price from $49.99 to $29.99. We wonder how many Xboxes Microsoft would sell if all games were just $29.99.

Gi-Fi Set To Smoke Wi-Fi

Is 11MBps Wi-Fi or even 54Mbps Wireless-G too slow for you? Various industry partners are developing a new wireless format called Gi-Fi that will use the 56+GHz band to deliver speeds faster than 2Gbps! The FCC recently opened that band, and groups are working on a standard that will provide security and quality of service (QoS) for high-speed wireless connections. The technology aims to go beyond mere mobile-device use and replace the traditional wires in desktop machines. Now if we could only speed up the Internet, we'd be in great shape!

==== 3. Announcements ====

(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

Work with SQL Server?

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Free eBook--Migrating to Windows Server 2003, Active Directory, and Exchange 2003

Are you planning to migrate from Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, Exchange 2000 Server, or Exchange Server 5.5? Reduce your learning curve by implementing practices that have proven effective in the field. Download this eBook today!

==== 4. Quick Poll ====

Results of Previous Poll: Home Theater Monitor Preference

The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "What kind of monitor are you using in your home theater?" Here are the results from the 191 votes: - 29% Rear projection - 10% Front projection - 7% LCD - 7% Plasma - 47% CRT

(Deviations from 100 percent are due to rounding error.)

New Poll: Digital Camera Resolution

The next Quick Poll question is, "What resolution is your digital camera?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) 1 to 2 megapixels, b) 3 or more megapixels, c) 4 or more megapixels, or d) 5 or more megapixels.

==== 5. Resource ====

Tip: Stock Up on Media

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Thanks to the holidays, retailers are pushing products on us as fast as they can. And although a deal isn't a deal unless you need the product in question, now is a great time to stock up on PC and device media, such as memory cards, blank CD-Rs, and recordable DVDs. Retailers often offer bargain prices for these products to tempt people into stores, and the result is some serious deals. You can get CD-Rs for pennies apiece and 256MB Secure Digital (SD) cards for roughly $50. Just don't let those 50" plasma TVs distract you.

Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.

==== 6. Event ==== (brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine)

New--3 Microsoft Security Road Shows! Don't miss out on three new Security Road Show events in December. Join industry guru Mark Minasi, and learn more about tips to secure your Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 network. There is no charge for this event, but space is limited, so register today!

==== 7. New and Improved ====

by Elizabeth Boyle, [email protected]

A Lightning-Fast Disk Drive Samsung introduced the SW-252FRNS, a CD-RW optical disk drive that supports recording and editing of high-capacity photo, video, and music data. The SW-252FRNS uses an EIDE and ATAPI interface, and it uses Samsung's Dynamic Vibration Absorbers (DVAs) to reduce the vibration and noise that the drive emits. You can purchase the SW-252FRNS in half-height form factors with speeds as fast as 52x writing, 24x rewriting, and 52x reading. You can mount the drive horizontally or vertically to save space. The SW-252FRNS is compatible with Windows XP/2000/NT/Me/9x and costs $79. For more information about the SW-252FRNS, contact Samsung at 800-726-7864 or on the Web.

Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!

Have you used a product that changed your IT experience by saving you time or easing your daily burden? Tell us about the product, and we'll send you a Windows & .NET Magazine T-shirt if we write about the product in a future Windows & .NET Magazine What's Hot column. Send your product suggestions with information about how the product has helped you to [email protected]

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==== 8. Contact Us ====

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