Connected Home EXPRESS, October 1, 2003

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Windows & .NET Magazine VIP Web Site/Super CD


1. Getting Connected
- New Windows XP MCE Offers Performance and Functionality Improvements

2. News and Views
- AMD Releases Athlon 64 Processor
- Dell Finds New Market to Dominate: Consumer Electronics
- Camera Phones Outsell Digital Cameras
- Kazaa Sues Recording Industry
- Recording Industry Sues Wrong Person
- Tablet PC Sales Take Off

3. Announcements
- Success with Active Directory
- Check Out Our 2 New Web Seminars!

4. Quick Poll
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Portable Digital Audio
- New Poll: Media Center PCs

5. Resource
- Tip: Video Gaming on the Cheap

6. Event
- The Mobile & Wireless Road Show Is Coming to Tampa and Atlanta!

7. New and Improved
- Turn Your PC into a Surveillance System

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

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==== 1. New Windows XP MCE Offers Performance and Functionality Improvements ====
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]


Yesterday, Microsoft announced the release of Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2004, which will power Media Center PCs from companies such as Dell, Gateway, HP, Sony, and Toshiba. MCE 2004 is the second major release of Microsoft's OS for TVs. The software provides a friendly, remote-control-accessible interface for digital-media tasks such as digital-music playback, photo slide shows, digital-movie and DVD viewing, TV-based digital video recording (DVR) with live-TV pausing, FM radio playback, and similar features.

I've been a steady Media Center PC user since the first systems debuted in October 2002. My device, an HP Media Center PC, sits in my living room attached to a 48" rear-projection TV and is the primary interface my family uses for the TV. We use the Media Center PC to record TV shows and watch them on our own schedule, enjoy digital-photo slide shows, and listen to digital music. Frankly, I have a love-hate relationship with the device. The first version of XP MCE was decent but inexplicably crashed and had glitches now and then, often leading to support calls from my wife when I was on the road. But the convenience of the Media Center PC's DVR features and the ability to take recorded TV shows with me when I travel made the unit an important entertainment center. Although the PC irked us sometimes, we just couldn't do without it.

Enter XP MCE 2004. My family has been testing beta versions of the software since February, and since an interim beta release in April, the software has been highly stable. The new software performs dramatically better than the initial release and offers features, some of which I'll describe below, that make it a must-have upgrade. Owners of first-generation Media Centers PCs will be able to purchase the XP MCE 2004 software from their PC makers for a nominal fee, Microsoft tells me. However, people who hope to buy the software for their non-Media Center PC are in for some bad news. Despite the demand, Microsoft still has no plans to sell just the MCE 2004 software. Instead, you need to buy a Media Center PC (typically $1000 to $2000, depending on the model) to get this intriguing software.

So what's new in XP MCE 2004? First, the software is a lot simpler to use than the initial release. Microsoft now includes a Display Calibration Wizard that makes it easier to customize the display for various display types, such as TVs and computer monitors. A new Set-top Box Learning Mode configuration option lets the XP MCE software learn about your cable or satellite box automatically, a much simpler option than the manual configuration that the first version required. Dial-up users can have the system automatically connect to the Internet to download TV-guide information, similar to TiVo. And for TV shows that begin or end at odd times, a new "Record on or around" feature lets you configure recording to begin or end with as many as several minutes of padding when possible.

New features abound in this release. You can now copy audio CDs to your PC directly from within the XP MCE 2004 interface by using the remote control. Photo slide shows are now fully animated and feature nice fade effects. For music fans, full-screen visualizations from Windows Media Player (WMP) can display while your favorite songs play.

XP MCE 2004 also ships alongside a new suite of add-on applications, games, and services, all of which are 100 percent compatible with the system's remote-based 10' interface. One such application, Sonic Solutions' Sonic Primetime, will automatically encode recorded TV shows to DVD, offering users a simple (if time-consuming) way to back up or travel with recorded shows. The application worked well in my tests. Some of the new services, including on-demand digital-video rental through CinemaNow and Movielink and digital-music downloads through the relaunched Napster service, look interesting. As of this writing, I haven't spent enough time with these services to comment effectively, but you can find more information about these services in my detailed review of XP MCE 2004 on the SuperSite for Windows (see the URL below).

For users who own widescreen displays, XP MCE 2004 natively works in 16:9 mode, providing access to more photo and video thumbnails and wide-screen TV, DVD, and video content. I tested the final shipping version of XP MCE 2004 on a stunning 22" Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America's LCD High-Definition Television (HDTV) display, and the effect was amazing: Colors were rich, crisp, and bright, and HDTV and PC displays were amazing (we receive numerous HDTV channels through our cable provider, RCN). Note that although XP MCE 2004 isn't HDTV-compliant, the system will downstream HDTV content so that you can record and view HDTV, albeit at slightly lower quality.

Does the system have problems? Well, devices based on XP MCE 2004 are still very much Windows computers, meaning they can suffer from crashes and other odd problems. But XP MCE 2004 is much more stable than its predecessor, and we experienced fewer problems with the new system than we did with the old one. These stability problems will largely be resolved next year when various companies offer Media Center PC-compatible networked set-top boxes that let you keep your Media Center PC in your home office and remotely access your digital-media content through your PC by using a true consumer-electronics device. In the meantime, XP MCE 2004 is a happy medium. I could say a lot more to say about XP MCE 2004, but I'm out of space. For more information, read my exhaustive review on the SuperSite for Windows.

"Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 Review"

==== 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])

AMD Releases Athlon 64 Processor
Last week, Intel rival AMD unveiled the AMD Athlon 64 processor, which is designed for PC desktops and notebook computers. Major PC makers such as Fujitsu and HP, as well as smaller, little-known companies that target hard-core gamers and other performance-strapped PC users, will offer the AMD Athlon 64 in their systems. The chip offers backward compatibility with today's 32-bit Intel-compatible applications, so your software will still work if you upgrade. But because it handles data in 64-bit chunks and can address far more memory than today's 32-bit systems, the AMD Athlon 64 is ready for tomorrow's applications, too. Game makers, especially, have responded to the chip's lure, and many are readying updates to their titles so that they'll run better on AMD Athlon 64-based systems.

Dell Finds New Market to Dominate: Consumer Electronics
Dell announced a sweeping consumer-electronics strategy last week that the company hopes will help leverage its domination of the PC industry into new markets. During the next several weeks, Dell will release an Apple Computer iPod-like portable audio player called the Dell Digital Jukebox (DJ), an online music service called the Dell Music Store, a multifunction wide-screen LCD TV and computer display, a home-entertainment projector, and a new thin and light wireless-equipped Pocket PC handheld device called the Dell Axim X3. Dell will also soon begin shipping with its best-selling PCs a free multimedia application called the Dell Media Experience. The software will let users enjoy digital music, video, DVDs, and photos without having to deal with the complexities of the underlying system; it's curiously similar to Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition software.

Camera Phones Outsell Digital Cameras
In the first half of 2003, cell phones with integrated digital cameras outsold standalone digital cameras for the first time, according to research group Strategy Analytics. The group says that various companies worldwide sold 25 million camera phones in the first half of the year, compared with 20 million digital cameras. The top two camera phone makers, NEC and Panasonic, each own about 15 percent of the market, whereas third-place Nokia owns about 14 percent. Digital-photo purists will tell you that the quality of camera phone pictures is still lousy compared with that of mainstream digital cameras. So the wider digital-camera market probably has nothing to fear when it comes to sales.

Kazaa Sues Recording Industry
The company behind the Kazaa file-sharing service is suing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for using unauthorized versions of its software to find users who are illegally trading copyrighted music. Sharman Networks, which owns Kazaa, claims that RIAA representatives logged on to the Kazaa network and offered fake versions of copyrighted songs and sent warning messages to other users. The irony of a file-sharing service suing the RIAA is quite enjoyable. But this legal ploy has already failed once--Sharman Networks launched a similar suit last year, but the court threw it out--and Sharman Networks is on fairly unsteady legal ground.

Recording Industry Sues Wrong Person
And speaking of the beloved RIAA, last week, recent developments caused the association to drop one of its many lawsuits against file sharers when lawyers for a Massachusetts woman the RIAA sued revealed that she had never, in fact, used a file-sharing service. The association sued Sarah Seabury Ward, a 66-year-old sculptor, holding her liable for as much as $150,000 for each song she shared. There's just one problem: Ward is a Macintosh user, and her computer is incompatible with the Kazaa file-sharing service, which the RIAA says she used. Also, the RIAA accused her children of downloading music, too. But she doesn't have any children. Yet another reason to love the RIAA.

Tablet PC Sales Take Off
Contrary to recent reports that Tablet PCs aren't selling well, IDC says that the portable, handwriting-capable devices are in fact experiencing a sales surge. IDC researchers say that the market is in the early stages of a nascent demand for Tablet PCs and that new processor architectures and form factors, innovative new software such as Microsoft Office OneNote 2003, wireless demand, and lower prices will help drive Tablet PC sales this fall. Also helping sales is the availability of vertical applications for the health, manufacturing, sales force, and other Tablet-specific markets; these applications will help drive sales for companies that held off buying Tablet PCs during the past year, IDC says. For calendar year 2003, manufacturers will sell about 500,000 Tablet PCs--about 1 percent of the overall portable PC market. But that figure will grow to about 20 percent of the overall market by 2007, IDC says.

==== 3. Announcements ====
(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

Success with Active Directory
Are you in charge of your company's Windows Server 2003 or Windows 2000 rollout? Are you migrating your Directory Services to Active Directory? What's new in Windows 2003? What new features exist within the AD internals? Invest your time and keep pace with the latest technologies, tips, and tricks. Register now for Windows & .NET Magazine Connections.

Check Out Our 2 New Web Seminars!
"Plan, Migrate, Manage: Shifting Seamlessly from NT4 to Windows 2003" will help you discover tips and tricks to maximize planning, administration, and performance. "The Secret Costs of Spam…What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You" will show you how to quantify costs and find antispam solutions. Register today!

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

Results of Last Week's Poll: Portable Digital Audio
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Do you own a portable digital audio device?" Here are the results from the 171 votes:
- 11% Yes, I own an Apple iPod
- 12% Yes, I own a Creative Jukebox device
- 4% Yes, I own a SONICblue device
- 26% Yes, I own a device from another manufacturer
- 47% No

New Poll: Media Center PCs
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you own a Media Center PC?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, b) No, but I plan to buy one, or c) No, and I don't plan to buy one.

==== 5. Resource ====

Tip: Video Gaming on the Cheap
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

The Nintendo GameCube doesn't have the wide selection of software that Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 2 offer--or their online support. But if you're looking for a kid-friendly modern video game system, you can't go wrong with the GameCube. And thanks to a recent price reduction, the system's cost is almost negligible. You can now pick up a GameCube for just $99--the same price as Nintendo's portable bestseller, the GameBoy Advance--or about $80 less than the Xbox and PlayStation 2. At $99, the GameCube is a steal. If you haven't already bought one of the big-three systems, this price drop could be all the incentive you need.

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)

The Mobile & Wireless Road Show Is Coming to Tampa and Atlanta!
Learn more about the wireless and mobility solutions that are available today, plus discover how going wireless can offer low risk, proven performance, and compatibility with existing and emerging industry standards. Register now for this free, 12-city event!

==== 7. New and Improved ====
by Jason Bovberg, [email protected]

Turn Your PC into a Surveillance System
logiware released go1984 2.6, a Windows video-surveillance and recording application that adds safety and security to businesses and homes. go1984 lets you visually monitor your workspace or home, giving you live video access to as many as 64 sources simultaneously. The system is compatible with IP cameras, Web cameras, video-capture cards, and any HTTP image source. go1984 lets you record continuously, schedule recording automatically during times when you require automated monitoring, or record based on a built-in motion detector. The interface provides quick access to scenes that you record. By networking several computers running go1984, you can set up a surveillance system across your LAN or WAN. go1984 requires a 400MHz Pentium II processor, Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, Windows Me, or Windows 98, and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 or later. The standard version costs $39.95, and the professional version costs $349.00. For more information about go1984 2.6, contact logiware at [email protected] or on the Web.

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

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