Recording TV shows on your Mac

September 14, 2010

For the last several years my wife and I have been using Microsoft’s Windows Media Center to schedule the recording of TV shows on our respective PC machines. In general WMC has been working well, with just a few glitches here and there. Using some external tools (i.e.,DVRMSToolbox and ShowAnalyzer) I have a process in place to record TV shows, cut out the commercials, and converted the recorded shows to WMV format for our Zune media players.

Last year, out of frustration my wife switched from her Vista PC to an Apple MacBook Pro laptop. Since she can’t run the Microsoft Zune syncing software on her MacBook Pro, I kept her PC still up and running to continue recording TV shows and processing them for her Zune 120 player. A few months ago her Zune device stopped working (hard drive failure) so for Mother’s Day I bought her an Apple iPod Touch (32 GB) as a replacement. Mainly because it will easily work with her MacBook Pro using the iTunes software. She still uses her Vista Desktop PC for recording TV shows, but now I’ve modified some of the processing scripts to convert the recordings to MP4 format for her iPod Touch.

Unfortunately, her Vista PC was having trouble recording her favorite TV shows for some reason or another (e.g., couldn’t download the latest TV listings, conversions stalled because of Windows updates, etc.). Twice, I had to reinstall the WMC software because the PC couldn’t download the TV listings from the Internet. So yesterday, I decided I would switch her over to a Mac-based system for recording TV shows from our cable TV service.

Upon doing some investigating, it seems that the product called EyeTV HD was what we needed. This relatively new product is designed to work specifically for the Mac OS X, and has the ability to work with cable set top boxes for changing channels via an IR Blaster. The only issue we currently have, is that this device requires component input for the video and audio, and our current set top box from Comcast only output a coaxial line.

So, I took our current converter box down to the local Comcast office and asked to switch it for a converter that has component output. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t specify I wanted HD component video output so they gave me an old Motorola converter box that has the very old composite video output (think of the old Pong game console that used the composite video connection) which just didn’t work for my needs. I did ask two different people in the Comcast office if this converter would give me digital component output and each of them said, “definitely” without even looking at the connectors on the back of the converter. As such, I came home to verify that this box wouldn’t work (as I suspected) and I called Comcast on the phone to see if they could mail me the right unit. So in about a week I’ll have the proper converter box to continue with my TV recording setup.

The nice thing about the EyeTV HD is that it has a onboard MPEG encoder, so it won’t use the MacBook Pro’s CPU for the encoding. Also, the EyeTV’s software can convert recorded TV shows to both iPad and iPod Touch formats at the same time. So if my wife chooses, she can watch her TV shows on either her iPad or iPod Touch. As such, I probably won’t need to jump through very many hoops to get her TV shows converted to the proper format for her iPod Touch, compared to what I needed to do for my Zune with Windows 7 and Vista.

If this all works out ok, I’ll probably switch over myself to a similar system and then I can shutdown my Windows 7 PC permanently.


DIY system builder, no more

August 26, 2010

When I was at Fry’s Electronics yesterday picking up a TrendNet Wireless Gaming Adapter, I walked through the PC component and parts aisle and it suddently hit me: I’ll never have to buy another PC component again. Since I have an Apple iMac (which is an integrated system) I won’t be buying any replacement components. No more monitors, video cards, hard drives, DVD drives, PCIe cards, Power supplies, case fans, motherboards, CPUs, cases, etc. I was a little sad, but also grateful that I didn’t have to mess with all of that stuff anymore. If my iMac stops working or has a problem, I just take it down to my local Apple Store for free repair (with my AppleCare protection for 3 years).

I can remember all the times when I’ve driven back and forth to Fry’s because some component I bought just didn’t work or was incompatible with my motherboard, etc. Also, having to send back dead devices or PCIe cards when ordering online. Just a big hassle, gone for good now.

One thing that I did order recently was an external hard drive to be used with the Time Machine app to backup my iMac’s data files. I went to my favorite online store (Newegg.com) and found this little gem:

The product description on the Newegg.com web site stated that this hard drive was pre-formatted for the Mac and for use with Time Machine. Who says you can’t find Mac products? This hard drive has both a USB 2.0 and Firewire 800 interface, so I’m planning to use the Firewire 800 connection for the fastest possible data transfer with my iMac.

The only other thing I see upgrading on my iMac might be the RAM memory (which can be done easily through the small access door at the bottom of the monitor screen), but with the 8 GB of RAM I already have, I don’t thing I’ll need to do that upgrade anytime soon.

So, it’s a little sad that I won’t be able to upgrade my computer system whenever I want, but that may be a blessing in disguise… 🙂


Making use of my Christmas Present… dual Monitors!

January 4, 2010

When my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I really couldn’t come up with an answer. I have all the gadgets that I want, and my computer/laptop are less than 1-year old, so I really couldn’t think of anything that would really excite me on Christmas day. So, I told her that I could use a 2nd monitor for my Desktop PC which would give me double the screen space. I didn’t really need it, but I thought it might be nice to have dual monitors (it seems a lot of people are doing it). As such, guess what I found under the Christmas tree on Christmas day?

After discovering that my wife indeed ordered a 2nd LCD monitor for me, I went to Newegg.com and ordered a new video card that could drive two LCD displays. My requirements, were that the video card have a PCI-express slot, have dual DVI ports, and was fanless. My old video card was a fanless Gigabyte card and I didn’t want to add more noise in my office by getting a card with a fan. Those requirements really limited my selection, but I decided to order a Zotac GeForce 9500 GT card.

Today the video card finally arrives via UPS delivery, so I unboxed it for my initial inspection. I knew from the reviews on Newegg.com that this video card had a huge heat sink, and I might have some difficulty getting it installed in my existing Desktop PC. Below are a few images of this new video card:

As you can see, it does indeed have a giant heat sink to dissipate the heat from video card chips. Luckily, this card did fit inside my Desktop PC case without intruding very much with the other inserted cards. Below is a quick snapshot of the inside of my Desktop PC. Can you spot the new video card? 🙂

Kind of a tight fit, but the heat sink missed all the surrounding cards (whew!). I then buttoned up my PC and reconnected all the various cables and wires, along with the two DVI video cables which were tethered to my two LCD monitors. After a little configuring with the Windows 7 display settings, I got both monitors working flawlessly… no muss or fuss! The Zotac video card seemed to be of high quality construction, and it seems to do the job just fine with not too much heat build-up inside my computer case.

The only thing that surprised me, was that the new LCD monitor (a Sceptre 20.1 “) had a brighter and whiter screen than my old monitor. Both monitors were from the same manufacturer and had the same model number, but one was about 2 years older than the other. Either my old LCD monitor was wearing out, or the new one was using a different LCD screen or newer electronic hardware. In any case, I’ve got both up and running and they look good to me.

So I’ve got my MS-Outlook email up and running in one monitor, while the other has the Firefox web browser and my software development IDE app running. It’s really nice to have the extra screen space, but I sort of feel like I have two computers staring down at me! Would it have been better to get one giant monitor? I don’t know. It seems to take me a while to accept such a big environment change, so I’ll report back in a few weeks on how I’m doing with these two 20” displays.


Windows 7 Family Pack – 3 copies for $150

October 27, 2009

win7_familypackIf you’re like me and you have several computers in your home, Microsoft is offering a Windows 7 Family Pack for those wanting to upgrade multiple PCs. You get 3 licensed copies of Windows 7 Home Premium for the price of $150 US. Since a single copy of Win 7 Home Premium is selling for $120 US, that’s a good deal. Note, this is for an “upgrade” price, so you need to have a copy of XP or Vista on your machine. However, I did a clean upgrade where my PC’s hard drive was wiped clean, so I’m not sure how the upgrade checks for a prior Windows copy?

In my home, we have lots of PCs and laptops so I do plan to get the family pack to upgrade a few laptops and one desktop PC. If you want to save even more money, you can order your family pack from Costco for $140 US. Now, I don’t think Microsoft will be offering the family pack indefinitely, so I suggest you not wait forever to get one if you’re considering it.


Workaround for incompatible apps in Windows 7

October 27, 2009

After dumping the 64-bit version of Windows 7 and going back to the 32-bit version, the first thing I did after the OS install was to get my Belkin N+ USB wireless adapter working so I could download OS updates from the Internet. So I needed to run an installer program to install the required drivers for the Belkin device. When I tried to do so, I immediately got an “Application can only run on Windows 2000/XP/Vista 32/Vista 64 platforms” and the installer quit. What the heck? I was able to get the the 64-bit version of this installer to work on Windows 7 64-bit, but the 32-bit version won’t install in Windows 7 32-bit?

So, I called the Belkin support line by phone and spoke with their India out-source support person. In speaking with her, she obviously wasn’t much of a tech person and basically told me that the Belkin USB wireless adapter that I bought three weeks ago was not compatible with the Windows 7 OS. Her suggestion was for me to return the device for a refund. Now, that is absolutely ridiculous, since Windows 7 is based on the Vista OS, and as such the driver for Vista 32-bit OS should work with Windows 7 32-bit.

So after some googling, I discovered an answer to this problem: Troubleshooting Compatibility option

If you right click on an application, you will see the “Troubleshooting compatibility” item in the popup context menu as shown below:

troubleshoot_0 Read the rest of this entry »


My Intel Core 2 Quad CPU can’t run Windows 7 XP-Mode!!

October 25, 2009

win7One of the reasons why I bought the Windows 7 Professional version was to have the ability to run in “XP Mode”, which basically uses the Microsoft Virtual PC application to simulate a PC running Windows XP. This is a useful feature in case you have an application that just doesn’t want to run under Windows 7, so you can run it in XP-mode in a virtual PC inside a window. With Win 7 Pro, Microsoft provides you with a free copy of XP, so you should be all set. So I thought.

Apparently, you need to have a computer with a CPU that is “Hardware-assisted Virtualization” capable. And guess what? I don’t have one!

What’s really amazing, is that I have an Intel Core 2 Quad CPU (Model Q8200 @ 2.33 GHz) with 4 GB of RAM running Windows 7 64-bit OS and I can’t use this feature. My machine isn’t powerful enough. What the heck!!??

xp-mode

It seems that certain CPUs have this HAV technology that is a requirement for Microsoft Virtual PC in this mode. I can understand if I was running a Intel Solo or older Centrino CPU, but my Quad CPU isn’t good enough?

So beware of all the advertised capabilities for the various Windows 7 versions, as some of them may require a machine with the very latest CPU (or mor expensive CPU) to utilize them.

What is truly bizarre is that I was using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 with this very same computer (and my previous Core 2 Duo) with no problems. But for some reason, Microsoft decided to add on this ridiculous feature (probably to make people upgrade their computer).

My only recourse now, is to use a product such as VirtualBox (by Sun Microsystems) that emulates a x86 environment, and then install Windows XP inside it. Of course, that also means I need to find a copy of Windows XP to install, as the “free” one provided with Windows 7 Pro is not usable.


Bit the Bullet and installed Windows 7 64-bit

October 23, 2009

win7After doing my usual obsessing over whether or not to install Windows 7 and then whether to install the 64-bit OS version, I finally decided to bite the bullet and install Windows 7 64-bit OS on my main desktop PC. I’ve always wanted to upgrade from a 32-bit to 64-bit OS (primarily so I can gain access to more than 3 GB of RAM memory), so I saw this as my change to do so. I didn’t expect any noticeable speed improvements going from 32 to 64-bit for my individual applications (as my current 32-bit Vista machine was working just fine), but I often run 5 or more applications at the same time so having the ability for the OS to use more than 3 GB of RAM was a really good thing for me.

Since I wasn’t having any big issues with running Vista, it was harder for me to decide on doing the upgrade to Windows 7. From what I could tell during my beta testing of Win7, it was basically an “improved” Vista OS. It wasn’t as earth shattering as when I upgraded from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. I understand from what I’ve read that Win7 has been re-written, tuned up, and is more efficient than Vista, so that was a very slight reason for me to do the upgrade. Eventually I would upgrade to Win7, so why not do it now?

So, I threw caution to the wind and began the process of upgrading my main desktop PC (home-built Intel Quad 2 Core machine with 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB 7200 RPM disk drive, and 256 MB Video card). Since I was planning to do a clean install (where all the data on the main hard drive would be wiped out), I copied all my user files over to a 2nd external drive for safe keeping. Once that was done, I inserted the Windows 7 Professional Upgrade Install DVD in the DVD-ROM drive and booted up from that device. I then followed the steps to delete the existing partition on the main 500 GB hard drive and begin installing the new 64-bit OS. From the time I booted up my machine with the install DVD to when I was able to log in after the OS installation, only 15 minutes had past. So, I was able to do the complete install in only 15 minutes, a real world record when it comes to Window OS installations! Read the rest of this entry »