Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Extending the Vista Media Center

Published by Sunbelt Software Manage Your Profile Privacy Policy
Vol. 2, # 59 - Feb 19, 2009 - Issue # 68 
 Extending the Vista Media Center

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Extending the Vista Media Center
    • Follow-up: Thumbs Up or Down to Ebooks?
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • IE 8 expected to RTM next month
    • Free upgrades to Windows 7 for Vista users? Well, sort of
    • Are your applications disappearing in Vista?
  4. How to: Using the New Vista Features
    • How to set your wireless mouse or keyboard not to wake the computer
  5. Vista Security
    • Another Safari vulnerability fixed - finally
  6. Vista Question Corner
    • Can I boot Vista without the boot menu?
  7. Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • USB telephone sets itself as default audio device
  8. Windows 7 Preview Corner
    • Preview Pane when you want it
  9. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  10. Product of the Week
    • Cucusoft iPod Video Converter Suite - A Sweet Complete Set of IPOD Tools!

My Antivirus Is Killing My Netbook - Now What?

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Editor's Corner

Extending the Vista Media Center

Back when we had the XP Media Center PC hooked up to our main TV, we had an HP Media Center Extender in the bedroom so we could watch our recorded programs on the TV in there, and play the songs through the bedroom home theater system. That receiver is also connected to a set of speakers on the patio, so we were able to play the songs through them when we were outside.

Then we upgraded to the Vista Media Center computer last October and although it's generally much more stable (doesn't freeze up every time you leave Media Center open, you don't have to reboot it every night), there was one big annoyance: Media Center Extenders made for XP don't work with Vista Media Center. So the HP extender, for which we'd paid a couple hundred bucks, was rendered useless.

It seemed that Microsoft was pushing the Xbox as an extender for Vista, but we didn't want or need an Xbox since we don't do games. The few third party extenders for Vista that we did find were expensive - around three hundred dollars or more. So for the last four months, we've been doing without the Media Center functionality in the bedroom and outdoor area.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was browsing Amazon and discovered that the Linksys DMA2100 Vista extender was selling for $107 - down from its original $399 price tag. Reviews were mixed, but many of the bad reviews seemed to be based on the fact that it only works with Vista Media Center and not XP - not an issue for me. There were also complaints that it didn't work with the HDMI connection. The bedroom TV has only composite, S-video and component connectors so that's not an issue, either.

I ordered one and when it arrived, I was surprised and pleased, first of all, at its compact size. Whereas the old HP extender was the size of a regular home theater component, this little guy was only a little bigger than a fat paperback book. Hooking it up to the TV and home theater receiver was quick and easy. I turned the TV to the proper video input and it immediately went through the setup and gave me a code number that I needed to enter on the Media Center PC. I trekked back to the media room and turned on the big TV, switched the input to the one for the computer, and Vista Media Center had already detected the extender and asked if I wanted to set it up. I clicked yes, it gave me a dialog box to enter the code and asked me which media I wanted to share with it. Within a few minutes, everything was set up and I was watching a recorded program on the bedroom TV.

The extender can also be useful for watching digital channels on the bedroom TV without a set-top box. We currently have our HD box attached to a different input and split the signal and send just the analog channels to the Media Center's tuner cards. But if we had a second box, we could output the digital signals to the tuners, and then watch those digital channels over the Live TV function of the extender without having to rent yet another box for the bedroom (two boxes would be required for the Media Center PC because it has two tuners so we can record two programs at the same time or record one program while watching live TV).

The new extender boots up faster than the old one did with XP, and picture quality is about the same. I'm happy with it, and in fact was thinking about buying another one for the guest room ... but when I checked Amazon today, I found the price was back up to $360. Ouch. However, TigerDirect has it for $109, so I'm getting a second one from them.

A Media Center Extender isn't the only way that you can share your shows and music, of course. If you have other computers running Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, they have Media Center, too. Even if those computers don't have tuners, you can watch the programs on them that you recorded on your main Media Center. Assuming the computers in your home are connected to a home network, there are a couple of ways you can do it. One is to simply share the folder on the main Media Center where you store the Recorded TV and Music folders. Navigate to the folder you want from the other Vista computer and double click the song or TV program file you want to play.

If you want the programs you recorded on the main Media Center to show up in the list of Recorded TV on the other Vista computer, it's a little more complicated. Here are the step by step instructions to make that happen:

You can also watch your recorded TV programs on an XP computer or a Vista computer that doesn't have Media Center (such as Business Edition). In this case, you play them in Windows Media Player. You'll need WMP 10 or above to do this.

The annoying thing is that you can't (currently) watch Recorded TV files from a Windows 7 computer on your Vista machines. That's because Win7 uses a different file format. Vista (and XP Media Center Edition before it) records to the DVR- MS format, whereas Windows 7 Media Center uses the new WTV format. The latter has some advantages (for example, the files are smaller in size; a one hour program recorded in DVR-MS is typically around 3 to 4 GB in size, whereas in WTV it's closer to 2 to 2.5 GB).

There is a command line utility that can be used to convert WTV files to DVR-MS format, but users have reported varying levels of success with it. You can find it here:

Of course, the advantage of an extender is that you don't need a second computer at the receiving end. Additionally, the extender box can connect to just about any type of TV input, whereas the video card on a computer may only have VGA and/or HDMI outputs.

Yet another way to watch or listen to your Media Center media on another computer is to use a free streaming service such as Orb. You install the program on your Media Center computer and then you can log onto the web site from any other computer, or even from your Internet-connected PDA or cell phone that has a web browser. As long as your Media Center and the remote computer/phone are both connected to the Internet, you can watch your programs or listen to your music no matter where you are - in your own home or a thousand miles away. You can also watch live TV through Orb. You can find out more about Orb here:

Another similar service is TVersity. You can read more about it and download it here:

Yet another option (although not free like Orb) is Slingbox. It's a hardware device that connects to your cable, satellite or PVR and streams the signal over an Internet connection. It works with Blackberries, Windows Mobile devices and some Nokia Symbian-based phones. There's a beta for Palm OS and a version for the iPhone is supposed to be released in March. You can find out more about it here:

For the best performance, we use Media Center extenders with a wired Ethernet connection within our home, and Orb for connecting from another location. If your home network uses wi-fi, you should have at least an 802.11G connection to avoid problems with streaming. Whichever option(s) you pick, extending the use of your Media Center files beyond just one computer/TV combination can make your total media experience much more enjoyable.

Tell us about your experiences and what you think about extending Vista's Media Center. Have you tried extenders? Do you watch recorded programs over your network using WMP? Do you use Orb or TVersity to access your Media Center files when you're on the road? Have you invested in a Slingbox? What do you like or not like about the solutions you've tried? Let us know at

Follow-up: Thumbs Up or Down to Ebooks?

In last week's editorial, we took a second look at the phenomenon of electronic books in light of the release of a new version of Amazon's Kindle ebook reader. Many of our readers weighed in on the subject, with many passionate responses both for and against the idea of reading books in electronic format.

David L. believes that "Ebooks are the future - I hope that eventually the Text Book Industry will figure out a way of renting books - E - books for each student instead of the student spending hundreds of dollars and lugging the books across campus so that all the course work is on an ebook."

And Stephen A. said, "I've read over 30 books on my Palm T3 over the last 4 years: to me it's an idea that should have seen the light of day 10 years ago when Star Trek TNG first showed those slim portable pads. The publishing industry needs to re-invent itself and we have to stop the wholesale slaughter of our forests for the sake of reproducing the same information over, and over, and over again. Gutenberg has had his day ( though is a great place for the classics!). These readers should be government subsidized, and every child should be given one for free."

Dave P. says, "I am a huge Ebook fan. With a paper library of over 5,000 books I have always been a voracious reader. For the past year I have not purchased a single paper book. All I get are Ebooks. I have a PPC Phone (the HTC Titan/Mogul) running Windows Mobile 6.1. At this time there are over 30 books on my phone, taking up a pittance of space. I can read it anywhere! When I am filling up with gas - whip out my cell phone and read. In a long line at COSTCO? No problem, no boredom. Trip to the doctor? No year old Cosmo for me." He also notes that, "Yes, Microsoft has abandoned it's ebook reader, but there are plenty of other readers out there. I use mobipocket. It's free. There are plenty of converters out there to convert the old Microsoft .lit files to Mobi compatible files. All free."

Stephen R. wrote, "As some[one] who has read both War and Peace and Winston Churchill's six-volume History of World War II on my trusty Palm X|T, I can say that the notion of reading books on a portable electronic device is very practical and, for my purposes, extremely satisfying ... But why in the world would I buy a standalone device for reading eBooks? I could see reading books on an iPhone, or the like, but on a Kindle? No way. I've only got so many pockets."

On the other hand, Brett R. tells us: "I love my Kindle. I never would have spent the money to buy one, but my wife got it for me as a gift. It is my favorite tech gadget. I receive my daily newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, every morning. I receive weekly editions of Newsweek magazine. It has become a natural part of my life. If I want something to read, I pick up my kindle. If I see or hear about a new good book, I download the sample (usually a chapter or two) and buy it if I like it."

Bob H. agrees: "Well, I am an avid Kindle user. I have probably 50 or more books on my Kindle right now. For me it is ideal. I don't have a lot of room to store books and am always giving paperbacks to various charities to get them out of the house. I find the prices of Kindle ebooks to be competitive with paperbacks and often much cheaper. If you turn off the modem in the Kindle it easily goes for a week without a charge. I only turn on the modem when I want to buy a book."

Dan M. says, "I have been a dedicated reader for 60 odd (some of them VERY odd) years and I love books. That said, I have had a Kindle for about a year and I love it and use it constantly. Special books, I still buy, but my usual who- done-its are just fine on my Kindle. For travel, it's a no-brainer."

Dale M.-G. wrote, "I've had my Sony reader for 2 years now. I love it. Use it daily. Take it every where. But I'd never have a Kindle. I refuse to be locked into their product with the only option of purchasing what they have to offer. Sony accepts several different formats including .txt, .doc, and .pdf. There are also free converters out there to change most anything to your preferred format, even converting from .html on-line books."

Not everyone is a fan of the electronic format. John B. said, "... a paperback is easy to port, read, and resell, if it doesn't measure up. And reading for long on a screen is not comfortable for my old eyes. In other words- no electronic book for moi!"

Tom I. wrote, "One advantage of the paper version you missed was the good feeling you can get by donating the paper version to a local library, charity or neighbor ... And are there now or future restrictions on what you can do with that eBook you bought, like there are, or try to be, with music you buy and download? Can you pass it on to another Kindle owner? Or is there a DRM issue?"

And Bill N. had this to say: "I largely agree that the small market is due to both price and trust - the price is too high and we (well "I" at least) absolutely do not trust the sellers ... A paper book is readable until the pages disintegrate - I have a manuscript that is over 1000 years old. Many digital formats won't last even 1000 days."

And some of you prefer a different type of electronic format. Jack K. said, "My 88 year old eyes restrict me to a screen for about one hour at a time. Audible books, newspapers etc are really appreciated. I use a 4gb Sansa Clip. is my library." And Edward K. said, "The price of electronic book readers (especially Kindle) is ridiculous. Audiobooks are what you want when you're mobile, and they're as cheap, if not cheaper, than paper. Plus, any MP3 player will play an audiobook, so you don't need an extra piece of hardware. With an electronic book reader, on the other hand, you get to pay for a dedicated piece of hardware, and then pay again for each book you want to read. Who thought this was a good idea?"

Finally, Paul M. brought up this very good point: "I tend to agree with you that devices like the Kindle will not replace novels, but I think that it very well could be the future of newspapers and periodicals. I really like the idea of the Kindle downloading my newspaper to my device before I wake up. That makes it so I don't have to walk out to the newspaper box in the cold of the morning or eat my breakfast next to the computer. Plus it is much easier to read on the train or bus to work in the morning, than a laptop. I don't know about you, but I really don't save too many newspapers or periodicals on my bookshelf, so the disposible nature means that I don't have to worry about copy protection or corruption." In fact, I no longer subscribe to print newspapers and often read the local and national newspapers' web sites on my Omnia phone.

I address the subject of ebooks a couple of years ago in my WXPnews column, and I was struck by the difference in responses this time. Back then, only about one fourth of readers felt ebooks could even partially replace print books. This time, at least three quarters of our readers are ebook fans. The times, they are a'changing.

Thanks to all who wrote about this topic!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication for XP users called WXPnews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week

I took a speed reading course and read "War and Peace" in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. - Woody Allen (1935- )

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. - Sir Richard Steele

Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading. - G.M. Trevelyan (1876 - 1962)

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your computer. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example: Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, you can tell the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to look carefully at the data leaving your browser, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, bank account, social security number and PIN code do not get stolen by hackers!

Cool Tools


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News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

IE 8 expected to RTM next month

Many of us have been using the beta of Internet Explorer 8 for quite some time now, and Release Candidate 1 is currently available. I keep forgetting that it is a beta, especially since it's so much more stable than IE 7 ever was. For those of you who don't install beta software and have been waiting for the final release, it looks as if your wait is almost over. IE 8 is now expected to be released to manufacturing (RTM) in March. What (if anything) does that mean for the schedule of Windows 7? Tech pundits disagree on that one. Read more here:

Free upgrades to Windows 7 for Vista users? Well, sort of

I've been getting many queries from readers who have heard that Microsoft is going to offer free or discounted Windows 7 upgrades to Vista users. Here's the catch: the upgrades will be for those who buy a PC loaded with Vista after July 1, 2009. This is the same thing Microsoft did for people who bought XP computers right before Vista's release. You didn't really think you were going to get a free upgrade if you'd been running Vista for two years, did you? Read more here:

Are your applications disappearing in Vista?

During the past week, the anti-virus program on two of our Vista machines (one running Home Premium and one running Business) mysteriously disappeared. You can read about that in my blog post at

Then I heard from a reader that after installing the most recent updates, the snipping tool disappeared from his Vista Ultimate computer (it's still there and working fine on my Ultimate machine). According to web research, the most common reason for the snipping tool to disappear is that the user turns off the Tablet PC features, and it appears the latest round of updates does just that. The snipping tool is part of that set. So if you've lost yours, check under Control Panel | Programs and Features, "Turn Windows Components On or Off" and make sure the optional Tablet PC features are turned on.

If you've had an application disappear after installing recent updates, let me know at

How to: Using the New Vista Features

How to set your wireless mouse or keyboard not to wake the computer

Last week, we printed a link to a KB article regarding reasons your computer may wake up immediately when you put it to sleep. Reader David L. wrote to say that he discovered his wireless mouse was causing the problem, and offered this solution for fixing it:
  1. Click Start | Control Panel | Mouse
  2. Click the Hardware tab
  3. Click the Properties button
  4. Pm the General tab, click the Change Settings button
  5. Click the Power Management tab
  6. Uncheck the box that says "Allow this device to wake the computer."
  7. Click OK in all the dialog boxes to close them

Vista Security

Another Safari vulnerability fixed - finally

If you use Apple's Safari browser on Vista (or XP), last week the company released a patch for a critical vulnerability - seven months after it was reported - along with patches for over 50 security holes in OS X and other software. You can read more here:

Vista Question Corner

Can I boot Vista without the boot menu?

I installed Vista with Windows XP (dual boot) just in case, so I could go back to XP if Vista didn't work. Well, it does and I like Vista and I never use XP. But when I reboot, I still get the boot menu to choose Vista or XP. Is there a way I can get it to just boot into Vista? Do I have to uninstall XP? Thanks. - Louis W.

It's not necessary to uninstall XP in order to boot directly to Vista. You just need to adjust the system startup settings. Here's how:
  1. 1. Click Start and right click My Computer
  2. Select Properties
  3. In the left pane, click Advanced System Settings
  4. On the Advanced tab, at the bottom in the Startup and Recovery section, click the Settings button
  5. Make sure the Default Operating System is set to Vista
  6. Uncheck the box labeled "Time to display list of operating systems"
If you ever do need to boot to XP again, first go into Vista and re-enable the boot menu by checking this box and setting the time to a number of seconds (such as 15).

Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting

USB telephone sets itself as default audio device

This happened to me a while back. I installed a USB Skype phone on my Vista computer, and then a little later, when I tried to play a video, I had no sound. Oh, except then I did hear the video's sound, very faintly - and it was coming out of the phone handset. It seems the phone had been set as the default audio device. To find out what to do about this problem, see KB article 936004 at

Windows 7 Preview Corner

Preview Pane when you want it

In Vista Explorer, the preview pane was a nice addition. You could see a preview of your photos, preview your Word docs without opening Word, etc. However, it was a bit of a pain to go through menus to turn it on or off. Sometimes you want to preview your files, and sometimes you don't. In Windows 7, there is an icon to turn the preview pane on or off with a single click, or you can use the new keyboard shortcut Alt + P to do the same thing.

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

Cucusoft iPod Video Converter Suite - A Sweet Complete Set of IPOD Tools!

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