Jul 2

I've been pining for a mini-wireless keyboard for the Revo since the day I brought it online.  Originally, I had my eye on the very expensive Logitech diNovo, but decided it was too big an investment to trust to the abuse that our remotes must endure.  Once or twice I considered the Lenovo "T" shaped contraption, but decided quickly that the form-factor left a lot to be desired...not quite remote-material, but I expect that it has its place in the conference room (probably sitting next to the similarly-shaped, and ubiquitous Polycom).  And then it was the iPazzPort, with its Blackberry-meets-Palm form factor and somewhat unfinished appearance, making it look more like a college EE senior project than a marketable mass-produced product.

Well, I stumbled across the Rii Mini-Wireless Keyboard some time ago, and nearly pulled the trigger several times.  What stopped me were the reports around dismal range in the 2.4GHz model, but it had everything else that met my ideal concept of a mini-wireless keyboard...a trackpad, backlighting, rechargeable, lower cost, and good ergonomics.  Further, once the Bluetooth model released, it seemed that the range problems were finally addressed, with the added bonus of being pairable to the iPhone for easier data entry.

However, procrastination rules the day and patience pays off yet-again.  Recently, Rii released the N7 - a smaller, lighter, longer-ranged, and even better form factor, which places the track pad in the center of the device, and gives a more complete compliment of native keys to boot.

With the ultra-low profile receiver fob plugged into an open USB on the back of the Revo, the device was instantly recognized and was up and running in a matter of minutes.  Adjustable on the fly, trackpad sensitivity seems to be perfectly adequate for scrolling about the screen, range is good, and functionality is right on target.  What the device lacks at the moment is Bluetooth connectivity, but expect this is near-term on the product radar.

I purchased mine as an open-box item for a mere $25 + shipping through eBay - the device still smells new, and there is no discernible evidence of use.  Overall, this little Rii N7 mini wireless keyboard really fills the bill.

Rii N7

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Jun 19

I feel like I gave Netflix streaming via the Revo, through XBMC, a fair shake and reverted to the Wii.  See previous post concerning the setup and configuration - while functional, it is only marginally so, and not the native, tightly integrated experience that I was hoping for.  Viewing Netflix via XBMC felt a little too much YouTube-like - windowed, buffered, and tacked-on.  Once the Revo is on a hard-wire, and no longer reliant on WLAN, I may revisit...but for now, it's back to streaming via the Wii.

One of the primary reasons for moving away from the Netflix via the Wii in the first place was the propensity of the screen to darken and lighten depending on the scene.  This behavior is especially annoying in certain programming where scenes shift frequently and dramatically between low and high brightness - invariably, the darks are darker to the point of making scenes hard to distinguish detail in.

Now, it's been said that replacing the standard Wii composite video cable with the higher-quality component video, which splits the signal into three channels effectively eliminates this behavior.  Well, I can attest to the fact that it has little, if any bearing on this at all.  While there might be some improvement in overall image clarity, the most-annoying issue around normalization of brightness does continue to present a problem. Frown

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Jun 6

As a testament to the low priority I place on television viewing, we only just got around to streaming Netflix through the Wii - it was a novelty, a is fast becoming a staple in our media repertoire.  The problem with streaming through the Wii, however, is the horrid default transport medium.  In other words, streaming Netflix in low-res over an RCA composite cable yields marginal quality at best, and is notoriously unstable with regards to image quality.  This manifests as a vacillation between a dark, and light picture, and overall fuzziness.  Now, while I haven't sprung for the $30 Wii component cable to replace the default composite, I understand that this simple upgrade goes a great distance toward rectifying the image quality issues of the composite connection.

While the Wii UI to Netflix, and the overall experience, is passable, I did feel that the better candidate for the task was the Revo - here again, with its support for HDMI and overall flexibility, it seemed a natural.  Still running the tried and true XBMC on the Revo, step one was to upgrade from version 9 to 10 (10.1 is the current release).  This was achieved quickly upgrading XBMC to version 10.1 over the top of version 9, but resulted in some very undesirable behavior around UI responsiveness.  Regardless of the theme applied, or various minor tuning, I simply could not get to a state of reasonable UI responsiveness.  Rather than invest further in troubleshooting, tuning and applying band-aids on top of band-aids, I elected instead to uninstall XBMC altogether, and reinstall cleanly.  This singular step effectively resolved all glitchiness in the UI prepared the system for step 2 - installing Netflix.

Installing Netflix as an XBMC add-on is really quite simple.  There are a couple of paths one could take, but the easiest is simply to launch XBMC, navigate to Movies, select add-ons, and look for "XBMC FLICKS".  Install "XBMC FLICKS", and launch it.  The first run will eventually launch a browser and prompt you to authorize the machine to access/stream Netflix through it.  Once authorized, you will restart XMBMC.  From this point, once relaunched, XBMC is now ready to stream Netflix content through your Revo.

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Jun 7

For as much time spent trying to fine tune Windows file transfer between the Revo and machine where I do my video editing across an all wireless network, the speed and reliability of said transfers was becoming a huge nuisance.  Windows file transfer has never been known (by me) to be especially fast or error-free.  As such, the backlog of material ripped from backup media for move to the Revo had grown considerably - about 12gb worth.

Searching for the better solution led me to FileZilla.  There is a lot to like about FTP in terms of performance, reliability, user friendliness, and security.  FTP bypasses the perplexities around Windows file sharing between OS versions, can be locked down at the application layer via defined accounts client/server IP distinction, and with the right client, provides a toolkit to make the chore of keeping source/destination directories in sync.

What attracted me to the FileZilla project on Sourceforge was the maturity, the feature set, and the simplicity of both the underlying server app and the client UI.  With the FileZilla server in place on the source (editing) PC, and the FileZilla client installed on the Revo, I will now roll back all of the file sharing tweaks that were necessary prior and which invariably left me with a sense of exposure - despite firewalls, etc.

Even with limited operational experience, I couldn't at this point recommend FileZilla more highly for intranet large file transfers - why I didn't pursue this option sooner I'll never never know. Embarassed

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Apr 19

Had one of those truly frustrating Systems Administration experiences with the Revo.  The hell of it is, I was doubting my initial move that led to the debacle as I was making it.  "Don't be so hasty" I said, "haste makes waste..." - and that is exactly what I made - a couple of hours of pure waste (and a good dose of frustration).

The details of the events leading up to it are of lesser relevance - in a nutshell, I'm trying to make the Revo more family-robust.  In other words, it should auto-login on restart, HippoRemote VNC Server should startup automatically, it should wake-on-LAN, and (probably) XMBC should auto-start on reboot.  The HippoRemote issue is resolved by way of installing it as a service (easy to do, see previous post).  Wake-on-LAN - it is probably done, I just haven't tested it yet.  XMBC auto-start - haven't gotten to yet, low priority.

Auto-Login on Restart - of all of the administrative things that seem an improvement in Windows 7, this (along with the whole user management & config area) seems a big miss.  It's apparent that facilitation for this behavior must be discouraged??  Configuring for this behavior scores low on the intuitiveness scale.

Here is the easy way:

  • <Windows key><R> launches the classic Run Command dialog.
  • Type "control userpasswords2".
  • In the User Accounts dialog that pops up, tick the "Users must enter a user name and password..." box.
  • Select the account that should auto login.
  • Untick the "Users must enter a user name and password...".
  • Click Apply - a password dialog for the selected user will pop up - enter the password if any.
  • Click "OK" a time or two, and you're done.

What I'd failed to realize until today is that the Administrator account is disabled in Windows 7.  Now that I realize this, it makes what seemed so unnatural at install time make sense, and that is that the account that I thought I was creating as "Administrator" (named "Admin") was only an alias for the account that I had created "Krause", which of course was part of the Administrators group.  A second account, not part of the Administrators group, named "Krause_2" was aliased "Krause".

So, the scheme looked like this:

Enabled
Uname
Alias
Pwd
Group
N
Administrator
-
-
Administrators
Y
Krause
Admin
yes
Administrators
Y
Krause_2
Krause
-
Users

Misunderstanding the relationship between Username and Alias, and somewhere along the line, botching the password betewen the User record and the auto-login authentication dialog, I effectively locked out the Admin account.  Further misunstanding around the true Administrator account, once I understood of its true nature, existence, and the fact that it was disabled by default, left me with a system in full lock-down.

Enter Ophcrack and UNetbootin

UNetbootin provides the World's most effective and elegant image to USB drive interface known to mankind - I'm fully convinced of that.  UNetbootin runs self-contained (no install, just an executable) and launches a UI proloaded with a variety of flash-drive Linux distros and utilities (including Ophcrack and NTPasswd - both for SAM hacking to recovery lost Windows passwords).  Another option allows selection of an .iso for write to a USB flash drive.  As part of either process, UNetbootin drops the requisite files onto the flash drive to make it bootable.

While Ophcrack comes as an integral part of the UNetbootin UI, I elected to dowload what I knew for a fact was the latest and greatest for XP (assuming that it would do the trick for Windows 7.  So, quite a long time later, once the .iso was downloaded and written to bootable USB target, I popped it into the Revo, started it, watched it mount and present the user accounts declaring "empty" passwords.  I booted Windows 7 and managed to login - quickly enabled the true Administrator account (a saving grace) and proceeded to "adjust" all of the existing User record names and aliases in an attempt to clarify and simplify.  Now there is only "Nettop" (alias "Nettop") and "Administrator".  Neither have passwords, and the Revo will auto-login as "Nettop".

I'm not fully convinced that Ophcrack actually did anything...did it expose passwords?  Did it set passwords to null or "empty"?  What I know is that there was a behavior change pre and post-Ophcrack (before, I couldn't login, after, I could).  Honestly, I tried so many things in a relatively short amount of time that it became somewhat of a blur.  What I think Ophcrack did, in a nutshell, was make clear my "mistake" and subsequent confusion around the use of the Administrator account, usernames, and username aliases.  Once the relationship clicked with me, the mistakes being made in my auto login configuration and subsequent attempts at switching users became elementary.

A bit about NTPasswd - this is an old favorite.  I've been using it for years.  However, the latest version (cd080802) simply wouldn't load drivers for the Revo's sata drive.  The previous version (cd080526) would gladly load drivers and allow me to mount the target partition, but I had a great deal of trouble with case sensitivity (not supposed to be the case).  As long as I manually defined the path to the SAM, which failed programmatically due to case sensitivity, I was fine.  However, as soon as NTPasswd was pointed to the proper directory and invoked to copy and load up the SAM contents, it failed due again to case sensitivity.  Hopefully this will be corrected (or perhaps it was a system/install-specific anomoly?) in the upcoming 2010 revision discussed at the project's web site.  NTPasswd is an awesome utility and won't have any problem winning my heart back again - all commandline, rather cryptic, but super-effective.

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Mar 20

There are many articles published on setting up file sharing between Windows XP and Windows 7 - I've read a couple, and still wasn't crisp on each detail needed without a bit of trial and error.  So, this is my own, for my amusement, and to document that which I don't want to risk forgetting - mind, this is quick and dirty with little (none actually) consideration for security.  As it stands, pushing some content from an XP host to the Revo media server necessitated this.  I became quite weary of running up and down the stairs - first readying content on the XP host, then initiating the transfer from the Revo running Win 7.

So, opening a share on a Win 7 host for access from Win XP:

  • Start > Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings (from left-hand menu).
  • Password protected sharing > select "Turn off password protected sharing",
  • HomeGroup connections > select "Use user accounts and passwords to connect to other computers". (it is probably not necessary to tamper with this setting - the verbiage suggests that a mixed environment may work better if HomeGroup functionality is disabled - in my network, this doesn't seem to affect anything one way or the other)
  • Find drive or folder to share > Right-click > Share with > Advanced sharing (launches Properties dialog).
  • From the Properties dialog (Sharing tab) > Advanced sharing > tick "Share this folder".
  • Name the share - Share name "Whatever you want".
  • Set permissions - Permissions button > tick "Full Control" > Ok > Ok.
  • From the same Properties dialog (Security tab) > Edit > Add > type "Everyone" > Check Names > Ok > Ok > Close.

Use this at your own risk - I'm quite sure there are better, more secure approaches requiring user authentication (which this post was supposed to include), but I simply ran out of time and interest to explore all options.


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Jan 20

I took a few moments to trim the excess material off the Revo R1600 wifi antennae.  Recall these are the Tyco "generic" wifi antennae that came with the Intel wifi adapter.  These units are designed to be mounted behind the screen on a laptop, and are sized accordingly.  The dilemma was whether changing the dimensions would adversely affect their ability to transmit/receive on the wifi band.  Well, so far as I can tell, trimming them had no impact.  I still get 100% reception now, same as I did prior.  I'll point out that the Revo sits not more than 10ft from the router, but is going through the floor that separates the up/down stairs levels.

I trimmed these units about 1/4" off the bottom, and an 1/8" off the side opposite that which the cable is attached.  Still it was hard to get the top of the Revo's case back on, and found that I had to add a shim (tiny piece of folded cardboard) as a standoff so that the receiving receptical on the case's top would slide over the antennae.

I should also add that there are hold-downs molded into the case beneath the mainboard meant for the antenna cable on the opposite side of the case.  I neatly coiled the cable under the mainboard using these hold-downs to manage the lot.  I'd not gone the extra mile had it not been for the trouble I had keeping the cables in-place as I was trying to position the cover.  It really is best to "do it right" by routing the cables under the mainboard and using the provided hold-downs to create a little tension on the cables, thus keeping them in the slots exiting the antennae receptacles.  Not doing so would likely risk severing the cable as you tried to snap the cover back on...the case really is well-designed and tolerances are tight.

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Jan 19

All the way from Hong Kong, my Atheros WLAN adapter for the Revo's mini PCI-e expansion slot came today.  The was attempt #2 after the Intel card proved a flop.  The Intel card installed and worked as far as discovering all of the neighborhood networks, but dozens of attempts at configuring and upgrading/downgrading drivers proved fruitless.

Logic only struck after the first attempt to determine which WLAN adapters the R3600 and R3610 ship with (I've also heard rumors that certain vendors ship the R1600 with a WLAN adapter, as Acer's driver download site hints at).  Anyway, per a previous post in this topic, it was clear that Atheros is standard, and further deduced that the AR5007EG chipset was the wise choice.  I landed on the eBay vendor "24okbuy" offering the Atheros AR2425 802.11B/G MiniPCI-E AR5007EG WLAN Card for only $9.50 (shipping included).

Literally, I snapped the card into the Revo's mini PCI-e socket, powered it up, and before I could even begin fiddling around with new hardware discovery and drivers, I'd realized that it had already discovered my network.  I provided my credentials and was connected and surfing inside of five minutes from start to finish.  Rarely do things work as smoothly as this little project did...I'm still amazed.  Cool

Though I didn't end up needing them, I'd spent some time prior hunting down likely drivers - the best I came up with (for posterity) is a set of Atheros drivers for Win7 available at wireless-driver.com.  The direct link is here, and to the actual download here.

Next, and final open-case/internals project is to trim down the WLAN antennae "tabs" so that they fit into the mounts meant to receive them.  I'm somewhat skeptical that this will affect their TX/RX capability anticipating that they're tuned to the WLAN frequency, but the case cannot be closed up as it stands, so something has to give.

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Jan 16

I'm on my third significant iteration of finding the most effective means of backing up our extensive DVD collection, namely to be hosted in softcopy on the Revo.  Optimally, this would have been a self-contained process including nothing more than the DVD, my external drive, the Revo, and a very short list of software.  I've concluded though that the Revo simply doesn't have the horsepower for video encoding, though it's a gem when it comes to the ripping process alone (with the right tools in place).

So, here's verion 3.5 of the process, which includes an average dual-core desktop - for the process of encoding video is hugely CPU intensive.  I wonder - would the Revo 3600 or 3610 be suitable, where mine is the single-core 1600 and the 36 series are dual-core?

First, two (freely obtained) tools will be required: DVD Shrink and StaxRip.  If copy protection stands in your way, that's your problem to deal with...maybe consider DVD43 or SlySoft's AnyDVD. 

DVD Shrink is a straight forward install, nothing special required up front.  There are many tutorials available on the setup and configuration of StaxRip - look on YouTube for some of the most informative.  In a nutshell, be prepared to install .NET 3.5, then StaxRip, then let it walk you through the ultra-simple process of downloading and installing all of the requisite helper apps.  It seems a bit tedious up front, maybe a little daunting, but you'll find that once set up, StaxRip stands elegantly in front of all of it, making the process a breeze.

And now the process (ver 3.5):

  • DVD Shrink - Open Disc (this would be your DVD).
  • DVD Shrink - Select Re-Author (button).
  • DVD Shrink - Locate the main movie file in the pane on right (DVD Browser tab) and drag it into the pane on the left.
  • DVD Shrink - In the pane on the right (Compression Settings tab) select the desired audio track(s).
  • DVD Shrink - Select Backup (button) and direct the backup to a working directory in your StaxRip install dir.
  • StaxRip - Select the StaxRip template for "XviD" encoding.
  • StaxRip - Select Source (Single or Merge).
  • StaxRip - Select the VOBs from the VIDEO_TS folder created by DVD Shrink - these will be only the core VOBs, no menu, previews, etc, so no need to be selective.
  • StaxRip - After de-muxing, the StaxRip will interface will reappear, there should be no need to do anything further except to select Next (button) to begin encoding.  Once complete, find the .avi created, rename if needed, and move where needed.

Sans DVD Shrink, version 3.5 is the same as 3.0.  By accident, I discovered that the additional step of re-authoring the DVD via DVD Shrink ultimately results in a finished filesize of roughly 1/3 that when using StaxRip alone (encoding directly from DVD media).  Further, it seems that encoding as Xvid is far speedier than DivX.

I'm ready to hear/learn more - there is no shortage of opinion on the "right way" to get from DVD to XBMC-friendly soft copy.  What I'm suggesting is as simple a process for a novice as I can derive.  Where this kind of work is a hobby for some, with infinite techniques, tweaks, and tools employed on a case by case basis, for me it is only a chore; therefore, it must be boiled down to a repeatable, simple, quick, and low/no cost proposition, or it wouldn't get done at all.

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Jan 8

Well, I burned through a couple of fruitless hours tonight trying to get the Revo setup with its new internal wi-fi card - an Intel 4965AGN mini PCI-express unit.

This is a draft-N card that I wouldn't get much advantage out of given AT&T uVerse's 2Wire equipment doesn't support N.  That said, I've got two draft-N routers kicking around from the Comcast rip-off days.  I could hang one off the 2Wire router and fiddle around with all the multi-router fun-ness to get the whole lot working - but I really don't care that much.  I'm mainly interested in web content delivery with the heaviest traffic being the occasional hulu stream.

So anyway, with the adapter in place and two antennas attached (you'd need all three and compatible routing equipment - preferably the same brand/manufacturer to get to N-speeds of 100+ to 300mbs throughput), Windows 7 readily found the adapter and installed a near-current driver.  The adapter was online and functional at first boot.  I should have known then that anything so easy couldn't possibly be "so easy".  In fact, my own 2Wire network was discovered readily, given the credentials, and proceeded to never connect.  Over and over again...complete refusal to connect.

From this point, I went through a dozen or more iterations of upgraded/downgraded drivers, various adapter settings, and so on.  At one point, I did setup one of my Netgear routers as a stand-alone, with no security enabled, and still...discovery and failure to connect.

Why I didn't dig a little deeper to determine the WLAN adapters shipping with the R3600 model prior to buying the 4965AGN I'll never know.  Bottom line at this point, I'm now waiting for an Atheros unit featuring the AR5007EG chip to arrive from Hong Kong - this is what the R3600 model is shipping with and can only assume at this point that there is some fundamental incompatibility with the Intel unit, or perhaps it was defective in the first place.  At some point, I'll endeavor to test it, but that could be awhile, and can't really conceive of wasting still more time on a sub-$20 purchase.

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Jan 6

Well, the WLAN card for the Revo arrived a little faster than I'd anticipated it would.  Naturally, the card snaps right into place - and naturally, there is more than meets the eye with regard to the best strategy for routing and mounting the two antenna leads. 

The Revo is fully insulated (the metal barrier which endeavors to shield the internals from stray RF and electro magnetic signals) - because of this, I can hardly imagine any fundamental problem simply coiling the antennae inside the box. 

The trickier issue is that the tabs at the end of the leads are far too large to suitably fit into the Revo's two slots provided to receive the antennae outside of the shielding.  The obvious answer, of course, is to simply trim the tabs to the most appropriate size.  The question that I'm not equipped to answer is whether doing so would impact the effectiveness of the antenna - in other words, in some RF technology, the exact length/size/dimension/geometry of the antenna itself plays a major role in its ability to transmit/receive on the given frequency.

I'm out on a limb with this one, but have posted to the Eng-Tips forum to seek advice.


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Dec 28

In an effort to truly get value from the Revo, beyond just the hobbiest's fascination with it, I've been dilligently moving our more popular DVD's to the XBMC library for easier access and to save wear and tear on the media itself - see the last post with reference little hands and the durability of any given DVD in them...ah, if I had a dollar for every kid's movie that was purchased twice, or even thrice in some cases.

Now, I get comparatiely very little pleasure out of fooling around with DVD ripping, re-authoring, compressing, and the like.  My, there are some incredibly active groups out there that really are into this stuff - like anything else I guess, most folks have their hobby.  Well, it certainly doesn't turn me on - I just want something that works simply, flawlessly, and quickly.  I've nailed the bit of the equation that gets the DVD from media to ISO image - on the Revo, this is actually a very quick process using AnyDVD from SlySoft and ImgBurn  It also meets the criteria of flawlessness and simplicity.  Great so far, and with the added bonus of XBMC's support for direct-play of ISO images, it all seems like a lock.

However, even 100-odd gb of space in the XBMC media partition on the Revo gets eaten up fast when storing ISO's at 4 to 7gb apiece.  I've looked at a number of compressors, including AutoGK, DrDivx, and a few others - I think though that I've run up against a fundamental limitation of the Revo that simply cannot be overcome, and that is that compressing ISO to DivX or XviD is simply too CPU intensive an operation to hand off to the Revo.  I wonder if the dual core Revo is any more effective at this, or if it is partially bound by the nature of the lower consumption, more minimalistic CPU used in these little machines.

Either way, it's back to the drawing board to determine if a small file store is in order (geez, not yet another piece of hardware to plugin behind the television), or if I need to make provisions for a beefier desktop capable to handling the more intensive ISO compression tasks.

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Dec 26

Supporting the new Aspire Revo-hosted XBMC server is the family's new 37" LCD TV and BR-DVD player.  The combo (not purchased that way, but intended as a package deal in-gift) inclues the Vizio model VO370M 37" 1080p Eco-line LCD TV and Vizio VBR-110 Blu-Ray DVD player.  Sure to raise debates by any who care to comment, I spent a good deal of time researching the Vizio brand for overall consumer satisfaction - evaluating on total value (not just price), quality, features, and brand-wide and model-specific satisfaction. 

Let it be known that I am far from expert in television technology and am not intrigued enough by the television viewing experience to give much of a damn about what I do watch programming (or movies) on.  However, as the four year old Samsung 27" CRT was showing distinct signs of color gun problems, and the component ports on the back of the set seemed to fail one morning for no apparent reason whatsoever, it was due time to consider replacements.

First, I'm amazed at the phenominally (and relatively) low cost of larger-format LCD TV's today.  The last I seriously considered a new television purchase (about four years ago...about the time I made my last mistake), LCD TV's seemed altogether untouchable given my budget.  This time around, I was able to purchase a larger, nicer, lighter, more feature-rich set and matching DVD player for hundreds of dollars less than I shelled out for the Samsung with matching (in quality and brand name) home theater system.  Now, granted the new BR-DVD player isn't a full-fledged home-theater-in-a-box, it does have the distinct advantage of actually working, and gives the impression that it will continue to do so past the twelve-month mark.  The five-disc changing Samsung unit became senile by nine months, such that it was all we could do to get it to change to, and load the requested disc/slot, and was unbelievably sensitive to disc blemishes - which I'd add is a huge issue here as kids and DVD's simply don't mix...if you don't believe me, rent anything new by Disney from Blockbuster and compare it to any other much older non-kids disc, you'll see.

So again, I did a fair amount of research and determined that Vizio has quite a lot going for it in terms of total value, overall quality, and consumer opinion.  Minus the snobs and fan-boys for the bigger, older, and generally more expensive brands on the market, I'd dare say that Vizio is the hands-down winner insofar as researched.  It may be that I'm in Vizio's zone in terms of size - perhaps at 42"+ there become distinct advantages in buying Sony, Panasonic, Samsung (Heaven forbid), and so on, but in my range, there doesn't seem to be much reason to look beyond Vizio.  Vizio's target market is, without question, televisions, but they do offer two Vizio branded Blu-Ray DVD players - the VBR-100 and 110.  After some careful feature comparison, I ultimately landed on the 110.  The 100 is a WalMart-only model and seemed to be the more basic stripped-down model, and though I'm using the 110 for little more than a DVD player, having only rented two Blu-Rays thus far, I'm satisfied knowing that it has the potential to do more should the mood strike.  One more note about this unit - the 110 is built like a tank.  The case is so solidly built that I've no problem utilizing it as a TV stand for the 35lb television sitting proudly a-top it.

I very nearly opted for the lesser 32" 720p Vizio - in fact, the 37" 1080p was a late entry into the race.  Considering that the former 27" traditional 4:3 format CRT TV was technically not much smaller than the 32" 16:9 wider format LCD, I feared the perception of bigger, brigher, and newer would be lost...better to get the 37" for the short term wow factor.  Once this was determined, I was left to decide between the lesser expensive 720p and the full 1080p resolution units.  There is a great deal of cost differential between like sizes of differing resolution, but finding a 720p in 37" is actually rather difficult - plus I read that while 720p is very adequate at 32" and below (in fact, little is gained at this size for the higher 1080p resolution), for any screen size larger, the typical human viewer can appreciate the higher resolution.  Further, my research led me to discover that the 1080p model (specifically, the VO370M) features three HDMI ports - an important consideration given the DVD player would consume one, and the Revo another.

Setup was a breeze - with the genius of HDMI, one cable delivers it all.  It's like the good old days when there was only coax.  While I'm still doing some fine tuning on the sound attenuation and LCD backlighting, contrast, and so on, it has really been an overwhelmingly positive experience thus far.  I'm enamoured enough at this point that I'm giving thought already to enhancing the setup with Vizio's optional soundbar (with wireless sub-woofer) to bring back some of that short-lived home-theater experience from several years back.

One last note, I'm not a uVerse HD subscriber - I simply can't bring myself to justification for the additional expense; however, the uVerse settop box is now delivering signal and sound over HDMI to the TV.  So, regardless of service level, these boxes do support the friendlier HDMI output.

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Dec 23

As the Revo will spend part of its duty as a game console (by way of console emulators), it only made sense to equip it with a set of wireless gamepads.  You can spend a lot of money on gamepads, or if you're a low-requirements, don't-see-the-value-in-it, non-gamer like myself, who is only looking to satisfy the kids, you go the cheap route. 

For this, Radio Shack sells the Gigaware PS3 Wireless Controller (mod # 26-1031).  In my decidedly unlearned opinion, these are decent-enough controllers, though comparing to the XBOX controllers that I've held in-hand before, they don't have the heft or switch/button feel and responsiveness of those which cost twice the price.  That stated, I'll feel much better about watching these cheap-o's fall off the sofa and skitter across the wood floor than I would a $60 model.  These are pretty basic contollers, with all the requisite buttons, and a USB receiver which supports up to four devices.  Good thing, because on the Revo, the receiver crowds-out use of the USB port next door and makes use of the port below/above it questionable.

Pairing these S.O.B.'s was a bit frustrating - expecting to plug the receiver in, turn on the controller, press the tiny little sync button on the receiver, then pressing the "PS" button on the controller was logically expected to do the trick.  I found instead that a bit more fiddling was needed - as follows:

  • Insert the receiver.
  • Switch on the controller.
  • Press the connect (sync) button on the receiver.
  • Press the "PS" button on the controller.
  • Press and hold the Select button and (press down) the left Joystick (L-Stick).
  • Once the green light on the receiver goes solid, the sync should be complete.
  • Fine-tuning can now be done in the device control panel, and button assignments in the various ROM configs.
  • These controllers go to sleep after 10 minutes of non-use, wake them up by pressing the "PS" button.

One final note, the included instructions mention working the buttons/joysticks a few times before use - there must be mold release or grease on the contacts as I found the responsiveness to be poor and eratic until I had worked them in a bit.

Posted by Adam KrauseGo w.i.d.eTweet MeShort URL

Dec 21

I've done a bit of research and made a foray into the realm of the Media PC.  Value-consciousness drove my decision to go with the Acer Aspire Revo (R1600 model).  Mind, the model 3600 with a dual-core processor (plus double the factory RAM and a wireless NIC) may be worth the near-double price tag to some, but for $199 at Fry's, $25 for an additional 1Gb DDR2 SO-DIMM (5300), and a $16 Mini PCI-E WiFi card, my total cost is still far below investment in the 3600 with little appreciable degradation in performance so far as I've read.

Some of these units apparently come with a void-if-broken warranty sticker over the single screw which holds the case togther, thus throwing red flags to those who wish to perform a few hardward upgrades.  I'll state that those purchased at Fry's (perhaps anywhere in the U.S.) are not burdened by this administrative limitation.  Let me also be clear that the R1600 does not feature factory wireless - this was a disappointment as I believe that the non-U.S. units do come with a WLAN card installed.  Anyway, don't be fooled - the R1600 that I purchased from Fry's will require a USB WLAN fob, or a compatible Mini PCI-E form-factor WLAN card - which can be purchased for less than $20 on eBay.  As near as I can tell, the Intel 4965AGN card is a safe bet - be sure you're getting the internal antennas (two to three wires with a little button-like connector on one end).  Mine is enroute from China, so will be weeks until I can install and test it.

In the meantime, and before I even plugged it in, the cover came off, the additional RAM went in, and I swapped out the Hitachi 160Gb 2.5" 5200 rpm SATA harddrive for a Hitachi 320Gb 7200 rpm drive (a misguided purchase that was never returned - 'cuz I figured I'd use it someday).

Swapping the drive on one of the bad boys presents a minor feat in that it is hard-mounted from the backside of the mainboard.  Once the trick is known, it's not so bad - in short, the four screws come out of the mainboard, the three screws which hold the fan in place come out, and finally the four screws which hold the heat sync down are backed out.  The daughter board which contains the on/off button and a USB port comes off, and the mainboard falls away.  The rest is elementary.

Once reassembled, step one was to set video RAM to manual/512mb.  I read this is critical to optimal playback via HDMI, and with 2gb, there is memory to spare for this.  Peripherals: a $14 wireless keyboard and mouse, and awesomest LG Super-Multi DVD-R drive.  Software: Windows 7 went down first, Firefox, then a couple of game emulators, my favored set of ripping and burning tools (DVD Shrink and imgBurn), and XBMC for Windows.

Frankly, the experience could not have been smoother thus far, Windows 7 has been a surprising dream to work with, the peripherals "just worked", all software layed down cleanly.  Very nice.  This thing is whisper-quiet, very snappy, connector-rich, cute, and cuddly.

Next up, configuring wireless game pads and interfacing to the TV via HDMI - presently doing all the config and install work at my desk to a standard LCD monitor via analog.

Here's a pic of the guts.  What you see here are the two SO-DIMMs (new on top, the factory DIMM below), the factory drive removed, the heat sync and fan unit, the mainboard with new drive installed, and the daughter board:


Posted by Adam KrauseGo w.i.d.eTweet MeShort URL


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