Heroes Video Available on Zune Marketplace in March

If you go the www.zune.net, you’ll see that the Zune Marketplace will be offering exclusive video podcasts for the Heroes TV Show upcoming season. Apparently, these video podcasts will be more like music videos, so they should be entertaining. And so far as I know, they will be free! March 18th is stated to be the release date, so keep an eye out for them.

As of now, you can download the first available video podcast by going to the http://www.zune.net main site.

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Stage6.com Video Site Closed Down

I just learned that the stage6.com web site (which offered videos for playback and download) is now closed down. If you go to their site, you’ll see their explanation to why they had to shut down. It seems like a legitimate reason, but I wonder if the real reason why they closed down was due to some of the content they had available for download.

I read in a forum posting that stage6.com was using Canadian Servers which allowed them to get around some of the US copyright laws for downloads. I never found any full feature movies on this site, but they did have several music videos and TV shows which was probably copyrighted. In any case, I had suspected from this information that stage6.com may get shutdown at some point. Whether the true reason is what they state on their web site or something else, we’ll never really know.

So, it seems the safest way to get videos on your Zune is to create your own using a TV Tuner card in your PC and keep them for your own personal use!

DVR-MS Utilties for Video Processing

I know, this web blog is starting to sound more like a DVR-MS Video blog rather than a Zune blog, but just bear with me. I’m currently engrossed in the world of Windows Media Center, TV Show recordings, and video processing.

As you know from my previous postings, Windows Media Center (or Vista Media Center) generates DVR-MS formatted files for recorded TV Shows. The utility called DVRMSToolbox can edit and process these files automatically, but there are other freeware utilities that may be useful for manual processing.

The blog page called “Fun with DVR-MS” by Stephen Toub contains detailed information on how to create code to manipulate DVR-MS files using available SDK modules. His page is pretty techie and is probably more suited for a developer, but he does have a few example utilities available for download that you might find useful.

One utility is a simple Media Player that he put together to play DVR-MS videos. Of course, you can always use Windows Media Center or Windows Media Player to view DVR-MS files, but his utility seems to be a lightweight and effective player alternative.

Also included is a DVR-MS Editor, which allows you to define sections of video in a DVR-MS file to be written out to a new DVR-MS file. This is a nice utility for editing out commercials manually, however, it has very basic controls for editing so it’s usefulness is probably limited. In any case, it offers a quick and easy way of editing DVR-MS files manually.

A link to downloading his sample applications is near the bottom of his web article.

TV Tuner Cards are Great!

I got my Zune 80 last Christmas specifically for watching videos. Up until now, I was at the mercy of whatever videos I could find on the Internet for download. Sites like Stage6.com was nice in that they had uploaded TV Shows available for download, however, it was very time consuming to search through their database, download the desired video files, convert them from DIVX to WMV format, etc.

I also struggled with using my DVR (which records to DVDs) to record live TV Shows so that I wouldn’t miss them when I was on a business trip or away from home. The DVR that I have is difficult to use, and it always takes me 15-20 minutes to read the manual, figure out which buttons to press, make sure the recording time is set right, etc. Even if I can successfully record a TV show, I could never figure out how to get the recorded video onto my PC to convert the file for my Zune.

Because of all this, I decided to purchase a Hauppauge PVR-150 TV Tuner Card for my Desktop PC system. My only snag, is that I didn’t have a cable line running into my home office. So after a trip to Home Depot for supplies and about an hour in my house attic, I was able to wire an extra cable line into a convenient corner of my office. Note, that I decided to get the PVR-150 model since it has a built-in MPEG2 encoder, so all the encoding is done on the TV Tuner card itself and doesn’t rely on the Desktop PC’s CPU to do the processing. If you’re planning to get a PVR, I highly recommend getting one with a built-in hardware MPEG2 encoder. Continue reading

Automatic Video Conversion using DVRMSToolbox

In a previous posting, I noted that I was using a freeware application called DVRMSToolbox (DTb) to process my recorded TV Show files. What’s nice, is that I have it all set up to convert all new video recordings automatically. Thus, I no longer have to manually convert video files using Windows Media Encoder. Using this utility, I have automated this process:

  1. Find and edit out all commercials in a new TV Show recording
  2. Convert the recording to WMV format for my Zune
  3. Merge all MetaData from the original recording file to the new WMV file
  4. Move the WMV file to my Zune Sync folder
  5. Save the edited TV Show file to a backup folder on my 2nd hard drive
  6. Clean up all temp files, etc.

Note, that this all happens automatically, without my intervention. The DTb application has a “Watcher” service that monitors a specified folder on my system for new files, and processes them as per my defined actions. So every morning I can simply sync my Zune to my PC and have all the TV Shows that were processes last night synced to my Zune for viewing later! It can’t get any easier than that.

If you want more details on how I’ve set up DTb and my system to do this, you can check out my new Blog page. Also, I’m using DTb to process DVR-MS formatted files (which are created by the Windows Vista Media Center software that I’m using), but you could get creative and configure DTb to also process DIVX, MPEG2, etc. files automatically for the Zune.

Video Recording With My PC : Initial Thoughts

I got my PVR-150 TV Tuner card in the mail on Friday, and spent all last night and this morning working with it. I do have to say that I really like the Media Center software that comes included with the Vista Home Premium OS. It was really easy to use and setup my PVR card. I didn’t bother installing the 3rd-party software that was supplied with the Tuner card (probably junk, anyways). What’s really cool, is that the Media Center software has provisions for a program guide which it downloads from the Internet nightly. I can very easily select individual programs (or series) to record and it does so all in the background.

Note, that Media Center stores the recordings as DVR-MS files, which is a derivative of the MPEG2 format. Unfortunately, the Windows Encoder 9 Software that I’ve been using to convert files to WMV format for my Zune can’t handle that format, so I needed to find another way to convert the recorded video files. Luckily, I stumbled across a freeware application called DVRMSToolbox which does exactly what I need. It’s not the easiest program to set up, but after some configuring this is what I can do with it:

  • The Toolbox software will automatically monitor my “Recorded TV” folder, and for all new files that are generated the Tuner Card it will convert from DVR-MS to WMV format (using my Zune .prx profile file).
  • Toolbox will also automatically enter the meta data for the TV show (taken from the online program guide). This means the show title, episode name, text description, etc. are all included in the WMV file!
  • Toolbox will then move the WMV file to my Zune video sync folder, so the next time I sync my Zune it will have my new TV Show files.
  • All temp files that are created are automatically cleaned up and deleted.

I’ve got all of this working now, except I’m having a small problem with the converted video. The top of my video has a 2-pixel tall line of noise that changes in color, and it’s quite distracting. I need to find a way of clipping it out during the conversion, or maybe use a different converter inside of Toolbox. I’m investigating this now, and hopefully can find a good answer. If I do, then I’m all set with my automated system of getting recorded TV shows on my Zune! Continue reading

Did you miss your favorite TV Show for the week?

There’s just a handful of TV shows that I actively try to watch every week. Sometimes while on business travel or due to forgetfulness, I miss one or more of my favorite shows. Luckily for me, most of my favorite shows are re-broadcast on the network’s web site one or two days after their airing. Shows like Sarah Connor: The Terminator Chronicles, Lost, Jericho, and Life have the full length episodes available on the web. The quality is actually pretty good, and there are just a few short commercials in between the different acts. So don’t fret if you accidentally missed of your shows, as you can almost always watch it on the web.

Hopefully, I’ll get my TV Tuner card soon (which is due to arrive tomorrow) and can record my favorite shows so I’ll never miss them!