Using Live Mesh to access my recorded shows

For the last year I’ve been using Windows Live Mesh to sync files between my desktop PC and various laptops that I own. The process works well, and is very transparent. I basically have folders on my Desktop PC that I’ve designated as Live Mesh sync folders, and any files put in those folders are automatically synced with a similar folder on my other laptop machines. Thus, I can have certain files synced an accessible on all my computers.

In addition, Live Mesh has a “virtual desktop” which is in the cloud (Internet) where I can sync files (there is a limit on total storage size, though). That way, I can store and backup important documents online just in case my computers are damaged in a fire, stolen, etc. What’s really nice, is that Windows Live Mesh is free to use and works very well.

This week, I’m traveling up in Canada and although I brought my Zune HD for watching recorded TV shows, I can’t access the shows that are being recorded nightly on my home PC system. So my favorite shows for this week (24, Fringe, etc) are inaccessible to me while I’m hundreds of miles away…. or are they?

The hotel I was staying at had a fairly high-speed Internet connection (4 MB/sec download), so I was able to access my home PC via a Remote Desktop Connection using my Dell 11z netbook. I then copied two WMV video files (converted from the Windows Media Center WTV format to WMV using DVRSMToolbox) from my standard Zune sync folder to one of my Live Mesh folders. Once I did that, those two WMV files were automatically synced to my Dell 11z laptop via the internet. Each video file was about 450 MB in size, and they seemed to sync over to my Dell 11z in about 2 hours. It was slow, but worked automatically.

So now I can watch those WMV files on my Dell 11z using Windows Media Player. Although these video files were converted for the Zune screen resolution, they seemed to play back just fine on my Dell 11z’s screen when I enlarged the playback window.

So, I now have access to my recorded TV shows even when I’m away from my home PC. If I start the syncing file transfer before I leave my hotel room for dinner, the video files are usually synced by the time I get back. Of course, YMMV depending on your Internet connection speed.

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Using Orb to Watch Recorded TV Shows While on Vacation

In a recent posting I discussed the cool free service at www.orb.com that allows you to stream videos from your home PC to a remote PC or device via the Internet. I actually used this service yesterday while on vacation at a nearby resort water park. It was late in the evening and my wife and kids were asleep (and I forgot my Zune!), so I pulled out my Dell laptop and connected to the hotel’s free WiFi and began watching a recorded episode of ER from my home PC on my remote laptop. The video actually played back without any pausing for video buffering, but the video and audio resolution was subpar. This was mainly due to the slow WiFi connection, no doubt due to everybody in the hotel surfing the web and checking emails late in the evening. In any case, it certainly sufficed in letting me watch a recorded TV show to wear me down before I feel asleep.

Of course, it would be GREAT if I could do the same thing using a Zune HD with a WiFi connection…. ūüôā

Streaming Videos From Home PC

orb_logoEarlier this week I was out of town on a business trip, and I had several TV recordings waiting for me on my Home PC. Since I was bored surfing the local TV channels in my hotel room (nothing was on, of course), I wished I had access to my video recordings so I could watch them. Sure, I could have used logmein to put the WMV video files on an ftp server and then download them to my laptop, but that would have been a big hassle with the extra work, transfer times, etc.

Recently, I did discover a new free service called Orb which is a software package you install on your home PC (with an “always on” Internet connection) that will stream video, music, pictures, or documents to a remote computer system via the Internet. So if I had this software installed on my home PC, I could have watched my TV recordings on my laptop in my hotel and feel right at home!

Also, Orb can be used to display a live TV show from my home PC via the installed TV Tuner card, which sounds very much like what the SlingBox hardware can do. As a test, I found that streaming live TV shows in this manner appeared choppy and had a lot of delays with the stream buffering, but I imagine some of that can be fixed with some tuning of the streaming settings.

To use Orb, you simply go to mycast.orb.com in a standard web browser and log into your Orb account. From that point, you can select which video you want to watch from your home PC, and let Orb do its thing. Orb will do a quick speed test (to determine the resolution and streaming speed) and will then bring up an appropriate media player on your remote machine for playing the video.

orb_example

When I tried streaming one of my WMV video files (converted by my PC for my Zune), it did come across the Internet connection very well with no delay in stream buffering. Most likely this was due to the fact that the video resolution was 320×240 and thus it didn’t need to send across too much data per frame. Still, using Orb seems to be an effective way of watching my TV recordings while away from my home PC.

What’s really cool, is that I was able to stream a WMV video file from my home PC to my Motorola-Q cell phone (with Windows Mobile 5 OS) which played in Windows Media Player. The video image was reduced in resolution, but it played fine. Not bad for a wireless internet connection via the Verizon cell phone service. I can certainly see myself using Orb to watch my TV recordings on my Moto-Q phone while waiting at the airport gate, in my hotel room, etc.

As another test, I tried accessing Orb using my wife’s Blackberry Curve smartphone. Sure enough, it worked fine for playing the selected video (albeit, the video image was small on her phone).

So, I highly recommend you check out Orb to see if it meets your video watching needs.

Zune Accessories After Christmas Sale

I was at my local Target store this morning picking up a pair of jeans and some badly needed socks, and I noticed the end aisle shelf containing the no-brainer men’s gifts (items such as nail clippers, wallets, key chains, flashlights, etc). Usually, these items are fairly inexpensive (and of low quality) and only appear during the Christmas shopping season. What caught my eye, were a few items that fell under the category of generic MP3 player accessories. There was a small “dock” that was basically a speaker with a small amplifier and a slot to hold a generic Mp3 player device. There was also a white colored pair of ear buds, and a small¬† FM Transmitter for sending MP3 audio signals to a FM radio. All of these items were priced at $10 US, which were now selling for $5.00 (50% discount).¬† I’ve always thought about playing my Zune music through the speakers in my car, so I decided to pry open my wallet and spend the five bucks for the FM Transmitter. Below is the packaging for this item:

fm_transmitter

This small, white transmitter runs on two AAA batteries or uses power from a cigarette lighter power cord (included). The unit also has 4 defined FM Channels to choose from for the signal transmission. So to use this device, you simply insert the mini plug into the head phone jack on your Zune, turn on the device, and select one of the preset FM channels. Continue reading

Controlling Windows Media Center From Your Smartphone

While I’m on business travel, I sometimes forget to set the Windows Media Center software on my home desktop PC to record a special show or event. Luckily, there exists an application called WebGuide4 that allows me to remotely¬†examine my current recording schedule, and make whatever changes I see fit. It’s all web-browser based, so I can make the changes either in a desktop web browser like FireFox or Internet Explorer, or from Pocket Internet Explorer on my Moto-Q smartphone!

Much like the LogMeIn software (which I mentioned in a previous posting), you install a small server application on your home PC which listens for a requested connection from the outside internet world. You can initiate a connection from a remote PC (or your Smartphone) by pointing your web browser to a specific web address that is designated for your computer with a user-defined port access number. This will bring up a special login screen where you can log into your computer system (via the small web server application) to see your current recording schedule and make changes if necessary. I particularly like the fact I can do this using my Moto-Q phone while waiting at the airport or whenever I have some free time on a business trip.

The WebGuide software also has a provision for streaming recorded video to your remote desktop screen, but I found that it works pretty slow and is somewhat unreliable (probably a function of the internet speed).

Since this is all free, it’s definitely worth checking out and playing with if you like to stay connected to your PC and not miss any favorite shows!

Remote Access Your Desktop PC using LogMeIn

When I’m watching my 4 year-old son downstairs in my family room, I often sit at the kitchen table with my Dell laptop and surf the web or try to get some work done via a wireless connection to our home router. What I find most convenient, is using Windows Remote Desktop to connect to my main desktop PC located in my office upstairs. Using my internal home network, I can “see” and interact with my main¬†desktop PC just as if I was sitting in front of it. Luckily, the Windows Vista Business OS has the option of remote desktop access built-in (Vista Home Premium, however, doesn’t).

Recently, I’ve been using a web-based service called LogMeIn which allows me to similarily connect to my main desktop PC from outside my local home network. For example, I often connect to my home computer while on business travel from my hotel room. Why would I want to do that, you might ask? Well, it’s much easier for me to initiate the remote connection to my home PC and then fire up Outlook to check my emails, or to bring up the FireFox web browser on my home PC to access my favorite¬†links, etc. This is much easier than trying to duplicate mail accounts and web links on my work laptop (which I take with me on business trips), and I can keep work files and business files separate.

What’s nice, is that LogMeIn works very well, and is fast (with a reasonable internet connection). And best of all, it’s free! There’s a version called “LogMeIn Free” which is a freeware version of the LogMeIn application that does everything I need to do.¬† The only thing it doesn’t have, is the ability to easily transfer files to and from my desktop PC (if you want that feature, you’ll need to get the paid subscription version of LogMeIn). Continue reading

Vacationing With My Portable DVD Player (a.k.a., Zune 80)

For the 3rd year now, my family goes on a 4-hour drive to a friend’s beach house on the Washington coast. It’s a nice short vacation where my wife, son, and two nieces have fun playing in the ocean and visiting the shops and arcade at the local beach town. Being in such a remote location, the beach house doesn’t have good TV reception or cable TV service, so we’re stuck watching DVDs on a 2nd-hand DVD player that is not quite working right (it seems that all “beach houses” or “cabins” have such defective equipment).

This year, I came prepared with my trusty Zune 80 and AV cables in tow. I knew that my nieces like the TV show Family Guy, so I recorded a few episodes along with the movie School of Rock for us to watch during the evenings at the house. When I converted the DVR-MS video recordings (from my TV Tuner card) to WMV format for my Zune, I had the DVRMSToolbox software remove all the commercials to avoid the need of skipping through them. I also converted the videos to these specifications:

  • Audio and Video: CBR (Constant Bit Rate)
  • 30 fps
  • Video Rate: 700 kbps
  • Audio Rate: 128 kbps, 44 kHz

For the Family Guy episodes, I used 320×240 screen resolution, and for the School of Rock video I used 640×480.

To watch the videos on the TV set at the beach house, I connected my composite AV cable to the headphone jack on my Zune 80, and connected the other end of the cable to the RCA inputs on the TV set. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my wireless Zune remote control so I had to do all the video selecting, volume, etc. on the Zune device itself (not a big deal).

As it turned out, both the 320×240 and 640×480 videos looked very good on the TV set. In fact, I would say they looked just as good as any of the DVDs we played on the attached DVD player. Aside from the fact that my nieces thought it was pretty cool to play videos on the TV from my Zune, using my Zune as a portable DVD player actually worked out great. So, I highly recommend using a Zune in this capacity if you’re traveling on vacation with your family and need a small DVD player device to keep the kiddies entertained.