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Not Quite All In One

The Xbox One. Your all in one entertainment system.

Unless you use Windows Media Center, in which case you’ll still need your Xbox 360 to use as an extender.

Oh, and unless you want to watch 3D Blu-ray discs, because that won’t be supported when the console launches. So make sure you have a separate Blu-ray player.

And if you’re outside of the US, none of the TV integration will work, so you won’t be using it for that.

And of course you’ll still need a PVR if you want to record TV (hey! You can use Windows Media Center! Just not with the Xbox One – see above).

Don’t forget, too, that if you have all your media sitting on a NAS or on a PC in a back room, you won’t be able to use the Xbox One to look at that. Only “Play To” is supported for streaming your own media, so keep your Xbox 360 around if you don’t want to have to go to your PC to start streaming.

Remind me again why I ordered a Day One console.

Update!

I've owned the Xbox One for a few days now, so I'm ready to add some things to this list!

For example: Don't expect to use the Xbox One as a Blu-ray player at least until there's been an update to the Blu-ray app. The audio sync is out by enough to be noticeable if you're playing a movie at the default 50Hz, but if you try to play at 24Hz (the preferred setting) it'll be out so much that it looks like you're watching a badly-dubbed foreign film.

And don't expect any DVDs you might have bought from overseas to work. Unlike pretty much every DVD player you can buy in Australia, the Xbox One is region locked and will only play region 4 DVDs.

Honestly I do think the Xbox One looks like a great platform. There's some real potential there. But right now I believe it was released about six months too early. By mid 2014 I think we might have a device worth owning. Time will tell.

NAD T 757 AV Receiver

This is my new baby! The NAD T 757 A/V Surround Sound Receiver:

I was looking to update my old Sony STR-DA50ES receiver, as I wanted to tidy up the connections between my devices and the 50ES doesn’t have any HDMI ports. However, the 50ES worked really well with my 4-ohm speakers, so I needed an amp that was capable of driving those (otherwise it would’ve been a very expensive update). Carlton Audio Visual recommended the NAD, and I have to say I’m very happy with it.

This amp has almost no bells or whistles at all. It’s $1500 of pure audio goodness. No streaming audio, no built in iPod integration or anything like that. All I have connected to it is my five speakers, my sub, a Blu-ray player, an Xbox 360 and a CD player (which I never use but figured I’d connect just in case).

One trick for other 757 owners in case you see a similar problem: When you connect the 360 and start navigating around the dashboard, you may notice that the sound drops out every once in a while. I’m not sure why this happens, but it may be something specific to my old “elite” model 360 and not be a problem on the newer models. Regardless, the fix was to go to the 360’s digital audio output setting and set it to “Dolby Digital with WMA Pro”. Once I had done that, the sound behaved perfectly.

Might update this post once I’ve had a chance to play a few Blu-ray movies through it and really give it a good run.

Update!

So it turns out that the Xbox 360's digital audio output setting really wasn't to blame for the audio dropouts. After some experimentation I think the problem only occurs when the Xbox is turned on before the receiver. I've heard of ordering issues like this with HDMI but had never seen it before.

Also, we've watched a few movies with the new receiver and I have to say I'm thrilled. The sound is rich and deep, but also very clear. Really immersive. I would totally recommend this receiver to anyone who's after something with not too many bells and whistles but with great sound.

Halfwit RT Releases 4 and 5

Release 4 of Halfwit RT went live today. In my previous post I talked about spoiler suppression, but release 4 also has tweet filtering. Here’s a screenshot:

Spoilers and Filters

Release 5 will also let you save your searches and delete existing saved searches. It’s relatively straight forward: When you perform a search, Halfwit checks to see whether the phrase you searched for is already a saved search of yours. If it is, it’ll give you the option to delete it. If not, it’ll let you save it. Here’s a screenshot:

Saved Searches

I’m publishing releases of Halfwit RT on a pretty fast cadence – averaging one every two weeks or so. Please try it and let me know what you think!

Halfwit RT Lists and Spoilers

I’m already up to release 3 of Halfwit RT. Since the original release I’ve eliminated a few bugs (and no doubt introduced some too, but I haven’t seen them yet) and added a few features like username auto-complete.

In the next release we have a couple of major features.

First, support for Twitter lists. While we don’t yet have full list management capabilities (in that you can’t create/delete lists or add/remove members), you can select one of your lists and view its timeline. Here’s a screenshot:

Lists in Halfwit RT

Secondly, we now have working spoiler suppression. If you’re concerned about getting spoiled for the latest season of Game of Thrones, you can add “game of thrones” as a spoiler phrase, and Halfwit will obscure any tweet containing that text until you decide to reveal it. Screenshot:

Spoilers in Halfwit RT

I’ll be submitting this new version for certification this weekend, so you should see it by mid next week. Hope you’re enjoying Halfwit RT!

Halfwit for Windows 8/RT

Over the past couple of months I’ve been spending my spare time working on a Windows 8/RT version of Halfwit, my simple Twitter client. Today I’m pleased to announce that it has passed certification and is available in the Windows App Store.

I’ve registered mabster.net as a website to host “landing pages” for any apps I create (at least the ones that don’t deserve their own domain), and on it you can find the Halfwit RT home page. There are some screenshots there as well as a link to the UserVoice-based support site.

Halfwit Screenshot

Pricing

I’ve made the “free trial” version of Halfwit RT functionally identical to the “paid” version. Nothing is limited in any way. That seemed fair because this is a much simpler app than the free “official” Twitter app. However, if you would like to donate to the further development of Halfwit, you can choose to buy the app for two bucks. I think that’s pretty reasonable.

Known Bugs

Right now there is one bug I know about, and it’s to do with retweets.

If you attempt to retweet someone who has included a special character (like “&”) in their tweet, Halfwit will quote them using the HTML-encoded version of that character (so you’d see “&” instead). If it’s a particularly long tweet, that could push the text out longer than 140 characters and prevent you from posting the retweet. I’ve already fixed that in my working version so you’ll see it fixed in a future update.

Missing Features

I’ve listed a few things that I didn’t get to in this first release on UserVoice. If any of those are super-important to you, please vote for them!

I would also like to get auto-complete working for usernames like the desktop version of Halfwit, so with any luck that’ll be in a future version too.

Don’t Move to Windows Phone 8

Now there’s a provocative post title for you! Especially coming from me, one of Windows Phone 7’s biggest fans.

Why would I, of all people, recommend against Windows Phone 8? In almost every way it’s an upgrade from 7. By all accounts it’s faster, there are great new features in the app platform, and the hardware! I mean, those Lumia 920s are gorgeous. Hmm. I’m not doing a very good job of selling my anti-upgrade stance.

I have a 45 minute drive to (and from) work each day. To fill that time, I listen to podcasts. I use the Zune desktop software to subscribe to about a dozen different podcasts, and each night I switch on wi-fi on my phone and plug it in next to the bed. When I wake the next morning, my phone has wirelessly synced with my PC and new episodes of my subscribed podcasts are ready to play. The whole experience is seamless.

I can say goodbye to that if I were to “upgrade” (and I use the term loosely) to Windows Phone 8.

Firstly, there’s no support for the Zune desktop software anymore. You can use its inferior inbred cousin, Windows Media Player, but that’ll treat podcasts as music files so you won’t be able to use the built-in Podcasts section of the Music+Videos hub to play them, and they’ll be part of your random set-list when playing music. The only thing close to the Zune software is a beta version of a desktop sync tool which I’ll talk about later.

Next, there’s no support for wireless syncing with a PC, since that requires the Zune software. With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is (admirably) trying to take the PC out of the equation and let you do everything with the phone. That, of course, just isn’t practical in a country where 1GB download limits are the norm. I’d hit that very quickly just on podcasts, disregarding all my regular usage.

Since there’s no Zune software, it’s impossible to subscribe to an RSS feed of a podcast. That means that if a podcast doesn’t appear in the Windows Phone Store, you flat out can’t subscribe to it. That wouldn’t be so big a deal except:

The Podcasts section of the Windows Phone Store is empty outside the US. So even if you want to subscribe to a “supported” podcast from the store, you’re shit outta luck.

The only “supported” method of getting podcasts onto your Windows Phone 8 device outside the US is to (brace yourself) install iTunes and use the beta desktop sync tool to push your iTunes-subscribed podcasts onto your phone. Let’s ignore the fact that I would rather rely on public phone booths than install iTunes on my PC. Even if you do this, the metadata (the image, description etc) for the episode doesn’t sync, and nor does your current position in the episode (if you want to pick up where you left off on another device).

This is outrageous. I cannot believe that Microsoft would advise me to install iTunes in order to get back a core piece of functionality that I had with Windows Phone 7.

The only other option are some podcast apps in the store, but they all have their problems. To my knowledge, none of them integrate with the Music+Videos hub, so you have to listen to your podcasts (and subscribe and download) from within the app. This is totally contrary to Microsoft’s Windows Phone philosophy of having everything available in the hubs and not relying on sandboxed apps.

So if you’re like me and a) live outside the US and b) listen to podcasts on your phone, don’t move to Windows Phone 8. The situation is a joke, and I hope Microsoft reads this and is ashamed. This is such a simple problem to fix. In fact, it wouldn’t need “fixing” it all if Microsoft hadn’t broken it in the first place. Go back to the Zune software, guys, or enable the podcast marketplace outside the US.

Until this is resolved, I’ll stick with Windows Phone 7.

Edit: I should include some link love for this post by Hal over at MSDonkey. Read it!

Nokia Lumia 920 plus Australia Tax

Later this month the Nokia Lumia 920 will be launched in Australia. I can’t wait – I definitely want one.

In the US, you can buy a Lumia 920 outright from AT&T for $450.

In Australia, you have the privilege of being able to pay an 82% Australia Tax on top of that, as they’ll be retailing for $820 from Telstra.

We sure are the lucky country!

A Missed Opportunity

You’re welcome, Microsoft Surface marketing team.

Surface 

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop

Fantastic news! Microsoft have listened to us desktop developers and have announced a Visual Studio 2012 Express SKU for developing traditional Windows and console applications!

This is great news for Windows open-source and hobbyist developers.

A big thank you to Microsoft for announcing this. The boot has been lifted!

Desktop App Development in Visual Studio 11 Express

About two years ago Microsoft released Visual Studio 2010, and in doing so dropped support for the .NET Compact Framework, meaning that my flagship product here at work still has to be compiled in Visual Studio 2008. I posted about it at the time:

If we go by our historical turn-around in devices, I’m looking at being stuck with Windows Mobile until at least 2012, probably more like 2014.

I kind of feel like I’m stuck under water with Microsoft’s boot on my head.

Well, it's 2012 now and Microsoft hasn't shown me anything like a roadmap to get me off Windows Mobile 6 for industrial mobile data entry applications, so 2014 is looking optimistic indeed as a target date to abandon Visual Studio 2008.

So that's Microsoft pulling the rug out from under my work development environment.

Yesterday they did the same for my (future) home development environment.

From the Visual Studio 11 Express home page:

Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows 8 provides tools for Metro style app development. To create desktop apps, you need to use Visual Studio 11 Professional, or higher.

So as of Visual Studio 11, open source developers will have no way to create traditional Windows desktop apps unless they continue to use Visual C# 2010 Express.

I don't know what Microsoft are thinking. I guess they're trying to steer people towards developing Metro-style applications on Windows 8 and effectively deprecating traditional desktop apps. That's all well and good for new projects, but I have several free, open source desktop applications that I wanted to use Visual Studio 11 Express to further develop.

So there's me, still underwater with Microsoft's boot on my head.