Xbox Live “Metro” Dashboard

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Nov 19, 2011 in Brain Dump

Being a Software Tester and a Gamer, I obviously jumped at the chance to become a beta tester for the new Xbox Dashboard. Earlier this week I got the “Time for an update” message, and knew it was time to play.

As always with the Xbox updates, it just worked, took very little time and before I knew it, I was presented with the new dash, and I have to say, Microsoft have really impressed me.

So, what to expect when this goes live to the public ?

First screen you get is, Download a profile, Create a profile, or log in using your profile on a memory stick or hard drive. I have multiple Xboxs in the house, so tend to carry my profile and saves on a memory stick. However what I did was hit the download profile button. Within about 30 seconds it downloaded my profile from the server and plonked this on the hard drive, you are then given the option to save password….this essentially automatically logs you in when you switch on the Xbox.

Once your logged in, your presented by the new dashboard. This seems a lot cleaner than the previous version as it groups the content together with a title bar above.

The landing screen (at least for me) is Home, which gives you a Play <Current game in your DVD Drive>, Quickplay (the previous couple of games you’ve played), a rolling advert in the middle, and a couple of adverts down the right hand side.

The left tab to this in the bing search, which I’ve tried on the the Kinect and this seems to work fine. I shouted at it “Xbox Bing Search Batman” and was presented by all the batman films, games, and any music that was available on Zune Music. I could then just say “Lego Batman”, then screens, and I could quite easily navigate through the screens with the power of my voice.

The tab to the right of Home is social. Now this is where I think the major difference is. No longer do you have a massive list of friends that you have to scroll through, you only get the friends that are online and what they are playing. You can if you wish click on the friends tab and see everyone.

Underneath your friends button you also have a Social Apps section, this is where you will find the likes of twitter, facebook and video kinect. Finally on the screen you have the option to Sign In or Out.

Now one of the major additions is you can now see friends of friends. Clicking on any of your friends will give you the option to Send Message, Join Game, Invite to Party, Compare Games or Friends. The Friends button will show you a list of your friends friends, what they are playing and essentially everything you would expect to see if these people where in your friends list.

Another feature under the Friends tab are Parties, Beacons & Activity and Add friend. Add friend and Parties explain themselves, however the Beacons & Activity is quite interesting. The centre tab is “My Activity” which give you your top 5 activities, currently at the top of mine is Skyrim, which says 2 online, and 13 recently played. Clicking on this drills you down another level and takes you to a “Your friends’ activity in this game”. Currently this lists 13 of my friends, which you can then click through to their profile.

The next tab is Friends’ Activity, which gives “The games and apps your friends have been playing” and essentially a personalised top 10, with the top seeming to be Modern Warfare 3, on the Xbox, with 19 recently played. This screen is quite interesting, if I wanted to play online with my xbox friends, I know what games are hot within my gaming community. Currently the top 5 are Modern Warefare 3, Gear of War 3, Battlefield 3, Skyrim and Call of Duty Elite.

The final tab in here is the My Beacons. Here you can tag a game, and highlight to your friends that you want to hook up and play online. From my understanding, if one of your friends starts playing a tagged game, they will be notified that you want to play. Beacons are also something you can set on the Xbox.com website, as this has just had a major overall to bring in line with the Metro dashboard.

What they have added, and I think is an excellent feature is a more verbose notification system. Previously if I fired up a game that others were playing, it would say “Friends playing this game”, now it tells you how many friends are playing this game. Also, if friends start playing a game you are playing, you will get a notification saying <friends names> has started playing <your game>, which I think will be brilliant for people wanting to hook up and play multiplayer games.

The next 3 screen Video, Games, Music all work similar to the current dashboard, but redesigned to the new format.

The next screen, Apps, intrigues me, and not sure where they’re going to go with it. Currently in the beta this had Sky, ZuneVideo, ZuneMusic, Last.fm, Facebook and Halo Waypoint (as I have these all installed. There is a My Apps “folder” that contains Media Center, Picture Viewer, View Player, Music Player and Sky. The next “folder” is the one that intrigues me.. “Apps Marketplace”. Currently all this has in it is “Social”, and takes you to the Social tab, however this could get interesting if they start to add more apps.

The next tab is Pre-release, which currently has Green Preview, Latest Info, New Features, Help and Tips, which essentially give you a text dump to the screen. The Green Preview however doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

The final screen is settings, and here you can find all the normal, System, Preferences, Profile, Kinect, Account, Privacy, Family and Turn Off.

Now one of the major features you’ll find here is the Cloud Saves. Microsoft are kindly giving 512Mb of cloud storage to gold members. This isn’t enabled by default, you need to go into System >> Storage >> Cloud Saved Games >> Enable. Once this is done, you can select this as a storage device as you would if you were saving to a memory stick. What is seems to do is use a local cache, and then upload to the cloud in the background, I assume this as I’ve recently been playing skyrim, and after turning off the xbox, the light blinks on the front as it does when you have background downloads enabled.

All in all I’m very impressed with this update, and only hope Sony copy what they’ve done with the cloud storage, instead of this ‘backup your saves at some point during the night rubbish’ that they have, this doesn’t help me having multiple consoles and wanting to move between room.

One thing I will say, is I hope they give the option to buy more storage, as Skyrim and my 48 saves take up most of the 512Mb, and there is no way I can get my 2Gb of Dragon Age saves up there.

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Finally digitised

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Oct 31, 2010 in Apple, Films

Many many moons ago, I spent the best part of 3 months, ripping all my CD’s to mp3, ensuring all the meta tag info was correct, and the album artwork was present.

This year, it’s time for my DVD collection.

As some of you may know, I’ve recently bought an Apple TV (well 2 actually), and a 4TB Raid Storage device to store all my media.

After playing around with the Apple TV, I noticed the feature of “Computers”, and how this would stream anything from my iTunes library on my MacMini. As a test, I added a few more items (as I only had the “Digital Copies” from some of my recent DVD purchases), and these streamed fine, so decided to work on ripping my entire collection.

So, about a 2 months ago, I set to work using Handbrake to start ripping all my DVD’s to a “iTunes happy” format. Handbrake comes with a number of default settings, and I found using the default “Apple TV” format gave a good balance between quaility and file size. Another great feature of this default setting is that not only does it rip the 5.1 audio stream (allowing this to be played via the Apple TV), it also took the 5.1 track and down sampled this to 2 channels, allowing this to be played on any other device that can read mp4 format.

So two painful month have passed, and I’ve finally ripped all my DVD movies, meta tagged them, and added them to the iTunes library on the MacMini.

To get all 276 DVD Movies, and multiple TV boxsets ripped into iTunes I had 5 Macs all running Handbrake 0.94 and spent every spare moment at home switching disks as they finished. I had no problem with 95% of the disk, as they ripped first time. I did however find problems with some of the newer disks, and had to use either MacTheRipper to rip them to my hard drive, or if that didn’t work Ripit seemed to get it done. Once on my hard drive, I was able to then covert them.

As you can imagine, the disks were all finishing at different times, and initially found myself checking the progress every hour or so. If a disk had finished, I then started the next disk going. After the first 50 disks or so, I decided there had to be a smarter way. After a little research, I found I could redirect the growl messages (for when the encoding was complete), to my iPhone. The software I used on my iPhone was Boxcar, this combined with a plugin for growl would then send me a push notification upon completion.

I noticed after I’d ripped them all, the some of the media looks a little “jaggy” (namely the animation, and some older films), after reading the forums, people suggested turning on the Detelecine setting in the Picture setting, and this worked a treat. I did have to re-rip a handful of disks, but it was no biggy.

Once I’d ripped a film, I used a piece of software called iDentify, this searches TheMovieDB, tagChimp and TheTVDB and fill in all the meta information, including chapter names (if available), actors, rating, artwork etc.

I soon realised that if I named the film by it’s IMDB name, eg tt0092610, as in http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092610/, this would allow the software to instantly find the correct film. With the TV episodes, I learnt to look on TheTVDB.com first, and made sure the episodes I was ripping matched the naming on there, eg “Battlestar Galactica (2003)”, and then adding s01e01…and continued this throughout the boxsets. The result of this was the files renamed to either the IMDB name or TVDB name.

1 slight bugbear I had, was the TV boxsets that didn’t run in order. An example of this was the run order of Star Trek TNG, on one of the disks I believe it went 108, 116, 115, 117, or something like that. This meant I had to fire up the disk, and check the episode list before ripping, so I could name the files correctly, ensuring when the meta data was applied, it was correct for that episode.

All in all, a worthwhile task, I now have instant access to all my music, TV and movies from either the bedroom or front room.

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Is 8.75TB too much storage ?

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Oct 16, 2010 in Apple, Tech

First of all, this little story is made of fail, however I’m happy with the outcome 🙂

First of all, let me take you back a couple of years. As myself and C tend to have a lot of shared content, eg Movies, Music, Photos, we used to use the good old shared folders on our Windows PC’s. The downside of this was if a machine was off, you had no access to the shared folder !. So I went with plan B, build a cheap server out of old parts I had kicking around, and have all our content on that. This way neither of the 2 main machines would need to be on, and we could still access shared content.

After 6 month or so running like this, I just found it used far too much power, and went for plan C…a NAS drive. I bought a 500GB Western Digital MyBook World, plugged it into the network, and bobs your uncle, storage that didn’t need a PC to be on. My only issue with the drive was it was very slow, I even upgraded my entire network to gigabit to try and improve the speed, but to no avail. About a year later, I decided to upgrade the firmware on the device, which somehow repartition the drive, meaning I’d lost everything ! ARGH !…it took a piece of software nearly 3 days to recover the content !

So onto plan D, a NAS drive with redundancy….so a forked out a lot of money for a 2TB NAS drive with that hard RAID so if the worse case happens, I just plonk in a new drive, and I’m back up and running again. I went with the Acer Aspire easyStore, which at the time was perfect, I had multiple RAID options, gigabit network, wireless, iTunes server, and media server. I went with RAID5, as I felt this would give a decent amount of performance and would only lose 500Gb to redundancy.

As hard drive do die, I set up a piece of software on both mine and Cs machines called SyncBack. This would mirror our chosen folder to the NAS drive, to ensure we could recover our data. This worked great on the PC’s and can highly recommend it, however when we moved to Mac, I planned on using the Time Machine software build into the OS.

Now for plan E, No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the Macs to see the NAS drive as a Time Capsule, so went with the real deal. I bought the 1TB Time Capsule back in March of this year, and does the job perfect !. Currently I have 2 x iMacs (with 1TB hard drives), 2 x MacBook Pros (with 250GB hard drives) and a MacMini with a 160GB hard drive. Now I know that if you add all that up, that is a lot more than a terabyte, however I was happy that I only had around 500GB of data across all machines at the time, and would address the space issues at a later date when it became an issue.

So about a month ago, the space became an issue, and I bought an external caddy to house a couple of drives I had kicking around. This external caddy allowed 2 drives to be plugged in via USB giving the Time Capsule an additional 750GB to play with.

So early this month, I got the new Apple TV, and got into my head, that I should digitise my entire DVD collection. As it stands, I’ve ripped 72 movies, and 7 boxsets….guess what ?…I’m running out of space on the 2TB NAS drive ! ARGH !…so onto plan F !

I was in 2 minds, I could either upgrade the hard drives in the NAS drive, or get another NAS drive, or get an external hard drive and plug this directly into the MacMini. As you can probably tell from the above, redundancy is key, so the drive would have to have some kind of RAID to ensure the data was safe.

I spend the weekend looking around, and found a decent little 4 drive caddy which had USB, Firewire 400/800 and eSATA connectors, and a variety of RAID options !. After spending what seemed like hours looking, I found a site which seemed to do them for £60 less than everyone else. The model they were selling didn’t have the firewire, however I thought “For £60, I don’t really need firewire”. I ordered this on Wednesday, as well as 4 x Samsung 1TB hard drives, knowing I would lose 1TB with RAID5.

On Thursday, all turned up, I went to the PDF manual I’d downloaded in preparation, but couldn’t find the RAID dip switches ?!?……then it occurred to me, for £60 you don’t only get Firewire, you also get RAID !!! ARGH ! I’d ordered the StarTech SAT3540U2E instead of the S354UFER I’d been looking at and downloaded the manual for !

So Thursday in a panic, I ordered the S354UFER, so now I have both. I could have sent the original one back, but thought I’d keep it and plug this into the back of the Time Capsule giving me the option of having another 2 drives as additional storage. Currently the Time Capsule has it’s own 1TB drive, plus a 500GB, and 3 x 250GB, giving it a total of 2.25TB

Now for the final fail….the S354UFER turned up yesterday, plugged it in via firewire, but I was getting a red light on one of the drive (suggesting it was broken), I moved it up and down the bays, but still got the same !. So….in a panic at 5pm yesterday, I rang the place where the hard drives came from and ordered another drive on Saturday delivery so I could finally build this box.

Today, as expected, the 2nd drive turned up, I put it in the caddy, to only be told another drive had failed !….NO !!!…..I went, had a coffee, double checked the manual, only to find that I hadn’t set the dip switches correctly, and the box was only expecting 3 drives. I flicked them to the right position, and both the old, and the new hard drives work fine ! DOH !

However, all is not bad, it does mean if the worse case happens, I have a spare 1TB drive to slot straight in.

This gives me my total of 8.75TB of storage, the Startech S354UFER with 4 x 1TB hard drives, 2.25TB on the Time Caspule, a 2TB NAS drive, and finally my 500GB MyBook World. Now granted I lose 1.5TB to redundancy however it’s a small price to pay knowing my data is safe 🙂

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