Saturday, January 22, 2011

myRemote Android App for Windows Media Center

I am in heaven.  I had been using gRemote to remotely controller my computer when watching media.  It basically turns your phone screen into a track pad.  There’s another screen with play, ff, rew, etc., but I honestly have no idea what good it does, as I’ve never seen it work with any program.

I just downloaded myRemote from Viclabs on the Android Market.

All you do is download the msi from the link above (it’s the server software that allows your phone to communicate with your computer), download myRemote from the Android Market, right click the myRemote icon in your tray to find your computer’s IP, and enter the IP into myRemote on your phone (make sure WiFi is enabled on your phone).

Now you have a robust, suberb remote to control Windows Media Center.  Not only are there plenty of buttons specifically for Media Center, but you can click the mouse button on the myRemote interface and use your phone screen as a track pad to control your entire computer (like gRemote).  The trackpad screen also has a text input field at the top, so you can input text.  Click your dpad or trackball to apply the text you’ve typed.  Very slick.

Probably my favorite feature of myRemote is the fact that it has volume control and a MUTE button (sort of).  If you long-press either volume button, it will jump in 15 point increments.  I no longer need my TV remote control to handle the volume.

The dedicated full screen toggle button is great.  You can also open and close WMC right from the application.  The power button will close whatever window is currently in focus, so not only can you use it to close WMC, but any open program.  In the bottom right of the main area are two buttons to toggle between a full screen view and a scrolling carousel view of all your open windows.  Very, very cool.

There are dedicated shortcut buttons to Live TV, Internet TV, Video Library, and music library.  For some reason there is no button for the Movie Library, but if you press the windows logo button it takes you to the default screen so you can scroll to the correct library.

The plus/minus buttons function as skip forward/skip back during movie playback. The FF/RW buttons at the very bottom to the same, but in greater increments.

I have no idea what the camera icon button does, so someone please tell me (it’s driving me crazy).

I run Hulu and Netflix via WMC.  I’ve also found that you actually don’t have to run Hulu from Media Center to control it with the dedicated myRemote keypad.  For Hulu, use the center arrow keys.  Ok is play/pause, left and right are fwd/rev.  The dedicated FF key at the bottom left functions as a full screen toggle for Hulu.

For added fun-ness: you can run the server over 3G instead of WiFi. Forward port 9876 (UDP) to your PC and then use your router’s IP address (from your ISP) in your myRemote app.

Fix Windows Media Center and/or VLC Video Washed Out (too bright)

Whenever I try to watch my ripped DVD’s the video is washed out (too bright).  For the record: I rip the DVD’s I’ve PURCHASED so they don’t get scratched and they’re all on a media server so I don’t have to load DVD’s.   It doesn’t matter if I use VLC or Windows Media Center, the picture is always too bright.

Windows Media Center doesn’t really have a way to adjust your picture settings (stupid), so there is no obvious way to fix the problem via the software’s controls.

VLC at least allows you to make adjustments to how your picture appears, but since the video was washed out in both programs, I assumed something else was wrong.

I downloaded the latest drivers from NVIDIA and updated my settings, but still the problem persisted.  The blacks just aren’t black (the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are MUCH darker than the blacks in the video).

I spent a couple of hours searching for solutions, and while there seems to be a fix for ATI cards, a documented fix is lacking for NVIDIA (it’s outlined at the end of this post).

For your general knowedge, Here is the ATI reason and fix (from Stephen Neal on

Bottom line... Microsoft appears to have messed up and stipulated inconsistent support for SD and HD (or SD and HD protected path?) video in Vista's EVR (and probably else where)

This results in SD DVD and TV appearing to have set-up or raised black levels and dull white levels (i.e. grey blacks and dull whites and washed out colours) OR HD Blu-ray (and AIUI HD TV) content having crushed blacks and clipped whites.

Cause is inconsistent handling (and I suspect downright ignorance) of broadcast and pre-recorded video running with black at 16 not 0, and white at 235 not 255. (This dates back to 1982 when the first major international digital video standard - ITU 601 - then CCIR 601 - was ratified, and has remained the standard - for very good engineering reasons to do with retaining image quality - for both SD and HD video ever since)

There IS a registry fix for ATI cards and IGPs - called the BT601CSC=1 registry hack which changes ATI's SD handling to match their HD handling, and works well.

There appears to be no such fix for nVidia - I've raised it with Gigabyte and nVidia but have had no constructive solutions offered yet. (Gigabyte hilariously suggested I try a new video card to solve the problem on my newly built 9400 IGP HTPC...)

AIUI the problems are as follows :
HDMI Displays expect 16-235 video as a norm (though some can switch to 0-255 inputs this is no use if you are using an HDMI input with an AV amp, and your other sources switched through your amp are 16-235 standard) Bottom line - HTPCs feeding HDMI displays should be operating in 16-235 colour space. Both ATI and nVidia cards appear to support this.

DVDs, SD and HD TV broadcasts, DVDs, HD-DVDs and Blu-rays all use 16-235 video levels as well.
PCs use 0-255 levels internally.

What seems to happen is that SD content is kept with black at 16 and white at 235 in the PC 0-255 representation, which means that when this is converted to 16-235 HDMI output PC 0 is mapped to HDMI 16, and PC 16 - input video 16 to quite a lot above this in HDMI, PC 255 is mapped to HDMI 235 and PC 235 - input video 235 - to quite a lot below this... However for HD this doesn't happen and instead the input 16 is output as 16 and the input 235 is output as 235...

With nVidia cards you need to run in 0-255 mode to get 16-235 SD content passed through cleanly, but run in 16-235 mode to get 16-235 HD Blu-ray content passed through cleanly.

So the fix I found was to use the NVIDIA control panel to control your video playback instead of the video player’s settings.

  1. Open your NVIDIA Control Panel (type NVIDIA in your start menu search field and select NVIDIA Control Panel).
  2. Go down to Video and select “Adjust video color settings.”
  3. Under #2 (How do you make color adjustments), select “With the NVIDIA settings.”
  4. Under the Advanced tab change the Dynamic Range with the drop down to “Full (0-255)” (not “Limited (16-235)”).
  5. For my display to look as it should, I had to uncheck “Dynamic contrast enhancement.”

My video now appears as it should (not washed out).

Monday, January 3, 2011

Key Ring App for Android

Oh, man, I love this app!

I hate having all those freakin’ little pieces of plastic with UPC codes hanging from my keychain just so I can be sure to get the “fair” price (instead of ridiculously inflated ones) at my local retailers.

I know some places associate your phone number with your UPC code, but I don’t like the idea of the grocery store (or anyone else) having my personal number.  I’m sure they are selling it to lists all over the planet.

I’d been using a phony number (note my awesome pun) for these associations, but not everybody will take a phone number, and this app solution is better anyway.

I can’t believe no one thought to do this before, but the Key Ring app lets you scan in all those UPC codes and store them on your phone!  You just pull up the appropriate UPC and have the check-out person scan the image directly from your phone’s screen.

PERFECT.  No more overloaded key chains for me!

The process is simple.  Open the app and click “add card” and the app uses your camera to scan the UPC code from any card.  You can choose a retailer from a rather extensive list (Safeway, King Soopers, Blockbuster, PetSmart, etc.), but if the place you’re scanning isn’t on the list (like my local library), that’s OK.  Just add your own title.  You can even suggest it to the online database.

If you’re having trouble getting the UPC to load-in via your camera (like if you have an old, ratty, illegible UPC tag), you can manually enter the number via your keypad.

Key Ring even takes it a few steps further by allowing you to create an online account.  You can manage your information and they will send coupons directly to your phone for various retailers so you can have the check-out person scan the UPC for the coupon from your phone!

As I am paranoid about the privacy of my number (the reason for having this app in the first place), I am not using the online account option.  The app works perfectly (sans coupons) without creating an online account.

Application Data Space Is Low

[update July 2011]  So I finally bit the bullet and clicked the "clear data" button for the Dialer application.  It was at an incredible 70MB, but I feared I would lose all kinds of contact information.  Turns out it has more to do with stored SMS and MMS, as all my messages were wiped after doing this (luckily I thought to run a data back up before doing this.  I guess HTC thinks it needs to store SMS/MMS data in the Dialer Application AS WELL as the SMS and MMS programs? WTF? Anyway, I haven't had any storage issues at all since doing this.  In fact, I reinstalled a bunch of apps I had deleted for space, including Netflix, and have experienced no issues whatsoever.  Just thought you might like to know.

[update June 2011]  This is getting effing ridiculous.  I have removed Facebook.  I have removed all SMS and MMS.  I have moved every application possible to the SD card.  I went into Apps and cleared all caches (and even some data from programs).  Still, I am not able to even listen to my voice mail (of which I only have ONE), because I get the message: "Unable to manage your messages because your storage is full.  Please delete content from other applications to make more space."

I have more than 6GB of free space on the phone.  If HTC/Google doesn't fix this sh*t soon, they are losing a customer (I assume many).

Topics covered:
  • managing SMS and MMS
  • application data space and application space
Ah, the dreaded HTC/Android “Application Data Space Is Low” error.

Hopefully the genius architect who coded HTC phones to only allow a miniscule amount of a phone’s memory to be used for app data has been fired, ‘cause this is a horrible over site.  You should at least be allowed to change this setting yourself (allocate an amount of memory to system vs. data).

I’ve got more than 5GB of free space on my phone’s memory, yet my Droid Incredible keeps screaming at me: “Application Data Space is Low!”

There are quite a few apps at which people often point fingers.  The two biggest culprits I’ve found in my searches were Facebook and News Rob (or other RSS/Feed readers that cache data locally).

Another thing I learned is don’t EVER sync the Facebook App to your phone for your contacts.  You don’t need (or want) every friend you have on Facebook synced to your device.  The HTC Facebook app that came with your phone does a great job of syncing faces to the numbers you have on your phone.  If you allow the app you downloaded from the market or Facebook to sync, it will store a lot of useless data on your device.

HTC Mail often gobbles up application memory as well.  Clear your stored mail!
Here’s a list of some of the top space gobblers on my device (this is just the space the actual app takes up –not necessarily its data):
  • Dialer Storage: 62.57 MB (wtf?!)
  • Contact Storage: 21.23MB
  • Firefox: 17.71MB (this is way to much, I think I’m deleting the app)
  • Google Earth: 15.06MB (I’ve never used this; I think I’m deleting it)
  • Google Maps: 10.63MB
The next app (doubleTwist) is at 6.35MB and they get smaller from there –all under 7MB.
To find apps that are gobbling up too much data resource, go into Settings > Applications > Manage Applciations > Running (or All) and look for the culprit.

Some people have also had success just clearing the cache for various apps.  Don’t hit “Clear data” as that will clear user names and important data for the app.

Another thing that can help is where you store your apps.  I’ve got a 16GB SD Card in my phone, so I try to store as many “non-speed sensitive” apps as possible on the SD card instead of internal memory. Unfortunately your apps will start competing with the space for your media (songs and videos) when you do this.

THE FINAL SOLUTION (for me): The thing that I never really thought about (duh!) is that I’ve had my phone for going on a year, and I’ve never backed up my SMS or MMS.  That data can build up, so I assume it’s taking up a lot of space –especially with all those MMS photos.  Some of my conversation threads have over 1,000 messages (I’m looking at you Mikey B, Miguel, and E)!

Deleting text messages seems to be a long and laborious process unless you do a “select all” and just wipe everything.  You can also just delete certain threads (conversations with certain people) by long pressing the conversation and selecting “delete.”  Note that you can “lock” specific messages (under the message’s long-press menu) so that when you delete the entire conversation those messages won’t be deleted; just be sure you don’t tick “delete locked messages” when you’re deleting the thread.

To save future pain, you can set the number of messages your phone will keep.  Just be sure to back up your SMS/MMS often unless you’re not worried about archiving your messages.
Go into your message app.  Click the second icon at the bottom of the screen (it’s a text bubble with lines overlapping a text bubble with an icon).  Press menu.  Press settings.  Click “Delete old messages,” and set “Text message limit” and “Multimedia message limit” as you wish.  These settings are per conversation (not total).

ALSO: Scroll down to MMS settings and select Attachment Storage.  Change it to SD Card.
You can also change your voicemail attachment storage location from here (scroll down a little farther on the main message settings screen).

This whole shabang has brought me to the search for a good back up app.  There are some fun apps that backup SMS to Gmail, but none of these handle MMS, and I’d like a more robust back up app anyway (for apps, call logs, etc.), so I think I’ll be going with MyBackUp.  More on that in another post soon!