Australian Electronic Program Guides for Vista Media Center

While I was in NZ I purchased a standard dell machine (in actual fact it was one of the special offers from the Australian TechEd) and for a while I was running it as a TFS box for playing around with.  Last month when I returned to Perth I decided that it would be better served as a media center machine.  I had thought of this while I was in NZ but after purchasing an external TV Tuner and playing around with Vista Media Center on my laptop I decided that it would have to wait until I got back to Australia because none of the NZ Electronic Program Guides (EPG) seemed to play nice with Vista.

The box is now setup as a Vista Media Center machine and since Christmas I have been attempting to get an EPG to work properly.  I initially signed up for a trial of IceTV which seemed to work nicely to start with but would complain after about 24 hours that the country/region code was invalid and that it couldn’t refresh the guide data. Given I was going to have to pay for this I figured the least they could do was to get the product to work properly with Vista before I shell out the cash.

 Last night I trawled the ever useful Australian Media Center portal and tried Free*EPG.  These guys have done a great job of packaging, including an option to use ClickOnce (oh, did I mention it is a .NET v2 application?).  Unfortunately the installer isn’t quite enough to combat the “intelligence” built into Windows Vista.  Unlike XP Media Center the Vista version does a bit more in the background to allow Microsoft to dynamically change where the guide information is being sucked from.  The typical scenario would be something like this (for countries where Microsoft have organised the EPG): Within MCE you go to set up the guide, you specify the country that you are in, you agree to the licensing conditions, you provide your postcode and hey presto it gives you a list of EPG providers that you can select from – which you then use to link up with the channels that you have detected from the TV tuner.  In the background when you select the country that you are in MCE goes away and connects to the MS site that defines what the providers are for that region.  Under XP this would only happen when you configure the region.  Unfortunately under Vista this not only happens when you attempt to set up the guide, it also happens at frequent intervals whilst MCE is running – this allows MS to dynamically update the location of guide data without any downtime for citizen Bob (unfortunately for citizen Jan that lives in Oz this completely screws up other providers such as IceTV and FreeEPG).

Ok, so what did I need to do to get this all to work:

  • Signup at EpgStream
  • Download and install FreeEPG
  • Run Vista MCE and go to configure the guide
    • When you get to entering a postcode you need to rerun the installer for FreeEPG (selecting to just repair installation – this fixes the download location for the guide data)
  • Download and follow installation instructions for KeepKey – this makes sure that the download location for the guide data is not overwritten by Vista MCE

Some last words of wisdom:

  • Sign the Australian EPG Petition
  • Blog like crazy about the lack of EPG data for Australia, NZ (and other countries that don’t have it – perhaps MS may be able to use that as leverage against the TV companies that refuse to make this data available)
  • Did you realise that behind the scenes the EPG data is stored in a SQL CE data file????  This is interesting given that SQL Server Compact Edition has only just been unlocked to work on the desktop.  Unfortunately when asked whether we were “allowed” to add data straight into the database file we got a flat NO, THAT IS AGAINST THE EULA – I would like to know why the draconian measures, why couldn’t this be opened up with a decent API (not like the current SDK which gives you all but nothing in terms of useful functions around adding/editing EPG data).  Or, better still why can’t we write directly to the database file so that we can extende MCE with some really cool functionality……

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