How to: Remove commercials from recorded TV automatically

Difficulty: 1

No SignalAs technology is evolving, more and more people are recording TV shows to watch at a more convenient time. Fast forwarding or skipping through the commercials is becoming a simple task, but it is still a hassle. This article will show you the tools I use to automatically remove TV commercials from my recorded TV files made by Windows Media Center 7. It is a completely hands off process. I am able to watch any show roughly an hour after it is aired with the commercials completely removed.

By watching recorded TV over live TV, we are more likely to watch what we want, rather than choosing the best of what is on TV at that time. It also lets us control when we watch TV. We no longer need to change our own schedules around when a particular TV show is on, as we can now choose to watch our shows at whatever time is most convenient to us. We are back in control.

I made a video to show the many ways you can either currently use, or will be able to use in the future, for removing commercials. You can view this video further in the article. You will also find out about the software required to remove commercials automatically, and information on the legalities and consequences of using commercial removal technology.

Read the rest of this entry »


How-to: Use an arcade controller in your chair to trigger voice control

Difficulty: 2

Picture 253I am very confident that voice control is the way to go when it comes to controlling my home theatre setup into the future, because I am currently using it and benefiting from the huge advantages it offers. I believe a reliable voice control system will be the best way to control any electrical appliance, and that voice control is likely to be in our lives indefinitely. There are huge cultural and environmental problems which need to be addressed for it to work reliably, but the technology that interprets what we say works very well.

After setting up voice control on my home theatre PC, I realised that there needed to be an instant way to trigger the voice control so it would start listening to me. I needed a way to avoid using a traditional Universal remote, or my gadget. I needed a button that is ultra convenient. This means installing a button right next to my hand that will trigger the voice control. The only way of achieving this is by installing a button into my lounge. This may seem a bit excessive, but once it is done, the benefits we receive from it will last us well into the future. I believe all home theatre seating or lounge suites will eventually have the option to add a button into the arm.

There are many different types of buttons on the market, but I have only seen one that I know will be able to last the lifetime of the lounge. It’s going to take a beating, so I needed a button that was strong and reliable. Arcade machine buttons have proven themselves over the years as being ultra reliable. Fortunately for me, they are also cheap.

The end result is a button sitting immediately next to my hand which can activate and control my whole entertainment system using my voice. It’s not going to get much better than this. I expect this configuration to last the life of the couch, and it is likely to be considerably cheaper than having these factory installed. The only DIY work needed to be done for most lounges will be to drill a hole to install the button, and to click the pieces together. My scripts are not perfect yet, but I hope you will agree that it is pretty exciting stuff.

This article will show you how to install an arcade controller board, and a button into your lounge to trigger voice control of your entertainment.

Read the rest of this entry »


How to: Control TV, VCR, DVD, cable and more with voice using USB-UIRT

Difficulty: 2.5

USBUIRTOnce I was able to voice control my home theatre PC, I still needed to use my remote control to turn on the TV and receiver. I wanted to rid my lounge room of remotes altogether, so I needed to find a way to get my computer to control the rest of my audio visual gear. I wanted to be able to control everything in the lounge room with just my gadget and my voice.

It was logical to use Infra Red (IR) technology for this, because that is the only way we can control most AV gear currently. Often the buttons on a device (such as a TV set) don’t offer as many options as its remote control unit.

The USB-UIRT is a magic device that can send and receive IR signals. It connects to a USB port on our computer and enables us to send IR commands from our computer to our peripheral AV gear. It sits at the back of the room and has good range and reliability. This device removes the need for remote controls in our TV room altogether as we can tag a voice command to tell the USB-UIRT which IR signal or signals we want it to send.

The result is that we can walk into the room, press the trigger button and say “TV on”. This will turn the TV and stereo on. When we say “I’m finished”, the TV and stereo will turn off. 

It gets really impressive when we start controlling our VCR, BluRay or cable box with voice. I have added some extra scripting which will enable just this. When I put a video into the video player, I can say “Video Player” and the TV will change the channel to AV, to show the VCR. I can then use the usual play/pause/stop/rewind/fast forward voice commands to navigate through the video. When I return to the media centre, the tape will stop, rewind and 3 minutes later, eject the tape and turn off. This is while all the other media centre voice commands are working as per normal.

This article will show you how to setup the USB-UIRT to control your audio visual gear to control everything in your lounge room/home theatre by voice. The scripts need to be installed, and IR signals learnt, which is thankfully quite easy with to do with EventGhost. The speech macros have also been updated to simplify the commands to their shortest abbreviation. I have also included another speech macro which enables the “Play artist/genre/track” commands. It’s a bit harder for the computer to pick up the new commands, though they do work. The old commands still work and are worth learning because the computer is much more likely to recognise them. The commands will be progressively tweaked until each command is as simple as we can make them. It’s not far off as simple as it can get now.

Read the rest of this entry »


How-to: Voice control Windows Media Center

Difficulty: 2.5

WSR voice controlI have been interested in the voice control of computers for a long time. My first attempt was around 10 years ago, and I had some success with it. In the right environment, I was able to say commands to my computer and it would respond based on what I said. The problem was that I didn’t have a practical use for it yet. It was clear in this early testing that using a keyboard and mouse was far more convenient, reliable and a quicker option than using voice. It will remain that way for many of the standard interactions (i.e email, facebook) we have with computers, at least in the short term.

The day Microsoft Kinect was launched in Australia, I saw the promotional video showing people waving their arms around to navigate through their media centre. It seemed to me that this would be a fairly unreliable and exhausting way to control anything, apart from games specifically designed for the technology. I was way too lazy to consider using this technology into the future.

I concluded that voice is the simplest way to control anything, and that it always will be. This led me to start playing around with voice control again. I ran through the voice tutorials and was able to get the computer to understand my voice some of the time. It did stuff up on me a whole lot, but it was clearly much more reliable than software I had used in the past.

Now around 6 months on, I have written an AutoHotkey script and a WSR macro that interact with Windows Media Center and Windows Speech Recognition software, allowing my media centre to be controlled completely by voice. This is a practical use for voice control. I can navigate faster with my voice than I can with a remote control. Instead of needing to know which button to press on my remote (or remotes), I simply speak my mind. I no longer use a remote at all. This is something I have wanted for a long time and I am excited about this outcome.

This system far exceeds any other voice control setup on the market today in terms of reliability and practicality. Most of the problems as to why systems haven’t worked in the past has not been because the software was inadequate for the task, (the software has worked fine for many years). Most of the problems are environmental, and my solution tackles these environmental issues. Rather than trying to make technology that works in our environment, my solution changes the environment to enable the technology to work. I believe it is inevitable that all future voice control systems will need to take this approach for the system to work.

This article will give you all the information you need to control your Windows Media Center home theatre PC with your voice. I will provide the easy to edit scripts and show you how to install them on your PC. I will also explain what works and what doesn’t, as well as explaining why previous attempts have not been successful. The more I explain how it all works, the easier it will be for you to set it up and get it working reliably. This will not be as easy as installing the software and having the results you want right away. You will need to train it to recognise your voice, and you will need to learn the correct commands to make. A solution that can understand the whole English language is a long way off. It is much more difficult to synthesize human understanding than it is for a computer to understand dictation. That is why we need to have set commands.

There is a video of my home theatre PC running this system after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


How-to: Use batch files to organise recorded TV automatically

Windows ExplorerWhen I built my Windows Media Center PC, I was able to have the majority of features working as I wanted them to. This was using Windows Media Center 7, and a bunch of free applications working together. The only thing I could not get my HTPC to perform was to separate my recorded movies from the recorded TV. I then needed to put each of the files in a relevant folder so that Media Center Master would download the correct meta data. I performed this task manually for a while but knew there had to be a way to automate this process.

After a weekend of research and testing, I finally came up with the 50 lines of script that complete the media centres autonomy. This has effectively eliminated the need for me to go into the backend of the media centre at all. All the data is moved automatically to the correct locations, making it unnecessary to control the system with anything beyond a remote control.

Read the rest of this entry »