Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition 2005 (with XBOX 360)


rollup 2
latest version of MCE

Basically I wanted to give MCE a try and to record HDTV and display it on my new TV using the xbox 360 as a media extender.

MCE forums:
http://www.thegreenbutton.com/

- hardware: athlon xp oc to 2.4ghz, abit nf7-s 2.0 latest bios, ati radeon 9700 pro, 1 gig of ram, 300gb hd, 250gb hd, win pvr 150, fusionhdtv5 gold.
- based off of winxp pro sp2
- looks and feels like regular windows. The MCE application doesn't even launch on startup by default. You should be able to run most xp programs without issue
- rollup 2 is an optional windows update and you get it just like any other windows update. Make sure you check windows update AFTER rollup 2 since there is another patch to rollup 2.
- when installing video drivers make sure you d/l the MCE specific drivers!
- installed the latest win pvr 150 drivers from:
http://www.shspvr.com/smf/
- the win pvr mpeg2 drivers are NOT MCE compliant. You will need to install a compliant encoder. I installed powerdvd 6 which worked fine. You might not even have to do this if you get the fusion. The fusion has it's on very high quality MCE mpeg2 decoder which uses many acceleration features of your video card (DxVA - directx video acceleration). This is important when playing back HDTV streams. Use this utility to pick the decoder to use:
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=DE1491AC-0AB6-4990-943D-627E6ADE9FCB&displaylang=en
- installed the fusion drivers before adding the card as per instructions. Grab the latest beta from:
http://www.fusionhdtv.co.kr/ENG/Download/Software.aspx
I bought the fusion at:
http://store.snapstream.com/tvtunercards-hdtv.html
I still think the lite is a better value at $99 but I got the gold since I wanted to test everything.
The free philips antenna you get is a zenith silver sensor clone (also available at microcenter for $30) which is known to be one of the best indoor antennas you can get.
I also considered the myHD 130
http://www.mitinc.co.kr/mitinc/e_site/index_new.jsp
but since there is almost no 3rd party support (no mce, beyondtv, or sagetv) I skipped it. Plus it's $200.
- the gui is very pretty. Overall they got quite a few things right but there are some pretty serious limitations IMO.
- 1 recording path. You can only specify a single directory to store your TV recordings.
- 2 tuner limit unless you registry hack. (i hear with rollup2 it's now 2 analog + 2 digital tuners).
- requires an analog tuner WITH hardware mpeg2 encoding. This is why hybrid digital analog tuners (like my fusion gold and ati all in wonder cards) won't work without an additional compliant analog tuner card (like the pvr 150). I hear there are hacked ati drivers that work with mixed results.
- Guide data comes from zap2it.com. It's very good data. 13 days.
- rich data for cover art and show/movie descriptions.
- records in a proprietary container file format (wraps mpeg2) called dvr-ms. Also, it supports the ugly D word (DRM) and bloats the file size. Check out dvrms toolbox
http://www.thegreenbutton.com/community/shwmessage.aspx?ForumID=26&MessageID=113435
- good 30 sec skip forward, 5 sec skip back for getting around commercials.
- NO clear QAM support (yet). Only option for HDTV recording is atsc OTA. The way it works is when scheduling a season through the guide you will see each episode listed twice (one with the analog channel number and one with the digital channel number). Digital channel numbers are generated by adding 1000. So channel 2.1 would be 1021. Channel 13.1 would be 1131. Just make sure you schedule the right episode on the right channel and you are good to go.
- go to http://www.antennaweb.org to find out which direction you should point your antenna. I get pretty good reception on everything except fox and abc are a bit low (4 yellow bars instead of green). I'm thinking about adding a preamp. These are suppose to be the best:
Channel Master 7777
http://www.warrenelectronics.com/antennas/7777.htm

- S3 standby/suspend.
http://www.thegreenbutton.com/community/shwmessage.aspx?ForumID=50&MessageID=89473
Set your bios to S3 insteald of S1. This is a neat feature that lets you suspend to ram (everything is off, fans, lights, etc and only power is given to the ram) and then it wakes up to record your shows then goes back to sleep. I'm still testing but this mostly works with a few issues. Media extender won't wake up the pc unless you turn on wakeup on PCI. If I do this, once you wake it up it will never go back to sleep. Once you wake up, the network adapter seems a little laggy. When using MCX (media center extender) key presses seem unresponsive. If you disable/enable the network adapter then everything works fine again. I'm working on an automatic process to restart the network adapter. I've got a batch file calling devcon that works great:
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;Q311272
I also have some sample c# code that captures the resume event so I can launch it.
- UPDATE: I found a fix for my network s3 standby issues:
Go into device manager, properties of your network card, power tab, uncheck "allow computer to power down this device" or something like that. That seemed to fix it for me.
- and another gotcha with s3
Read the last post
- check out MCE power toys including tweakmce
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/mcepowertoys.mspx
-drvms file size for 1 hour of hdtv recording: 6GB

xbox 360 integration
- go to the the media center blade. It will give you an 8 digit number. Then you go to your mce and d/l an extender service at xbox.com/pcsetup. You run that and eventually it asks you for the 8 digit number. Now you've effectively paired the two and everything should just work.
- scheduling recordings, watching live tv with guide, pre-recorded shows, music, photos all work great on the x360.
- network shares. This is how you can get network shares to work with MCX WITHOUT enabling guest account:
http://dotchris.net/?p=6
and another explanation:
Read about the 5th response down.
The method works perfectly and now my mcx can browse videos from all 3 machines my homebrew PVR records on, music from another machine, and then photos on my media server.
Unforunately, I don't think the method will work with Windows media connect (music and photos only) since it doesn't seem to create the MCX1 user like the MCE version of extender does.
- You can watch timeshifted HDTV by just entering channel numbers > 1000. It looks and works great.

Fusion HDTV software
- It works. You can watch dtv or analog tv. Full hdtv looks great even on a computer monitor. Timeshifting works fine too. You can choose to record as a transport stream (ts/tp) OR naitive program stream (.mpg)!!! No conversion needed. It's just an option in the config.
- You can manually schedule future recordings or use titantv epg. Schedule data is stored in an unencrypted ACCESS MDB file!!! There is a column in the table that has this long value:
M0015026000320061128232500045200

After some experimenting I decoded it as follows:
M0015 -? always the same
026 channel
0003 - ? always the same
2006 year
11 month
28 day
232500 start hour,min,seconds (24hr time)
045200 duration: hour,min,seconds

I used access and inserted my own row and it immediately appeared in the fusion schedule! I have a very easy integration point now if I can't find a command line recorder.
- This is all ota hdtv. I still need to test clear qam


- captured a HDTV ts and a mpeg using the fusion software and tried to play it back on other machines:
btw both files played back fine using the fusion software on the machine it was recorded.

this was tested on a stock athlon xp 2000 machine with a gf3 (no dxva acceleration)
- mediaMvp thinks the mpg is pal format. I guess that's the generic message for it isn't NTSC resolution compliant!
- playback through media player with the default pvr intervideo mpeg2 decoders - no go. Pretty much freezes after a few frames.
- playback using VLC. ts works but mpeg no sound. I think I might need to install the ac3 directshow filters on this machine. Playback is choppy and cpu is at 100%
- powerdvd 6. both files worked ok with sound but again it was choppy and cpu was at 100%. hw acceleration was checked.

decoding hdtv streams is serious business. Another option I think is getting one of these:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814121542

and use these codecs:
http://www.nvidia.com/page/purevideo.html
I hear that can drop cpu utilization by 30-40%.
I still need to do more testing with different decoders.

- I bought both of these:
Channel Master 7777 (highly recommended in avsforum.com)
http://www.warrenelectronics.com/antennas/7777.htm

Motorola Signal Booster
http://www.circuitcity.com/ssm/Motorola-Signal-Booster-484095-001-00-/sem/rpsm/oid/44964/catOid/-12990/rpem/ccd/productDetail.do
(also $50 at microcenter)
about $40 at amazon

Both of these do a really good job with the silver sensor antenna for ATSC OTA. I had two channels that were in the yellow on signal strength. After adding either of these, every channel was maxed out green. I think the channel master is suppose to be better for antenna and the motorola for general purpose (digital cable, broadband cable modem) but either will work very well.

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