Day one with Vista Media Center

I successfully completed everything I set out to do yesterday, and more, and am feeling more confident that this solution will be able to replace my TiVos, but I’ll wait until I receive my CableCARD tuner to pass final judgment.

I ended up reinstalling Vista, because it was quicker than repartitioning and uninstall all the crapware, AV, firewalls etc. Then I installed all the updates including SP1. Next I installed both Logmein and Ultra VNC — because logmein is very slow locally — but I’m having problems getting VNC to launch at boot and I also had to disabled uac, since it was interfering with VNC. Later I plan to try an RDP hack. I then configured it to login automatically and start Media Center. I had some trouble configuring the display because although the video card properly set the HDMI output to 1080p, it also had underscan turned on by default. I’m sure this is helpful for some, but I prefer to use the “dot by dot” feature of my TV to disable overscan.

I also configured my HDHomeRun for ATSC and scheduled a bunch of recordings, everything works great, but it could change channels a little faster — hopefully the CableCARD tuner will. The biggest problem I’m having is with the remote, it doesn’t seem to work well with my Xantech IR distribution system, just like my AppleTV does. It is working, just not real well, which brings me to my biggest problem; I need a wireless keyboard/mouse. VNC is not working out, and having the keyboard in the a different room is nearly impossible. I’m going to be on the hunt for a nice Media Center Keyboard with integrated mouse, preferably Bluetooth, but IR will work too.

After I got the basics up and running I went out and installed ffdshow and haali so I could playback additional codecs like mkv. This was easy to setup thanks to Chris L, and is passing Dolby Digital and DTS nicely. The last thing I did was copy the contents of my “originals” folder from my iPhoto library and the contents of the “music” folder from my iTunes collection. Those copies finished this morning, so we’ll see how VMC deals with them, and how much work it will require to make those features usable. I may just end up continuing to use my Apple TV for music. I also want to figure out what the best way to import my shows from my TiVos. I copied over an exported show that was already converted to MPEG2, which worked, but I didn’t have as much control as I do when playing back DVR-MS files. So that is on the list of things to do, I may look at VideoRedo for converting the .tivo files to DVR-MS, but I’d rather not buy software as it’ll be a one time deal.

So enough about setup, here’s some Media Center impressions from a long time TiVo owner.

  • Setup was much, much, much harder, but not impossible — TiVo you just plug it in and set your res’, Guided Setup take some time, but other than that it’s a breeze.
  • The overall UI is so much better than TiVo it isn’t even funny, although some of the plugins look just as out of place as HME applications.
  • The grid guide is really snappy, the overlay is really cool, and I love how it actually shows what is recording and what is not because of a conflict in the guide. So no more To Do List to fight with. But the to do list is there, and better than TiVo because it splits it out by days.
  • Conflict resolution is also much better, you just pick what show you want per conflict. Of course you can set a priority — which doesn’t take 5 minutes to apply like TiVo.
  • The miniguide is very useful, but the info button not so much, I quickly learned you are better off just hitting the ‘up’ button than the info button to check show details.
  • I do already miss the ability to control the two tuners, but maybe that will fade as I stop using the TiVo.
  • The quick access buttons on the remote are useful, but TiVo did have some shortcuts that worked well, if you knew them.
  • The scrub bar is really nice, the FWD, RWD, skip etc, work very well, in this regard the TiVo and the Media Center are very comparable.
  • I love being able to play ‘other’ files without converting them.
  • Played a little with the pictures, it’s much better than TiVo as well, but then again I never liked the pictures feature on TiVo.
  • Setting defaults for recordings is nice as well. I don’t think Tivo has this, but I like being able to set “first runs only” by default.
  • The one button recording is also convenient, but I usually end up going in there to edit something anyways, this may pass as I get use,d to it.

20 Responses to “Day one with Vista Media Center”

  1. Chris Lanier says:

    VideoReDo does have a trial for like 30-days and MPEG-2 to DVR-MS is available during the trial. It only and takes a minute or so to do each file, so unless you have a ton of recordings you can do them all in no time.

    On the same subject, VideoReDo is great for working with DVR-MS files in general, so if you are doing QAM with the HDHR or ATSC and you want to edit/convert files then I’d highly suggest picking up VideoReDo at some point. It is so much better than anything else on the market.

    One last tip, I’d suggest you do a few image based backups now, just before the CableCARD install, and after you have a working CableCARD install.

  2. Grant says:

    There are a bunch of wireless keyboards designed for Media Center as I’m sure you know. Logitech’s diNovo Mini (bluetooth) is now available if you want something smaller. I’ve been wanting one of these. PCAlchemy has a bunch to choose from:

    TiVo has the ability to record “first runs” or “all” episodes of a show too. It can also do “one button recording” depending on your definition of this. You can hit the record button while watching a show.

    Good luck with the CableCARD! Looking forward to hearing how that goes. Hopefully it comes soon.

  3. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Great point about now being the time to do an image. I actually left the Dell restore image available so I could use it for my own images, but I haven’t figured out which image software to use yet. I’d prefer something that will run while windows is running so I don’t have to be down to image.
    I’ll download and install the trial for VideoReDo, thanks for the tips.

    Any suggestions for web guide software or a keyboard?

  4. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Yes of course it does, I meant that in VMC you can set it so that every time you setup a new series to record it always does one or the other. With TiVo, I believe it was “first runs and repeats” by default, but could be changed when you were scheduling the season pass. The only difference is you can set the default. Speaking of which, someone at work told me the repeats option on VMC, will get the same episode multiple times, like the “all” option on TiVo does. I hope this isn’t the case.

    Thanks for the link, I’ll look at those keyboards.

  5. Patrick says:

    Ben – for VNC here’s what I do: I use RealVNC on the VMC machine for the server and UltimateVNC for my client. You want to install RealVNC and when given the option, tell it NOT to install the server as a service (service mode). You then want to put the server (User Mode) in your startup folder. This will get it running without any issues. It won’t work otherwise.

  6. Ben Drawbaugh says:


    Thanks, that is a great tip!
    Not sure if it matters that I use UltraVNC on the server and Chicken of the VNC as the client from my Mac.

  7. Jason Unger says:

    What, no pictures?

  8. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    The XPS 420 is really big so right now it is sitting on the top of my rack and it is not pretty. I’d be embarrassed to show you pictures.

  9. […] Drawbaugh is posting about his first day with a Dell XPS 420 which he just got to ditch his TiVo’s.  Ed Bott has a similar overview of his CableCARD […]

  10. Duane says:

    Ben … check out the new Logitech diNovo Mini. It’s bluetooth, has a thumb keyboard and integrated mouse. Fully backlit and has Media Center hot keys. It is perfect. I also have a Gyration setup which has been nice, but wanted something more compact and didn’t like having to recharge the mouse almost daily or have to watch my wife waive her arm all over the room to move about the screen.

  11. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    You’re right that is a very cool keyboard, but $150 for something I won’t use much is a hard pill to swallow.

    I’ll keep my eyes open for a deal on it though.

  12. […] Day one with Vista Media Center – Ben Drawbaugh (tags: Windows MediaCenter Vista HTPC) […]

  13. Dave Zatz says:

    Back in my HTPC days, I had a nicely compact Gyration keyboard + mouse set that used RF. It’s been a few years, but that thing was the best “remote” of all the models I went through.

    I’m looking at a slimline HP or Dell for the living room to handle Netflix Watch Now and Hulu content, plus some basic HD DVR functionality. Or maybe Mac mini hardware. Not sure about that integrated graphics chip though,

  14. […] Day one with Vista Media Center – Ben Drawbaugh (tags: Windows MediaCenter Vista HTPC) […]

  15. […] Day one with Vista Media Center – Ben Drawbaugh (tags: Windows MediaCenter Vista HTPC) […]

  16. Grant says:

    How did you ‘reinstall’ Vista? From the Dell recovery partition? You didn’t end up partitioning the drive? Do you record to the same partition that the OS sits in? I ask because I’m receiving my XPS 420 with CableCARD tuners soon and want to start clean too.

  17. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    I re-installed from the included DVD. Then I re-installed all the drivers (had to get the Nic driver from Intel and Video card from ATI).

    Then I erased the recover partition and used Acronis Drive Image to create a new recovery image to the recovery partition.

  18. Grant says:

    Thanks. Does “reinstall” mean reformat and install, or just install over the original OS install?

    Also, are you recording to the same partition you have the OS installed to?

    I ask because I want to reformat, repartition and install the OS, but want to be sure that won’t screw things up for the CableCARDs. I figure the CableCARD instructions are embedded into the BIOS, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

  19. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Yes, I formatted and re-installed.

    I make images to a different partition that I labeled Z. So that gives me 3 partitions total.

    C:\ – 20GB for OS
    Z:\ – 20GB for imeage
    D:\ – The rest for media.

    This way when I have to re-image I don’t loose any media. Plus I don’t want to backup my media as I feel it is expendable.

    AS for the CC config, there is nothing in the OS that is CC specific. All you need is the special BIOS and the additional product key that should be on the same sticker as the regular product key on the box.

  20. Ed says:

    I just started using a iPhone and iPod touch for controlling HTPC. Would like to expand to other IR controlled devices using Girder and Global cache over wifi and wired network. Any suggestions?