Three days with Vista Media Center

Just couldn’t wait to get home Friday night so I could continue on with my Vista Media Center project — I know right, I’m so cool. I did take two hours off to watch We Own the Night on Blu-ray with my wife, but the rest of the night I hacked away on my VMC and I made a few strides.

First I installed Acronis True Image to do full image backup to the existing Dell recovery partition. Right now I’m doing it with the 15-day trial, but might pay the $50 since it supports imaging while Windows is running and will also do incremental imaging. I also finally remembered I already had a BT mouse, and I’m happy to report my Mighty Mouse is working with VMC nicely — yes I actually like the Mighty Mouse. Still no keyboard though, but thanks to Patrick’s tip in my last post, I have a very workable solution, while I wait for the relatively expensive BT keyboard (diNevo Mini) Grant told me about, to come down in price.

The last thing I did Friday night was to discover a way to transfer all my TiVo recordings to my Media Center. First I setup TiVo Desktop 2.6 to download all my shows to D:\TiVo — including new shows from cable channels — and then installed the fully functional trial of VideoReDo, and finally I installed and configured TVAP, which automatically watches my TiVo directory for the shows that have finished automatically transfered from my TiVo, then converts them into DVR-MS files and moves them to my Recorded TV directory. The coolest part is that all the meta data is there and fwd/rwd works, but for whatever reason the thumbnails don’t.

I got up Saturday morning, made a Latte, and took a nice walk with the family. Then when I got home I continued to fight with my IR system, I discovered that if I electrical tape the flasher to the to the sensor and move it away from the other flashers, it works better; but it is still annoying to use. I spent the next few hours rewiring all my equipment. I do a lot of testing in my rack and I never clean it up as I go, plus I used to have DirecTV and I left all the wires there even though I’d removed the H20. So after that was done — what a relief — I went on to reprogram my MainLobby Home Automation controller with a new macro for watching the VMC. I had to disabled sleep with the remote so I could use the IR signal from the button to kick off the macro. I still need to figure out how to do the volume and power, might build some logic into my macro, might replace the remote — more on that later.

So now that all that was done, I spent some more time adding all my family’s series recordings — almost 30 in all — and discovered I had a few conflicts and was reminded why I needed a CableCARD tuner. Then I remembered I had an old PCI V-Box Cat’s Eye ATSC tuner from another project and slapped it in. I tried to use MCE Tuner Extender, but it wouldn’t work, so I added an old USB MCE analog tuner I had — yes I have tons of crap like this all over the place — and after a few minutes fighting with the unintuitive interface, I had all four tuners working. After this, I was having problems updating guide data and thanks to Process Explorer it appeared the files where in use by WebGuide, so I stopped the services and was able to update, so I just removed the plug-in for now.

While I was wiring everything up, I discovered my ATI DVI to component adapter didn’t work on my ATI Radeon HD3650 video card, and based on the documentation, I came to the conclusion that component wasn’t an option. For those who don’t know, the reason I prefer component is because I have a Key Digital 8×3 component matrix switcher, and an HDMI matrix switch costs way too much — not to mention I like to make my own cables. I do have one 35-foot HDMI cable ran to my 60-inch Pioneer Kuro, but I use it for Blu-ray since component can’t carry 1080p24. So this revelation motivated me to sell my BD-P1000 on Amazon and buy a Lite-On Blu-ray player from Newegg for $129. I also took advantage of ArcSoft’s April Fools day sales — ends today enter code Fool08 at checkout — and got Total MediaTheater for $45. The Lite-On drive comes with Power DVD, but it doesn’t integrate with VMC very well.

Now that everything was working, I finally took some time to watch a few shows, some recorded on the VMC, some converted from the TiVo, I’m experiencing some judder, but not sure why or how yet. Will keep an eye on it, may try switching the output to 1080i.

I also spent some time tweeking the audio settings of ffdshow so it’d pass DTS, but then I was having some choppy playback on a few 1080p mkv files with DTS — you didn’t think I went without Paramount and Universal movies in HD did you? — so I switched it back to decode and re-encode as AC3.

I still have no idea where this thing is going to live, it’s just so big. Right now it’s on the top of my rack and looks like it might fall off at any minute, I may just have to wait until I sell my TiVos to find it a permanent home.

I also saw a deal on the Harmony One which I’ve had my eye on since CES, so I ordered one. I figure the worst case I’ll just sell it. But best case it’ll fix my IR repeater problem and make it easier for me to control the volume and power of my system since the VMC remote Dell included isn’t programmable. I used to have a Harmony 880 and I hated it, but after playing with the One at CES, I quickly realized they’d fixed all my gripes, but I was still not willing to pay $250, so it appears my wait is over.

13 Responses to “Three days with Vista Media Center”

  1. Patrick says:

    I’m interested in seeing how you like your cablecard tuner setup. In December, I purchased a dual cablecard tuner system. It took 5 full days of taking off work and putting up with countless clueless Bright House employees. It took days to get to S-cards (it seems all they provide are M-cards unless you ask for them, at least in my area). Then it took days for them to trouble shoot a weak signal. From the curb to the house to the internal cabling. They kept trying different things. The tuners are so picky about getting a good signal. When it all finally got working, one tuner would get more channels than another, and neither would get all the channels I was supposed to get. Coupled with slow channel changing times, and spotty outages, I threw in the towel and sent the whole setup back. I went back to using VMC with two analog tuners for everyday recording. I download most of my favorite shows from torrents in HD, and I popped one cablecard in my TV (which is cablecard ready itself) for live HD viewing on the occasions when I need it (football, the oscars, etc.). The amount of restrictions and DRM they’ve imposed on cablecards on PC’s have absolutely made the technology less enjoyable and more unremarkable than it could be. It’s super disappointing.

  2. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Actually I’m optimistic. Personally I’ve had 11 CableCARDs installed (2 TiVos by BHN, 3 TiVos by FiOS and one for my HDTV) without any issues or even a bad card. FiOS doesn’t have M-Cards yet, so don’t have to worry about that. All the wires in my house are brand new as are the two splitters (one 2-way for my cable modem, yes FiOS uses a cable modem now too) and one just before my equipment. And lastly, I do the install myself. I just offer to do everything for the installer, which they appreciate, and all they have to do is enter in the three numbers.

    As for slow channel changing, while that is disappointing, I don’t watch much live TV and I still have 3 ATSC tuners. This also gets me out of most of the DRM problems.

    In the end, I almost never watch SD, so those tuners don’t help. And with SP1 and the latest tuner firmware, it seems many of the issues are resolved.

    Of course thanks to this post, I’m now jinks’d.

  3. […] VMC hacking, day three – Ben Drawbaugh (tags: Windows Vista MediaCenter HTPC HDTV) […]

  4. Dave Zatz says:

    I’ve been a fan of Acronis for a few years. Not sure how it’ll impact performance always running – I just used it to take full system images stored on an external drive.

    I’m still not sold on the Harmony One. $190 is a deep discount, but still too much for me.

    I hear you on the bulky CPU issue… Looking at HP and Dell slimlines, or perhaps a Mac mini for basic VMC DVR functionality (no CableCARDs) and web video playback.

  5. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    I don’t leave Acronis running in the background, I just launch it when I want to make an image, but it can image my entire 40GB C drive in about 10 minutes and doesn’t even require a reboot.

    It’s not cheap, but what good universal remote is?

    A DVR without a CableCARD (or DirecTV tuner) is worth nothing to me, as I don’t want to without premium content and I’m trying to eliminate boxes here, not add them. That being said, as big as the XPS 420 is, it is still smaller than the two Series3s and Blu-ray player it is replacing.

  6. Richard Green says:

    Hey Ben – Haven’t talked in a while.

    I see the Dark Side is calling you… its not a bad place and welcome.

    If you need any help, be sure to shoot me a message as you know I have been using Vista longer than most people outside Redmond.

    And the fact I am local doesn’t hurt.

  7. simpler says:

    I found out some interesting things DriveClone has that TrueImage does not:

    1. snapshot- DriveClone restores in 55 seconds instead of minutes with TrueImage

    2.Universal Restore is included in the $50 value. But if you one day change to a different hardware manufacterer(ex. Toshiba to Intel) then you would have to spend $30 EXTRA to buy acrnois universal restore

    BOTH driveclone and trueimage:
    around $50. I think DriveClone might be cheaper. and both supports imaging while Windows is running and will also do incremental imaging.

    I really urge you to try both trials before you decide to spend your money
    30 days free trial

  8. Ivan Y says:

    @ Ben:
    – For perfect media playback (even 1080P MKVs), I use CCCP (the only codec pack one should ever install) and CoreAVC decoder. Works surpisingly well even on my HTPC (1.66 Ghz Core 2 Duo laptop processor).
    – I got DiNovo Mini a couple of weeks ago and it is worth it if you are going to be doing something on the HDTV other than just watching files (e.g. browsing, using regular Vista interface outside VMC). The touchpad is not good enough to play games or anything like that, but it’s good enough that I don’t even feel like installing Logitech’s software and tweaking settings.
    – I use LogMeIn too (to check on the downloads from work, etc.) and it’s cool. If it’s too slow, try reducing colors (although, you probably tried this already).

    @ Dave: If you want to try a compact HTPC without need for tuners, look at AOpen Mini PC line up (takes notebook processors). I built my HTPC a year ago around top 945 model (currently, 965 is the best) and I’ve had zero issues running Vista Ultimate with CCCP+CoreAVC (which makes me a rarity judging by the amount of all the Vista-hating going on).

    For my 2nd HTPC, it’s either going to be another Mini PC (whenever Intel releases new notebook chips this summer and AOpen releases model with Blu-Ray drive) or one of Omaura’s chassis (slick, slick, slick). Maingear actually sells Omaura-based HTPC but I am not keen on getting AMD at the moment.

  9. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Thanks for the tips!

    I have perfect 1080p mkv playback with ffdshow, what will this codec pack get me? Keep in mind that I only watch HD, so I really don’t have a need for Xvid or Divx, since most of the sources I get HD files from are mkv. Speaking of which doesn’t ffdshow do Xvid and Divx too?

  10. […] VMC hacking, day three – Ben Drawbaugh (tags: Windows Vista MediaCenter HTPC HDTV) […]

  11. […] VMC hacking, day three – Ben Drawbaugh (tags: Windows Vista MediaCenter HTPC HDTV) […]

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