How to make your Windows Media Center a real HD machine

Discussion in 'Home Theater PCs' started by mattCR, Apr 12, 2010.

  1. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    For those of us who've been using Media Center for a while, it's hard to understate how huge of a shift Windows7 was. CODECs became built in, and while most of us still "tweak" for many, the fact that they were built in meant easy access to almost all content. But as Media Center has grown, the community has developed tons of plugins, tools, etc. to do everything that they want.

    Some of us use Home Server to store all of our information on (see my review also here) but one thing was lacking: how do we make our Media Centers real HD machines?

    Two years ago AMD put out the first platform with native, hardware decoding of Bluray in an onboard chipset (780G) with minimal processor, decoding BD became smooth. And thanks to several products (Arcsoft's TMT, or PowerDVD, your preference) playing BD within Media Center became possible. But what the 780G (and later 785G) couldn't do was stream either LPCM or full-format bitstream to a receiver.

    Last year, AMD introduced the ATI4xxx series cards, which became the first to pass full 7.1 LPCM channel audio to a receiver. Close! Then, at the end of last year, ATI Introduced the 5XXX series cards, and Intel introduced Clarksdale (i3/i5 on H55/H57 platform) chips which allowed for full bitstream audio of DTS-MA / DD-HD.

    We haven't had a ton of real HTPC discussion hear because of guidelines, but in the last few weeks, Windows 7, through PDVD, became only the second outlet certified for 3D Bluray specification compliance.

    So, I'm going to start this ongoing thread and try to keep it updated, and include pictures, guides, etc. on "tweaking out" a Windows Media Center. :)
     
  2. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Current Supports (I'll keep adding to this later)

    Chipset / Card DD / Digital Out (ST) True HD DTS-MA LPCM V: 24P (PROP)*** V: DXVA (HW) V: Type (IGP/PCI-E/AGP) DirectX Cost Available Software Support Model(s) AMD 780G YES - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES (10.2 CCC) YES IGP 10.1 50-100 ITX,ATX,MATX PDVD, FFD, TMT3 ATI3200 AMD 785G YES - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES (10.2 CCC) YES IGP 10.1 50-100 ATX,MATX (*ITX) PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV ATI4200 AMD 890GX YES - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES (10.2 CCC) YES IGP 10.1 120-150 ATX PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV ATI4290 AMD760G Yes*(1) - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES (10.2 CCC) YES IGP 10.1 40-70 ITX, MATX, ATX PDVD, FFD, TMT3 ATI3000 ATI3XXX (PCI-E) Yes - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES (10.2 CCC) YES PCI-E / AGP** 10.1 25- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV - ATI4XXX (PCI-E) Yes - Over HDMI / Displayport NO NO 7.1 CH YES (10.2 CCC) YES PCI-E 10.1/11** 40- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV ATI5XXX (PCI-E) Yes - Over HDMI / Displayport YES YES 7.1 CH YES (10.3 CCC) YES PCI-E 11 50- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV ATI6XXX (PCI-E) Yes - Over HDMI / Displayport YES YES 7.1 CH YES 11.3 CCC YES PCI-E 11 75- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT5, Win7 DTV AMD Zacate Yes - Over HDMI YES YES 7.1 CH YES 11.3 CCC YES EPU (Processor Based) 11 100- ITX, MATX PDVD, FFD, TMT5, Win7 DTV E350M Intel Sandy Bridge Yes - Over HDMI YES YES 7.1 CH NO (2) YES IGP / CPU 11 70- ITX, MATX, ATX PDVD, FFD, TMT5, Win7 DTV i3/i5/i7 2XXX Series Intel G45 NO NO NO NO NO (2) NO IGP 9 DISC ITX, MATX, ATX (NO HW) FFD, PDVD Intel H55/H57 (Clarksdale) Yes - Over HDMI YES YES 7.1CH NO (2) YES IGP / CPU 11 80- ITX, MATX, ATX PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV 530/540/650/661 Nvidia ION (NetTop) YES - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES YES IGP / ATOM 10.1 80- ITX, MATX PDVD, FFD, TMT3 Nvidia 9XXX Chipset (INTEL) YES - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES YES IGP 10.1 80- MATX, ATX PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV Nvidia 8XXX Chipset (AMD) YES - Over HDMI NO NO 2 CH YES YES IGP 10.1 50- MATX, ATX, (*iTX) PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV Nvidia 9XXX Video Cards NO ** (SPDIF Passthrough) NO NO 2 CH YES YES IGP 10.1 35- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV Nvidia GT/GTX100 Series YES - Yes (HDMI or PT) NO NO 7.1 CH** YES YES PCI-E 11 35- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV Nvidia GT/GTX200 Series YES - Over HDMI / Displayport YES*** YES*** 7.1 CH YES YES PCI-E 11 35- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV Nvidia GT/GTX4XX Series Yes - Over HDMI / Displayport YES YES 7.1 CH YES YES PCI-E 11 150- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT3, Win7 DTV,
    Nvidia GT/GTX5XX Series Yes - Over HDMI / Displayport YES YES 7.1 CH YES YES PCI-E 11 300- PCI-E PDVD, FFD, TMT5, Win7 DTV
    Notes:

    (1) 760G does not have a native Audio encoder per say, pass through is by onboard audio over SPDIF through HDMI.
    (2) Intel has announced they do not believe that there is any issue/they have no planned support for 24P fix for their hardware. So, this will never be resolved, AFAIK
    (3) Nvidia 9XXX Video cards do not have native Audio Encoder, and pass through SPDIF via Internal loop cable, or the user must connect optical/coax from MB

    (4) Later revisions of the GT2X and GT4X series Nvidia cards correctly pass DTS-MA/DD-HD

    (5) Driver listed is the base driver to complete these functions. It's assumed later drivers retain functionality.

    Will update as we go along. Updated: 4/28/2011
     
  3. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    SOFTWARE SUPPORT

    SOFTWARE 32 Bit 64 Bit DTSMA TrueHD LPCM MKV Support Play From Folder DXVA BD-3D Windows 7 Def Y Y NO NO ?? NO* YES (DVD) Y N FFDShow 32 Y N YES** YES** YES** YES** YES** Y N FFDShow 64 N Y YES** YES** YES** YES** YES** Y N Arcsoft TMT3 Y N NO(2) YES YES YES*** YES Y N Power DVD 10 Y N NO(2) YES YES NO NO Y Y Arcsoft TMT5 Y N YES YES YES YES *** Y Y PowerDVD 11 Y N YES YES YES YES** *** Y Y
    * Windows 7 will decode content inside of an MKV (Container) it just needs a splitter, whether that's Haali or Gabest
    ** FFDShow is simply a CODEC manager. It will support DTSMA is experimental. TrueHD requires Hardware Support (see above), MKV requires a splitter .. Haali or Gabest

    *** Arcsoft TMT3 originally supported MKV. That feature has been removed. Updates to the software may break that feature.

    (2) Arsoft & PowerDVD10 at current both downmix the DTSMA signal to just the CORE, or when presented over LPCM 7.1, it remixes the rear channels from 5.1 (PDVD) which is not accurate.
     
  4. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    List of Resources no HTPC Owner should be without:

    www.Hack7MC.Com - links, guides, and tools to managing Windows 7 Media Center

    TheGreenButton.Com - The Green Button, Microsoft's now official sponsored forum for tools for Media Center.

    MediaBrowser.TV - Media Browser, One of the best tools for quickly and easily organizing movies, TV, trailers, and podcasts into Media Center.

    MyTV.SenseitWeb.Com - for those of us that save and organize TV, MyTV provides the easiest way, it also manages extraction and imports guide based metadata for easy organization, search, genre and que systems. (Development)

    Who says all Media Centers need to look the same? Feel free to trick yours out with your own graphics/designs, thanks to Media Center Studio: http://www.adventmediacenter.com/

    Want something really slick? Try RemotePotato. Fat Attitude's tool allows you to see your EPG from anywhere that has a web browser, using Silverlight you can set what you want to record while away, and now, in new versions, you can watch what you've recorded from anywhere.



    Of course, make sure to grab plugins for NetFlix, if you're a subscribe it's worth it.
     
  5. Stephen Orr

    Stephen Orr Screenwriter

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    Excellent thread. I have been using PowerDVD 9 Ultra for watching blu's through my WMC, and am considering updating to PD 10 Ultra in the next couple of days. And speaking of WMC7, I am having problems getting my Logitech Harmony 1000 to learn commands from my WMC remote. Any suggestions? The Harmony firmware/software is up to date. Thanks!
     
  6. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Yes. Though it will cost you some small money. Mine programmed flawlessly, but a friend's didn't. I also believe Logitech has the MCE info for download and update now, so you can do that.

    But it's much easier if you want it to learn to use the Media Center keyboard (about $27 anywhere) to program it rather then the MCE remote.
     
  7. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Matt:

    Thanks for the thread.

    I have an ATI 4350 that passes the audio over HDMI to my Pioneer Elite SC-05. Using TMT I am getting both DTS-MA and True HD according to the indicators on my Pioneer when playing back a Blu-ray disc.

    Parker
     
  8. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    It's actually a bug in how the receivers detect the signal. TMT (and no card) can pass 7 channels on the 4xxx series cards, because they don't have an audio codec to do it.. though they will do 7.1LPCM. But they will pass the 640k "high rate" AC3 and DTS, which causes a lot of receivers to indicate wrong.. :(

    So far, only the ATI5000 series, and Intel's H55 are the only display adapters/IGPs that are DTS-MA/TrueHD compliant. The ATI 4350 is nothing to sneeze at. For the most part, the output gets you 8 channel audio (LPCM) and 5 channel core at high bit rate. http://www.anandtech.com/show/2630/2
     
  9. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Matt:

    Cool. So in the 5000 series do any of them have an HMDI out like the 4350 and do they only require a single PCIe slot? Also, is the Intel H55 a chipset that has to be included with the MoBo or do you have to have it at all if you have the 5000 series card?

    Parker
     
  10. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Never mind. I found that my power supply is only 300W and the 5000 series requires at least a 500W or more.
     
  11. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    The H55/H57 is a motherboard option.

    As to your other: nope! The ATI 5450 is a single slot, fanless solution which passes DTS-MA/DD-HD, and it doesn't have any power supply requirements. It's a cheap card also, ou can find them in the $40-$55 range. I should also add that unlike many other cards, it also properly flags DTS-EX (6.1) and DD-Plus (6.1) steams from DVD, which are often reduced in many other SPDIF implementations.
    Better, the 5450 will correctly pass 24P, and will also pass 120hz for full compatibility. Great mix of all the standards at dirt cheap cost.
     
  12. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Parker, here you go: $44 card that does what you're after:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814121365&cm_re=5450-_-14-121-365-_-Product
     
  13. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Matt:

    According to ATI a 400 Watt or higher power supply is recommended. As I only have a 300W PS I don't think I would want to push trying a lower rated supply.

    Newegg has upped the price to $64.99.

    Like I said I am happy with my card as it is.

    Thanks for the suggestion though.
     
  14. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Unfortunately ATI's site hasn't updated to give the right information on the evergreen cards ;( But the 4xxx series isn't bad. It has the same video renderer, and outside of passing those two formats (which even though it does, it's still tricky) it does everything else.

    But this summer people running MCE will get access to a few REALLY cool items which I think will stay in Windows 7 SP1, but may be seperate. But there are some REALLY great tie ins something this summer that I think will really work out.

    While I can't speak about two of them (damnit) there is one that I think is pretty public knowledge, and that's going to be the league and monitoring management options within media center for Fantasy Football players before the season. And that is going to rock every FFL players socks.
     
  15. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    CURRENT RECOMMENDS FOR BUDGETTING OF A HOME THEATER PC. Just to note: yes, you can run a HTPC on much less, but I consider that in order to be a HTPC, the following standards must be met:

    1.Must provide HDMI connectivity.
    2.Must output 1080P and support DXVA hardware acceleration of HD Formats
    3.Must output at least DD/DTS Core formats.
    4.All of these also list assume the basic $29 Microsoft Media Center Remote Control.

    BASIC: $500 OR LESS

    AMD 880G: A reliable HDMI output ready motherboard which supports DXVA, full HD, and DTS/DD core over HDMI. Also onboard 8 channel audio for LPCM decoding if preferred. $65.

    AMD X2-250 Dual Core CPU: Dual core is more then enough to decode all of your movies, video, and content without ever feeling slow. It also gives you enough "oomph" to do basic recoding in the background. $60.

    2GB DDR 2 Memory (many brands/types/etc.) normally available for about $25
    500GB SATA: (many types) $44
    Standard DVDRW: $22


    Case: Silverstone GD4: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811163158&cm_re=micro_atx_htpc-_-11-163-158-_-Product ($99) Great case, available in many places has great look and works.

    Power Supply: HEC base ATX: $22.00

    Windows 7 Home Premium 32 or 64bit: $99


    This is your cheapest option AT THIS POINT that I would recommend.


    Next: Super-Mini


    AMD has upped the ballgame with its new super-mini for HTPC. That's the AMD Zacate. Using about 18W of energy, this is a low power unit that passes DTS-MA/DD-HD or LPCM over HDMI. Single board with processor in a MicroATX Format can be found for around $130. This accomplishes everything and does it with so low of power usage that it's definitely a strong consider. If you are looking for something super cheap + energy efficient + 1080P ready then this may be the right solution.


    Stepping Up: The Full Monty HTPC


    If you're going to spend on HTPC, you're either going to get a seperated video card (I recommend the ATI 5770 or up) or you'll look at this solution. That's Intel's Sandy Bridge. Now that Intel has fixed their issues with chipset, a 2400K (K is IMPORTANT here, it's the difference between HD2000 and HD3000 video).

    Using a 2400K Processor plus H65/H67 board, you get: DTS-MA, DD-HD, LPCM output over HDMI, Hardware accelerated 3D BD support, and normally enough slots to handle your media cards and components. Keep your other configurations basically in line (4 Gig of RAM and 500GB should be the baseline, more if you are going to save a lot of TV, a lot more if you don't plan on using a NAS or WHS)




    This week I'm going to go through the build outs on an AMD Zacate plus the build on an Intel :)


    THIS LIST IS UPDATED 4/2/2011
     
  16. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    I had waited for some time because there was a planned release of a product I wanted to include for the mid-level unit, but it appears as though Intel will not get their H55/H57 chipset issue ever fixed with regards to how it puts out HD video. This is a significantly screwup, and it's hard to recommend it as a mid-level box. Most had been hopeful for something like this in the mid level, but without driver fixes coming, it's out.

    So, I'll work on some listings for that. But before I post up some mid-levels, here are some new things that are coming to MCE users this summer:

    * For those that use NetFlix on Demand Via Silverlight, Netflix is preparing 720P, 5.1 Audio "On Demand" options for Media Center. Updates are likely this summer.

    If you're an iPhone fan (and we have a large Mac base here) but you run MCE for it's many niceties, there's an app for that:
     
  17. Parker Clack

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    Ok Matt what app is that?
     
  18. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    I just purchased a new PC (Gateway with an AMD quad core processor and ATI video card), and added an LG Bluray burner as well. However, since Windows 7 does not yet support BD playback, I am stuck.


    This is not a HTPC, but I would like to occasionally play a BD for viewing on the PC's monitor. Are there any inexpensive software player options available? I really do not want to spend $100 for PowerDVD just for occasional playback.


    I cannot believe Microsoft left out support for BD in Media Player.
     
  19. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    It's not that MS doesn't support it, it's that at the time of shipment (and even now) the licensing cost for it is fairly steep. But don't worry, you don't have to spend a ton!


    If you bought your PC with an LG burner, and they didn't give you the software (free) then you got ripped off. LG normally ships with an OEM copy of PowerDVD BD edition free, with every single drive.

    If you got ripped and they didn't give you that software (which, like I said, should come with every LG drive, I've checked everywhere online, they all do) then you can grab the software that should have come with it for about $25:


    http://www.infotechnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=7300&s=froogle


    I do love the "I can't believe MS left out support.." then again, no other platform out there can even work with the drive media at all :)
     
  20. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Matt,


    The LG BD burner I purchased was an OEM version through Newegg -- it did not come with anything (cables, software, etc.).


    The link you provided to Cyberlink PowerDVD 7 does not indicate that it will run under Windows 7. It just lists Windows MCE, XP, 2000, ME. The current release is version 10. However, Cyberlink's site does state Windows 7 support for version 7, so I assume it will work. The price is certainly much better than the current version.


    Thanks for the link.
     

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