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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    yeah, sometimes NewEgg etc. sells ultra-bare OEM. :( It's a good way to help make the product cheaper. But yes, normally they get bundled with it.
     
  2. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    FYI, after doing a little more research, it appears that the version of PowerDVD in Matt's link may not support BD playback. While it states it is a "BD Edition", Cyberlink does not make any such edition. The "Ultra" version is required for BD playback according to Cyberlink's website.


    https://membership.cyberlink.com/prog/support/cs/product-faq-content.do?id=4320&prodId=1&prodVerId=239
     
  3. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    BD Edition is to be included exclusively with the purchase of a drive.


    But a lot of places will sell it seperately.
     
  4. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Thanks, Matt. That would explain why it was not listed on the website. There was some mention of an OEM version, though. This must be that version.
     
  5. DanielME

    DanielME Auditioning

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    Cool thread!

    I'm currently using my Asus laptop as my HTPC hooked up to my receiver via HDMI. I have an Unraid Server with all my dvd's and blu rays and using WMC. Works flawlessly. I output MCPCM though as my receiver can't decode the Dolby True HD etc. TMT does though ;-)
     
  6. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    For those that use it, MediaBrowser 2.4.4 was released today. An oranizational plugin for Media Center, you're talking about something that is really pretty incredible.


    http://www.mediabrowser.tv
     
  7. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Matt:


    Thanks for the heads up regarding Media Browser. I will install it later on today.


    Parker
     
  8. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Some of the new features are some nice things: Search by an actor or director, and it will show you all TV and Movies that they are in that you may have in your collection.
    Better integration of WTV/DVR-MS (Microsoft's format it uses for DVR Purposes)

    Newer folder by folder Parental Controls (select a PIN is needed to view anything PG-13/R or whatever rated or higher, and the ability to lock specific folders to keep kids out without parental PIN)

    Localization support for multi-language modes or international use


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
     
  9. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    I'm going to revive this thread. Monday, I'm going to start a build using a Ceton CableCard adapter, and I figure I can just record it and show how this works on a micro box. FlipHD camera at the ready, we can go through the whole process ;)
     
  10. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    So, we're going to do two builds at the same time. The first is an AMD Zacata, and the other is a H61 Intel. I started taking videos today, I'll have to edit out a lot of fumbling around and reduce for time.
    We're going to keep track of not only expected costs, but I'll try to get some video and setup information so people know compatibilities. :) Any suggestions of things people want to see?
     
  11. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    I started filming today the first videos to cut up to youtube of the H61 Media Center build with a Ceton TV tuner. I do want to ask a question before I start doing pics and videos, because I have a lot of video of both: how much of "this is a good build" type stuff (the nuts and bolts) do we want vs. this is how the install goes? Also, should I spend any time on home-automation options (for example, my 7MC controls our HVAC and lights, but I don't know if that will ever come into play for anyone else)
     
  12. Paul E. Fox II

    Paul E. Fox II Second Unit

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    Cool thread Matt...


    I jumped on the HTPC bandwagon about 18 months ago and use it more than any other single piece of gear in my rack.

    Couple months ago, I added an nVidia GT-450 to the case and now I'm all Hi-Res audio goodness.


    Very interested in the AMD Zacate builds and I'm just about ready to do one for the bedroom system. I have a WD Live TV Plus HD (whatever the heck the name is) in there and it works but not as well as a dedicated HTPC and I think I can put a great system together for around 400 clams!


    I haven't posted here a LOOOONG time but I'm gonna be checking in on this thread now.
     
  13. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Well, I spent part of my weekend and got both built and updated, and did all the video, so I'm going to edit up the video here today and tomorrow and youtube it. I need to cut out all the moments where I get called away on phone calls and when my 10 year old tries to work a screwdriver, but otherwise, it came out OK
     
  14. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Part of putting together an HTPC is to decide what you want. For the first one to illustrate, I'm trying to show one with the goals of: Low Power, Quiet, and efficient.





    MiniITX is a booming format because it allows for small (ultra small) products which can hide in your livingroom/bedroom and use minimal power. How small?





    To give you a point of comparison, next to the E350 is a LiteOn DVDRW drive. The two are roughly equal in size.




    Once assembled, you'll find that a board like Asrock gives you access to almost every connection available. Providing HDMI, DVI-D, VGA, and 8 Channel audio output plus gigabit lan and 6 USB boards + eSATA, you have access to almost any option you need. Also provided is an optical output should you require that. The E350M will pass HD-Audio over HDMI (LPCM, DTS-MA, TrueHD).


    Afraid of how complex building a PC is? A Mini-ITX board provides a mount that uses a total of FOUR screws; making it nearly full proof as to mounting and installing a board and getting started. Counting a MiniITX Case (here I'm using an Apex M100) your total cost in parts: $250. Counting Microsoft OS and Remote Control: $370.


    Next, we'll walk through what the OS really gets you...
     
  15. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    I typed all morning to only have a five page freaking post wiped out!! Damn you EDITOR!


    (And I'm using IE9, so no comments on Firefox..)


    Ok, here's the briefer version.. now that you have your install done, you're going to need to make sure that you get all of your updates in. This guide makes the assumption that you have already installed all windows updates as well as SP1, etc. Your next step is to download current drivers for your videocard of choice. In this case, we're using ATI, so a quick visit to ATI.AMD.COM to download the newest Catalyst drivers for the AMD EPU.


    Now that is done, we need to consider CODECs. There are many different ways to get CODECs into Windows. Most are built in, but there are some that you can either add through Microsoft's install tool (automated) or use a product like FFDShow. Because FFDShow provides more tweaks and functionality to the end user, I often prefer it. There are two large shipping renditions of FFDShow, those being K-Lite and Shark007. I tend to prefer K-Lite. So this guide will go grab the latest K-Lite from CodecGuide.Com and get it installed. Once it's installed, you have some management to do.





    Here, you'll see all of the option for K-Lite. For the most part** I tend to leave the Video Decoder alone (there are changes you can make, but we'll get to that at the very end of this thread) but there are some changes I do advise.. and most of those are in the audio segments.





    Determining what kind of audio to output means a lot based on your reciever and what it can accept. I'm outputting to a receiver that can accept DTS-MA/DD-HD/DTS so I will select those options. I also sleect the preferred bit rates as supported by the receiver. In general, you can select several and your reciever will negotiate this value. If you are using desktop speakers, you will need to uncheck the DD-HD/DTS/DTS-MA as they will be decoded for your speakers. In that case, check "Connect as PCM First" and "16 bit PCM". NOTE: FFDShow will pass DD-HD/DTS/DD as 8 channel LPCM/PCM to your speakers, but it will only decode the core of DTS-MA at this point. (We'll address that much later too..)


    The other function I most often enable is volume stabilization






    Enabling volume normalization makes sure that the audio coming from your media center keeps a standard decible rate, preventing large spikes up and down when you change content.


    Now that we have our audio sorted out for most basic configurations, we move on to setting DXVA. DXVA is hardware acceleration of supported video content. When we installed our ATI drivers earlier, it provided it's own VC-1 acceleration tool, so we will leave that alone. Windows will natively accelerate DXVA content, but it's method is often not as good as that provided by FFDShow. So, opening up the DXVA Configuration tool, we set our options like this:






    Now, finally with our settings in place, we need to make sure windows uses these settings. K-Lite provides a tool called Win7DSFilters. This allows you to make sure windows media center uses FFDShow as a decoder.





    DONE!

    Ok, now that we have that finished, and our Media Center updated to support all of our file formats, next we start moving on to add-ons we need to put into our Media Center to make it work the way we want.
     
  16. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Some of the next things we are going to want to add include NetFlix





    And then MediaBrowser (mediabrowser.TV)





    This helps better round out our media center. Now, when we record a program from our tuner/cablecard/network source, we can have Media Browser to organize this.


    I normally create a folder structure like this:



    MOVIES->GENRE->Film


    TV->TVTitle->SeasonX


    This is the proper way to do this.


    So, wait, how do we fill up our storage of films (without Breaking HTF Rules?) Let me say, thanks to Microsoft's really creative Media Center - this is a SNAP! In fact, there are numerous (TONS) of films I have archived that I have never seen in a DVD/BD format, and may never come in a DVD/BD format... but yet, they air on TV! So this is when you get to put your TV Tuner and items to good use, and Microsoft provides the tools for you.


    There are two ways to do this: If you are running a Microsoft Windows Home Server, it will do it for you, automatically, with the "TV Archiving" feature. If not, don't fret! MC-TV Converter provides you a way to take your recorded programs, and put them in a storable format for watch anywhere.





    Using Microsoft provided tools, you can store your television programming (WTV or, preferrably, DVR.MS/MPG) into subfolders. Also note: while the days of the "push pause on a VCR to clip commericals" are gone, programs like MC-TV can automatically parse commercials out of your finalized recording, leaving you a commercial free, highest quality saved recording of your TV shows. :) Then, store and organize them exactly as you want.. Movies as well, and Media Center will help you find them. Next, we'll move on to how to add QAM to WMC.
     
  17. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    QAM, QAM, QAM, QAM. That enough of a lead in? So, how is it that we get a guide/source of channels that we want into our media center? One of the best reasons to consider media center is the way it supports multiple ways to handle content. From CableCard (Ceton, which I will do last as an alternative) to QAM. For most users, QAM is where it is at. Ditch the cable boxes, let your media center handle your guide, and with QAM, you have great immediate access to High Definition cable sources at barebones pricing.


    So, how do we get our guides to look like this?





    This is the standard media center guide. As you can see, I've already scheduled some QAM recordings (Stargate Universe and Sanctuary). The guide uses color coding to tell me what's what. Purple is a movie, etc. Titles with an "HD" logo are, obviously, HD.


    But if you don't have a cable card, what is the best method to get these into your media center?


    Well, quite frankly out of all the methods I have looked into, few are nearly as reliable as the Silicon Dust. http://www.silicondust.com/ HD Homerun is a High Definition QAM ready decoder that provides 2 seperate feeds (watch one channel, record another) using 10/100 networking. It's quick and easy to setup. But the one thing that you have to "do yourself" is add the channels to your guide. Fortunately, they make an online key to help you find out what is what.


    Using their guide (Check your area before ever purchasing a QAM unit) I'm able to see the channels I want.. but wait, media center doesn't! So, how do I add those channels in?






    Within Media Center I Choose "Tasks"





    Because of the number of carriers and types, media center rarely recognizes QAM channels "right off the bat". So, from the Tasks, we chose "TV" then "Guide" (see us choosing "Guide" above)








    By choosing "Add Missing Channels" then "Add QAM" we are allowed to enter the information exactly as we have it from the SiliconDust portal (NOTE: that information is relevant no matter what QAM tuner you use for your HTPC)


    Also note: normally, you will not see the channel duplicated twice. In this instance, I'm showing the QAM configuration off a machine with 8 tuners; in order to compensate for that many tuners, Windows lumps them into two groups of four for rollover sake.
     
  18. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Boy am I outdated on Windows stuff :)


    How does FFDShow and its codecs relate to Windows Media Center or Netflix, and the playing of tv shows and movies? Will Netflix or WMC work without these third-party add-ons? I understood codecs as in, Windows XP won't play DVDs, so you've got to buy the MPEG-2 codec or download VLC to play a disc. I don't understand them in the context of audio normalization and 32-bit outputs and WIndows7 MC that I thought played DVDs and Blu-ray out of the box.
     
  19. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Ok, just so we can cover the bases: You do not on any level NEED FFDshow. Windows7 has a built in DVD and VC-1/264 Decoder (though not a Bluray decoder, that you have to do seperate). The reason to use something like FFDshow is because it provides you some tweaker tools for those of us who are interested in tweaking the picture and audio quality to be exactly what we want.


    Out of the box, without doing any of that, you don't need it. The reason why you deal with normalization/outputs/etc. is just to tweak the way that Windows7 deals with your other devices.. Dave, if you want to pass on all of that, then you can - it is NOT something you have to do, it is just a normal step for a lot of us who demand the "tweaker" performance :)
     
  20. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Players and video cards with supports updated in post 1/2, just for people planning to try this on their own ;)
     

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