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How to make your Windows Media Center a real HD machine


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#41 of 103 DaveF

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Posted April 29 2011 - 03:24 AM

So, uhm, I've got a friend, who's got a cousin, whose boyfriend is thinking of building an HTPC, but would like to rip his (legally purchased) Blu-ray discs for easier viewing in an iTunes-like system (since Blu-ray players are so slow and user-hostile, especially experiencing the ease of a Tivo). And this person was wondering roughly how automated and fast such ripping is with modern hardware? To be able to toss a newly purchased Blu-ray into a a box and have it automatically ripped, tagged, and in the system in under an hour -- while TV watching or Xbox goes on in the background -- would eliminate SAF objections to such things.


Any comments? :)



#42 of 103 mattCR

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Posted April 29 2011 - 04:49 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 

So, uhm, I've got a friend, who's got a cousin, whose boyfriend is thinking of building an HTPC, but would like to rip his (legally purchased) Blu-ray discs for easier viewing in an iTunes-like system (since Blu-ray players are so slow and user-hostile, especially experiencing the ease of a Tivo). And this person was wondering roughly how automated and fast such ripping is with modern hardware? To be able to toss a newly purchased Blu-ray into a a box and have it automatically ripped, tagged, and in the system in under an hour -- while TV watching or Xbox goes on in the background -- would eliminate SAF objections to such things.


Any comments? :)


Well, that's a tricky subject.   Let's look at this another way.


There are a lot of great, fantastic Bluray camcorders on the market -right now-.  And you have all of this great, fantastic BD home movie material.   But how do you make it easily accessible?   Well, a full 50GB Bluray-R (Writable Bluray Disc) can be converted for your future viewing pleasure with instant access (no load times, no menu structures, just your home movies, untouched with no extra compression) with full audio in tact - and the process is quick.  Market products like MakeMKV.Com and others do a fantastic job of allowing you to preserve your OWN PERSONAL RECORDINGS or sanctioned content in a container that makes them easy to grab and view later at your pleasure. 

You do really want to hold on to all of your original discs, though.   Storing those original discs is really where the heart of your memory lives, and that way if any family member really wants to know how you got that funny memory of Uncle Earl diving into the swimming pool, you can show them exactly when - and it's a lot easier with your disc in hand then to just show them a video file  - they might assume you just got that video file and hacked it together from a bunch of other places to make him look foolish.  And the whole process is quick, almost always less then an hour.


Does that help?    Again: preservation of your OWN media content is specifically protected under law.


W/R/T transferred media, only OPEN content applies.   So, if you have taxpayer funded media (read: there are fully unencrypted Open BDs on the market that may be legitimately purchased) those titles are free for use and storage and should be flagged as such by the vendor.   So, never feel bad about keeping a copy of the Innauguration BD of President Obama - an Open and Clear title that you are free to archive however you want.    In fact, I think you can get the State of the Union speeches in HD format in these ways,though I'd have to check.   So, if you'd like, these instructions are equally good for any public content that you directly own a piece of as well.



(any use of this instruction outside of the strictest meaning is not intended)



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#43 of 103 DaveF

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Posted May 01 2011 - 08:08 AM

Matt, you happen to know how to play the videos at MS's website? Was hoping to learn a little about "extenders", but the videos simply report the plug-in is missing, but there's no indication of what weirdness MS requires for its website. Googling isn't getting me anywhere. Do I need to install Silverlight?


This screenshot shows the site in Chrome on OS X.

http://screencast.com/t/3inBQpL3gck



#44 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 01 2011 - 10:47 AM

Dave, these are better.





Dave-


What's your end goal?


I'm going to be keeping quite a few threads up here, I'm pretty committed to breathing some life into the HTPC area ;)   But I'm planning on doing a thread on Whole Home Audio/Video.   ..  I have to tell you, there are some MINDBENDING new things coming to Extenders and mobile devices this summer; a big part of it tags along with the XBOX Shell update...  But we've got four really incredible pieces of hardware coming this summer.

Should be interesting stuff ;)


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#45 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 01 2011 - 12:16 PM

I've been asked privately often and in this forum a few times about: what is the end goal, really, for a user experience in Windows Media Center.   Sometimes it's easier to show then to explain.





This is my Media Center.   From the starting screen you can see several things.   On my front screen you see "Home Server" which is my TV Archiver - it archives all of my shows to my Home Server in WMV format or WMV-HD format now, and with a few tricks, I've got it to save some in MKV (see: MC-TV Converter automated).  Heck, MC-TV converter will cut the damn commercials out of a show, I don't need to worry about hitting fast forward; I wake up the next morning, my shows are commercial free, placed exactly in the folders I want them, organized and sortable.   So, let's see how this works within MyTV.   MyTV, which is a SenseitWeb product I've reviewed here, indexes every show I've recorded, some I own on DVD, some I've converted as time has gone by.   It then gives me a view to sort through them.  You'll notice a "Green checkmark" on titles.  That means it's a title I've watched in the last six months.


If you notice the video in the background, that's Angel.. yes, my show doesn't stop, no matter what I'm doing so I can hear the dialog and the show while I hunt.


Ok, so well, my DVR hasn't indexed the new episodes of Sanctuary yet.   Since it just restarted, I might want to check my guide and make sure it's recording them.   So.. wait, what's the weather supposed to be like tomorrow?  Ok, quick check.. click click.. alrighty then, now let's go look at the TV I already have recorded.    My DVR currently carries about 3TB of DVR storage.  I can store several hundred hours in HD.. wait, what the heck am I doing storing so much Blues Clues?  I've got 49 episodes of Blues Clues?  I might have to add that to my scripted archive and make an entry for it.   Because Media Center can be told to not record duplicates, these should be all independent, different episodes.  Oh well, I can try and sort that out later.

Let's see what's on tap tonight.. hmm.  New Borgias.   Looks like Law & Order Criminal Intent and In Plain Sight must be starting their new seasons tonight.  My media center remembered from last year and caught those premieres.  Cool.  You'll notice on "The Borgias" it has "Showtime HD" selected, because I'm using a Ceton CableCard.  This makes my digital recordings as pristine as a settop DVR, in fact, most of the time better.   Oh, and did I mention I can archive them, sort them, index them and hold onto them forever, or at least until I buy the bluray sets?


Finally, I can tell Media Center to search.  It can search my local content, my favorites, planned shows.. it can search actors, directors, it can search on the internet for things I don't have.


So, how does cablecard really work out for me?  Let's look at my guide.





Ooh, the Hurt Locker is on.  Well, I can chose that.  It's in SD, because it's Showtime West.  Eh.  But still, pops right into focus. Ralph Fienes was in it?  Ok, what else was he in?  Hey, he was in "Strange Days".. I remember that. (I own the movie, but for this purpose..) maybe I want to give that a try, does this come on anytime soon?  Yeah, it's going to air on FMC tomorrow late night and Friday overnight.  hmmm.. I could record it but I already have it, so I don't need to.. still, a handy option if I didn't ;)  Notice when I watched "Hurt Locker" it prompted to see if I wanted to publish it to Facebook that I was watching?  Fine when I'm home, cool social media and all.  When I'm at work, weekdays, that's automated.  So, yes, evil spying dad can always know what my kids are watching.. and if I don't like it.. well, using internet remote, I can change their channel or switch it to something else.  :)


Notice in the bottom left "Angel" continues to play


Damn, did the Royals play today?   They did and we spanked the Twins..  Right on.

Damn, the Indians also won.


Oh, my wife recorded this AmityVille thing.. maybe she wants to take it somewhere.. I guess I could burn it off to a DVD for her... using my remote.


And, to be honest, we haven't even touched on the truly revolutionary stuff yet here.. Movie Archiving, Media Management, Home Automation.. setup my media center to turn off the lights in my house, change my HVAC settings after I should be asleep?   Sure!  Why the heck not!  Family throwing a birthday party and I want slide shows of pictures with a song playlist?  Fine.  Connect to my network Itunes library for quick access?  Yeppers....  Netflix.. etc.


I don't want a DVR that just records shows.  I want one that organizes EVERYTHING for me.


Note: I uploaded these videos in 1080P, but because of an error in media coder they don't fill the screen, that was me choosing a wrong option.   But if you watch them in high quality, it's a bit more impressive.  I killed the audio so you wouldn't have to listen to Angel in the background, because that might be a violation of use.




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#46 of 103 DaveF

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Posted May 02 2011 - 02:16 AM



Originally Posted by mattCR 

What's your end goal?


The back story starts with my two TivoHDs on monthly subscription, going on 3 years old. Tallying the cost, the breakeven point between monthly and lifetime is three to four years, so it makes sense to buy new hardware and start a new monthly sub late this year or next. I could upgrade to the next Tivo. I went from the Series 2 to the HD. But the newest, Tivo Premiere, looks like a bust to me. And while its streaming is faster,  user-management of more than two tuners is still required. There are hints their next system will be a four-tuner device with room extenders. But who knows when it will appear, if ever. And history suggests it will be a slower, buggier, and need at least year after release to be worth buying. (Love my TivoHDs, but Tivo is falling behind on design, usability, and quality control.)


And the limitations in the Tivo system are becoming more noticeable to me. We need at least three tuners on some nights; but Tivo's software requires manual management of the two systems. And, as I've said in Blu-ray threads, the slow startup and tedious control of Blu-ray discs is an irritant, especially compared to a hard-drive based DVR; probably a factor why we watch so much more TV than our purchased movies. If I could improve that....


So I'm starting to think about both a Tivo replacement, but also a major upgrade to our Blu-ray / DVD / Music system:


Tivo Replacement Features

* 4-Tuner HTPC

* Over-the-air reception, "lifeline" cable QAM, or Cable-Card capable

* Extender for second-room viewing

* Require Tivo-like control of live TV in both rooms

* Desire near instantaneous viewing of recorded TV shows in both rooms

* Full functionality using Harmony One remote (IR, not BT or RF) - as is Tivo, for required SAF

* Standard digital outputs (HDMI, 5.1 digital surround, 3D futureproof, etc)

* TV guide service comparable to Tivo, but no monthly subscription fees



New-to-me Feature

* Ability to play iTunes music across network from a Mac

* Pandora

* Rip (<1 hr per disc) my purchased Blu-rays and DVDs (no transcode / recompress)

* Play back ripped discs from video-jukebox system

* Desire "disc" play to be a click away from watching TV

* Netflix capable (futureproofing)

* All this accessible from second room, too


Cost

* <$2000 (w/ tax & shipping) for two-room system, with no monthly sub

* or, <$700 for two-room system, subsidized by monthly sub of ~$20/mo

* all costs assume OTA reception


Timeframe & misc

* Fall, to actually seriously research, buy, and build

* For now, noodling the idea, learning a bit to see if this is a practical idea

* Reading the TivoCommunity forum again,  just it case there's new awesomeness that would blow out an HTPC (and because there are people there that compare HTPCs with Tivos. My biggest concern is even HTPC fans say the UI is worse than on a Tivo.)



#47 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 02 2011 - 04:05 AM

Dave, I think the biggest thing you have to decide off the bat is if you want to commit to cable card or if you want to do OTA with QAM.   If you get lifeline with QAM, you of course save a bundle of money.. but it locks out pay cable etc.   Frankly, this may be a "minor" inconvenience.  With Netflix showing Starz at about a 3 week delay now (it used to be instant, damnit!  Now it's about 3 weeks behind they say) and Hulu, and other services you pretty much have access to everything anyway.  And often paying for Netflix Streaming ($7/Month) is cheaper then a pay cable network setup.


Your target of "less then $2k" isn't just doable, it's considerable overkill.   If you think about it in this thread we looked at a Zacate build.. if I through a cable card reader into it, or went with the new SiliconDust, I'd still be under $900.  And I'd have 4+ tuners, network viewing capability, iTunes libraries, Netflix, etc.


I find the guide far better then TiVos.  I might do some more videos of some of the tricks you can do with the Media Center guide later.  Since storage options are damn near free, and programs that organize them -are- free, it's an easy task.


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#48 of 103 DaveF

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Posted May 02 2011 - 04:50 AM

It occurs to me that I might be able to start dabbling with some of this. I have a 360, and I have Win7 running in Parallels on my Macs. If Win7 comes with Media Center, I can get a feel for some of the features.



The choice of OTA, QAM, or CableCard is in flux at the moment. I'm OTA today, but depending on the 2011 TV schedule (this Fall), we might choose to add Netflix or get some premium cable. If something like the Ceton could allow for all options, at a modest price premium, that would be good. I don't want to waste money, but I'm willing to pay a bit for improved experience, flexibility, and sensible future-proofing.


Fortunately, it looks like I'd save $200 at least, since I already have a 360. :)




#49 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 02 2011 - 06:07 AM

Dave-


Do you know what UI functions they really prefer on the TiVo?   Just so a point of reference.


I'll throw this out there to everyone (within reason) if you get stuck on a 7MC, I'll be more then willing to provide remote desktop help to make sure all your settings are right ;)   Take the sting right out of it ;)


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#50 of 103 DaveF

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Posted May 02 2011 - 06:26 AM

Nothing specific. Just vague comments about WMC being less nice than Tivo, but have more functionalty. They may well have been using WinXP.


Watched your videos! Thanks! Some very appealing features there; and some scattered aspects I yet don't understand. I wish MS's site was useful; they seem intent on preventing me from learning about 7MC. I'll have some more questions eventually, after I've spent some time this week googling and rummaging through YouTube :)



#51 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 02 2011 - 08:19 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 

Nothing specific. Just vague comments about WMC being less nice than Tivo, but have more functionalty. They may well have been using WinXP.


Watched your videos! Thanks! Some very appealing features there; and some scattered aspects I yet don't understand. I wish MS's site was useful; they seem intent on preventing me from learning about 7MC. I'll have some more questions eventually, after I've spent some time this week googling and rummaging through YouTube :)



I'm going to try and setup a ton of videos so I can kind of show some features a bit more in depth so it is a bit more clear.


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#52 of 103 DaveF

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Posted May 02 2011 - 08:29 AM

Sounds good.


My main feature questions are:


* Can I have DVR control of live TV from an extender?

* You appear to have a more sophisticated (than default) asynchronous post-processing of recorded shows. What's the default management of recordings?

* Can stuff be turned off? If I don't want weather and photos and sports scores, I can remove features from the main menu so they don't clutter? (Tivo has issues with this on its secondary functions; clutter and no user-arrangement allowed)


(I looked at MS's website again; it's usable in IE8 on my work PC. Alas, the 7MC website is crummy website: half the videos dead, working ones mediocre to terrible, and information content low. (sigh))



#53 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 02 2011 - 09:20 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 

Sounds good.


My main feature questions are:


* Can I have DVR control of live TV from an extender?

* You appear to have a more sophisticated (than default) asynchronous post-processing of recorded shows. What's the default management of recordings?

* Can stuff be turned off? If I don't want weather and photos and sports scores, I can remove features from the main menu so they don't clutter? (Tivo has issues with this on its secondary functions; clutter and no user-arrangement allowed)


(I looked at MS's website again; it's usable in IE8 on my work PC. Alas, the 7MC website is crummy website: half the videos dead, working ones mediocre to terrible, and information content low. (sigh))



* Yes, DVR can be controlled on any extender.  You can start, stop and schedule recordings; watch recordings or delete them on an Xbox or other extender.

* Not that much more sophisticated actually.  By default, it organizes it into the base view..   If you look at 1:43 in the first video - that is the default "recordings" view.  You can sort your recordings by when they were recorded, the show name, etc.  For example, at 1:54 in that video, I sort by name, and I can see I have (3) 30 Rock Episodes (which I haven't archived yet) 2 Archer Episodes, 49 episodes of "Blues Clues" 15 of "Beyblade" and 9 of "Bollywood Dance Workout"  (god bless my wife; married 15 years and she's thinner then when we got married; hwo she pulls that task off and stays with this troll I don't know).   Anyway, in that view, I'm sorting by Title.  But at the top, you can see I could also store by Date originally aired, Date Recorded, etc.

* Yes, you can turn them off.  Weather is not in by default, I added it.  Sports is there by default, but can easily be removed.  For people that want it, Sports can be extended to keep track of fantasy teams, etc.


It's all up to the end viewer.  The total goal is to really allow you to customize anything/everything.


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#54 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 05 2011 - 02:00 AM




Dave-


I made this one about the way the guide and recordings generally work.


If you look at the "recordings" where I go first, you'll see that in the bottom right hand corner it gives you a constant listing of how many recordings you hold.  Depending on how you search (show, date, air date, recording time) you can normally get through things quickly.   It has rules for the recorder based on series; from priorities (ie, if their is a conflict, favor in the order of priority) to rules about how many to keep, etc.  I try to go through the guide and searching options; including search by name here.  NOTE: because this recording was done at 15fps, it's not as smooth as it could be, but it helps get the look and feel of the DVR/TV area laid out.


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#55 of 103 DaveF

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Posted May 05 2011 - 02:16 AM

I hope to take time this weekend to play in Win7 (in Parallels on my Mac, which might complicate this effort), start up Media Center and connect it to my Xbox 360. While I can't try any DVR functionality, I think this will help me understand better some of what you're describing.


The risk is that my Xbox seems to autoload Fallout 3 anytime I turn it on, and there goes the weekend... ;)



#56 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 05 2011 - 02:43 AM

Hah!  I know that feeling.    :)  I'm just going to try and get a bunch of the different aspects laid out so I can try to figure out what's up



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#57 of 103 Towergrove

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Posted May 05 2011 - 05:36 AM

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. 

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#58 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 05 2011 - 06:25 AM

It does.  It just now directs you to the Microsoft Experts Community.  I'm working with a few participants on bringing some of that great material here.




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#59 of 103 John Dirk

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Posted May 05 2011 - 07:53 AM

I am trying to decide between PowerDVD 11 Ultra [or maybe just PowerDVD 10 Ultra since I have no interest in 3D] and TMT5.  I recently downloaded trials of both.  Here is what I've found.


TMT5 appears to have a much better interface, but the WMC integration does not work on my system.  I have to launch the player outside of WMC or I just get a blue screen and the movie never starts.  Is this a limit imposed because it's a trial version?  That would seem odd.  I also notice a severe time lapse between when an actor speaks and when I actually hear them.  It's intermittent, but it's there.  TMT also seems to allow virtually no control over aspect ratios.

PowerDVD 11 played fine from within WMC but the interface is far worse than the version 7 copy I was using previously.  It's actually the Blu Ray Edition that came with my LG player, but I think it's version 7 at it's core.  Perhaps this too is something they improve if you actually buy the product?  PowerDVD notified me that my mouse would not work for the disc menus, but offered no virtual remote that I could find.

Since nowadays I can get a standalone Blu Ray player for perhaps a little more than what both of these companies want, I am not sure why they think they can charge the prices they do for software solutions that don't really compete with standalone players.


My HTPC is a Gateway LX6200 running Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium with 8mb of RAM, and I've added an ATI Radeon 5450 graphics card.  Perhaps not the most powerful system by todays standards, but it should be more than enough for the task at hand.  TMT5 would probably be the winner if I were confident it would work reliably and if the price went down just a bit.  This product is curiously absent from Amazon, although I do see the older version 3.

If anyone has any relevant feedback I would be very interested in hearing it.  TMT3 might be all I need, but I'm afraid to purchase it without an objective review and confirmation that it will meet my needs.  Neither trial version did much to relieve my concerns.


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#60 of 103 mattCR

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Posted May 05 2011 - 08:08 AM



Originally Posted by John Dirk 

I am trying to decide between PowerDVD 11 Ultra [or maybe just PowerDVD 10 Ultra since I have no interest in 3D] and TMT5.  I recently downloaded trials of both.  Here is what I've found.


TMT5 appears to have a much better interface, but the WMC integration does not work on my system.  I have to launch the player outside of WMC or I just get a blue screen and the movie never starts.  Is this a limit imposed because it's a trial version?  That would seem odd.  I also notice a severe time lapse between when an actor speaks and when I actually hear them.  It's intermittent, but it's there.  TMT also seems to allow virtually no control over aspect ratios.

PowerDVD 11 played fine from within WMC but the interface is far worse than the version 7 copy I was using previously.  It's actually the Blu Ray Edition that came with my LG player, but I think it's version 7 at it's core.  Perhaps this too is something they improve if you actually buy the product?  PowerDVD notified me that my mouse would not work for the disc menus, but offered no virtual remote that I could find.

Since nowadays I can get a standalone Blu Ray player for perhaps a little more than what both of these companies want, I am not sure why they think they can charge the prices they do for software solutions that don't really compete with standalone players.


My HTPC is a Gateway LX6200 running Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium with 8mb of RAM, and I've added an ATI Radeon 5450 graphics card.  Perhaps not the most powerful system by todays standards, but it should be more than enough for the task at hand.  TMT5 would probably be the winner if I were confident it would work reliably and if the price went down just a bit.  This product is curiously absent from Amazon, although I do see the older version 3.

If anyone has any relevant feedback I would be very interested in hearing it.  TMT3 might be all I need, but I'm afraid to purchase it without an objective review and confirmation that it will meet my needs.  Neither trial version did much to relieve my concerns.


Thanks for reading  


John-


I'm trying to put together my comparative review of both.  First, TMT5 normally can be found on sale on weekends for up to 40% off.  I'm not sure why you are running into issues with WMC integration, which should work in the trial.  Make sure of these thigns that you are using a Catalyst 11.2 driver or Higher (so if you haven't updated the driver, do so now) and second, you might want to open up TMT outside of WMC and disable the function "turn off Aero on use" that solves quite a few issues.



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