Windows Media Center Edition

Had to blog my experiences setting up Windows Media Center Edition (MCE), it’s an awesome system now it’s up and really does unify all my digital media from one remote control in a very user friendly manner.  I’d best described setting up Windows MCE as temperamental, we really licence it to OEM/System Builders to build consumer ready devices for purchase from your friendly home electronics stores but it also available as a download if you are a MSDN Subscriber.

 

Below is my system spec and some of the experiences I had in setting the thing up. 

I built and run my MCE system in Australia and it is hooked up to Digital Terrestrial TV, the TV picture quality is crystal clear and it receives all channels, alas no HD sound support yet!!

  • System Unit is a Shuttle SB61G2
  • Graphics Card - ATI Radeon 9550 Encore (gecube), 128MB DVI, Passive cooling, this work well in this system config and is stable and handles all the graphics, TV, DVDs etc just fine.  I tried two nVidia cards a FX5600 and a FX5700SE, both 128MB, VGA, DVI, I had problems with both these cards, the system would bluescreen with an nVidia driver problem.  Not convinced it was a driver problem, the problem would happen every 6 or so hrs, sometimes more sometimes less, think it might be a power or heat thing.  Well fixed now:-)
  • Memory – 1GB, but really only needs 512MB, but I do other stuff on the system as well – namely video editing.
  • CPU - 2.8 HT Intel P4
  • Disk – 160GB Barracuda 7200.7 SATA - ST3160023AS, quiet and fast, but wish for a bigger disk!!
  • Digital Terrestrial TV Tuner Hauppauge Nova-T/MCE from http://www.newmagic.com.au/
  • nVidia Software DVD Decoder

Windows MCE is pretty sensitive to graphics cards and I’d recommend you stick to officially supported/certified cards, in the nVidia world this is the FX5700 chipset and above...  ATI also have a selection of cards with MCE compliant drivers.

 

Remote Control

http://www.auspcmarket.com.au/show_product_info.php?code=VI-MSMCEREMOTE, this is an updated version on the remote control and the most compelling feature is to be able to reprogram the volume buttons.  If you set up your MCE box and pump out the sound via your Digital Optical port on your PC then you’d have spotted you can’t control the volume via MCE User Interface.  So with ability to program the remote is great so you can program it to alter the volume on your audio receiver – cool

 

Standby to S1 or S3, that is the question

Well I always wondered what the difference was between the standby modes in the BIOS setup. S1 allows the system to standby but the fans keep running (noisy) and S3 (STR – Standby to RAM) turns the fans off and it blissfully and completely silent and it is also more energy efficient than S1 mode.

The less than good news is if you installed Windows XP (inc MCE) with the standby mode set to S1 and you want the system to operate in S3 then you need to reload the OS as there are system files and registry settings that you cant change after the installation.

Other requirements to run your system using S3 standby mode are:-

 

Auto login

I run my media center as part of my home Active Directory Domain so I wanted my system to auto login when it started up. To do this I used the TweakUI tool off Windows XP Powertoys, there is a login option that allows you to select the default user and store an encrypted password.

I run the MCE interactive user with Domain User privileges, this way day to day setting on the MCE can’t be altered by accident.  I configured the TV channels from an account with admin privileges.

 

Region Free DVD

Well I wanted my Windows MCE DVD player to operate region free so I’m running “DVD Region+CSS Free” from http://www.dvdidle.com/index.htm, you need to tell this piece of software to look for DVD requests from Windows MCE so you need to add \windows\ehome\eshell.exe to the list of programs.  Someone recently pointed out AnyDVD, not tried it but it looks good.  Btw, “DVD Region+CSS Free” or "AnyDVD" and Intervideo “DVD Copy” are very complementary…

 

Network connection.

I used an Ethernet wired/wireless bridge (Netgear) to connect my MCE box to the rest of my home network and the Internet.  There were a number of reasons why I preferred this over a USB Wireless adapter mostly to do with timings of a USB wireless adapter associating itself with the Wireless Router, acquiring an IP address and auto logging the MCE system in to my domain, essentially the system would get logged in on cached credentials before the USB wireless adapter had connected and this caused some network connectivity problems, I guess this just depends on how complex your home network is.

 

Noise Levels

I run my Windows MCE in my living room, the Shuttle is pretty quiet relative to most PC systems but it is not quiet enough, so it lives in a well vented cabinet under the TV so noise levels are more than acceptable.  I think the main culprit is the power supply fan and this is despite the system being fitted with a Shuttle SilentX power supply.  If I was doing again then I probably look at some of the HTPC cases from http://www.auspcmarket.com.au and passive or quiet cooling and power options from www.quietpc.com.

 

Electronic Program Guide

Alas in OZ there is no official "Electronic Program Guide(EPG)" as it appears that the TV channels are uncomfortable releasing this data, so there are a number of 3rd Party applications that you may want to check out to get the EPG data to your Media Center.  See http://www.thegreenbutton.com/community/shwmessage.aspx?ForumID=27&MessageID=90637&TopicPage=1 and http://epgrunner.sytes.net/default.aspx?page=mainpage.  I'm running EPGRunner and so far it works very well...

 

Online Spotlight

In Internet Explorer set the Language to English("United States") and you'll pick up the US online content which is quite comprehensive.

 

Addons for Windows Media Center 2005

Windows Media Center is also extensible and there are a number of venders who provide addons for MCE, some free, some not but they are pretty cheap.  Check out:-

Useful links

http://www.thegreenbutton.com

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1558,1742236,00.asp

http://www.mvps.org/marksxp/MediaCenter/main.php

http://wiki.helpware.net/index.php?page=WindowsMediaCenterEdition

http://pocketgear.com/software_detail.asp?id=13646 – looks cool, but not tried it!!

http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au - Oz Media Center Edition Community Site

http://www.auspcmarket.com.au - or similar

http://www.quietpc.com

http://www.slysoft.com/en/anydvd.html - region free DVD, similar to http://www.dvdidle.com/dvd-region-free.htm