SeriousTeK

dribble from the Tech World

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

The Ultimate Windows Media Center Build and Troubleshooting Guide

After many years (and iterations) of Windows Media Center PCs, I have finally arrived to a place where the benefits outweigh the issues and I have full approval from the 'Board'. Take a look at all of the previous posts here: http://blogs.serioustek.net/archive.aspx#cat-Fine-Tuning-Media-Center-7

We are now using HTPC Windows Media Center PCs on our Primary TVs and for once, everything is working perfectly, and there are ZERO 'weird little issues' that I have to explain away to my Wife (or anyone that tries to use the system). First, let me address some of the major issues I've had in the past and how they've been resolved - some of them are additional hardware components, and some are software solutions.

  • Boot Times
    • This used to be an issue but the combination of having an SSD as the primary drive and the fact that the PC is hardly ever powered off or rebooted and stays in S3 sleep means that the system is as responsive, if not more responsive than a cable box. I've also found that some TVs boot slower than waking an SSD based PC from sleep.
  • Sleep Issues
    • These systems stay in S3 when they are not in use, so sleeping and waking needs to be perfect - this was not always the case. Here's some issues experienced:
      • Upon wake, the TV showed a black screen; Media Center was running, but only showed a black screen. Usually a reboot fixed the issue, or if you could get to task manager and close it forcefully. The fix: The Media Center Standby Tool (MST) - see the build section for details
      • Upon wake, HDMI audio failed. Simply closing and re-opening Media Center would resolve the issue. The fix: MST
      • Selecting the guide bounced back to recorded TV. Never figured this one out... The fix: MST
  • Heat and Noise
  • Cable Provider Service Updates
    • This issue has not been nearly as much of an issue since the HDHomeRun Prime is powered on at all times, and as far as I understand it, stores the Virtual Channel Table (VCT) locally. Any updates pushed by the provider are received by the HDHomeRun and the VCT is always up to date - no need to leave a PC on to receive the updates.
  • Remote Control Issues
    • Using a universal remote is fine, but ALWAYS use the standard Windows Media Center remote programming codes - don't use 3rd party codes (or a 3rd party remote that might come with a TV tuner or HTPC chassis). The standard Media Center remote is more than capable of controlling all the needed functions as well as bringing the system into and out of sleep.
  • Coax Signal Strength Issues
    • Having the HDHomeRun Prime connected directly to the primary coax splitter, resolves any signal strength issues, and as long as network is available, the Prime can be located nearly anywhere needed.

 

 

The Build

 This section will outline the procedures, hardware and tools used to make the perfect cable box replacement.

  • Hardware
    • HDHomeRun Prime- essentially makes a Cable Card tuner available over the network - in the case of the Prime, three tuners. While not required, this tech resolves several issues, and allows for a very compact setup assuming that networking is available.
    • Network- a wired network is required for the Prime - in fact, it has a 1Gb network interface, so if you have 1Gb networking gear, it will use it. My initial testing of streaming live TV over a wireless network showed to fairly unreliable, but I believe more testing is needed.
    • Video Card- Must be capable of at least 720P or 1080P video. The older i3 processors with HD 3000 video work OK at 1080P but I have seen some choppiness. The newer HD 4000 Intel chips work great at 1080P.
    • HDMI Audio- Not required, but it makes things 100 times easier. This is where the AMD-based video cards take the win - all of the Radeon HD 5000 series and later cards have an onboard HD audio decoder - and the stream is sent straight out the HDMI port - full 7.1 bitstream audio to the receiver? Done. The Intel HD chips also have HDMI audio, but I am not certain about their full capabilities.
    • SSD- An SSD drive is a must - it just speeds up everything. If you need more storage space, use a 2nd drive (internal or external...or iSCSI if you're feeling adventurous)
  • Software
  • Procedure
    • Assemble hardware
      • Ensure BIOS is set to AHCI (should be the default nowadays anyway)
      • Check for anything in the BIOS about sleep - make sure S3 is enabled, and be careful with things like 'hybrid sleep' or S3+S4
    • Install Win7 with SP1
    • Install ALL Drivers - not installing all drivers, or the proper drivers can interfere with sleep functionalityIf using the HDHomeRun Prime - install .NET 4 and then the latest HDHomeRun software
    • Open Device Manager and browse through most of the HID hardware and USB hardware - on each, go to the Power Management tab (if available) and disable 'Allow this device to wake the computer' on EVERYTHING except for the IR receiver.
    • Open the control panel and find Power Options - set these to meet your needs, but here is what I set:
      • Dim the display, turn off the display, put the computer to sleep: Never
      • Advanced Power - Require a password on wakeup: No
      • Power button action: Sleep
    • Launch Media Center for the first time - allow express setup to run. Set the following:
      • Media Center window is always on top
      • Always start Media Center when computer starts up
    • Install the Shark007 codec pack (and x64 add-on for x64 systems)
    • Install MST and configure
    • Close Media Center - let Media Center update run (we're waiting for the DCT advisor tool to be updated)
    • Configure auto logon - open regedit and modify the following under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon :
      • DefaultUserName - username goes here (create if it doesn't exist - String - can also be in the form of domain\username)
      • DefaultPassword - password goes here (create if it doesn't exist - String...cleartext password...I know)
      • AutoAdminLogon - 1 (should exist - DWORD)
    • Run Windows Update and install all Hotfixes - reboot (repeat as needed)
    • Re-open Windows Media Center - Go to the Extras Gallery and run the DCAT (the icon is COAX cable) - once finished, run Live TV setup
    • Customize Media Center as you like - add media galleries, set your preferred channels, color code guide categories, etc.

Some Issues I've run into in the Past

  • Guide data doesn't download: All channels show as 'no data available'. Usually re-running 'Live TV Setup Wizard' will resolve this. But sometimes you may need to clear out the guide data forcefully. Do the following
  • System randomly wakes up from sleep or never fully goes to sleep: As noted in a previous post here, some hardware just constantly tries to wake a system - most notably are keyboards and mice. Run the 'powercfg -lastwake' command from an elevated command prompt to see what woke the system, and prevent it from waking the system in the future in device manager.

 

That's it - any questions, just ask. Thanks to the following websites for always having a ton of useful information:

http://www.hack7mc.com/ - Hack 7MC always has a ton of cool stuff like adding themes and customization

http://experts.windows.com/f/ - This is the old 'TheGreenButton' forum turned into. I have not used it much since the conversion, but there were always some great users on there willing to help.

http://www.thegreenbutton.tv/forums/ - Possibly another offshoot of the TGB forums...since no one seemed to like being taken over by Microsoft forums.

 

Comments (9) -

Hi Jake,

I just wanted to share some of my experiences with setting up an HTPC with Media Center in our living room, and float a question or two to you.

I've recently put my "gaming" PC (nice and quiet, just happens to be the most powerful box: Windows 8.1, Intel Core i7, 8GB of RAM, SSD) into the living room so I can continue using Media Center as the (objectively) best DVR/TV watching experience available.  Historically I've used my Xbox 360 as an Extender from this machine when it was located in the office, but I recently upgraded to an Xbox One, and this was the simplest way to continue the MC experience in my home.  Or so I thought...

I purchased two items to keep things moving: a newer, quieter video card (an nVidia GeForce GTX 760 from Asus...very quiet) and the Antec Veris Basic internal IR adapter (something my Harmony Remote 700 can talk to).

The video card seems to be working fine so far (I'm still working through the startup order of the items so that the video locks at the right resolution), but I've had a ton of fun *sarcasm* trying to get the Veris Basic to play right (in conjunction with the use of the requisite iMon software) with the Harmony remote...

I won't bore you with the details of working through all the intricacies (stumbling onto your blog was a HUGE help, btw), but I've got most everything worked out now.  The one thing that hit me pretty hard (not sure this is everyone's experience) was Sticky Keys.  If my wife or I hit some of the keys on the Harmony too quickly, we'd engage Sticky Keys for CTRL, and subsequent keys wouldn't work properly.  Disabling that particular feature fixed that right up.

The last thing that's messing me up is putting the PC to sleep with the remote.  For some reason, the power toggle command from the Harmony will only work on the first reboot of the PC (meaning it's never been put to sleep).  I can hit "Watch TV" on the Harmony, and the PC, TV, and receiver will all spin up.  When I hit "Power Off" on the Harmony, the PC goes to sleep (based on your recommended power settings changes - you rock!), and the TV and receiver are turned off.  This, however, is the last time the power toggle command will work.  I can wake the PC up with the keyboard and mouse, but that sort of defeats the idea of using the Harmony for things if even a compact keyboard/mouse combo has to be in the living room.  It also takes away one of the benefits of MST since MST will close eHome during suspend and spin it back up on resume, so that's a bummer.

I was hoping the MST tool would help, but it doesn't seem to change things (I tried all three USB reset options using the latest beta).  I DO love that (in conjunction with setting Windows 8.1 to boot to desktop) that MST will launch MST at startup, but as I stated above, I can't get it to control eHome beyond the first cycle of suspend and resume.

I'm emailing Herman at Slick Solutions to see if there is a revised version of MST in the works for Windows 8.1, but with your staggering experience with MC (seriously, I might've given up on this if it weren't for finding your blog), I wanted to see if you had any suggestions, or could point me to something I've missed.

Thanks for reading this, and a HUGE thank you for maintaining this blog.  You're a life saver!

Tim

Steven Tiell

Great blog post, thanks! I took your advice and am very pleased w/ a new NUK D54250WYK on Win7 Pro. Only one pesky issue. When I resume from sleep, I get a WMC error message that states, "TV and video may not work as expected because the video card does not meet the minimum memory requirement of 64 MB of video RAM. If you consistently encounter errors with TV or video, update the video driver or install a new video card."

There seem to be quite a few similar issues reported on a variety of forums w/ most of the advice suggesting to "update your video drivers" -- I'm already using the latest. Any thoughts?

jake rutski

Steven-

I've seen the stupid "minimum memory requirement..." error once or twice. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often for me - are you using MST to control WMC during sleep\wake cycles? If not, I am wondering if that might help. Are you getting that error on every wake?

I believe I set a static amount of video memory in the BIOS - might also help.

To be honest, I'm not FULLY satisfied with the NUC...I never got the NIC issue sorted out - it still blinks on and off if you power down completely. Keeping the NIC powered on during sleep seemed to prevent this behavior for me. I would be interested if Win8 makes any difference with the NUC.

jake rutski

Tim-

Thanks for the interest. I struggled for a while with getting remote control just right - especially with the Antec and a Harmony remote. I seem to remember something like your issue - I've got a USB IR receiver that came with a Rosewill (I think) remote control\USB IR combo that I purchased solely for the purpose of the USB IR. Turns out that this USB IR (model number IR606 /Q) doesn't work to wake the system from sleep 100% of the time - it's more like 65% of the time it works.

That being said, the USB IR receiver seems to play a role in all of this. The one that came with the Microsoft remotes as well as the receiver that came with the Hauppauge TV tuner cards (might be the same model receiver) are the ones I've used with 100% success. The Antec IR receiver also works, but you must use the Microsoft command set not the iMon command set - it's configured in the iMon software - there's a config that determines which of 3 remote controls the software uses.

This is the receiver I'm using for both machines that the family uses: missingremote.com/.../Amulet_IR_Receiver.jpg

I believe both of them came with the Hauppauge cards...but unfortunately you can't mount them internally.

I have not fully tested WMC in Windows 8.X yet...I'm currently testing 8.1, but we'll see how that goes. My biggest concern is that MST works with 8.1 - once I do some more testing, I'm sure I'll post about it.

Steven Tiell

Hello again. After reinstalling the OS b/c of major issues w/ the Shark007 codecs/settings (which I've since resolved, more on that later), I've got everything up and running properly for the first time. Fingers crossed it stays this way. I don't have enough time with the system to say whether the "minimum memory" error is gone or not. I did see it once - and after I dedicated 256MB of RAM to Video Memory in the BIOS, but before I had the MC fully setup. I've done a few sleep cycles and it hasn't crept back yet.

A few other apps I wanted to recommend:
http://www.mychannellogos.com/ ($5) (adds channel logos and more rows to the program guide)
http://mikinho.com/wmc/mount-image/ (Allows mounting of ISO files w/in MC - free - must be used w/ daemon tools or Virtual CloneDrive)
http://www.slysoft.com/en/virtual-clonedrive.html (free - virtual CD/DVD/BD drive)

Also, what's your NIC issue? Perhaps I can help you with that. I'm surprised to hear of a NIC issue on an Intel board/chipset.

I have all the things I need working (Live TV, MKV, AVI, MP4) with the latest (as of today) Shark007 codec packs. Happy to e-mail you screenshots [offline] to include in your guide if you'd like.

As for the IR receiver, I've also noticed that the stock one seems a bit "lethargic". I have one that came w/ my HP MediaCenter PC that's 6 or 7 years old that I'm gonna try to add and disable the embedded one. I use a high-end Harmony remote that I've setup a mouse controller on (as a device) and the embedded IR port can't handle the command bursts from holding down the direction buttons for more than a couple seconds at a time....which is kind of a nuisance. It also seems to miss commands once in a while.

I also need to figure out a specialized antenna so I can get NBC OTA (I'm using an HD HomeRun Dual w/ a Mohu Leaf Ultimate Antenna and get about 30 other channels, just not NBC. Sigh)

jake rutski

Steven-

The issue with the NIC on the NUC is fairly well documented on their forum - here's my post: communities.intel.com/message/202600#202600

I too am surprised to see this behavior with an Intel NIC....and it's not the switch either - that's a Cisco Catalyst. I've got it worked around pretty much 100% now, but I'd still like to see a fix either with firmware or...something.

Is there a stock IR receiver in the NUC? if so I completely missed that one.

As a former HT install tech, I'm very familiar with OTA channels and using antennas, amps, and the like. Unfortunately, everything on several sites states that my current address is out of range of nearly all channels - but it's because of being on the other side of a hill. I may have to get one of the new HDHomeRun Plus boxes when they are released and see what I can pull OTA, but I don't have high hopes.

Steven Tiell

Ahhh...it appears we are using different NUCs - I'm using the D54250WYK and it appears you're using the DC53427HYE.

NIC works fine on mine. Although, I'm now getting some "out of memory" error after my system is "sleeping" for approximately a full day (I have 16GB of crucial memory on it). Maybe I'll have to install MST and see if that is any benefit. Otherwise, stuff on my end seems good to go (NBC OTA notwithstanding).

I'd also be interested to hear if the duplicate images on the slideshow screen saver is just an "undocumented feature" of perhaps there's a way to fix that? I've had that issue on all 3 of my WMC computers.

(oh, and your "notify me when new comments are added" feature on these comments doesn't actually work)

Ian Journeaux

Jake

I am trying to configure a newHTPC running win7 64bit. I have most of what I need yp and running but I can not get the PC to resume with the MCE remote and IR receiver (HP version). I can successfully resume with a Lenovo RF keyboard I have.
I downloaded and installed the MCE Standby tool (it had alot of promise) but I was unable to  get ther resume with the MCE remote to work.

Any thoughts?

jake rutski

Ian-

Check your power settings in device manager - make sure that the USB IR remote (should be under human interface devices) can wake the system from sleep. There may also be a setting in the BIOS blocking this. Also note that I had an issue with a Rosewill IR receiver reliably waking the system from sleep - blogs.serioustek.net/.../...Review-DC53427HYE.aspx

Add comment