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/post/category/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
- The Intel NUC platform (and any similar system) has very minimal heat and noise and can be mounted out of sight behind the TV. If a full sized system is required, optimize for noise as much as possible with silent fans, improved airflow, etc. See here for the NUC review: http://blogs.serioustek.net/post/2013/08/08/intel-nuc-i5-htpc-review-dc53427hye-aspx
- 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.
This section will outline the procedures, hardware and tools used to make the perfect cable box replacement.
- 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)
- Shark007 Codec Pack http://shark007.net/ – decodes ANYTHING. Period.
- Media Center StandBy Tool http://slicksolutions.eu/mst.shtml – This is one of the best tools ever. It basically shuts down Media Center before entering sleep, then restarts it when the PC wakes up – this feature alone resolves several issues. It will also put the system back to sleep after it has been woken up for the 3:00AM Windows update or MCE update, etc. It’s excellent.
- Media Center Master http://www.mediacentermaster.com/ – This tool organized your media library and fetches thumbnails, etc. Very slick.
- Digital Cable Tuner Diagnostics Tool http://experts.windows.com/windows_media_center_custom_installers/m/wmc_installers/451891.aspx – While this does not work with the HDHomeRun Prime, it was a great tool when working with the older ATI tuners, and likely works with the Ceton PCI DCT card
- 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
- Close Media Center
- Stop all Media Center services (2)
- Kill ALL Media Center related processes – ehmsas.exe, ehrecvr.exe, ehsched.exe, ehshell.exe, ehtray.exe, mcGlidHost.exe
- Browse to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\eHome
- Delete any ‘mcepgX-X-X.db’ files
- See this article for screenshots and detail: http://www.hack7mc.com/2009/09/clearing-guide-data-and-tuner-setup-from-windows-7-media-center.html
- 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.