Category Archives: Htpc

Well, I finally broke down and upgraded my media PC to Windows Vista. That meant a new motherboard and CPU (Intel CoreDuo E6550), video card (Radeon HD3650), and RAM (2GB). Not a high end machine by any spec, but more than adequate for recording and playing back HD content. My TV source is less than stellar – a Sky Digital box hooked up via s-video to a Hauppauge PVR150. The quality is, well, just OK, but I didn’t want to invest in something more complex (e.g. DVB-S card) since I’ll be leaving the UK and headed back to San Francisco in the next 6 months or so.

As for Vista Media Center, it is, well, different. The new menu is more complete, but more confusing as well. I’m not sure I like the vertical and horizontal menu scrolling, especially since it decreases the WAF (wife acceptance factor). I also don’t like that it only shows thumbnails in the video library and there doesn’t appear to be an option to show both a thumbnail AND the filename. It’s not always so easy to see which video is which solely from the thumbnail image. I do like the EPG and the mini menu that you can call up while still watching full screen TV.

One nice thing about VMC is that you can now use two completely different TV sources if you install the TV Pack. The TV Pack was only released to OEMs, but is easy enough to find online (can you say “bittorrent”?). This would allow me to add a DVB-T tuner to get all those Freeview channels in better digital quality than my current analog solution allows. You can then combine channels on the EPG so that you only see one channel, even though it is being fed from two completely different sources. So, if I wanted to record the BBC, VMC would first check to see if the DVB-T tuner was occupied and, if it was, it would fall back to the analog one. This is a feature I have been wanting for quite some time and is the reason I kept playing with MediaPortal (though it has never been stable enough for everyday use). Unfortunately, once I had everything installed, I seem to have lost my DVB-T USB stick. Damned if I can remember where I put the thing after giving up on MediaPortal.

What do you know? It appears Microsoft listens after all. In their latest update to MCE2005, they finally fixed the subchannels problem with the EPG that I mentioned in a previous post. I can now see a complete EPG for all the channels I receive – a must for any serious DVR’ing.

I love my Media Center PC. No, really, I do. Sure, it’s a frequent source of frustration, but overall it works pretty well. Sounds like alot of products from Microsoft, huh?

One source of frustration is that the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) for OTA (over the air) digital TV has errors. For PBS, it shows the program listings for standard definition rather than the hi def version, and it doesn’t show any listings for subchannels (for those not familiar with ATSC TV, channels can have subchannels, like PBS Encore, PBS Kids, etc.). I tried a hack that had me faking the MCE box to believe I was receiving digital cable and changing the OTA listings to point to their digital cable counterparts. This actually looked like it was going to work and it indeed fixed my PBS HD problem, but the listings for the subchannels just showed the listing for the main channel. So all 5 PBS subchannels now show the PBS HD listing. Not very useful, huh? I tried using some third-party hacks to download listings from zap2it.com and convert it into MCE format, but I ended up hosing the OS and having to reinstall it. There went another weekend lost to my MCE box. Thank God I have an understanding wife…