PC based appliances, touchscreens, technology & innovation

On release of Windows7, it was time to upgrade the HTPC from the initial build.  I had done a test build with Vista Home Premium earlier in the year, and whilst I liked the look of Vista Media Center, I wasn’t happy with the performance of TV.

The initial build for the Win7 HTPC was identical to the original build with the exception of the Raptor 10,000rpm hard drive I had available – it seemed a waste not to use it, particularly when it’s no louder than the Samsung SpinPoint that it replaced.

The installation of the Windows 7 (64bit on an AMD 3500+ CPU) was it’s normal smooth self. On completion of installation, all the hardware with the exception fo the TV card was found and installed.  A quick search of the Terratec website landed me drivers (v284) for the Cinergy 2400i Dual HD Digital TV card, while a visit to the nVidia site netted me the up to date drivers for the 6150 on board video card.

Configuration of the media libraries against folders on the Windows Home Server was completely simple, and even more so after running the Media Connector.

The only software installation at this stage is the Shark007 codec pack designed for Win7, which appears to be the standard, in much the same way that DefilerPak was for XP.

Performance at this point was woeful. WMC under Win7 is significantly more graphics intensive than under XP. This is most evident during music playback, when the covers of a selection of albums in the library slowly move in the background.  Research and a discussion with my favorite computer guy indicated that the video card simply wasn’t up to chop, and $60 bucks later I was fitting a new nVidia N210 into the PCIe-x16 slot.  As I was buying a new video card, I had a couple of requirements:

  • Must have a native HDMI output in addition to either VGA or DVI
  • Must be HDCP compliant
  • Must be passively cooled

Success.  A driver update later I was running at 1920 x 1080p. (Panasonic helpfully (to the movie studios, at least) elect to cripple their screens so that one can only achieve resolutions of greater than 1366  x 768 by using HDMI).

Whilst technically impressive, the lack of material natively in this format means that I suspect video quality has actually taken a step backwards – after all – television is still a major part of our use of the screen (that’s why we call it the ‘television’).

However, this didn’t solve the tv issue.  We’ve lost a number of recordings through lock up, live playback locks up, and television is on the whole frustrating.  Investigations thus far mean that I have narrowed the issue down to one of three issues:

  • Tired hardware (unlikely, as the same card performs flawlessly under XP MCE)
  • Poor drivers
  • Something to do with WMC/codecs

WMC under Win7 forces the use of a Microsoft codec for television playback, for reasons that are, I am guessing, related to DCMA issues or reducing support calls.  After all, one of the less sensible things that I had to do on building the original machine with XP was identify a codec that actually did what I needed, and then purchase it and install it.  This approach will never work well for Microsoft if they want people to treat these things like appliances.

Problem is – the performance of whatever codec they use sucks with my particular implementation.

I have the Terratec software installed, which is functional but awful, and playback is flawless.  This further confirms that its not a hardware issue, and also that it’s not a driver issue.

I’ve toyed with various options from hack7mc.com with little success thus far.  I know that  there is more work to do, to determine whether I can re-configure things the way that I want.

At this stage though, I’ve whipped the Win7 drive out of the HTPC, and reinstalled the XP drive.

At least it works.  More than happy to take your suggestions for trouble shooting, or tips and tricks and hacks for Win7 WMC.

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