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Tuning Adapter Operational

My tuning adapter is finally operational.  I tried changing the configuration of my cable splitters and that seemed to have no effect.  I have been getting very frustrated and now all this morning my tuning adapter is working again.

I think I know what the solution was but I am cannot say with 100% confidence until I do some more tests.  Thanks to a comment from John on my last post I tried changing the USB cable.  The USB cable I had on there before is a long one that I just had in my “box of cables” that allowed me to put the tuning adapter where I wanted it to go.  Based on John’s suggestion I swapped the USB cable for a few others I had laying around and the last one seemed to work.  I am not sure what’s special about it either.

So I am going to run some more tests to try and get a definitive answer.  In the meantime, if you have a tuning adapter that looks like it’s close to working try a different USB cable and even a different USB port on the PC to see if it helps.

Stay tuned.  More to come.

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Moving Your Family to a Media Center Whole Home Solution – Part 2

In my first follow-up to my post on moving your family to a whole home Media Center solution I wanted to give a better idea on what I have in my setup and how it’s all connected.  We have four rooms in the house where we can use and enjoy Media Center.  The following diagram explains what equipment is where and how everything is connected:

Media Center Network

Office:  The home office is where I centered the Media Center and all the supporting components.  I have dual monitors connected to the Dell XPS 420 so I can use one as normal PC monitor and the second to watch Media Center at the same time (actually doing that as I write this post).   Audio is just stereo via computer speakers.

Master Bedroom:  In the master bedroom we are using a Linksys DMA2100 extender that is directly wired into the network.  It is connected to the TV via a single HDMI.  This is a nice clean setup with the least amount of cables (4): two power plugs, one network cable and the HDMI cable.  The DMA2100 looks great on this TV and fits the master bedroom scenario perfectly.  Audio is stereo via the TV speakers.

Living Room: The main TV is located in the living room.  Because of this I am using an Xbox 360.  It gives the closest experience to actually having the PC connected to the TV.  It also looks great over a VGA connection on this TV.  Audio is full 5.1 surround sound.

Guest Bedroom:  The TV in the guest bedroom is rarely used so it is the only TV that is still standard definition.  The great thing about Media Center is that I can still watch all of my HD content on this SD set and it looks like an amazing DVD. Audio is stereo via the TV speakers.  This is also the only wireless scenario I have.  The guest bedroom is right underneath the office so the wireless signal is fairly strong.  I have had experienced a few disconnects over extended viewing sessions but overall it worked great and streamed HD content just fine.

I’ll keep on digging deeper into other aspects in future posts.  Hopefully this helps answers some questions for those considering Media Center.

Mencoder Proper – Encoding Quest Over

For the past few weeks I have been posting about “My Encoding Quest”.    The genesis of the posts was my desire to re-encode HD MKV files into native Media Center DVR-MS files while retaining the same video and audio quality.  Well the quest is over and the result is a program that I wrote called MencoderProper.  This post is a history of everything that led to this point while a cross post over on EngadgetHD will show you the best way to use it.

I originally had a multi-step manual process that used Transcode360 and MKV2VOB.  I would convert the MKV to an MPG using MKV2VOB, then play the MPG in Media Center using Transcode360, and  finally converting the Transcode360 cache file to DVR-MS using VideoRedo.  If it sounds complicated its because it is complicated.  At the end of the day though it worked.

After updating to Windows 7 I found that Transcode360 was no longer working and therefore neither was my conversion process.  I had always intended to find a better way of converting my MKV’s and now I finally had the proper motivation.

After doing some research into trying to get Transcode360 to work, I realized that I really did not care for the streaming capability of Transcode360.  I only wanted the encoding portion which Transcode360 offloaded to Mencoder.  The key that made Transcode360 work where other options had failed was that it had programmatic way to determine the best Mencoder command line options for the particular video you were trying to encode.  Luckily for all of us, Transcode360 is open source and the code is available.

So inspiration hit and I thought, “Why don’t I just modify the portion of the code that calls Mencoder for my purposes.”  It was also during this time that Ben Drawbaugh from EngadgetHD posted his tutorial explaining how to get MKV TV shows into Media Center.  I read the instructions and tried to use the same steps for my MKV files instead of going down the longer road of writing my own code.  Unfortunately it did not work and created files with incorrect aspect ratios.

After that failure MencoderProper was born.  I wrote a wrapper application that calls Mencoder properly (hence the name).  Originally it was built to use from the command line but the fates aligned and Ben and I actually started working together and merged both of our projects.  Now MencoderProper is built into and distributed as part of latest release of DVRMS Toolbox (1.2.1.8) and I finally have the 1-click conversion process I have always wanted.  Point DVRMSToolbox at any MKV and it will convert it to DVR-MS at full resolution with the correct aspect ration and perfect AC3 5.1 surround sound.  No problems with extender support and you have full rewind and fast forward capability.

Ben has a post on EngadgetHD with a great “how-to” guide.  Go read it and enjoy what I think is the solution for converting MKV’s for Media Center.  If readers are interested in the details of MencoderProper I will write the post.  Also please provide any feedback or issues that you find in the comments section.  Now that this is finally out I can get back to a regular posting schedule.

Windows 7 Install Update

I wanted to post a quick update on how things went today. I went back to Windows 7, this time build 7077 instead of 7000. Here is a quick list of thoughts. I’ll expand later.

  • Love the new intro animation
  • Love the new sounds effects
  • Where is my photo screen saver???
  • Love heterogeneous tuners
  • Basic clean install of Windows 7 took like 10 minutes!!!!!
  • Install HDHomerun software, ATI DCT drives, ATI Radeon Win 7 drivers then setup Media Center with TV tuners without a hitch
  • It’ll be nice to have MenuMender but Hack 7MC has me covered for now
  • Linksys Extenders – Check!
  • Xbox 360 – Uh Oh / Check! / Uh Oh! / Check!!
  • Convert WTV to DVR-MS is present
  • Media Browser, shoutcast and HeatWave installed with no problem
  • Caller ID with TapiRex still not working
  • Love having the new Windows 7 Media Center UI back
  • So far so good!

That’s it for now. I need to watch some TV and relax.

Change the Skip Interval on Media Center

One of the things I love about Media Center is my 30 second skip button. Why? Because the average commercial is 30 seconds. When I am watching recorded TV it only takes about 4-5 presses of the 30 seconds skip button to get right back to my show.

Hacking Windows7 Media Center blog has a great post on how to modify the default skip times. By default the forward skip time is actually 29 seconds and the reverse skip time is 7 seconds. Using the registry trick explained in the post you can change it to whatever you want.

I don’t think I will be changing my skip times but this is reminiscent of changing the recording buffer through a registry change. You can check out my post on that here.

More Home Server Storage

The large drive is a 5.25

Image via Wikipedia

About two weeks ago I added another hard drive to my Windows Home Server (WHS).  I bought a Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB drive.  So now my WHS has 3 drives: the 500GB main drive that came preinstalled, a 1TB Western Digital drive and the new 1.5TB Seagate drive for a total of 3TB (or 2.73TB realized storage).

The HP Media Smart WHS that I have makes it so easy to add a drive it’s ridiculous.  I was up and running with my new storage space in about 10 minutes, if that.  If you are looking at adding a WHS to your setup take a long hard look at the HP Media Smart servers.  Great value and easy to use.  I probably could have built a home server from a spare PC but at the end of the day my time was more valuable and I got a better WHS for buying a pre-built system.

The extra space allowed me to really clean up and organize my drives.  This is what things look like now:  (VectorSigma is my Media Center PC and Metroplex is my WHS)

VectorSigma – 3 Drives

  • 500 GB (OS, Program Files and temp download location)
  • 750 GB (Overflow recorded TV drive)
  • 1 TB (recorded TV only drive)

Metroplex – 3 Drives (WHS creates 1 pooled storage space out of the 3 drives)

  • Movies
  • Archived TV
  • Music
  • Photos
  • Personal Folders (me and my wife)
  • Public Folder (misc dump and share folder)
  • Software Folder (all my media center utilities, plugins and regular software installs live here)
  • Videos (family home videos, viral videos, etc)

I have one more open slot in my WHS and I would like to get another 1.5TB Seagate drive.  Maybe Santa will leave one under the tree for me.

Busy couple of days

Wow! The past couple of days have been a blur. The computer arrived on Tuesday and it happened to coincide with a CRAZY work week. I haven’t had much time to setup the new PC over the past few days, but I have had some. This weekend should see the rest of the non-TV related setup completed. Now on to what has happened so far!


The first adventure with the new computer started as soon as I opened the box. I bought a 750GB sata hard drive from NewEgg to compliment the 500GB hard drive already in the PC. The hard drive arrived wrapped in bubble wrap with nothing else (no box, nothing). So turns out I was missing a sata data cable to hook up the hard drive. Late night run to Best Buy fixed that problem.

The next issue to resolve was that the hard drive was no showing up as installed. Enabling the sata data port on the motherboard through the system BIOS resolved that issue.

The next issue was getting the new hard drive to show up as usable in Windows Vista. It was showing up in the disk manager as unallocated. The disk manager though would not give me an option to create a new allocation. I resolved that one after a few hours of research and installing the Western Digital utility for my drive. It was only for XP so I had to install it in a compatibility mode.

So getting the additional hard drive and turning on the computer was the extent of day 1. I started to copy my data over and called it a night.

More setup follies including Transcode360 and Caller ID to come later.