HTPC v3 update

We decided to test out the new Media Centre PC last night by moving it from my study into the living room and connecting it to the TV.

windows-7-large

I think I might have to perform a few tweaks, some I’ve already done but others  may be due to the beta release of MS Windows 7.

The driver and utility software for the RealTek 8185 wireless Lan card wouldn’t install without minor adjustment. I had to use Windows compatibility mode to fool the application into thinking I’m running MS Vista SP2 (shudder). Everything works perfectly but the graphic icon for signal strength didn’t show any green bars even though right clicking the icon shows an ‘excellent’ connection. A minor niggle and one that was expected, but at least I can browse the net and join our home network.

The second issue might be my TV rather than the PC. All my previous HTPC’s have been connected to the TV via a standard VGA cable/port. With this, my maximum desktop resolution is 1360 x 768. The new GFX card has HDMI output therefore I can now select higher resolutions including HD standards such as 720p and 1080p. However, with these resolutions selected my TV doesn’t seem to auto adjust the picture to fit perfectly. It’s about 1″ off resulting in the Windows task bar being hidden from view at the bottom of the screen. It seems that using the HDMI input disables the screen adjustments options within my TV which are usually active when using the VGA/PC input. Thankfully the nVidia GFX card has is own set of utilities so I was able to adjust the picture to make it fit. Again, minor issue.

Interestingly enough, I thought that HDMI cables carry both video and audio? It seems that mine doesn’t carry audio, unless this is a PC thing? No matter, I usually connect the PC audio out to my 5.1 system anyway.

The third issue is audio lag when playing video files within MCE. It’s seems to be out of sync by about a second. Strange really as the beta build is using Windows Media Centre 11, much the same as my Windows XP based HTPC. Again, it is a beta release with limited driver support.

Fourth issue is the VFD display on the front on the HTPC case which doesn’t display any media content unlike my XP HTPC. I’m thinking again this might be a driver issue.

The wireless keyboard and MCE remote work almost perfectly. Under XP, using the volume buttons on the keyboard displays a graphical overlay on the TV. In Windows 7, nothing is displayed although the volume is still adjusted. Also, under XP MCE, the screen aspect button on the remote control selects 1 of 4 aspect ratios i.e. 4:3, 16:9, zoom. In Windows 7 MCE, the function is the same but it displays a menu overlay which remains onscreen until you press the ‘back’ button on the remote.

All in all, Windows 7 is shaping up very nicely o/s and I can see a lot of people might jump from XP and bypass  MS Vista altogether (which in my book is no bad thing!).  A side from the audio lag, the subtle tweaks to MCE look to be a huge improvement over  Vista MCE, especially with native support for H.264, Divx and Xvid file formats –  No more d/loading codec packs and screwing up playback – although it’s always handy to have VLC installed as a backup !!

Here’s a few desktop screen shots I took this afternoon.

desktop-largeA huge improvement to Vista’s desktop and a joy to use. The picture is of Rosie, one of our two cats.

mce_pics-largeMCE ‘my picture’ – not much has changed.

mce_movies-largeI do like the improved, much larger, movie covers.

playback-largePlayback of my favorite IPTV show – Tekzilla, in all H.264 glory.

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