Quick update on my “upgrade” to a fully functional Windows Media Center PC.
I have an old Dell E510 from 2005 or maybe 2006. It has 2GB of memory and a dual core Pentium D running at 3Gz. For two years I’ve been using this as Windows Media Center along with an Xbox 360 as an extender. I used it solely as a DVR for over-the-air content. I’m running a 32-bit version of Windows 7.
I decided I wanted better video quality (mostly 1080i deinterlacing using Vector Adaptive as the 360 only does some form of motion adaptive) so I decided to connect the PC directly to my Onkyo AVR.
First thing was a new video card for the E510. I ended up getting a Zotek GT 630 card (nVidia). It fit in my E510 (with only supports a single “modern” PCI slot. It also it silent because it has no fan.
So the card arrives, I pull the existing video card and install the GT 630… install the latest nvidia drivers (332.21)…
Here are the non-trivial problems I ran into and their solutions.
1) Audio would stop working (“not plugged in”)
After leaving the Media Center for a while, I would come back and there would be no audio. Looking at the nVidia control panel, I would see it reporting that my Onkyo AVR wasn’t plugged in (via HDMI). This clearly wasn’t true as I had video.
Researching I found this is an exception common problem. I found people complaining about it 6 months ago.
I followed the “block pin 19” approach on the HDMI cable and it has solved my problem. I already had a cheap HDMI “elbow” connector and a couple reasonable priced HDMI cables (thanks Monoprice), so I wasn’t too worried about doing anything that couldn’t be backed out.
With this “hack”, I haven’t had any HDMI audio loss.
2) Decoder isn’t available
When playing around with all the configuration knobs available, I ended up setting my sound configuration to be 5.1. This seemed completely logical. However, once I made this change I found out that Windows Media Center wouldn’t decode any video.
A little research and I found out that, for whatever reason, you should leave the PC configured as 2 channel. I know the Dolby Digital from my OTA content is bitstreamed, but I don’t see how this setting should break anything. Anyway, back to stereo and it’s working again.
3) Fast Forward would cause screen to blank quickly and then show video
I had watched a lot of test content before i noticed this. I typically use the “skip ahead 30 seconds” feature rather than fast forward. Using regular fast forward, I found that 50% of the time the video would black out immediately. My display would act as if the signal was lost. While there was no video, you could hear the windows rendered “fast” audio.
I couldn’t find any info about this problem when searching the web. I just guessed it had something to do with windows rendering the audio, rather than bitstreaming, during this 1.4x playback. Normally I wouldn’t think there would be any relation, but from #1 above I knew that nVideo and/or Microsoft was a little funky with regard to HDMI audio.
I found out that you can change the 3 fast forward speeds. A set of registry keys are supported, but are not in the registry by default. You need to create the key FastForwardRates (regedit, edit, new, key)
Within the FastForwardRates you need to 3 individual sting keys. They are called “0”, “1”, and “2” (without the quotes). “0” is the first FF speed, “1” is the second FF speed, and “2” is the 3rd FF speed. The defaults are (apparently) 1.4, 10 and 100. I changed them to 5, 10, and 100.
This solved my screen blanking problem. Also, it caused windows to not decode the audio “fast”. This was a huge benefit, IMHO, because the windows decoded audio was much louder than the bitstreamed audio.
4) Screen would blank randomly when watching (29/59 problem)
This one didn’t appear until later in testing. It appears to just show up with some content. I discovered this is the so called 29/59 problem.
When the content changes framerates, sometimes nVidia or Microsoft would tear down the entire video path and set it up again. While I don’t understand why making the following changes resolves the problem, I’m happy to report the settings do fix the problem.
Set "Digital Color Format" to YCbCr444
Set “Content Type Reported to the Display” to “Full Screen Video”
Set the various configurations to say “use nVidia settings” rather than “allow application to configure”
[EDIT: Adding my card and driver version]
I'm using a Zotac GT 630 card ("Zone Edition") with the 332.21 drivers on Win 7 32-bit.
[EDIT: Adding a 5th that I should have included]
5) The on-screen keyboard wasn't appearing
When I went into the guide and then attempted to search for a program, the virtual keyboard wasn't showing up. When using my Xbox 360 extended, the keyboard would appear automatically. This is easily fixed with a registry change.
Should be set to 1.
With this change, the virtual keyboard shows up immediately.
So in conclusion with these changes (which may have been obvious to those on this board but it took me several days of tinkering to get it right), it seems to be working well. I do find the 1080i channels look better with the GT 630 deinterlacing rather than the Xbox 360.
Now I just need to look for a new Hard Drive that doesn’t click as much. The E510 used to be in a different room so a little clicking from the hard drive wasn’t a problem. Now that it’s near my AVR, the clicking is a little bothersome.
Hope this is useful to someone. Enjoy.