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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am experimenting with Windows Media Center so I can decide whether to renew my Tivo subscription or let it run out.


I have a 2.2 Ghz Core 2 Duo laptop with Intel Mobile 4 Express integrated graphics with Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit. 4 GB RAM and using an HDHomerun for TV tuner connected to QAM cable.


Everything seems to work, but recorded tv playback is jerky off and on. It will play smoothly for a little while but it is very glitchy with missing frames and jerkiness at random times every few minutes. There is nothing running in the background and I have the same problem using the built in laptop display as well as using HDMI out to a TV. Looking at the task manager, the CPU does not seem be anywhere near maxed out during playback.


Should a 1 year old Core 2 Duo laptop be able to play back recorded tv smoothly or does Windows Media Center recorded TV HD playback require a powerful desktop with higher end graphics card and super fast hard disk?

I have a more powerful quad core desktop PC available, but it is too noisy and power hungry to be running 24/7 anywhere in the house.


I would not switch from Tivo for this kind of video playback experience.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by web1b /forum/post/19623952


I am experimenting with Windows Media Center so I can decide whether to renew my Tivo subscription or let it run out.


I have a 2.2 Ghz Core 2 Duo laptop with Intel Mobile 4 Express integrated graphics with Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit. 4 GB RAM and using an HDHomerun for TV tuner connected to QAM cable.


Everything seems to work, but recorded tv playback is jerky off and on. It will play smoothly for a little while but it is very glitchy with missing frames and jerkiness at random times every few minutes. There is nothing running in the background and I have the same problem using the built in laptop display as well as using HDMI out to a TV. Looking at the task manager, the CPU does not seem be anywhere near maxed out during playback.


Should a 1 year old Core 2 Duo laptop be able to play back recorded tv smoothly or does Windows Media Center recorded TV HD playback require a powerful desktop with higher end graphics card and super fast hard disk?

I have a more powerful quad core desktop PC available, but it is too noisy and power hungry to be running 24/7 anywhere in the house.


I would not switch from Tivo for this kind of video playback experience.

Are you using the right display drivers? Have you done everything needed to enable DXVA? Maybe the problem is disk performance? What does Crystal Disk Info say about your read/write performance on your disk? What you describe seems to correspond to an Intel 4500MHD graphics chip, which (according to Wikipedia) does support hardware codec offload for advanced codecs (MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC, VC1), so in theory the machine should definitely be powerful enough to make it run smoothly, but something's holding it up for some reason. Maybe a lot of background processes doing disk I/O? Hard to say (I'm not a Windows guy), but you might check into it...
 

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I'm very much a Windows guy and I agree that disk I/O is a very likely culprit, especially with Windows 7 or Vista! In fact, unreasonably high disk I/O is my biggest complaint with all flavors of Windows NT 6 (Vista/7/2008/2008 R2). I tend not to have problems with CPU utilization or memory utilization (though I have 8 GB or RAM in my laptop), but disk I/O can be a killer. I hunted down all the OEM-loaded crap that hp shipped with my laptop and removed them and it helped quite a bit.


But the whole NT 6 disk I/O problem is a big part of why all of my HD recording and playback takes place on a Windows XP machine.


The disk I/O situation is made worse when the machine is a laptop, because those tiny hard drives don't have the same access time and throughput that a full size 3.5 inch hard drive is capable of (despite the fact that the rotation speed may be 7200 rpm, etc.)


You may want to consider having it record to an external USB 2.0 hard drive or e-SATA hard drive. The drive could be a full size 3.5 inch hard drive (preferably a fast one, not the cheap-o 5400 rpm green drives) and it would be fairly immune to background processes eating up disk I/O on your laptop's hard drive.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by TNO821 /forum/post/19628855


I'm very much a Windows guy and I agree that disk I/O is a very likely culprit, especially with Windows 7 or Vista! In fact, unreasonably high disk I/O is my biggest complaint with all flavors of Windows NT 6 (Vista/7/2008/2008 R2). I tend not to have problems with CPU utilization or memory utilization (though I have 8 GB or RAM in my laptop), but disk I/O can be a killer. I hunted down all the OEM-loaded crap that hp shipped with my laptop and removed them and it helped quite a bit.


But the whole NT 6 disk I/O problem is a big part of why all of my HD recording and playback takes place on a Windows XP machine.


The disk I/O situation is made worse when the machine is a laptop, because those tiny hard drives don't have the same access time and throughput that a full size 3.5 inch hard drive is capable of (despite the fact that the rotation speed may be 7200 rpm, etc.)


You may want to consider having it record to an external USB 2.0 hard drive or e-SATA hard drive. The drive could be a full size 3.5 inch hard drive (preferably a fast one, not the cheap-o 5400 rpm green drives) and it would be fairly immune to background processes eating up disk I/O on your laptop's hard drive.

I assume the CPU and graphics power of this laptop is much higher than whatever is powering my Tivo and yet the Tivo can play and record HD video with no problem. The only very annoying slowness on the Tivo is the browsing around the user inteface and changing settings. This is the opposite of the laptop which is quite snappy moving around the UI, but struggles playing video smoothly especially if I'm recording TV at the same time.

Maybe external hard disk would help, but it defeats the coolness of being able to walk around the house watching and recording live tv with the wireless HD Homerun on the laptop. I can take it to the kitchen or out to the patio at any time.


So, instead of continuing to use the laptop, what is a recommendation of a small and quiet Windows 7 Media Center PC that has enough power to comfortably record HD with 2 tuners and playback at the same time without being overkill in purchase cost and power consumption/heat/fan noise?

I could buy a new Tivo Premier for $200 and a lifetime subscription for $400 and Ruku box for any missing content for under $100, so $700 would be an easy to use system.

For the same $700 could I get a new Windows 7 Media Center with adequate power and no more noise than a Tivo box?
 

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I've been playing with video on computers for a long time -


To heck with "green components" ! You want PERFORMANCE above all else ! You don't quite need "gamer" video cards - but whatever you have needs to support Directx 9+ in HARDWARE.


Disk I/O - was covered by previous posters. Again - you want PERFORMANCE, not green !


HD Homerun - means you're getting video over network - IMO, best would be hardwire ethernet (100mbps or 1Gbs), but wireless could be made to work under the right circumstances. Again - PERFORMANCE over green.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooper /forum/post/19628990


I've been playing with video on computers for a long time -


To heck with "green components" ! You want PERFORMANCE above all else ! You don't quite need "gamer" video cards - but whatever you have needs to support Directx 9+ in HARDWARE.


Disk I/O - was covered by previous posters. Again - you want PERFORMANCE, not green !


HD Homerun - means you're getting video over network - IMO, best would be hardwire ethernet (100mbps or 1Gbs), but wireless could be made to work under the right circumstances. Again - PERFORMANCE over green.

It is not about "green." I don't want power overkill because of heat, noise, cost and size. I want enough power to comfortably and smoothly work as a Media Center PC, playing recorded TV and HD web video and not much more.

It will be a dedicated PC, so there will not be much multitasking going on besides what's needed by the OS and antivirus since it will be used for viewing full screen video most of the time.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by web1b /forum/post/19628918


I assume the CPU and graphics power of this laptop is much higher than whatever is powering my Tivo and yet the Tivo can play and record HD video with no problem. The only very annoying slowness on the Tivo is the browsing around the user inteface and changing settings. This is the opposite of the laptop which is quite snappy moving around the UI, but struggles playing video smoothly especially if I'm recording TV at the same time.

Maybe external hard disk would help, but it defeats the coolness of being able to walk around the house watching and recording live tv with the wireless HD Homerun on the laptop. I can take it to the kitchen or out to the patio at any time.


So, instead of continuing to use the laptop, what is a recommendation of a small and quiet Windows 7 Media Center PC that has enough power to comfortably record HD with 2 tuners and playback at the same time without being overkill in purchase cost and power consumption/heat/fan noise?

I could buy a new Tivo Premier for $200 and a lifetime subscription for $400 and Ruku box for any missing content for under $100, so $700 would be an easy to use system.

For the same $700 could I get a new Windows 7 Media Center with adequate power and no more noise than a Tivo box?

Don't compare a general computing device with one engineered for the sole purpose of recording and playing back HD and SD video. It's very much apples to oranges. There are lots of compromises in the x86/x64 processor design and in the whole PC ecosystem that dedicated video devices such as a Tivo or a Blu-ray player don't have to deal with. For one thing, those video devices don't run an OS such as Windows, with dozens of background services eating up disk I/O doing things such as indexing your hard drive.


I would guess that the Tivo has a very specialized video processor that is capable of playing back HD nicely, but that its main processor may be a little on the slow side, causing the UI to be a bit sluggish. My main problem with Tivo (and similar devices) is that your HD material is encrypted and sort of held hostage...you are unable to copy that stuff onto a BD (Blu-ray Disc) for instance. And I believe the same is true of recordings made on Windows Media Center.


You mention having trouble playing back video while recording. On a laptop hard drive. As you can imagine, that is just crushing the disk I/O on that little 2.5 inch hard drive, so I find it to be no surprise at all that things slow down. If the hard drive were external (and a fast 3.5 inch drive), you may be able to both record and playback concurrently.


As for recommendations, I tend to burn HD to Blu-ray discs so that I can take them over and easily watch them anywhere there's a Blu-ray player or PS3. But a Media Center PC does not need to be fast. I have one that I built in 2004 that is plenty fast (It's a desktop machine, not a laptop, so that helps). Any modern dual core processor is more than fast enough. If you run Linux or XP, you don't need more than 1 or 2 GB of memory. And the video can be really cheap too (any low end ATI Radeon HD or Nvidia card that's maybe $50 or so would do a great job and would have HDMI output). Really, the only big consideration is the hard drive, because when you want to be able to both record huge honking HD video while also playing HD video back, it's going to involve a lot of disk I/O. I use a Western Digital raptor 10,000 rpm drive. Some of my friends us RAIDs in order to benefit from the disk cache of multiple drives.


Anyways, I'm not the right guy to ask about setting up a home theater PC...I honestly don't really like them. I tend to be a real quality nazi and find that dedicated video players display a better picture than even the best Home Theater PC. It boils down to the fact that a general computing device just can't compete with a device engineered from the ground up to only play video in the highest possible quality. PC's are just too electrically noisy with all sorts of legacy buses, etc. A good video device with a well engineered SoC made only to play back video is going to pwn it in quality. I find that, although my own HTPC has a really nice picture quality, if I get up close and scrutinize the picture I absolutely see issues where the HTPC is diplaying an overly soft picture Vs. what my blu-ray players would display given the exact same source material.


I understand that I'm well in the minority on this point, as many of my friends are thrilled with the quality-to-convenience-ration that a HTPC delivers, where as I go through a fair bit of effort to get everything converted to Blu-ray. I totally understand that. Anyways, there is a lot of excellent information on building HTPC's here in the Home Theater computers threads:
Home Theater Computers
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I want a small a quiet PC that can be put under the TV and plugged in with an HDMI output and can record and output 5.1 surround sound to my HTIB.


I'm thinking of something like a Windows 7 Home Premium Dell Zino HD with the smallest internal hard disk
and then using an 10,000 RPM Sata drive docked into BlacX eSata dock.


Is there any need to upgrade the CPU, graphics card and RAM beyond what's standard in the lowest end model? Does adding Blu-Ray require upgrading graphics, RAM or CPU to handle the playback?

http://www.dell.com/us/p/inspiron-zi...n&s=dhs&~ck=mn

The Zino HD seems good, but I don't think it supports outputting digital surround sound.
 

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I would doubt that it needs additional hardware to play Blu-ray (other than a BD drive of course), but the big problem with Blu-ray is the software...it's a bit expensive due to all the licensing fees (this is why there is no free Blu-ray playing software and also why you can't demo the Blu-ray features of trialware such as Nero or Roxio Easy DVD/BD Creator for free).


So if those things don't come loaded with Blu-ray playback software, that could be an issue. They may also lack certain HD codecs that would otherwise require license fees.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by TNO821 /forum/post/19629235


I would doubt that it needs additional hardware to play Blu-ray (other than a BD drive of course), but the big problem with Blu-ray is the software...it's a bit expensive due to all the licensing fees (this is why there is no free Blu-ray playing software and also why you can't demo the Blu-ray features of trialware such as Nero or Roxio Easy DVD/BD Creator for free).


So if those things don't come loaded with Blu-ray playback software, that could be an issue. They may also lack certain HD codecs that would otherwise require license fees.


I would most likely just get the Blu-Ray factory installed from Dell and then the software would come with it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Does anyone know anything about the specs of the optional 1GB internal drive that's available with the Zino HD? It would be nice to avoid the mess of external drives as long as I don't have the same problem with too slow I/O as my laptop. Sometimes the small PCs have laptop drives inside.

I would hope they have fast enough drives since this is supposed to be designed as a home theater PC from the start.
 

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I would be surprised if they are too slow, being that the thing is designed for video recording and playback. But I haven't seen one. Your best bet is to search the forums. I'm sure someone's started a thread on it somewhere here.
 
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