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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi,


I have not seen a thread like this in a while, so I thought I would post my trials and tribulations on turning my HPTC into a set-top-box like configuration. For me, this was the key to making it usable for my wife and guests.... (this was originally explained at the mainlobby forums I thought it could use a wider audience, and I'ld like some feedback)


I'll start the thread (more later) by discussing how my machine boots. A regular windows XP boot is very lengthy, may require a login (for mapped drives and remote desktop), and looks like a computer - doesn't look very professional to guests.


Here's what I did:

First


you need to change the boot screen. The windows XP login is sparse, but isn't what you expect to see in a professional installation. A very easy solution is a shareware program called Bootxp available here ( http://www.bootxp.net/download.htm ). this will allow you to change the bootscreen to any bitmap With 640x480 Pixels and 16 Colors. The program itself will convert any graphic to the right format, but I would either start with one someone else has done, or tweak the original yourself in photoshop to make sure the color palette is correct.


Here are some good pre-made boot screens that work well for HTPC use:


THX Logo: http://www.bootxp.net/download.php?id=532

Star Wars II: http://www.bootxp.net/download.php?id=409

insde the matrix: http://www.bootxp.net/download.php?id=71

T2: http://www.bootxp.net/download.php?id=45




There are a lot of bootscreens already made to suite almost everyone's taste. These were just examples.

Second:


If you have set a password in XP (which I would recommend for sharing and remote desktop), you need to setup auto-login to bypass the welcome screen and get things going...


You can hack the registry, but here is a much easier way:


1. click on "Start" - then click on "Run" - and type

"control userpasswords2"

2. click OK

3. On the Users tab, clear the "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer" check box and click "Apply".

4. A dialog will appear that asks you what user name and password should be used to logon automatically, just click "OK".


Next, you need to get rid of the logon screen.....


go to Control Panel / User Accounts, and click ?Change the way users log on or off?, and uncheck both ?Use the Welcome Screen? and ?Use Fast User Switching?.


Here's where things get tricky - If you really want this to behave like a set top box, you never want to see the windows desktop. Actually, you never want to see explorer....


First, create two accounts on your machine name one HTPC, and the other administrator (or whatever you would like).


Follow my previous instructions on making the HPTC user automatically boot up and log - in, bypassing all of the screens as the HTPC user..


You will need two more shareware programs:

shellon version 3 or higher ( http://www.dx13.co.uk/sov3/index.html )


atyourservice ( http://www.prismmicrosys.com/atyours...vice-index.htm )


shellon is a GUI program that will let you automatically load a different shell then explorer.exe on boot up. What makes this program nice, is you can define different shells by user (and define a user by use). So, in my case, I define the user htpc's shell to be mainlobby.exe, while keeping the administrator shell to explorer.exe If you need explorer access to the machine, either logout (ctrl-alt-delete method), or login remotely to administer the box.


To get your background programs up and running without explorer (no more startup folder), atyourservice can make any application into a service. It's gui based, and super easy.


After making the above changes, my machine loads up all sofware necessary via atyourservice (girder, soundman, smartie, etc...) and goes directly into mainlobby. Mainlobby and/or girder can then start/run third party applications just as they always did. Press the DVD button on my remote, and my Xcard player starts, then Holo3d app starts and moves to top.


Whew.... if you've made it this far, your are pretty hard core, and I'd like some feedback - what alternatives are there to the programs I'm using, besides other shells?


The last part is where I got kind of wacky. For various reasons, I have ACPI turned off on my machine. This means i can really only turn on or off the machine, no standby or hibernate.


(just a quick note - if you have a modern bios, most of them will allow you to power - on the machine via a key-press. I use a PS/2 an ir keyboard, and have my remote control send a learned key-press - machine starts right up)


My boot time is kind of slow. Lot's of memory (1.5 gigs), two raid cards (Abit ic7-g max), and lot's of drivers to load.


To make the HTPC truely "turn on and run", I bought a rocketdrive ( http://www.cenatek.com/product_rocketdrive.cfm ), which is a PCI card with an onboard battery backup, and outside power connection which can take 4 gigs of sdram - more than enough for an XP load and the entire HTPC installed applications. This left my main drives free for a 1) 4 gig partition to "ghost" the rocketdrive just in case, and 2) gobs and gobs of HDTV time shifted material, ripped dvd's and music.


I bought a 2 gig used rocketdrive on ebay for $150......


I first had a heck of a time using the rocketdrive as the main installation drive as windows would never see it when you booted up from the installation cdrom. I finally made a 2 gig partition on my main drive then cloned it to the rocketdrive.


Here are my results:


Boot time from cold start: 36 seconds

Boot time from end of Bios & raid update: 4 seconds


yes, my bios and 2 raid controllers take 32 seconds to come up - I'll be working on this next...


boot time from end of bios to first mainlobby screen: 8 seconds. Seems mainlobby takes a bit to load, even from a ramdrive.



Hopes this helps others striving for HTPC perfection.
 

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Great guide! I'll be trying some of your tips.



Since you really seem to be "into-it', and I've read some of your other posts, i'd be interested in what your setup is. You implied that this was the first post in creating a set-top box. What else do you have in store for us? Personally, I could really use some hints and tricks, just like you did above on how to make everything work from a remote control using girder. Yes, there's a manual, a FAQ, and some forums, but for a newbie, give me some tips on how to take an existing file, and modify it for some other use.
 

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Awesome step-by-step guide! I'll definitely be giving it a try. I may not go the whole 9 yards with the rocketdrive, but the rest of it is a no-brainer.


But I have to ask the question: why don't you just leave your HTPC on 24/7?
 

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Great info! Another option for those who want to customize XP is to download the TweakUI utility for Windows XP. It's a free utility provided by Microsoft that allows you to tweak what and how XP does it's thing. The one option I use is the automatic logon option which thereby skips the welcome screen and lets the system boot right to the desktop.
 

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Outstanding writeup, very helpful/informative. I have my system looking pretty STB-like (using icon hider, minimalist HTPC cursors and active desktop elements), but it's still using explorer as a shell. I've been wondering if MainLobby would work as a shell - now I know. :)


It should be noted that BootXP requires you to modify your kernel.exe file... pretty scary stuff! It should also be noted that some apps don't run properly as a service. I used to do this on 2000 and had some problems (maybe XP is better in this area, though.) Anyway, it only happened on rare occasions, and usually with legacy apps (e.g. the little crapplet that came w/my no-name UPS.)


You got a KILLER deal on those Rocket drives. I've got boot time on my system down to about 10 seconds, but if I could get a Rocket Drive at that price, I'd do it in a heartbeat! (BTW- I've got 1GB RAM; you may want to check your BIOS and either disable the RAM test or set it to "quick" mode. It helps a lot.)


Again, really nice job.
 

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One more step you could take (depending on your BIOS) is to display a graphic (I'd suggest using the same one as used for BootXP) in lieu of POST info. My Asus P4PE does this - it's pretty cool.
 

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I've been using a STB approach for quite some time now and take a simpler route, just put MyHTPC into the startup folder. Presto, instant set top box. XP is my "service menu" which I can access at any time by quitting MyHTPC. The only time I use XP is to rip DVDs and CDs to the hard drive, the occasional driver and TT update, etc.

MyHTPC starts TheaterTek, MyHD, Winamp, movies ripped to the hard drive and the TitanTV offline EPG.

I did use your tips to disable the welcome screen, thanks.

Total time from BIOS boot beep to MyHTPC front end=~30 seconds.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
escientuser


Yes, this will be the first of a few write-ups. Maybe the next will be Girder, as I too had to learn the hard and painful way how to make it all work. dcom, girder, vnc, irman, slink-e, homeseer, remote switchers, hvac, dvd ripping and profiling, etc... took me four months to put together, and I was the chief technology officer of Orbitz. The good news is my wife can now insert a DVD, play it or rip it and profile it with one button. I'll describe my system later, as it's kind of big and convoluted. I'm in the process of trying to take out some redundant hardware / software.


K-Wood


I don't leave my HTPC on 7/24 because it is in an unvented cabinet. Our home theater has built-in's, and the previous owner didn't think anyone would put much more than a VCR in there. I cut a hole for air and put a fan in, but the noise of an 80mm fan against the wood was too distracting for me during movieplay, Yes, I tried rubber grommets from pcmods.com - didn't help much.


Elivs :>


Yeah, should have mentioned the bootxp mods required, but I haven't had any issues with it on three different machines. I assumed it was pretty stable. You've got to love the "my ebay" functionality. I put rocketdrive in as a search term months and months ago, and it just emailed me one day to say one was available. I did put a custom graphic in the bios of one of my old AMD machines (I think's it has the original Soyo dragon motherboard). Back then the process of injecting a bitmap into the bios was very dangerous - I'll look into it again, great idea.


Karnis


The idea was to make it "look" like a STB to my wife, instead of windows booting. I too started with xlobby in my startup folder. Then went to myhtpc, and finally mainlobby. Played a bit with Talisman which game me the idea to start changing the shell. Have you tried making myhtpc the default shell, and on exit running explorer.exe? Your the first person I've seen that's using the offline TitanTV EPG. I downloaded it on Sunday because the regular service stopped working with my Hipix setup. The UI is so different than the rest of my setup I'm not sure how long I'll keep it around.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by orbitzboy
I cut a hole for air and put a fan in, but the noise of an 80mm fan against the wood was too distracting for me during movieplay, Yes, I tried rubber grommets from pcmods.com - didn't help much.
So duct it and make the fan remote. TIP: Mount some 220V fans to a piece of wood (Use as many as will fit within the circumference of the duct work.) Get the fans at an electronics surplus store - they'll be dirt cheap. When you run them off of 110V, they'll run at half the speed (and be whisper quiet.)
 

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Good list... I too have a modified Boot screen and use MainLobby but in the startup folder... Dropping back to XP by quitting MainLobby is good for tweaking...


I used the MS tool to speed boot times and have a far faster boot than you (not counting the Rocket Drive which seems like a great item) but I guess thats because I house my RAID in another machine on the network. I have not checked lately but a slimline HTPC only boot was
 

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Great thread and discussion here!


I have implemented some of the techniques described here for a while (custom bios splash screen on P4PE), automatic logon (as administrator), scheduled EPG retrival during the night, and myHTPC in the startup folder (for ultimate tweaking flexibility). As the windows startup screen only appears for a few seconds, I do not mind it (I changed it for a short while and went back to the default display).


Besides keeping the projector off (or using a setting on the projector, such as the DTV input of my Sony 10HT, so that it won't be able to display VGA or 800*600), has anyone found a way to hide the bios information which most motherboard generate, such as the list of interrupts, etc. (this doesn't show for long, but looks most untidy)


I have also played with some tools such as chameleonXP to change the look and feel of the 'Loading user preference', 'Preparing for hibernation', etc. screens. It does work reasonably well, but I haven't found a way to make these screens look exactly like my myHTPC screen background (And I'm not sure it is possible to use full screen custom bit maps as Microsoft seems to divide the screen into three sections, which are scaled in not so consistent ways if you change resolutions).


Finally, there is also a trick wich can be used to remove some of the startup information: in boot.ini, adding the /NOGUIBOOT parameter will hide the 'starting up' screen and progress bar. The drawback is that some people (???) think the computer is not responding and are confused by it!


Eiffel
 

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great thread. I am using some of these ideas/apps already, and will adopt some more. The no password thing sounds just great. (Though I'm wondering how you switch users if you need to - I'm sure I'll find out.)


I use a utility called BatchRun to run all the startup programs (the ones in the Startup tab of msconfig) - they are all disabled in MSconfig, and the same commands entered into Batchrun instead. (Some disabled using info here: http://www.pacs-portal.co.uk/startup.../startup_d.php .) One nice feature of Batchrun is that you can build in a slight delay between each command, to ensure that one finishes before the next starts. This actually speeds up boot times, because it means that you do not have two apps trying to access different areas of the hard drive at the same time.


If anyone is using Windows 98 or ME, for some cool alternative Windows log-on screens, look here:
http://www.nucleus.com/~kmcmurdo/log...rs/windows.htm

I like Blue Windows myself - it is a very well done animation considering the 320x400 resolution of the logo in those older versions of Windows.


I might add that like Orbitz I also keep my HTPC in a non-vented cabinet, which is great for WAF and for keeping the noise down. It's a laptop so it doesn't generate much heat at all (and the power supply which generates about half the heat is external to the cabinet). A laptop is also very very quiet in use, the main noise being from the two drives. Obviously it looks a lot like a PC rather than a STB (!) but on the other hand it is very handy to have the built in keyboard, mouse and LCD screen for troubleshooting, and for mucking around with settings, loading new stuff etc without having to switch on the projector and plug in a keyboard. The laptop has a built-in ATI Radeon 9000, and the docking station has SPDIF and DVI-D, although if you do not have SPDIF on your laptop it is now possible to get a USB SPDIF adapter for about £20.


I never did figure out how you guys with dedicated HTPCs and projector systems do adjustments. Do you (a) bring in a monitor when necessary; (b) switch on the projector and work using a wireless keyboard (and how do you do the mouse thing in an armchair??) (c) move the HTPC into another room?
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by inti
...I never did figure out how you guys with dedicated HTPCs and projector systems do adjustments. Do you (a) bring in a monitor when necessary; (b) switch on the projector and work using a wireless keyboard (and how do you do the mouse thing in an armchair??) (c) move the HTPC into another room?
I use http://www.tightvnc/ If the tweaking does not require overlay or moving images (vnc can't hack that) then it can be done from my office computer. If I need to see the display, I use my laptop.
 

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Instead of modifying the bootup screen, just turn it off. Edit your boot.ini in your %SystemRoot% drive (c: or whatever) with the setting.


/NOGUIBOOT


This will skip the entire startup GUI screen. A working example is:


multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(1)partition(1)\\WINDOWS="Windows XP Embedded" /fastdetect /noguiboot


I also suggest turning off Active Desktop, which is on by default and difficult to turn off. The website: http://www.kellys-korner-xp.com/xp_tweaks.htm has a bunch of tweaks you can do, one of them is to turn off Active Desktop.


Using the application as the shell is a really good idea. That is more like a true STB then a startup program. Good suggestion.
 

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Another thing, you use atyourservice, which is probably easier to use then the other way which is Srvany.exe. The benefit of Srvany.exe is that its a MS provided tool and has worked for me for years. Its not very user friendly though (although not difficult either).
 
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