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Yesterday I upgraded my 2+ year old HTPC to play Blu-ray disks. After completing the upgrade, I rented the Blue-ray movie Hancock to test it. At first it didn't work at all (no picture or sound). However, after one day of troubleshooting, I got it to work. I'm satisfied, so far, with the results.


My HTPC consists of the following:


Motherboard - ABIT KN8 SLI (NF4 SLI chipset)

CPU - AMD athlon 64 X2 3800+ (2 GHz dual core socket 939)

Graphics - Gigabyte NX76T Geforce 7600GT (no fan passively cooled)

Ram - 2 GB DDR 400

OS - Vista Premium Home (upgraded from the original XP last summer)


The HTPC is connected to the following:


Sony KDL40S2000 LCD HDTV (1360x 768 resolutions - VGA cable connection)

Onkyo TX-SR604 receiver (S/PDIF connection via TOSLINK optical audio cable)


Prior to the upgrade my concerns were that my somewhat dated system couldn't handle Blu-ray. However my research suggested it could. The Geforce 7600GT was one of the first graphics cards that supported HD hardware acceleration. Also, since I use an analogue VGA connection HDCP wasn't an issue.


Based on this article, http://forum.blu-ray.com/showthread.php?t=72239 , I selected ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater (TMT) as my Blu-ray software. I also purchased an inexpensive ($90) Lite-on Blu-ray DVD ROM from www.newegg.com .


The software and hardware installed with no problem. I was able to play DVDs with them. I didn't have a Blu-ray disk to test so I rented Hancock to test Blu-ray playback. This is when the problems started.


At first I got no picture or sound. I tried running ArcSoft TMT from within Windows Media Center and directly under Windows. I then ejected the disk and tried a DVD. It worked. Then I tried the Blu-ray again. I then got picture and sound. Why this happened is still a mystery.


My happiness was short-lived. The sound and picture were frequently stuttering and the computer would freeze up. I remembered reading that for Blu-ray you should disable the Vista aero-glass effects. So I did the following:


1. I navigated to Adjust visual effects under the Performance Information and Tools control panel. There I set the Performance Options to best performance'.

2. In the same control panel, I selected Adjust power settings. There I set the power plan to High performance'.

3. I terminated any unnecessary programs in the Notification Area of the Windows Task Bar. This included the Windows Sidebar.


After do all this the stuttering stopped. However, the computer would still lock-up. This was a hard lock-up the required a re-boot. This was always in the same point during playback. I tried jumping forward to a different place on the disk. However, it would lock-up at another point.


It turned out that these lock-ups were caused by a dirty disk. Prior to even testing, I noticed finger prints on the disks. So I clean it using my Philips Radial DVD cleaner like I would any rental DVD. Usually after cleaning there is some cleaning fluid on the disk. In my experience this doesn't affect DVDs. However, the fluid dried and left small spots. I cleaned the disk again and this time dried it with a lens cloth. BINGO, no more lockups. Blu-ray must be more sensitive to dirty disks. It's funny that a dirty disk can lockup a computer. My guess is that hardware acceleration using the video card makes Blu-ray playback more vulnerable to lock-ups.


Finally during playback, I noticed that my receiver wasn't using Dolby Digital surround sound. It was using Dolby PLII. The receiver indicated that it was getting a stereo PCM audio signal from the computer over the TOSLINK cable. The movie Hancock is encoded in Dolby TrueHD. It turns out that Dolby TrueHD audio can't be transmitted over an S/PDIF connection (TOSLINK cable). The ArcSoft TMT software transmits the stereo sound track instead. However, TMT has a fix for this. If you enable the Audio Mixer' option, the software will decode the Dolby TrueHD audio and then re-encode it in DTS surround sound. This can be transmitted over an S/PDIF connection.


After solving all these problems, I can now play Hancock satisfactory on my computer. Hopefully other Blu-ray movies work.
 
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