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One of the main issues people face with HTPC is when they start tweaking it and end up messing it up. Sure, Sistem Restore works fine for getting your sistem up to a previous state, but how about a free and permanent test machine, on which you can start messing around with software before you throw it on to your main HTPC ?


This is where virtualization comes in. In the past, this would be impossible since most HTPC front ends require 3D graphics acceleration which was unavailable for most virtualization software. But in the past year, more and more software has this ability, meaning you can use 7MC/MB or XBMC on these virtual machines.


Now lets get on with the install :

Software :
Note : These W7 images are downloaded directly from the MS Store and are perfectly legal. They work for 30 days as a trial.

Installing a virtual machine :


-> Create a new folder on a HDD with at least 25GB of free space (wil be used by the virtual machine) named Windows 7 VM .

-> In the main VMware screen select "Create a new virtual machine" .

-> Select "Installer disk image" and browser&select your downloaded W7 Image (ISO) file .

-> On the next screen, leave the product key blank .

-> On the location tab, select that Windows 7 VM folder .

-> Next, select a maximum disk size with aprox 20-25GB .

-> On the customize hardware tab, you can modify the virtual machines hardware specs according to your own machines hardware :
  • If you have a dual core CPU, select 1 core, max 2 on the VM hardware. For a quad, 2 cores.
  • For 2GB/4GB/8GB of ram, select 1GB/2GB/4GB

-> Click ok and finish. Now the VMWare will install Win7 and in about 15 minutes you will have your own virtual machine to play around with.


Notes :
  • A virtual machine will always be slower than a normal machine since you are basically emulating hardware components on a software solution, on top of your existing OS and hardware
  • You can drag and drop files and folder on the VM windows to transfer them to the virtual HDD
 

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I'm surprised no one has commented on this. I am very interested in setting up HTPC-like systems on virtual machines, but I'm not sure it can really be done effectively, at least for production. Installing the software is no problem, but will the VMs actually play the video (in HD quality) and send the content to a display device? I use Hyper V, and I don't think this is possible, but I don't know that for sure.


What I'd like to do is setup either one or two physical boxes to distribute several A/V sources throughout my house. My initial thought was to install two HDMI video cards into each HTPC (4 cards total) and then setup 4 virtual machines (2 in each) to run as HTPC front-ends and distribute video content. I'd probably set up an additional VM in each to distribute multi-zone audio; the "important" zones would get digital audio, and the "normal" zones would get analog. I'd run the separate video sources into a 4x4 matrix switch and audio...well, I don't know yet. My server already has extra memory sitting idle (16 GB installed and I only consistently dedicate about 6 GB) and an open CPU slot.


My problem is this: I don't think VMs have direct access to the physical video and sound cards, unless something has changed. I run Hyper V on a Windows Server 2008 R2 install, and I have no options to use the sound or video card directly.


I would be open to running something like VMWare if it supports this. I also believe that with Service Pack 1, Hyper V is getting some new features (dynamic memory, for one), so maybe the future is near. But I'd love to be able to limit the number of physical HTPCs in my media closet and use VMs to distribute video to 4 zones and audio to 8 or so.


Are VMs the answer (yet)?
 

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VMs are a good way to test software changes and new software tools/configurations, but can't help with hardware. You can't (for example) test that new nVidia/ATI/AMD driver to see if it plays nice. I also don't think their video drivers are HDCP compliant (but I could be wrong here) so even testing some tools may be difficult.


It is a good way to play with different library management software or different ways of structuring your media storage without messing with your actual box.
 
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