MCE 2005 Rollup 2 (“Emerald”) – What it is, and what it did…

(Aussie note: The text might read “Media Center”, but my heart says “Media Centre”.)

Update Rollup 2 for Windows XP Media Center Edition (900325) appeared today on Windows Update as an optional update (it won’t install itself using Automatic Updates, you need to go get it).

BUT! There’s already a post-update update that addresses a bunch of problems in Update Rollup 2.

So, first, install Update Rollup 2 from Windows Update, or from the Download Center here (30ish MB).

As soon as the computer restarts after installing Update Rollup 2 (meaning, don’t wait to be disappointed by it, but timing isn’t really a factor), go back to Windows Update and look for another Media Center update (Windows Update detects UR2 and only offers the post-UR2 update if you actually have UR2 installed), or go get 908250 from the Download Centre here (3-ish MB).

Install it, then restart one last time and you’re done. You might need to set some stuff up again (like TV guides), and HD support is now fully workable (at least on my system). Keep in mind that HD is typically about 3-4 times as “fat” as SD in terms of storage (and IO performance requirements, and video card requirements, and so on…)

this isn't actually an HD channel, but the tag tells you HD is available

Cautionary Tales:

I have twin Avermedia A16A Digital TV tuners, which typically work fine, and I’m using the 1.0.2.0 drivers currently available for them.
http://www.avermedia.com/drivers/drivers.asp?OS=Windows+MCE&Product=AVerMedia+A16A+TV+Tuner+Card

Immediately after installing both new updates, the channel scan came up blank. Not a sausage. I went and scoured the Aussie XP Media Centre forums for clues, and it looked like an MCE Configuration Reset was going to be the go.

So I downloaded it, but before running it I decided to re-scan the channels one more time, and that time it found all 29 services. Whoop!

I reinstalled IceTV’s IceGuide (and so did another channel scan) to convince myself that everything would work properly (IceGuide has separate listings for HD channels, bless them), and everything seems – so far – to be working really, really well.

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MCE 2005: The Quick And Dirty Build Guide

The Quick And Dirty MCE2005 Build Guide

Distilled down to the very basics, after the rambling mess that was the original, for those that asked quick’n’dirty questions.

I use my MCE primarily as a DTV PVR (Personal Video Recorder), DVD watching/recording and music playing system, so I’m kinda biased towards a dedicated system in front of the telly. However, a Media Center PC is an extension of Windows XP, and people do run MCE as their "real" computing environment for home. It’s all good.

Hardware

Recent-Spec PC

Anything built in the last few years should be fine. <=2Ghz is starting to push it, I would guess. Possible to cut corners, but keep IO performance in mind.

For SD, 512MB RAM and a 128MB video card (RADEON 9550) seems to be more than enough. For HD, consider at least a Geforce 6600+ or ATI 9800/X-series (>300), and jam 1+GB of RAM into the motherboard, just to be prepared for the future.

Athlon 64s are fine (Cool’n’Quiet clock throttling can be a useful benefit for a "quiet" PC), as are 64-bit capable Pentiums – but keep in mind that XP MCE is a 32-bit OS, and there’s not yet any real point to going 64-bit in 99.9999% of MCE installations.

You can buy HP Media Center PCs with loads of trimmings for around $AUD2000. Build Your Own prices range from about $1200 up, for a Good One. But there’s no shame in buying off the shelf.

If I had my time again, I’d not get as small a case for the MCE as I did last time. A desktop-sized system (eg, not MicroATX) would be better for expansion, and probably somewhat quieter and cooler too.

Fast Hard Disk(s)

I/O is critical. Can’t emphasise that enough: if you have fast hard disks with a big cache, life will be infinitely superior to life with a slow hard disk or limited cache. Do not skimp. If you can get 2 into the system without causing thermal or space problems, consider putting 2 drives in there on separate channels, and spread the content over both.

TV Tuner Card(s) and an Aerial

Includes USB Tuners. Must support BDA (Broadcast Driver Architecture, MCE 2005 standard).

  • Digital Tuners for Digital Free To Air/DTV (use in place of a Digital Set Top Box (STB))
  • Analog Tuners for regular non-Digital broadcasts
  • Analog Tuners for Foxtel including Foxtel Digital, and Optus Vision / other non-broadcast supplier – everything that isn’t Digital TV is just captured from the set top box output

Aerial: Reception is critical. DTV is typically all-or-nothing – if the signal glitches too much, you commonly lose a block (say, 1/2 second in a medium-severity case) or so of the show you’re recording.

Network Adapter / Broadband Connection

Without a network adapter of some form (Wireless/Ethernet) and preferably a broadband connection, well, it’s usable, sure, but it’s like owning a VCR. The really cool stuff requires some kind of internet connection, most importantly to download the Electronic Program Guide (TV Guide)!

MCE Remote and IR Blaster

An MCE-compatible remote is required. For $AUD77, you can have the "official" one, which comes with 2 IR blasters (for use with Analog tuners and Foxtel/Optus Vision/other STB).

Fast vs Loud

The primary tradeoff to keep in mind when choosing the hardware is fast vs loud. Faster components tend to be hotter, and the cooling required tends to be noisier. Higher-performance systems squeezed into smaller cases might be asking for thermal trouble. Underperforming components may cause distress.

Software

MCE 2005

Purchasable with hardware. Should be fresh installed. Do not attempt to install MCE on an existing PC.

BDA Drivers for the TV Tuner

Sometimes included in-box, sometimes not – check with the manufacturer. These are critical.

DVD Decoder

Used to watch recorded TV. Popular choices are WinDVD, PowerDVD, Nvidia PureVideo. Expect to pay $20-40.

Electronic Program Guide (EPG or just "Guide")

MCE without an EPG is like a mildly more capable VCR. With an EPG, it’s like, um, well, something good. Just point and click to record a show. That’s cool.

I’ve gone into the Aussie EPG options previously: BladeRunner Pro, EPGRunner, IceTV ($). I currently use IceTV.

Extras

Xbox 360

Another reason for networking: XBox 360 can be used as a "Media Center Extender" across the network – which means it can act as a remote display for the Media Centre PC. Kids upstairs on the small telly with the Xbox 360 can enjoy the same MCE experience as someone sitting in front of the big-screen TV downstairs watching a DVD or a recorded show!

(I’ll be trying that out as soon as they’re available out here… tea leaves (eg, lack of any Australian launch announcement to date) say late Feb to March 2006).

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IMSAI Server / MCE case

IMSAI Series 2 plus MinidriveI can’t decide if I want this case for my next Media Center or to use for a server. Either way, I want the new IMSAI Series 2 USB case. It is a reproduction of the computer used by Matthew Broderick in the movie WarGames and the front panel is fully controllable, in fact it seems to actually be one of those old computers.

Awesome.

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MCE 2005: No Data Available

Here’s the scenario: Your guide is working fine. You’ve got one of the custom Australian options implemented, and everything is great.

One day, you notice there aren’t any scheduled recordings coming up. Or, you hit the Guide, to be confronted with two and a half channels of “No Data Available” entries – or worse, it’s all gone missing.

If you’re using one of the free options – and the actual download process for your guide provider doesn’t seem to have a problem – chances are this is because your data source has had its channel name changed.

To fix, hop, skip and/or jump into Settings, TV, Guide, Add Listings To Channel. If the channel names available are different from the set attached to your channels, you’ll need to go through each channel and re-associate them.

This happened to me a couple of times with EPGRunner; I expect IceGuide/IceTV to be much better (as their data source is semi-smart, eg, possibly humans).

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