Adventures with Windows7 Media Center

So, XP media center is looking a bit long in the tooth - it mostly works, but anything like Windows Update kills it. (Thank goodness for System Restore, which has saved the day a few times).

I've heard some good things about Windows 7, so I decided to download the RC version and give it a try.

This was going to be a fun escapade from the outset as I have to keep the old version working or we can't watch TV. So, using Gparted, I reshuffled all the partitions on the disk and made a new partition to install W7.

W7 itself installed fine, until it decided to set a resolution on the display card which the TV could not display. Much borrowing of monitors and messing around later, I managed to complete the installation. Several hours later than that, I succeeded in getting the TV output back (note to self: when the screen is cloned to 2 outputs, you can't set a TV refresh rate on one of the outputs).

OK, so it sort of worked at this point.

Issues: the pinnacle tuner card installed automatically, but the Cinergy 2400i card did not.

No sound (W7 had configured itself to headphone output for some reason).

Front panel display did not install.

By manually installing the drivers for the Cinergy card, I got that going, but W7 insists that there is no TV signal on it (and there definitely is). I eventually found that if you tell W7 to ignore what it thinks, and to setup the TV signal manually, then it will install the 4 tuners no problem. Not sure what is going on there.

Front panel display can be installed by manually installing the drivers from the latest Imon package for Vista32.

However, there were still big problems with the audio, which kept breaking up and glitching very regularly. No amount of messing around with drivers would fix it. So... I decided to install again from scratch and this mysteriously fixed the audio.

A large gotcha then appeared: WebGuide doesn't work with W7. Webguide is a great program which lets you schedule (and view) recordings from elsewhere on the network or even over the internet. This was a killer for me because I frequently use it to sort out recordings while someone else is watching a programme. So I ditched W7 for the time being.

Feb 2010: Growing problems with the XP MCE system meant it was time to buy the proper version of Windows 7 and give it a spin. A nice man on The Green Button forum has come up with a remote scheduling utility called Remote Potato which sorts out my WebGuide problem.

So, nice shiny CD of Home Premium in my hand, off we go!

First problem: the nondisplayable setup resolution. Should have written down what I did last time. Though I borrow the monitor off the main pc, the motherboard doesn't seem to want to allocate the DVI port as the primary monitor, so I have to switch the TV output to RGB in the bios and connect a VGA monitor to the VGA output (which is shared with the TV out on this MB). OK, so now I can see what I'm doing.

Unfortunately I had to restart the PC to do this, now setup is confused: "The setup process was interrupted. Please restart the machine".... in an infinite loop. So, I'll start again.

Next time, W7 has saved my previous (uncompleted) installation and now there isn't enough of my 30GB partition free. Grr. Boot back into XP (hope this doesn't muck up the XP installation having a monitor connected). Delete everything in the partition. Start the install again.

OK, so this time we get through the install and can still see what's going on, which is nice. I still have some anxiety about getting the TV display back, but we'll see about that in a bit.

Answer some questions about the setup and network... windows is finalizing your settings (heaven help us)... off we go into the fun job of getting all the bits and pieces working.

Terratec card was again not identified but loading the driver manually worked. However, this time the pinnacle card did not install automatically. A quick download from the Pinnacle site fixed that.

I am left with 4 "unknown devices". One of them accepts the Imon drivers and that gets the front display working.

Back to the TV out problem. The built in windows drivers have no idea about anything as primitive as a TV so I download (120MB!) and install the latest NVidia drivers. This allows me to set the right resolution but now I can't select the component output (it's not in the list). I have a feeling this is caused by me starting it up without the TV plugged in, so let's restart... and now it's got the component output and it's working.


All is well until I unplug the DVI monitor. Randomly the TV output goes back to some undisplayable resolution. Umm. Restart with the DVI monitor. All is OK again. Try to set TV as primary display. W7 changes the resolution. I change it back. W7 now decides there is no component output and will only give me composite as an option. So I install the older vista drivers which I used on my previous trial. This seems to work better. But every time I restart it goes back to the DVI monitor!! Grrr. Unplug the DVI monitor. Boots into some unviewawble resolution. Remember the "Boot into 640x480" startup option. This allows me (though the screen is all over the place) to boot to a viewable screen without the DVI monitor, then get into the Nvidia utility and set the proper resolution. What a silly carry on, I can't be the only person in the world still using a CRT telly.


So, off we go into media center. Set up for 16:9 TV. Rather flickery on the narrow lines but we'll worry about that later. Set up the TV reception. "Windows cannot detect any TV signals". Righto, that's handy then. It has not asked me about what tuners I want to use, I'm sure it did that last time. Ask it to have another go. Wait... (a lot longer this time). Still nothing. Go out to desktop and check the tuner cards are still there (they are). Back into MC. Curiously all the flickering has stopped now. This time it detects signal on one of the Pinnacle tuners but not the other and not either of the Terratec ones (though it at least recognises the tuners themselves). Decide to carry on regardless and see what happens. Seems to detect all the channels all right, so we'll have to see if it can do more than one thing at once. .... right, no it can't, so it really hasn't got the other tuners working. Um. Try older Terratec drivers. Still no good.

OK I've found the option I used last time for "manually configure the tuners" which lets me select all 4 tuners, so let's see if that works.... no, there really is no signal, now I just get "no tv signal". However if I rescan the channels it manages to detect them all, so obviously something is working somewhere.

Find some newer pinnacle drivers. Update all drivers again. Still nothing.

Out of media center and run BDAScanChannelsUK, which reveals that all 4 tuners are working fine and can tune all the DTT channels. So what's going on? The utility locks up. Have to reboot again. On return from reboot, everything works. ????

Accidentally boot back to XP. RUnning it with the monitor plugged in has messed up the screen resolution!!! Now XP MCE is undisplayable on the TV. Eeek. So we are committed to going forward.



June 2010: Problems with "No TV signal" or failing to record a programme due to supposed no TV signal

Periodically the channels on Multiplex 1 (BBC1, BBC2 etc) stop working on Live TV (No TV Signal). I also get warnings that programmes will not record as there is no TV signal on that channel, though usually the programme does record anyway.

After much faffing I discovered the "Edit Sources" menu which you get at by using the i button from a channel name in the Guide then selecting Properties. This lists the available sources that 7MC can use for each channel. I would expect 4 sources, being the 4 tuners. The problematic channels had 16 sources! In fact all channels had 12 sources, being the correct frequency and the +/- offsets for the frequency. However the other 4 sources showed a completely erroneous frequency.

Our signal comes from Belmont in Lincolnshire which is pretty much due south. Freeview Multiplex 1 is transmitted on 546.0MHz.

If I go into Edit Sources for one of the channels, 7MC has found 4 frequencies: 546.0MHz (at 100%), 545.833MHz (at 71%), 546.167MHz (at 71%) and 810.0MHz (at 100%). The first and last sources are ticked. However if I select to preview the signal, only the first one actually works.

810Mhz is the frequency for Mux 1 from Tacolneston transmitter in Norfolk, which is in a vaguely similar direction to the intended transmitter but about twice as far away, probably about 100 miles - so I am not sure how it could possibly receive this at 100% or indeed at all.

So I untick the 810Mhz sources, and everything is OK for a while, but after a random length of time the problems come back and behold, those sources are ticked again.

This is apparently due to a "feature" of MC called "opportunistic scanning" and you can disable it using a registry hack.


The HD upgrade


The "no TV signal" problem becoming more and more annoying, and desire for a better TV, leads us to the great HD reinstall. So now we have a 42" panasonic HD plasma (no more TV problems, hooray) and I rebuild the Media Center using a Blackgold BGD3650 quad HD DVBT tuner and a higher spec motherboard. (The BGD3650 had a lot of bad reviews, but it has worked flawlessly for me).

This upgrade has been good, there are 2 remaining problems. Sometimes when the system wakes up, it complains that there isn't enough video RAM to run Media Center. MCE starts up in some weird low resolution. If you close MCE and open it again, everything is fine. Upgrading graphics drivers does not help. That one is a mystery.

The other problem is there is a slight occasional judder/frame skip on HD video, both live and recorded. The skip happens in the same place if you watch a recorded version, making me think it's a receiver problem, but I don't know.

Also the plasma TV interferes with the IR remote - apparently this is a common problem.

And that annoying software Windows Media Player, despite having all these options disabled, has messed around with the tagging of all our CD's and has split up albums, added new albums and generally made a complete dogs dinner of it. grr.

But mostly, good.

Mystery remote problems

For no apparent reason the remote control has stopped working - it'll wake the box up out of sleep, and the red light flashes on it, but Media Center takes no notice. If you pull the USB plug out and plug it in again, it starts to work again, but only until the box is put to sleep, then it's back to how it was.

I'm experimenting with some of the wakeup options in MCEStandby to see if I can fix this, but it is strange how it just started happening.

...MCEStandby could not fix it. In the end I uninstalled the ehome driver from Device Manager, and also all the HID devices relating to the remote. This seems to have made it work again.