Please don't leave messages that this post was too long or too simple. If you know how to do all this stuff then this post wasn't written for you.
I will probably keep adding stuff to this post even after it's "Finished". If you want to see some topic added, leave me a note. e-mail: pstagman (at) nedmug.com Twitter: http://twitter.com/tyrstag
Table of Contents
Prepping Windows for Media Center
Disabling User Account Control
Creating a stripe set
Changing RecordedTV location
Install Windows Home Server Connector Client
Configuring Media Center
Checking ATSC Signal and Removing Channels
Windows Home Server / Media Center Integration
Increasing the LiveTV buffer Length
Increasing Analog Recording Quality
Enabling Concurrent Connections
The first thing you need to do is install Windows. I installed it from a USB Thumb drive. If you don’t know how to make a USB Windows installation drive, check here.
Essentially the Windows 7 install is pretty straight forward. The only thing you may want to change is which drive you want to install to.
In my Media Center PC I have 2 – 250GB drives in a RAID1 that will be for Windows. The RAID1 is to protect the Operating System from a Hard Drive failure.
I then have 2 – 500GB drives that I’ll stripe with RAID0 to help bring up the drive speed for recording multiple HD streams.
After Windows has installed, you will be presented with a couple configuration screens.
The first screen asks for a username. Since this is going to be a dedicated Media Center PC I just use the Username MCE (It’s from the old WindowsXP Media Center Edition name, it’s how the account was setup originally on my network, so I keep it.) That automatically creates a machine name of MCE-PC, which is how my Windows Home Server will recognize it.
The next screen is the Password Screen. Again, since this is a dedicated Media Center, so I just give it the password “password”. You need to have a password if you are going to connect to a Windows Home Server. Later I’ll show you how to use the Windows7 AutoLogon so that you won’t have to enter a password every time you start the PC.
The next screen asks you for the Installation Key. You can enter your key now. I prefer NOT to enter the key now. If I do something that I didn’t like while configuring the PC, I can rebuild it again without having to call Microsoft to enable the key again. I wait until the PC is configured the way I want and then enter the key. To bypass the key, just leave the entry blank and Un-Check the “Register automatically” check box.
The next screen asks you how you want to Protect your computer and handle Updates. I just hit “Use recommended setting”.
The next screen is the “Time and Date” Here you enter you correct Time and Date, also enter your timezone and whether you want the PC to automatically change for Daylight Savings.
If you had a network cable attached while installing, the next screen will ask you what type of network you are on. I use “Home”.
That should be all. Windows is now installed!
The first thing I do after the install is to get the latest video driver for my video card. In my case I went to the Nvidia website and downloaded the latest driver.
If you’re using Media Center on a TV, you may need to resize the desktop so you can see the entire desktop on your TV screen. With Nvidia, you Right-Click anywhere on the desktop and select “Nvidia Control Panel” then click on the “Resize Desktop” option in the left hand pane.
This will bring up the Resize Desktop Tool. You move the sliders around to get the 4 arrows in the corners as close to the corners of the TV as you can.
Then make sure that Windows is totally up to date. You can get to Windows Updates by clicking on the Start Marble, hover the mouse over All Programs and Windows Updates will appear in the list.
In my case there were 20 important updates and 37 optional updates.
Check the “Optional Updates” to see if there are any drivers for your hardware that you may need. Most of the Optional Updates were language packs that I don’t need. But I selected the Hauppauge drivers for my ATSC tuner cards. I didn’t select the Network Driver because I never have good luck with the network drivers from Windows Updates. I also didn’t select the Nvidia Driver because the one I manually went and downloaded is newer than the one on Windows Updates.
After the updates install, you should restart your PC. I’d recommend restarting even if the install didn’t tell you that you need to restart. Installing updates can leave some stuff in memory that can play havoc with a Media Center PC.
Now that I rebooted, Windows wanted me to enter my password. Let’s get rid of that now.
To enable AutoLogin in Windows7 you click on the Start Marble and type netplwiz in the search.
That will bring up the “Advanced User Accounts” control. Un-check the “User must enter a user name and password to use this computer” check box and click apply.
A pop-up will appear asking for the current password for the user. Enter the password you use to log in to windows and hit OK. Then hit OK in the User accounts window.
You’re done! No more password prompts to log in to windows!
Another thing I like to shut off on my Media Center is User Account Control (UAC). That’s the annoying Pop-Up that shows up every time you try to install something or make a change to the system. Again, I’m ONLY doing this on my dedicated Media Center PC, I keep UAC running on my other computers. (Disabling UAC makes you PC less safe! Only turn it off if you understand the risks.)
You get to UAC by clicking on the Start Marble and then selecting Control Panel.
Click on “User accounts and Family Safety”, “User Accounts”, then “User Account Control Settings”.
I move the slider to the “Never Notify” setting. You should decide how much you want Windows to notify you of changes.
Click OK, Windows will pop-up the UAC notice for the last time! X out of Control Panel.
I said earlier that I had 2 – 500GB drives that were going to be in a stripe set for recording HD streams.
Why would you want a stripe set? Because of the performance increase that being able to write to several drives at once gives you. If you only have one Hard Drive, then all the data that you are writing to disk has to go through 1 controller and be written to 1 Hard Drive. If you are recording several High Definition TV streams at one time, that's an awful lot of data to try to cram to a single Hard Drive. You may end up with a "Bottleneck", where all your tuners are trying to send TV to the Hard Drive but the drive can't keep up, your video or audio may start to skip or freeze because the drive couldn't keep up.
With a stripe set, you have 2 or more Hard Drives acting as if they are a single drive. In the example below, I have 2 - 500GB Hard Drives acting like a single 1TB Hard Drive. When the tuners are recording the TV streams, the controllers will write the data to each drive in "Stripes". It will write a small amount to drive 1, then a small amount to drive 2, alternating back and forth between the drives. Data can be written to the drives almost twice as fast as a single drive. If you have more than 2 drives, the same striping occurs, the drives will be written to in sequence as fast as the tuners can send the data. The dis-advantage to a stripe set is that if ANY 1 drive fails, ALL the data on the stripe set is lost.
To create a stripe set, you have to add the drive to a set in Disk Management. To get to Disk Management you Right-Click on MyComputer and select “Manage”, in the Left hand Pane click on Disk Management under the Storage heading. Here you will see all the drives you have on your computer, including CD/DVD/BD and USB.
But first, I want to move around some Drive Letters. I want the new volume I’m creating to be “D”, so first I have to move the DVD an BluRay drive to different letters. Right-click on a drive you want to reassign a drive letter and select “Change Drive letter and path” Select the new drive letter. Say OK to the pop-up that asks if you’re sure about changing the drive letter.
Now we can create the stripe set
Scroll you drive list down to your first Unallocated drive, Right-Click on it and select “New Striped Volume”, that will bring up the “New Striped Volume Wizard”
Click Next, the Select Disks windows will pop-up showing you any unallocated drives that you have installed.
This screen can be a little confusing. When you add more disks, the Volume size changes, but not the “Amount of Space”. The Amount of space refers to how much OF EACH DISK should be used in creating the stripe, not of the entire volume. This is useful if you have different size disks. Say you have a 1TB disk and a 500GB disk. You want to create a strip set with these 2 drives, the MAXIMUM amount of space that can be allocated is 500GB which is the size of the smallest drive. So, the stripe will use 500GB from the 500GB drive, and 500GB from the 1TB drive. Hope that clears up that . . .
Once you have added all the drives for your stripe and set the drive space allocation, click next, here you can name the volume click next, select format options and drive letter.
Once the format is complete, you can close the disk management window.
You will probably want to create a folder on the new drive to store your RecordedTV in. Double-Click MyComputer, Double-Click the “D” drive you created. Right-Click in the Right Hand Window and select New -> Folder, Name your folder “Recorded TV”.
Now that we created a stripe set, we want Media Center to actually use it. To do this you need to do a little bit of registry editing. (Be careful what you do in the registry, changing something you are not sure about can lead to VERY BAD THINGS!! And you could end up reinstalling windows again.)
To edit the registry, click on the Start Marble and type “Regedit”, hit enter. This will start up the registry editor. Now, if you’ve never been in the registry before, this gets tricky.
You will often see registry locations shorthanded as something like this:
What that means is to navigate through the registry like this:
Click on the + next to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE then SOFTWARE, then Microsoft, then Windows, then CurrentVersion, then Media Center, then Service, then Recording.
Navigate to that Registry key using the left hand pane.
When you get there, Double-Click on “RecordPath” in the right hand pane. Enter the path to your “Recorded TV” folder. “D:\Recorded TV” and click OK.
Close out of the registry editor.
If you have a Windows Home Server, now is a good time to install the connector. You can install it from a web browser, but I prefer to just install it from the “Software” folder on the server. Clcik on the Start Marble and in the search box type \\”name of your server”\software. My server is named “WHS” (original huh?) so I would type \\whs\software then double click on the “Home Server Connector Software” folder. Double-Click “Setup”. Follow the prompts for the wizard. It’s pretty easy, no screenshots here.
The Windows Home Server Connector also installs new Media Center Integration, when we start media center, we’ll be prompted to install it then.
OK, so now we have all the preliminary stuff done. Let’s go ahead and fire up Media Center and do the basic configuration. What I have installed in the PC at the moment are 2 – Hauppauge HVR-1600s and 1 – Hauppauge HVR-1850. I also have the Media Center IR receiver/blaster and a Harmony One remote. For a keyboard I have a Microsoft Wireless Bluetooth Entertainment Keyboard and Mouse model 7000.
The Media Center Configuration Wizard will fire up the first time you start Media Center.
I clicked on “Express”. Now I’ll click on the “Live TV Setup”
The first Screen asks for your Region. I’m going to pick United States.
Next it asks for your Postal Code. I entered mine.
Next is the Program Guide Terms of service.
Next is the Microsoft PlayReady End User license Agreement. PlayReady is the DRM engine that determines whether a program you watch has the NoCopy, CopyOnce or CopyFreely flag.
After you accept the EULA Media Center will do a few things on it’s own, like installing PlayReady, checking your tuners, finding your TV signals. This will take a while. When it’s done, it will show you the Results window. In my case it was correct, I have 3 Digital ATSC tuners enabled. So I hit Next and then Next again to confirm.
Media Center then does some magic on it’s own again, Updating PlayRead, Downloading Guide Data. When it’s done, you’re all set! Media Center is configured to use your tuners!
At this point I only have an antenna connected to the tuners, later I'll add 2 DirectTV Set Top Boxes.
That matches what I have in my system. So I'm going to check Yes and hit Next.
BUT! Media Center configured your tuners based on the guide, it setup all the channels that are in your area, whether or not you can actually receive them (or want that channel). So, we are going to go into the setting and see what we have for signal strength and remove any channels that are not strong enough or we don’t want.
From the main Media Center menu, go to Tasks, Settings
Then scroll down to TV
Then TV signal
Then “Digital TV Antenna Signal Strength”
Here you will see all your tuners listed. Select your first tuner and hit Next.
On this screen you will see all you guide channels and their signal strength. (Be aware that signal strength changes during the day due to weather and even the position of the Sun and Moon. No really, it does!) Try the signal test at different times of day to see for yourself. Your best signal will probably be early evening just after the Sun goes down.
Uncheck any channels that show a weak (Yellow or Red) signal. You can try to keep the channels in Yellow, the signal may get better at different times of day. Also uncheck any channels that you don’t want in your guide. Shopping channels!!! Eesh . . .
I also uncheck the “Apply changes to the remaining tuners in this group” Check box. I find that different tuner models get a different enough signal that some will receive a channel that another won’t and vice versa. So if you have a tuner that shows a weak signal on a channel you want, check your other tuners, they may have a better signal!!
Your Off-Air ATSC tuner setup is now complete!
If you’d like your Media Center to act more like a Set-Top-Box, there’s a couple settings you can make.
Go into Tasks, then Settings, then General, then “Startup and Windows Behavior”.
If you check the Always keep Windows Media Center on Top, then users won’t be able to get out of Media center to get to the desktop. If you need to get to the desktop, go back in and uncheck the box, then you will be able to use window like normal.
The other setting is “Start Windows Media Center when Windows starts”, which means that as soon as windows boots to the desktop, Media Center will start. If you check both of these options then Media Center will behave like a Set-Top-Box and will start up on windows boot and will not be able to get to the desktop. I usually check the start Media Center with windows option, but not the keep Media Center on top.
I missed grabbing a screenshot of the pop-up in Media Center, But it just tells you to go to Start, All Programs and find the installer. Click on the connector and it will bring up the installer wizard.
The first screen asks for your Home Server Administrator Password. Type it in and click Next. The install will take a little while to find your server and install the connector.
When the install is complete, you will be asked to restart the computer. The install makes several registry changes and also some Media Paths. Click Done to reboot or check the “Do not restart now” box to keep the installer from rebooting your PC. I let it reboot.
To see what the Media Center Connector does and how to use it, see this post.
If you're like me, you're a busy person. You may get caught up on the phone doing family tech support or have to go run an errand for a period of time, you come back to watch tv, only to find that you can't rewind the TV back to where you first got sidetracked. The LiveTV buffer in Windows 7 Media Center is only around 30 minutes. If you're gone longer than that . . . oh well, guess you miss whatever ever happened on Lost!
But, you can do a little registry hacking to increase the LiveTV buffer!
Open the Registry Editor by clicking on the Start Marble and typing "regedit".
Navigate to the registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Service\Video\Tuners
You're going to add 3 new Values
"BackingStoreEachFileDurationSeconds" - Defines how many seconds of TV each buffer stores. Default is 300
"BackingStoreMaxExistingBackingFiles" - Defines how many files to create. Default is 8
"BackingStoreMaxNumBackingFiles" - Defines the max number of files. Default is 8
Add each of the values to the Registry key by Right-Clicking in an empty spot in the Right Hand pane, Select "New" -> Dword. Either type in the Value Name exactly as it appears above, or Copy/Paste it directly from here.
To increase the Buffer time, you can change either the seconds for each buffer file, or the number of files. personally I like to keep the number of files down so I keep it at 8 and increase the time to 900 seconds per file. Giving me 2 hours of buffer. 900seconds * 8=7200 seconds / 60=120min
Double-Click "BackingStoreEachFileDurationSeconds", Change the "Base" to Decimal and enter 900 in the "Value Data"
Double-Click on each of the other values you created and change them to "Decimal" 8.
You need to reboot for the changes to take effect.
You're done! You now have 2 hours of LiveTV Buffer!
In order to make Media Center compatible with as many systems as possible, Microsoft sets the default recording bitrates a little lower than the optimum. If you want to get better quality out of your Analog recordings (S-video, Composite, Coax), you can change the default bitrates.
Open up the Registry Editor by clicking on the Start Marble and type "regedit"
Navigate to the registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Service\Recording
That's the same key that you set the RecordedTV location. Instead of modifying the location we're going to modify the BitRates by changing the value: EncodingQuality
The 4 values that are listed here equate to the 4 "Recording Quality" settings - "Fair", "Good", "Better", "Best". The numbers are in BPS or Bits per Second. So, when set for Best quality, you are getting a bitrate of 7.5 Megabits per Second, that's not bad, but most high quality analog streams are more in the range of 9 - 10 Megabits per Second. I like to increase the Best quality to around 9.5 Megabits per Second.
The easiest way to make this change is to Double-Click on the "EncodingQuality" value in the registry, adding 9500000 to the bottom of the list, and deleting the top value. That increases all the values by 1-2Mb a Second!
The new settings should look like this:
Close out of the registry and reboot!
Enabling Concurrent Sessions allows you to Remote Desktop into a system that someone else is on, under a different user account, and access the system without kicking the user off.
This is really useful if you have Media Center running on a TV. You can use remote desktop from a laptop or another PC to remote manage your Media Center without interupting someone watching TV. Unless you do something that requires a reboot.
MissingRemote has been the leader in getting this to work and updating it whenever there's been a windows change that breaks it. So, rather than writing a whole new post, I'll link to their post.
Enabling Concurrent Connections in Media Center
Adding a Set Top Box
Fake HD - Getting a 16x9 picture from an HD Set Top Box using S-Video
Adding a Media Center Extender
Install Arcsoft TotalMedia Theater