Karl’s Blog

06 Dec 08 Home Theatre PC – Part 2 The Software


Part 1 of this article discusses the hardware selection in my home theatre PC.  This article will focus on the software that enables the system to watch, pause, record live TV and to steam video over a wireless-n network served from UPnP media server. The major software components of interest are the operating system and media center.

The Operating System

I have a tendency to avoid commercial software as I have found that the freely available open source solutions tend to be as good and are more responsive to their deficiencies.  However, for this build I have gone against my natural instinct and am using Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition.  The primary reason for this was I was having driver problems with my wireless-n card in the alternate OS choices.

The installation and configuration of Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition was straight forward.  The installation process was the same as any windows OS installation and configuring the Media center utilize the TV Tuner, IR Reciever, IR Blaster was straight forward.  After completing the on screen instructions I had a current guide and was able to pause, rewind, and watch live TV.

Media Centre

I haven’t found an all in one software solution that does everything I wanted in my HTPC, so I’ve selected Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition and XBMC (XBox Media Center).  The installation of XBox Media Center was a little less obvious.  After downloading the windows edition and attempting to run the installation programs and error dialog popped up indicating that the installation program couldn’t locate MSVCR71.dll.  I was able to resolve this by downloading the dll and copying it to the windows\system folder.  In general I don’t recommend downloading random files form the internet and installing them into your system folder but as yet I haven’t detected any adverse effects.

I’ve read in the XBMC forums that they are aware of this issue and didn’t fix it for the atlantis release because they were not sure what the legal ramifications were to shipping the dll.  They indicated that Microsoft has reorganized its c libraries, responsible for providing some of the basic c functions like printf.  I hope that the folks at XBMC can resolve this issue, initially I almost abandoned the software because of the faulty installation program.

After working through the installation process, I was able to stream high quality video over my wireless-n network.  The video format I was streaming was an avi container with xvid compressed video and AC3 5.1 sound.  The initial buffering was a little longer then I was expecting but reasonable and the video streamed reasonably well.  The one issue I have with the system is whenever its in an erroneous state: slow network, unable to find an audio device the video plays in ultra high speed.  During normal video playback you can adjust the AV sync in real time and the list of supported codecs is sufficient for my needs.

Once XBox Media Center starts I’m able to navigate the menus with the Media Center Remote but haven’t figured out how to start XBMC using just the remote.  Most of the articles I’ve read online seem to disable the existing support for Windows Media Center.


An alternative configuration I was considering and would work equally well was a Linux OS with MythTV and XBox Media CenterXBMC is available for Ubuntu and I was able to get it to install on Gentoo as well.  For Gentoo you can use the information in the bug to create a custom ebuild, until the ebuild is added to portage.  The reason I abandoned the Linux configurations was because the wireless network drivers were not establishing a reliable network connection and I felt the time associated with getting lirc, sound and the graphics card working correctly was not worth it.

The Media Server

My media server is a Gentoo machine running MythTV and TwonkyVision UPnP MediaServer, you don’t need both and as a media server they both have similar features.  MythTV does have more features but these are only important if you plan on using the myth frontend.  Should MythTV add UPnP support to the MythVideo plugin then I would have selected this as the all in one software solution for the HTPC and the media server.  I could have used a network share and used MythTV as is but I’ve had problems with the resilience of watching video from a network share.


For right now the ease of installation of Windows Media Center and features available with XBMC allowed me buld the system with features I needed.  I’ll keep an eye on MythTV as the runner up I think there is a lot of potential there.  Windows Media Center also had the advantage of having free guide information, MythTV gets its guide information from Schedules Direct a service that you have to pay 20 dollars a year for.

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25 Nov 08 Home Theatre PC – Part 1 The Hardware


This article was written to document my attempt at creating a home theatre PC (HTPC).  I’ll be reviewing the equipment, software and alternative configurations I considered while designing the system.  I’ve decided to break up this article into a series of three articles: Part One describes the hardware I selected, Part 2 describes the software, Part 3 Alternative Systems.

To drive the selection process for my system I used the following list of requirements:

  1. Aesthetically pleasing and have the appearance of standard audio video equipment
  2. Stream  DVD quality videos from a UPnP media server
  3. Watch, pause and rewind rewind live television
  4. PVR functions, schedule recordings
  5. Cost that was similar to a PVR set top box

The Case

The case selection was primarily driven by the appearance of the system and I wanted a case that included an infrared reciever and remote.  The THERMALTAKE Mozart SX (VC7001SNS) had all of the things I was looking and was reasonably priced, unfortunatly there were a few issues with this case I wasn’t expecting.  The placement of the PCI ports on the included riser card were too close to the motherboard and the IR reciever is not reliable and causes erroneous behaviour in Microsoft WIndows Media Center Edition.

The riser card provides little space between the motherboard and the first slot, I was barely able to insert the D-Link DWA-542 Rangebooster N Desktop Adapter.  The network adapter is compact and there is still only enough space for a ribbon cable to pass between the card and PCI slots on the motherboard.  I’m hoping that heat doesn’t become an issue.

The case has an integrated digital display that include hot keys, infrared receiver and remote control.  I found the performance of the remote control and infrared receiver to be abysmal.  The computer would only respond to commands from the remote sporadically and causing undesirable behaviour with other applications.  The computer would start beeping as though the internal key buffer had filled up and would not stop beeping until the IMON service was shut down.  At one point I was in a dialog and the computer was writing the letter ‘B’ repeatedly into a prompt where I was to enter configuration information.  Additionally, the IR system caused Microsoft media center to flicker and degraded its response to mouse movements and clicks; again stopping the IMON service was the solution.

I strongly recommend not installing the supplied software.  Removing the software had the consequence that all the feature associated with the media labs kit will be unavailable.  Upgrading the supplied software to the latest available version had no benifit.  I still like the case but if I were making the choice over again I would save my 70 dollars and buy the version without the Media Labs kit, THERMALTAKE Media Labs SX (VC7000SNS).

TV Tuner

The next component of the system I selected was the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 150 Media Center Kit, this kit came with a TV tuner card, IR receiver, IR blaster and a Microsoft Media Center certified remote control.  The TV tuner card will be used in combination with a set top box, used to decode the encrypted signal from my cable provider.  The standard cable portion of the signal could be decoded by the TV tuner card directly but the digital signal requires the use of a set top box.  I was able to use the provided IR card to allow the HTPC to control the set top box to enable the system to watch live TV, pause, rewind and record both the standard cable and digital channels.  Installation and setup was a breeze.


The motherboard Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H was selected because of its large number of features.  The HDMI video, optical sound, nvidia video card, and Gigabit Ethernet port are the components that interested me while designing this system.

Everything Else

The remainder of the system was selected on the basis of cost, I wanted to build a system with a cost around 800 dollars.

  • SPI 400 watt power supply with 120 mm fan
  • Corsair XMS2 2GB DDR2-800 CL5
  • Intel Pentium Dual Core E2160 1MB
  • Samsung SH-S223F 22x DVD-RW OEM

I didn’t require a large hard drive because I didn’t intend to house a lot of media on the system.  Any media that I was going to keep for any length of time would be housed on a server and made available through a UPnP  media server.

Overall I’m happy with the setup I’ve selected, even with dissappointing performance of the Media Labs VFD the system is working as expected.  In the next article I describe the software I’ve selected.

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