multiseat + compact client PVR

Discussion in 'Ongoing HTPC Projects' started by iancalderban, April 1, 2009.

  1. iancalderban

    iancalderban Portal Pro

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    I've built this system over last 3 months, thought I would finally blog it now that its relatively stable.

    First some history - I'd played with mediaportal pre 1.0 releases in the past, and found them far too unstable. I've also played with windows media centre, in both the XP, vista MCE and fiji (vista tv pack) incarnations. Using a midi-tower system in my office, with a pinnacle 4010 dvb-s and a teratec cinergy 2400i dvb-t.

    During all that time I was using a pace PVR for my tv recording needs, which worked fine viewed on a Sony CRT.
    With the advent of HD (free satellite services such as BBCHD) and my hd camcorder movies of my kids, I wanted a solution that would give me a primary function of a DVB-S and DVB-T pvr, with HD capability, and also able to playback arbitrary HD files such as the home movies from hard disk. I also went shopping for a nice big pioneer plasma, giving me 1080p with 1:1 pixel mapping and no overscan via HDMI.

    other criteria: I have a fairly compact spot under the tv to put the htpc (into an Ikea Bonde bench) and I'm a pc silence enthusiast, avid reader of silentpcreview.com. And I'm a professional network/telecoms consultant engineer. So networks do not scare me ;)

    The first incarnation (dec 08).
    I selected the antec microfusion case for my htpc , on grounds of very compact physical size and not too expensive (actually got a really good deal on it, price in UK has since almost doubled). included PSU, included lcd display. Other components
    - the ubiquitous MA78GM-S2H mobo. selected because it generaly has what I need, and everyone else is using it, so even with its limitations, I figure help is easy to find...of which more later
    - 4G ram (512 allocated to Video chipset)
    - 4850e X2 CPU (low cost, fast enough, low wattage)
    - scythe shuriken cpu cooler (fits the low-profile case, quiet). Chosen on advice from spcr.
    - samsung spinpoint 3.5" f1 1tb drive. used before, again chosen on advice from spcr.
    - blackgold 6-in-1 dvb-s /dvb-t card
    - lg bluray/hdvd drive

    Spent many evenings into the small hours after the wife and kids had gone to bed building and testing with MP1.0RC4 (on top of vista32). I partitioned my system into c: (vista and MP) and d: (all media). I made extensive use of my motherboard's system partition backup/restore, as I made incremental changes to my MP setup and tested each one - many of the changes didn't work and couldn't be reverted... anyway, when the plasma turned up for xmas, I just about had something that I was happy to use with the family under control from dad. I tried HDMI audio via my TV, but it was very unstable, often left me with no sound. So, analogue audio outputs only into my amp due to the mobo only having optical spdif socket and my amp being coax. This was used and not touched much over xmas period, and worked fairly well, but I got a number of corrupted recordings which I could never get to the bottom of. But the missus got to watch "Strictly Come Dancing" Xmas special recorded in HD, so she was happy. For remote control I was using an old infrared speedlink, which sort of worked, but wasn't great.

    First significant s/w mod (mid dec 08)
    - DJblu's TSwriter for Freesat EPG. The standard satellite EPG is now/next only. But the UK (astra 28.2/28.5e 2D) now has a free satellite EPG service called FreeSat. An amazing guy with the handle of DJblu on thse forums has written a modified mediaportal tvservice TSwriter, which can decode the freesat EPG, giving you a 7-day satellite EPG for the included channels. This uses quite a lot of memory/cpu (a vista system with 2Gb is probably not enough) but works really well. More info here https://forum.team-mediaportal.com/development-91/sky-uk-uk-freesat-epg-43261/

    Next s/w mods (jan 09)
    - upgrade to MP1.0 release. This was a big stability step. My corrupted recordings went away. I started to try to use the powerscheduler plugins to actually let the system switch off when not watching it. This wasn't 100% succesful (see later installment) but worked fairly well.

    - getting the lcd working. This was actually unbelievably easy, after a lot of hassle. I spent hours , googling, reading and trying various freewares like lcdstudio, then I discover mediaportal actualy has it builtin. But its existence not very well documented. So, I enable the "minidisplay" plugin, configured it for my builtin Imon lcd, and it JUST WORKS! yay.

    First h/w mods (jan 09)
    - I was unhappy with the noise of the stock antec 80mm fans. So I ordered a few better 80mm ones and played. I ended up taking the antec tricools out completely , and replacing with 2x sharkoon 80mm 1000rpm "silent eagle" golf-balls @12v as my case exhausts, and 1x nexus 80mm "classic" @5v as my HD intake fan. I did play with using zalman fan-mates, but didn't find it worth the effort in the end, fixed voltage is enough with the right fans.



    - I really wanted digital sound over coax to my 5.1 amp+speakers. So I bought a couple of bits for no more than £10 from maplins, and got my drill out. I drilled a hole to mount a phono chassis socket on the motherboard outlet plate in an empty place. Ran wires from that to the spdif header on my mobo. add a cheap RCA cable (given the size of the wire to the spdif header, really no point on an expensive thick one!), and there you go - dolby digital sound over coax into my amp.

    in the next thrilling installments...
    - going multiseat
    - modding the tv-bench for better cooling of the htpc
    - getting a decent remote control to work with MP
    - volume control of dolby digital soundtrack media, getting rid of clicks when audio codec changed from DD 5.1 to 2.0 to plain stereo.
    - upgrading the inbuilt HD3200 graphics for better 1080i deinterlacing
     
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  3. iancalderban

    iancalderban Portal Pro

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    picture quality improvements

    ATI CCC set to RGB 0-255, 0% underscan in HDTV settings. TV set to RGB 0-255, 0% overscan (this is pioneer dot-by-dot, pure mode) and I have a combo that , although I haven't calibrated the colour side, I believe is competely in sync for colour and pixel mapping.

    With the 780G Integrated HD3200 GPU, the best I picture I could get was with vista Aero on, EVR renderer, ATI catalyst control centre set to "wait for vertical refresh = alway". This got rid of really bad tearing problems I had originally. But still I felt that the frame rate on 1080i wasn't always keeping up (MP shift-1 would drop below 50 many times), and I could see the bad side effects of Bob de-interlacing (which is the only option available in CCC with this IGP hardware and an X2 CPU). There is a lot of talk about registry hacks for ATI cards, but having tried quite a few, I don't find any work.

    So I researched the options. This thread https://forum.team-mediaportal.com/...e-quality-vista-gigabyte-ga-ma78gm-s2h-46279/ has a lot of discussion. It comes down to the following
    - put an HT3.0 CPU into the mobo to enable better de-interlace modes. This means a black edition x2 (which is an X4 silicon with two cores out of action) or an X3 or X4. Given that I had an energy efficient X2 4850 already, and all the X3/X4's are higher TDP this seems like a waste of money and energy.
    - Put a better discrete GFX in. This what I decided to do. I got a passive, low-profile ATI 4550HD made by sapphire. 20watt TDP. After two reboots and no driver reinstallation hassle, I had a working setup, just had to reset the favoured CCC options. I now have a solid 50Hz framerate (shift-1 in MP) viewing 1080i, and I have vector-adaptive deinterlace for everything, including 1080i. The picture quality is now stunning. Can thoroughly recommend this card as a discrete GFX for htpc. If I have to build another htpc, I will probably skip integrated mobo and use one of these from the off..
     
  4. Sh4nn0w
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    Sh4nn0w MP Donator

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    Show System Specs
    I'd agree with skipping integrated gfx.

    Still haven't gotten round to writing up about my setup; but I ditched my GA-E7AUM-DS2H (Intel S775/Nvidia 9400 chipset) in the end; partly due to needing to RMA it; but fell back on a GA-G31M-S2L I had spare. Then purchased an ATI/Sapphire HD4550 low profile w/ integrated HDMI. MediaPortal runs so much better with the 512MB ram on the card.

    Don't know about you; but I've always had issues with the ATI HDMI Driver for sound; had much better success using the one straight from the Realtek website.

    Edit; nevermind see your using not using HDMI for sound
     
  5. iancalderban

    iancalderban Portal Pro

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    until someone does one properly. It does annoy me that the review sites all review gaming/3D performance and their only HTPC test is 1080p playback. 1080i BBCHD is actually harder. I went with the 780G on the strength of various reviews, but found it wanting in the end. Hey ho. the 4550 does the job admirably now.

    I just couldn't get stable connection. Many times I would boot things up, ang get no audio. HDMI saying "no audio connected" despite picture working correctly. In the end, as I discovered my TV wouldn't pass through DD sound anyway, I gave up on it.

    My next comments are on audio

    I wasn't happy with analog connections, I could here hiss coming from somewhere. So I built myself an coax spdif connector quite easily. That got DD sound working and lost the hiss. But now there are two problems

    - annoying loud high frequency click transmitted to the receiver, when the spdif output mode changes from stereo to DD or back again, depending on the audio codec of the source. As I am flicking between BBCHD (DD sound) and other channels (stereo sound) a lot, this is really annoying. This click is definately coming out of the pc.
    - Audio volume control with my pc remote works for stereo channels, but it doesn't for DD channels. This causes negative WAF because of the confusion of "we can use the pc remote for BBC1 audio, but have to use the amp remote for BBCHD audio".

    My solution (after much getting nowhere eventually finding an blog discussing use of this in windows 7 media centre) that gave me a clue on where to start. The key info is

    - Use AC3filter as MP's audio codec
    - Set AC3filter as 3/2.1 PCM output. DO NOT allow ac3filter to send anything to the SPDIF, disable all those passthrough type options.
    - Set your realtek sound card to DTS 5.1 interactive output.
    - obviously a DTS capable receiver is needed.

    This has the effect that ac3filter decodes everything to PCM, it then passes through windows volume control (so your PC volume control works), the sound chip then re-encodes it to DTS 5.1. Which your amp then decodes as a 5.1 signal. So 5.1 audio is preserved, and volume control works (for everything) in the PC remote.
    This also has the nice side-effect that WMV files with WMA-HD audio, can be sent to the receiver as DTS5.1, so you get 5.1 on those as well.

    Really the only thing I'd like to be able to add to this setup from an audio point of view now is a plugin that give inside MP configuration of ac3filter's lip-sync value. I find I need about 50msec delay for my setup, and leave it set at that, but sometimes (programme dependent) I feel it needs tweaking to a bit more, but as it requires coming out of MP and going into AC3filter, thats clearly not WAF friendly whilst watching something.
     
  6. iancalderban

    iancalderban Portal Pro

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    bluray

    jumping to the present ..
    bought first ever blu-ray, bond quantum of solace. powerdvd8 told me it wanted an update as soon as I tried to play it. then when it had updated, h.264 stopped working in mediaportal...cue 4 hrs of googling and reading numerous forums. Seems h.264 support is broken (or possibly removed) in the latest builds of pdvd8. cue cursing and swearing, a 2 month stable MP setup broken by cyberlink. Anyway, after some more reading around, I now have the following solution
    - pdvd8 latest build installed for blu ray. With a plugin to switch to pdvd8 from MP, with a switch to 24p ati profile as well, all curtesy of the MP forums "HD starter" plugin.
    - pdvd9 trial version, installed on another pc, videofilters directory copied, cl264dec.ax and the dll's transferred to the htpc and manually regsvr32'd. This restores h.264 playback (which for me, is 99.9% BBCHD) in mediaportal.

    finally watched the bluray this evening - picture quality awesome. Lip-sync dire. Now I have to try to learn about lip-sync for blu-rays, reclock and the like. I have just about cracked this with mediaportal,using ac3filter's delay option, plus there is actually another feature hiding in mediaportal, you can set a delay during a tv prog by hitting info whilst watching it and scrolling to the speech bubble icon. but this isn't going to work for blu-ray, so more learning to do...
     
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