Windows Media Center Edition 2005

Windows Media Center Edition 2005

An ode to a classsic.

mojoald

Basic Description:

At its heart MCE 2005 is just Windows XP Pro w/ a couple extra apps & services designed to record and view multimedia sources. There are two ways to go about building an MCE 2005 box: use a standalone PC hooked into an entertainment system that is dedicated to being just an MCE box or use a standard use PC that runs MCE and having it hooked to a TV with long cables or using a Media Center Extender (or an Xbox or Xbox 360). Windows Media Center Edition 2005 OEM is about $115 or so, and doesn’t require any additional subscriptions to Guide data or any other additional costs:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16832102311

As a Stand Alone Box:
The advantage here is that you have a computer that is dedicated to MCE so it will get, bar none, the best performance when using MCE. You won’t have to worry about a recording, or someone else in the house watching a show when you’re playing a game and slowing down you’re system and you won’t have to mess around with trying to get a single over to your TV. The down side is that you have to build an extra PC and as it turns out those aren’t free. Of course you can always take it as opportunities to upgrade your current PC and throw the remains in a box. 

As a Standard PC:

With the rising prevalence of dual cores and the fact that the Xbox 360 will work out of box as a HD Media Extender this is becoming a more attractive option. The basic idea is that you can use you’re PC like you normally would, but it will record TV in the background and open up background streams out to the media extender boxes. If you aren’t playing games on the box chances are you won’t notice this one bit. Of course it does require the PC to be on all the time, but most people do that anyway. One of the more common things done is to set it up as a PC for you’re wife or kids to use to surf the net and the what not, as they aren’t likely to be affected by the MCE functions.

 

My Setup:

First off, let me describe my setup. I’ve got a P4 3.0Ghz on an Abit Intel 875 based motherboard, gigabit CLA Intel NIC, 1 GB of DDR 400, 2x 160gig Seagate Drives in RAID 0, and an NEC DVD burner. It’s in an Antec Overture II case with a Zalman 7700ClAu CPU cooler that’s throttled by the motherboard. I’m running an Nvidia GeForce 6200 AGP board w/ DVI and Component output options. It currently outputs to my HDTV via a DVI->HDMI cable at 1080i. In case you didn’t know the only difference between DVI and HDMI is that HDMI has audio on the same cable, so you can easly go from one standard to the other. Sound output is using the optical out off the onboard sound on the motherboard. 

My box has two tuners: an ATi 550Pro SD Tuner and an Avermedia A180 OEM HDTV tuner. This way I can record one SD show & one HD show at the same time. In the future I’ll probably add an additional HDTV tuner so that I can watch and record two different HDTV channels. My HD signal comes in from an antenna mounted on my roof and is crystal clear.

Hardware:

CPU:

The basic guideline for CPU is 2.0ghz+ for a box that is doing SD content, 3.0ghz+ for HD content. Of course you can get away with much less, but these are the basic guidelines. In terms of specific CPUs, P4s tend to be a little bit better then AthlonXP/ Athlon64 chips for HTPC boxes. The reason is that the P4’s long pipelines make it faster in media encoding, and the P4s are hyperthreaded so they will have a higher level of usability and less stutters. The advantage of the Athlon’s, specifically the Athlon 64 chips is that they run much cooler then P4s (in general) especially with Cool’n Quiet enabled. 

Basically any CPU in this range will work, and building an MCE box is a great excuse to upgrade your current rig. But if you are buying a new CPU to use in an MCE box, get a Pentium D – it’s a dual core P4 and it will do a great job with the MCE type tasks.

Pentium-D 820:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16819116213

Motherboard:

Here you have two considerations: size and what matches your processor. If you’re using an old mother board, it should work fine. The only thing you might want to do is swap out the chipset cooler for one that is passive, as the tiny little 40mm fan on chipsets in general are pretty loud. Outside of that you’re good to go. 

If you are buying a new motherboard, you want to look for is one that that is microATX, has a passively cooled chipset, has a chipset from Intel or nVidia, and is built by a Tier 1 manufacturer. 

SD Tuners:

A SD tuner is basically a TV Signal tuner and an MPEG2 compression chip. To be MCE 2005 compatible the card must have hardware MPEG2 compression. This is a good thing, and there are plenty of cards out there with MCE 2005 drivers. Another cool thing is that there are cards out there with dual tuners so that they can record two different channels at the same time, and MCE supports this. 

That isn’t to say that all cards are created equally. The difference is basically in quality of the picture. Typically the more you pay for a card, the better picture quality you’re going to get. The best cards out there right now are the ones based on the ATi Pro 550 chips. There are a plethora of them out there from different manufactures, but at their hearts they’re all the same chip & basically the same card. In terms of picture quality and tuner strength they just can’t be beat, and ATi has been good about releasing regular driver updates from them. The cards are all single tuner, and can be found for around $80 with/out remote and $110 with the MCE OEM Remote and IR Receiver

Visontek 550 Pro card without remote:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814129050
Visontek 550 Pro with Remote:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814129051

The other option for cards is the Hauppauge PVR 500. The quality isn’t quite up there with the Pro 550 cards, but its still good. The advantage of the PVR 500 is that it is a dual tuner card and thusly you can record two channels at the same time, or watch one channel while recording another. This is nice when you have a lot of programs you want to record.
Hauppauge PVR 500:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16815116628

If you want to record off a satellite box or a digital cable box (so that you can record digital cable channels ala MTV Hits) you will still need an SD tuner. But this time rather then pluging the coax into the card you just run SVideo & RCA Audio into the card. The card then compresses it for you. The ATi Pro 550 cards come with a nice little breakout box and look really nice. To control the channel on the satellite/cable box you will need to use the MCE OEM Remote’s IR receiver & IR blasters. These are basically little cables with an IR transmitter on one end that allow the MCE box to change the channel on the receiver.
HD Tuners:

There are very few options here, and even less viable options. Basically HD signals come in over the antenna already compressed in MPEG2 format, so the card just has to tune into the signal. As such the cards don’t have an MPEG2 encoder chip onboard. This means that you will NOT be able to use the HD card to record SD content, even if it is a feature on the card. There will be cards out eventually that support such an option but as of right now it’s not a viable option.

All of the tuners out there right now only support over the air reception, which means you will have to put up an antenna. This also means that you will NOT get HD channels like HBO or ESPN. Eventually QAM or CableCard tuners will be released that support recording off cable but they aren’t here yet. Also not yet available is any reasonably priced way to input HD signals off component or HDMI, so any HD reception of Satellite signals isn’t an option either. There are a few hacks around to get MCE to accept FireWire input from specific cable boxes, but they are a little wonky and very model specific. For right now its best just to assume that you will have to put up an antenna on will only be able to get HD ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, WB, UPN, and PBS. 

In terms of specific cards there really are three options: the Avermedia A180, the ATi HDTV Wonder, and the Fusion5. The ATi is plagued with driver issues and other random problems. The Avermedia card, which really doesn’t have any fancy features but just plain works is a decent choice as long as you only get HD channels via UHF. The VHF tuner in it is pretty wonky and tends to cause signal fade. Check what your HD channels are coming over via AntennaWeb. You can get the Avermeida for around $80 or so.

Avermedia A180:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00094OWEM/104-6105696-5455924?v=glance&n=541966&n=507846&s=pc&v=glance

The last option is the FusionHDTV5. This is basically a top of the line enthusiast tuner. The guys on the AVS Forums seems to love them, despite a few driver qwerks. For an MCE 2005 box the Lite version will work great and you won’t be missing any features. You can snag it for around $100-$150 depending on who you buy it from.
FusionHDTV5 Lite:
http://www.pcalchemy.com/product_info.php/products_id/339

Sound Card:

This is an often overlooked part of the MCE box. Of course you can just use any card and use an mini-jack to RCA converter to get sound out of your MCE box. But if you really want to enjoy the full experience of home theater you’re going to want to use SPDIF or Optical Out and run it into a receiver. Once again there are a plethora of sound cards out there, and anything that works with windows will work with MCE 2005. But some do a better job then others: using a non-onboard sound card should give you better sound by isolating the components and thusly reducing noise, and a card that supports Dolby Digital Live (DDL) will encode everything into Dolby Digital surround sound.

Contrary to what Creative would like you to believe Live, Audigy, and X-Fi card aren’t any better for MCE 2005 boxes then any other card. Why? They won’t encode a Dolby Digital steam. This means that unless you’re watching a source that is AC3, you’re simply passing along a analog PCM signal. The cards that are best for an MCE box are those that support Dolby Digital Live. These card, when used with optical or SPDIF output, will provide the absolute best experience. There are basically ways to get a DDL card: buy a SoundStorm Nforce 2 Based motherboard (RIP) or get the Montego DDL card from Turtle Beach. The Montego is the more viable option, and is basically THE standard in HTPC cards right now, as you can just plug it into your receiver with an optical cable and enjoy the best sound out there without mucking around with a bunch of settings. 

Montego DDL

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16829118109

 

Video Card:
The choice of video card is highly dependent on if you want to use the box for games. If you are setting it up as a “proper” MCE box, you really shouldn’t be playing games on it as recordings, etc will interfere with your gaming experience. If you are playing games on it, there are a variety of resources out there for you to figure out what the best “gaming” card is for your budget. For the purposes of this article we’ll assume you only will use the box for MCE & emulators (ala SNES, N64, etc).

The best cards out there for an MCE 2005 box are the NVIDIA based 6200 series cards. They’re cheap, they have component & DVI output, and unlike their 6800 breathen, they offer full Pure-Video support when used with NVIDIA’s Pure-Video Decoder. Basically what this does is offloads most of the MPEG2 decompression onto the GPU, leaving the CPU free to do other tasks. This is especially important when watching HD content, as decoding a 1080i MPEG2 clip in software is taxing on the CPU. Another nice thing about the NVIDIA cards is their special MCE drivers. These are basically the regular drivers with additional support for tweaking the video stream from with-in the 10ft Interface. Here’s an example:

 

NVIDIA, across all their cards, is also very good about supporting the standard HD formats natively. This eliminates many of the past headaches of having to use various 3rd party apps to get HDTV output to work properly. With the newest NVIDIA drivers you simply select the output format and then it will bring up a window for you to adjust the overscan. This is really handy, and makes the process of hooking up a MCE box to an HDTV as easy as plug-and-play.

Hard Disks:

The hard disk in an MCE box has three considerations: storage, speed, and noise. If you look around the drives that are rated the best in all three categories are the Seagate 7200.8 & 7200.9 serise. They’re quiet, cheap, fast, and most importantly come in giant sizes. Size is important with an MCE box because everything is stored natively in MPEG2 format. This means that you’re looking at roughly 2GB per hour for SD content on high quality, and about 5.5 GB per hour for HD content on high quality. That eats up storage capacity pretty fast no matter how big your drive is. There are ways to re-encode the video, and those are discussed later. For the time being you can reference this chart to see how much SD, HD, or mixed content you can store on the system.

Remote:

There is a standard OEM Remote from Microsoft that does a fine job at being an MCE remote. You can get it included with either you MCE purchase, your tuner card, or seperatly. Its got all the features and function keys right on it and its easy to use. The only problem with it is that it only works for the MCE box, and won’t work to do things like turn off your TV, change inputs, etc. 

 

Microsoft OEM Remote:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16880100851

The other option is to get a standard IR receiver for your computer (or just plug in the IRDA headers on your motherboard to an IR port on your case) and use a universal remote. There are plenty of universal remotes out there that work with MCE, and some that are even explicitly designed for it. Personally I have a Harmony 520 and love it to death. Its not cheap ($99 at WalMart, $70 or so elsewhere) but it by far is the nicest universal remote I’ve ever touched. 

Harmony 520:
http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?dest=9999999997&product_id=4302606&sourceid=0100000030660804302498

Case:

Last but not least is the case. Of course you don’t need anything special for the case, any thing will do. But there are a lot of moderately priced options out there that look great in any component rack. What case you will want to use depends on the size of motherboard you have. If you are build a box from scratch you can always opt for a nice Shuttle or other brand Small Form Factor PC that is basically a motherboard, case, and powersupply all in one. They’re not as cheap as other options, but they tend to be the smallest options avaible and are designed with HTPCs in mind.

Otherwise, if you want to have the option of swapping out motherboards in the future, or if you already have a motherboard you can always put together your own HTPC case. If you have a MicroATX board, there are a variety of different options out there that are both small and look great. If you have a normal miniATX board your options are a little bit more limited. No matter what case you chose, its going to be fairly big in order to accommodate the size of the motherboard. 

From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 13, 2021 6:51 PM

    mojoald wrote a thing!

    Read more: Windows Media Center Edition 2005

    • reply
      July 13, 2021 6:53 PM

      I prefer my xbmc tbh

      • reply
        July 13, 2021 6:53 PM

        MODS THIS IS THREAD SHITTING FROM 2005

    • reply
      July 13, 2021 7:04 PM

      I have a remote and receiver that came with a Dell that was loaded with this shit. I am sad I can't use it with vlc or something

      • reply
        July 13, 2021 9:03 PM

        I had an MCE remote and keyboard with receiver too because they were trying to get system integrators onboard at the time.

    • reply
      July 13, 2021 7:19 PM

      [deleted]

    • reply
      July 13, 2021 7:29 PM

      I used mce for years. Then they discontinued the guide support, at least for a while or something? So I switched to media portal backend with kodi on the front and running on an Nvidia shield.

      Now, years later the OtA guide stopped working. Presumably I need to upgrade media portal or something. But at this point I don’t care about ota anymore. So it sits broken and unloved

    • reply
      July 13, 2021 7:58 PM

      Such a fun time when computers started to do really cool shit at home other than play games

    • reply
      July 13, 2021 9:51 PM

      I had the special media MS keyboard, it was awesome.

    • reply
      July 14, 2021 6:11 AM

      Used WMC + Xbox 360 Extenders for many years until finally being forced to switch to SD HDHomerun DVR which was pretty crap and then ended up switching to Plex DVR.

      Neither are as good as WMC was. I miss WMC a lot.

    • reply
      July 14, 2021 6:19 AM

      Now do windows home server

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