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MCP(C)

February 26, 2009 1 comment

No, not the MCP from Tron. I am in the process of building a Media Center PC. I have most all that I need to do so, but to make it a truly useful tool there are going to need to be a few minor upgrades. As is stands, my current hardware setup is this:


HARDWARE
CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.20Ghz (hyperthreaded)
RAM: 2Gig
Video: ATI Radeon X300 128MB
Monitor: Dell 1905FP
Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 150 single tuner
HDD: 70Gig internal SATA and a 500Gig External MyBook
ODD: Toshiba DVD/CD ROM and a Phillips DVD +/- RW

The CPU is fine for my needs. No need to spend money there. I’ve got enough RAM to slug thru what I need it to do, though who couldn’t use a bit more RAM? Video is adequate at 128MB RAM but needs to be updated to support HiDef

For this to truly function as a Media Center PC I’m going to need to upgrade some hardware.

Monitor: This is the first place I’ll be upgrading. We’ve been looking at the Vizio 47″ 1080p LCD. It supports PC input (tho VGA and not DVI, which is a shame)

Tuner: WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Tuner PCI Express TV tuner. It’s a dual analog/digital tuner that will record up to 1080i. That, too, is a shame. But I haven’t really seen a good tuner that currently records 1080p, and I trust Hauppauge.

HDD: Looking at getting a terabyte drive. At least one. This will allow for storage of music, recorded TV and DVD ISOs (more on this when i discuss software)

ODD: I’d like, at bare minimum, to add a dual-layer DVD ROM RW drive to the system. A BluRay drive would be optimal, but spendy. So, if all goes according to plan, by the end of the year the new hardware setup will look like this:

CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.20Ghz (hyperthreaded)
RAM: 2Gig
Video: ATI Radeon X300 128MB
Monitor: Vizio 47″ 1080p LCD
Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Tuner
HDD: 70Gig internal SATA and a 1T External MyBook
ODD: Toshiba DVD/CD ROM and a Dual-layer DVD +/- RW

SOFTWARE
I have found no better software, free or otherwise, that acts as a complete media suite like Windows 7 Media Center Edition.

One of my main concerns is ease of use. I want something easy enough for my kids or a guest to use. MCE meets this major criteria. I’m open to suggestions for other programs but, If they don’t have the ease of use the MCE does, I’m not interested.

MCE allows me to watch live TV as well as to record and watch TV at a later date. Unfortunately Micro$oft’s native dvr-ms file (which really is nothing more than an MPEG file with M$’s wrapper) take up a lot of HDD real estate. Now, this is not a big deal if you’re in a watch and delete mode. But if you want to keep a beloved series around for repeated viewings, you’re gonna need to come up with some other means of archiving, or you’re going to run out of disk space rapidly.

I was using DVRMSToolbox with ShowAnalyzer. If you plan on keeping your dvr-ms files around, this app really shines because it will strip the commercials from the show and then repackage it with the same filename. But, again, too much diskspace is taken up with this method.

I’ve switched to a new tool. MCEBuddy sits in the systray and runs in the background. You can set it to go into action as soon as a show finishes recording, or if you want to have it run late at night when you are sleeping or while you are at work, you can do that as well. It will convert your dvr-ms file into a multitude of formats including DivX, WMV, AVI and the new HD format. I currently use the WMV file format just because it’s easy to modify the metadata tag. But that’s just me geeking out there. There are far better formats but the only show I am CURRENTLY worried about archiving is Good Eats. The ComSkip program that is bundled with MCEBuddy is nigh flawless in commercial removal. Also, it’s does a great job of compressing the file without any real noticable video loss.

There’s not much good nor bad to say about the audio player portion of MCE. It does the job needed to hear tunes. MCE is merely a front end for Windows Media Player. And, I’m okay with that.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else but, I really don’t like having to wade thru previews, notifications/warnings and menus just to watch a flippin’ DVD. I’d like to just press “PLAY” and watch. So, I’ve employed the use of DVDFab (www.dvdfab.com) to rip my discs down to my harddrive as an ISO. This tool is incredible for making archives. You can just rip down your movie and not have to deal with all the special features and other crap that takes up space on the DVD that most people never even bother watching.

But, to play the ISO, you’ll need to have some way for your system to mount the ISO as a virtual CD/DVD ROM drive. CloneDrive (www.slysoft.com) will do the job just fine. And is actually needed for the next peice of software I use.

MyMovies (www.mymovies.dk) is a plug-in for MCE. Go into MyMovies, pick the movie you wish to view and it uses CloneDrive to mount the ISO and play your flik. This is powerful full-featured app that allows you to catalog and sort your movies and provides a lot of data and ways to sort and/or find your movies.

So, to sum up. I use the following software for my MCPC:

Windows 7 Media Center Edition
MCEBuddy: Commercial removal and file conversion app for recorded TV
DVDFab: Rippnig DVDs to harddrive
CloneDrive: mounting software for ISOs
MyMovies: MCE plug-in allowing for viewing ISOs in MCE.

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