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PC Troubles & Fiddlings

My home PC had a troublesome few weeks, with all manner of gremlins – or, as someone once branded – “The Curse Of The Wookie“.

But – I think I’ve turned a corner, and onto a good way ahead.

One of the cool new hardware bits within my new PC is the digital TV tuner card – I was all excited about being able to watch TV on my PC, and more importantly, being able to RECORD digital TV, and then watch from my XBox Media Center (XBMC) setup in the lounge room – which I just looove.

First snag was the default software that came with the card (Videomate T750).  When recording from digital broadcasts, the only option was to use MPEG-II – and uncompressed.   I recorded a one hour show – and it was 7.6 GB on disk !    *ack*

Was about 100 MB per minute – and unwatchable on XBMC – just couldn’t stream it fast enough from the PC.

Next choice was the Windows Vista Media Center – nice feature, funky interface, and relative easy to setup recordings (for Donna).

Vista Media Center records to the (proprietary) DVR-MS format – Microsoft Digital Video Recording.  

This is kinda playable on the XBMC, but not really – with sound out-of-sync, and jerky or faster moving action scenes.

So – ho-hum.   What to do.

I must have tried about 5-6 other programs, including the PC-version of XBMC : Media Portal, and it’s compatriot TV-Engine 0.3.  

It was looking good – even after having to install SQL Server Express edition – and lots of jigging about in XML files.

Then – two blue screens, and a video driver failure whenever trying to record.   *sigh*

Also – my LinkSys router (WRT54GR) began to play-up, with the PC dropping off from the internet, and couldn’t even HTTP to the control console.    *bah*

It seems like the latest firmware is running – in fact, my device isn’t even listed – that’s how new it is !    They only have the 1.0 hardware, not 1.1 hardware unit.

Don’t know what was causing it – but I began uninstalling some of the TV tuner junk – and normality returned.

*phew*

Next up – I began to wonder how long my old Seagate IDE drive would last – it was the only “old” piece remaining in my new PC case.   This wonder was soon met with a whoooshing noise, as the last few puffs fell out of this faithful 5 year old drive.

As I reflected on what I’d lost, I realised it was only a few movies and TV shows that I’d never got around to watching – and was quietly thankful that I didn’t have to find time to watch ’em !

Also – some VM’s with beta versions of software, and some music files which I have mostly backed up – and again – no time to listen to these days !

So – a new hard drive – Seagate Barracuda 320 GB (SATA-II) – I now have TWO of them !

As I was about to install the new drive, I realised I’d only bought a data cable – and had to wait until Monday to get the POWER cable.    *doh*

Another newbie gotcha for SATA-land, I noticed the jumper switch was on the default “limit to 1.5 GB/s” – for BOTH drives.    So – I removed the jumper – as can be seen below.

image

This will (hopefully) have speeded up my PC – without any real fixes/change !

Windows Experience Index hasn’t changed, although the Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) has increased from 5.6 to 5.7.

And – I think I might (finally) have a workable solution for digital TV recording + XBMC

  • Record using Windows Vista Media Center
  • Convert to XVid using Mencoder – a command line Media Player and Encoding utility
  • There’s no real UI – just old-school DOS commands – yay !

I’ve tested this out, with a few samples – and appears to work OK.   Can set the bit-rate (screen-res) – as well as the compression type for audio and video.

I’m just going to write a little .NET console app that can be used as a scheduled program (batch convertor).    Then, I can set it to run about 3 am, and convert/move any recorded TV shows.

More on that soon – will post a full article about my victory with digital TV recording + XBMC (assuming no more Wookie curse’s !)

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