Tips and Tweaks - Simple Screen Switching Using DisplaySwitch

May 11 2011

In my current Home Theater setup, I find myself switching between a direct DVI connection from my HTPC to the Pioneer Elite PRO-141FD 60″ Plasma Monitor and an HDMI connection through the Pioneer Elite SC-07 AV Receiver depending on whether I'm watching TV or a Blu-ray disc (BD) movie. I do this because when listening to music or watching sports,  I use the S/PDIF Zone 1 & 2 outputs on the SC-07 to run audio to the other amplifiers in the house (I pulled Optical S/PDIF along side Cat 6 when wiring the house).  Unfortunately, the SC-07 does not down-convert HDMI audio to S/PDIF or analog--I don't think many receivers do--even for non copy-protected streams.  But, obviously, I want to use HDMI for BD bit streamed playback and usually do not care about the BD soundtrack in the rest of the house. (BTW: I don't recommend using an HTPC for your primary BD player, but that subject deserves it's own separate posting)

My HTPC houses a Zotac GT-430 card with separate DVI, HDMI and DP outputs, and the PRO-141FD has plenty of inputs so I don't need to do any physical switching; but when I do switch from one display to the other, I want the Media Center display to switch with me. I would just configure Windows to run in Clone mode, but any copy-protected cable channel like ESPN while in clone mode will not be allowed due to HDCP violation.

After spending a half hour trying to grok some complicated autohotkey scripts, I stumbled upon a posting explaining the options to DisplaySwitch.exe, which ships with Windows 7. In a nutshell:

    DisplaySwitch.exe /internal - Switch to Primary only
    DisplaySwitch.exe /external - Switch to Secondary only
    DisplaySwitch.exe /clone - Clone desktop on both screens (Not HDCP compliant!)
    DisplaySwitch.exe /extend - Extend desktop to both screens

I just created two menu items in Media Center.  One runs with /internal and the other with /external.  See my RadioParadise posting if you need help creating entry points using Media Center Studio.  

The next thing I'd like to do is send a message to the receiver and display to switch to the appropriate inputs. This could be done with a remote macro, but it would be so much cleaner to send a control message via the network (worse case serial port)...perhaps a project for another day. 

Comments

I'll bite - why don't you recommend using a HTPC as the primary BD player?

Yeah, I'd also like to see some discussion on the BD player on an HTPC.   I'm just about to start on building a 2nd HTPC in my home after recently purchasing a Sony 55hx800 and I'm finally bumping up to BD.   I'd like to hear some pros and cons before investing in a BD drive for the HTPC.

Oye.   You're opening up some old wounds here, which I wish I had the time to go into in detail.   At a uber level, it comes down to your definition of "recommend" Wink.   Many HTPC enthusiasts build systems because they like to understand the technology and enjoy the problem solving process.   I certainly fall into that category, but the whole BD playback thing became a bit of timesync for me.   Granted, I started before HDCP bitstreamed playback was available, so I had a few more hurdles to jump than someone starting today.    Unfortunately, 1 OS upgrade (+1 complete reinstall), 2 TMT upgrades and 3 video cards later, I still don't have a painless BD playback experience.    Quick highlights:

  1. Starting with the upgrade to 3.0.1.170 TMT stopped playing ALL BD's.   I even upgraded to 5.0 and see the same problem.   Support issue has been open with Arcsoft since 3/13/2010.  Both Arcsoft & Cyberlink's BD/HDCP test programs tell me my system is 100% compliant.   Still put in any BD disk, and I get back a message "This Disk cannot be played"  or various hangs.    My final solution, spend another $100+ on AnyDVD.   I really have no need to rip BD disks, I use AnyDVD solely so my system will work.  Reverting to the pre 3.x 170 version fixes the problem, but that severely limits your ability to play new releases.
  2. Fun of fighting different refresh rates on your video card.    Finally ended up with an NVidea GT430 which seems to do all the resolutions you want (23.976/59.94/etc).   That said, I still see frame drops no matter what refresh-rate I run at.
  3. With TMT 5.01.87, I experienced a number of audio synchronization problems whenever pausing or rewinding.    It might of been related to the refresh rates.   I found some patches on their forum site which seemed to of solved most of the problem.

So now my current status is that BD playback is still a bit of a push & pray experience.   On a typical BD, I'll see 3-4 lockups during playback where the screen will freeze for a few moments, and audio will take 10 more seconds to sync back up with the video.   I've actually grown tired of trying to isolate the issues.   Could be I just need a newer BD drive or motherboard since both are > 3yrs old now.

That said, I probably already spent > $500 in software and hardware, just for the BD playback capability (my WMC DVR experience is great).   For that price, you can get a pretty nice standalone BD player which will also play Vudu and Amazon movies in HD (remember current studio licensing deals do not allow HD playback on a PC for movie downloads)

So for those reasons, it's difficult to "recommend" using your HTPC as your primary BD player, but I didn't say you can't have fun trying.  Laughing

 

 

I suppose if I had that much trouble getting it working, "difficult to recommend" would be about the nicest way to express my position.

BTW - you aren't doing it right if "[you] really have no need to rip BD disks" Smile.

Actually, the one thing I have yet to try is to see if a ripped disc has the same playback problems.    But now I have to ask Andy:  You walk in the house with a new BD that you're dying to watch, what do you play it on? 

mpatnode wrote:

You walk in the house with a new BD that you're dying to watch, what do you play it on? 

I toss it in my PS3.  But if I'm going be watching later that day, I rip it before watching.  Nothing annoys me more than being forced to watch an unskippable commercial for Blu-rays on a Blu-ray disc.

mpatnode wrote:

But now I have to ask Andy:  You walk in the house with a new BD that you're dying to watch, what do you play it on? 

My HTPC of course Smile

@mpatnode

Wow.  That kind of pain could make anyone through an htpc out the window.   I could totally see myself going down that road.  
I'm about to build an HTPC w/ some old ASUS MB with AMDX2-4400 with an ASUS 8400GS with a new BD burner/player, so I could see myself getting in trouble with these old pieces.  Thanks for those details, it will have me thinking twice before upgrading everything around a BD drive trying to achieve BD utopia.   Thanks again.  Cool

I rip all my Blu-rays to MKV, but I have a BD drive in the HTPC hooked up to the PC, so if I want to watch right away (happens rarely), I just pop it in and go.

When I get a chance to test the ripped playback, I'll report back here.   Unfortunately between family and running a startup, my time to muck with the HTPC is fairly limited.

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