Guides

Jun 03 2011

Guide - Installing a Server OS in Intel Media Series Motherboards

Having seen Missing Remote’s reviews of the Intel Media Series motherboards it should be clear that they provide a solid foundation for a home theater PC (HTPC) build, but because they also include Intel NICs (network interface controller) there is a strong case to use one for your next server build as well.  Unfortunately, Intel does not support server operating systems (OS) like Windows 2008 R2 (W2K8R2), which provides the foundation for Windows Home Server 2011 (WHS), so the installation process is more involved than it should be.  I didn’t have a USB key install of WHS handy so for this walk through I used W2K8R2; everything should be the same except that for WHS you can skip a step.  Let’s get started.

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Getting the server OS actually installed was no different than Windows 7 (i.e. simple and uneventful) so we’ll assume everyone has that step covered.  After logging in I took a screen shot of Device Manager to show the devices that were undetected.  Not all of the drivers listed below are required to make it work, but we will install them anyway for completeness.

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May 31 2011

Guide - How to Watch TV without Cable

There’s a lot of talk these days about folks wanting to cut down on their bills and configuring their homes to be able to watch TV without a cable subscription, or “cutting the cord” as it’s called, for a number of reasons. All which seem to be related to a feeling that maximum value is not being derived from a traditional cable or satellite TV subscription. The rise of new content delivery mechanisms utilizing the Internet also is contributing new options that supplement and, for some, rival traditional cable and satellite TV. For all you prospective cord-cutters, this guide will try to help you understand what options are available to watch TV without cable, satellite plan or other residential service. This guide is primarily focused on the US market as there are differences in the availability of content on a per-country basis.


Examine Your TV Viewing Habits

Take stock of the TV programming you currently watch and determine what you can and cannot live without. It may be helpful to compile this information in a spreadsheet. For example, if you watch an entire season of Mad Men, take note of that and the fact that a typical season is thirteen episodes per year. If there are certain things you just can’t live without like ESPN or CNN, you are not a good candidate for cutting the cord because the programming is simply not available sans a cable subscription.

Content Sources

Terrestrial Broadcast Programming / ClearQAM


  • Pros: No monthly subscription fees, High Quality HD with Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Access to Major Network Affiliates
  • Cons: Requires purchase of antenna, installation and placement of antenna can be challenging and even prohibitive in some situations
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In many cases, you have access to high-quality broadcast programming with just the use of an antenna. This programming, often referred to as over-the-air (OTA) programming, is completely free. Depending on the content the programs are in many cases high-definition (HD) and contain Dolby Digital surround sound audio. Typically, network affiliates of ABC, CBS, CW, FOX and NBC will broadcast in each metropolitan region.

May 25 2011

Guide - GPU Comparison

GPU ComparisonSelecting a graphics processing unit (GPU) (aka video card) that has exactly the right feature set for your home theater PC (HTPC) can be a time consuming task if you're starting your search from scratch. In the ever-changing landscape of home theater and HTPC, AMD, Intel and NVIDIA respond by implementing new features in their GPUs to keep up with the latest and greatest audio and video innovations. That is why we've got you covered here at MissingRemote with our brand new GPU comparison guide.

We plan to keep the guide updated regularly and add new information as it becomes available. If you've got some ideas for items you would like to see compared in the chart, please feel free to let us know in the comments below. We've tried to sift through all the vendor specifications and parse out the vital information that you need to know. While trade names such as AMD's Unified Video Decoder (UVD), NVIDIA's PureVideo HD and Intel's Clear Video HD are interesting, ultimately, it's all about the feature set and that's what you will see in the video card comparison chart. 

We're starting out with what we'll call today's "modern" desktop GPUs though we plan to add some of the older GPUs for comparison sake since many are still running strong.

 

May 24 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - How to Optimize Performance of Media Storage Drives

If you have disk volumes that are devoted to holding large media files such as recorded TV or other large video files and you are looking to squeeze a little bit of extra performance out of the drive, there is a tweak we'd like to share with you. The result won't necessarily be detectable in an immediate improvement in some benchmark program though. What it will do is help your disk to resist fragmentation and offer a bit more I/O performance because it isn't suffering from as much fragmentation. This could be helpful if the disk is used heavily for activities such as commercial skip analysis and multiple disk I/O transactions (e.g. multiple clients and extenders accessing the disk).

When formatting a volume in Windows, there is a setting labeled, "Allocation Unit Size." This setting (aka cluster size) controls the smallest amount of data that can be written to the volume. It is a balancing act because on one hand, a small value means less space is wasted. On the other hand, a large value means that there aren't nearly as many possible fragments to sort through and thus better performance.

By default, Windows will select a 4KB size for the cluster size for volumes less than 16TB (for a complete description, refer to KB140365). If the maximum value of 64KB is chosen instead, the volume will contain 16 times fewer clusters that could potentially become fragmented which will increase disk performance at the penalty of potential wasted space. With large media files in the GB range, there's little reason to worry about potential waste. 

May 18 2011

Guide - Beginner's Guide to Assembling an HTPC

We recently covered some recommended parts for Building a Home Theater PC and today we are taking that one step further by taking you through the process of how you can build your very own HTPC. The process is not going to be identical to what you will experience as parts will vary depending on what you select, but hopefully this will give you the knowledge you need to have the confidence to try. And, as usual, remember that our forums are here to help you if you hit any snags in the process.

Build HTPC

Where Brian went with an AMD-based system, I had some Intel pieces around so that is what will be used here; but the assembly process will be similar enough that there is no reason to feel intimidated. First, let's cover what components were used for these videos:

 

May 18 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - Enable Auto Login on the HTPC

It can be a challenge to provide a user friendly “CE” experience on the home theater PC (HTPC) while also requiring users to use a password to authenticate when accessing resources on another PC.  So in this edition of the MissingRemote.com tips series we will walkthrough how to setup auto login for your HTPC and disable the other common password prompts so everything is easy to use without compromising security on the rest of the network.

May 13 2011

Guide - Media Players Comparison Guide

Media Players Comparison Guide

It seems in this day that every company under the sun has their very own media player with various features, but how can you differentiate them? We're here to try to help!

I was at work when a buddy of mine asked me which Media Player device he should buy in order to play all his content. I thought for a moment and then realized how badly even I needed something to compare. This will be a living guide, in that we will constantly be adding devices to it. If you have or know of a media player not listed below, please let us know in the comments below!

Update 3: 1/16/2012 - Added links to Roku, Netgear, Dune & Pivos Reviews

Update 2: 5/11/2011 - Embedded spreadsheet (hope you like it) and added Netgear 550

Update 1: 1/7/2011 - Added Hauppauge MediaMVP-HD, ASUS O!Play2 Mini, AC Ryan PlayOnHD! Mini


Media Players Reviewed by @MissingRemote:

May 12 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - How to Change Windows 7 Media Center Recording Location

The question often comes up, "How do I change the default recording location of Windows Media Center (WMC)?" This quick guide will explain how, but before we get to that, let's understand why and when you might want to do this in the first place.

As Andrew points out in our HTPC Basics Beginner's Guide, as the duties of a home theater PC (HTPC) grow, it becomes necessary to dedicate a hard disk drive (HDD) to the task of recording TV to avoid recording glitches and maintain a responsive user interface (UI). Furthermore, if your system relies on a solid-state drive (SSD) for it's system drive housing the Windows 7 operating system (OS), it is important to use a mechanical disk as the recording drive to maintain a long SSD lifespan.

Now, let's get to it. Follow along the screen captures and you'll understand exactly how to change your recording location.

Windows Media Center Settings

May 11 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - Simple Screen Switching Using DisplaySwitch

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)

May 08 2011

Guide - Ceton InfiniTV Network Tuner Wizard: Access InfiniTV Tuners From Multiple PCs

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One of our most popular guides in the past several months has been Michael Welter’s guide and tool for configuring the InfiniTV for use by multiple PCs. Now, Ceton has released the InfiniTV Network Tuner Wizard to provide an easy way to configure and officially support the InfiniTV when used by multiple PCs. We’ve had the opportunity to use the wizard and produce a guide to help you learn what it does and how to use it.

May 04 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - Adding Sequence commands to your Logitech Harmony remote

If you are a true home theater nut like I am then, without a doubt, you will have some form of a universal remote control in your home theater setup. Over the years, I have amassed a sizable collection of Harmony remotes. I probably have every single model of Harmony remotes besides the RF based Harmony remotes. One of many things I do is constantly fiddle with the settings, tweaking them to add new button queues and screens. Recently, I've been getting into home automation and light control in my theater room. Right now I've got a Lutron Grafik Eye controlling my multiple light zones. I am also getting into Z-wave lighting control but we'll dive deeper into that subject at a later date.

The Lutron lighting control allows me to control it via IR commands from almost any remote. I've added the Lutron lighting as a device in my Harmony setup and then created a sequence so that when I hit play it will dim my lights and start playing the movie. Then, I added a second sequence that when I pause the movie it brightens up the lights and pauses at the same time.

Below are the steps to create a sequence in the Logitech Harmony setup software.

  1. Click on Customize Buttons for whatever activity you want to add the sequence to.

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 2.  Click on Add Sequence

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 3.  Give the Sequence a name

 4.  Select the device( s ) and the commands that will be part of the Sequence

May 02 2011

Guide - Beginner's Guide to Building a Home Theater PC

We have covered a number of Beginner’s Guides in our effort to help out newcomers to the world of home theater computers. Topics covered include the basics, video resolutions, codecs and how they affect you, media players, frame rates and more. So hopefully you have read and enjoyed those as now the fun part begins--building an HTPC!

There are a variety of reasons why you might be interested in building a home theater PC (HTPC); perhaps you are intrigued by the idea of consolidating all your music, movies, and pictures into a central location. Or maybe the cable company upped their rates again and your only means of striking back is to build your own digital video recorder (DVR). Actually it's my personal opinion that most people build HTPCs just because it's fun! It is always a great feeling showing off your system to someone who's never heard of an HTPC and they can't quite figure out how you can have so much stuff available on your TV. This beginners guide is an attempt to introduce a relative new comer to the world of building your own HTPC. Hardware was chosen with a beginner in mind; a balance of cost, performance, flexibility and simplicity were considered when choosing the following components.

Apr 29 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - Never Assume the Obvious when Troubleshooting

This tip is as much a friendly reminder as one that even the best technical people will forget--Don't Assume the obvious has been done!

Case in point, I was troubleshooting a friend's TV setup. She has AT&T U-Verse TV which is connected via HDMI passthrough to her Onkyo stereo receiver and claimed that her dog sat on her remotes and then suddenly lost all audio. I looked through all the settings on the receiver and it looked OK. Swapped inputs on the AVR and tested her Blu-ray player, and that worked correct with audio. I then went into AT&T's setup and tried messing with the audio settings. After adjusting some cables and moving things around, I was ready to GIVE UP!

Then it hit me and I asked her, "Have you power cycled your cable box?" Of course the answer was "NO," and of course, that RESOLVED the issue. In my effort of trying to think about all the complicated ways she could have lost audio I missed the most basic troubleshooting step to simply reboot the device.

So there you have it, never assume that the most basic steps of troubleshooting will not fix the problem.

Apr 28 2011

Guide - Tips and Tweaks - Pricematch Your Blu-rays or DVDs at Fry's Electronics

Here's a quick tip some of you might actually know. While we love the support financially when you use our Amazon and Newegg ads (see right column), we all have those times when there's a movie or game title that you simply cannot wait to receive. Or maybe you only want one movie so don't want to pay Amazon for shipping. Did you know there's a healthy amount of online vendors which your local Fry's Electronics stores will price match?

An anonymous user sent me this image from a Fry's associate showing the full list (below) of authorized vendors, and it's long!

Fry's Pricematch

Apr 22 2011

Guide - MissingRemote Tips and Tweaks – HTPC Spring Cleaning

This tip probably seems rather obvious, but sometimes the obvious can be forgotten or neglected. I was recently called into action to diagnose a system that was running warmer and creating more fan noise than usual. Upon opening the case, this is what I saw:

Dusty Power Supply

Apr 12 2011

Guide - Missing Remote Tips and Tweaks #2 – Preventing Sneaky TV Overscan in Windows 7 Media Center

If you’re at all like me, you want to see the entire picture as it was originally broadcast so you calibrate your display.  One of the steps of our display calibration guide is to display a test pattern to correct for any overscan. Overscan is a vestige of the old cathode ray tube (CRT) TV days and largely no longer needed.

The overscan test pattern might commonly be played back in Windows 7 Media Center (7MC) via the videos section and reveal no overscan. However, 7MC has a dark and sneaky side to it.

At my day job, I often watch the same network content over and over again on professional monitors so it is quite easy to recognize when network tickers and logos aren’t in their usual places. Much to my surprise, when I configured 7MC for my flat panel plasma, it was obvious that Microsoft decided that 7MC needed to overscan live and recorded TV.

Take a look at the following images showing what the same image looks like with and without the overscan that 7MC applies.

 

Overscanned by WMC

Overscanned Image in 7MC

Apr 04 2011

Guide - MissingRemote Tips and Tweaks #1 - Delete Windows 7 Service Pack Backup Files

How would you like to gain almost 1GB of space on your system drive? If you've installed Windows 7 SP1, you should be aware that Windows retains a backup of the system files to allow for the uninstallation of SP1. If you're happy with SP1 on your system, you can safely delete the backup in a few simple steps. Keep in mind that after performing this procedure, there's no turning back from SP1.

Disk Cleanup 4

Mar 29 2011

Guide - Installing Pace RNG110 Set Top Box FireWire Drivers

As anyone who has used a set top box (STB) with infrared (IR) blasters can attest; while they work most of the time even a minuscule failure rate is not acceptable with spouse acceptance factor (SAF) on the line.  So when something besides IR is available to execute channel changes is available, the additional reliability is a welcome addition.  So when I swapped out a DCT-6200 for a Pace RNG110 to enable 3D I was surprised by how difficult it was to get the drivers installed compared to the Motorola cable box.  Having repeated the process and struggling with the specifics again, I figured it was time to document the process to save some trouble next time.

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Mar 07 2011

Guide - Beginner's Guide to HTPC Software

Welcome to the Beginner's Guide to HTPC Software. This will be an in-depth look at the software options available to you to build your HTPC. If you haven't already, make sure you read our Beginner's Guide to HTPCs for other topics.

We're going to cover only full home theater PC applications which can handle the following tasks:

  1. Music
  2. Videos
  3. Movies
  4. TV (optional)
  5. Photos

First let's take a look at the operating system options you have and a brief overview:

  • Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, 7
  • Apple Mac OSX
  • Linux

Each one of these has their pros and cons. If you are using Mac OSX, you don't have many choices beyond Front Row, XBMC and Plex (below). If you're using Linux, honestly you're probably not reading this guide due to limited options as well--MythTV (below as well). So that leaves Windows users . This is at least 90% of you out there, and most likely what everyone reading this is interested in.

Feb 25 2011

Guide - How to Enable Concurrent Sessions in Windows 7 Service Pack 1 RTM

Please Read

The script has been updated. The following now works properly:

  1. multi cmd line switch
  2. Home Premium
  3. Non-English Operating Systems, no need to change the script

Sorry for any inconvenience caused.

If you've been following MissingRemote for a while, you know one of our most popular series of guides is Enabling Concurrent Remote Desktop sessions. Continuing that trend we have an updated process below working with the RTM (Official Release to Manufacturing) version of Windows7 Ultimate, Professional, Home Premium and Enterprise Editions, x86 & x64 build 7601, Service Pack Build 1130.

One of the most popular articles ever at MissingRemote.com has been our guide on how to enable Concurrent Sessions for Windows Vista. For those unaware of what it is, enabling Concurrent Sessions allows you to Remote Desktop into a system that someone else is on, under a different user account, and access the system without kicking the user off. I, for example, use the feature to have MCE running on my Television, and then I remote into my main user account to access all my files without interrupting my MCE session. Special thanks to Mikinho for compiling the package below and making this all possible.

userscreensmall.jpg

***DISCLAIMER***

Feb 23 2011

Guide - Override Digital Cable Advisor in Windows Media Center 7

* * * Disclaimer * * *

I do NOT recommend using the DCA override other than the circumstances listed below.

The following files and instructions are provided to you at your OWN RISK!! Understand that it is circumventing a quality assurance test. That being said, if you do have a problem, we have a fantastic community here to help you

Before we begin, this guide assumes you know what the Digital Cable Advisor (DCA) is and have it installed already. If you do not, please refer to MCE: Digital Cable Advisor Tool Available Now before continuing.

OverrideDigitalCableAdvisor does not remove the need to have DCA installed. What it does is tell DCA to skip the tests and consider it a PASS. I do NOT recommend using OverrideDigitalCableAdvisor to get around under powered hardware. I am providing OverrideDigitalCableAdvisor for two basic scenarios (though there may be more) that I believe the DCA fails to take into account.

  1. Virtual Media Center

    I've had a virtual Windows Media Center running under Hyper-V for several years (since Vista SP1) that has acted as my primary recording HTPC.  I did this for several reasons: 1- To reduce energy consumption.  At the time my primary HTPC was left on 24\7 to ensure it was always available for Media Center Extenders.  Virtualizing it allowed me to change my power policy on the HTPC to be in standby most of the time; 2- I setup two virtual HTPCs. One dedicated to recording and another for my Media Center Extenders (MCX) to allow me to test various MCX work-arounds without potentially lowering the stability of my recordings.

    This worked great for years with my Silicon Dust HDHomeRun (x3)...until Comcast made ClearQAM next to worthless in Houston.

Jan 31 2011

Guide - Beginner's Guide to HTPC Basics

Continuing our series of Beginner's Guides for HTPC and Home Theater, this guide offers ten basic tips for getting your HTPC up and running smoothly.  Most of these were learned the hard way, hope that sharing means you don't have to Smile

1. Dedicate a physical drive for recording TV:

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Recording and scanning big TV files for commercials hits a drive really hard. Having at least two physical drives separates the bandwidth necessary to keep the user interface (UI) responsive and minimize the risk for glitches during recording and playback.  After adding up all the traffic caused by Media Center recording and ShowAnalyzer reading back and forth in the file while you try to watch it (all potentially multiplied by the number of tuners); then add in a couple “extenders” - you’ll be glad you put the operating system (OS) on one disk and recordings on another.

2. Don't Go Green (when choosing a hard drive):

I’m sure there will be some disagreement on this one so it is important to understand context. If you only want to store DVDs and other “light” media a green drive will work fine.  That said, I've had horrible results streaming really “heavy” (20GB+)  files off of them; both locally and over the network especially in multi-user (i.e. two clients hitting the same drive at the same time) scenarios.  Green drives are cheaper, quieter and use less power (what makes them “Green”) because they are slower, but they are not much cheaper, quieter or greener than a 7200RPM that will serve those heavy files without glitches. 

3. Reduce/disable the Recycle Bin:

Jan 26 2011

Guide - Video Frame Rates and Display Refresh Rates for Beginners

We hope you've been enjoying our series of Beginner's Guides for HTPC and Home Theater. As part of the series, we’ve previously discussed video resolutions and how video information is displayed on a screen for a frame of video in our guide, Video Resolutions for Beginners. What we didn’t delve into much was the rate at which video frames are captured, or, in other words, the video frame rate. This guide will cover the basics of frame rates and how displays deal with the frame rates. We’ll try to cut through the marketing buzzwords like 120Hz, 240Hz, 600Hz sub-field drive, etc. so that you can make a more informed decision when purchasing your next display and how to insure an optimal viewing experience.

Jan 19 2011

Guide - Change Windows Media Center Startup With Media Center Valve

Disclaimers

  1. This is a work-in-progress. I'll be releasing updates every few days. I wanted to wait and release it in its entirety but I've had enough requests for it that I'll be releasing as each part is tested.

  2. Media Center Valve or Valve for Windows Media Center (WMCVALVE) is licensed for personal non-commercial use only.

  3. Please do not redistribute the installer. It will only be available here at MissingRemote for a few weeks as I want to track usage and I will be making weekly updates.

Media Center Valve is a work-in-progress of all my smaller Media Center Add-ins combined into one. Valve will replace Extender Live TV Startup, Control Panel, Start Menu Plus, Hide Menu Strips, AutoPlay Disable, Remote Remap, YAHAA and a few unpublished add-ins I use at home.

Jan 17 2011

Guide - Beginners Guide to Controlling your HTPC

In continuation of our Beginners guide series, this guide is all about controlling your HTPC. One thing that sets a “computer connected to your big screen” and it being a HTPC is how we interface with the system. Controlling your HTPC is all about the hardware and software combination you are using. Depending on if you are using the plethora of HTPC software front ends whether it be Windows Media Center, Sage TV, Beyond TV, Myth TV, Boxee, XBMC, you name it they all require hardware to interface with it to control how it works. For more information on the aforementioned software stay tuned for the Beginners guide to HTPC software.

Now that you have read what a HTPC is and what it entails now the fun begins in how to integrate it into your entertainment setup, and how to control it out seamlessly. There are many ways to control a HTPC, it is as simple as using a traditional keyboard and mouse to as crazy and sophisticated as using home automation software and integrating TCP/IP commands to control your entire setup, stay tuned for the Beginners guide to home automation also see the HD Sports Bar setup. In this guide we will cover every aspect of HTPC controls to allow you to make the best possible decision on how you personally want to control your HTPC setup.

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