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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Media Center updates break custom menus

I’m sure most Windows Media Center users who customize their menus, are now aware that something is up with the menus in Media Center!

I use Media Center Studio which is a fantastic 3rd party utility developed by Advent. With Media Center Studio you can create custom menu strips and move icons around to different menus strips and customize your Media Center to suit your needs.

However recent updates from Microsoft for the updated online content services: MSN Video Player / Netflix HD have broken Media Center Studio and custom menus in general.

If your like me and you use My Movies you probably hide the native Movies menu strip. I also never use the Sports menu strip so like to hide this as well. I also like to add icons for 3rd party plug-ins such as TunerFree MCE to the native TV menu strip etc. After these recent updates all of my menus and everyone else’s were messed up and I had the native Movies and Sports menus visible again on my Media Center, also the order in which the menus appear had changed.

There is a thread on the Green Button here discussing these frustrations. Fortunately there is some relief in the form of “Hide Media Center Menu Strips” a little utility from one of our favorite Media Center developers Mikinho.


With the aid of this utility I was able to quickly and easily re-hide the native Movies and Sports menu strips in Media Center, which has helped to improve my situation some what.

However unfortunately custom menu strips and placement of 3rd party plug-in icons on native menu strips and re-ordering menus are still broken until Media Center Studio hopefully gets fixed.

There has been no official word from Microsoft that I am aware of regarding this issue. But customizing Media Center menus is a “hack” so I wouldn’t expect one any time soon if at all.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

What’s on the workbench today? iTX Mini HTPC!

On the workbench today we have an iTX Mini PC, using an Antec ISK 310-150 Mini iTX Case.

I quite like this case, it is sturdy, however I’m not keen on the quite flimsy silver plastic front especially the thin DVD opening cover.

There are plenty of vents for cooling however and room to fit two full size fans on the right hand side, no in-built IR which could be an issue.





What’s inside:

Minix 785G-SP128M, this little motherboard has the AMD 785G chipset. I’ve used regular micro ATX motherboards from Gigabyte before for other HTPC builds with the same 785G chipset, which isn’t too bad for HTPC’s so it’s all familiar stuff.

Motherboard Key Features Highlight:

1. Integrated ATI Radeon™ HD 4200 Graphics
2. Supports DirectX® 10.1 3D graphics, Windows 7 Ready

3. Supports AMD® Phenom™ II x4/ Athlon™ II x4 processors (up to 65W max.)

4. Built-in 128 MB Local Frame Buffer (Side-port memory)

5. Supports ATI Avivo™ HD technology and built-in Universal Video Decoder 2.0 (UVD2) which leverages CPU consumption when play HD movie, hence power-saving

6. Designed with 100% high quality solid capacitors and components to ensure high performance and great longevity

7. One PCI-Express Gen.2 slot for expansion

8. Two DDR2 SO-DIMM slots for extensible upgrade

9. 7.1+2 Channel High-Performance HDA Codec with Content Protection (Realtek ALC885)





  • Motherboard: Minix 785G-SP128M
  • CPU: AMD Phenom AM3 x3 Processor 2.3 GHZ
  • CPU Cooler: Glacial Tech PLA08025S12L
  • RAM: Kingston DDR2 RAM 2GB (Notebook)
  • HDD: Seagate 160GB (Notebook)
  • DVD: Sony CRX890S (Slim)
  • PSU: Antec FP-150-8 150 Watt


  • Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
  • My Movies Client 3.13
  • Heatwave 1.3
  • RadioTime MCE
  • SilverLight
  • Flash Player
  • AutoHotKey
  • Media Center Studio
  • Shark 007 Codec Pack 2.4.8

Windows Experience Index Score: 4.1


I installed the latest drivers from AMD / ATI / Realtek. I also installed the Shark 007 codec pack for Windows 7.

With the default settings in the Shark007 pack unchanged I played a High Definition MKV movie, in the screenshots below you can see the CPU usage.



I don’t think hardware acceleration is on. I tried a few different settings in the codec pack but the CPU usage remained about the same, should be more like 10-15% when accelerated.

I only ever seem to be able to get hardware acceleration working on the Asrock Nettop’s which have Nvidia graphics and CUDA. Perhaps someone can tell me how to get this working with the ATI graphics?


Overall not a bad little machine and has more power and grunt than a Nettop. I need to test it some more, but so far so good.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

7MC Music Library re-building bug – Hotfix now out!

Well it’s been a long time coming but I’ve just spotted on my thread on The Green Button that Microsoft have now released a hotfix to an issue that I and many others raised, I wrote about this issue back in February on my blog here.

KB Article number 981770 You can get the hotfix from this link

Hopefully we won’t be seeing any more videos like this one again!

Thanks to the folks at Microsoft for listening to our concerns and getting this hotfix out of the door at Redmond, fingers crossed its resolved the issues.

Intel DH55TC motherboard – True-HD & DTS-HD audio as standard!

DH55TC_sm[1] I’ve been testing out a new HTPC platform recently, based around the Intel DH55TC motherboard and an Intel i3-530 Clarkdale processor.

I’ve not had much time to really grill this machine fully, but my initial thoughts are its pretty good. MKV and Blu-ray playback is nice and smooth in Windows Media Center / PowerDVD 9 and for the first time I am now able to bit-stream True-HD and DTS-HD audio to the AVR in this case an Onkyo TX SR606.

The whole computer feels faster and more responsive, My Movies Collection Manager is certainly quicker and the Media Center user interface also feels a bit snappier.

There was one main setting I had to change in PowerDVD 9 for the bit-streaming of True-HD and DTS-HD audio to kick in. I am also using the latest version of the Shark007 codec pack (2.4.8) with FFDShow DXVA settings, I might cover my latest shark configuration in more details in another blog post, however I did touch on it here

I had to turn on this setting in PowerDVD9 within MCE - “Non-decoded high definition audio to external device”


I tested two Blu-ray movies which were ripped ISO images on the hard drive, Total Recall which has a DTS-HD soundtrack and The Dark Knight which has a Dolby True-HD soundtrack. I am using Virtual Clone Drive beta which My Movies (3.13) uses to mount the Blu-ray disc images.

Screen shots from PowerDVD 9 – Show Information.



Now this is what I always like to see on the AVR displays!



I definitely need to do some more testing with this new HTPC build and let it bed in a bit, but I think this new Intel platform has really impressed me so far.

Monday, 3 May 2010

MKV’s with Subtitles and now with DXVA aka hardware acceleration!

Last time I tried to get some MKV movie files playing with subtitles on an AsRock ION 330HT Nettop PC if failed. I lost the hardware acceleration and the video playback became choppy to say the least, mainly because the CPU was ramped up to 80-90% usage.

With subtitles turned off and using the default Microsoft codec for H.264 the CPU usage is about 10-15% and video playback is nice and smooth.

So I forgot about this issue and put it on the back burner, then I saw a post on the Green Button recently that sparked my interest again regarding using FFDShow and the newish support for DXVA.

I installed the latest Shark Codec Pack version 2.4.8 and had a look at the new settings, on the H.264 tab there is now an option: Use FFDShow DXVA codec. I turned this on.


On the Config tab, the regular Subtitle Control options didn’t seem to take any affect. For example if I selected No Subtitles the subtitles would still be displayed. Instead click the FFDShow DVXA button.


Here is the control check box for turning subtitles on and off and also other settings for text and font.


I played a few MKV movies and the subtitles were displayed and the CPU usage was about 30-40% This is higher than with no subtitles obviously but not as high as 80-90% as I was seeing before, when I last tried to play MKVs with subtitles on the AsRock Nettop! At 30-40% CPU usage the video playback is still smooth.

One of the movies I played had an external .srt file for the subtitles.

Another movie had no .srt file present at all, but I was still seeing subtitles. This threw me for a few seconds until I just assumed that there must be some embedded subtitles in this particular MKV file.

A closer look using MediaInfo revealed that an English text stream was indeed present within the file.


Now if only I could turn subtitles on and off from within Media Center any suggestions other than the Media Control plug-in??