My Media-Center Setup

By brendon on December 10th, 2007

Front ViewA good mate and fellow MCE/ WHS enthusiast went to the effort of posting specifications of his MCE setup to avoid explaining it on a weekly basis. It seems to have also become a regular occurrence now where a work mate or friend will ask me ‘I am thinking of getting a Media Centre, How is yours set up??’, which has prompted me to follow suit.

When designing your media centre setup you really need to consider exactly what you want to do with the device and what other roles computers already play in your house. You might find that a TiVo suits your needs, or that a pre-build MCE case is what you are looking for. Maybe all you need is a Media Centre Extender to play videos and music from your main computer. In short, look at what options are available before going out and spending $$$ for something that doesn’t suit your needs.

<DISCLAIMER> Please note, my setup was done on a major budget with individual components added over time as they could be afforded. </DISCLAIMER> If you are interested, then read on.

When I built my media centre, I had three goals.
The Media Center1. Provide scheduled recording for our favourite TV programs using the new Digital broadcasts.
2. Provide easy access to our pictures, music & videos stored around the house. (This was before WHS)
3. I had to use existing equipment at home and spend no more than $250 per month for upgrades.

Physical Layout – My wife hates the idea of computers all around the house. So I had to hide the fact that our MCE box was running on a computer, without buying a fancy $1’200 case. Luckily there is a little space behind the fireplace, just big enough to hide a computer and UPS out of normal view.

DVD Drive

Remote Reciever

I stole the DVD burner from my main PC and mounted it in an old USB2 IDE caddy I was not using. Likewise, I used an old StreamZap infra-red remote with a small USB reciver beside the TV. I find people normally point a remote at the TV, even if it is for a video, DVD player or anything else…

My success was confirmed when my wife did not realise the MCE was a computer until I actually showed her the box and by that time, she was addicted to her daily Oprah & Dr. Phil recordings.

Internals – I have found recently that the box is slightly under-spec’ed. When recording two HD shows and watching a DVD or another recorded program it does skip and jump a little. I suggest using a Dual Core & faster RAM for anyone else designing a system. But for reference, I currently run:

Software - I use VISTA Ultimate quite happily and have had little to no problems. Installing MCE on custom hardware is one of those black-arts that need a bit of tweaking to work just the way you want. Once you have it going though, it works very nicely.

I pay for an IceTV EPG subscription because Australian broadcasters fight EPG’s and Microsoft will not provide a local listing. I use the IceTVGuide software to download my Program Guide and the KeepKey utility from XPMediaCentre to maintain the regional settings.

Due to the StreamZap remote being released in 2002 (2 years before XP Media Center) it does not integrate very easily. I could spend $60 on a MCE Remote but I have the whole setup working well now and do not feel like changing it. I ended up using LM Remote Keymap to interface the remote control software with MCE. Thanks again to XPMediaCenter for the tip.

Recording, Music & Pictures – I have partitioned the hard drive into a two volumes, 40GB for System and the remainder for recorded TV. This gives us approximately 260GB or 2 weeks of recording for our regular programs.

I have configured recording to start 5min early on all programs and manually set each recorded program to record 15 min after the program finishes. I also recommend setting the program recording to record on ‘any channel’, if you have problems with a certain channel dropping out and need to re-scan and configure it the record settings will not need to be re-configured each time.

Now that my WHS box is running well at home, I have moved all my music (legally purchased of course), pictures and videos to the redundant storage on the server and have added the shares to the MCE library.

Once again, thanks to the XPMediaCenter community for pointing out MCEBuddy, it is a DVR-MS to AVI/ DivX converter that runs as a service and can be configured to work on files several days old and even removes add breaks.

What’s Next – As the MCE is working really well, I have ordered an Eye-Fi (Wireless enabled) SD memory card, configured to automatically copy all new photo’s up to the windows home server from Rosie’s camera.