About a week ago I switched the Media Center from the old machine running the XP version to a new Vista machine. As I’ve mentioned before this is a new machine I built in a nice Zalman HTPC case, a quad-core 2.4ghz process (Q6600), the Gigabyte Silentpipe 8600GTS video card and an AverMedia dual-tuner card. The parts all follow my usual theory when building my own PCs- stick with the top quality name brand stuff.
I’ve been running the machine for a couple of months now as a workstation and its been running great. So I reinstalled Vista, installed the minimum of stuff I needed for its new role as a TV, unplugged the old media PC and plugged it in. The old Media PC is not getting touched until its clear that the new one is really working 100%. Part of what is so tough about penetrating this market is that you really rely on your TV. It sucks to reboot a PC ever, but rebooting your TV in the middle of a program sucks even more. And having your TV fail recording the football game right before the big ending is even worse.
So far the results are so-so. Overall the new user interface is nice, with two big flaws. The new 3-row UI for finding programs is a disappointment. I remember seeing this a long time ago when it was in development and thinking about how cool it looked. In particular it should be a much better use of the screen on wide-screen displays (like I have). It does look cool, but I find it fairly clumsy for finding things. Its even worse when for my video collections it shows the thumbnails for everything so finding an item with a given name is really hard. I think we figured out how to switch to a “list” interface, but its only somewhat better.
The other big issue is the video libraries. It now integrates with the Windows Media Player notion of libraries and scans directories for videos, pictures and music. The old one just let you browse directories to find the videos you wanted. Now, the new approach should be better but so far its not working very well so I go to my video directories and see nothing.
As for reliability, so far no general system crashes. But it has mysteriously failed to record a few programs in the middle of the night. Since I’ve got the cable plugged directly into the tuner there are now cable boxes to screw things up now, so something is clearly failing in the box. So far its been old Star Trek episodes so no big deal, but it would be really annoying if we started missing the new episode of something (once there are new episodes of something back on TV at all).
But I’ve had three incidents now that were even worse. In the middle of recording a program it has screwed something up in the file that causes playback to freak out skipping in a crazy way playing sounds like nails on chalkboard. It actually can corrupt it so badly that it caused the whole machine to lockup at 100% CPU for like an hour. It is not just the Media Center playback, playing the recorded file on another machine in Media Player does the same thing. I’ve never seen something so screwed up.
I do wonder if the bug is in the drivers for the video tuner card (since in theory lots of the encoding happens in hardware) or in Vista itself. I am tempted to try my older Hauppauge tuner to see if it makes a difference, although of course I don’t have a consistent repro case.