Vista Media Center Questions of a newbee – pls help.



Vista Media Center (“VMC”, “MC”) Questions of a newbee – pls help.

If the bulk of my post below scares you off or if you don’t feel like giving a free advise, pls just direct me somewhere or to someone (like a seller, etc.) who will likely answer, even for a fee (I am ready to pay for someone’s time). BTW, I bought a book about Vista MC, but it was not very useful as it only explained the most basic things, and I am not that computer illiterate…I did not need it.

I am not a particularly sophisticated user in terms of file formats etc. so no questions below about ripped DVD menus playback, H.264 or Ogg compatibility, etc. However, I do have some things that I have become used to do with my conventional stereo and video configuration and so I have some specific questions like “will the MC do this and that”, etc.

Anyway, here goes and thanks in advance for any help.

It’s been almost two years since I was active on these forums, looking for the perfect flat-panel TV partner for my HD projector (an InFocus 7200 clone) and engaging in a gallant but futile battle against the dominance of Apple in the MP3 (sorry, the iPod) field (oops, I just lost 98% of potential readers) but I have seen the light since, I love the Big Brother Steve now.

Anyway, in a pivotal event this spring, my 8 year-old living-room 200-CD carousel (a US model JVC, if you need to know) broke down completely and I decided it is time to join the 21st century and get a Media Centre or something of a similar functionality. In very brief, what I want from the set-up is as follows:

· A “living-room” set-up connected to stereo amp for audio and an LCD (HDMI) and a front projector (DVI), I am NOT looking for a desk-top PC with MC connected to a small monitor;
· A music juke-box with a nice GUI on my LCD or Projector screens;
· Play DVDs, digital camera files (photos and clips) and watch TV, feeding simultaneously an HDMI LCD and a DVI projector;
· Access Internet from my couch;
· Assume that I will buy a Dual Core AMD or Intel with an NVidia 7300 card and a DVB tuner card, with Vista Home Premium in a ThermalTake specialized HTPC case.

Although in theory a MC can do almost everything in the media paying space, it has some disadvantages (especially fan-noise and relatively high cost). If MC does not let me do certain things, I may consider alternative solutions which I list below:

· Buying another stand-alone “dumb” CD-carousel: not really a possibility, maybe a Kenwood J6050 – a 400 CD/DVD changer that was discontinued years ago but still commands about £400 on eBay due to its TV-GUI and possibility to download discs-info from the web (or at least in theory);
· A wireless media hub to use with my study PC. There are devices such as KiSS-1600 (heard it’s buggy) or Netgear 8000 (too simplistic of a GUI and other issues). No, I would not consider Apple TV…These solutions are perhaps less versatile than a full-fledged MC but they have no noisy fans and are at least three times cheaper than a dedicated MC PC.
o Q: How are these solutions compared to the full MC PC, given my requirements (See below)?
· “Official” Microsoft (“MS”) MC “extender” – the X-Box 360. I am not a gamer and my 9-yr old is hooked to PS2 UEFA and Premiership but I would buy the 360 if it does the things I need, but I hear it can be noisier than a properly hushed MC PC and cost not much lower.
o Q: Is this a viable alternative, can the noise be suppressed and is it worth it if I am not going to game much?
· What about a “brute-force” solution to the noise issue – i.e., put the PC box in another room (in my case, about 5 metres away) and pull the cables “out” of the PC through a hole in the wall, to my equipment rack of the TV and stereo, a bit like bringing the “back-panel” of a stereo equipment to the living room and leaving all the electronics behind. In the case of the MC PC, I would say I need to “pull” the MC IR port, the audio and video connections and the DVD drive, perhaps the media-card reader.
o Q: This should solve the issue of noise all right, and I can use cheap PC case and PS (which I have in the garage) and cheap whiny fans, but is that practical at all? Has anyone tried it? Will 5 meter parallel IDE cable (for the DVD Drive) work at all or it is a stupid idea?

My “ideal-ish” requirements from the MC – again, a living-room set-up:

Music – a fairly simple juke-box:
· Replicate a juke box with a nice and convenient on-screen GUI (I want to see album art and song info on my TV while playing) – like my defunct 200-CD changer juke-box, only with a much nicer GUI on my TV displays. I have about 400 audio CDs and 2-3 thousand MP3 files and I want to be able to access all of them.
o Q: Assume I will start loading all my audio CDs into the VMC connected to the web, will it identify the albums automatically upon inserting a new CD, and get all the data (including Album Art) from the Web and ripping it in an orderly manner to be used later?
o Q: For non-album (downloaded) MP3s, of which I have a few (with their weird file names), will the VMC recognise these at all or some and assign proper names, titles and album art? What is the best way to sort these out? The following is really a question about Windows Media Player (“WMP”) perhaps, but assuming that I have an album which is not recognised, can I edit one field in all the songs at once for say, Artist, or Album, rather than edit them song by song, inserting the same info a dozen times per album?
o Q: Will the MC support Cyrillics and Hebrew characters in the song names, rather than having gibberish, questions marks or blank rectangles such as happens many times in WMP?
o Q: Are there applications other than WMP to play music, which are the best ones to mimic a smart juke-box, are they better than WMP and how do they integrate with the Vista MC, is it practical al all or I will lose the advantages of the MC?
· I want to play back my music in preferably a true loss-less format.
o Q: Which format you would suggest I rip my existing CDs? I heard about FLAC but not sure it is well supported by Vista MC, is it? Why not go for something proven – does any future-proof common audio format have a good lossless version? What if I take the Sisyphean task off ripping all my CDs to say FLAC, will I be able later (painlessly) to convert the files to another format, is there such an application?
o Q: Also, if I rip to FLAC, will MC work on it or I will have to work via Windows Media Player? Will it automatically get from the web the album art and the songs titles – after all, without the automatic detection of the music and filling the songs titles, a GUI on the TV is useless.
o Q: Let's say I ripped to FLAC and the CDs were recognised properly, when converting in the future from FLAC to another format, will the song titles be kept or I will have to retype them :suicide:(suicide)?
· Would be nice to have an easy search – “flip album art” for example. Q: Is it on the Vista MC?
· The ability to (easily) play “random/shuffle” music, let's say of “Queen” or from the “jazz” genre, or “1980s” etc. Q: Is this possible on MC?

Video, Films, TV:
I want to use the VMC as a standard DVD player with multiformats (e.g., DiVX, MPEG etc.) and a DVB receiver.

· Q: Currently I am OK with my system playing standard DVDs, the question is what-if in the future I will want to replace my internal DVD drive with a BlueRay or HD-DVD. Will the VMC support these new formats for playback via the digital outputs of the NVidia 7300?
· Q: If my (supposedly HDCP) InFocus 7200 will not be accepted by the VMC (as happened with the Sky-HD box), can the HDCP be circumvented in Vista MC so I can use the digital input of the InFocus 7200 projector (in case it does not work as supposed)?
· Q: what about DVD Regions? Will Vista MC play only Region 2, is there a way around it?
· Q: I understand that usually the MC PCs have DVB (Freeview) tuners, but do they also have a “Sky” on a PC-card?

Wireless connection, files, back-up:

· Q: Will WMC access files on my study-room PC (I have it connected wirelessly to the Web via a BT wireless hub) and the printer attached to the study room PC?
· Q: Is it possible to block individual folders on the VMC PC? Same on the remotely accessed Study PC (if at all possible to access the files)?
· Q: How best to back-up the VMC PC media, e.g., photos, video clips, etc. so as not to lose the information due to HDD crash or theft of the whole machine?

Digital Camera – photos and video clips of the kids:

Currently I keep my photos and clips in dedicated folders, e.g., “Mickey’s birthday sep06” in jpeg and mpeg formats in the same folder. It is very convenient then to burn the folder on a data CD-ROM or DVD-ROM and drop it in any cheap DVD player (e.g., Maplins’ Yamada) – the files play as a slide-show, including the video clips in chronological order without any editing (i know that there are softare packages that do it, but why bother if it works autimatically?), which is a drag when you have many pics, clips and events.

· Q: Is this going to work the same in VMC? The point is to be able to see the clips in the order that they were taken among the photos, not just a slide show of photos. If however there is a very simple idiot proof application to do it, I will be happy to be "proofed"!

BTW, out of interest, does anybody know which chipset is on the Yamada DVD (also the older Maplin’s “Tangent” DVD machine)? The reason I am asking is that this chipset seems to be very popular in el-cheapos DVD players but the reproduction of JPEGs on these DVDs is bad there is strong banding, I hope it will not be the same on VMC?


Q: Is it convenient to browse the internet from the armchair?
Q: will I be able to play YouTube clips, all of them?


I may want to convert a few old analogue 8mm cassettes to digital video.

· Q: Would a good MC PC have an analogue (not fire-wire) video input?


· Audio outputs: I must have a stereo output to my power-amp, what audio outputs does a VMC PC have, assume an NVidia 7300 card, if relevant? I think any PC has a 3.5mm jack for audio output for phones for a Left/Right stereo but I hope there are proper RCA outputs and a digital audio on a VMC PC? I think that the Graphic Card has 5.1 audio outputs for home theatre applications, does it mean that for ordinary CD audio I can use two out of five outputs? I never had a Home Theatre receiver, so don’t know these simple things.
· Video outputs: In my living room, I have two displays, a Sharp 37P70 LCD with HDCP on a single HDMI input and a relatively old InFocus 7200 clone projector with a DVI input (and apparently HDCP but my Sky HD box would not recognise the HDCP of the projector, it’s OK with the Sharp).
o Q: Assuming the NVidia Graphic Card has one DVI output and one HDMI, if I connect the DVI to the projector and the HDMI to the LCD, will it output to both simultaneously?
o Q: Will NVidia 7300 or the VMC PC require HDCP on the projector? What other types of output would you expect to find on a good MC PC, I guess that NVidia 7300 has only digital outputs, so what outputs an ordinary motherboard has for video?
· My Sharp LDC has a VGA input, if the motherboard has a VGA output (does it usually?). Q: Will it be a digital or analogue feed to the LCD?


· Q: Music creation software – is there an easy music creation software like Apple’s Garage Band for the VMC?
· Q: Keyboard: with the MC remote control, is a QWERTY keyboard needed at all? Given that I will watch with a projector, is a back-lit keyboard a must? Is wireless needed for the keyboard or since in the living room the use of keyboard is limited, it is possible to have a small wired keyboard stashed discreetly near a wall, for example? How important is a mouse or a track-ball in an MC living-room? What is your experience?
· Q: Noise: I will probably go for a specialized MC case, in this case, is the fans’ noise intrusive?




Not sure if you still need answers to your loooong post (I have indeed read it complete, as some of your points are also on my to-do list).

If you do, I will share my experiences with my MC setup (includes an Aopen MiniPC, an LCD TV, a Projector, sound system and a harmony remote).


Standard Member
Hello there,

I have only read the top half your post and scanned throught the rest of it. I wanted to do all that you mentioned and started on it like four months ago and now I am pretty much there so I think I will tell you about my experience and how I am managing my media using the Windows Vista Media Center (which I think is the best thing in Vista)

Setting the windows Vista is pretty simple, and here is how I am using it.

I have a PC running Vista Ultimate(specs:intel dual core, 2 GB RAM, nVidia 7600 GS video card) which I use for my everyday work (running a guesthouse and graphics designing). My PC and TV are in the same room. My TV is a 32" samsung slimfit HD TV (I wasn't sure about LCD's yet and they are out my budget. The TV is connected to the PC via DVI to HDMI cable from my video card (the card supports HD signals) and I use the nVidia control panel to use the "dual view" feature, which lets me have two monitors one TV and one my PC monitor and I can be using PC on the monitor and at the same time watch Media on the TV, streamed form the same PC. I hope it is making sense if not let me know and I might do a diagram for you.

I also have sky, which is on Scart, and DVD player which is connected via component. But you mentioned you wanted the PC to manage the DVDs, which is no problem,,,,my PC hardly makes any noise, its very quite (depends on what hard disk, fan and casing you use) if it gets too noisy for you, you can always put it somewhere else, like in other room or a cupboard, and run the cables to the TV.

Now the Media Center does picks up all my Music and Pictures and display them in folders as they are managed on the hard disk and same goes for the videos. I have download a few movies in HD (HD DVD and Blu ray rips) and MC does play them, provided you download the proper codecs. And when the Blue ray or HD DVD ROM are cheaper and more common you can get one for your PC and I am sure MC will play the Blue rays and HD DVDs.

The album art for Music it does not not download from the internet, I have to add mine manually so when I rip a CD I download the artwork and add it myself, MC might download the artwork as I havent tried that out as not bothered much about it.

You can rip all your DVDs and save them on your HDD and MC will pick them as a DVD and if you download a small file (cant remeber the link) and place it in the folder of the DVD, MC will download the thumbnail and ratings and a synopsis from the web for that saved DVD, same goes if you have a DVD in the room.

You can control which folders you want to add to your MC and which one you want to stop watching.

Connecting SKY to your MC, now you said you got Sky HD but I got normal Sky and I have been able to watch sky via MC, you need a TV tuner for that and if you need more info on that just ask and I will shed more light on it.

I use a logitech universal remote control to control te Sky, Media Center and the DVD player.

And as for using Internet on TV depends on how good your TV is and what resolution you can get on it, check online of it supports that feature, mine shows the videos perfect but text is very blurry (my TV is old).

hope this helps, if you got more questions plese ask a max of 5 at a time as it is easier to answer or if you use MSN ot Yahoo, can have a chat there. Also dont buy a cheap casing ot fan for your PC its not worth it.

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