New year HTPC woes

(Happy new year!)

We have a home theatre PC dating back to about 2006 running Windows Vista and Windows Media Centre with a FreeView DTB card. It was working perfectly. But, for some reason, Microsoft have stopped providing electronic program guide (EPG) data from 1st Jan 2013. So we can't see the programme guide (hence we can't schedule recordings, which is one of the main functions of our HTPC). It's not clear if MS have decided to kill off the service deliberately (they seem to have gone off WMC) or if it's just a bug.

UPDATE 3/1/2013: MS have just fixed their EPG data. It's working again!

Here are some notes for alternatives I've tried:

  • EPG Collector can extract EPG data from the DBV over-air streams and process it ready for Windows Vista WMC. But to install this I need .NET 4, which in turn requires 2.5GB of HDD space free. The Windows partition has less than 1GB free because Windows Vista, in its infinite wisdom, has put over 25GB of crap in winsxs.
  • I tried XBMC 12 RC2 in Windows. It looks good. It plays DVDs fine but video stutters when playing MPEG files recorded by WMC (even though VLC and WMC play these files fine). The standard response on the forums seems to be "install the latests GFX card drivers" but I can't to that because my old on-board ATI R390 graphics card is considered "legacy" by AMD. Also, it looks like the best PVR backend is tvheadend, but that only runs on Linux.
  • I tried booting XBMCbuntu 12 RC2 but it wouldn't even boot.

Possible short-term plan:

The plan I went for:

Turns out Win 7 is still quite expensive. So I "just" re-installed Vista along with TV Pack (which enables MHEG for over-the-air 7-day listings), using (and updating) my old notes as a guide. (Installing Vista SP1 turned out to be a right PITA but I got there in the end)

Old short-term plan:

Buy and install Windows 7 Home Premium. I have to re-install Windows Vista or 7 (because of the winsxs issue) so I might as well go for Win7. And there are some hints that Win 7 WMC can decode at least the EIT over-the-air EPG (7 days) and possibly also the MHEG EPG. If not then I can use EPG Collector. My Cinergy 2400i DT is supported under Win 7 SP1 and Windows 8. The ATI Radeon X1250 Series driver says "AMD’s DirectX 9 ATI Radeon graphics accelerators are not officially supported under Windows 7. If the user chooses to, they can install the ATI Catalyst Windows Vista graphics driver under Windows 7. Please be aware that none of the new Windows 7 graphics driver (WDDM 1.1) features are supported (as the Windows Vista level graphics driver is limited to WDDM 1.0 level support). Using the ATI Catalyst Windows Vista driver under Windows 7 is not officially supported by AMD, and as such AMD will not provide any form of customer support for users running in this configuration"

Longer-term plans (aiming to minimise power consumption whilst getting a modern media center)

Current favourite:

  • Wait until early 2014 before upgrading.
  • Build a Linux Atom PC to be placed in the living room and run several duties including data logging, PVR backend and XBMC front-end. Should be HD-capable. BUT! Current Atoms (Cedar Trail 32nm) use PowerVR-based graphics which have very poor Linux support. Some older Atoms have good Linux GMA support but don't have enough power to run PVR backend and frontend together. So my plan is to wait for the next gen of Atoms (22nm, Bay Trail Atom with 1-4 Silvermont cores running on the Valleyview platform) will use "4 Intel Ivy Bridge Gen 7 Graphics Engines" similar to HD4000 and HD25000 GPUs but cut down. Decode for H.264, MPEG1/2/4, VC1/WMV9. Target for release in 2013Q4. 1080p HD 60fps.
  • Either make a cable to run the VGA from the Atom platform to our CRT TV over RGB SCART (as Dave Cunningham has done for his Atom 330 for ) or, if that doesn't work, consider buying a new TV. LED LCD sets should have lower power consumption than our existing CRT TV (~100W). OLED TVs might be available cheap enough (but some people claim that OLED TVs won't be cheap enough or good enough quality for many years yet). Apparently "A new 32-inch LED TV uses about 75% less energy than a 32-inch cathode ray tube". I suspect that's comparing the most power-hungry CRT against the most energy-efficient LED LCD TV (and I suspect our 34" Panasonic CRT is pretty energy efficient for a CRT, drawing about 100W on average... here's a 32" Samsung Series 5 ES5500 32" Full HD Smart LED TV which uses 39W).

Old plans:

  • For my smart meter research, I will have a headless Atom PC running all day long collecting smart meter data. Instead of wasting power running a second HTPC to record TV, I should use this data logging PC as the PVR backend, possibly using tvheadend. The only problem is that I'll have to get an aerial to it and CAT5. I could put it behind the TV and run the CT connection from the fuse box to the living room. Or put it in the cupboard under the stairs and cut into the aerial connection running to the living room. Or maybe just use the living room HTPC as both the PVR backend and frontend, especially if I upgrade to low-power Atom platform (but beware: the D2700MUD motherboard appears to have little Linux support for the on-board GFX).
  • Use XBMC on Linux on the main HTPC using a modern graphics card. Need either out-of-the-box Component support or a VGA/DVI-A to RGB component (but must check that both the GFX hardware and the Linux driver can support PAL RGB component). Or, perhaps even better, just use a single Atom-based machine running in the living room as my data logger, PVR backend and XMBC front-end. Just need to run cables from the CT clamps and "pro" smart meter to the livingroom.


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