Do You Vista?

As you know I’ve been struggling a bit with my Windows Media Center. It’s living it’s own life, it’s not very stable and watching DVDs is a major pain in the ass.

So I decided to try Vista and see if that helped – there was no way it could be any worse. To get Media Center with Vista, you have to buy the Home Premium edition, which is a somewhat expensive piece of software and not really worth it since I was only upgrading to get the new version of the Media Center.

Luckily, there are places where you can get the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) version, which is cheaper because it’s only supposed to be shipped pre-installed on new computers. I’m not sure how legal it is, but it’s available at pretty much every online computer store. The package is not the fancy one, but who cares – it’s what’s inside that counts.

I’ve spent a couple of hours today installing and configuring Vista and the Media Center to get it to work properly on my sub-par Amitech box and I think I’m about to get it right now. The first challenge was to get the Gigabyte wireless network card to work. No drivers were available from the Amitech site and the drivers that Gigabyte had slapped together refused to install. I decided to use the ethernet connection instead and that’s when the magic started to happen. With an internet connection, Vista searched Windows Update for a suitable driver for the wireless network card, found one and installed it without any problems whatsoever.

Great stuff. I’m now using the wireless card, cables are so 2004. Too bad I had to have an internet connection to get the right drivers. A classic chicken and egg problem.

After a while I also had the Realtek sound drivers installed – they were kind enough to provide functional drivers on their web site and now the Vista Media Center is up and running. So far it’s pretty much the same as the old one, but with a different color scheme. I guess I need a week or two to figure out if it was worth getting the Vista Media Center or if it’s just as difficult to handle as XP version.

Of course, I’ll let you know, even if you find it interesting or not.

Watching TV

For a while now I’ve been living in HTPC-world with my Amitech Windows Media Center. It’s feature packed, but I haven’t really used all the features. Photos, videos and music? I have all my music in there, but I can’t remember the last time I listened to anything on the media center. The photo feature, I have never touched.

There are, however, three features I use a lot: Pausing live TV, the program guide (EPG) and recording. The pause function is excellent when you’re in the middle of watching and something else screams for your attention. With the EPG, it’s quite easy to record a show and because of this I’m recording all kinds of stuff that I wouldn’t normally watch. I’m actually watching more TV now than I used to, but I never watch anything when it’s aired, everything is recorded. The only problem with recording shows is that it’s impossible to schedule anything if there is no EPG information available for the channel.

The only major problem I have with the media center is that it turns itself on whenever it feels like it. It’s not to update the EPG or to record anything – it just turns itself on, which is quite annoying. I called Amitech support and told them about the problem. Their suggestion was to insert the recovery CD, something that would of course wipe the hard drive and erase everything on it. They didn’t tell me that the media center is configured to update the EPG automatically in the middle of the night by default, something I had figured out by myself before calling. If I hadn’t known this, re-installing everything might have sounded like a good idea and something I might have done. Only to find out later that it wouldn’t have helped at all. Now, the problem is not the EPG updates because it’s waking up from sleep long before the scheduled EPG update.

To wipe the hard drives was also the approach they suggested when I called them about a constant static noise in the speakers, something that was obviously hardware related. If you plan to buy a Windows Media Center box, I recommend that you stay away from Amitech because of the incompetence of their support department.

Apple Are Not The Only Morons In Town

Yesterday I took the buss downtown to treat myself to a brand new HTPC. I had read about the Amitech HomeCenter Living 412, a model based on Windows Media Center 2005 that had all the bells and whistles I would ever need and specifications that made it future proof1. I’d even been able to find a store in Oslo who sold the box and had it in stock.

I went to the store, swiped the credit card and was awarded with a cardboard box. It looked like it had been opened and in retrospect, that was probably the first warning sign that something was amiss.

When I got home and opened the box, it turned out they had given me a model that, for some reason, had been sent back to the Amitech Service Center and then returned. Both the unit itself and the cardboard box had red stickers on them with this information. Also, the way the different pieces were placed in the boxed was proof that someone had used the unit before and the seal on the unit was broken and the PCI HDMI card removed and now missing.

I called the store and told them about this and after about 15 minutes of dicking around, they explained that, yes, the unit had at some point been returned to them. The reason was that the LCD display in the front of the unit didn’t work, but this could be solved by installing some new drivers.

Fair enough, I could always install a few drivers, but what about the missing HDMI card? That they had a harder time explaining, and they started to look for a second unit that they were supposed to have in stock according to their computer system. But no second unit was found and the guy who knew were it might be wasn’t in the store that day. He will call me back tomorrow, or at least so I was told.

Another interesting questions is why I was charged the recommended retailer price for a product that’s essentially second hand? I don’t know, and it didn’t cross my mind to ask them about it at the time. I think I’ll ask the guy who’s supposed to call me tomorrow.