Extender.

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I installed Windows Vista Premium on my Amitech Windows Media Center box. It has behaved OK, except for a few annoyances:

  • The ting still tends to wake from sleep in the middle of the night, but I have yet to find a pattern. As with the Windows Media Center 2005 edition it’s probably the EPG being updated and I need to get into the registry to modify the time of day this should happen.
  • Sometimes, when waking from sleep, the sound card stops responding. This is probably something that can be fixed with new drivers.
  • If you hook the Media Center to an extender, like the Xbox 360, know this (if you plan to stay sane): DON’T enable the Away Mode! This will replace your Media Center’s sleep mode, but you’re not informed about this when you’re asked if you want to enable Away Mode. After connecting the Media Center to an Xbox, it simply refused to go to sleep. It turned off the video output and muted the sound card, but didn’t put the PC to sleep. It took me two hours of swearing to figure out why the hell nothing happened and at one point I was about to put the Media Center to sleep for good, If you have turned on Away Mode, you can disable it in the Power Options in the control panel; go to advanced options and change the settings for multimedia sharing.

Apart from that, little has happened lately.

Cold.

Close call there, just a short hour left and I would’ve broken my “An Entry A Day“-promise. It probably wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but a promise is a promise.

It’s getting colder outside. Norway is traditionally a rather cold country during winter, but it’s been a few years since I experienced a really cold winter. It was during my time in the military, I laugh at it now, but it’s not that funny when you’re right in the middle of it. Now I just hope they turn on the central heater in my apartment building soon, because it’s getting kind of chilly inside, too.

Today I called the store that sold me the Windows Media Center box and told them about the problems I’ve now got with the background noise. As it turns out, the guy who will be able to help me with it is away and won’t return until Tuesday. If the box has to be repaired, it’s not something they can do at the store, they have to send it to a repair shop at it will probably take a week or more before it’s returned.

Bummer.

They were talking about just replacing the entire box as an option to repairing it, swapping the hard drives in the process. I certainly hope that’s possible and that this will be the last problem I’ll ever have with the Amitech system.

Some of you probably would have screamed “refund” weeks ago, but I’m just a little bit too patient when it comes to stuff like this. Sure, I can get really frustrated, but when I talk to the clerks I find myself talking in a very understanding and friendly manner.

I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Frustration, thy name is Amitech.

The Simpsons Season 8 was released on DVD in Norway yesterday. I didn’t buy it because I though I had ordered a copy from Amazon in the UK, a somewhat below-average smart move since it would have made the DVDs rather expensive because of taxes. Some investigation showed that I hadn’t bought it from Amazon after all. I think I might dream things at times.

Anyway, today after work I took the bus downtown, bought the DVDs, and then took another bus back home. I magically arrived at the bus stops, both at home and downtown, about thirty seconds before my bus, there was no queue at the store so it all went like a breeze.

Too good to be true? Yes, it was.

When I got home, I turned on my Windows Media Center and realized that there is suddenly something horribly wrong with the sound coming from the soundcard’s line out connectors. There is nothing playing on the box, the DVDs are safe in their cover, still I can hear a very distinct background noise. For no particular reason there is now a constant blur of white noise coming from the speakers.

It’s nothing wrong with my amplifier, I’ve checked that. It’s nothing wrong with my speakers, I’ve check that. I wiggled the audio cables and if they are pushed up, the sound almost disappears. But there is nothing wrong with the cables, as one might expect: I plugged a couple of headphones directly into the line out on the sound card and the white noise can be heard there, too.

It’s something wrong with my Amitech Homecenter Living 412, the worst piece of crap hardware I’ve ever bought.

Tomorrow I’m calling the store – again – hopefully it’s an easy fix. If not, I’m considering asking for a refund. Even if they fix it or not, the Amitech Homecenter Living is not a Windows Media Center box I’d recommend.

On top of this, the bloody thing is still turning itself on every now and then on what seems to be irregular intervals – except for midnight sharp.

Round Robin.

After having found and installed a well-hidden MCE update on the Microsoft site, my copy of Windows Media Center 2005 seems to be behaving a bit better. It looks like the turning-itself-on-in-the-middle-of-the-night-mystery is gradually fading away; the box didn’t turn itself on last night. With a little luck it will sleep silently through this night, too.

I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to stick to the topic through an entire entry because rambling on about nothing and everything makes it hard for the reader to stay focused.

Consider this entry a test of your attention span, because now I’m about to change the topic. I’m not worried about you, really, you’re an intelligent bunch. I’d even call you the elite of the interweb crowd. So here goes.

On Saturday I went to a downtown record slash DVD store and took advantage of their sale to get some of the DVDs I needed to get a respective collection. Of course, “respective” is a matter of opinion, but at least I got some good – also subject to opinion – releases. I even stumbled across a DVD I decided to give Klas for his birthday. So hurry up, man, invite me to your birthday party!

While we’re talking about DVDs – see, I’m not changing the topic in this paragraph – season eight of both The Simpsons and South Park are now available in the stores. At least in some countries, The Simpsons won’t be released until the 25th of October in Norway and ordering it from abroad is way too expensive because of the import taxes.

Since I started my South Park collection with the American editions – dumb, dumb, dumb – I have to keep ordering the DVDs from the US – dumb, dumb, dumb. Being a neurotic collector there is no way I’m moving to another edition…

I have issues, I know.

Me, Myself and MCE.

As mentioned, I got a replacement box for my messed up Amitech Windows Media Center (MCE) last Tuesday. Compared to the price, I’m not impressed.

  1. The box came without an MPEG2 codec installed so it was impossible to watch TV. I had to download and install a codec myself. There was nothing in the manual about this.
  2. To get a good picture with the right amount of color on the TV is a pain in the ass and I’m still not done tweaking it (yes, I’m using DVI).
  3. The damn thing just turns itself on without any warning, both in the middle of the night and during the day when I’m at work. I found one program that was supposed to solve this. MCE updates the EPG data every night at five to four and it’s not possible to change this without actually hacking the registry. I did that yesterday, but the box was turned on when I got up this morning.
  4. It’s only possible to tune nine radio channels, you can’t name them and there is no RDS support.
  5. There’s a Hauppage TV card in the box. Based on my experience with Happauge cards from work I can only say one thing: They seldom work the way they are supposed to. The card in the box sometimes totally mess up the audio/video synch and the only solution is to restart MCE.

What works well is the EPG and the recording feature, but TV Guide has all the EPG you’ll ever need and even your old VCR can record shows.

In short, I don’t really recommend that you buy an MCE box now. Wait for Vista to be released and try the Home Premium or Ultimate editions, which comes with built in Media Center functionality. At least don’t buy an expensive box like I did and think that the price is a good pointer towards the quality of the solution – it’s not, because MCE is the core anyway.