Truly Addicting

Once you have a HTPC you’ll never go back to regular television. The media center features of Vista were a component one never tested three years ago in the Vista Beta/RC rounds. At the time one did not have a TV tuner. This time around, with two tuners at hand (the HVR 2250 and the PCTV 800i) one is much better equipped to test media center.

On Saturday, one built a quite modest HTPC setup with a Celeron 430 (OC’d to 2.4Ghz), Intel’s DQ45EK motherboard, 2GiB of ram, a Western Digital Scorpio 120GB hard drive, and a 150W picoPSU. The ram was temporarily robbed from one’s desktop as the other sticks of DDR2 sticks would not work (Intel motherboards are picky about speed and voltages). A full 2x2GiB DDR2 kit is on its way, hopefully it’ll be here on Thursday. The HVR 2250 was placed in this computer as it has dual built in MPEG2 encoders (also it is the only one that is a PCIEx1 card).

After installing Windows 7 RC, about a 30 minute process, one fired up Windows Media Center. Setup of the TV tuner was pretty automated, a few clicks here and there and it was ready to go. Scanning the cable connection for channels took the longest amount of time, a good 15 minutes. At this point all of the analog cable channels worked perfectly. However, Mediacom simulcasts the local channels in 720p or 1080i in unencrypted QAM256. Media Center did not immediately acknowledge the existence of these channels. They were not even in the TV Guide configuration menu. However, there is a manual channel adding option, which is what one had to use. After adding the channels, and associating them with the proper channel listing in the TV Guide everything was a go.

Well, almost everything, the local NBC affiliate does not come in (at this TV it’s channel is usually 112.2, everywhere else in the house it is 112.4 neither work for the HTPC). Regardless, the Celeron and Intel GMA4500 graphics are sufficient for HD decoding and display on a 720p screen (actually a tad bigger pixel wise) while simultaneously recording an analog cable program. At this point one realized more disk space was necessary, and attached an empty 250GB Western Digital Caviar RE in an external enclosure (now that’s about half full).

On to the PCTV 800i. For the last year-and-a-half it has been sitting on the shelf. Sadly, it is only a single tuner, and does not have a hardware MPEG2 encoder for its analog tuner. Thus, it requires a beefier processor to work. Hence, it went in one’s desktop, even though the E8500 is overkill for it. Unlike the HVR 2250, which was literally plug-and-play, the PCTB 800i drivers that Windows 7 installs do not support Clear QAM. Instead, for the digital tuner an unsigned driver must be installed. This means for the digital tuner to work on every boot one has to press F8 and tell Windows to load unsigned drivers, a royal pain.

The upside to the PCTV 800i is once the driver situation was ‘resolved’ Media Center found the Clear QAM channels right away. One still had to associate them to the proper listing, but it was one less step. At this point everything was working as expected.

The only time one has had Windows 7 crash is with Media Center. Both boxes have had their video drivers crash and recover due to Media Center. This occurs occasionally when playing recoded TV and skipping around too fast (more likely to happen if skipping about 10 minutes or more of video right after opening the file). The Celeron box actually presented the BSOD tonight, after being on for about 36 hours. Again, one was trying to skip around recorded TV too soon after opening the file.

TV Guide Background Image Corruption

TV Guide Background Image Corruption

Additionally, the image overlays for the TV Guide occasionally get corrupted. This occurs more often on the Celeron box, but both have exhibited this problem. Since Windows 7 is only a Release Candidate, bugs are to be expected. Hopefully, Microsoft fixes this by the time Windows 7 hits the shelves in early October.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Windows 7 RC 1

Of course, Windows 7 RC1 is already installed on one’s desktop. This time around, Microsoft used the Java applet download manager, the same Adobe uses for CS4 trials. Downloading was a breeze, one was able to pull through 800KB/s the entire time. Installation went just a smoothly as before. Getting the Netgear WPN111 to work required the same steps as before.  Battlefield Heroes works fine, as does Test Drive Unlimited. Other than not being able to play any game that relies on PunkBuster, one finds little reason to hate Windows 7 (and even there one blames Even Balance for their own incompetence).

Again, PunkBuster is not working. Some are claiming success by scattering the PnkBusterA.exe and PnkBusterB.exe files in various folders and modifying the registry. It also requires a reboot and running a script after rebooting, and after each subsequent reboot. Now that Windows 7 is in the release candidate phase, hopefully Even Balance will get their heads out of the sand and get to work (one expects PunkBuster to work perfectly on the day Windows 7 is available in any form at a retail store (be it new computer or retail software)).

The mouse gestures for expanding windows is very handy, especially the ability to make a window open to half the screen width on one’s LP2475W. It’s not the only thing one really enjoys about Windows 7, but it is one thing that really makes XP painful to use after becoming accustomed to Windows 7.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Windows 7 and PunkBuster

When you resort to tactics within the realm malice, are your actions still benevolent? Even Balance should consider this question while working on PunkBuster. While hackers/cheaters are an annoying, when the tools that keep them out operate maliciously the tool maker has gone too far. PunkBuster’s behavior is absolutely uncalled for.

There is absolutely no reason for a legitimate piece of software to download itself from a remote site and reinstall/restart every 15 seconds to 5 minutes. This is how PunkBuster works right now with its PnkBstrA.exe and PnkBstrB.exe services. PnkBstrA.exe will redownload, reinstall, and restart PnkBsterB.exe periodically while in a game “protected” by PunkBuster. If anything goes wrong PnkBstrA.exe will kick the user from a server and give a error in the 13xxxxxx range. PnkBstrB.exe is what actually looks for hackers/cheaters and kicks them. PunkBuster also looks for unknown APIs and will kick you if it finds any, this is the issue it has with Windows 7.

“Why are you playing games on a beta OS?” What’s the point of a beta OS? To test things, that’s the point of beta releases. By playing, or rather try to play, a game I’m testing Windows 7. Since I built a new (for me) computer that is running Windows 7 (64bit), there really is no going back to XP (I do not have Win XP 64bit edition). My gaming is limited to offline games, any Valve title, or Test Drive Unlimited. Basically, anything that doesn’t depend on the horribly broken PunkBuster.

The real shame is that Even Balance has not made any visible effort towards supporting Windows 7. The beta is very solid, a release candidate should be out soon, and at that time the Windows 7 “API” will be “locked” and Punk Buster should be able to be updated to work with Windows 7. If, upon public release of Windows 7, PunkBuster still does not work properly, I’d like to see a someone bring a class action lawsuit against Even Balance for negligence (yes, PunkBuster has angered me to that point).

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Windows 7 Versions for Dummies

People are already complaining about the six versions of Windows 7 that Microsoft will release. They should be reminded that Vista had the same number as did XP (Embedded, Starter, Home, Media Center, Tablet PC, Professional, Professional Corporate). The editions are Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate.

Windows 7 employees a scheme more like XP originally was, either you’ll use Home Premium or Professional (Professional inherits all the features of Home Premium, unlike Vista Business). In Vista, not all of Home Premium’s features made it into Business edition, which left all users that wanted the Media Center features and Active Directory support with the overpriced Ultimate edition. Windows 7 Ultimate is more or less a non VLK version of Enterprise plus the Media Center features (I suspect the Media Center stuff will not be there in Enterprise despite claims of the contrary by others). End users in developed countries will never see Windows 7 Starter or Home Basic, and in most cases Enterprise.

Here’s a nice decision flow chart for those who are confused (and live in a developed country (e.g.,  USA, Canada, UK, Japan, etc.)):

Windows 7 Edition Selection Guide (for Consumers in Developed Countries)

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Installing WPN111 on Windows 7 Beta

They say it can not be done. I am here to prove them wrong. That is correct, you can run the Netgear WPN111 USB 802.11b/g card in Windows 7. It’s a little cumbersome, but possible. Here is how you do it. Note that you can leave the USB adapter plugged in during the entire process (that is what I did).

First, grab the latest WPN111 drivers from Netgear’s website. Then, right click and select “Run as administrator”. Continue on through the prompts, when it gets to the point of setting up networks use Task Manager to kill the installer. If you do not kill the installer, the finding networks portion will fail, causing it to automagically uninstall itself.

Now, open up device manager (right click on “Computer” select “Properties” and on the left sidebar click “Device Manage”). Under “Other devices” your WPN111 should show up with a nice warning sign. Select it, and right click, select “Update Driver”. Now select the “Browse my computer for driver software” option. Search in the location “C:\Program Files\NETGEAR\WPN111\Driver” for 32bit Windows and “C:\Program Files (x86)\NETGEAR\WPN111\Driver” for 64bit Windows. Then press “Next” if everything goes correctly, near your clock the WiFi signal icon will show up.

This method was tested on a 64bit install of Windows 7 Beta 1. It should work on 32bit installs as well. Though it seems to work, a few words of advice. First off, do not use WEP, instead use WPA or WPA2. I was unable to get WEP to work on this particular card in Windows 7. Also note a Netgear prompt may show up on startup, do press “Accept” and then tell it you want to use the “XP” wireless manager. If you fail to do this you will have to redo the driver installation.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]