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Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building Your HTPC - Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Configuring Windows Media Center - Part 3

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And there you go; your HTPC is running Windows Media Center!  Scroll around with your remote control and ensure the remote is working correctly.  At this point feel free to explore a bit, but there are a few final settings we want to tweak, so after you’ve finished exploring scroll down to the “Settings” tile in the bottom row and select it.

 

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The Settings menu is where you can go to tweak and configure all the various settings for your Media Center.  Most of the categories of settings are pretty self-explanatory, and we’ll start by checking out the General Settings.  Highlight and select General with your remote control (or mouse over/click if you’re still using your mouse.)

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In the General Category, there are two sections we need to make changes to, “Startup and Windows Behavior” and “Optimization”.  Select the categories below and make the listed changes.

  • “Startup and Window Behavior”
    • Put a check next to "Always Keep Windows Media Center on top" and "Start Windows Media Center when Windows Starts" and then click Save.  This will force Media Center to automatically start when the machine boots up and keep the Media Center interface on top of all other windows.  Microsoft has removed both of these options from the Windows 8 Media Center setup, and it’s one of the primary reasons I prefer Windows 7 over Windows 8 for Media Center.  I want my set top box to boot right into Media Center, not Metro.

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  • "Optimization"
    • Put a check in the "Perform Optimization" box and set a time when you are pretty sure no one will be using the Media Center and then select Save.  The optimization task will run general housekeeping to keep your Media Center running smoothly and efficiently.  Just make sure you schedule it for a time that you are pretty sure the Media Center won’t be in use because when the Optimization runs, Media Center will be unavailable for a few minutes.

 

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Now back out to the main Settings screen once again, but this time choose “TV” instead of General.

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The first TV setting we want to tweak is our Recorder settings.  Select “Recorder” and then select “Recorder Storage”.

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The Recorder Storage menu lets us change our default recording drive and select the amount of space we want available for TV recordings on that drive.  By default, the recording drive will be set to your OS install drive.  If you have a secondary drive for storage in your setup you will want to select that by pressing the “+” sign next to the “Record on drive:” section.  That should allow you to select any drive in the system as your primary drive to record to.  Additionally, you may want to increase the “Maximum TV limit” and use more of the drive for recording space.  This allows you to set a limit of space used on the recording drive for TV recordings if you plan to use the drive to store other data and files as well.  The “Total Recording Time” will automatically update to show you how much Standard Definition and High Definition content you can store as you modify the Maximum TV limit.   In my case I switched my “Record on Drive” from C:\ over to the big D:\ storage drive and increased the “Maximum TV limit” so that it would be able to use the entire drive.  One thing to note is the “Total Recording time” does not mean you can record the listed number of hours of SD and HD at the same time.  So in the screenshot below with 55.5 hours of SD (8 hours HD), means that the drive can store up to 55.5 hours of SD or 8 hours of HD, 55.5 hours of SD and 8 hours of HD.  That doesn’t mean you can’t record both on the same drive, it’s just the HD will take up more storage than SD.  So in this case it’d be 55.5 hours of SD or 8 hours of HD, or 27.75 hours of SD and 4 hours of HD.  You get the picture…

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Back in the Recorder settings, we also want to check out the “Recording Defaults” settings.  Recording defaults will tell Media Center what type of default settings you want on any recording.  You can configure things such as how long to keep recordings for, starting or stopping recordings a few minutes early/late (if nothing else is going to need the tuner) and recording all episodes of a show or just new episodes.  You can still set these differently on any recording when you set it up, but by default, all recordings will start with the characteristics listed here.

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Now back to the main TV settings menu, we need to setup our channel lists.  While Media Center automatically scanned for signals and captured all the channels you can get, there may be some we either don’t want, or the signal isn’t strong enough to realistically watch.  We can update those settings by choosing “TV Signal”.

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From here you can Scan for more channels, check your signal strength or run through the original setup all over again.  The only time you likely need to “Scan for More Channels” is if you do something that would boost (or decrease) your signal strength like upgrading your antenna.  “Set Up TV Signal” will walk you through the original TV setup wizard again, which might be useful if you move to a new location.  The primary settings we want to look at here are in the “Digital TV Antenna Signal Strength” menu.  Highlight/select it and you will get a pop up message that changing the settings will interrupt any TV.  Go ahead and select “Yes”.

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Media Center will show all of our tuners, and we can choose which one we want to examine the signal strength on.  Generally you can just choose the first tuner, but you may want to check each tuner individually if you notice that you are occasionally having trouble with recordings and maybe one of the tuners is going bad.  Pick the first tuner in the list and select Next.

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Media Center will begin scanning all the channels you can pick up and display their signal strength with a simple bar graph for each.  1-2 bars will show up as red, 3-4 bars show as yellow and 5-6 bars show as green.  You can generally forget about watching any channels that show up red without boosting your reception somehow.  Yellow channels will be hit or miss and while a channel with 3 bars might drop out a lot, one with 4 bars may be alright worth at least trying.  If a channel is showing up as green you should get it without any problems. 

Since you will get very poor reception on any red channels, and probably and 3 bar yellow channels, I generally remove those from my channel list so they don’t even show up.  To do that, simply uncheck the box next to the channel you don’t want and Media Center will stop scanning those channels and they will no longer show up in your channel list/guide.  When you are set, be sure that the “Apply changes to the remaining tuners in this group” box is checked and it will push same channel configuration out to all of your tuners.  Select “Next” to finish scanning channels and then select “Finish” on the final status screen.

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My Experience: The quality of your TV tuner will definitely have an impact on how well you pick up broadcast signals.  I had a cheap KWorld UB435-Q USB TV Stick tuner on one of our old HTPC’s that always had trouble with channels that I didn’t have problems elsewhere in the house.  I replaced the KWorld stick with one of the AverMedia cards and was able to pick up signals 1 to 2 bars higher on almost every channel as compared to the KWorld tuner.  Try not to skimp on your tuner if you can help it.

To double check your channels, you will likely want to go and check “Live Television” now.  Watch each channel for a minute or two and make sure you are really getting a good signal.  If any channels are constantly choppy or breaking up, jot down the number and then go back into the Digital TV Antenna Signal Strength settings and deselect that channel from your list.  While it’s nice to have the extra channels, it gets annoying trying to watch or record signals that break up or pixelate every five or ten seconds.

December 11, 2012 | 01:25 PM - Posted by HTPC User (not verified)

If you map your photos or videos as a shared drive they will show up nicely in MCE instead of clicking the shared folder first. The downside to this i've noticed is that some applications don't like to install/uninstall if your photos folder location is mapped as a network drive.

December 31, 2012 | 07:50 AM - Posted by Kara (not verified)

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December 12, 2012 | 11:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The next Part of these articles should be right up my alley, I can't use a HTPC without My Movies now.

December 25, 2012 | 06:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Can someone give me a link to the WMC guide data? Before installing WMC, I want to see the quality of their guide data for my zipcode. Or must I install WMC on my win7 system to get it in a format that I can read?

April 11, 2013 | 11:03 PM - Posted by Nick (not verified)

I'm getting an error in Windows Media Center "Video Error: Files needed to display video are not installed or working correctly". This happens when I click on the live TV button. I've updated the drivers and followed the instructions, the only change to the hardware specs is an A10 processer. THanks.

December 10, 2013 | 02:11 PM - Posted by David S (not verified)

hey guys im running a bone stock hp touchsmart 520. i just hooked up my new att uverse wireless receiver to my computer via cable. i set up some recordings with all settings to make it grab the best quality it can. i had the recordings set to the hd channels offered with the service.

my problem is that when i go to play back the recordings, they are BAD quality. the audio is at a low echo, the picture is compressed it doesnt go to full screen and the quality of picture is just wrong and it seems to be ghosting.

any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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