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Windows 7: Win7 as HTPC critique...

30 Mar 2010   #1

XP Pro SP3 X86 / Win7 Pro X86
 
 
Win7 as HTPC critique...

For some time now I've been using some self-written software to remote control my HTPC, and it seems to work well enough. It's going to need some cleaning up before I cut it loose, so I consider it to be in late-Alpha stages.

Here's a couple of screen shots...
Win7 as HTPC critique...-voltscapture.jpgWin7 as HTPC critique...-ampscapture.jpg
On the left is my HTPC, an ASRock ION 330 (Intel Atom dual core, 3gb ram, 500g laptop drive, 1080p HD tv as display) On the right is my desktop system (Asus M2N-MX-SE, AMD 64x2 4200, 2gb ram, 500g hard disk, Acer 193bw monitor).

On the HTPC screen you can see Media Player Classic running. In the lower corner is my Remote Media Server, which receives launch and transport commands over the LAN, allowing me to remote control media playback on the HTPC from anywhere in the house.

On the Desktop screen you can see the browser (large window) that allows me to pick and launch files on the HTPC. Basically it scans shares looking for compatible file types (avi, mp3, flac, etc) and has the server on the HTPC launch them. The small window is a pop-up remote control that gives me the usual play-pause-volume controls to manage playback on the HTPC.

The whole family is in on the game and anyone can add files to the playback queue from their own machines almost anywhere on the property (via WiFi). The system supports multiple remote controls and mutiple file sources. It can have the HTPC play any media file from anywhere on the LAN. This is my version of "Media Center", using the full power of the computer instead of dumbing it down to act like a TV.

(Please don't ask how I did this... I won't tell you.)

Ok... all good and groovy. The system works perfectly under XP, even works on Ubuntu with Wine. And yes, as you can see it works on Windows 7 too...

So now the stage is set... How well does this work on Win 7?

Well, to start with the good stuff...

The OS installed perfectly, first time on both machines. Setup was a matter of running a couple of registry files with the tweaks I worked out with help from some very good people in the "Quieting Win 7" thread. Disable a few things, do some basic setup and we're off to the races.

Win 7 makes an amazing desktop for an HTPC. The new "Eye Candy" and Aero features really shine in that environment. I was able to hide most things in the start menu and have the taskbar auto-hide so that all you see are big icons for the media files on the HTPC's drive. Network access is from a link on the start bar, as is access to my user folder, the computer folder, even the trash can, so it's an incredibly clean and easy to use desktop. Wanna watch a movie? Click Movies, then the genre, then the file... instant full screen movie playback. From the Remote Media browser it's every bit as easy... This much is all good.

Now comes the bad part. After nearly a month of tweaking and trying to figure my way around a couple of problems I've reached the conclusion that some things just aren't going to get fixed...

1) MP3 playback massively sucks.
Music under Win 7 is clear and very bright sounding but at least once every song the playback pauses and goes "BRRRRRRRAAAAAAAP" at full volume then resumes. Now this can be very disconcerting with a full surround system at 100+ watts per channel... For a certainty is scares heck out of the cat.

2) AVI files have serious timing problems.
Oddly enough video playback is smooth as silk, even at full 1080p High Def. But thanks to the audio glitch, by the end of any given movie the sound is going to be about a second or two behind the video. And this happens on almost every movie, even the junky low bitrate AVIs you get off uTorrent.

3) File downloads often don't complete.
I've worked on this one a lot and still can't figure it. If I go to my movie site, pays my bucks and start a download, I have a 50:50 chance the download won't complete, leaving me stranded .... and out 6 bucks. I've tried this with all kinds of large files and it's not just movies... any file over about 100mb is likely to fail. I've don the Lanman tweaks, messed with adaptor settings, rebooted my router too many times and nothing seems to fix the problem.

4) Network enumeration is pathetically slow
Under XP when waking the HTPC from standby the browser would be able to enumerate it's files on the first or second ping (abt, 5 to 10 seconds). On Win 7 it can take as much as 22 minutes before the browser can scan the shares to present file lists. I have a netbook with XP and the browser in it is faster than Win 7. The Netbook will have a share list a very long time before my desktop system does.



To be perfectly clear ... I had none of these problems on XP Professional, using the exact same hardware. These are windows 7 problems that, quite frankly I don't think I can solve. It's going to take some serious software revision to get Win 7 to do what XP did with the greatest of ease.

There are other problems too. The one laptop we put Win 7 on has never been able to connect to our wireless. Sharing passwords aren't working on half the shares I've set up. The NAS box will not show up on our network no matter what we do, even though we can play files from it.


So, with all that in mind I've made something of a decision... I'm going to eat the $1200 we spent on 6 copies of Windows 7 and take the family's machines back to XP, where everything worked as it should...




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 Win7 as HTPC critique...




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