My Media Center Page

This page documents my setup at home.

My house has an attic room which I have made into my home theatre. This makes my wife VERY happy, because she is quite sensitive to light. She gets accute bouts of SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder) when it is dark inside the house during the day. With my theatre upstairs, the whole downstairs area of the house can be bright and sunny, while I sit upstairs in the dark racing endurance races in Forza Motorsport on my projector. I got curtains with black-out backing, and it really works well. It gets a little hot in the summer though, and I may have to invest in some cooling equipment soon.

Onto the technical aspects of my setup. I have an Infocus X1 projector. This projector is absolutly amazing for it’s price. It has now been superseeded by the X1a. It is a 800×600 DLP projector, and the picture quality really is excellent for a sub R9000 projector. All the reviews I have read on this projector really hype up the de-interlacing chip, the Faroudja DCDi video processing chip. This chip takes an interlaced video source, de-interlaces it (since the DLP chip can only handle progressive pictures) and and does a couple of other magical tricks, and produces a really excellent image. But, we all know interlaced sources suck, so I am not using one of this projectors really good features as I have gone fully progressive.

I bought a X2VGA adapter for my XBox. This was without a doubt one of the best purchases I have ever made as far as Home Entertainment Equipment goes. It makes my XBox output a fully progressive 480p, or 720p picture via a standard VGA connector. I have a VGA cable running up to my projector, and I must say, the image quality from this little device blew my mind the first time I used it, and continues to do so regularly. Playing 4 player split screen Project Gotham Racing on a TV is aweful. Playing it on a projector is a bit better, but you still lack any detail to see upcoming corners etc. Playing it at 480p on a projector is excellent. You really do have to see the difference. If you have a projector and an XBox, please get one of these. It also has a stereo jack out, and an optical out for Dolby Digital 5.1.

It also supports pass-through. I have connected the VGA output from my XP Media Center 2005 machine to the input of the X2VGA, so with the press of a button, my projector displays my Media Center. DVDs played through my MCE, and displayed on my projector also look GREAT!

My screen is a pull down screen made by Definition. The motorised one I really wanted was just ridiculously priced, so I got a manual one.

My Media Center 2005 machine a Dell GX270, with a P4 2.4Ghz CPU 512MB RAM, and a Leadtek Geforce FX5200 Low Profile Graphics Card. I am using a USB 2.0 Sound Blaster Audigy 2 NX for sound, as it has an optical out. The Sound is also really great from it, and I love Sound Blaster products. My Media Center PC is connected to a small UPS so that my recordings will not be interupted by brief power failures. I have a Hauppauge 250MCE MPEG 2 Encoder card which handles my TV input. I have a composite connection from my DSTV decoder straight into this card. The Phillips Media Center Remote Control and Reciever includes an IR Blaster which changes my DSTV decoders channel when it needs to record a program.

I have the full DSTV guide in Media Center which gets updated weekly, and contains 4 weeks worth of data. This guide comes in XMLTV format courtesy of Robert Botha’s site, which scrapes the DSTV site for the data. I then have a batch file which imports this XMLTV file into Webguide2. This is what I can access from anywhere on the internet to schedule recordings. A program called SmartGuide then takes the the data from the Webguide 2 database, encrypts it into the Media Center format, then starts and import into the Media Center EPG database. Complicated, but it works very well. Hopefully Media Center will be officially supported in South Africa by the end of the year, then the whole process will be a lot simpler.

My Skype Dualphone is also connected to my Media Center machine, since it is always on.

I have all my CD’s loaded onto my Media Center. This synchronises with my Car Media Center via Wireless LAN when my car comes into range. A program called My Trigger detects the LAN connection and fires off a program called Synchromagic. Synchromagic checks my Music folder for changes, and copies any files that are new. Over 54Mb, it only takes a few seconds, unless I have made significant changes, which I usually know about and have to wait a few minutes for the copy to take place before switching my car off.

My 5.1 Surround Amp is a Samsung HTDM550. It is actually a DVD player / 5.1 amp in one, and generally these aren’t so great, but this one really rocks. It has Optical In, so I get 5.1 from my XBox and Media Center. I will purchase a grown up amp and speakers sometime soon.

Downstairs, I am running a second XBox, which is being used purely as a XBox Media Center Extender. This is working really well for watching TV or having music playing that really doesn’t need to be watched on the big screen. The interface is slightly toned down from the real Media Center interface mainly when it comes to fancy screen transitions but that’s about it. Otherwise it offers the full experience. The TV image quality is brilliant. There is no difference between live and recorded TV. I also don’t have to fiddle around with TV out settings on a PC anymore, which I did have some problems with before trying to get the quality perfect. The remote for the Xbox Media Center Extender is excellent too. The reason I went for the XBox version over a Linksys Extender was purely price. A new XBox plus Extender software worked out to be about $100 cheaper. I have also used this XBox for playing on XBox Live, since my other one upstairs is slightly “not standard”. Below is a picture of this setup.

XBOX Media Center Extender

Here are some pictures of my setup upstairs, including my dogs, which really enjoy it up there.

Media Room Front
Media Room Back

-Update-

A bit has changed since I wrote this page, so I thought I would update it a bit.

My biggest change has been the addition of my Xbox 360. I use this predominently connected to my PC screen since the quality through the VGA cable is great, and my PC screen is the only one in my house cabable of running 720p properly. My X1 projector, although still great for watching DVDs is starting to show it’s age when connected to a real HD source like the 360. I’m seriously looking at upgrading to a real 720p projector as soon as budget allows.

The 360 Media Center extender is also great, and gives me another option for watching TV upstairs, not that I really have time for that anymore with all the great games available on the 360.

I softmodded my Xbox downstairs to enable me to run XBMC as my dashboard. This also gives me the ability to play DivX files quickly and easily on my normal TV, which is great. XBMC is the best application ever made in my opinion. I have never come across a media player on any device that does as much, and can just play anything. I really love it. I play on Xbox Live purely from my 360 now, so I’m not losing out at all with that.

I also hooked up an RF transmitter to transmit the video out signal from my Media Center’s graphics card and sound downstairs to my braai area outside. This works really well, as it also has an IR blaster so I can control the Media Center machine from outside. This allows me to play music or watch sport while at the braai, or barbeque for international readers.

I have also changed to Quickguide for doing TV guide imports now, since, as it’s name states, it is quick. Also, I no longer need to have Webguide 2 installed, since Webguide 3 is way better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *