Windows 7 Media Center & Multiple TV Tuners

23 May

I hadn’t planned on writing a post about this but after all the trouble I ran into, I figured it might help others.

Ok, the story: I had Windows Vista running on a P4 3.0GHz 3.5GB RAM Dell PC, with a Hauppauge Nova-DT PCI Dual DVB TV Tuner Card and a KWorld PC160-2T Dual DVB-T TV Tuner Card. I had a 1TB HDD in there and this box sat happily in the loft for years. I have Linksys DMA1200 Media Center Extenders around the house, with Cat5e running to each TV.

The idea being that I wanted all my content available to me no every TV around the house, so I can pause something downstairs and resume it upstairs for example. all my media is stored one place, so I only have to keep one library neat an updated.

I had looked at Upgrading this box to Windows 7 a while back, but some posts that I read implied that I wouldn’t notice any difference on the extenders and as the PC is in the loft I didn’t bother.

Anyway, I got a new Windows 7 laptop the other day and while I was setting it up, I thought I’d see what happened when I connected an extender to it. Oh my days, the interface was a lot neater and just looked sharper than the Vista interface. On top of that I then found a stack of cool plugins for Win 7 MCE (which I’ll talk about later). It turns out that these extenders work over RDP, so in hindsight, of course changing the OS was going to have an impact on the extenders, live and learn.

So I got a new 1.8GHz Dual Core PC, stuck in a couple of 1TB drives and 6GB RAM and installed Windows 7 Ultimate on it. The new mobo only had one PCI slot, so I stuck in the Hauppauge card and stuck the other one on eBay. I then bought 2 TerraTec Cinergy 2400i DT PCI Express Dual DVB-T Cards from the bay. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have extra tuners available to me.

The original build with the Hauppauge tuner went fine. I proceeded to clean up my music collection (which was overdue anyway) and installed some very cool plugins.

It’s worth noting that as my Media box is in the loft, I pretty much always connect to it remotely. Remote desktop being my tool of choice for most of the tasks I perform on it, but, it’s a bit clever and recognises when you are remote desktoppped to it and hides a few menu options, key ones too, like scanning for TV channels. So I also use LogMeIn for tasks such as scanning for new services etc.

Right, about the plugins. Firstly, My Channel Logos. I actually bought the full version which does everything automatically, and also lets you make a few other tweaks, such as the number off lines in the mini guide. The Channel logos just look awesome, so I’m well happy with that, it makes a really noticeable difference.

Next, I bought a copy of TunerSalad which just lets you increase the number of tuners you can use from 4 to 12, I thought this would be handy down the line.

I installed My Movies which was a free download and is super brilliant. Not only does it index and find information and cover art for all your films, but it also sticks in a new Movies item in the menu in the extenders. On top of that, it also sticks in a new ‘TV Series’ icon and allows you to index them too, brilliant, a vast improvement over the previous way of navigating through various folders, not very user friendly.

So, at this stage everything was fine. Then I revived the first of my 2 additional dual tuners in the post. I rushed home, opened the box, added the card, installed the drivers (available here). Then inside MCE I scanned for channels but Media Center would only ever say “No signal” on the Cinergy cards. I double checked all the connections and re-seated it. I installed every windows update possible and still nothing. I scoured all the forums and tried every driver available, but the driver would install fine every time and media centre would always tell me it had no signal each time.

I was just ready to give up when I decided to install the TerraTec software on my MCE and thought i’d see what that made of the new TV tuner. It came as a bit ot a surprise when the TerraTec Home Cinema software found all the channels using the Cinergy card and displayed them all perfectly. So, this implied that the card and the aerial connection were all fine, the issue was within Windows 7 MCE. I tried a few hot fixes and scoured the forums a bit more. Some people suggested that using only one of the two tuners on the new card would result in it working fine, but I really wanted ALL the tuners to work fine.

I then decided to have a little test. With the device manager showing all the tuners, I then went in to MCE and rescanned for a TV signal. As always, the Nova-T was picking up channels and the Cinergy tuners both had “no signal”. I decided to accept that, and push forward anyway.

After all the channels had scanned, I went to the guide and tried to record 5 simultaneous channels. When I tried to record a 5th, An error popped up saying all the tuners were in use, just as I expected. I left the other 4 channels recording for 15 mins and went and made a cup of tea. 

When I viewed each of the 4 programs for the 4 different channels, they all played perfectly, leading me to believe that somewhere along the line Media Center was lying to me. Also, while the 4 channels were recording and I was connected via LogMeIn, CPU usage was averaging at just 16% and memory usage at 2GB, a lot lower than I was expecting.

This weekend I will be installing my second Cinergy 2400i DT, giving me 6 DVB-T tuners in total and will let you know how I get on, fingers crossed. I’m also sticking in a new Netgear gigabit switch which should speed things up a little.

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