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Wonky Gibbon Ramblings

Flickery HD on Freeview 0

Posted on July 03, 2012 by danny

So I’ve been having problems with HD on FreeView for ages. Sometimes it would just about work but other times the screen would go black for up to 4 seconds at a time – though the audio would continue uninterrupted. Some channels seemed worse than others – but then a channel that had been okay one day – would turn to crap the next.

I have top end Black Gold tuners and a more than adequate graphics card – so I put it down to reception. It had the feel of a reception problem, comments on other forums seemed to corroborate that, and I noticed that MediaCenter reported the signal strength as being around 66%.

However – I had an SSD failure last week so I had to replace the drive – I usually move the pagefile to a spin disk – but this time I left it on the SSD.

HD works. No flickering.

I never considered it would page – I thought 2GB RAM would be enough. But clearly it is not and the system is using the pagefile.

If it really is paging video data, which as we know is lots of data, it could wear the SSD out fairly quickly, even with the levelling algorithms they use. I shall investigate the quantity of traffic and report back…

Upgrading Media Center to HD 1

Posted on August 01, 2011 by danny

I’ve slowly been adding the ability to handle HD content to my media center of late. As usual, the machine is well underpowered so it always stretches the components.

I started by adding a Black Gold BGT3620 Dual HD tuner. This supports both Freeview and Freeview HD (as well as analogue and cable). Setup as always was very easy and it works with Windows 7 Media Center seamlessly. This is an expensive high end card. As mentioned in other posts, the key difference between this and other tuner cards is that Black Gold do a lot more of the stream processing on card rather than relying on the CPU to do the processing. This allows the rest of the machine to be a rather lower spec and prevents the CPU becoming a bottlekneck.

I then added a Samsung UE40D5000 40″ LED TV (which is excellent incidentally – the blacks are … err … very black!). This has a Freeview tuner built in (but not Freeview HD). I also didn’t go for any of the built in internet / iplayer gizmo’s that some of the more expensive Samsungs go for – on the grounds that since it’s attached to a PC – the PC is doing all of that.

Once the TV was connected up and the output from the graphics card altered to the new resolution it became clear that the move up from 720×576 to 1900×1080 was clearly a step to far and at this resolution the media center really started to struggle. SD content was ok, but any rapid movement in the HD content it could not cope with becoming stuttery and blocky. The Graphics Card, a GeForce 6200LE for PCI-E clearly couldn’t cope. Given this was launched in 2004 perhaps this isn’t surprising but it’s worth mentioning because until 2011 it was still being sold as a budget card around the £25 mark. It had a fill rate of approx 700 megapixels / second.

Taking the card out and relying on the onboard graphics capabilities of the motherboard, a Gigabyte GA-946GMX-S2 i946GZ actually improved performance which was unexpected. But then a new budget card was dropped in, the GeForce G210 (£27 inc Vat), launched in 2008. With a fill rate of 4.1 gigapixels / second, clearly much quicker. The result? HD playback is now flawless. As always I buy fanless cards for the media center – I want to listen to the movie, not the machine.

Along the way I also answered the question “Do graphics cards with hdmi output sound?” – Answer: In 2011, yeah, probably. Going back four or five years this used not to be the case, a card with HDMI may well not have had audio, indeed may not even have provided a connector to grab the audio from the motherboard or soundcard – but these days this would appear no longer to be the case, if a budget card like the G210 has onboard digital audio output to the HDMI cable, it seems likely that most other graphics cards will do as well. In the world of PC based media centers and gaming on TV’s this was probably an inevitability. A card supporting HDMI and not supporting audio is just, well, a bit pointless really.

My one remaining problem? The plastic surround on the HDMI cable is too fat preventing the connector from fully inserting into the HDMI socket of the card (it catches on the PC case). I either need to cut the extra plastic off OR buy a flatter one. Grrrrr.

Next I installed a Samsung Bluray drive to replace the existing DVD drive. This came bundled with CyberLink’s Powerdvd software and supports that products “TrueTheater” upscaling technology to upscale SD content on DVD to something approaching HD. You can use this in a split screen before and after mode to look at the changes. I turned off it’s colour lightening setting whilst setting the sharpening to the middle setting and tested it on some scenes from “The Lord of the Rings : The Two Towers” and the improvent is remarkable – definately no need to buy the Bluray version of the movie. The only slight niggle here, is that whilst the standalone version of Powerdvd works flawlessly, the embedded version that sits within MCE doesn’t quite display full screen leaving a black border.

So the system currently stands like this:
Gigabyte GA-946GMX-S2 i946GZ Socket 775 onboard VGA 8 channel channel mATX
Intel E2160 Socket 775 Pentium Dual Core 2×1.8Ghz 800FSB Retail Boxed Processor
Asus GeForce G210 SILENT 512MB DDR2 DVI VGA HDMI Out DirectX 10.1 Low Profile PCI-E Graphics Card
4GB Kingston DDR2 RAM

Next time out – I’ll be getting surround sound sorted out.

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