Friday, July 28, 2006

Vista Media Center Decoder utility

In my post below Vista Media Center changing default decoder I mentioned I was working on something to make the process of changing the default MPEG-2 Video and Audio decoders in Vista a little easier.

Well here it is the Vista Media Center Decoder utility. This utility will show you the current default decoders, let you select an alternative from a list of installed decoders and by pressing Set Default change the defaults. Although I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, you can even select a Video Decoder from one provider and an Audio Decoder from another.

Use at your own risk but it worked for me.

Download Utility - note you must save this program locally.

Update - This application requires .net Framework v2

Vista Media Center - Changing the Default MPEG-2 Decoder

I've been playing quite a bit with and like the new beta of Media Center on Vista.

One of the nice things Microsoft have done which will make life a lot easier is to include an Mpeg-2 Decoder with every copy of Vista. This is the bit of software that makes it possible to watch DVD's and view Live and Recorded TV. Those of you who have built your own Media Center Edition PC's using 2005 will know this is a big deal as previously you would have had to buy a decoder from a third-party like Nvidia or Cyberlink.

So all in all a good thing. Wait though, what if you like something the third party decoder does for you? Perhaps it has more settings than the default decoder. Maybe it handles sound better. You would probably guess you could just install your old decoder and Media Center would use that.

Hmmm not exactly!

I've been having performance issues with the default decoder so I thought I would try the Nvidia one instead (I have an Nvidia graphics card and prevously the nvidia PureVideo encoder has worked better with it than the Cyberlink one)

So I installed the Nvidia Encoder opened Media Center, played recorded TV and... no difference. Fair enough I thought maybe my hardware is just not up to Vista but then I realised that the Nvidia icon wasn't showing in the system tray which it usually would when playing video.

After doing some digging I discovered that Vista was still using the Microsoft decoder. Ok I thought, in XP you could use the Microsoft XP Decoder Checkup utility to change the default codec. So, wondering if it would work in Vista, I downloaded ran that utility and... the Nvidia was set as the default decoder - duh!

To cut a long story short Vista media Center stores its default decoder settings in a different place in the registry to XP.

In vista they are in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Decoder whereas in XP they were in
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Service\Video

The actual key names are the same
PreferredMPEG2AudioDecoder and PreferredMPEG2VideoDecoder

The Nvidia install had populated the old XP values, so it was a 'simple' matter of copying the values from Service\Video to \Decoder using the registry editor and away I went. The Nvidia icon popped up when I played Recorded TV and there was an improvement in playback.

Now I am not going to suggest that anyone modifies their registry. Modifying the registry is a risky business and you could prevent your PC from working.

But I am working on something which will make this process a whole lot easier...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Vista Media Center - Problems with Activation on Upgrade

If you are part of the Vista Beta program then you might run into an issue of being prompted to activate after an upgrade. That in itself would not be a problem but there is a glitch with the new UAP (User Access Protection - I think) feature that causes activation to fail with an error 0x8007000D.

Fortunately you can work round this by disabling UAP.

I've seen write ups for this solution in several places but one of the clearest is how Richard Wu described the solution in a recent Technet Forum post:

1) Make sure the internet connection is active

2) Restart the PC. After the BIOS screen hit F8 a couple of times untill you see the Advanced Boot Options menu. Select Safe Mode and hit Enter.

3) Click on the Windows Key + R on the keyboard. This will open a RUN box. Type MSCONFIG and press Enter.

4) On MSCONFIG, select the TOOLS tab, scroll down and go to "Disable UAP". Hit the Launch button, close the command windows afterwards and click OK.

5) Restart the PC.

6) Logon to the PC with a user that has the Administrative permissions (If you have more than one account take the first account you created). Just like before when logging in as a user the "Activate Windows now" dialog appears. If not appear, use my above method to call the activation process out.

Note that the little shields are now gone from the options. Make sure you have internet connection and hit Activate now. Assuming your product key is correct you'll soon be smiling at the "Activation was successful" message.

Fixes - July Rollup out for Media Center 2005

On his blog Matt Goyer notes:

You don’t have to wait for Vista for some bugs to be fixed. Get the July rollup for fixes to Media Center 2005. What does this fix?

Horizontal white lines appear when playing a DVD
Media Center may crash when using the ListMaker SDK sample application
Media Center may crash when you open a menu page
A black screen appears when trying to play a DVD

There more details in the kb article

I've seen the white lines problem on a colleagues PC so I'll be able to check that fix out later today.

Good to see that in all the rush to the Vista version 2005 users haven't been forgotten.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Quick Tip - WiFi - G Mode Only

On today's Media Center Show Podcast Ian had a question about how to improve wi-fi connectivity. The listener had been trying to stream over 802.11g without success. One trick which can greatly improve the quality of service for 802.11g on most Access Points is to switch them to G Mode only. This is usually an option on the Wireless Access Points settings screen. By switching off B compatibility you prevent speed degradation by other B devices connecting.

Now this isn't the whole story as the 802.11 band is very crowded and things like Microwave ovens can equally be problematic but it might help.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sort Album Art by Artist in Media Center 2005

One of the new features in Vista is a view for music that shows Album Art grouped by Artist. This has attracted a great deal of attention but I've been surprised by how few people know you can do something similar in the 2005 version of Media Center.

The trick is to press the more info button when you have Albums highlighted in the menu on the left-hand-side of the Music view. If you do this you will get a pop-up menu that includes options to view by list and sort by Artist.

Selecting Sort by Artist will do exactly that and your Album Art will appear sorted by Artist. Its not as clever as Vista, however, and no grouping of albums takes place but it still can be useful.

You can change back by repeating the above process where you will find the More Info menu will have changed to include Sort Alphabetically.

If you have any tips you think user may not know. Please let me know.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Who is the Media Center Expert?

Welcome. I'm Garry Whittaker and I am the expert from Ian Dixon's ( Media Center Show podcast. Up to now I've kept a low profile and prowled the Media Center Show forums answering listener's questions whilst at the same time providing Media Center consultancy to the client's of my company Whittaker Moore Associates Ltd ( I also developed MyRemoteMouse (

However I've finally been persuaded, by some vocal and persuasive parties, to start my own Media Center Blog to answer some of those common questions and to also provide some hints and tips.

So how will this differ from the other Media Center blogs? I'm going to be concentrating on hints and tips and solutions. So expect this blog to be less newsy than some of the others. I'll still post news if its likely to help solve a problem - say a new patch release - but mainly it will be hints and tips.

By the way if you are in the UK and interested in expert consultancy on Media Center, be it problem solving, implementation design or develpment, at a reasonable cost, please see for contact details.

All the best

If you have any questions for the blog please email me at garryjw 'at' whittakermoore 'dot' com