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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Has your XBOX 360 ever broken?


My first generation XBOX 360 has died for a second time with the dreaded 3 Red Rings of Death. Microsoft UK are now wanting 68 UK pounds to have my console repaired. That seems like allot of money when you can buy a new 4GB slim model for 150 quid.



My console first died whilst I was living in Thailand and at this time when checking the UK XBOX support website I would have been entitled to a free no cost repair according to their online system. However I could not easily post my XBOX from Thailand back to the UK for repair and they would not have sent it back to me in Thailand anyways.

I recently moved back home to the UK so I checked the XBOX support site again and now their system states a fee of 68 pounds is required. I contacted XBOX support via email but they just said they could not offer me a free repair at this time.

So that’s that, I’m not paying to have it repaired and I doubt very much I will buy a new XBOX from Microsoft again. I’ve heard many stories from my own friends and people I speak to in the forums that their XBOX’s have died at some time or another.

I did some searches on eBay UK and US today and was amazed at the numbers of faulty and broken XBOX 360’s listed for sale, page and pages of them!

eBay UK search results

eBay US search results

If you have had problems with your XBOX 360 and feel frustrated about it, then please leave a comment and let us know!

Friday, 15 October 2010

My new Shark007 x64 codec configuration

I recently built a x64 bit Windows 7 Ultimate HTPC. In the past I'd mainly stayed away from x64 bit OS and always used 32bit, mainly because I was usually testing lots of different applications and utilities and also just because I felt more comfortable with 32 bit and codec setup.

But on this latest HTPC for my own living room I decided it was time to try x64 bit properly and make it stable. If you are using the Shark 007 codec pack on x64 you first need to install the x86 version of the codec pack as nornal, in addition to this you then need to install the x64 components.

By default on 64 bit Windows 7, the default WMP12 player is the 32 bit version, there is also a 64 bit version of WMP12, Shark recommends sticking with the 32bit version of WMP12 and not changing the default to be the 64 bit version. The Windows Media Center by default is 64 bit ! The x86 version of the shark codec pack is used to configure 32 bit players such as the default WMP12. And you use the x64 bit version of the shark codec pack for configuring 64 bit players such as Media Center.

Before I continue, at this point I'd like to thank Shark for his help setting up my new x64 bit HTPC as I did get stuck in places and required his help, some of the below information was passed on to me from Shark and if you are using his codec pack and find it useful, please consider making a donation to him as I expect releasing these codec packs and supporting them is very time consuming indeed.

I'd like to state that the below settings are working for me on my HTPC for my files, this is not to say these exact same settings will work for you as you expect! I'd also like to point out that my HTPC is based on an AMD Processor and an onboard ATI HD Radeon 4200 graphics chip. Also I currently don't have an AVR so I am not passing through or bit streaming audio to the AVR, its just a simple HDMI connection from the PC direct to the HDTV. But I will mention audio pass through later.

When launching either version of the Shark codec pack from the start menu you should always right click the icon and run as administrator. Ok so lets get started!

The first tab is the configure tab, on here you can choose which version of WMP12 is the default, stick with the 32 bit version as recommended. I also never use subtitles so I change the Subtitle control to "No Subtitles". You probably want to change the Hardware Output to TV/Projector.

I found some of my HD MKV movies where stuttering so I decided to enable FDDShow DXVA (hardware acceleration) on the H264 tab, which meant on the Config tab clicking Configuration Items and selecting FFDShow DXVA

Under the FFDShow DXVA configuration, I unchecked Subtitles, as I found some MKV's were showing the hard subs. I also checked H264 and VC1 under DXVA codecs enabled.

I did not change anything on the Misc tab.

Ignore the tool tip on this screen shot, I don't think I changed anything on the Audio tab either, however if you have an AVR and want to pass through / bit stream the audio to the AVR you should select: use pass-through (Digital Audio) under FFDShow S/PDIF pass-through. You'd probably select 5.1 as well from the Choose speaker configuration. When I am using an AVR I don't use AC3Filter as I always had problems with it and just use FFDShow.

On the AVI tab I have been selecting Gabest's splitter lately, but Shark recommends using the Microsoft Splitter here. So that's what I am using at the moment.

On the H264 tab I select the settings you can see that have red rings round them, as I said I enabled FFDShow DXVA for hardware acceleration.

On the MKV tab I am using the Haali Splitter and there is also a DIVX Media Foundation Splitter, this is for XBOX 360 users apparently. However I had issues with this setting until Shark explained it to me, you MUST disable the DIVX Media Foundation Splitter on 64 bit OS. If you don't, when you play MKVs and other files in Media Center they will not use FFDSHow but the Microsoft codec. So I have to have this disabled on my X64 HTPC.

But I also have an XBOX 360 extender, I've not tested playing any MKV's on the extender yet, but ideally you would want the DIVX Media Foundation Splitter enabled for playback on the XBOX 360, which means manually changing this setting first. Also AVI's on my XBOX 360 MCX are not playing that well, slowing down and speeding up. But if I play the same movie that's on the WHS from the XBOX 360 dashboard video library it plays fine.

Apparently this is not a problem for 32bit OS as you can have the DIVX Media Foundation Splitter enabled and it will also still use FFDShow in Media Center OK.

MOV OGG tab I did not change anything on this tab, I can play some 1080p .MOV movie trailers I downloaded from Apple OK in Media Center, I've not tested the .MOV files my little digital camera creates yet.

On the MPG MP4 tab I am using Gabest's splitter for MP4 playback, I did play one sample MP4 video file OK in Media Center.

Under overall MPEG Playback 1/2/PS/TS I am using the default which is Automatic section.

Below is a quote from Shark:

"To playback TS variations such as M2TS etc., it is imperitive that you disable Media Foundation on the swap tab. If the source was blu-ray, you will also need to select the blu-ray splitter on the MPG~MP4 TAB. many of these m2ts files use VC1 instead of AVC(h264) for the video so you will also need to select a different decoder on the SWAP TAB for WVC1 content. I prefer setting MPC-HC for WVC1."

So during my test I tried selecting the Gabest's Blu-ray splitter but I found my Blu-ray ISO images on the WHS were stuttering badly in Media Center on the HTPC. In the end Automatic selection seemed to be better for me.

Swap tab, below you can see the settings I am using. The main ones to point out are:

FFDShow codec for XVID/DIVX/MP4v in DirectShow.

FFDShow for WVC1 instead of Microsoft

I also had to disable Media Foundation for a sample .M2TS file to play in Media Center.

The thing that has changed, is in the past with an AVR and when playing AVI files with 5.1 audio tracks in them I would have to disable DMO for them to play. You don't need to do this any more apparently.

That's it!

I can play the following on my Media Center:

  • MKV's
  • AVI's (XVID)
  • DVD rips in VIDEO_TS
  • Blu-Ray ISO images (PowerDVD 10 within 7MC)
  • Media Center Live TV
  • Recorded TV (WTV)

Above are the main video types I use, however I also tested the file types below in Media Center using sample video clips I have:

  • .DVR-MS
  • .FLV (Flash)
  • .M2TS
  • .MOV
  • .MP4
  • .MPG
  • .VOB
  • .WMV

I also used GraphStudio during my codec setup to render media files and see which codec were being used in the graph.

If anyone has any comments or suggestions please let me know, also I am not a codec expert who knows everything about them so please don't ask me for technical support with codec, I would recommend heading over to the Shark 007 forums here.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Two highly recommended WHS V1 add-ins

I recently built my first WHS for my own home using my old desktop PC and whatever bits I had lying about the place. I’ve build several high-end rack mount WHS boxes for clients before, but not one for myself!

During this setup process I discovered two WHS add-ins that have made my system all the more better. These are not new or free add-ins and some of you will be using them already, however as I liked them so much I wanted to mention them here on my blog.

The first is called Disk Management for Windows Home Server, by Tentacle software you can see their webpage here.


“Disk Management is an Add-In for Microsoft Windows Home Server. This Add-In is designed for users who need more detail about their server's storage status than what the standard Server Storage interface provides.”


  • Detailed information for each disk in your Windows Home Server
  • Real-time temperature and activity monitoring
  • Capacity indicators for individual disks
  • Customizable disk names
  • Customizable 3D wireframe representation of your server

As soon as I’d create the 3D wireframe representation of my server and seen what information this add-in was now displaying to me in the WHS console, I bought a licence for it there and then! And also thought why didn’t Microsoft do this?

I can now see the used space on each individual hard disk, see temp stats, read/write activity indicators etc.

Overall an extremely useful add-in and worth the asking price.

Add-in #2

The next add-in I wanted to mention is called Lights Out. You can find the webpage for Lights Out here which is a blog done by some German dudes, if you scroll further down this page however they have kindly also written in English.

Now usually I am pretty bad with leaving PC’s turned on and running 24/7. At work I’d always leave my workstation(s) running constantly whilst everyone else was expected to shutdown their machines down every night, must be an I.T. guy thing! And even at home I use to leave my desktop running all the time. However I must be getting more green as I get older or more likely the cost of energy these days has gone up massively and I’m thinking about my wallet more.

So I wanted some way to turn my “recycled” WHS off when not in use, thankfully there is a brilliant add-in as I said called Lights Out which fits the bill! No pun intended.

Below is a bit from their website:

Lights-Out – The name says it all

“This Add-In is used to put a Windows Home Server into suspended mode or hibernation and resume on user defined events.”

Mode of operation

“Lights-Out monitors several sources for activity. As long as one source signals activity, the server is kept running. When the monitoring detects no more activity, the server is disabled.”

Basically it detects when your Windows PC clients (WHS clients) are active. There is also a Windows Client bit of software that you can install, this runs in the system tray and allows you from this icon to suspend an wakeup the server manually. You can also add IP devices to be monitored. For example I gave my XBOX 360 static IP address and then added this address to be monitored in the Lights Out settings.

The best thing about this for me, apart from it automatically putting your WHS to sleep (suspend) and then waking it up again when any clients connect, is the Up Time Diagram. The screen shot on their website doesn’t have much detail in it, the one below is from my own WHS.

You can easily see what is active and when! Great for routing out any problems with something staying awake and what time it woke etc.

On the 12 and 13th of October you can see I had a problem and the WHS and HTPC (MCX01) were on most of the night. Initially I thought it was the HTPC not going back to sleep after the WHS backup. However after seeing the start and end time of the backup I ruled that out as the problem.

Noting they woke at 2:30am, I then changed the Media Center update task on my main HTPC to run at 7PM instead of the default which is 2:30am The next night on the 14th both stayed sound asleep!

Up Time Diagram:

Click here for larger image

I’m still on the free trial, there is a free community edition and a paid version, there is a matrix comparison here I’m not quite sure yet what will stop working when my trial runs out however.

The only issue I have with Lights Out, is that I have a monitor keyboard and mouse hooked up to my WHS that is in the office room. If I am the WHS console directly it keeps going to sleep on me automatically if no other clients are active on the network. I have to remember to disable the Lights Out first.

Overall it works well and its certainly worth checking out. I just hope both of these types of features will be native in WHS Vail or these 3rd party developers release new versions for WHS Vail.

Monday, 11 October 2010

My Channel Logos – Jazz up your Media Center Program Guide

I was setting up a new HTPC this week for our living room and one of the things I wanted to do was add channel logos in to the program guide. I’d done this previously using Big Screen EPG. However I found another great little utility called My Channel Logos who’s only job is to add logos in to your guide, unlike Big Screen EPG which can also be used to import guide data from 3 party sources.

Upon the first launch of My Channel Logos it will automatically download the logos for your region. Logos are currently available for the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, Germany, France, New Zealand.

Once the application opens it looks like the below and its really just a case of hitting the Auto Populate Logos button and your pretty much good to go.

However I did find that for the UK logos some were missing. But you can add your own custom logos, so I had to find some extra logos from Google images for the following channels:

  • The Big Deal
  • Channel One
  • Create and Craft
  • ITV2+1
  • Price Drop TV

The end result is nice looking channel logos in your Media Center program guide as shown below.

I believe My Channel Logos was a free application but now to download it, you must donate a minimum of $3.

Fix Media Center Studio without jumping through too many hoops!

I tried a few times to fix Media Center Studio after updates release by Microsoft broke parts of its functionality. There was several threads on the Green Button forum about renaming .dll files or replacing them with blank ones and changing security permissions, which sounds like an easy way to give yourself a headache. None of these fixes seemed to work for me, I also tried a patcher program someone had released but still my Media Center Studio was busted.

Then a user on the Green Button forums kindly gave me a link to MCSFix.exe you can see the thread here. You need to create a shortcut to the MCSFix.exe in the startup menu. Or if you don’t reboot often you could create a scheduled task for it to run every hour or so.

So far its been working for me and my customised Media Center menu’s have remained in place.