But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

Fix for Media Center library issue after Christmas tree lights incident

Twas the night before Christmas and….

To cut a long story short the PC that runs my Window Media Center (MCE) got switched on and off at the wall twice whilst Christmas tree lights were being put up.

Now the PC is running WIndows 8.1 on modern hardware, so it should have been OK, and mostly was. However I found a problem that MCE was not showing any music, video or pictures in its libraries but the recorded TV library was fine. I suspected the issue was that my media is on an external USB3 RAID unit, so there was a chance that on one of the unintended reboots the drives had not spun up in time and MCE had ‘forgotten’ about the external drive.

So I tried to re-add the missing libraries via MCE > Tasks > Settings > Media Libraries. The wizard ran OK allowing me to select the folders on the external disk, but when I got to the end the final dialog closed virtually instantly. I would normally have expected it to count up all the media files as they were found. Also if I went back into the wizard I could not see the folder I had just added.

A bit of searching on the web told me that MCE shares its libraries with Windows Media Player, and there was a a good chance they were corrupted. In fact running the Windows Media Player trouble-shooter told me as as much. So I deleted the contents of %LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Media Player folder as suggested. It had no useful effect on the problem. The only change was the final dialog in the wizard did appear to count the media files it found now, taking a few minutes before it closed. But the results of the scan were not saved.

So I switched my focus to Media Player (WMP). I quickly saw this was showing the same problems. If I selected WMP > Organise > Manage libraries no dialog was shown for music, video or pictures. However the dialog did appear for Recorded TV which we know was working in MCE.

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Also if I selected WMP > Organise > Options… > Rip Music, there was no rip location set, and you could not set it if you pressed the Change button.

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The web quickly showed me I was not alone in this problem, as shown in this post and others on the Microsoft forums. It is worth noting that this thread, and the others, do seem to focus on Windows 7 or Vista. Remember I was on a PC that was a new install of Windows 8 and in place upgraded to 8.1 via the Windows Store, but I don’t think was the issue.

Anyway I tried everything I could find the posts

  • Restarted services
  • Deleted the WMP databases (again)
  • Uninstalled and re-install WMP via the WIndows Control panel > Install Products > Windows feature
  • Checked the permissions on folder containing the media

Everything seemed to point to a missing folder. The threads talked about WMP being set to use a Rip folder that it could not find. As my data was on an external RAID this seemed reasonable. However on checking [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Preferences\HME\LastSharedFolders] there were no paths that could not be resolved.

So I decided to have a good look at what was going on under the covers with Sysinternals Procmon, but could see nothing obvious, no missing folders, not registry key calls missed.

In the end the pointer to the actual fix was on page 8 of the thread by Tim de Baets. Turns out the issue was with the media libraries in C:\Users\<your username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries. If I tried to a open any of these in Windows Explorer I got an error dialog in the form 'Music-library-ms' is not longer working. So I deleted the Pictures, Music and Video library folders in C:\Users\<your username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries, which was not a problem as they were all empty.

When I reloaded WMP I could now open the WMP > Organise > Manage libraries dialogs and re-add the folders on my RAID disk, also I could set the Rip folder.

As these settings were shared with MCE my problem was fixed, ready for a Christmas of recording TV, looking at family photos and playing music.

Whether it was the power outages that caused the problem, I have my doubts, as power cuts have not been an issue in the past. maybe it is some strange permission hangover from the upgrade from Windows 8 > 8.1 I doubt I will ever find out.

EPG for Windows Media Center is fixed

It seems that the EPG problem with Media Center has been fixed by Microsoft. The are publishing the EPG data again, so we don’t have to rely on the 7 day guide embedded within the TV signal.

It is interesting to see the happy MCE users coming out the wood work on The Register’s comments section. We MCE users might not be too numerous, but the people who use it really seem to like it. However, after reading the comments I should have a look at XBMC too as it now has PVR features. Though it does look a bit more complex too setup!

More fun with Windows 8 Media Center

Signal Strength

Since upgrading my Media Center PC to Windows 8, on the same hardware, I have seen that it seems to perform better that on Windows 7. However some channels seem to be dropping out, the usual digital pixilation or a message saying no signal (but often with some audio).

As I had not changed any hardware I though this strange, but I have always seemed to have a borderline signal strength even though I can see my local terrestrial transmitter, it is about 15 miles away in direct line of sight. After a bit of reading on the subject I found that my signal booster may be the issue, amplifying the noise and not the signal (seems you should only use masthead amps for digital). This was a hangover from my old flat with an awful signal. Once this was removed from the system my problems appear to have gone away. However, as I did not see the issue all the time I will wait a while before declaring it a complete success.

Where did my EPG go?

More irritating is the fact that the EPG for my HD channels has disappeared. This could well be down to fact Microsoft appear to have switched off the EPG service from Red Bee. MCE can get EPG for Freeview channels via the TV broadcast, but it seems not for HD (or cable or satellite which I don’t have).

Hopefully Microsoft will see sense and get this re-enabled, I don’t want to really have to jump through the hoop on the greenbutton.

I does worry me that this is a signal that MCE is being killed. I know it has not taken off as a main stream product, but I still prefer it to any set top box I have owned.

Upgrading my Windows 7 Media Center to Windows 8

Updated 4th December 2012 – Roku setup

I have been a happy user of Windows Media Center since (even) XP. I have found it reasonably stable and more importantly it has a nice user interface compared to most pvr/set-top boxes I have owned. So as my Windows 7 based system has been stable for just over a year (since a move to HD tuners prompted by a motherboard failure) I thought it high time to destabilise it with an upgrade to Windows 8. What actually prompted this was Robert had upgraded his Media Center which is also based on similar Acer Revo (Intel Atom) hardware to mine and he had found the general performance much improved. The Atom CPU is only just up to the job, but I do like the Revo as it is a nice low wattage package for Media Center

The  main issue with this upgrade is Microsoft have chosen to put Media Center in an add-in pack for Windows 8 not part of the base package; however, this pack is currently free. Armed with this information this was my upgrade process:

  1. Applied for my Windows 8 Media Center product code. It says this can take up to 72 hours, mine took nearer 150. Looking at the comments this seems not uncommon. Note that you don’t need to apply for the code on the same PC you wish to use it on. But as the comments mention it is one code per email address used, and the code has to be activated before February.
  2. Downloaded the Windows 8 Professional ISO from MSDN, I got the EN-GB specific version. Just make sure it is the retail version not the volume license as people have commented that the the Media Center product code does not work for VL editions.
  3. So now ready to start the upgrade…..
    1. I first removed my external RAID disk array that stores pictures, music, recordings etc.
    2. I backed up my Windows 7 boot disk (using imagex off a Windows 8 PE boot USB) to an external USB disk (just in case I wanted to go back)
    3. Booted my PC in Windows 7, inserted the Windows 8 Professional USB media and did an in-place upgrade (frankly it moved over so little I might as well have wiped the disk, see what I had to reinstall below). After entering my MDSN sourced product key the upgrade found all the hardware without issue except my PCTV 290e tuners, but a check for new drivers got these from Windows update without any other intervention.
    4. I now used the add feature option on the control panel to enter my Media Center product key. It accepted this, and said it was downloading the new feature and it might take a while. In my case this was best part of two hours, so be prepared to wait…..
  4. Once complete (and a good few automatic reboots later) I could run the Media Center wizard,but before I did this I re-attached my RAID disk

So eventually I had a Windows 8 install with Media Center, but what had a lost in the process?

  • All my Media Center configuration
    • Monitor preferences
    • My series recording settings
    • Interestingly I did not need to re-enter my settings to point to my RAID disk for libraries
  • Had to re-join the PC to my home group (of which it was the creator, I would have it expected to remember more than just it’s name)
  • Had to re-install the Windows desktop Skydrive  application, which I use to provide a backup from my RAID drive for photos. I do need to see if I can think of an easier solution under Windows 8. I also had to re-create the scheduled batch file that copies the files I wish to backup to this folder. Due to the coping all the time stamps meant the files had to re-sync to SkyDrive.
  • Had to re-authorise my Roku Soundbridge media as an audio client.

So it is any faster? Only time will tell. However, I do think that pining browser windows to the Windows 8 home page for IPlayer and other web streaming services will make life a bit bit easier until they provide Windows 8 Apps to do the job.

4th Dec Update

When tried to stream MP3 to my old Roku M1000 this morning I could connect to my Windows 8 PC (file source) but got the error “invalid result received” when it tried to play a file. Last night I had only checked it connected.  I am not alone with this problem, seems the Roku is too old and changes in the Media Player streaming server in Windows 8 (from Windows 7) means it will not work.

The fix was to swap my media streaming server, I downloaded and installed SqueezeBox, once this easy install was done it all leap into life. 

More experiences upgrading my Media Center to receive Freeview HD

In my post experiences upgrading my Media Center to receive Freeview HD I said I thought the reason my Windows 7 Media Center was hanging at the "TV signal configuration” step was down to using mixed tuner cards. Well my second PCTV nanoStick T2.arrived yesterday so I was able to try the same process with a pair of identical USB T2 tuners.

Guess what? I got the same problem!

However, being USB devices it mean I could test the tuners on my laptop, a Lenovo W520 (Core i7, 16Gb, Windows 7). So I plugged them both in, they found drivers from the web automatically, I ran Media Center, select setup the TV signal and……. it worked! A few worrying pauses here and there, but it got there in about an hour.

So why did it work on a laptop and not on my Media Center PC?

I considered performance, but it seemed unlikely,the Media Center is aCore2 Duo based system about 3 years old and has had no performance problems to date. So the only difference was that the laptop had never seen a TV Tuner before, the Media Center had.

Unused drivers

So I wondered if the old Hauppauge drivers were causing the problem. Remember in Windows if you removed an adaptor card then the drivers are not removed automatically. If  the driver was automatically added (as opposed to you running a setup.exe) then there is no obvious way to removed the drivers. The way to do it as detailed in this Microsoft Answers post. When you load device manager this way you see the Hauppauge devices and you can uninstall their drivers.

And it makes no difference to the problem.

Media Center Guide Data and Tuner setup

Using task manager I could see that when Media Center TV setup appeared to hang the mcupdate.exe program was running and using a lot of CPU. I had seen this on the Lenovo, but it has passed within 30 seconds or so, on my 3 years old Intel based Media Center PC I would expect it to be a bit slower, but I left it overnight and it did not move on. So it is not just performance.

The mcupdate.exe is the tools that updates the TV guide data for Media Center. It is run on a regular basis and also during the setup. So it seems the issue as far as I can see that

  1. There is corrupt guide data so that it cannot update the channel guide
  2. There is data about a non-existent tuner that locks the process
  3. There is just too much data to update in the time allows (but you would expect leaving it overnight would fix this)
  4. There is an internet problems getting the guide (which I doubt, too much of a coincidence it happens only when I upgrade a tuner)

Simply put I think when the TV setup gets to the point it needs to access this data, it gets into a race condition with the mcupdate.exe process which is trying to update the guide.

The Hack7MC blog post seems to suggest the problem is that the guide data and tuner setup needs to be cleared down and provides a process. post suggest the problem can be addressed by cleared down the data; it provides a process to do this. However I though I would try to avoid this as I did not want really to loose the series recording settings I had if I could avoid it.

So I loaded Media Center and select update guide from the Task menu. This started the mcupdate process and  caused a 50% CPU load, and showed no sign of stopping. Again pointing to a probably one of the issues listed above. So I unloaded Media Center, but mcupdate.exe was still running as was the tool tray notification application. Again I left this a while to no effect. So I used task manager to kill mcupdate and the ectray.exe application.

I had at this point intend to run the process from the Hack7MC post, so stopped all Media Center services, but thought i would give the setup one more try. When I ran the setup TV dsignal I got a message along the lines of ‘guide data corrupt will reload’ and then the setup proceeded exactly as it should have done in the first place. I ended up will all my channels  both HD and non-HD accessible from both tuner, and all my series recording settings intact.

So a success, I am still not clear which step fixed the issue, but I am sure it was down to needing to clear down the guide data and tuner setting fully.

Great iPlayer Media Center Plugin

I am very impressed with the iPlayer Media Center Plugin I found on the Australian Media Center Community, I like most people found it installed fine but that it failed to add itself to the start menu. However this was easily fixed using Media Center Studio once I got my head around the Media Center Studio’s user interface. The basic process is:

  1. Load Media Center Studio
  2. Go onto the Start Menu tab
  3. At the bottom of the screen look for the entry points section (needs expanding usually)
  4. In here you should find the iPlayer application (has a red’ish pay button logo)
  5. Drag it onto whichever part of the start menu you want, but be aware there are some limitation as to where it can go, Extensions worked fine for me
  6. Save the changes
  7. Restart Media Center

Once this is done you should be able to view WMV based iPlayer content from within Media Center. I have seen it take a while to start buffering content, but other than that it seems to work well and certainly looks the part.

Update on Media Center on Windows 7

Since the upgrade of my Media Center PC to Windows 7 I have had a few problems with fast forward on recorded TV and DVDs (which I had not seen on Vista). It was as if the fast forward button on my remote got jammed on and I could not go back to standard playback easily, it took a few seconds for the message to get through, then you ended up back where you started.

I decided it was probably a CPUprocessing speed issue, so upgrade my 3 year old AMD/ASUS single core motherboard to a current entry level dual core system, a MSI motherboard and Intel E5300 Dual Core (the brand choice was just down to what was cheap and in stock at my local supplier). This fixed the issue completely, but did require a reinstall of Windows 7, as the Intel Dual Core needed a different HAL to the AMD single core. However the reinstall was not a major issue as I run a dedicated PC as a Media Center and it is practically a default installation,

Red button works in the BBC Interactive

Cool, I just noticed that on Windows 7 Media Center with a Hauppauge Nova 500 T Tuner card the red button works; so at last I can get Digital Teletext and interactive channels on the BBC without having to know their actual channel numbers (and as I remember they were actually ignored by previous versions of Media Center without a registry hack anyway).

This makes using MCE just like a standard Digital TV – should help general acceptance. This has certainly improved since the older versions.

Upgrading my Media Center to Windows 7

Over the past couple of days I have upgraded my Vista based Media Center to Windows 7. After my previous experiences upgrading from XP herehere  and here I decided to do a new install onto a new 1Tb disk as opposed to an in place upgrade. This all went OK, there was nothing major to note, Windows 7 shipped with a driver for everything in my 3 year old AMD/ASUS based PC bar the sound card built into my motherboard, but that was easily downloaded. It is worth commenting that my Hauppauge Nova 500 T digital TV turner was found OK, but I had to get it to scan for channels three times before it got a signal. Why it worked the third time I don’t know as I did not change anything.

The problems I had were when I wanted to copy on media (photos, music and TV recordings) from my old hard disks. The first problem was when I connected them (using external USB cases, one was SATA the other PATA) to a Windows 7 laptop they were not seen. The physical disks were detected but the partitions were not present. When I tried them on a Vista box at work the partitions were seen but marked as foreign when I looked in the administrator disk management tool. Once I selected the ‘import foreign disks’ option they both appeared OK as drives on the Vista box (at this point I copied the files to a network location as a backup, that took a while!). I then tried the disks again on another Windows 7 box and another Vista box, in both cases it now said the drives were dynamic and corrupt. However back on the working Vista box they were both still OK. I was now confused. However, as I now had a backup of the data, on the second Vista box I tried to convert this corrupt dynamic disk to a basic disk, this ‘worked’ but the ‘corrupt’ partition disappeared. When I tried to quick format that failed too, but a full format worked, but seemed slow (a couple of hours for 300Gb). Now once this disk was formatted it could be read and used on all the Vista and Windows 7 boxes. I copied the data back from my network share backup and used the fixed external UBS drive to move the files back onto my new Media Center at home.

Sorry I don’t have a better solution to the disk issues than a format. I have no idea what was gong on there, but I now have a fully working Windows 7 Media Center with all my old media on it. Probably not a quick as an in place upgrade, but I know it is a nice clean install. First impression of the RTM version of Windows 7 Media Center is that it is fast and  the interface clean. We shall see how it is to live with it.