Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Velocity Micro CineMagix Grand Theater

Velocity Micro Cinemagix Grand Theater
I have been unhappy with how much we are paying for cable.  Comcast charges $15/month for each HD DVR.  We have two of these.  In addition to the rental charge for the box, they charge $7/month to bring a cable jack to each room. I was interested in finding a way that I could save money, and still have access to my content in those rooms.

I have been using Vista Media Center on my Mac mini for a while, and like it.  I was using the Mac mini mainly only for watching our movies, with MyMovies.  I wanted to get a home theater PC that has CableCard slots to record TV. This setup would be a replacement for our Series3 to watch TV/movies on our main TV.  Then we would use Media Center extenders to watch live/recorded TV or movies on the other TVs.

It was hard to find companies that made home theater PCs that have support internal CableCard and are in a form factor that works with other audio/video components.  I narrowed my choices to the Velocity Micro CineMagix Grand Theater and the Orkoro Media Systems OMS-CX100.

I went with the CineMagix Grand Theater.  I ordered it with 2 cable cards, a quad core processor, GeForce 9800 GTX
and only a singe hard drive configuration.  I went with the single drive configuration, as I figured that  it would reduce heat.  Also, if I needed more space, it is available on our Windows Home Server.

When it arrived, the first thing that I noticed was that the packaging was very nice.  The computer was very well packed. The case is very sturdy, the computer weighs about 50 lbs. I also opened it up, and the routing of the wires is very neat. Velocity Micro also included a nice binder for all of the paperwork.  

Here are some photos from the inside of the case. 

Connecting it to my setup was pretty easy.  I  removed the Mac mini, and replaced it with the CineMagix Grand Theater.  I am using a DVI to HDMI cable, and optical audio cable.  I just had to run through the Windows Vista setup.

I was able to remove the CableCards from the Series3 and insert them into the PC, and call Comcast to have them re-pair them.  It took about 30 minutes on the phone for them to configure the cards.

I did encounter some problems though.

  • The built-in IR receiver doesn't support the way that Media Center does text entry.  Media Center uses a T-9 like text entry mechanism (i.e. press "2" three times for the 'c' character.) Every press of the numeric keypad, adds a new letter.  Velocity Micro included a second media center remote and USB IR receiver.  If I use the USB IR receiver, everything works fine.

  • I was getting BSOD while in the Media Center menus.  The message said something like "Attempt to reset the display driver and recover from timeout failed".  I replaced the Nvidia card with an ATI Radeon HD 4670
    .  Once I did that, the BSOD stopped. (Though the card is louder than the GeForce card.

  • The other problem was that if I stopped playing video, the video card would be disabled.  The only way to get video back was to reboot the computer.  I believe that the HDCP handshake is being lost and the CableCard is telling the Video card to disable video out. I found that if I set the the display to turn off after 5 minute, there isn't a problem.  If video is playing, or I am using the remote, the display doesn't turn off.  Otherwise, it will be turned off, but can easily be resumed.

We also have a Linksys DMA2200
media center. This works perfectly to play live TV and recorded content.

So far I am very happy with this for watching TV.  I do want to figure out how to display important information on the built-in LCD display.  Currently it only displays the current time.  I would love it if it would display the titles of the programs that are being recorded.

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