Sunday, January 20, 2008

following up with Linksys DMA 2100 problems

Late into the first night of DMA 2100 ownership, after setting it up and writing my first blog entry / review, I took the somewhat definitive step of moving my HP z552 back to my office so we could enjoy a living room without the incessant fan noise of the z552 and its sick-sounding USB hard drive companion. I continued to test, tweak and research the DMA 2100 and can report some additional findings:

Zoom not working on non-broadcast materials (XviD stuff from Video Library):
This guy suggested that the component video hook-up was the problem; when my HDMI cable showed up I found that it was not. Information \ Zoom does not do anything with videos in the Video Library in component or HDMI mode.

Xvid start delay:
According to TGB, this is very common. To me, it's not a big deal, a bigger deal is the delay in changing channels, but so far the primary DMA 2100 user in my apartment hasn't noticed that so if she isn't complaining, I'm not complaining.

Audio drop-outs:
I have noticed a problem with XviD more annoying than the start time. I have been watching Deadwood obsessively, and converted a bunch of, uh, downloaded episodes so I could watch them on my iPod on my way to work. On my commute I can watch about 15 - 20 minutes of Deadwood, so if I start one in the morning, and watch more on the way home, then I might want to finish it in the evening, so I'll launch it on the TV and skip ahead 40 or so minutes. Unfortunately, my Deadwood episodes consistently have audio that drops out every 8 seconds or so. Usually this problem seems to be with AC3 audio content, but GSpot shows that these episodes are just normal XviD and MP3, and should play the same as everything else. I was able to successfully watch most of them after converting them with AutoGK (just, literally, not changing anything except maybe the MP3 audio bitrate), but the season/series finale, which I am 12 minutes into, is still having the dropping audio problem. Not sure what the problem is but I will continue to investigate.

Network speed:
After a day or so of DMA 2100 ownership, I found XviD videos to be unplayably slow, and even recorded TV was extremely sluggish (taking seconds to register the skip). The reason, as I determined by going to the Network Test thing in Tasks, was very poor network performance. The first day it didn't give me any trouble but by the second day Network Test only showed 2 to 3 bars, below the "acceptable for TV" threshold. I remembered that the DMA came with a printed piece of paper saying that the MCE PC might have problems on Gigabit networks without following a certain KB article, but since I couldn't find the piece of paper, I figured it was far easier to pull the MCE PC's network cable out of my Gigabit switch and into my 100Mbit switch. This I did, and found my network problems resolved and the playing of recorded TV far snappier. (Xvid was still messed up when I tried to forward to 40mins on the sample Deadwood 3x04.)

A commenter noted problems with album art and other metadata that I haven't seen, but yesterday and today I've been listening to music (specifically the new Black Mountain record "In the Future", which is really growing on me, and I'm also obsessively playing the song "Dunwich" on the latest Electric Wizard record "Witchcult Today") and have seen a problem several times now. Stopping a song doesn't "take" -- you are listening to music, press stop, the song stops, and then you press the green button, and after a few seconds the song starts playing again. Once this happens, you can't press stop to make it stop; it's like it's playing in some stealth mode that you can't interrupt. I've been going to Tasks and choosing Close, which logs the extender out of the MCE PC, and then logging back in, but of course I shouldn't have to do that. I suspect playing a video or going to Live TV would stop it also, but haven't checked.


P.S. I am slowly assembling posts on the DMA 2100 from random problems, annoyances, bugs and fixes that I see. I'll keep posting them when a fully formed post on one or more issues appears, and will update this ending as I see them:

DMA 2100 initial impressions

converting Canon camera videos and DVDs for use with the DMA 2100

Canon video conversion revisited

OTA HDTV and the DMA 2100

following up with Linksys DMA 2100 problems

…or just click the DMA 2100 label over on the right.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 13, 2008

OTA HDTV and the DMA 2100

Another step in the many changes I plan following the install of the Linksys DMA 2100 media center extender is to bring HDTV back into the system. Obviously Microsoft rolled over for the cable industry in disallowing CableCard or any other legal method of displaying broadcast HD content besides over the air HDTV, so I had to reintroduce a DViCO Fusion HDTV 5 USB Gold to my hp z552 after banishing it to my gaming PC awhile back. The problem was that the z552 would get so overheated from the processor-intensive act of showing or, god forbid, recording HDTV over the air that you could barely hear the TV over the fan noise. Now that I have an extender, I'm trying again.

First I downloaded an updated driver for my Fusion HDTV box and installed it on my Media Center PC. Then I added the tuner in Media Center (it was automatically detected along with the channel names). Then I ran through the digital antenna setup.

In case I haven't done this to death in other posts, here is a list of channels that work if you are on the Upper West Side with a west-facing window that looks into your neighbor's window, 12 feet away, and has a slight northern view if you crane your neck to the right:






decent HD signal



slightly pixellated HD signal but it's working



nice HD signal but of course then when I went to record the new Terminator show it failed -- but then I manually recorded it without incident



works, I think it's HD



not sure if it's HD but it works



nice HD picture



works and is widescreen but the picture wasn't HD



works but the program isn't HD and it occasionally pixellates



no TV signal, removed



no TV signal, removed



no TV signal, removed



good signal (though not HD) and in Spanish. they were playing "The Legend of Drunken Master" though so that's cool :)

(In other words, this is a list that I made for myself to know what channels to remove that you folks can look at or scroll past, wondering why the hell you read navel-gazing blogs like this in the first place. Probably because you searched Google for "DMA 2100 HDTV OTA" or whatever the hell term landed you here. Welcome!) There were other channels that the digital antenna setup showed had very poor signal strength so I left them off. Let me note that this is much better than it used to be. Maybe the new 2.63 driver is more tolerant of bad signals? I have the same Terk V55 sitting straight up in my window the same way I've had it for a long time, so maybe the weather was conducive to HD OTA signals tonight or something.

Anyway, I scheduled "Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles", or whatever it's called, tonight, but unfortunately, Media Center threw a No Signal error right at 8PM. But when I went to the channel, it played fine, and when I pressed Record, it recorded the whole show. There were like two or three stutters in the recording but otherwise it looked and sounded great -- since I never download HD content and gave up on OTA a year or so ago I forget how good it looks. And having the computer recording the HD in one room while a different purpose-built device (the DMA 2100) renders it in another room means that you don't get the sense of an overheated engine or whatever the z552 sounds like when all its fans are blowing at high speed. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the DMA 2100 really handled the HD content without any complaints or stuttering (aside from what I just mentioned which I think was a signal, not DMA processing, problem). If only the writers' strike was over for the shows we watch, I'd be switching all my recorded series over to OTA HD immediately!


P.S. I am slowly assembling posts on the DMA 2100 from random problems, annoyances, bugs and fixes that I see. I'll keep posting them when a fully formed post on one or more issues appears, and will update this ending as I see them:

DMA 2100 initial impressions

Converting Canon camera videos and DVDs for use with the DMA 2100

Canon video conversion revisited

OTA HDTV and the DMA 2100

following up with Linksys DMA 2100 problems

…or just click the DMA 2100 label over on the right.

Labels: ,

converting Canon camera videos and DVDs for use with the Linksys DMA 2100

Update: I suggest looking at my follow-up post for a far more efficient way to do this.


I have been trying to resolve a critical problem with the new Linksys DMA 2100 media center extender -- namely, that it does not play videos of my 7-month-old son that I take with my Canon camera. These videos are AVIs in "Motion JPEG" format, with PCM audio.

First, I used something called Aimersoft Video Converter, which is sort of a shitty package but has typically worked OK when converting downloaded stuff to iPod MP4 format. When I converted my camera videos to Xvid, they had audio that was just periodic clicks. I tried different audio settings in Aimersoft with Xvid but no luck. I tried converting them to WMV, but then they didn't play at all -- the extender threw a codec error.

I thus googled "convert Divx to Xvid media center extender" or something like that and found AutoGK, which actually had an option entitled "Standalone" for standalone players, with a sub-choice for "MTK/Sigma". I remembered reading chrisl's post on TGB which noted that the DMA has a Sigma chip while researching the DMA before buying it, so that seemed like the move for me. I thus got it and converted a video, and to my delight, it worked just fine. I then converted a bunch of others and unfortunately, none worked -- the audio kept clipping and echoing and was generally unlistenable. I remembered that I used CBR 128Kbit audio for the first conversion, and "automatic" for the rest. Thus, here is a working method of conversion of home videos for the DMA 2100 (short attention spans should focus on the items in bold):

  • Download and install AutoGK
  • You'll have to play with "Predefined size" in the output size settings but my videos are like 15MB to maybe 350MB so I chose "1/4 CD (175MB)" for those that are below that number.
    • Note: Unfortunately, about a third of the videos seemed to end up with the audio cutting out and the picture becoming choppy partway through. The common thread was that the converted video ended up larger than the original.
    • So if you only have small batches of similar sizes, I suggest setting the output size to be a custom size equal to its current size. For me, that always meant a slightly smaller size, and a video that played without any problems.
  • I clicked Advanced Settings and chose "CBR MP3, 128 kbps" since Auto gave me the screwed-up audio described above. For video, I used what I think are the defaults, "Auto width" and XviD
  • I pressed Ctrl-F9 and there was the key setting in the bottom right: "Enable standalone support" and the "MTK/Sigma" chipset.

As I create similarly-sized versions of original videos, I have to think about how much of an "electronic packrat" I am going to be. If I have DivX conversions of my originals that are approximately the same size, do I need to keep the Motion JPEG originals? I keep iPod copies because all of them so far are like 700MB. But another 5.5GB of movie files, when my kid's only 7 months old, indicates that I'll have like a terabyte of kid videos including the multiple copies by the time he's 3. That's not including the nightly backup copy I make to my VMware ESX server. Eh, if I run out of disk space, I'll buy some more. Hopefully upon reading this my wife will agree :D


As an aside, it would seem that the primary function of AutoGK is for the conversion of DVDs into AVI format. Since the DMA 2100 doesn't play DVDs itself nor stream them from the Media Center, this also had a slight impact in that we can't play the two Baby Einstein DVDs that we occasionally bust out every other week (we are that sort of enlightened Upper West Side parent that strives to avoid parking our son in front of the TV). I ripped them to DVR-MS using CloneDVD and they played fine on the physical media center, but upon testing it yesterday morning I noticed a slight electronic hiss/rasp in the background. I thus followed these instructions and re-converted it just now. (Took just under an hour for two passes against 1/2hr of video. Hmm.) The result was a 400MB AVI (as opposed to a 1.12GB DVR-MS). On the PC, this file played just fine, with fine audio and video. On the DMA 2100, it also played just fine, albeit with a 5- to 10-second lag before it started playing (same as most other XviD content I've tried on the DMA) and also with parts cut off in "Zoom 2" mode. Ah well, for this, I doubt a 7-month-old baby is going to care. I converted the other Baby Einstein DVD and put them on the shelf, where they will remain forever.


P.S. I am slowly assembling posts on the DMA 2100 from random problems, annoyances, bugs and fixes that I see. I'll keep posting them when a fully formed post on one or more issues appears, and will update this ending as I see them:

DMA 2100 initial impressions

converting Canon camera videos and DVDs for use with the DMA 2100

Canon video conversion revisited

OTA HDTV and the DMA 2100

following up with Linksys DMA 2100 problems

…or just click the DMA 2100 label over on the right.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Linksys DMA 2100 Media Center Extender

I've been waiting for a few months and my wait is now over -- the Linksys DMA 2100 was finally released. Dell has it for $250, but Amazon didn't; too bad 'cause I have Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping) for free this month. Anyway, I ordered it New Year's Eve, and it was delivered today.

In my pre-purchase research, I noted from the Linksys product page that it has an HDMI connection, which is obviously the desired way to connect to the TV. Unfortunately, I didn't have a cable so I popped my 7-month-old Oscar into a Baby Bjorn and set out for Radio Shack. WTF? No way am I paying $80 for an HMDI cable. And they have $130 HDMI cables? Who in hell would pay that? I hopped on the subway down to 79th Street and went over to Circuit City to find -- the same thing! Fucking Monster cables for $100+! Even the cheap cables, hidden over on the other side of the store, were $55! I'm sorry, but I'm too damn cheap to pay that for any cable. I walked up to Circuit City on 86th (by this time Oscar had fallen asleep) and they had $80 RCA (brand) cables! Fuck that, some Googling showed practically the same damned cable from Monoprice, who everyone loves, for $4.50 plus $2.50 in shipping and handling. What a scam these HDMI cables are! Even Radio Shack, who I used to think of as trustworthy and where I spent many a happy childhood hour, has gotten in on the scam.

Further research led me to sound output -- it has a digital coax output and my brand new Yamaha YSP-800 has one as well. This was all pre-arranged before the YSP-800 was allowed for purchase. I'm not entirely sure what to say about this thing but once I get rid of the extremely loud HP z552 and put it back in my office I'll have a better sense. So far I feel like it's been a good purchase, but there's still some weird audio nuances that I was trying to solve with surround sound, mainly having to have the thing turned all the way up to hear dialog but then being blasted out of my seat by music or sound effects. It's better with the YSP than with the 2.1 speakers I have been using but it will be easier still to tell once the z552 moves out with all its loud fans blowing all the time.

Additional items that helped my research were this TGB thread full of generally good reviews, which noted that the remote has a learning feature, so it could work the speaker volume and turn the TV on and off, and that 100Mbit (as it is not a Gbit device) is fine for streaming HD content. Some people said the remote sucks, and suggested the Logitech Harmony, but I figured I'd try it first before committing the money. (I don't love the remote because it does seem to miss one out of maybe like 10 button presses, but it hasn't been annoying enough to ask for additional monies to spend.) Ed Bott also wrote a nice review so that was all I needed to hear to go ahead and buy the thing. (He didn't mention the remote.)

totally as an aside:

TGB thread on ripping DVDs; I should do this for kiddi DVDs because we'll lose that functionality and for ease of use

The DMA 2100 showed up today and I set it up before dinner. Since my HDMI cable hadn't shipped yet (should have thought about that when I ordered) I had to go component video. Initially it looked kind of crappy but it picked 480p mode, and I was able to set it up in 1080i mode on my TV (Proview RX326, a 32" LCD with a purported 1366 x 768 resolution) and it looked reasonably clear. The colors seem a little washed out compared to how they look on the media center PC directly through DVI --> HDMI, but videos look fine. Supposedly when I attach it to the TV via HDMI it will automatically detect this stuff.

I had some problems with the setup but mainly it was my own stubbornness. First, I tried to set it up without installing the drivers, because Media Center seemed to recognize the extender. Then, I wasn't really reading the error that clearly when it suggested TURNING OFF the extender AND THEN BACK ON to try to resolve the problem in which it wasn't being found. Doing that made Media Center see the extender just fine.

Here are some problems I had:

No rights to see network shares.

This was a major problem for which a variety of solutions have been put forth on the Internet. I tried this suggestion to put shortcuts in Public Videos, but I didn't see them on the Extender. Upon reading that blog's comments, I ran MKLINK /D and was able to create links that were visible on the extender, but they appeared as empty folders. I then went to my PC and added ANONYMOUS LOGON rights to the shares but I didn't know how to grant that right to the directories themselves. And of course it didn't work. (Note to self: remove them when you get back at your home PC. I am blogging on my laptop in front of the TV :)

The Windows Perl Blog was the first thing I found suggesting a login script which explicitly enters your share credentials, but I was unsure of where to put the login script until I found this, which gave a very simple solution of sharing your own NETLOGON. It seemed inelegant to create explicit mappings, so I tried it with the symbolic links and it worked! So a summary of what I did is:

  • in C:\Users\Public\Public Videos, execute MKLINK /D MyVideos //myserver/myshare
  • create some directory and share it as NETLOGON, granting MCX1, or whichever extender user is appropriate, read-only access
  • create a batch file called mcx1.cmd or whatever you like. It need only contain NET USE \\MYSERVER\MYSHARE /user:someone-with-rights-to-your-share that-user's-password, but maybe it needs to contain @echo off as the first line and exit as the last, it is second nature for my batch files to contain that
  • execute lusrmgr.msc, open up your extender user (MCX1 for those of us with only a single extender), and assign that batch file (mcx1.cmd in my case), with no path, as the logon script
    • Note: must have Vista Ultimate for this step to work
    • Repeat: you must have Vista Ultimate for this step to work, otherwise lusrmgr.msc will throw an error stating this same fact.

Weirdly, after I did all this, I noticed that the shares I was watching before had returned to the Video Library, so, with the symlinks, I had two copies. Oh well, something to solve another day.

Any questions, please comment and I will try to answer.

Xvid is only supported codec

I knew this going in and so far most of my stuff seems playable. The main problem is that, nowadays on the Internet, it would seem that HD content is not in Xvid but rather in x264. If you have a lot of that, it won't work on your extender. Also, my prized copy of Repo Man doesn't play for some reason. Boy, I'm sure my wife will hate that. (To quote one of my many beloved quotes from that movie, "And then what, you woke up in a puddle?")

It does seem that Xvid stuff from a share is kind of slow to start. But, with one exception, it plays and tracks fine.

Missing Zoom #4 mode

That's the "hourglass" mode that I usually had broadcast (non-widescreen) TV set to. Without it, regular TV is either in a smaller window in the middle of the screen in Zoom #1, overlapping so that screen crawls are cut off at the bottom with Zoom #2, or crushed into 16:9 with Zoom #3. Zoom #2 is best but you notice it for credits and crawls and whatnot. Most crawls are ads which I don't need to see but, shit, most of the time I just watch TV shows I downloaded off the Internet so I don't see those crawls anyway.

A little more disturbing is that, with non-broadcast materials (OK, yeah, I'm talking about downloaded movies and TV shows), the zoom buttons don't work at all. So no matter what, that stuff is in zoom mode 2 and is getting cut off..

I'll write more as I work with this thing further. Tomorrow I have to cut the cord and move the MCE PC back to my office so my wife can see the real promised benefit of the extender -- a quiet living room like normal people have :D

Good night,


P.S. I am slowly assembling posts on the DMA 2100 from random problems, annoyances, bugs and fixes that I see. I'll keep posting them when a fully formed post on one or more issues appears, and will update this ending as I see them:

DMA 2100 initial impressions (this post)

converting Canon camera videos and DVDs for use with the DMA 2100

Canon video conversion revisited

OTA HDTV and the DMA 2100

following up with Linksys DMA 2100 problems

…or just click the DMA 2100 label over on the right.

Labels: , ,

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