Media Center PC and HDTV

Phew, this HDTV stuff can get confusing.  What with the number of different connections: HDMI, DVI, RGBHV, YPrPb, the various resolutions available, and video card timings and compatibility – it’s enough to make one’s head explode.  In a couple of earlier posts (here and here) I attempted to demystify HDTV, Widescreen and Media Center 2005.  Since then I’ve learnt some more about HDTV.  The following is my experience with connecting my MCE 2005 PC to my HDTV.

I have a Mitsubishi widescreen rear projection TV, capable of 1080i and a Media Center 2005 PC.   Until recently I was not taking full advantage of the large resolution that my display unit had to offer (doofus).  The first problem was with my hookup – to obtain high resolution most display units require either a digital input (HDMI, DVI) or a composite analogue input.  I was using an S-Video connection, which limited the viewable resolution to 480p (doh).

So what connection does one need to hook up their PC to an HDTV? Good question, let’s pull your TV away from the wall and have a looksy at the connections on the back….


If you have an input on the back of your unit, like the one above, then you are in luck, this is an HDMI connection – currently the one of the best available digital connection types available.  If your PC has a similar connection then all you need is an HDMI cable and you are in business.  If you have a DVI connection (pictured below) on you PC then you can purchase a DVI to HDMI cable.  Both DVI and HDMI are digital, so you’ll not suffer any loss in picture quality.


The above image illustrates both DVI-D and DVI-I connections.  DVI supports both analogue and digital signals, and if you have a DVI connection on your TV odds are that it’s either DVI-D (digital) or DVI-I (both analog and digital).  Most modern mid-range PC video cards pump out DVI-D (I have an NVidia Geoforce FX5700LE).  if you have a DVI-D connection on your TV set then all you need is a cable from the your DVI-D PC video connection to your TV.






Older display units (like mine), which support high definition are likely to have RGBHV component or YPrPb component inputs, in either BNC or RCA format.  Both connection types carry an analogue signal, so if your PC delivers a digital output then a conversion unit is required.  Most PC video cards still support VGA, so if your TV supports RGBHV then all you need is cable to split VGA to component RGBHV.  If your TV only accepts YPrPb then you’ll need to shell out about $300 on a transcoder.






If your TV has only one or more of the above connections (S-Video, Composite Video, Coaxial) then your out of luck.  None of the three connection types pictured above support HDTV.  These connection types only support analogue SDTV.

Okay, so that’s the hookup out of the way.  My Mitsubishi supports both RGBHV and YPrPrb, so I opted for the VGA to RGBHV cable for about $30.  Next.. the PC setup.

If you reading this post because you have MCE 2005, then I expect that you at least have a respectable PC video card capable of rendering real-time video with little to no effort.  The video card is probably the most expensive component in your DVR because it is responsible for rendering full motion video.  Both NVidia and ATI produce respectable cards suitable for DVR purposes, and both provide cards guaranteed to work with Windows Media Center Edition.  Video cards that are neither NVidia or ATI may work with MCE but you may find that there is no mention of your card in newsgroups and Internet forums supporting HDTV configuration.

So we’ve hooked up our high performance PC video card to the HDTV, now comes the difficult bit – configuring the display settings in MCE 2005.

Out of the box, Windows XP MCE will not provide resolution settings for HDTV (1280×720, 1920×1080 etc), this is because Windows is configured for typical display resolutions.  This is where Powerstrip comes in.  Powerstrip is a sophisticated application that enables the user to configure the output to non-typical resolution settings.  At this point I won’t confess to knowing all there is to know about Powerstrip (it’s complicated), so instead I’ll refer you to the documentation that comes with the application.

Working with Powerstrip is a trial and error process.  There are m
any options available in the application that may affect the visual output on your display.  The following is a list of recommendations:

  1. Have a spare computer monitor handy – it is unlikely that the default Powerstrip settings will work with your TV, even in standard VGA mode, so having another display available enables you to see what’s going on.
  2. Forget remote desktop – RDP uses it’s own display driver.  Configuring Powerstrip on RDP will only affect the virtual display adapter and not the real adapter.
  3. The following article helped me configure Powerstrip: http://www.digitalconnection.com/Support/cliffnotes_17.asp although I ended up using the predefined 1920x1080i resolution rather than one of the custom resolutions mentioned in the article.
  4. Have plenty of patience, you’ll need to switch from TV to monitor and back several times until you get a picture that works.  If you have a switch box then you’ll have an easier time.
  5. Warning: It is possible to setup Powerstrip to use resolutions not compatible with your TV, using these resolutions for anything more than a few seconds can hurt your TV.  If a particular setting doesn’t work then disconnect your TV from your PC immediately – don’t leave the screen rolling or distorted while you read the manual.  This is where the vastly cheaper secondary monitor is useful.


 

The 1920x1080i predefined setting worked the best on my TV, however the left and right margins were cut off.  Fortunately Powerstrip has an option to assist in cases such as this.  Once you have a picture that displays on your TV, covering at least 100% or more of the viewing area, click the “resolution in a resolution” icon (pictured above).  This nifty option allows you to size a window on the screen of what you can actually see, Powerstrip will then adjust the settings so the image fits within the viewable area of the screen.

Now that I have a Windows resolution working, the last thing left to do was launch MCE and run through the TV display wizard (under settings) to tweak the output. 

Presto – HDTV in MCE. 

This post is brief, and there is lots to say on this subject.  Those readers interested in knowing more about tweaking Powerstrip or HDTV in general should comb the Internet – there’s a lot of information out there. Below is a link to a nice article from Engadget, which discusses similar content to my post and more…

http://www.engadgethd.com/2006/02/08/how-to-connect-your-pc-to-your-hdtv/

5 thoughts on “Media Center PC and HDTV

  1. Greg Sprunk

    I have a rear projection 65″ Mitsubishi Diamond Series HDTV running a new HP Media Center Setup with an upgraded GeForce graphics card that has HDMI, VGA, component and S Video outputs. The TV only has an S-Video, VGA and component video input. I can get the picture using the s Video connection but the picture is poor with vertical lines and waves. I am using basic cable. I have tried VGA and component video even spilling $100.00 for a new compenent video cable but get a blue screen that no matter how I fuss with it or change will not go away. VGA gives me an error mesage about a screen saver setting that I cant find in the TV and the computers is set to off but still get a black screen. Help if possible.

  2. robgarrett

    Greg,
    First off the bat, does your media center play well with a regular VGA PC monitor? This will indicate if there is a problem with your PC or TV. Since your TV does not support HDMI etc, you’ll want to go with the best possible connection, which is VGA in your case. How many inputs do you have for VGA on your TV? I have 5 – R,G,B,V,H.

    Sounds like the $100 cable is what you want, the reason you’re getting a blue screen (at a guess) is because the computer is not pumping out the correct resolution for your TV. Are you using Powerstrip? Did you follow my steps, and those in the article mentioned at step #3?

    It’s a fiddly exercise and can take some time to get right, I found that I could get my TV to work with a lot of trial and error.

  3. http://

    Hardly anybody mentions that when you have trouble getting a HD picture, about 75% of the time it is probably DRM stopping you. The insidious thing about evil DRM is that it never tells you that this is what the problem is. Hollywood doesn’t want you to know just how pervasive this intrusion into your rights actually is.

    DRM is unworkable and will ultimately die, but we are cursed with this legacy of expensive equipment that just won’t work, and for no more reason than the greed of Big Content providers.

  4. http://

    I have found a new product that will give you true HD and keep the signal from the PC to the HDTV completely digital. It takes the video and audio form the PC’s USB 2.0 port and outputs via HDMI, for true digital HD (@ 720p), and true digital audio. So far, I haven’t had any complaints. It’s the HD Cinema, and it’s great viewing steaming movies. Here’s a link.

    http://www.grandtec.com/products/video/hdcinema.html

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