Jon’s HTPC: Now For Software

This is Part of Jon’s HTPC setup. For more, see: Introduction and Table of Contents

Now for Software:
As for the core piece of software, I really can’t imagine using anything besides Meedio Essentials. I have to qualify that argument though… if you are a geek and enjoy tweaking things then there is nothing better than Meedio Essentials. This piece of software can do anything, however the flipside to unlimited functionality is that it’s not very user friendly to set up. But once you’ve got it running, there’s nothing better. Essentially, Meedio is a front-end for everything you want to do on the HTPC. It’s the first screen you see on the TV and then using the remote control you can toggle through and choose to look at pictures, or listen to music, or watch TV, or play games, or anything else you can imagine. The user interface is limitlessly customizable. My favorite theme is the HDeeTV Theme; you can look at sample interface images here…

http://www.meedio.com/maid…

meedio screenThat’s the default HDeeTV theme, I’ve customized mine a bit and I’ll include screen shots later. The key to Meedio is its expandability. Besides the normal built in features (pictures, music, yada yada) it provides the ability for users to create any sort of feature they can imagine. Check out the Meedio “Add Ins” area to check out things other users have done (and are available for download). Some of them include daily updated comic strips (you specify the comic), the ability to manage your Netflix account from within Meedio, alarm clocks, recipe libraries, wine organization tools, X10 control and tons more. I don’t use any of those features, but my favorite thing that I use daily is my AC3 Music Library. I have my normal MP3 Library (all 192khz or more ripped with EAC and LAME), but recently I’ve started collecting a higher quality AC3 Music Library as well. AC3 files are Dolby Digital files that I have stored on my hard drive that are high quality 5.1 audio recordings. I’ve got everything from Linkin Park, to Schumann, to Dave, to the Buena Vista Social club all in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound instantly accessible via the Meedio interface. For me, I think it’s a great feature. The point here however, is that if you can think of something you want, there is probably a way to incorporate it into Meedio. I didn’t say it would necessarily be easy, but it can be done. If you are looking for an easy to setup piece of software, Microsoft’s Media Center Edition is supposed to be pretty good, and I would guess Apple’s new Front Row software is pretty easy as well. However, neither of those will give you the flexibility of Meedio.

I mentioned before that Meedio is just a front end. It does offer basic picture viewing and music playback features if you want DVD libraryto use them, but lots of times it simply gets used as an interface to link other programs together. For example, when I use Meedio to play a DVD, the computer is actually using Zoomplayer Pro to play back the DVD, using the NVIDIA Forceware audio and video decoders, while using the ffdshow video processor, and the re-clock audio processor. The user doesn’t see any of that, it looks like it’s playing in Meedio, but all that junk is being used “behind the scenes” to play the DVD how I want it played. I use all that junk listed above to get the absolute best DVD picture possible. If you put a DVD disc into one player at Best Buy and then put the same disc into a different player you won’t get the same picture quality. That’s because of the different decoders being used to render the MPEG2 file. To get amazing DVD picture on the computer two very important things are required. The first is to use a video processor called “ffdshow” that takes a look at the MPEG2 signal and renders it much better than any normal video codec by itself. The bad thing about ffdshow is that it’s amazingly CPU intensive. For an EXCELLENT example of the quality difference it makes, check out the rollovers on this next link. If you don’t look at any other links in this write up, at least check this one out. Looking at the difference ffdshow makes is similar to putting-on/taking-off a pair of glassed.

http://htpcnews.com/main.php?id=ffdshowdvd_1

However, ffdshow is only half the equation. The second and equally important part of the equation is to use a properly calibrated TV set. I’d been told that a bunch of times before and thought I was ok because I set the brightness/contrast/hue to where I though it looked good. But boy was I wrong! On a tip, I purchased “DVD Video Essentials” from Amazon…

(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product…)

Calibrating the TV set with this disc took about two and a half hours (and a lot of patience) from start to finish, but when I was done it looked as if I had just upgraded to an HDTV. It’s not, it’s only a standard definition Sony WEGA, but before calibrating it I certainly wasn’t using it to its full capacity. I can only image what a difference this would make to an actual HDTV set. There are lots of other little things you can tweak to get an optimum picture quality from a HTPC, but ffdshow and a properly calibrated set are by far the two biggest pieces of the pie.

Ok, so that covers the HTPC case and the Meedio software, what’s next?

Meedio software…
http://www.meedio.com

Zoomplayer software…
http://www.inmatrix.com/zplayer/

Ffdshow software…
http://sourceforge.net/projects/ffdshow

ReClock software… (pop-up window warning)
http://www.divx-digest.com/software/reclock.html

Forceware audio/video software/drivers…
http://www.nvidia.com/page/forceware_geforce.html

Discussion about AC3 Music Library…
http://www.meedio.com/forum/about26330.html&highlight=ac3

Next Chapter> The “Tivo”

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