Tutorial: How to Setup HTPC for Optimal Picture and Audio Quality – Part 1

This guide is meant for those who not only want a seamless, smooth HTPC but one that outputs the best possible picture and audio for your components. Some are just happy with setting up XBMC on a PC and hooking it up to a HDTV or monitor. We’re going to take it a few steps further to squeeze as much performance as we can from our systems. The components:

  • Display: Pioneer Kuro PDP-6020FD (Upgraded with Elite board)
  • Receiver: Denon AVR-4311CI Receiver
  • HTPC
    • ATI Radeon HD4550 Video Card
    • Intel Core i3-550. I would suggest a CPU around 3GHz.
    • 2GB of DDR3 RAM. You really don’t need that much RAM for a HTPC unless you’re using it for PC games as well.
    • OCZ 90G Vertex 2 Solid State Drive (Worth it for a HTPC)
    • Antec ISK300-65 case
    • ASUS P8H61-I REV 3.0

Let’s Get Started!

  1. Install Windows 7. I don’t think the version matters but I did run into a problem with the network shared folders in the past with Windows Home edition.
  2. Update your motherboard drivers for chipset, ethernet card drivers, video card driver, sound card, etc. You’ll be surprised at how many problems were due to old drivers.
  3. Make sure your ethernet cable isn’t defective. It happens more often than you think.
  4. Make sure your HDMI cable is working well on multiple sources. There was a time it was the culprit to a problem I had with the purple screen no matter what I was displaying.
  5. Set up your video card driver and open up the control panel. In my case I will be using CCC.
    1. Desktop Management
      1. Select 23 Hz.
      2. If you do not see this option make sure you have 1080p24 checked under “HDTV Support (digital flat panel)” under the “My Digital Flat-Panels” section.
         
    2. My Digital Flat-Panels
      1. This might vary depending on your display but I had to set my overscan to 0% under “Scaling Options.” (Pioneer PDP-6020FD)
      2. Pixel format should be YCbCr 4:4:4 Pixel Format. This also depends on whether your renderer is outputing RGB but for most cases it should be YCbCr.
        1. MadVR renderer outputs RGB but I haven’t had success with that format on my display.
      3. You have to check the grayscale ramp to make sure you’re not clipping any white/black. You can download AVSHD at: http://www.avsforum.com/t/948496/avs-hd-709-blu-ray-mp4-calibration
      4.  
    3. Video
      1. Disable everything but “Enforce Smooth Video Playback.” I’ve also disabled deinterlacing as my display does a great job without software.
      2. For “Basic Video Color” check “Use application settings.” You MIGHT need to change this depending on your calibration but for the most part you leave this portion alone. I had to bring the contrast down one point to get WTW information on my 9G Pioneer Kuro HDTV.
      3. Advance color: Make sure color vibrance and flesh tone corrections are off.
         
  6. This step makes booting your HTPC seamless as if you were booting up an Apple TV. In my current setup with a SSD drive, you can’t really tell it’s booting to windows.
    1. Change windows desktop background to black. Right-click desktop and go to personalize. Then click on “Desktop Background” and select solid colors (black).
    2. In the same section under “Desktop Icon Settings,” uncheck “Recycle Bin” to remove the recycle bin from your desktop.
    3. You can also optimize for performance and uncheck GUI on boot for a cleaner boot appearance. The bootup is also much faster. To do this type “msconfig” in the start menu search box and go to the “boot” tab.
    4. Turn off windows start up and exit sounds.
    5. Adjust system for performance (You don’t really need Aero). This will also help boot your system MUCH faster.

  7. Download and install LAV Filter(I’m using 0.50.5)
    1. Download LAV Filters
      1. Install audio, video, and splitter with administratior privleges.
      2. Install LAV under program files -> location matters (cut and paste)
      3. Note: It seems like starting in version 0.51, this is no longer necessary.
  8. Download and install Reclock(I’m using V1.8.7.9).
    1. Download Reclock
  9. Make sure you have the latest DirectX drivers in your system.
    1. Download the Latest DirectX drivers
  10. It is recommended that you install MPC-HC last. If you install any of the above again, uninstall MPC-HC and reinstall.
    1. Download latest MPC-HC
  11. Download Slysoft’s Virtual CloneDrive (Free). This will be used to mount your ISO images.
    Download Virtual CloneDrive
  12. MPC-HC
    1. Under “Keys” set “Exit” to “MEDIA_STOP” under the “App Command” column.
      This will make exiting back to XBMC seamless. As for TMT5, hitting stop then back button works or hitting the back button twice on your media remote.
    2. Under Player->Logo, set it to blank.
    3. Under Playback->Output
      1. If you have a Radeon 4xxx series video card, select “Overlay Mixer.” It leaves the video path untouched. Otherwise most video cards will convert from YCbCr to RGB first.
      2. If you have any other video card install MadVR renderer. This renderer is amazing. It does add artificial information which isn’t in the original source but it actually provided great calibration results with a Chroma 5 colorimeter.
        1. Download MadVR
        2. unzip at C: and run install.bat. You should get a “success” message.
        3. Select MadVR from the output options.
    4. Internal Filters
      1. Source filters are splitters and transform filters are decoders. You can technically disable everything from both list and use LAV for everything. However, you might run into problems with certain formats. For those formats, just enable them. As most Blu-ray rips are mkv or ISO, this shouldn’t be a problem.
      2. As a guideline, disable the following from source filters:
        1. Matroska
        2. MP4/MOV
        3. Ogg
      3. Disable the following from Transform filters:
        1. AAC, AC3, DTS, LPCM, Vorbis, MPEG-1 Video, MPEG-2 Video, and Xvid/MPEG-4.
    5. External Filters
      1. Add “LAV video decoder” and “LAVaudio decoder.” “LAV splitter” Select “Prefer” on the right for both.
      2. Double click LAV audio decoder anda check the formats you want to bitstream (TrueHD, DTS-HD, etc). Any Radeon HD card below 5xxx series cannot bitstream.
      3. Double click on LAV video decoder and check “Leave untouched.”
    6. Subtitles
      1. Allow animation when buffering is checked
      2. Uncheck round up to power of two
      3. Maximum texture resolution should be native resolution of your monitor/HDTV.
      4. Click “Apply” to save changes
      5. Now double click “LAV Splitter” under the external filters section.
      6. Under “Subtitles:” put in eng:eng|f;eng:off;*:eng
      7. Set subtitle mode to “Advanced”
  13. XBMC
    1. Install from xbmc.org. I’m using XBMC 11 (Eden).
      1. http://xbmc.org/download/
    2. Go to System->Add-ons->Get add-ons.
    3. Under Movie Information, grab the IMDB scraper.
    4. Go under “Videos” in the main menu and add your movie source location. I’m using a SMB share on my Unraid server.
      1. Highlight the folder and hit “c” on your keyboard.
      2. Scroll down to “set content.”
      3. Scroll until you see “movies.” Select IMDB as the scraper.
      4. Make sure you select “Movies are in separate folders that match the movie title” so the DVD cases show up.
    5. I have XBMC open mkv files in MPC-HC and ISO files in TMT5 as external players.
      1. Coreplayer xml file (put in user data folder).
      2. Place the PlayBDiso batch file in a known location.
      3. Modify both files so that they point the correct file locations and drive letter for Slysoft’s Virtual Clonedrive (VCD).
      4. Use uMCEPlayer5.exe for better MCE remote control.

    6. Add XBMC shortcut to the Windows Startup folder:
      1. Right click the shortcut and replace with: “C:\Program Files\XBMC\XBMC.exe” -fs -d 10
      2. Increase number instead of 10 seconds  if you need it to boot with XBMC in focus.
      3. I noticed with SSD drives you don’t need more than 5 but it depends on what other background programs you’re running.
  14. Configure Reclock
    1. Play your favorite movie and click on Reclock from the tray.
    2. Check “Slave reference clock to audio.”
    3. Select “original speed” under media adaptation and click on locked.
    4. If you not using a receiver or a proper sound card, leave it at default or you’ll encounter funky errors.
  15. Sometimes the video stutters for no apparent reason (I noticed this while streaming full 1080p over wireless). It seems to be very movie (mkv) dependent. Follow the steps here (including the MMCSS portion. Taken from http://www.daveherbert.info/network-bandwidth-throttling-in-windows-7).
    1. Two registry settings that seem to prevent or alleviate the throttling are:
      (DWORD value) HKLM\system\CurrentControlSet\Services\lanmanworkstation\parameters\DisableBandwidthThrottling (create if it doesn’t exist and set to 1 to disable and then reboot)
      or
      HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile\NetworkThrottlingIndex (set to a value between 1 and 100 and reboot)
    2. Also another possibility is to disable the MMCSS (Multimedia Class Scheduler) service – from wikipedia: “This service has been implicated in poor networking performance while multimedia is playing”, or “Windows throttles the network interfaces while audio is playing in order to maintain audio quality and prevent network interrupts interrupting media playback. By default, this limits the network receive speed to 10% of its maximum – 100Mbps on gigabit ethernet, and 10Mbps on fast ethernet”
    3. The service is is a dependancy in the windows audio service (the dependancy needs to be removed so windows audio can still run) so in regedit,
    4. go to HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Audiosrv, find DependOnService and remove MMCSS and restart.
    5. Finally, in the services control panel, services.msc, disable “Multimedia Class Scheduler service” and restart.
  16. Under TMT5 disable internet access for certificate verification. A lot of movies from Fox had an issue when this was enabled. This is under BDJAVA.

    1. For DTS-HD decoding you need to drop dtsdecoderdll.dll from Arcsoft folder into the LAV Filters install directory. The location of the DLL for me: C:\Program Files (x86)\ArcSoft\TotalMedia Theatre 5\Codec
    2. Enable Auto play.
    3. Auto Full Screen.
    4. Always disable Windows Aero during playback.
    5. Do not allow internet access.
  17. TCPWindowSize and Tcp1323Opts
    1. These registry settings will help streaming performance over your network.
    2. TcpWindowSize: HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters
      TcpWindowSize=”256960″
    3. Tcp1323Opts: HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters
      Tcp1323Opts=”1″
  18. Great guide on the “Could not reconnect all network drives” problem: http://cdrussell.blogspot.com/2012/01/could-not-reconnect-all-network-drives.html
    1. Make sure your delay on startup for the XBMC shortcut is long enough so you don’t see the task bar on boot up.
    2. Also make sure you don’t have “auto-connect on startup” enabled on your shares. Just disconnect the drive and reconnect without that option.

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