Adding Blu-ray to the media centre

johnWeeGo.jpgHaving installed our Panasonic 720p projector over 12 months ago I’ve always been struggling to get HD content. For my Birthday my Dad bought me the Pioneer BDC-S02.

image001.jpg

The drive can’t write to Blu-ray but the trade off is it is half the price at around AU$400, at this time this is the cheapest Blu-ray part I have found. For the media centre this is perfect as I should be able to simply swap out the DVD writer for this.

Having shopped around we bought it online from www.auspcmarket.com.au, these guys are really good at being accurate about stock levels and including postage in the cost. I ordered on the weekend and had the drive ready to install Tuesday morning.

Of course nothing is ever easy.

So first up I swapped out the DVD writer for the new Blu-ray drive, I have a rather slim case so this was a two person job. I rebooted and…. nothing.

Problem 1. Choose the correct sata port on the motherboard. I had chosen port 4 that clearly was not the one to use, port 3 (port 1 and 2 are running two sata HDD in RAID0) was the way to go.

So the drive now appeared in Vista, installing the bundled cyberlink software took hours, later I would discover this to be a cable issue.

Time to play my first Blu-ray movie, we had chosen the recently released “300” from Target.

Problem 2. HDCP (content protection). For some reason when I had build the media centre last year the passive cooled 7600GS card I used didn’t support HDCP. Cyberlink has a nifty tool that tells you your compatibility issues. So at this point I’m dead in the water. Interestingly my CPU, the P2.8D (also doubles as a good heater in winter), wasn’t rated as powerful enough. Time to upgrade. So I popped into Umart in Milton and grabbed a new CPU, Motherboard, RAM and Video Card. One thing I had in mind was tring to keep the power consumption on the system and the noise level down. I don’t need to play 3D games and every watt I save is better for the planet.

image005.jpgimage004.jpg
image003.jpgimage002.jpg

 

  1. DDR2 2Gig(2x1G) PC6400 800Mhz Dual Channel Geil
    Having used generic memory previously it was time for something better.
  2. ASUS Radeon HD2400PRO 256MB DDR2, 64bit PCIEx16 VGA HDTV DVI HDCP
    Passively cooled, DirectX10 and support for Hardware decoding of Blu-ray.
  3. Asus P5K-E WIFI S775 QuadCore P35 FSB1333 2xPCIEx16 RAID 1394a GbLAN ATX
    Latest chipset, support for my RAID drives, digital out for sound, passive cooled.
  4. Intel ATX E4500 CORE 2 DUO /2.2GHz/2MB CACHE/800 FSB/LGA775
    Plenty of processing power for media centre while not using much physical power / low heat.

So then the fun of putting it all together. In a normal case this would be a trivial exercise but not for a slim media centre case like mine.

Problem 3. Motherboard has PCI express 16x slot over one place. My case is not very tall so it used a riser card to put the video card and the TV tuner at 90 degrees. I managed to fit it in with some small bracket modifications and a little bit of an angle.

Reinstall Vista Ultimate. This typically takes about an hour and is really smooth compared to the old XP days. But for some reason I left over night to complete.

Problem 4. Copy from Blu-ray drive incredibly slow. This was a pain to debug but the problem turned out to be the SATA cable. It was able to transmit bursts of data followed by long pauses, I’m guessing it was having errors and handling them. It was quite amazing that Vista installed at all. A new cable solved the issues.

Problem 5. Motherboard reported CPU error. Had to update the BIOS to support the new CPU. This was very easy to do from within Vista using the ASUS tool.

Problem 6. Most movies are fine but “300” wouldn’t play, it was choppy and lost image. I had to disable hardware decoding to fix this. Unfortunately this meant my cpu usage went from around 11% to about 50%. I hope new ATI drivers may solve this one.

And it all works! The funny thing is the Cyberlink compatibility tool claims the latest ATI drivers are not supported.

The picture quality from Blu-ray is truly amazing. The movie “300” is awesome with amazing detail in the helmets and shields. We even noticed a detailed cat sitting on the roof in one scene just because the detail is that good.

A side note is the CPU temperature is 25 degrees at the slowest fan setting compared to 65+ degrees at the highest with the old P2.8D.

The real test will be watching DVDs again; as I’m sure they will now look inferior and blurry like VHS did beforehand.