MCE Video Driver Issues

June 4, 2005

Apologies for the light blogging this week — I hate “Monday Holiday” weeks, since it seems like you play catch-up all week long. At least I’m finally caught up enough to have a couple of minutes to rub together…

Another reason for the delay is that I’ve been meaning to post an article on upgrading a single-tuner Windows Media Center Edition 2005 box to a dual tuner box. Unfortunately, while the process was straightforward, I ran into a problem I didn’t expect.

My box was quite stable with a Hauppauge PVR 250 (old style, not the MCE version) and a BFG GeForce FX5700LE video card.

When I replaced the PVR 250 with a PVR 500 MCE, I started having problems with lockups and crashes. These all appeared to be playback related, not encoding related.

I first started sniffing around the codecs, and determined that I had an antique version of NVidia’s NVDVD codec. I upgraded this to the correct “Media Center Approved” version. This did not help with the lockups and crashes, but it DID fix the problem of close captioning not working on recorded programs.

I finally caught a few flashes of an error screen that indicated a video driver problem. I played around with various versions of the NVidia drivers that various people had reported as solving problems, although never with any lasting joy.

Unfortunately, the problem is sporadic, in that it would appear to be solved for awhile, and then start giving me fits again.

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of DVDs (I’ve been binging on old Alias episodes), and the problem is back with a vengance.

Doing a little more digging around, I learned that first, my video card is not an officially supported card in MCE. Second, it appears that NVidia is going through a period of unstable drivers. Both NVidia and ATI seem to do this periodically; entertainingly, I was a die-hard ATI fan until I went to the FX5700 for the same reason. At the moment, it appears that ATI has the upper hand however.

So my latest venture has been to order an ATI Radeon 9800Pro. This should be in early next week, and hopefully will make everything wonderful again.

So what does this all have to do with upgrading to dual tuners? The old video card worked fine with the old tuner.

That’s a very good question.

I’ve noticed that I seem to have the most problems when shows are recording (one or two, it doesn’t matter). My best guess is that the PVR 500 puts enough of an “extra” load on Windows that a bad interrupt handler or memory leak in the video driver that was inconsequential with the PVR 250 (maybe it would have crashed it after days or weeks) is now presenting a critical problem.

More when I know more…

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