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Building a Windows MCE 2005 PC - Part 4

by February 12, 2006

This is a set of articles summarising my experience choosing the components and building a a custom-built Home Theatre PC running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (or "MCE2005" for short). Part 1 is an introduction; Part 2 shows a step by step pictorial guide to assembling the hardware; Part 3 details the software installation steps; and Part 4 (this section) contains some objective and subjective impressions of the result

E-MU 1212M Audio Rightmark Test Results

The following summarises Audio Rightmark 5.5 test results for various sampling rates (24-bit recordings) of the E-MU 1212M in external loopback mode (Analog Out L/R to Analog In L/R using balanced co-axial cables):

Test

44.1kHz

48kHz

96kHz

192kHz

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:

+0.03, -0.20

+0.02, -0.20

+0.02, -0.18

+0.02, -0.17

Noise level, dB (A):

-117.5

-117.4

-117.3

-114.6

Dynamic range, dB (A):

116.8

116.8

115.7

110.1

THD, %:

0.0006

0.0006

0.0007

0.0007

IMD + Noise, %:

0.0010

0.0010

0.0011

0.0020

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-118.1

-117.0

-113.7

-107.7

These are excellent results, fairly close to State of the Art, and confirm that the 1212M is properly installed and operating within spec. Note that the best results are obtained at 44.1kHz 24-bit mode.

For more detailed graphs of the benchmark results, click on the following links for Audio RightMark test reports:

ABIT AudioMAX Audio Rightmark Test Results

The following summarises Audio Rightmark 5.5 test results for various sampling rates (24-bit recordings) of the the output of the Front Left/Right channels of Intel HD Audio (RealTek ALC882M codec) as measured using the Analog L/R in of the E-MU 1212M:

Test

44.1kHz

48kHz

96kHz

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:

+0.13, -0.18

+0.14, -0.27

+0.14, -0.27

Noise level, dB (A):

-89.7

-89.8

-89.8

Dynamic range, dB (A):

89.9

90.1

89.8

THD, %:

0.0068

0.0067

0.0067

IMD + Noise, %:

0.012

0.011

0.013

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-86.8

-86.1

-85.6

The results are clearly not as impressive as the E-MU 1212M, but probably above average for motherboard-based audio solutions. The noise level corresponds to approximately 15 bits accuracy (out of 24) and the stereo crosstalk results are reasonably good given the use of 1/8" output jacks. It appears that there is no resampling of 44.1kHz audio into 48kHz given the lack of resampling artefacts. No measurements were taken at 192kHz sampling rate as the AudioMAX failed to generate consistent output.

For more detailed graphs of the benchmark results, click on the following links for Audio RightMark test reports:

Microsoft WHQL 3.0 DVD Test Annex results

Test results for Disc 1:

Test Group

Test

Result

Audio Tests

MPEG-1 Layer 2

Pass

Audio - 48 kHz PCM

Pass

Dolby Digital - Multi-track Stereo

Pass

Dolby Digital - 5.1

Pass in SPDIF mode, downmixed to 2.0 on analog outputs

Digital - DialNorm

Pass

Dolby Digital - DRC - Activated Stream

Pass

Dolby Digital - DRC - Deactivated Stream

Pass

96 kHz PCM

Downsampled to 48kHz on SPDIF, presumed pass on analog outputs

Subpicture - Subpicture Palette (DCS)

Still

Pass

Bob

Pass

Weave

Pass

Subpicture - Default Palette Color Index

Still

Pass

Bob

Pass

Weave

Pass

Subpicture - Custom Palette Color Index

Still

Pass

Bob

Pass

Weave

Pass

Sequence/ Branching Tests

Seamless multi-angle

Pass

Non-seamless branching

Pass

Graphics & Menu Support Tests

Motion Menu - Menu that Ends

Pass

Motion Menu - Menu that Loops - Long (72 Seconds)

Pass

Motion Menu - Menu that Loops - Short (20 Seconds)

Pass

Field Freeze Bob

Pass

Field/Frame Freeze Weave

Pass

16x9 Menu

Pass

Elapsed Time/Chapter

Pass

Video Port Performance Tests - Excessive Cropping

352 x 240

Fail, button text not displayed

720 x 480

Pass

704 x 480

Pass

352 x 480

Fail, button text not displayed in correct location

Video Port Performance Tests

Aspect Ratio

Pass

Film - Basic

Pass

Film - Alternate

Pass

Video

Pass, Bob mode

Video Port Performance Tests - Variations

Speed

Pass

Discontinuity - Alternate Y

Fail, periodic lapses into Bob mode and occasional feathering

Discontinuity - Basic X

Pass, periodic lapses into Bob mode

Discontinuity - Alternate 2

Fail, periodic lapses into Bob mode

Discontinuity - Alternate 1

Fail, periodic feathering and jerk

Mixed Mode - Basic Y

Pass

Mixed Mode - Alternate X

Faill

Mixed Mode - Alternate 2

Pass

Mixed Mode - Alternate 1

Fail, oscillate between Bob and Weave in 60fps sequences

Video Port Performance Tests - Chapter Breaks

Alternate 1

Pass, at least one lapse into Bob

Alternate 2

Pass, at least one lapse into Bob

Decode - High Bit Rate - 4 Mbps

Numbers

Fail, frame splitting

X Parade (60Hz)

Fail, some judder (Pass in 720p)

Title Roll

Pass (some judder)

Clock 24 fps

Pass

Clock 60Hz

Pass

24 fps Film

Pass

60 Hz Video

Pass (some judder at [email protected])

Decode - High Bit Rate - 6 Mbps

Numbers

Fail, frame splitting

X Parade (60Hz)

Fail, some judder (Pass in 720p)

Title Roll

Pass (some judder)

Clock 24 fps

Pass

Clock 60Hz

Pass

24 fps Film

Pass

60 Hz Video

Pass (some judder at [email protected])

Decode - High Bit Rate - 7.95 Mbps

Numbers

Fail, frame splitting

X Parade (60Hz)

Fail, some judder (Pass in 720p)

Title Roll

Pass (some judder)

Clock 24 fps

Pass

Clock 60Hz

Pass

24 fps Film

Pass

60 Hz Video

Pass (some judder at [email protected])

Decode - High Bit Rate - Highest

Numbers

Fail, frame splitting

X Parade (60Hz)

Fail, some judder (Pass in 720p)

Title Roll

Pass (some judder)

Clock 24 fps

Pass

Clock 60Hz

Pass

24 fps Film

Pass

60 Hz Video

Pass (some judder at [email protected])

Decode - Low Bit Rate

Numbers

Fail, frame splitting

Clock 60Hz

Pass

Jazz Montage

Pass

Decode

Cycling Bit Rate

Pass

V-bench

Pass

Decode - Half Horizontal

Numbers

Fail, frame splitting

X Parade (60Hz)

Fail, some judder (Pass in 720p)

Title Roll

Pass (some judder)

Clock 24 fps

Pass

Clock 60Hz

Pass

24 fps Film

Pass

60 Hz Video

Pass (some judder at [email protected])

Other

48kMPEG-1.mpg

Pass

AM_Mux_441.mpg

Pass

AM_Mux_48.mpg

Pass

Nonreeltimemux.mpg

Pass

Reeltimemux.mpg

Pass

Otherspace.mpg

Pass

UrbanAssault/Robit

Pass

Test Results for Disc 2 Side A (NTSC):

Test Group

Test

Result

Audio - DTS

DTS with PCM

Pass

DTS without PCM

Pass

Audio - Lip Sync

Visual Sync Test - Film

Pass

Visual Sync Test - Video

Pass

Scope Sync Test

Pass

Cadence - Incoherent 3-2

Film

Pass (bad edits recovered within 1-2 frames)

xXx Test Pattern

Fail (serrated edge encountered for 1-2 frames)

Wedge Test Pattern

Pass (dropped into video mode for 1 frame)

Cadence - Field Dominance

Field 2 Dominant - Flag False

Fail (drops to video mode, but no incorrect weaves)

Field 1 Dominant - Flag False

Fail (drops to video mode, but no incorrect weaves)

Field 1 Dominant - Flag True

Fail (drops to video mode, but no incorrect weaves)

Cadence - 2-3-3-2

Film

Fail (drops to video, slight judder)

Test Pattern

Fail (drops to video, slight judder)

Cadence - Judder

Video

Fail in [email protected], Pass in [email protected]

30 fps

Fail in [email protected], Pass in [email protected]

xXx Parade

Pass

Cadence - Motion Adaptive

Motion Adaptive

Pass

Cadence - Film Recognition

Film Recognition

Pass

Video - Chroma Bug

Flag True

Pass

Flag False

Pass

Flat Alt

Pass

30 fps

Pass

Video - Crushing

Crushing

Pass

Overlay - Aspect Ratio Format

16x9 (Allow PS and LB)

Pass

16x9 (Allow LB Only)

Pass

16x9 (Allow PS Only)

Pass

4x3 Full Frame

Pass

Overlay - Subpicture Palette

MPEG-1

Fail, no subpicture displayed, navigation inactive

Half Horizontal MPEG-2

Fail, subpicture displayed in incorrect size and location, navigation inactive

Features - Multi-Angle

Multi-Angle

Fail, no multi-angle button on remote

Features - Slide Show (Menu Domain)

4x3 slide show

Pass

4x3 still show

Fail, slide show advances too quickly, and does not exit back to menu

16x9 slide show

Pass

16x9 still show

Fail, slide show advances too quickly, and does not exit back to menu

Features - Slide Show (Title Domain)

4x3 slide show

Pass

4x3 still show

Fail, slide show advances too quickly, and does not exit back to menu

Features - Captions/Subtitles (Pop-on closed captions)

SH and PS 'copy permitted'

Pass

SH and PS 'No Copy'

Pass

SH 'Copy Permitted' and PS 'No Copy'

Pass

Features - Captions/Subtitles (Roll-up closed captions)

Roll-up Closed Captions Ratings

Pass

PS 'No Copy'

Pass

SH 'Copy Once'

Pass

Features - Captions/Subtitles (No closed captions)

No Closed Captions: SH 'No Copy'

Pass

PS 'Copy Once'

Pass

Features - Karaoke

Karaoke

Pass

Features - Animated Subpicture

Animated Subpicture

Pass

Apart from exhibiting judder at [email protected] (particularly for 30fps sequences), the PC performs as well as most good DVD players. It does not exhibit the chroma bug, but drops down to video mode for 2-2 and 2-3-3-2 sequences. I was a bit disappointed by the bugs in still show and overlay handling.

Test results for Disc 2 Side B (PAL):

Test Group

Test

Result

Cadence - Incoherent 3-2

Film

Pass

DV Camera

Fail, some combing noticeable

Cadence - Field Dominance

Field 2 Dominant - Flag False

Fail, dropped to video mode

Field 1 Dominant - Flag False

Pass

Field 1 Dominant - Flag True

Pass

Video - Chroma Bug

Chroma Fish - Flag True

Pass

Chroma Fish - Flag False

Pass

Faces - Flag True

Pass

Faces - Flag False

Pass

Features - Slide Show (Menu Domain)

4x3 slide show

Pass

4x3 still show

Fail, slide show advances too quickly, and does not exit back to menu

16x9 slide show

Pass

16x9 still show

Fail, slide show advances too quickly, and does not exit back to menu

Features - Slide Show (Title Domain)

4x3 slide show

Pass

4x3 still show

Fail, slide show advances too quickly, and does not exit back to menu

Note that although the HTPC fails on quite a number of the above tests, I don't know of any DVD player, hardware or software, that currently passes every test.

HQV Benchmark DVD

The results are pretty good considering that there's no support in the current version of the NVidia PureVideo decoder and/or Forceware driver for non standard film cadences, although I was a bit disappointed it did not detect 2:2. Also it did not handle jaggies as well as a Faroudja based deinterlacer, however bad edit detection was very good and almost seamless.

TEST

HTPC

Color Bar/Vertical Detail

5

Jaggies Pattern 1

4

Jaggies Pattern 2

3

Flag

5

Picture Detail

10

Noise Reduction

0

Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction

5

3:2 Detection

10

Film Cadence 2:2

0

Film Cadence 2:2:2:4

0

Film Cadence 2:3:3:2

0

Film Cadence 3:2:3:2:2

5

Film Cadence 5:5

0

Film Cadence 6:4

0

Film Cadence 8:7

5

Film Cadence 3:2

5

Mixed 3:2 Film Mixed With Added Video Titles (Horizontal Text Crawl)

10

Mixed 3:2 Film Mixed With Added Video Titles (Vertical Text Crawl)

10

TOTAL

77


Subjective impressions - Video

Despite minor imperfections, the HTPC easily delivers DVD and DVB-T Digital TV video playback superior to all but the very best set top box players/decoders, no doubt due to native pixel resolution of the RGB video output.

The hardware assisted MPEG2 decoder is essentially flawless, with no signs of chroma errors or macro-blocking, and consistently delivers low level detail equal or slightly better than dedicated chipsets. Best of all, there are no signs of edge enhancement ringing, and Gibb's effect artefacts are kept to a minimum. In fact, low level detail is sometimes too good, resulting in occasional moire patterns that some DVD players avoid through high frequency filtering.

I consistently notice details on the HTPC (particularly fabric patterns on clothes, and wall rendering texture and other low level detail) that are absent or less pronounced on even high end players. On the downside, the HTPC is also very good at highlighting noise and other artefacts in the source material.

Similarly, deinterlacing quality is top notch, apart from very occasional pixel crawl due to the pixel adaptive spatial-temporal algorithm. The 3:2 pulldown and bad edit detector implementation is very good, and in terms of speed and accuracy is somewhere between the Silicon Image (best) and Faroudja (not as good) hardware based solutions. Unfortunately, as of the time of writing, there is no support for 2:2 pulldown or bad edit detection (although NVidia promises this in "future releases") - I've noticed some instances of combing due to inappropriate weaving, particularly during the Region 4 PAL version of Forrest Gump (Chapter 13).

Subjective impressions - Audio

The E-MU 1212M does a superb job of PCM stereo playback, with audio quality that rivals all but the most expensive high end players. It's strength is effortness and natural rendition of high frequencies, and in this respect I feel it is even better than my Sony SCD-XA777ES playing CDs (which has the very slight tendency to exhibit ringing and other high frequency artefacts). Dynamics (macro and micro) are also extremely good, and perhaps only one or two notches below perfection. Finally, low level detail is superb, and the 1212M is capable of extracting even tiny nuances of timbre or sounds on the threshold of audibility.

Weaknesses are few, perhaps it lacks the presence or the soundstage of the best of the best, and the bass could do with a bit more authority and confidence.

The motherboard based AudioMAX sound quality can only be described as mediocre, and really suitable only for playback of lossy sources such as Dolby Digital or WMA.

Conclusion

As a DVD player, or a DVB-T tuner/PVR, or a DVD recorder, or a hard disc music player, the custom built HTPC probably doesn't represent as much value for money as dedicated components. But when all the separate functionality is added together, the value proposition is quite compelling. And of course, half the fun of owning a unit like this is the pleasure of choosing the components, building and assembling it!

(Reprinted with Permission)

Visit the other parts to this 4-part series:

Building a WindowsXP Media Center Edition PC: : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!

 

About the author:

Christine Tham has always been a keen "hi fi" enthusiast, which is an affliction she inherited from her father. She has a degree in Computer Science and a Master of Applied Finance from Macquarie University. In Chris' spare time, she contributes not only to Audioholics but also maintains her own web site.

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