Monday, June 15, 2009

Digital Transition Issues Crop Up for Some Media Center Users

Media Center Service Alert

You would think those using HTPCs for their TV recording and viewing would be the least likely to be affected by the Digital Transition deadline that just passed last week, but you'd be wrong.  Many HTPC users (mostly Microsoft Media Center users) that rely on over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasts for their TV signal have been experiencing major issues with incorrect guide data and incorrect channel mapping since the switchover.

Reports across the web have been streaming in about peoples entire TV Guide lineup showing incorrect channels, nothing but static or in some cases just disappearing.  Here's a few examples of major rumblings on the issue:


Greenbutton - to see how angry many users are give this GreenButton thread a read - here's a quote from one of the many posts:

"...and no it's not wrong to be upset about it.  It's been fairly obvious that MS couldn't give two <shoots> about Media Center at the moment, we're all messed up, it's not just you.  For now you hack the file, deal with it, complain about it, and wait for MS to decide what they want to actually do or not do with this software."

Never overestimate the cantankerousness of a TV watcher ;)

ChrisLanier says:

"...the transition is causing grief for Media Center users, but for most that might be an understatement"

EngadgetHD - Ben Drawbaugh at EngadgetHD said:

"The exact cause isn't known, but what is, is that while anyone who has a $50 digital converter box can just rescan to find the channels at their new home, Media Center users have to go well beyond anything your mom could do to get all the channels back."

ZDNet - Over at ZDNet Ed Bott had this to say:

"With all that experience, you’d think that Microsoft would have sailed through the long-awaited transition to all-digital over-the-air TV broadcasts in the United States this past Friday. Instead, the company failed, in dramatic fashion."

And one of the comments to that post at ZDNet was just priceless:

"However, as my wife observed: Media Center users and little old ladies appear to be the only ones adversely affected by the changeover."

It Looked Like Microsoft Was Ready, but...

It appears that the problem came even after Microsoft put of a "Media Center Service Alert" on all web-connected MediaCenter PCs telling users what steps to take to prepare for the digital transition.  Unfortunately for Media Center users (it affected XP MCE, VMC and even Windows 7 users in similar ways) some broadcasters changed their channel numbers as part of the switch and Microsoft hadn't updated their servers with the new information.  This meant those Media Center users obtaining TV via OTA in the areas where the channel numbers changed were left with no solution and without TV on those channels over much of the weekend!

I have a little empathy for Microsoft as I'm sure they thought they had everything under control - and as luck would have it, not a lot was on TV over the weekend unless you were relying on your HTPC to get the NBA finals...

Temporary Fix for MediaCenter Users

If it hasn't been fixed for your Media Center guide yet, there is a temporary fix I found on avsforum:

  • Note the channels you lost since the analog shutoff.
  • Head over to TVFool, input your zip code
  • From TVFool write down the "real" channel number listed in the table.
  • Delete the file C:\program data\Microsoft\eHome\EPG\prefs\atscchannels.xml .  Next time you download (update) your guide this xml file will be generated again.
  • Re-add the missing channels
    • Settings> TV > Guide> "Add Missing Channels"
    • Then add digital number missing like "6.3" with the assigned frequency of number that you wrote down from TVFool
  • You should now have all of those missing channels back - you'll then need to do a rescan to get the other channels (the ones that weren't missing) by doing:
    • settings > tv > guide > "get latest Guide Listing"



Some Minor Side Effects for Other HTPC Users

Other HTPC programs were affected in some ways by the digital transition, but in a much more isolated way.  This is because Media Center uses its own online data for the channel info in the guide instead of using a 3rd party EPG data provider as most other HTPC programs do (almost all use Zap2It for U.S. guide data.)

Here's a couple of threads for the non-Microsoft HTPC programs dealing with minor digital transition issues:

BeyondTV's Official Digital Transition Thread and another related thread regarding BeyondTV

SageTV users seem to have been pretty lucky as I couldn't find any threads directly related to problems with the transition except for this one where an update to an unrelated channel change was slower than usual.  Here's another SageTV thread discussing the digital transition, but no problems that I could find.  If you are having issues with any OTA tuners guide data, some users report that you can fix it by simply deleting their tuners (in SageTV of course), re-adding the tuners and rescanning to get the correct channels to map up with the guide data.

GBPVR seemed to have no problems with the digital switchover either


Since I'm not currently using OTA broadcast for my TV tuning needs I thought I'd ask the GeekTonic Readers.  How did the digital transition go for you?  Let me know in the comments as well as your HTPC, DVR or TiVo of choice.