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Part 3 — Windows 7: Play 1080p HD MKV Movies on Your ION Acer Revo

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It’s been a long time / I shouldn’t have left you / without a strong blog to post to.

As promised, the 3rd part in my ongoing “Building a Cheap, Energy-Efficient HTPC & Classic Gaming Emulator Box” series of articles on my Acer Revo 1600.

I’d like to outline in this article my settings for playing back perfect 1080p HD movies on the Acer Revo in Windows 7. There’s a lot of incomplete information out there regarding how to “properly” playback HD movies on the Revo. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff I have read online doesn’t take into account things like subtitle rendering which can have an impact on movie playback. So I wanted to write a definitive guide for the Revo which I have spent months honing and perfecting.

What You’ll Need

My hardware setup:

Acer Revo 1600 (standard ION LE, upgraded to 2 gigs of RAM, with adjusted 512MB of video RAM as detailed here).

Alternatively, you could use a Revo 3600 or 3610. And possibly (??) similarly-spec’d ION platforms such as Asrock, etc. But your mileage may vary.

Software

Windows 7 (I am using Home Premium 32bit Upgrade version, non-OEM)
Windows Media Player Classic Home Cinema
CoreAVC 2 (~$10)
Haali Media Splitter
Directvobsub
Nvidia Graphics Drivers (I am using 257.21 WHQL)
Nvidia HDMI Audio Driver (I am using 1.00.00.59 WHQL)

Start Installin’

First, download and install the Nvidia Graphics Drivers:

If you are using an Revo 1600, select:
“ION > ION LE (Desktops) > Graphics Drivers > and then select your OS”

If you are using an Revo 3600 or 3610, select:
“ION > ION (Desktops) > Graphics Drivers > and then select your OS”

Follow the on-screen steps. Don’t install the Ethernet drivers if prompted (unless you specifically want them).

Continue to follow the on-screen instructions and reboot your Revo.

Next, download and install the Nvidia HDMI Audio drivers:

Revo 1600:
“ION > ION LE (Desktops) > HDMI Audio Drivers > and then select your OS”

Revo 3600 or 3610:
“ION > ION (Desktops) > Graphics Drivers > HDMI Audio Drivers > and then select your OS”

You may need to reboot.

After installation of the HDMI Audio driver, go to Control Panel > Sound > Manage audio devices.

Under the “Playback” tab, make sure “NVIDIA HDMI Out” is set to default with the green checkmark.

Download and install Media Player Classic Home Cinema and install using default options.

Next install CoreAVC 2.0. This handles the codec decoding and it is excellent at what it does. Yes, I know there are free options out there. But this is what I have used and I can guarantee it works on the Revo 1600. Install it with the default options.

Here is how CoreAVC’s options will appear using the default installation. Remember, do not change any of the options during installation:

Next, install Haali Media Splitter with default install options. This will parse your MKVs and other video files and designate which programs will open the separate streams of the file, including audio and video. Haali does all the work, don’t even sweat it.

Finally, install Directvobsub with default install options. Why Directvobsub? Because when I used MPC’s internal subtitle filters, large bit-rate files would suffer during playback. We need to offload the subtitles to another program to let MPC do its thing, and Directvobsub is great at that.

Ready, Settings, Go!

Everything installed with default options, then? Great, we’re almost there!

OK, I know it feels like we just blew through all of that. But here’s where we will set things up:

In Media Player Classic, go to View > Options > External filters.

Click “Add filter” and locate “DirectVobSub (auto-loading version)”. Highlight it and click, “OK”. Now click “Prefer”, hit “Apply” and then “OK”.

Next, go to “View > Options > Output”.

Select “EVR (Vista/.Net3)”. This is an extremely fast decoder, and it handles every single video file I throw at it like a champ.

Hit, “Apply” and then “OK” to save your selection.

Now You’re Playing with Power

At this point, you are ready to go!

Use Windows Media Player Classic Home Cinema to open up all of your HD movie files from here on out.

When you play an HD file, you will notice a few new icons pop-up on your taskbar:

From left to right they are:

CoreAVC: When the icon is green, CoreAVC has engaged the Revo’s GPU CUDA capabilities and is properly decoding the video.

Haali Media Spliter: The green arrow means Haali is working properly, and demultiplexing the movie’s streams.

DirectVobSub: Right-click this white icon to bring up your audio and subtitle streams. In Media Player Classic, you can easily switch between subtitles by simply hitting “S” on the keypad while a movie is playing. This is super easy if you have a handy HTPC remote, such as my trusty Lenovo Wireless keyboard.

And honestly, that’s it. You can now play 1080p and 720p HD movies flawlessly on your Acer Revo.

Bonus Tips & Tweaks

Here’s a few more tips I have setup to make an enjoyable movie watching experience using Media Player Classic Home Cincema:

In Media Player Classic, click “View > Options > Player”. Here, place a check next to, “Launch files in fullscreen” so that movies start in (you guessed it) fullscreen mode immediately after clicked.

Another nerdy thing I do is turn on the statistics options, simply so I can marvel frome time to time at how zero frames are ever dropped with this particular setup. To do this, open Media Player Classic and select “View” from the menu. Place a check next to: Caption&Menu, Seek Bar, Controls, Information, Statistics and Status. You will end up with a statistics panel that plays below the movie, which will only display when you escape from fullscreen mode:

And there you have it. This is what I use. I have scrutinized the playback of dozens of movies with various bitrates and file containers. This setup has proven rock solid for me. I hope it does the same for you.

Enjoy.

Update – August 2010: The Dharma Initiative

Thanks to Scott R in the comments as well as the AVS Forums for hipping me to the presently in-development (but extremely promising) Dharma builds of XBMC on Windows 7. These are essentially betas at the moment, but will one day become the latest release of XBMC.

What’s so special about the Dharma branch of nightly builds is its use of DXVA 2. This is the latest Direct-X video acceleration from Microsoft and it only works on Vista and Windows 7. I’ve thrown a ton of test videos at the Dharma XBMC install and it’s played everything without a hitch.

It’s all very promising, because now you get perfect HD video playback and the fantastic XBMC front-end to boot. The only shortcoming at the moment is: Since the XBMC crew is currently working on the Dharma branch, the code is constantly changing, features are slowly trickling in, and bugs will more than likely pop-up.

Of course, all those issues will be sorted out once Dharma is ready for prime time. I look forward to it.

Click here to download the latest Dharma nightlies. Please note: This software is in development and prone to bugs and may be lacking features. Also, if you currently have XBMC installed, you will need to completely uninstall it (along with profile data) before you install the nightly. Also, be sure to turn on DXVA 2 in the settings, as it was set to “off” by default in my nightly.

Scott R also hipped me to the fact that you can use an external video player with XBMC front-end. And you can do this NOW in 9.11 of XBMC. I tried it with Media Player Classic and it WORKS. You’ll need to edit an XML file with a simple notepad progam, but it’s not too difficult. I recommend testing it out! Cheers!

Continue reading:
Part 1 — Building a Cheap, Energy-Efficient HTPC & Classic Gaming Emulator Box
Part 2 — The Refinement: Building a Cheap HTPC & Gaming Box

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8 comments for “Part 3 — Windows 7: Play 1080p HD MKV Movies on Your ION Acer Revo

  1. Dan
    July 15, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Wait, so do you recommend Win 7 over WinXP and XBMC? Why do you need the CoreAVC on Win7 but not on WinXP?

  2. Yameen
    July 15, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I recommend Windows 7 over XP for a couple of reasons: If you want to watch Hulu Desktop, Windows 7 has vsync built into the OS with Aero. XP has no vsync compensation whatsoever. So during fast moving scenes in Hulu Desktop on XP, the screen will tear.

    Also, Windows 7 has a mode that allows you to increase the screen real estate which looks great on an HDTV: Fonts and icons enlarge, and it’s highly viewable from a few feet away. XP lacks this feature, although you can sort of “fake it” by increasing your font size, but it’s simply not the same.

    As to why I need CoreAVC on Windows 7 and not XP, honestly I don’t know why that is. I use the EVR (Vista/.Net3) setting in MPC on Windows 7, whereas this setting does not work on XP and I had to use VMR9, I believe off the top of my head? Not sure if that makes a difference. When I first installed Windows 7 I was very down on its performance as I was not getting the same results I had with my XP partition. But after I installed CoreAVC, it all fell into place, performance-wise.

    If all you have is XP, you’ll be fine. But Windows 7 is very nice on an HDTV and I recommend it for the points listed above.

    Now, in regards to your XBMC question: When I installed XBMC on a (Linux) Live USB, it worked BRILLIANTLY. The same goes for when I installed Boxee on the Revo in Ubuntu: VDPAU is superior to DirectX if you ask me. Both Boxee & XBMC on Windows 7 and XP are poor performers. I think it’s simply too bloated an environment for the Acer Revo to handle in DirectX.

    But if you install Ubuntu on the Revo, or launch XBMC and Boxee from Live USB sticks, you will have excellent results, without a doubt.

    My only problem with the Live USB sticks were when I put the system to Sleep, the Revo’s light would blink, indicating it was in standy-by and it was very distracting sitting under a TV. If I chose “Hibernate”, the Live stick would fail and I would have to do a system reboot. So you most likely want to install Ubuntu on the Revo as a native OS. But PLEASE take caution: Mixing the Linux file system with that of Windows’ in a dual-boot environment can cause problems. This is in fact how I wrecked my Master Boot Record, so just take heed.

  3. LOLLOL
    August 12, 2010 at 3:14 am

    You don’t need coreavc, just select “EVR Custom Pres” and use the internal codecs of MPCHC work.

    ALternatively grab the latest dharma xbmc builds from here – http://mirrors.xbmc.org/nightlies/win32/ and enable DXVA2.

  4. Yameen
    August 12, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Neither of those work 100% on the Revo. Custom EVR doesnt allow subtitles. And XBMC on Windows is too bloated to run everything I threw at it 100%.

    XBMC in linux on the Revo is another story, however. On Linux it’s john blaze imho tbh.

  5. Scott R
    August 13, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Great article. I started a thread up about the Revo 1600 (focused on XBMC) over at the AVS Forums, but lately I’ve been thinking about installing Windows 7 on it, since I haven’t been 100% happy with the experience under either XBMC Linux/Live or XP. Overall it works quite well, but primarily I’m still intrigued by the possibility of being able to do Netflix, Hulu, and watch/record TV. My experiments with various DVR software under XP was a big disappointment, so the main reason I want to upgrade is to play with Media Center and see if the Revo 1600 can handle that. According to another website dedicated to the Revo, the guy running that site has done exactly that.

    Anyways, just curious if you have played with Media Center on yours, since you make no mention of that here. And is there a way to get solid 1080p Blu-ray rips playing through Media Center (either internally or with a seamless way for it to jump out/in of Media Center)?

  6. Yameen
    August 15, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Hey, Scott.

    So yea, I have used Windows Media Center a little bit.

    It’s pretty snappy. I feel like it could be a little bit faster (running on the Ion, mind you) but overall it’s not bad at all.

    Problem is, I can’t get it to play all of my x264 content. It looks like it won’t play anything in 1080p x264. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I did a quick Google and it looks like I have to edit some registry values? maybe you guys can help me out with this. What does play looks great. Haali starts, but I get an error that WMC can’t play the file. Same thing happens when I try playing the files in Windows Media Player.

    Other than that, the reason I abandoned WMC was because it did not play subtitles in my MKVs. I’m sure there’s a plugin out there, but I didn’t go that far.

    Also, I have heard Netflix finally switched their streams to HD. I’m curious if the Ion can keep up. The Netflix streams prior to HD looked like total crap, so I would always defer to the Xbox to watch Netflix.

    I haven’t tried recording television either, so I can’t speak on that. But if anyone has suggestions on getting Media Center to play all my x264 content, I’d love to hear it!

  7. Scott R
    August 16, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Well I went ahead and installed Windows 7 on my Revo 1600. During the course of troubleshooting things, I also upgraded the RAM to 2GB. I don’t know if it fixed anything for me, and I don’t know that the extra 256MB of video-dedicated RAM is necessary (I’ve had good success playing 1080p content with the stock 1GB setup using XBMC Live as well as MPC-HC under XP), but I did notice that upon bootup Windows 7 didn’t have a whole lot of free RAM available, so I have to think that the RAM upgrade helps there.

    I upgraded all the NVIDIA drivers. Initially I missed upgrading the NVIDIA chipset drivers (you may want to specify in your blog that there are three sets of driver downloads – video, audio, and chipset), and this resulted in Windows Device Manager indicating that a coprocessor (if memory serves) was missing. I didn’t install the NVIDIA networking stuff per a post I read elsewhere suggesting that it was troublesome (you didn’t specify in your blog why you chose not to install that).

    So I booted up Windows Media Center with my Hauppauge 950Q USB tuner plugged in and set up everything for ClearQAM tuning. Well, that went fine, but when I tried to view any live TV, I got a “video error” message. After further research, I discovered that this error seems to be related to audio, not video. I solved it by uninstalling the NVIDIA audio drivers and letting Windows auto-install the Microsoft HDMI audio driver. Not sure if there’s any benefit to using NVIDIA’s drivers. If so, I’d have to figure out how to solve that problem, or perhaps an older version of NVIDIA’s drivers might work, but the newest version from NVIDIA seemed to be fairly old.

    Anyways, that fixed live TV. So I can confirm that live TV/DVR via Windows 7 Media Center works on the Revo. In fact, I believe that the guy who runs http://www.revohtpc.com has gotten the Revo to handle running three simultaneous USB tuners. That said, the UI in Media Center seemed rather sluggish, especially when you watch live TV and call up the Media Center menu. I need to see if there’s a way to turn off the transparent effect with live TV playing in the background and, if so, if that will make the UI run better. For me, I’d say it’s unacceptably slow as compared to my TiVo HD, so convincing my wife to shut down the TiVo service and downgrade our cable package would probably be a hard sell.

    I then tried playing some of my movie rips (primarily standard-def DVD .ISO files and Blu-ray .MKV rips) within Media Center. I installed the Media Browser plugin and, just for fun, tried to play one of each type. I wasn’t expecting it to work, knowing that .ISO files within Media Center would require some configuration to mount the .ISO file and .MKV files weren’t supported out of the box, and sure enough, I saw the appropriate error messages. This is where things went further downhill. I installed the Shark007 codec pack and tried to play an .MKV file. It played, but in slow-mo. Unacceptable. I figured, maybe I need to reboot. So I did that, but it was still in slow-mo. Worse yet, my Live TV was broken again (same error as before). In fact, the audio beeps and boops in the UI weren’t working anymore, either. So now I tried re-installing the NVIDIA audio drivers. That fixed the UI audio sounds, but I still got the video error. At this point I uninstalled the Shark007 package, and after also uninstalling the NVIDIA audio drivers again, I got live TV working again.

    My next step was going to probably be to try out CoreAVC (I already owned a license to that anyway) though I don’t know if that gets .MKV files working within Media Center. Before I did that, though, I decided to try out the latest beta of XBMC. As stated above, I’m a long-time XBMC user and had good success with both XBMC Live and XBMC under XP (though with the latter, I had to call MPC-HC as an external player for high-def content – another approach is the XBMC DSPlayer branch, but that still is a work in development). Anyways, I’m pleased to say that XBMC under Windows 7 is quite nice. I got my Avatar MKV with forced subtitles to play (with fancy font and all), and the video seemed very smooth (I think I may have detected some slowdown when the first set of subtitles kicked in). One problem is that the latest XBMC beta doesn’t seem to know when to turn *off* the subtitles, so it ends up displaying the last line indefinitely, until another subtitle arrives eventually. I’m hopeful that the XBMC devs will work that bug out.

    At this point, I’m not exactly sure what to do. I may install the plugin for Media Center that allows for jumping to/from XBMC and then just use Media Center for live TV/DVR. But because that works sluggishly and my wife will probably prefer that we keep the TiVo HD, another approach I’m thinking about is trying to configure things so that we can pull content off of the TiVo and convert it to a format that XBMC will play. I need to serve multiple rooms in my house, so I’m thinking that I’d have my TiVo and a Revo running XBMC in the bedroom, a Revo in the living room, a Revo in the home theater, and another Revo in my daughter’s room. I own a 2nd TiVo HD, which I’ll probably keep in action so as to have the extra two tuners and the live TV capability in the living room.

    Anyways, if anyone has any suggestions for making Media Center snappier on the Revo, I’d love to hear them. I’m also wondering if there are any services that might be running in the background on the stock Windows 7 install which might not be necessary that I could disable to improve performance.

    Yameen, I’d love to share notes via email. If you can’t get at my email address here, you can PM me at the AVS forums. My username is srauly there and I started this thread about XBMC on the Revo a long while back:
    http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1185529

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