HP z555 Windows Media Center PC – notes

Update November 2008. This HP MCE computer fried after a year and a half of service. I told you it ran HOT. My own fault, it was making a “failing fan” noise and I ignored it. Turns out it was the video card fan and the video card fried. When I opened the case and started trouble shooting, the power supply fried with a bang and sparks. I recycled the parts and build a white box Media Center.


HP z555 Digital Entertainment Center,

Windows Media Center PC

Notes on setting up and using the HP z555.

Brief system description: Pentium 4 3.0 GHz, 512MB, 250 GB SATA hard disk, Windows Media Center Edition, aluminum stereo component style case, wireless keyboard, remote, memory card slots, 3 tuners (2 NTSC, 1 ATSC), numerous antenna, cable, video, sound inputs and outputs, WiFi, gigabit ethernet, firewire,and more, introduced in 2005.

The HP (hp.com) product site: http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/product?product=451458&lc;=en&cc;=us&dlc;=en⟨=en&cc;=us

The CNET (cnet.com) review: http://reviews.cnet.com/desktops/hp-digital-entertainment-center/4505-3118_7-31383220.html

The PC Magazine (pcmag.com) review: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1854619,00.asp

I recently acquired one of these units refurbished, upgraded it and set it up in my living room to record and watch cable tv and HD tv from an antenna.

Here are my notes on upgrading and setting up the PC and a list of the good, bad and ugly points about the PC.

Upgrading notes.

First I wanted to upgrade the memory (from 1/2 GB to 1 GB) and the hard disk (from 250 MB to 500 MB).

The case comes off with 4 screws and reveals:
The unit ships with 2 256 MB 400MHz DDR memory dimms and has a total of 4 memory slots. I replaced the 2 modules with 1 1 GB memory module. But note that the 3rd and 4th memory slots are blocked by the DVD drive (lower middle in photo) and the HP Personal Drive (lower right). The first 2 slots (visible as horizontal lines between the large black cpu fan and the DVD) drive are accessable, the 3rd I did wiggle out the old memory and the 4th, well, you’re going to have to take out those 2 drives.

Where is the hard disk? It is accessed from below the case, one screw loosens the door, slide open the door and reveal the hard disk mount. This is detailed in one of the manuals.
I used Ghost 10 to clone the original 250 MB HD to a 500 MB HD.

While the case is open you can see the video card, an nVidia GeForce 6600, and on the upper left the 3 PCI slots on a daughter card occupied by 1 (on top) WiFi G card, 2 Hauppauge dual NTSC tuner and 3 HD ATSC tuner. All 3 PCI slots are filled and I did not see a second SATA connector so this case is full.

Time to power it up and set it up!

I attached an LCD flat panel monitor to the VGA output, my cable set top box to the coax tuner, network cable to my home router and powered up.

Windows XP Media Center Edition SP2 booted just fine, the wireless keybord was instantly recognized.

Next I like to apply all the Microsoft Security Updates with Update (Express). Over 80 updates. Reboot. Loop till done.

Next I apply the Custom Updates and there were a couple, one for the Realtek sound card. This introduced an error message on boot “Illegal System DLL Relocation”, a quick search of the Microsoft Knowledge Base http://support.microsoft.com/search/ said this is a know issue, Update with Express Update KB935448. That fixed it.

Apply the XP MCE 2005 Update Rollup 2. The general tab of My Computer properties reports the OS as Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2002 SP2 but the MCE Settings, General, About Media Center, Software Version reports 2005.

Then I removed the Norton software trial. (more on Norton another time).

Now run the MCE setup, which I kept dismissing at each boot. Ran fine but no video. Snow. Check connections. Rerun setup. Snow. Loop for an hour. Finally look at the quick start guide. The cable set top box must connect to the MCE by S-video or composite video NOT COAX CABLE. Connect set top box by S-video cable and it works. My bad, I didn’t read the manual, my old MCE connected to the set top box by the coax cable, I set this one up the same way.

Plug in my 20 year old Magnavox 27″ tube tv via RCA connections, composite video and left and right audio . Time to watch tv. The MCE is now outputting video to the 2 devices. I am using the tv’s amplifier and Bose speakers.

Now you may be wondering why I have this strange setup with a crt tv and an LCD monitor. It is because I have not chosen and purchased my ultimate display device – Plasma or LCD flat panel. So I have 2 displays: the tv I can enjoy from the sofa and the LCD which is required to do actual computer stuff and enjoy HD tv. The tv is ok for video but impossible to read for windows text.

In the stand, from top to bottom, are the HP z555, SureWest digital cable set top box and a VHS/DVD player. Bose speaker on the right, Bose base box behind the stand.

Max cat on the floor.

The cable box is controlled by an IR emitter.

TV and sound quality is acceptable. Time to relax and enjoy some tv, CDs, and DVDs. Next project is the antenna for HD TV.

Here is what the back of the z555 looks like and comes with a lot of cables.

Adding an antenna for HD TV. The HP z555 includes an HD tuner (ATI DVI Wonder) for connecting to an antenna. (Not sure how you connect your set top box to the z555 for HD.)

Go to antennaweb.org http://www.antennaweb.org to find out where and how far away your HD broadcast antennas are and to learn about antennas. I am about 25 miles from my local tv stations broadcasting HD so I chose

I installed the antenna on the roof and aimed it south, in the general direction all my neighborhood antennas point.

Connected the antenna coax lead to the PC and ran through MCE setup again hoping to add the digital tuner. Digital tuner added, cable input deleted! Rerun TV setup. And again. And again. Loop. Another hour wasted. Setup found 3 tuners and wants to configure them all (I am using 2). Or setup does not ask about the cable box. Or setup does not ask my zip code and who my cable provider is. Rerunning setup seems random about what and how many signals and tuners it finds. But finally:

HP z555 MCE is recording 2 shows at once using about 1/3 cpu.

NBC Nightly News in HD over the air.

ABC World News from the cable box.

Good times!

MCE records to a network shared folder called “Recorded TV” so if your LAN works you can browse and watch any program on any LAN PC with Windows Media Player. Alt-Enter gets you full screen mode.

For security I installed my favorite free softwares: AVG antivirus, SpywareBlaster, AdAware and SpyBot, and enabled the Windows firewall.

So far, my good, bad and ugly review of the z555 and Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition –

Good

  • excellent video and audio features and quality
  • attractive case with LCD display on front
  • HP design is well engineered
  • tons of hardware features
  • nice wireless keyboard with built in trackball
  • works out of the box
  • quiet (the fans sense the temperature and run accordingly?)
  • Windows Media Center Edition has a nice interface

Bad

  • complicated to set up hardware and software
  • the system does not power save gracefully. It defaults to Energy Star mode and hung up for me – reboot time. I switched it to Aways On and that works.
  • although the box is like a stereo component, it is deep – 16″ plus you need some space for the cables on back, mine hangs out of the stand a little.

Ugly

  • runs hot and needs ventilation. The tuner cards run real hot, don’t burn yourself on their coax connectors! The CDs and DVDs eject toasty. Isn’t heat the enemy of electronics?
  • setting up can lead to frustrating lost hours

Future MCE projects –

burning recorded material to DVD
connecting a flat panel display
connecting surround sound
connecting the iPod shuffle
Vista

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