Why Media Center Records to DVR-MS

Every time I see a post about what Microsoft should do to
make Media Center better it never fails that one of the first replies to “record to something other than DVR-MS.  No matter how many times people request this,
it will not happen.  DVR-MS is a
necessary format for Media Center for various reasons; the main ones from a
user perspective are metadata, content protection, and hardware resources.

  • Metadata
    Metadata is very important to Media Center, as with any PVR.  Standard MPEG-2 isn’t going to be able to hold
    the same amount of metadata (none, actually). 
    You might be saying “I don’t need to stinkin’ metadata,” and you would
    be wrong.  Show title, recording date,
    duration, etc are all part of what DVR-MS brings.  Remember, DVR-MS is really just MPEG-2 within
    an ASF wrapper, so you can strip the MPEG-2 out easily.  Having the metadata within the file is
    helpful when converting the format to other formats like WMV, and also when
    copying the file to other PC’s.  The metadata
    stays attached in both of these scenarios.
  • Content Protection
    You can complain all you want about Microsoft supporting DRM, but it’s not
    going to change anything.  Supporting
    CGMS-A in Media Center since the first version can be seen as the first step to
    CableCARD support.  It can be seen as the
    first step to DIRECTV/Dish support. 
    Notice how no other PC PVR has these, and then notice the file formats
    they record in.  PVR’s that record to
    vanilla MPEG-2 will be forced to change to a format like DVR-MS to get support
    for anything new.  Yes, there are
    problems with CGMS-A, big ones in fact (post on that coming later).
  • Resources – This one never fails too, “I want to record to XviD!”  I say “Why?” 
    It’s important to remember to recording directly to MPEG-4 means that
    your CPU is going to be encoding the video on-the-fly.  That means lower video quality, and it ups
    the system requirements for the PC.  Media Center supports two NTSC (or two CableCARD
    Tuners) plus two ATSC Tuners.  If you
    were to record to XviD you are going to be lucky to have support for two
    tuners.  Even with dual-core and
    quad-core processors, it is still going to tax the system to much.  When hardware manufactures start including
    hardware MPEG-4 encoders on their cards, this will change.  However, very few are doing this right now
    and I don’t expect it ever to be supported in Media Center.  I think we will see the first MPEG-4 capture
    come with the DIRECTV solution.

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23 thoughts on “Why Media Center Records to DVR-MS

  1. * resources: I think this more a comment on what people think about the DRM issue and the desire to have a more openly transparent portable format then anything to with divx it’s self. The MS formats are a pain in the ass to work with over all and it’s getting worse. MS won’t release any decent consumer tools because they don’t want to piss off the IP owners, and yet they constantly seem surprised that nobody wants there stupid formats cluttering their drives.

  2. The fact that MC records to DVR-MS is a big seller for BeyondTV, Sage as well as several open source options. There are other ways to record to a truly standard Mpeg file and include the metadata without making up a DRM’d, proprietary MS version of mpeg. The real reason MS does it is only for DRM. If that is good enough reason for MCE users than okay, but I don’t buy either of the other two points.

  3. Of course, you can record to DVR-MS without any sort of protection. And, since DVR-MS is just a wrapper, you can remove the MPEG-2 without much work.

    When BeyondTV and Sage support CableCARD, DIRECTV, or Dish with plain MPEG-2, let me know and I’ll switch on the spot. 🙂

  4. I understand the appeal of CableCard Chris, believe me. Yes, you can remove the mpeg without much work, but I would prefer not have to do extra work to get a standard mpeg2. My post above was just saying the only reason for the DVR-MS format was the DRM only IMHO.

    Regarding the Cablecard, in the end if BTV or Sage could get cablelabs to “allow” them to get cablecard support, I would bet money Snapstream or Sage would agree to make it record in whatever DRM-wrapped format cablelabs desired. I don’t see that happening any time soon though since MS has the monopoly on that. Not because they wouldn’t do it, but because cablelabs has no intention to make the cablecard work for any other software.

  5. Microsoft doesn’t have a monopoly on that. OCUR is open to any software mfg, you can download all the needed docs from CableLabs. MCE is currently the only “HMS” approved by CableLabs. I see no reason why Beyond TV or Sage could not get support if they really wanted to.

    Granted, it would still take a ton of work, but Microsoft by no means has a monopoly on it.

  6. What we are looking for is “unofficial” cablecard support in a different product so we can record our shows and archive them for later watching and be able to transcode to a smaller format. 1HR of HDTV is nearly 4Gigs in DVR-MS.

  7. The problem with that is they have to authenticate to your cable providers network. An “unofficial” solution isn’t going to be able to do that very well.

    Remember that CableCARD and CableLabs have nothing to do with Microsoft or with Windows. They have been setup in a way that it’s not that hard to disable “unofficial” setups whether it be a PC or third party CE device.

  8. You know, MPEG-2 itself is actually quite extensible. They could have coded the metadata in the PMT as private data, or they could have flagged it using SCTE 35 messages or they could have… all of which would have left it in MPEG-2 format without raising a bunch of the issues that using DVR-MS raised…

  9. They might have been able to do that, but it will not fly for CableCARD and other content that needs to apply usage rights and other conditional policy.

  10. Chris, you are exactly correct in that the dvr-ms format allows content protection to be applied. Do any of the BeyondTV or Sage users question Tivo’s use of a proprietary format on their Tivo S3 product?

  11. Albert,
    You are right that Tivo had the dvr-ms also. I’m not questioning Microsoft’s or Tivo’s use of the proprietary format (dvr-ms)and I certainly understand WHY MS chose dvr-ms for its format. I was just saying that it is my opinion that MS chose that format for one reason and one reason only – content protection. As I said above, if BeyondTV could get Cablecard support I think many would be willing to sacrifice the pita of a proprietary format to get cablecard.

  12. I think the point is to make our life simple. Why i have to waste so much gigs on an out dated video codec like mpeg-2? If i want to keep my recordings i have to find the file convert it organize it WHY GOD WHY ???? even this crappy pinnacle media “center” can save videos in 10 different codec’s!! As. for the ms solution Please dont tell me that “real men do it the hard way” .Damn You Yahoo for buy meedio and don’t support the PCTV Hybrid pro. As for the –“I want to record to XviD!” I say “Why?” It’s important to remember to recording directly to MPEG-4 means that your CPU is going to be encoding the video on-the-fly. That means lower video quality, and it ups the system requirements for the PC”– Its my problem!! i want to be responsible for my actions. If Waht you say its true( not) I would just set thing back the way they were!!!. …P.S. Meta data …whay not an xml file whit all the data you want ????

  13. Billytsik: When you are selling a product that you have to support, putting the user in a place where they are responsible for my actions doesn’t work too well. The idea is to develop a product that “just works”. Media Center is far from it in most respects, but a move to software encoding is not going to happen.

    As for XML metadata, you would have to copy to files (video file and XML) for it to extend to another platform or device. Again, you might want to be responsible for my actions, but telling users they need to copy a additional random file to know what they are playing isn’t going to happen when Microsoft has had ASF for the past 10 years.

  14. I think that this must be happening Only for microsoft products. I think they do have this little thing called “properties” and “Advanced”
    and could just put a cpl about Media Center in control panel with a BIG warning saying : ENTER HERE ONLY IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!(remember the button “Return to Defaults” . Or even better if they could allow other companies to make plug ins for MCE. As for xml files I think that The files in .DVR-MS are impossible for some one that doesn’t know his way around his pc to find them and know what it is. Even when he does find them and convinced that this is it. it is completely usless to him to use them like taking this to his friend … unless the friend have MCE. As for the xml files… If you can find the .DVR-MS files. You Will know what the xml files are. To Close My comment allow me to say this :
    Lets be honest Micro did a Very good job in making this product they did a Very good job With windows XP in the first place. I think that they should just let the people to make something out of let there be plug ins . let there be skins . Let others do the things you should do and support this others. BE SMART. Host a forum !!. Lets don’t forget who was listening mp3 before 10 years ? How are we going to watch Tv in the next 10 years? My best guess is that move and move portable video players are going to come …. I really don’t think that this devices are going to support .DVR-MS!!!

  15. I have gigs of video sitting on a drive.
    It was recorded on a WMC machine overseas.
    Question is: Is there confirmation of right protection flagging in a record log?
    If so and if present should I presume that getting the conversion
    software for other formats is a waste of time?

    On top of that I have a Mac ha ha ha.
    But I suppose I could find a machine suitable for the task if…

  16. re: “recording directly to MPEG-4 means that your CPU is going to be encoding the video on-the-fly. That means lower video quality, and it ups the system requirements for the PC…If you were to record to XviD you are going to be lucky to have support for two tuners. Even with dual-core and quad-core processors, it is still going to tax the system to much.”

    —All these problems have been conquered by the Vixs line of encoder chips (some of which can generate up to 4 streams, each with different bit-rate/MPEG format/resolution/frame-rate.) There is no good reason for us to be stuck with deliberately-broken & crippled software and proprietary formats which cannot be played on a DVD player (and cannot be streamed to your notebook PC or PDA). Also, Microsoft did not really invent Media Center: they BOUGHT it, like just about everything else. Microsoft ruins everything they touch, and Media Center is no exception: M$ just wants to make sure that Media Center will not inter-operate with any device that does not run M$ software. They want a cut out of EVERYTHING, and that’s why you can’t buy a new PC from a major retailer without buying Windows. M$ costs us far too much (and we all pay the price, whether we use their software or not). Visitors, do have a look at some alternatives here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_PVR_software_packages
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Free_television_software

    More about the company that several USA/EU trial court judges have called “an abusive monopoly”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_papers
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace%2C_extend%2C_extinguish

    This is a good blog, and I realize that many MS employees/agents are reluctant to speak the whole truth due to the nature of their relationship with the company, but the fact is, Microsoft does not serve us well–it is a bipolar bully which holds us back just as much as it innovates.

  17. So, your suggestion is to limit use of a feature to a single chipset/tuner? That doesn’t seem it would do much, as people still complain that you need a card with a hardware encoder. Limiting even more for specific features does little to nothing to help the matter.

    I’m not sure how you can say Microsoft “bought” it. Sure, it was not the first PC PVR by a long shot, but they didn’t purchase a company and then kill it to create Media Center. If you want to go that way then you are Yahoo!, who bought a great front-end/PVR in Meedio and then killed it completely.

    Also, as a clear Media Center supporter myself I notice on that list of other Media Center packages that non support CableCARD and none support DIRECTV. Media Center already supports CableCARD, and will support DIRECTV in the future. For Microsoft not being the first they sure seem to have a good amount of support for things that others will never get.

  18. I just transcoded a 3+ GB DVR-MS file (recorded from air) to an MPEG-4 AVI file with MP3 stereo audio. It looks great. I did it rather easily using a FREE application called SUPER(c) by eRightSoft.com. SUPER(c) seems to be the universal transcoder. I haven’t tried all the other options and encoders yet, but there are many, including cropping, padding, stretching, resizing, bitrates, audio codec, etc. It will also direct stream copy the audio and/or video tracks — or omit one or the other, as you choose. Once you’ve got the settings right, you can save them as a profile. That makes this tool nearly a drag and click solution.

    This is my first try. You’ll have to try it yourself to see if you’re happy with the quality and options.

    By the way, SUPER(c) tells me that inside the DVR-MS file is a WMV/WMA encoding. I don’t know if that value is correct. It might be something it read out of the metadata.

  19. Following up —

    With experimentation, so far I’ve found that the best settings in SUPER(G) are (in order that they appear) AVI, MPEG-4, MP3, MEncoder, DirectShow OFF, 640×480, 4:3, 29.97, 1488 bitrate, HiQ, 48K Audio, De-Interlace YES (under Other Opts)48000, 2 Channels, 128k bitrate, default audiostream.

    MEncoder will resize to 640×480 (from 720×480 nonsquare native resolution in DVR-MS), but won’t allow you to crop out the scan line crap at the top/bottom edges, and the black on right and left. ffmpeg WILL allow you to crop but doesn’t resize, so you get a slightly flattened aspect ratio. Could be a bug. Since WMC (at least on my system) pretty much cleans up the scan line crap I’m happier with MEncoder.

    I’ve used the DX50 and xvid codecs, and at this point I don’t have a particular reason to prefer one over the other. Encode times seem about the same.

    The bitrates I’ve given will get you exactly one hour on a CD (6+ hours on a DVD+/-R). If you want 90 minutes or two hours, play with the bitrates, but the quality will opf course suffer.

    I haven’t tried the Top Quality setting yet.

    All in all, I am now more inclined to use Media Center’s DVR now, since I know I can easily convert the stuff to MPEG-4.

    SUPER(G) will also make iPod and PSP videos, and a zillion other combos.

  20. How does one record a TV program from the CATV system, and then convert the program to whatever format is appropriate for transferring to a DVD?

    The program is 150 minutes long and I have purchased DVD-R/W disks (The package says it will hold up to 6 hours, but it also says it is 4.7 GB!

    If anyone could help me figure this out, I would be most grateful.

    Thank you,
    John H. Tilley
    jhtilley2@aol.com
    Tel.: 410-256-7829

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