Sunday, May 17, 2009

Windows 7: What's Left

Remember trying to get my TV tuner card to scan the analog channels? I've done a couple of tests after using a suggestion from the manufacturer's forums. Unfortunately nothing has improved. The end result is the same and I am still without a "TV" for the time being.

I do, though, have confirmed through a few inquiries regarding Stardock products and Windows 7. Certain programs that don't mingle with the inner workings of Windows will work fine with Windows 7. This is a bit obvious when you look at how the software works in achieving certain effects or do certain task. But other programs from Stardock, like WindowBlinds, IconPackager, or BootSkin will obviously not work well or refuse to work at all, simply because there are certain functions and feature that can only work if it knows how to hook itself into that particular version of Windows. At least for the moment, I will be unable to use any of my favorite WindowBlind themes until a version is release that provide preliminary support for Windows 7.

On the other end, Steam works fairly well. A quick start of Portal and a few configuration settings got me the result I wanted. The platform works and the game works. So it seems that at the absolute minimum, there's no problem. I'll have to check other games to see if they work well. But given that they ran fine on Windows Vista, I predict and suspect that I will have no problem running them.

As I rummage around Google search results for a solution to a minor problem, I found that there is an option that may solve the issue I have with my keyboard. The keyboard is nothing fancy. It doesn't feature any special macro keys or tons of little fancy buttons for a variety of things. Instead, it has a basic multimedia and Internet-related buttons/controls. I have a couple of buttons remapped to be used differently. And thus far I could not get Winamp to truly function the way I wanted it to. The version of Winamp may be a tad old but it was a version that I could run out of its own folder. Winamp is self-contained into its own folder and requires no installation if you can save or back up the folder itself. After installing it, I see the option appear and tested the special keys. They work. Now I can navigate around my lengthy playlist and be able to pause or play the track as I please without needing to bring Winamp to the foreground. Too bad I cannot get iTunes to do the same.

Continuing on the topic of media playback, I realized that the xvid codec that I installed turned out to be unused when I was watching some anime. Instead, it was using the built-in codec that is capable of handling xvid compressed videos. It was strange, at least from what I had thought. Since I have ffdshow also installed, I configured it to be the primary decoder for xvid videos. It works as expected. But when I turned it off, it still did not use the xvid codec itself. I later found out that the folks at Microsoft set their codec pipeline to take precedence over xvid. Either that or xvid is not being properly registered as a viable codec. If that's the case, then I may have to figure out how to get it registered.

Seeing that I got some *ahem* 720p resolution movies sitting around, along with a 1080p resolution of S.W.A.T., I figure I'd give some of those movies a quick test drive to see how the audio output fares. But this is not your ordinary and typical audio test. My setup is unique and is, at times, inhibiting. Most gaming rigs you see, or mostly hear about, have speaker system that is connected to either the motherboard using the onboard built-in sound or the audio add-on card. The most typical of these setups uses analog wires, connecting several speakers into several jacks. My setup consists of one cable, connecting from the PC audio unit over to my 5.1 home-theater receiver. So for me, my audio setup is a bit more complicated and cannot be done with fancy games. To compensate, I test using movies that have surround sound (ie. movies with AC-3 or DTS audio track). Three movies were given a quick 10-15 minute run to determine how well they perform. Audio output was set to send the audio data directly through SPDIF and to my receiver. Audio is then deocded within the receiver and sent to the appropriate audio channel. Movie playback appear smooth. But a short test is not enough to truly determine if everything is rock solid. Audio playback, though, seems pretty good. Of course, the best audio test would be The Matrix's Lobby and Bullet Time sequence, as the audio mixing and surround is second to none.

There was something that broke during Windows 7 development: virtual CD/DVD drives. Mounting virtual drives isn't obscure. Some people use it to check the content of the disc image before burning. Others use it to run installation off of it instead of wasting a disc. I use it for a unique purpose: to bypass a disc check imposed by Battlefield 2's copy protection.

There are ups and downs to copy protection. But nowadays, it's becoming more and more useless and more annoying than ever before. Many times I simply want to make a simple copy of a game that I have bought with my own money. Yet I cannot do that because of the copy protection that's on the disc. It's one thing to ask for the disc to play a game. But it's another if you require the absolute original disc in order to play the game. And that is unacceptable. If copy-protection is a system meant to deter pirates and game crackers, then it is simply not working. Instead of trying to find ways to impose restrictions on legit players, they should simply do away with the entire thing altogether. But I digress...

There are only a handful of things left to install. After that, we'll see how different things fare, especially certain functions that I have not used in ages. That is... if I ever get around to it.

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