Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Windows Media Center - Black Screen Syndrome
I recently went to start up Media Center on my PC and instead of getting the expected Microsoft sound and the familiar blue window... I got nothing.
Actually, I got more than nothing. I got a black screen, and a little acid reflux.
I use the Media Center PC for all my video processing. It's one big ass Tivo, with all kinds of inputs and tuners, just perfect for recording and mixing all kinds of media.
Personally, I think Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 was Microsoft's best work, and they should have stopped there. It was the step before Vista, and it's the best of both worlds. It boots up in XP and allows you to start up the Vista-ish Media Center when you need it.
So anyways, the PC is a pure work horse and I try to keep it clean. No careless surfing, no installs of anything until I've done my homework.
But as I'm sure you know, it's not always easy to keep a networked computer clean. I went to a site that I thought belonged to a university, but soon discovered it was a spoof, and blam!, I picked up a downloader.
I struggled with it for a while, and hopefully I won the battle. I'll chronicle that little adventure in another post. What I want to talk about now are the after effects.
Shortly after the downloader incident, Media Center stopped working. Whenever I'd click on the green desktop icon I'd get a black screen.
At first, all I could do was Ctrl+Alt+Del and stop the process, with no idea what was going on, and even that wasn't easy. The screen would briefly show the Media Center window and the Task Manager, then revert to black. It took two or three in a row to get control over the window.
I couldn't find anything obviously wrong with the system. It performed just fine as long as I didn't try to start Media Center.
So, being a natural born rock head, I opened Media Center again (and again, and again), until I found that if I hit Ctrl+Esc I got some control. The Media Center screen would appear and I could click one option, and then I was back in black. The next Ctrl+Esc showed that I had advanced to the Videos screen, and now I had a valid error message: "The video decoder has either malfunctioned or is not installed".
After a little searching, I found this site: Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility. Once the great and powerful Microsoft determined that my copy of Windows was on the up and up, I downloaded DECCHECKSetup.exe. Running the setup installs the Video Decoder Checkup Utility under Programs, Windows Media.
When you fire up the utility, it goes off and checks for installed video decoders and reports back on what you have, which ones are Media Center and Media Player compatible, and which one is set as the "preferred decoder". Nice little utility!
Right away I saw that my InterVideo decoder had been deposed by a pretender to the throne.
The utility allows you to change the preferred decoder after it finishes it's check, and just like that, I was back in business.
The wrong video decoder will also cause similar problems with Windows Media Player 10 and 11, so the Decoder Check Utility is a handy tool to have even if you're not running Media Center. The fact that Microsoft has a utility specifically for this problem indicates that it's pretty common.