I have been building and using home theater PC’s for as long as I can remember. However, it seems that recently I have been paying more attention to the quality of things than the quantity of things I do with it. I remember popping in my BD disc and being blown away by the quality of the image flickering about. It seems as though that feeling had been washed away even though my collection has been become more high-definition.
First, I would like to express that there is nothing wrong with the integrated player that XBMC provides. It plays a variety of formats and does it easily. However, in my configuration, I find that 3rd party players deliver a better video quality without sacrificing performance, control, and flexibility. These reasons are why the developers of XBMC built-in the ability to run 3rd party applications.
In an effort to improve my multimedia experience, I set out to find out how to improve what I already had without spending money on additional hardware, like external dedicated BD players. After all, another piece of hardware would eliminate the purpose of having a single HTPC for all media purposes. With that said, I am going to take you along on my journey to improve the video quality without spending any additional cash and without requiring a degree in computer science.
First, let’s start with external players. There are a lot of players out there that can handle high quality content… but there are always a few go-to applications that seem to top the list of the AV enthusiasts out there. The top of that list features an application that goes by the name of MPC-HC.
MPC-HC is a very lightweight open source media player that runs on Windows. Like VLC (one of our other go-to applications), MPC-HC can play just about anything, including the OGM and Matroska containers (which is the majority of my media collection). What does that mean to you? It means you don’t have to fool around with various codec packs for media playback.
Now, although this won’t be complicated to get working, it will require an adventurous spirit.
There are a couple of assumptions I am going to make before we begin.
- You already have XBMC installed – if not, download it and install it.
- You are running Windows. (this guide is for Windows based PC’s running XBMC)
- You have Windows already configured for your audio configuration (Speakers: 2, 2.1, 5.1,7.1, etc)
- You have a reasonably decent HTPC – even this would do (which can be had for under $200.00 USD)