HTPC Update #1: Hardware Headaches and Menu Tweaking

I've been living with my HTPC for just over a month now, and I've come up with enough new observations to warrant a new installment (well, maybe enough to fill a bunch of articles) so. . . behold!

Been setting up your own living-room computer? Read on for my latest tips, tricks, and plain old complaints. I think most of you will find some of these useful. And some of you - I hope - will find most.

Receivers: Assigning Those #!$% Inputs

What is the deal with receivers? Read that again in Seinfeld's voice, if you didn't already. I've had three different receivers through my system in the past month (it was a busy month), and each one was differently lame.

I'm not doing HDMI audio with my HTPC yet, so here's what I needed to do: Assign the multi-channel analog input as the audio for an HDMI input. That doesn't seem hard, does it? I can understand inexpensive receivers not having reassignable inputs, but one wouldn't allow any analog audio with an HDMI input. It wasn't in the menu. Another wouldn't allow the multi-channel input to have HDMI video (stereo analog only). The Onkyo I have in there now lets you assign an HDMI input to the multi-channel input, but only if you enter the setup screen after you've selected DVD/BD input. I figured that one out by accident. I'm no fan of HDMI, but it sure makes a case for itself with this nonsense.

This is a rant for an entirely different article, but how is it, 30+ years after the advent of receivers, that they still are so staggeringly user unfriendly? If I have to pick up the owner's manual to figure something out: product design fail. Have you ever read an owner's manual from Apple? Didn't think so. Point proven.

Audio Setup: Learing to love Vista

Being a couple of years old, my HTPC is running Vista 64. I never understood the hatred of this operating system. Once you turn off all the Microsoft stupidness, it worked fine and was very stable. Well, at least in this computer. The store-bought work PC I'm writing this on inexplicably takes 10+ minutes to boot up every morning. The HTPC? Two minutes, maybe. That was the first store-bought desktop computer I'd purchased in 10 years, and likely the last.

Where was I? Oh, I haven't played around with Windows 7 yet, but in Vista the audio setup is kind of buried. Usually you can right-click on the little speaker icon in the lower right and select "Playback Devices." For some reason, the HTPC didn't have this option, so I had to dig for it in the "Control Panel" under "Hardware and Sound" and then "Sound." You need to do this to get it to output 5.1 channels, and there's a handy channel test that showed me all the connections I'd made were backwards