- Install OEM Windows 7 software
- Install 3rd-party drivers
- Setup TeamViewer
- Setup FTP server
- Check Windows Firewall Settings
- Install Microsoft .Net framework
- Install Firefox
- Configure Firefox (Adblock)
- Install XBMC
- Setup remote control
- Install Google Music Manager
- Install Deluge
- Configure XBMC Add-ons
- Install and configure LCD drivers
- Program LCD drivers for XBMC events
- Add Netflix and Hulu to XBMC
Building Project Magnavox into a genuine all-in-one entertainment system is more than just being able to access all my videos, music, and streaming media on one device. To round-out the feature set, we need to take a page from Microsoft’s playbook and add videogames to the mix. Granted, I could install all my game consoles underneath the television, but that takes up more room than I actually have in my small apartment. Besides, outside the aesthetic benefits of having a veritable museum in my living room, it’s frankly more trouble than it’s worth to rig the wiring, route the cabling, and squint at a screen stretched beyond its original aspect ratio. As awesome as James Rolfe‘s basement is, until I have my own library, I’d like to keep my setup as space-efficient as possible.
This leaves me with one of the most polarizing concepts in classic gaming: emulation.
Now, I’m no stranger to the debate, and let me first say adamantly that it is the opinion of this reporter that, legally speaking, you may make backup copies of software that you have legitimately obtained for personal use [emphasis added]. This is the only application that we will be dealing with here. Secondly, I advocate for emulation in this sense because it does make playing the games much easier and convenient, contributing to my own enjoyment. Thirdly, the so-called “collector’s market” has driven the prices for games through an unsustainable ceiling, and because young millennials would like bragging rights by being able to “own” a copy of a particular game, all the carts and discs worth playing have been bought up only to appear on eBay at ten times or more their original price. Much like the market for vinyl has all-but ruined the casual collection of original-run albums, the market for cartridges and discs has similarly eroded the enjoyment from the hobby.
Enter Libretro, a handy piece of software that seeks to pull as many different emulator “cores” into one central application, running almost any classic game as close to original quality as possible in a convenient package. The Libretro API uses a custom front-end called RetroArch to set up and run the roms for each emulator core. The pair are installed simultaneously as a package, and each core is installed as an add-on from within RetroArch itself.
To install RetroArch in Windows, simply download the latest stable RetroArch build from the website, then unzip the downloaded file to the location of your choosing. If you’re still running Windows 7 (because fuck Windows 10), you may run into a missing file error. Specifically, you may be missing d3dx9_43.dll from the DirectX runtime, so you should follow my instructions for fixing that error here.
That’s it! RetroArch is completely self-contained and should run without incident. Use the arrow keys, Z, and X for most of the navigation (you’ll see a control map on first run), download an emulator core from the Online Updater menu, open your freshly-dumped roms, and get playing!
The biggest problem with an HTPC is tinkering around “under the hood” as you generally have to crane your neck and strain your eyes to read the teeny-tiny type that is intended to be seen on a desktop monitor. Windows was never intended to have such a 10-foot interface, but you can build some resemblance to it using standard controls built into the OS.
In the Control Panel, choose “Appearance and Personalization”, then click “Display”. Here you can set the standard size for all objects within Windows, including icons and text. I like to use a custom setting of 175% as it is slightly clearer and far more comfortable to read than the text at 150%. Click the “Apply” button when you have the settings the way you like them, then click the back button to return to the Appearance and Personalization section of the Control Panel.
Now, choose “Personalization”, then click “Change mouse pointers” from the left sidebar. The dropdown menu in the Mouse Properties dialog allows you to select from different pointer schemes that will prove to be easier to see from across the room. I like the “Windows Aero (extra large)” scheme as it matches the rest of my OS setup and is available by default. Click the “OK” button, then close the Control Panel window.
I’ve been using this setup for a few weeks now, and it has at least saved me the headaches that come solely from eye strain when working on the VCR. Now, if I can get that IR issue worked out….
I did a dumb thing the other day: I was playing with a new Bluetooth headset on the VCR and trying to set up the sound output so I wouldn’t disturb a sleeping Barbie with some late-night A-Team viewing. To get the sound pushed through to only the headset, I opened the playback devices dialog under the sound options and disabled the HDMI out.
POOF! The device disappeared from the list!
Now, I admit that I’m not the savviest person when it comes to Windows 7 (I write a lot of these how-tos as a guide to myself–“I scour the help fora so you don’t have to!”), but this had me boggled; I could not figure out how to reactivate the device! A quick DuckDuckGo search revealed the answer, though.
In the device list, right-click the blank space in the panel and choose the “Show All Devices” option.
Whoomp, there it is.
EDIT 1/16/2017: Commenter Anony Mous (haha, well done) has confirmed that the HP drivers work with the Insignia Bluetooth adapter as well. I have both the Lenovo and the HP copies of the drivers mirrored here.
EDIT 12/29/2016: Commenter Angry Dude has found a mirror for an older driver at Lenovo’s website. Give it a try for now until a proper solution is found.
EDIT 12/13/2016: It seems that Broadcom has pulled the Windows 7 driver for this device. I will investigate and update as I find more information!
This is more for future reference than anything considering it comes with paper instructions to download some software and does not come with a disc. Welcome to the future!
- Plug the adapter into a free USB port.
- Download the driver and software from
- Install the driver and restart the computer when finished.
There’s a couple of automated command line routines that I’ve needed to write and have run at startup on the VCR, but they require elevation to actually run (damn you, UAC!). My goal has always been to have the machine boot with no input from me until it’s ready, so I needed a way to run these scripts automagically without requiring a physical “right-click, run as administrator” routine before the boot process is finished. To solve this, I needed to figure out how to run a batch file as administrator.
One does not simply right-click and run a *.bat file as administrator, though. Oh, no! Windows doesn’t like that! It takes a little more stupidity to run a batch file as administrator in Windows 7!
Once your batch file is written properly, you’ll need to create a shortcut to the *.bat. This is the first step in the roundabout process. Windows allows shortcuts to *.bat files to be automatically run with elevated privileges while the files themselves cannot (it must be some kind of idiot-proofing to prevent you from running a coup de grace downloaded from the interwebs). Take note, though, that you can’t click the option for “Run As Administrator” from the compatibility tab like you normally would; you must open the “Shortcut” tab, then click the “Advanced” button, THEN select the option to run as administrator.
Once you’ve set the shortcut’s settings to run as administrator, then you can point Task Scheduler or EventGhost at the shortcut and have it run whenever you like!
As the VCR continues to evolve, I’m adding game support to the system, making it an all-in-one entertainment box. To start, I’ll be using Retroarch for most of my classic game emulation. I’ll write more about the program in another number, but the biggest problem getting it to run in Windows is the need for DirectX 9 support. Without installing DirectX 9, upon your first run of Retroarch, you’ll receive a d3dx9_43.dll missing error. In this number, I will direct you how to fix the d3dx9_43.dll error in Windows 7.
Download DirectX End-User Runtimes to install d3dx9_43.dll or any other missing libraries
Interestingly enough, newer DirectX distributions may not come with the required dll files, so you’ll have to download these from Mircosoft. The June 2010 DirectX End-User Runtimes package contains all the files you should need to support Retroarch and other, older Windows games. Simply navigate to the download page, and run the setup file.
Command & Conquer is perhaps the greatest PC game franchise in history, and Electronic Arts in one of its most surprising moves released an unadulterated collection of all the franchise games up to that point–before subsequently ruining the whole thing with C&C 3 and Red Alert 3. I ran across a clean copy at the local thrift shop, so I picked it up for a few dollars. (Yes, I know that technically, I could’ve downloaded the game from EA for free, except that it’s probably not still available, or–if it is–it’s surprisingly difficult to locate the original download links.) Here’s how to get Command & Conquer The First Decade to work in Windows 7.
The problem here is that I’m playing a twenty-year-old game written for a twenty-year-old operating system on a 21st-century version of Windows. One consolation is that Windows 7 has a pretty decent level of compatibility with applications written for older versions of the OS, and that is our saving grace.
The trick is that we’re not going to run any of the games through the launcher that EA installs; we’re going to do this old-school, via good ol’ Windows Explorer. For the older titles in the franchise, we’re going to need to take one more step that I’ll elaborate on in a moment. For each of the titles in the series, you’ll need to set the compatibility settings for the game’s executable.
For C&C, original Red Alert, and Tiberium Wars, the exe file should be set to Windows 95 compatibility, and all the check boxes should be marked (640×480 resolution, 256 colors, disable visual themes, disable desktop composition, disable display scaling). Also, you’re going to need to kill explorer.exe to prevent any funky colors from accidentally showing up in the game. This is where our batch file comes in. Open Notepad and type the following code:
taskkill /f /IM explorer.exe
C:\"Program Files (x86)"\"EA Games"\"Command & Conquer The First Decade"\"Command & Conquer Red Alert(tm)"\"ra95.exe"
Note that this points to the default installation location of Red Alert. If you’ve installed to a different location, make sure to use that instead!
Save this file as “RA95.bat” or something easily recognized. On running, the code will force-quit Windows Explorer (the Windows “shell”, or operating environment), run the game, then reopen Explorer when finished.
Red Alert 2 only needs to be run in compatibility mode for Windows 98/2000, no other settings need to change. Renegade should work in 98/2000 mode as well, though I have yet to verify this.
Generals should be run in Vista SP2 compatibility mode, with no other settings changed.
In case you needed to run a program or any other task in Windows via the command line, but did not want a new window opened, use the “start” command and the
/B tag to execute a Windows command in background.
I’ve been playing around with adding video game functionality to the VCR as of late, and to that end I picked up an Xbox 360-compatible wireless controller, complete with guide button. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not make using–much less programming–the guide button very easy, but I have a workaround that I will elaborate on in a later number. There is a small applet running in the background that listens for the guide button and responds in a preprogrammed manner; however, I do not want this applet functioning all the time because it becomes annoying when not within the game atmosphere.
In order to call the applet when I want to, I use Eventghost and trigger the applet upon a particular task creation. To stop the applet, however, I needed to execute a batch command. The “taskkill” command can easily kill a process from command line as long as its listed in the Task Manager.
taskkill /f /im process.exe
/f tag will force quit the particular process and the
/im tag indicates the image name of the process (as listed in the Task Manager).