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Graphics Driver Woes January 2, 2014

Posted by Steven in Freetime, gadgets.
Tags: , ,

I want to properly record my classic “PC” experiences over the last couple of hours.

I have a rather special entertainment setup in my other small city apartment. I use VLC and Windows Media Center on a mid-range Windows 7 PC hooked up to a good Bose soundsystem and a big simple HDTV. So quite coincidentally I was given an even bigger simple HDTV from my family. It happened to be a nice Toshiba -40inch L2 series screen.

This little upgrade meant, that for the first time I was able to hook everything up to the TV using HDMI connections.

And here the trouble started. When I simply plugged the HDMI cable into PC and HDTV I saw an image. So far so good. The PC set the correct resolution but on the HDTV the image did not fill the whole panel. About 2cm on each side of the panel were left black. This also resulted in text being muddy (I guess when the PC generated image is lets say 1920 pixel wide and somehow on the LCD Screen it gets shown only on like 1400 pixels wide things must get muddy).

I was really not satisfied with that and in good old Windows 3.1 manner I poked around and during that poking found out my graphics driver was not up to date. So I updated the AMD Catalyst driver package to the then latest version (13.9). The pure update itself however did not resolve the issue.

I googled around and I found this nice tipp. There it is mentioned that the Catalyst Control Center has dedicated Flat Screen options where you can scale the image and specify desired over / underscan. Indeed I was able to locate this setting and when set to 0% overscan and using the TV’s setting “picture size – native” (not movie or wide screen) then the picture seemed perfect!

HDTV Image scaling / AMD overscan problem solved. But it left me still wondering: who’s fault was it? Is it a strange setting embedded in AMDs graphics cards? Or set by AMDs software i.e. Catalyst Control Center? Or is it the Toshiba TV that somehow reports some strange data and the image gets somehow scaled? Mhh who knows but given my next experience I suspect AMD Software to be the culprit.

So with the one problem solved and with super new drivers installed all should have been well – but I noticed another very strange issue. Again a bit of back-story: In the PC I use a TV card for occasional TV viewing pleasure in Windows Media Center. The model I employ is a Terratec Cinergy PCIe Dual DVB-T Card. Up to now it always worked nicely and Terratec provides simple 32 and 64 bit drivers for Windows 7. In terms of other software I really just use Windows Media Center. It’s decent for quickly jumping into a TV show (with EPG data provided) and to record a movie etc.  So enough back-story. With this setup usually working flawlessly I now noticed, that each time when I open Windows Media Center and turn on live TV then the sound would come on (from the TV show) but there was no image. After about 30 seconds of Audio-Only Playback, the playback would stop completely. The ad-hoc “fix” for this strange issue is even stranger: I just needed to change the channel and then back for example and then there was image and sound for my TV programming. Given that this mid-range entertainment setup really doesn’t have to do much (boot up play a h.264 file, play a tv show, browse the web, shut down) I was disappointed but these new glitches.

I googled around again. Interestingly I found reports that people experience similar issues while just being upgraded to a super new NVIDIA graphics driver. So wait a minute.. didn’t I just update my AMD Catalyst driver? Oh man. So I quickly tried out the driver roll-back Device Manager function on my AMD Radeon HD 6800. And voila the Media Center TV stuff worked again flawlessly. But guess what happened: Windows rolled back to a Microsoft driver and there was no Catalyst Control Center anymore. Meaning: Toshiba’s LCD in combination with the Radeon card would do that nasty underscan thing again and my PC image is not filling the LCD properly again.

Not good.

So I spare you the next 2 hours of poking around. So what I basically needed was: some version of AMDs drivers and Catalyst Control Center where I could set the underscan / scaling to 0 – but the driver must not be so new that it shows the Media Center issue (or TV card driver combination what-not-issue).

My technique to achieve that in short was:

  • making sure that all new / old bits of AMDs software = AMDs CCC were removed from my PC
  • I used AMDs Cleanup Utility – which unlike the regular uninstallers and Windows functions I tried – seemed to fully remove AMDs stuff from my system. Sadly this tool seems no longer actively being supported by MAD. Oh well.
  • Then I installed version 12.10 of AMDs Catalyst package
  • And voila now I was able to disable underscan and I can comfortably watch TV again – weeehhhh what a hassle it’s been

So in short: just plugging in my AMD driven PC into my Toshiba LCD results in a stupid looking image. One needs to flip switches in AMDs software to make it work. However new AMD software breaks features along with my TV card / Windows Media Center. All this causes trouble and long long research sessions jumping from Windows resources to AMD resources to Terratec resources and so on. All that in the light of my really simple consumer goals (watch a bit of TV and use a bigger LCD). Horrible. And an absolute stellar example why I am really moving more towards Apple. This PC and driver stuff is so endlessly complex and even for simple tasks there are so many points where things can go wrong. Drivers, connections, updates and so many different manufacturers. Really bad. I like my Windows stuff but please dear AMD,,, dear PC industry get it together and put functioning well working parts that function as a whole out there!


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