A fix for Media Center’s Black Screen of Death?

One of the most frustrating experiences for any Media Center user is when a PC connected to a TV resumes from sleep but shows only a black screen. I’ve read plenty of reports about the problem, including some from people I know.  It’s happened to me through the years, and about 18 months ago I found a workaround that helped me—putting an HDMI switcher in-line. As a number of commenters noted, that fix isn’t universal. It works on some configurations, but not on others. Here’s how I described the problem back then:

One of the biggest problems that I’ve run into with HDMI connections is one I fondly call the “black screen of amnesia.” This occurs when you power up a device and the TV doesn’t recognize it. Sometimes, flipping to a different input on the TV and then back to HDMI is enough to jog the connection into working again. But I’ve occasionally had to power everything down and restart in the right sequence to get things working.

Recently, I ran into the issue again. In fact, it’s happened a couple times this year, each time when I changed or reconfigured video cards in my primary Media Center PC. But this time, I was able to fix it, and I suspect that my lesson learned will help others as well.

This week, in preparation for a visit from Comcast to set up my new Ceton InfiniTV card, I installed both the new CableCard tuner and an updated video card, a Radeon HD5670. The Windows desktop displayed at the correct resolution, and Media Center appeared perfectly normal. As it always does, the system went to sleep after 20 minutes of inactivity, but when I hit the remote to wake it back up, I got … a black screen. I could hear sounds indicating that the remote buttons were controlling the Media Center interface, but nothing I did would bring back the display, including shutting down the TV, removing the HDMI connector, and reconnecting. I had to press the power switch to get it working again, and when I tried the sleep/resume cycle again, I got the same black screen.

And then I remembered something. My setup includes a five-year-old Sony DLP TV, which runs at 1080i. From the desktop, Windows displays the resolution as 1920×1080 @30Hz—which is the equivalent of 1080i. So everything should be OK, right? But one thing I noticed is that when switching between Media Center and the Windows desktop, there was a pronounced flicker, as if the display were resetting itself to a different resolution in each mode. That, as it turned out, was the key to solving this problem.

Here’s the set of instructions I followed to resolve this problem:

From the Media Center main menu, on the Tasks strip, click Settings, then TV, then Configure Your TV or Monitor. Follow the prompts until you get to the Identify Your Display Type screen:


The logical assumption is to choose TV. Don’t. Choose Flat Panel instead, and then click Next. Choose HDMI as the connection type and Widescreen as the display width. If you’re asked to confirm your current resolution, click No and then click Next to get to this screen.


My TV is a 1080i model, so my natural instinct was to choose the 1080i entry at the bottom of that list. Again, don’t. Instead, choose the "pixels" setting that exactly matches the desktop resolution—in this case 1920 by 1080 pixels (interlaced, widescreen). Your settings might vary, depending on the resolution of the output device. Just make sure it matches the display resolution that Widows is using for the desktop. Allow the system to make its minor adjustments, accept them if they look OK, and then finish the wizard.

After I made this change, sleep and resume began working perfectly again. I’m not sure exactly what was going wrong before, but I’m assuming that the 1080i setting that Media Center was using included some overscan, which caused the Media Center resolution to differ from the desktop resolution. When the system resumes from sleep, the system tries to display the desktop resolution and can’t, resulting in the black screen. But with the two modes set to the exact same values, everything works as expected. As a bonus, that flicker when switching modes is gone.

When I chose TV and 1080i as a default, I experienced another annoying glitch. The Blu-ray playback program I use no longer used full screen mode within Windows Media Center. Instead, it displayed at a lower resolution, with a black band around all four sides. It worked properly outside Media Center, but the whole point of using Media Center is to do everything from a single control point. At the 1920 by 1080 pixels (interlaced) setting, Blu-ray disks and DVDs use the full display again.

I have no idea whether this fix will work for every Media Center setup, but if you’re experiencing this problem it’s worth a try. Let me know in the comments whether it works for you.

13 thoughts on “A fix for Media Center’s Black Screen of Death?

  1. Thanks for posting this! I have had the issue and it drove me crazy. I “fixed” it by using HDMIon.exe (I put it on the taskbar and assigned a button on my Harmony to Win+1 to run the application), but this is a much more real solution.

    I’ll have to try it when I get home. (because I couldn’t get HDMIon.exe to run without launching a UAC prompt, so I disabled UAC, and really don’t like running without it)

  2. I saw this a lot but I can’t think how/why I wouldn’t have already had the Desktop and Media Center resolutions matching already. Will double-check, though… My solution was to disable sleep and have the machine up all the time. (Not idea!)

    When I used HDMI I also had a problem where the machine would instantly reboot sometimes when switching TV/Amp inputs to the PC. When it worked I could hear the “device disconnect/connect” sounds so I guess something screwy happened with that sometimes, causing it to reboot. I gave up trying to fix that in the end and switched back to VGA. 😦

    All part of the joy of having a computer plugged into your TV. 🙂 Still, the pros far outweigh the cons.

  3. Leo, you really have to go through some extra steps to get the resolutions to match, I discovered, The default for a TV produces a resolution that looks like it shiould be the same but isn’t. The key, in my experience, was to look for that flicker when switching between full-screen Media Center and the Windows desktop.

  4. I wish it was this simple Ed, but I’m afraid it isn’t. My fix was switching to a nVidia card, but even then I still have resolution problems. Like you suggested I have MC’s res set to the same as the desktkop, but still many times I turn on my TV and the output is set to 1080i instead of 1080p. My fix is to create a macro in my HA controller that simply minimizing and maximizes Media Center, that’s it. I hit a button on my phone to activate the macro and when MC minimizes to the desktop it the res switches to 1080p, and then when it maximizes it stays at 1080p just like it’s supposed.

    No, this problem is much deeper and I suspect it is actually in the hardware otherwise the behavior wouldn’t be different in ATI as it is in nVidia and HDMI switches and the HDMI detective wouldn’t fix it.

  5. Ben, I won’t use an Nvidia card on this system. It requires manual configuration of overscan using a horrible interface. It works flawlessly with ATI cards.

    You mention resolution is set to 1080i or 1o80p. Have you tried selecting an actual pixel-based resolution in Media Center setup?

    I don’t claim this is a universal solution, just that it has worked for me on several occastions using ATI hardware.

  6. Didn’t make any difference for me. I’m using an ATI card in a Dell Zino HD connecting over HDMI to an LG 1080P plasma via an Onkyo reciever.

  7. I really, really wish Media Center had an option to not mess with the screen at all when switching to full-screen mode.

    It runs fine in a window and I could really do without it pausing the video momentarily[1] and making me wait, and messing with the video mode, whenever I switch to another application or switch MC in and out of full-screen mode.

    ([1] This causes it to buffer live TV, too. If you flick to a browser to look something up and then forget to fast-forward after switching back to full-screen then you’ll hear your neighbours cheering before you’ve seen the goal.)

    Why can’t it do “full-screen” mode by just making its window the size of the desktop?

    Actually, this is a common complaint with many 3D games as well. They run great in a window but if you run them full-screen you run into all sorts of problems if you ever alt-tab.

    I’m sure there are performance issues on seriously ancient hardware but my HTPC is low-spec by today’s standards and has no problem running MC in a screen-sized window.

    I think it’s time for apps to stop taking over the video/3D hardware when they go full-screen. The performance trade-offs no longer make sense considering the delays and breakages they bring with them.

  8. I’ve seen this problem just using normal Windows 7 Premium, with no Media Center. It took multiple forced reboots and TV restarts to get the two working together again. I’d put the blame on the TV first. A TV should display what it recieves no matter what. Far too often newer TVs are getting to where the shut down inputs when they don’t recognize the signal they expect. I’ve also seen this with other equipment. It’s really annoying.

  9. Don’t use Media Center, but was having a simalar issue with my PC getting upset when it woke up without seeing the TV. Found this ‘black box’ called a “DVI Doctor” sold by Monoprice.com. Once programed, it sets between the PC and the TV always telling the PC it sees a monitor….works great…..never had the issue again.

  10. I given up on hooking my PC to my LCD television. The PC hardware is not compatible with it. I can’t believe a $500 computer does a worse job of displaying an image than a $100 Blu-Ray player.

    I researched the available graphics cards for a HDMI connector that also integrates the sound. There are slim pickings here. However, once this is done, there’s a chance that the PC will lose its sound from the motherboard or dedicated sound card. There are no easy solutions.

    It might be best to just buy a Roku or WD box. Or watch the PC with a largest available PC monitor like a 24 incher. I use a Samsung Blu-Ray to watch Netflix and Youtube, but sometimes my Samsung TV shows a Blue Screen of Death to I must turn off the TV and Blu-Ray Player and turn them back on again.

    Microsoft dropped the ball with Media Center. They offered a half-baked solution. This happens when they don’t control the hardware. They must create actual full featured devices even if they are concept models. They must insist that the PC manufacturers offer the basic specifications.

  11. From the massive discussions on TheGreenButton and AVSForum it appears that there are at least three separate issues that exhibit this symptom. One appears to be triggered by having Media Center set to a different display resolution than the Windows desktop. A second seems to result from EDID not being read correctly from certain HDMI-connected TVs, most commonly when the TV is connected through a receiver and audio is also being passed over the HMDI. A third seems to be specific to AMD systems with ATI video cards. This third issue seems to have been introduced when ATI added support for bitstream audio over HDMI. The fix described here addresses the first issue, but not the others.

    Some people with the second issue report success by adding a (fairly expensive) HDMI EDID caching device to the chain. Recently, there have been reports of solving #2 using a custom display INF. This issue will probably fade away over the next few years as HDMI device interoperability improves.

    So far there doesn’t seem to be a resolution for the third issue, or even an acknowledgement from AMD/ATI that there is an issue. There have been numerous releases of the device drivers since the problem started, and none have resolved it. It’d be great if Ed could help AMD understand they they need to address this.

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