February 2, 2007
As far as I'm concerned, Windows Media Center is one of the best-- if not the best-- applications Microsoft has ever created. And it was written in .NET to boot.
I've been a huge MCE enthusiast since the original version was released in 2003, so I was greatly looking forward to the Vista edition of Media Center. I've slowly been upgrading my Home Theater PC over the last two years in anticipation of the shift to Vista:
Eventually I want to plop an internal HD-DVD drive in this machine once prices and configurations stabilize. But that's probably another 8-12 months out.
This weekend I took the plunge and upgraded my HTPC from Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 to Windows Vista Home Premium. I wasn't disappointed. Vista's Media Center is a vast improvement over XP's Media Center. It's faster, it's prettier, and it's thoroughly improved in every way.
The default UI makes better use of the horizontal, widescreen arrangements most home theater setups will have. Recorded shows are now displayed as a linear timeline with a graphic still, rather than plain text in a list.
Under Vista's Media Center, my 60+ GB music library is now a pleasure to navigate. Like videos, much better use of horizontal screen real estate; I can see dozens of albums at once. And the music library is dramatically faster. Displaying, searching, scrolling-- it's all nearly instantaneous now. I love the new "play all" shuffle mode, too.
The program guide-- which is completely free, no monthly charges whatsoever-- now overlays the live video as a transparency. There's also a new popup Mini-Guide (not pictured) which lets you browse nearby channels without obscuring playback.
The main menu no longer stops whatever I'm doing and zaps me back to a flat menu screen. It's more of a pop-up style menu, which can be accessed at any time through the big green MCE button. I can now continue watching my program in the background while navigating the main menu, too.
Another big quality of life improvement in Vista's Media Center is that a DVD codec is included right out of the box. So Vista's Media Center, unlike the one in Windows XP, is fully usable after a clean install. It even works with my SPDIF out for Dolby Digital sound playback. There's no longer any need to rely on questionable, expensive third-party DVD playback apps.
Did I mention burning TV shows to DVD is now included out of the box, too? As far as I'm concerned, Media Center is the killer app for Vista. And at $120 for the OEM Home Premium edition, it's a flat-out bargain for a better-than-Tivo experience-- without all those onerous monthly fees.
If you're interested in a home theater PC, all you need is the following:
- Vista Home Premium (or Ultimate)
- relatively modern PC
- MCE compatible PVR card
- MCE remote
One caveat: I've stuck exclusively and intentionally with analog cable. All my digital video needs are satisified at the moment through DVD rentals and downloads. However, it is possible to record and play back over the air HDTV signals with Media Center, assuming you have a MCE compatible HDTV tuner installed (such as the AverMedia MCE A180). The only unresolved issue at this point is CableCard, for digital cable.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Just bought the HP Media Center with the Intel quad processor. I was stunned at how bad Windows Media Center is. Seems like the designers got so wrapped up in the bells and whistles they forgot that simplicity is the first thing that should be addressed. Even HP doesn't know how it works.
Push the record button and it doesn't record, it just brings up a programing screen. Push the stop button and it doesn't really stop the recording. It only looks like it did. I finally figured it out, but believe me, it ain't simple! I was so PO'd I wouldn't tell the HP techs how I did it! They actually told me it could not be done! Then they blamed it on Microsoft! (Hey HP, if its so bad, why did you incorporate it into your machine? Surely a company of your size can find a better interface than this! Shame on you!)
Want to change inputs? This should be a button on the remote! In Media Center you need to completely reconfigure the video card, which begs the joke, how many screens does it take to change an input? Answer, about 12! What's the point of having all those inputs if it takes a week to get to them?
Does anyone know of a software package that will give me back control of the n-vidia board? I tried the n-vidia site and that was useless. They seem more interested in investors than customers. With a product like this, that's probably a wise decision! This Media Center thing is an abomination!
While I can't deny that Media Center is far more flexible and prettier in Vista, other solutions such as TiVo are arguably better for the masses. Is the UI really easier to navigate this time around, or is it just shinier? What's with optical output only automatically working in this latest release?
And how long before we see dual ATSC tuners on a single card? I'm also fond of the PVR-500 MCE card.
Lack of Clear QAM support is utterly inexcusable.
With cable providers tripping all over themselves to release more and more digital/HD channels as fast as possible, I can't believe they won't allow access to unencrypted channels out of the box.
It's just another example of Big Media whining and getting their way, not allowing the consumer to use the products that they pay for in the manner they wish to use them.
I've got MythTV and Windows XP MCE both installed, one on either side of my TV.
MythTV is free, but costs $20 a year for program guide information from a non-profit provider. It was relatively easy to install (mythbuntu.org), supports my Hauppage PVR-150 cards with ease, supports S/PDIF output on my Soundblaster LIVE (yes, 5.1 digital surround), and plays DVD's out of the box.
MythTV has supported HD/ClearQAM tuning mechanisms and hardware. (pcHDTV, and others).
What MythTV doesn't do: HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. It probably never will, due to DRM restrictions.
Windows XP MCE: Costs a lot more, but the guide is free. It evens out after 6 years of paying for guide info for MythTV, if you pay $120 for MCE.
Doesn't do DVD out of the box. I assume it won't do HD-DVD or Blu-Ray either. I hear that Vista MCE can do it but only with 3rd part apps (though it does have DVD built in).
Doesn't support Clear QAM.
I'd say the clear winner is MythTV. It's cheaper (even paying for the guide info), and actually supports clearQAM if you buy the right hardware.
I use Windows media center and FFdshow (all-in-one codec pack). If I play a movie from the harddrive and use .srt the subtitles will show perfectly in the beginning, no problem.... but when I maximize WMC to start watching the movie the subs disappears! (sub works fine with media player and vlc player when maximized). Any suggestions as to why the sub disappears in WMC ?
I found one major flaw with Vista (Ultimate) MCE: I doesn't playback properly HD video files (.AVI) created off my HDV Camcorder (Sony HDR-FX1)with Adobe Premiere Pro (with HD plug-in). The picture is erratic with frequent freezes. Yet the same file plays perfectly with Windows Media Player or even with a freebie like Media Player Classic.
And interestingly enough, the same file plays back OK with XP MCE!
My windows media center pops-up indiscriminately while working anhthing....It's extremely annoying..How do I stop this from happening?
Any advice will be appreciated.
For all MCE Vista and Windows7 users, I would recommend the Media Control plugin:
This really solved a number of issues for me.
@haacked - Two things I know for certain:
1) Jeff will blame the Brittany Spears on his wife
2) This will be a lie
You have an error in your costs. The monthly fees can add up, but are optional. You can, at your option, choose to pay once ($250, I think) and not pay any more monthly fees. This means that I can but the machine for about $200, plus another $250 for the permanent subscription, and be done.
You have neglected to include the cost of the dedicated PC in your costs. If you can but a PC with all of the stuff you need to do this (hardware MPEG encoder, TV tuner, etc) and the software and still come in under $500, then I am impressed.
Then again, look at the time to upgrade, and then look at Tivo, you can get it for about $20 with no upfront, and that includes all hardware and software.
Most people who complain about Tivo being expensive compared to media center or MythTV fail to include the cost of the hardware.
Since I don't care about watching TV/Movies/etc on my PC (or at all), how well does this stack up for just sound? I have a large collection (and growing) of audio books and kids CD's. I'd like to put them into a PC so the kids don't have to be swapping CD's all day long. Anything in particular I should look into when setting up an Audio-Only Media PC? Great site about satellite tv deals click here: http://www.dish-network-vs-direct-tv.com/