20 September 2004, 00:22 by mark hoekstra

Media Center 2005 preview

Well, this could start becoming a review-site, couldn’t it? Anyway, I’ve been busy with testing Windows XP Media Center 2005 for quite a while now and that (especially in the beginning) was a frustrating journey ;-) But, I have to be honest, not long before the release (12 october 2004) it starts to fit together. One of the hardest parts of such systems is the way you use them in your home and your approach (not only this windows-system, but in general). If you keep it ‘as a spare’ next to all the equipment you already have, you won’t use it much… You really have to make the jump in letting this system take the place of your VCR, DVD/CD/MP3-player and also the TV-tuner already in your TV… Once you do that and you become used to pause live television and also rewind live television (without you ever started a recording), you’re hooked ;-) There’s always a 30 minute buffer running alongside while you watch TV, so when you miss an item when watching the news, just rewind it! Well, just only for this feature, it’s almost worth all the effort. But you need to watch TV through this device all the time and use your TV only as a monitor, otherwise this whole time-shifting thing just doesn’t get used… So, in an old-fashioned setup with a TV and a VCR you have 2 TV-tuners you use at most. So if you want all the options you ever had, you need 2 TV-tuners… well, MCE2005 is supporting multiple TV-tunerboards (haven’t tested that myself yet), so you can start a recording and still zap along, just like you could the old-fashioned way ;-)


The TV-guide


Just a random album as MP3’s. If there’s an image of the cover, it shows you that.


...and of course, there’s some visualizationstuff as well…


My test-setup :-)


And the sickest DIY-option of them all… my little LCD-monitor on my workstation-desk… keeping an eye on the television and I can actually read all the menu’s and stuff, so program a recording? no problem! ;-)

VERDICT (hahaha, I love this review-site-idea :-))

Well, in the beginning, I couldn’t see where MS was going with this stuff. I thought the specific remote and only a handful of TV-cards that work were ridiculous, I had trouble with videocarddrivers and stuff, but well, now it’s working and I can see what they’re trying to do. First of all, this is only meant for new systems, so a specific hardwarelist isn’t that strange, is it? I have the Hauppauge PVR250 Amity2-board in this system, with hardware MPEG2-encoding and it encodes all-the-time. In Media Center, everything is pulled through Direct3D (you actually need 3D-acceleration)... But once it’s up there, it adds flexibility, the system can alter everything in the live televisionstream for instance. And that works… downpoints? of course… Not necessarily a downpoint of this HTPC/PVR-system, but all PC-based systems… I keep having trouble of the quality of onboard tuners on TV-cards (and I used a bunch of them)... But since MCE2005 has an option of using a settop-box an sending the proper IR-signals to that for switching channels, I guess I could take a good-quality stereo VCR (second hand they cost next to nothing) and hook that up to the Hauppauge-board instead of using it’s onboard tuner…


The best thing of them all… pausing and rewinding live television… you want that, believe me :-) (I know, time-shifting is printed on all the boxes of all the TV-cards out there, but do you use that? neither do I… I must give it to them that time-shifting in MCE works flawlessly)

...and of course, what everybody wants to know but is afraid to ask…
Q: Are you gonna use it yourself?

A: Well… I don’t think so… (hey, you really expect me to use an out-of-the-box-solution?)... I’ve got quite a bunch of Pinnacle-stuff and somehow mysteriously this manufacturer doesn’t do anything with this upcoming MCE-stuff… So, two choices, throw the boards away …or spend some time and effort in getting such a system up&running in Linux with MythTV for instance… Now, guess three times what I’m gonna do (at least I now know what I’m up against)

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