Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Rocks!


Okay…I have a confession to make. To-date, I’ve purchased four TiVo units, and I’m currently running the DirectTV DVR that includes the TiVo service. My wife and I are both TiVo addicts, our friends are sick and tired of us talking about it, and I firmly believe that it’s the only way to watch TV. Yes, I realize that it runs Linux, but you know what? It’s an excellent product, and they’ve nailed the user interface. However, although the standalone edition allows you to browse digital media, the DirectTV version does not, so we’re left with only a partial solution.


As you can imagine, I’ve followed our Ultimate TV and Windows Media Center releases quite closely. Believe me when I tell you that I’d love nothing more than to purchase our own stuff. However, I refuse to spend my money on something that I don’t believe will offer me a real benefit, and until the recent release of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, I didn’t believe that we were there yet.


I had heard so many good things about the 2005 edition (for example, see Paul Thurrott’s review) that I decided to try it myself. The software and hardware are now available for OEM sale which makes it much easier to evaluate (as a matter of fact, the software is also available to MSDN subscribers). I’ve always had a problem with the thought of buying a whole computer just to play back my media. Part of the reason I really like TiVo is because it’s an appliance that requires no maintenance on my part. I already have a few computers to maintain…I don’t need another one. And I didn’t look forward to having a computer with all of its associated cables in my home theater. I want something that looks more like A/V equipment (frankly, like TiVo).


Because of a recent computer purchase, I now have an extra P4 1.8GHz machine in need of a job. Although the video card doesn’t have a built-in tuner, it does have S-VIDEO out, making it a perfect test machine. So tonight, I installed MCE 2005 and connected it to our home theater. The installation was a breeze, the configuration took only a few minutes, and the interface is easy to use from a distance. And even though it isn’t an “appliance,” Windows XP Service Pack 2 now allows me to configure the system for automatic updates which makes maintenance simple.


So you can appreciate our situation, my wife and I have ripped over 1,600 CDs to a media server (WMA 192Kbps), we have about 9,000 digital photos, and around six hours of digital video. I’d really like to be able to browse all of our media on our 64″ HDTV. We’ve tried a number of solutions in the past (like the Turtle Beach AudioTron, a good device, but not for that many songs), but we always gravitate back to the Media Center interface. It’s clean, logical, and intuitive.


Well, after playing with the interface and working with media over our 802.11g wireless network, I can tell you that we’ve finally nailed it with the 2005 edition. It’s trivial to find music, even among 1,600+ CDs. We’re both visual people, so we enjoy the ability to select CDs using the album covers. But, it’s also easy to use the remote to search by artist. Response is snappy, and I’m pleased to find that my MSN Radio subscription works just fine. I’m not sure if I’d ever use it, but I am pleasantly surprised to find that my favorite blog reader, NewsGator, is one of the online services. It’s also a straightforward exercise to configure network shares, so I can distribute media across more than one device. Slick.


I’m sure that I’ll eventually purchase something like the HP Digital Entertainment Center z500 series, because it looks and feels more like the appliance that I’m after. Couple that with a few of our new Media Center Extenders, and we can proliferate media throughout the entire house. Tell me…is there anything better than a gadget addiction!?

Comments (24)

  1. Jeff Parker says:

    Did you get it to record TV from Comcast yet? I dunno we had this discussion I am still sceptical. Comcast has those encrypted channels like HBO and so on I would still like to record and watch them.

  2. JC says:

    I am in almost the exact situation, addicted to TIVO and using AudioTron for the music.

    Are you able to view/record DirecTV channels inside a MediaCenter box ?

    Can you watch TV while playing a CD ?

    JC

  3. Eric Newton says:

    "Yeah Microsoft"

    Now, once you realize that the media center PCs are way over priced, then the value proposition drops again. And TiVo’s 300$ price point becomes a lot more palatable for the people making 40K a year.

    A hacked Xbox with a Media player is gaining ground because of the utility of the xbox as a sub-PC… thats where the money is… appliances, not full blown PCs for doing things that dont NEED a full blown PC.

    Ask yourself, "Do I use this full blown Media Center PC for anything that couldn’t be done using a much smaller, much cheaper, much less processing power appliance?"

    I would venture a guess that your not developing C# applications on your 64" HDTV. I would also guess your not hosting an ASP.Net application on your media Pc.

    NOW Consider Media Center 2005 for XP embedded… THEN you might have something.

    Build a 500$-700$ box that does it all, and is FOCUSED (like the media center PC’s are) on Media, and managing media, and displaying media.

  4. JC…I don’t know. I’m not using it for the TV features…at least not yet. I’m guessing that you can have the Media Center PC control your DirectTV box.

  5. I like everything Media Center 2005 promises, but until it works natively with Directv they way a TiVo does, I’m staying away from it. Although it would be realy nice if they get out some hardware with Directv/Dish support.

  6. Kevin says:

    I have been researching XP MCE for the past month now, and was thinking about putting it on my x-mas list, but i have a question. I have another computer with all my videos on it, am i going to be able to have those video files shared and be able to watch them on my media center, or shoud i just copy the files over?

  7. Kevin…that was one of my questions too. Fortunately, you can add both local and network folders to your media list. So you can leave the media where it already is. Just remember that video uses more bandwidth than audio alone, so you’ll want to make sure your home network is up to the task.

  8. Beanie says:

    Yes you can record DirecTV programs, although not any in high definition. I think you hit the nail on the head when speaking of the interface. Seems to me that while other devices like TIVO can record programs, it’s all about the interface. BEing able to seamlessly integreate all your music, movies and streaming content is one of the biggest advantages of MCE. Plus, you can stream content to other rooms using the same interface and use a remote. I dont agrere that MCE is overpriced.

    Yes TIVO is less expensive but it doesnt do nearrly the same things. Sure you can network TIVO to your computer to play content, but it;s limited with the file types. And you have to manually load them into TIVO just to play them through the interface.

    One other point. More content providers are hopping aboard and priding content for MCE. Sure you can just watch content on your PC, but this new content is integrated within the MCE interface. Again, it boils down to a more uniform user experience in my opinion.

    beanie

  9. Rufus says:

    Oh man, I just got an HP Media Center 2005 for around a grand. So far so good. Has Athelon 64 3400+ 2.4 ghz. Runs real Quiet, not a speed demon, but no slouch, so far pretty stable, reliability unknown only had for a week but has been running constantly. HP Model M1050e. The software bundle really bites. It’s all limited to trial to purchase, for example, Office Smaill Edition 3 month trial, Norton Secuirty and Virus protection are the same scenerario.

    http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/shopping/computer_series.do?series_name=m1050e_series&catLevel=2&category=desktops/media_center&storeName=computer_store

    Rumors, Microsoft may implement Media Center 2005 or future revisions on the next Generation of Xbox

    Xbox 2 Basic

    Xbox 2 Middle

    Xbox 2 Media Center

  10. dolatron says:

    I’m currently trying to decide between yet another TiVo (HD this time) or a Media Center PC. My biggest concern is whether or not Media Center can control the DirecTV set-top box. I currently have a few TiVo’s, some integrated with DirecTV and some not, but even the non-integrated TiVo Series 1 can control the set-top box serially or via IR. That is the type of functionality I’m looking for with Media Center and if can’t provide that then the integration between the two must be cumbersome as you’d have to change the channels on the DirecTV receiver manually, correct?

  11. Dan says:

    Anyone know the proper sequence if you want to whipe out the machine and reinstall?

    Do you use the original Media Center install first, followed by SP2, and then 2005?

  12. Robert H says:

    Anyone know how import media center files into a video editor?

  13. betty says:

    can you set windows mce 2005 to record live tv without commercials?

  14. robert H says:

    I’d like to know that also. That’s why I’m trying to import the media center files into a video editor, so I can edit out the commercials.

  15. Wont says:

    Won’t change channels I spent hours upon ours with HP tech support redoing some big shister called me and said dirrectv is not compatible give me a break you mean to say I got ripped off again by HP and microsoft??? there must be a way for the media center to change the channel on my dirrectv 10 reciever anyone please help HP can’t the have not the knowledge in there support.

  16. Maak - Disillusioned with MCE2005 says:

    You Are surely not telling the truth here[ a p41.8 with MCE that ROCKS?]

    I too had a vacant P$ of same power. I Bought mce 2005 and installed. This os is HUGE..it was the slowest install ive done in a while ecept on the 600mhx via embedded machine i built.

    Next comes the purchase of an MCE compatible tv card..I got the best I could find. the haupauge TV PVR500.

    Then I had to find a compatible video card..aparently acordIng to M$ MCE site it needed to be a fairly new one..i doubt any p4 1.8 that was "lying around’ would have such a card.

    Then starngely enough the audio wasnt compatible…[AC97]  so I installed a sound blaster i had "lying aroud’

    So I connect the aerial and select TV.

    I get an error asking for  an mpg2 codec…Why I need One on a tv card with 2 dedicated hardware encoders i dont know…Then I find that after purchasing all this dedicated MCE aproved stuff..I have to BUY a codec as the free ones [supplied with the mce aproved tv card] aren’t comatible.

    So the TV finally plays.

    SO why the %^&&** cant you do something simple like name your TV channels?????

    Whythe ^&^&* can you only tune a maximumof 9 [NINE} fm channels…even our small country [NZ] has many times more?.

    WHY the ^&** can you then not name those FM channels?

    Then I try to set up MCE to view my saved video files and music files i have on attached ntwork storage [ok I’m a geek] when adding folders you can ONLY select the root folder that is shared and not any folder inside the share.

    So when you have selected you main share for videos and you try and set up a folder for music../the damn thing wont let you select the same folder…so you have to individually share each type of media on the network.

    I REALLY want MCE2005 to work..The idea of playing everything with one remote is excellent…BUT FACE IT…..

    ….MCE2005 IS BROKE…and probably will never work untill it is made buy people with a diifferent mindset. The fact that it is built on TOP of xp and a much heavier os for only a particular task should have told me that….and then when basic windows functions are disabled in that insanely constricted interface….it just makes me mad…this thing is advertised as something it just isnt…and im a computer geek…the average person would have no show in hell of getting this thing going at all and the pre built set top boxes havent the power to do what MCE is suposedly capable of.

    Im gonna try thi thing in a 3 gig machine and see if it can record TV while whatching another channel..as the p4 1.8 is by no means fast enough

    Maak

    disilusioned with MCE2005

  17. mswanson says:

    Maak: sorry you’re running into issues. You’ll note that in my post, I mentioned that I’m not using a video card with a tuner, and in-fact, I don’t use it for video at all. I use it for the massive number of audio CDs I have ripped in WMA format. For video, a 1.8GHz machine probably won’t cut it (although I don’t know for sure, because I haven’t tried this). All that said, I still love the solution. It’s been working great for me since I originally made this post.

  18. Maak - says:

    so why doesnt WMP cut the mustard for that?..doesnt it handle large libraries.

    I run a music server with about 10,000 songs on it.[via embedded thin client, its a little slow]] and control it with playerpal across the network

  19. mswanson says:

    Maak: if you mean, "why doesn’t WMP cut the mustard for just playing back audio files," I’d chalk it up to user interface and user experience. We don’t want a PC with a keyboard and mouse in our main room. We want the ability to control everything easily via a simple remote control. Media Center does that for us. Otherwise, we use WMP quite successfully on the other PCs around the house (where we do use a mouse and keyboard).

  20. hh says:

    does anyone know (and i mean definitively) if you can control the DirecTV box with MCE?  for me, this is also the deal-breaker.

  21. Mike says:

    Nope.

    However, Microsoft and DirecTv have a deal to sell a DirecTV Box on on a card in the spring of 2007.

    This will allow you to plug the Sat cable directly into the MCE.  No more Sat box on top.

    No one knows what DRM stuff DTV is going to put on the stream yet.  We will have to wait and see.

    Mike

  22. Rick says:

    Do any of you have any suggestions on how I can get my direcway DVR15+ to play back enough recorded shows to fill a 8 hr vcr tape overnight?

  23. Broozer says:

    I just stopped at BestBuy to look at one of their hyped up machines.  The interface is nice.  1000x best than the Mediacom HD-DVR we are using now.  My only big problem is the video playback.  On their brand spankin’ new machine it was choppy.  Now these machines get a workout and a defrag is probably in order.  

    My other problem with the MCE setup is probably not with M$.  I want direcTV to design a card interface so I can use an internal card to tune the direcTV and not use a set top box.  I know this is not likely for many reasons but I’d still like it.

    Also, you can’t capture HDTV off satellite…yet.  At least as far as I know.  

    I am a long time ReplayTV user.  Love them!  I have 3 of them.  For my money the interface is better than TiVo.  This proves out with my TiVo owning friends and family.  My Mom, who stuggles with technology, owns a TiVo but would rather have use my ReplayTV.  Guess Replay is the Betamax of this generation.  

    Any users living happily ever after with MCE and DirecTV?

  24. John in Williamsburg says:

    OK, so it took me a few years to get around to trying to play a DVD in my HD Media Center PC. Tell me why the system does not recognize any DVDs I have tried to play? Is there a basic setup I have missed?