I have been getting a lot of questions recently about my home media center setup since I told people that I have moved to the Windows 7 Release Candidate.
I thought the best way to address things is with a blog post.
You may or may not be aware that Windows 7 opens the door for watching Freeview HD natively without the need for any additional codec's to be installed inside of Media Center.
Prior to upgrading to Win7 RC I was running Vista 64 bit with a Hauppauge WinTV PVR500MCE card.
It was a good card (albeit a bit pricey) back in the day but all I can say now is DON’T BUY ONE!
This card is old and doesn’t have a 64 bit driver that supports >3GB of RAM so you need to limit your system RAM using msconfig if you want to make it work. Besides there are newer, cheaper and better options.
I replaced the card with a Hauppauge WinTV HVR2200 MC PCI-E $199 NZD which Windows 7 installs the drivers for automatically and eats as much RAM as you throw at it. This card gives you three tuners (1 S-Video that I use for digital Sky and 2 DVB-T tuners that I use for Freeview HD).
If you are planning on connecting digital sky in addition to Freeview HD you will need a couple more things.
1) A Microsoft MCE Remote Control with an Infrared Blaster (which unfortunately appear to have been discontinued so are very expensive at stores that still hold stock). That said you may be able to use the Hauppauge MCE Remote Control Kit instead, but I haven’t tried it.
Once you have this setup the next challenge you face is getting your channels mapped with a working Electronic Program Guide (important for series linking and avoiding old VHS style manual recordings). Unfortunately there is currently no supported guide for MCE offered by Freeview or Sky in New Zealand.
That said if you have opted for a tuner that supports DVB-S you get a 7 day Freeview guide automatically via the satellite. Alternatively the DVB-T broadcast (Freeview HD) gives you a now/next guide automatically for the next few shows.
One of my favourite TV features of Win7 Media Center is the way that you can get captions on live and recorded TV when you press the mute button.
Also I love the audio pitch correction so that people don’t sound like chipmunks when you play back at 1.5x by pressing the >> button. This feature is great for watching news and long sporting events.
Another great thing about this setup is the extender story to get HD Freeview in other rooms of the house.
I own a Linksys Media Center extender that I brought a while back during a stock clearance sale. Again DON’T BUY ONE! Linksys, as far as I’m aware, are not updating their extenders to support the codecs needed to play TV in Win7. Mine now sits in the lounge on top of the MySky HDi box for playing music, photos and movies via HDMI from Win7 to my main TV.
Like any technology solution there have been a few teething issues. Namely when watching recorded HD TV on the XBOX extender audio sometimes gets a little out of sync. I find pressing pause and then play fixes this. Also for some crazy reason once you connect to XBOX live to download the hd codecs you appear to need to be connected to XBOX live from that point on when you launch media center! This isn’t a problem really except the other day when the login service for XBOX live was unavailable I couldn’t watch TV on my XBOX extender! I have raised this issue with the XBOX NZ team.
You will need plenty of hard drive space if you plan to archive programs after you view them.Win7 Media Center uses a new .wtv container which is about 3.5GB per hour for H.264 content.
Windows Live Movie Maker (currently available in early beta) is one of the few programs that I have found that can work with wtv files natively, also right clicking “convert to DVR-MS” works for content that is not HD.
All in all the solution I have is wife friendly (more so than MySky we’ve found) via a simple to use remote control and a very intuitive user interface.