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Media Center PCs - Multimedia Computers - Windows Media Center in Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 & 8


What is a Media Center PC?

A Media Center PC should be able to take care of most of your home-entertainment needs, which, for most people, involves watching DVD movies and watching and recording television programmes. In order to make that possible, a Media Center PC must have a TV tuner (some have two TV tuners, making it possible to watch programmes while recording a programme on another channel), a DVD drive, and plenty of storage capacity in the form of one or two hard disk drives. If you want to watch high-definition movies, the Media Center PC must have a Blu-ray drive. Toshiba's HD DVD technology lost the high-definition-format war to Sony's Blu-ray. If you have an HD DVD drive, you should replace it with a Blu-ray drive, because none of the movie studios are bringing their movies out in the HD DVD format.

Click here! to go to the information on Blu-ray on this website.

Media streamers

To listen to music and view photos or movies from a computer on a TV, a streaming media receiver commonly known as a media streamer is required - a device that allows files stored on a desktop or laptop PC or network attached storage (NAS) device, or any other file server placed in other rooms of a house, to be played over (preferably) a wired network or a wireless network to a TV.

A wired Ethernet network provides a fast and consistent connection. A wireless connection can be jerky if the signal strength is weak. Not all media media streamers provide a wireless adapter, but if not, a wireless USB adapter/dongle can usually be used instead. Many media streamers also allow access to online content, such as YouTube, Internet radio and the radio and television programmes provided by the BBC's iPlayer, etc.

You must make sure that a particular media streamer that you buy supports the file-types that you want to stream. Most media streamers can handle the standard file formats, such as MPEG4, AVI and WMV, or even the less commonly used formats such as Matroshka (MKV) and DVD ISO. Note that currently the Apple TV (2nd Generation) is the only media streamer that can play Apple's Protected AAC files and Audible's proprietary audiobook format. As usual, Apple doesn't allow other platforms, such as Windows platforms, to use its content or technology.

To connect a TV to a media streamer, both devices have to have the same type of port. For example, for Full HD (high-definition 1080p), both devices must have HDMI ports, which almost all of them have now.

For detailed information on media streamers on this website, visit the article called Media Steamers also known as Streaming Multimedia Receivers, which covers the specifications, the system requirements for media streaming, file format support and how to set up a UpnP server in Windows Media Player 12 (WMP 12) in Windows 7 and file sharing using an SMB server.

Media Streamer reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/media-streamers

Windows Media Center

Windows Media Center provides the software that makes a Media Center PC function as a home-entertainment centre.

There is a special version of Windows XP called Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) that Microsoft used to make available only to the manufacturers of Media Center PCs that are designed to be a home entertainment centre capable of playing digital music, DVD videos, TV - and to be used as a standard computer. However, Microsoft decided to make MCE 2005 available as a retail product. It is no longer available a a new product, but you should be able to buy it second-hand from outlets such as eBay.

However, if you want to make use of the Windows Media Center (WMC), it is best to upgrade to the versions of Windows Vista or Windows 7 that include it. Windows Media Center is no longer a separate edition; it is integrated within the Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate editions. It is available in all of the versions of Windows 7 - Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise. [The Professional version is equivalent to the Business version of Windows Vista.]

Windows Media Center is a paid-for add-on option for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro

Note that the Media Center is not built into any version of Windows 8; it is now a separate paid-for download called the Windows Media Center Pack for Windows 8, costing a huge $99.99, which upgrades Win8 to Win8 Pro and adds the Media Center. Win8 Pro users have to pay $9.99 for the Media Center as a download. It was free up to 31 January 2013.

Using the WMC is the only official way to add DVD playback support to the Windows Media Player. Note that neither Windows 8 nor Windows 8 Pro can play or burn DVDs. As with Windows XP, third-party software is required.

WMC is built into Vista and Windows 7, so it won't be retained after an in-place upgrade to Win8 from those versions of Windows.

Windows 8 Pro was available as a download for only £24.99/$40.00 up to 31 January 2013, but now the standard Windows 8 costs $119.99/£75.00 and Windows 8 Pro costs $199.99/£125.00 - for both the download and disc options. The download plus a backup disc without a Product Key costs $14.95/£9.50. So if you bought the full product as a downlaod or disc and you lose it, you can get the download or disc without a Product Key and then use the key you bought to reinstall it. Have a look at these offers on this page:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/...

The version of the Windows Media Center that comes with Windows 7 turns a desktop or laptop PC into a competent entertainment system. After a bit of setting up, it can be Digital Video Recorder (DVR), a stereo system and digital slide projector. For DVR capabilities, all you need to add is a Windows-compatible TV tuner — either as an internal card or external USB adapter.

The Windows Media Center has been improved in Windows 7, so if you want the best experience of it and you have a computer with a version of Windows that doesn't have access to it, this is the best version to use. The following page contains a video of the new features. Windows Media Center is available in the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7. -

Windows 7 features - Windows Media Center -

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/features/...

Here is a typical Media Center problem discussed on a computer forum that is best dealt with by Microsoft's support personnel:

In the Media Center in Windows Vista I get the message "Some of the files needed to play radio or video are missing or corrupt. Media Center component registration may have failed." -

http://lounge.windowssecrets.com/index.php?showtopic=775365

In Windows 7, you add Windows Media Center to a computer as a Gadget by clicking and empty space on the Windows desktop and then clicking the Gadgets option in the menu that comes up.

You can obtain more gadgets online by opening the Control Panel, opening Appearance and Personalization, clicking on Desktop Gadgets and then clicking on Get more gadgets online.

Click here! to read an article on this website called: How to improve the Windows Media Center in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

By improving how Windows Vista and Windows 7 interacts with Media Center and improving the video and sound quality by the addition of third party software you can enhance the experience of using Media Center considerably and make it play video formats other than videos in the WMV format.

Microsoft's Fix It Center beta troubleshooting software

December 15, 2012. - In 2010, Microsoft made available beta (test) troubleshooting software called Fix It Center that works on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. You can download it as a file and then install it, or use the Run option (to install it directly) that presents itself after you click on the Try it now button on the download webpage provided below.

In Windows XP, you are provided with five troubleshooting options, but there are many more troubleshooting options with Windows Vista and Windows 7. You are provided with an option to create an online Fix It Center account that puts you in touch with Microsoft's support personnel for additional help. The following webpage provides the download or direct installation option plus information on the new software. -

http://fixitcenter.support.microsoft.com/

The troubleshooters available for your version of Windows are installed, such as CD/DVD Reading & Writing, which you would run if you have a problem with your PC's optical drive, Printer Troubleshooter, Windows Firewall Troubleshooter, etc. If you can't link a problem to a particular troubleshooter, just run all of them one at a time from top to bottom.

For example, Windows Vista is prone to getting its file associations mixed up, which means that the wrong program gets associated with a type of file, such as a web browser being associated with .jpg image files instead of an image viewer. If, say, in Vista Windows Media Center opens on startup or pops up all the time, even though any boxes in the Startup and Windows Behavior settings have been disabled, you can apply the following Fix it remedy or directly or run the appropriate Fix It troubleshooter, which is this case is the File & Folder Troubleshooter.

When you run an .exe file on a Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7-based computer, the file may start a different program -

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/950505/en-us

If the Fix It troubleshooter fails to fix a problem, you can often find a third-party tool that might fix it. In this case, the problem has to do with the programs that Windows has associated its file types with, so I tried a web search using the search query file association fix and found the free File Association Fixer 1.0 from http://majorgeeks.com/File_Association_Fixer_d6366.html.

Windows Vista and Windows 7: Windows Media Center

In Windows Vista, Windows Media Center is no longer a separate edition. It is integrated within the Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate editions. Windows Media Center is available in the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7.

Windows Media Center -

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/.../mediacenter.mspx

Note that desktop or laptop/notebook computers that can run Vista but which might not be able to use the Media Center or the new Aero graphics feature, are labelled by Microsoft as being Vista Capable. Computers that can run all of Vista's new features are labelled as being Vista Ready. For example, you might purchase a laptop computer that come with Windows XP Professional Edition pre-installed There will be a label on it saying: Designed for Windows XP. Windows Vista Capable or Designed for Windows XP. Windows Vista Ready.

How to enable the DVD Library in Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer - This article describes how to enable the DVD Library feature in Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer. Note In Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, DVD content that is stored on the hard disk appears in the My Videos folder. Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer displays DVD content in a DVD gallery. However, the DVD Gallery is not automatically enabled in Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer. APPLIES TO • Windows Vista Home Premium • Windows Vista Ultimate • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit edition • Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit edition. - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/930526

The Windows Media Center has been improved in Windows 7. The following page contains a video of the new features. -

Windows 7 features - Windows Media Center -

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/features/...

Which to buy - a 32-bit or 64-bit PC?

There is now so much choice in the components installed in a desktop or laptop pc, it can be so confusing to buyers that they just make a choice on purely on price or the advice of vendors - advice that more often than not is provided by people who don't know what they are talking about.

To add to the confusion, you can have a 32-bit system or a 64-bit system. The PC's processor can be a 32-bit processor or a 64-bit processor, and the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows can be a 32-bit or a 64-bit version.

All of the latest processors (since 2006) from the two major manufacturers - AMD and Intel - are 64-bit and will run a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system (Windows, Linux, Apple OS X). Note that a 32-bit processor cannot run 64-bit software, so it must use a 32-bit operating system.

If you're the average user whose computing needs don't require more than 3.2GB of RAM memory, the limit of a 32-bit operating system, that choice will do just fine. It is compatible with almost all software applications, and compatible hardware device drivers are easily available.

64-bit operating systems will one day be the norm as 32-bit systems are now. However, you should only choose a 64-bit system if the programs you plan to use in the future require a 64-bit system, or more than 3.2GB of RAM memory (i.e., you use 3D-rendering software, intense graphics, etc.). Otherwise, there are currently more drawbacks to running a 64-bit system than there are advantages. The non-availability of 64-bit device drivers for peripherals such as printers, routers, scanners etc., is the major drawback. A 64-bit operating system cannot use 32-bit device drivers, they must all be 64-bit. Note well that although a 64-bit processor can run both 32-bit and 64-bit software, a 64-bit operating system can only run 64-bit software, so your old 32-bit applications will have to be upgraded to their 64-bit versions.

The typical computer user is unlikely to notice any gain in performance from a 64-bit system. Visit the Using Windows Vista for more information on the 64-bit versions of Windows Vista. Only Windows XP Professional Edition has a 64-bit version; Windows XP Home Edition is only available in a 32-bit version.

Note that almost all applications, programs and utilities that run under Windows XP will run properly in Windows 7, including MS Office 2000, which means that there is no need to buy a version of Windows 7 that provides Windows XP Mode.

Note also that most programs designed for the 32-bit version of Windows will work on the 64-bit version of Windows. Notable exceptions are many antivirus programs. -

32-bit and 64-bit Windows: frequently asked questions -

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/...

The long wait for 64-bit PC software continues -

"Even though 64-bit PCs have been available for seven years, the promise of 64-bit computing has been delayed by a dearth of 64-bit software." -

http://windowssecrets.com/comp/100128/

Your rights under the Sale of Goods Act in the UK

It is well worth noting that the Sale of Goods Act in the UK protects the purchase of goods over their expected useful life.

This is valuable protection for goods that have an expected useful life that is longer than the standard 12-month warranty. It means that if the product, such as a desktop or laptop computer, has an expected useful life of four years, its owner can get it repaired or replaced if it dies within that period, regardless of any warranties, standard 12-month or extended. All computers should have a useful life of at least four years, so it is a waste of money to buy an extended warranty for a desktop or laptop computer. However, the vendor or manufacturer will probably try every trick in the book to avoid having to repair or replace a computer that is out of its warranty period and which has no extended warranty. That said, if you have the product examined by a reputable third party and then insist on your rights under the Sale of Goods Act, if the product fails within its expected useful life, you will always be entitled to having it repaired or replaced.

Sale of Goods Act Fact Sheet -

http://www.berr.gov.uk/whatwedo/consumers/fact-sheets/page38311.html

Sale of goods -

"While laws concerning sale of goods date back 100 years, the only phrase you need to memorise is 'The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended)'." -

http://www.bbc.co.uk/consumer/guides_to/law_goods.shtml

You can buy complete Media Center PCs made by the major brand-name manufacturers such as Dell, but now, as long as you buy the correct components, it's possible to build one of your own.

Although laptops/notebooks are still being sold with a single-core processor, the models with more capable and economical dual-core or even quad-core processors don't cost much more, so, in order to future-proof your investment as much as possible, a laptop with a dual-core or quad-core processor made by Intel or AMD is the best choice.

You can purchase a video/graphics card that has an inbuilt TV tuner. The All-In-Wonder X800 XL PCI Express video card supports MCE 2005. It offers analog TV reception, supports Digital Video Broadcasting for Terrestrial (DVB-T) television transmissions and FM tuning, and provides a SCART TV interface.

Note that the development of what is known as the High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) will do away with the need to use S-video and VIVO (Video In Video Out) ports on a video card, and a SCART connection on a television set. It is a wholly digital interface that maximises the inputs and outputs of the entire system. HDMI is backed by manufacturers such as Philips and Sony.

HDMI is a new standard interface for the digital transmission of video and audio signals. The signals are not compressed; transmission is direct and free of the degradation and noise that occur in analog (British: analogue) signal transmissions.

You can read more about it at http://www.hdmi.org/ or here:

HDMI - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI

Wireless HDMI kits that can transmit Full HD video and Blu-ray movies without using compression are available, currently (Feb. 2012) costing around £150, that can be used (with excellent results using up to two devices if the kit comes with HDMI ports) instead of HDMI cables. This is new technology, so there are a limited number of products available. Amazon sells them and its purchaser reviews are usually well-worth reading.

You have to make up your mind which kind of TV tuner you want. An analog (analogue) TV tuner can receive the five terrestrial channels in the UK. A DVB-T digital TV tuner can receive all of the Freeview digital channels (freeview.co.uk).

TV tuner cards - analog or digital - can only receive one channel at a time. You can watch recorded programmes while you're recording the one channel you can receive, but you can't watch one live channel while recording from another live channel. But, because hard disk drives can record and play back at the same time, you can watch a programme that you've recorded while you record a new one.

Two TV tuners are required to watch one channel while recording another channel. By the end of 2005, standard PCI cards that have two TV tuners, which make it possible to record one channel while watching another channel, were made available.

Microsoft has provided a good guide on how to set up two TV tuners. The page also provides access to a forum where specific questions can be posted. Read the guide here: http://www.microsoft.com/..../bowman_dualtuners.mspx.

How to fix problems with the electronic programme guide (EPG) in the Media Center in Windows Vista

Windows XP MCE 2005 makes recording television programmes very easy. The excellent integrated electronic programme guide (EPG) makes it easy to find programmes worth recording. All you have to do is select a programme listed in the guide with the Media Center's remote control and press the Record button. It doesn't matter when the programme is aired. As long as it appears in the guide, it will be recorded at the scheduled time - as long as the Media Center is left in standby mode.

However, remember that recording programmes uses up plenty of space, so make sure that you have around 200GB of hard-drive space. If you're building your own Media Center PC and you've chosen a small case, you won't be able to installed more than one hard disk drive in it, but if you you've chosen an inelegant tower case, you can install several hard disk drives in it.

You can also save programmes to VideoCDs or DVDs. Just select the programme that you want to store in this way from the Record list, then press the More Info button on the remote control, and select Create a CD/DVD. It takes about 20 minutes to record 45 minutes of television to a DVD.

MCE 2005 supports High Definition TV (HDTV). HDTV, so it would be a good idea to buy a ready-made Media Center PC that has a TV tuner that supports it, or to buy one if you build your own Media Center. As stated earlier, two TV tuners can be used or a single device can have two TV tuners built into it. One tuner can be used for playing watching a programme while the other can be used to record a programme on another channel at the same time.

Click here! to go to more information on TV tuners on this website.


Media Center PCs: System specifications

Motherboards, processors and RAM

Although the Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) is choosy about the TV tuners it supports, the rest of its system requirements are identical to those of Windows XP Home or Professional Editions.

If you are building a media center PC around Windows Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate, which now incorporate Microsoft's Windows Media Center software, you will have to meet the hardware system requirements of those versions of Windows Vista. Windows Media Center is available in the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7. The Windows Vista and Windows 7 sections of this site deals with those requirements, and the following page deals with how Microsoft now implements its media center software.

Windows Media Center -

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/.../mediacenter.mspx

Noise should be taken into consideration when choosing media-center PC components. The noise-producing components are the the power supply unit, the disk drives (hard-disk and optical disk drives), the video/graphics card, which has its own cooling unit, the processor's cooling unit, and any fans that may be built into the case itself. Quiet components may be slightly more expensive than louder components, but they are obviously better suited to a media-center PC, and they are also more energy-efficient into the bargain.

Note that no matter how powerful a Media Center PC is, if it only has a single-core processor, you won't be able to do anything demanding of the system while recording television programmes, because that activity captures most of the use of the hard disk drive for itself. However, if you have a dual-core or quad-core processor, which is two or four processors housed in one unit, or a motherboard that has two separate processors installed, one of them will record the programme while the other will run any other demanding tasks. Any of the dual-core or quad-core processors that have a 2GHz or faster clock speed will be up to the job.

When making a choice of the make and model of processor (and the corresponding type of motherboard) you want your Media Center PC to have, if you want to do more than just watch recorded television programmes, - such as edit video or digital photos or play the latest PC games - you'll need the fastest processor and the best graphics card that you can afford.

****

Note that ready-made Media Center PCs are designed to operate as quietly as possible in order not to spoil the viewing experience. If you build your own Media Center PC using components that aren't designed for silent operation, the noise might impair the quality of the viewing experience.

ARTICLES ON MEDIA CENTER/HOME THEATER PCs (HTPCs)

Note that the video/graphics card manufacturer, ATI, which was purchased by AMD, is now called AMD.

Touch-Screen HTPC: Three Premium Cases Compared : Premium HTPC Cases With 7” Touch Displays -

"With ATI's Radeon HD 5000-series GPUs and Intel's Clarkdale-based processors coming loaded with multi-media functionality, it's a great time to build an HTPC. We compare three enclosures from Moneual, Thermaltake, and Zalman, all priced very differently." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/touch-screen-htpc-case,review-31804.html

ATI Radeon HD 5450: Eyefinity And HTPCs For Everyone? -

"Spoiler alert: ATI's Radeon HD 5450 is the first DirectX 11 card we've seen with outright poor gaming performance. But with its low price tag, does this Radeon deliver solid value to the masses, or should you be setting your sights a little bit higher?"-

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/radeon-hd-5450,review-31803.html

Three Mainstream Home Theater PC Cases Compared -

"Increasingly, movie and television buffs are considering a home theater PC solution to replace old video devices or TV receivers. In fact, HTPCs can do almost anything, but which case should you use? We look at offerings by GMC, Moneual, and SilverStone." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/htpc-chassis-theater,review-31694.html

Stealthy HTPC: Two Cases To Hide Your Inner-Geek : Is HTPC The Latest Fashion Victim? -

"If you've shied away from the home theater PC idea for fear of introducing an ugly box to your svelte component rack, then it's time to take another look at the options. We went looking for unique enclosures and came away with two interesting choices." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/htpc-pc-v351-nmedia,review-31680.html

How To: Build An HTPC (With Windows 7) : One Small Hawaiian Island At A Time... -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/windows-7-htpc,review-31517.html

HTPC Cases With LCD Screens: Bringing Bling -

"We look at three premium LCD touch-screen home theater PC cases: the Moneual 972, the SilverStone CW03, and the Thermaltake DH102." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/htpc-lcd-touchscreen,review-31503.html

Build The Ultimate Microsoft Windows Home Media Center -

"A Windows Vista PC is all you need to set up a high-definition entertainment system complete with digital video recorder, jukebox, photo viewer, gaming, and more." -

http://www.informationweek.com/news/...

Digital Living - Linksys Media Center Extender DMA 2100 -

"The Media Center Extender is the most recent attempt by Linksys and Microsoft to conquer your digital living room. The question is – what exactly is an extender? A standalone player? A video/audio streaming client? In the end, the Linksys DMA 2100 is a little of both while also bringing a few innovations to the table as well. In order to be able to use the DMA 2100 you’ll need a networked computer containing music, videos and image files acting as a server. If this server is also equipped with a TV tuner card, the TV signals can also be streamed to the extender and then sent to a TV or TFT from there. The type of tuner card is irrelevant, since analogue, DVB-T and DVB-S are supported." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/DMA2100-Linksys,review-30366.html

Upgrade Modules – Remote Controls for Media Centers -

"Want to upgrade your Windows Media Center with a remote control? We test three different remote control bundles with IR sensors..." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/Remote-Contol-PC-Remote-Controls-OrigenAE,review-30003.html

AMD’s DTX Form Factor – A new Concept for the HTPC -

"Could the DTX form factor created by AMD be the next evolutionary step, despite the existence of microATX and mini-ITX? In this article, Tom’s Hardware looks back on the development form factors have taken over the years and takes a closer look at AMD’s DTX concept." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/DTX-form-factor-AMD-HTPC,review-29795.html

Hiper Media - Slimline HTPC [Media Center PC] with an AMD Heart -

"The youngest member of Hiper's slimline series of HTPCs now comes with a pre-installed micro-ATX motherboard. While buyers of previous models had to find their own motherboard and install it into the case, the HMC-2K53A-A3, as it is officially called, already ships with a socket AM2 board made by MSI. What sets it apart from other offerings is that it sports an HDMI connector on the ATX shield. Hiper is also planning to create an Intel version..." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/Hiper-HMC-2K53A-A3-HTPC,review-29787.html

The Swiss Army Knife of HTPCs - Fujitsu Siemens Activy Media Center 570 -

"You can use it to watch TV, record to disk and DVD, and play back a variety of audio and video formats. It even has a remote control..." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/Activy-570-Fujitsu-Siemens-Mediacenter,review-29695.html

Medion Maximum Performance Multimedia PC -

"Can you really get a decent, low-cost PC capable of powering your home entertainment system? From Tesco? Apparently you can! See the full review here." -

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/shopper/reviews/reviews_story.php?id=122715

Sometimes TV Gets Too Hot to Handle -

"To get an idea of what a top-of-the-line Media Center PC could (or should) look and act like, I purchased a unit from German PC maker Hush Technologies. For a pretty princely price - just under $3,000 including several upgrades and add-ons - I got a completely silent, reasonably capable media PC that could use Windows Media Center 2005 to handle television, play DVDs, output music, and work as a regular PC to boot." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/sometimes-tv-gets-too-hot-to-handle,review-29622.html

Build your own Media Center PC

We Build Four HDMI-Based HTPCs: Is The World Ready For DIY HDMI PCs? Are We? -

"The impetus for this story was to explore the workability of building one's own HDMI-and hi-definition DVD player equipped PC. While we were ultimately successful in our quest for this goal - and wow, is this landscape changing daily as new HDMI-equipped graphics cards and motherboards hit the marketplace - we learned numerous interesting things along the way as we groped toward both Intel and AMD implementations for a mid- to high-end media-capable system..." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/we-build-4-diy-hdmi-uk,review-2210.html

Media Center PC video/graphics cards

A powerful video card is only required if you want to play the latest PC games. For home entertainment requirements, the graphics card should have an S-video or VIVO (Video In Video Out) port that allows you to connect the video card to the SCART socket of a widescreen television set. You should use a widescreen TV in order to be able to view DVD movies and widescreen TV broadcasts as they are meant to be viewed. However, you can also use a widescreen LCD computer monitor.

Note that the development of what is known as the High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) will do away with the need to use S-video and VIVO (Video In Video Out) ports on a video card, and a SCART connection on a television set. It is a wholly digital interface that maximises the inputs and outputs of the entire system. HDMI is backed by manufacturers such as Philips and Sony. You can read more about it at http://www.hdmi.org/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI.

Internet connection

The MCE downloads its programme listings from the web, which, of course, requires an Internet connection. The best connection is an always-on broadband ADSL or cable service accessed via a router, but a dial-up connection can be used because the MCE can be set to download updates.

Build your own Media Center PC

The Build Your Own PC pages on this site provides information on how building yur own PC is done.

If you need more specific information, read this article:

Build Your Own Windows Media Center PC -

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1558,1742236,00.asp

You can find more information by entering a search query such as build media center pc in a search engine.

Media Center plugins

Many plugins are available that can enhance a Media Center PC. Some are freeware and others are commercial products.

Here is a good plugin:

Album Art Fixer from http://www.avsoft.nl/ simplifies the process of making sure that the albums stored on the PC display their covers correctly in Windows Media Center Edition.

You can find many others by entering the search query media center pc plugins in a search engine.

Media Center add-ons: Portable Media Centers & Media Center Extenders

Being able to copy music and movies to a portable device is always a problematic area because it can make it easier for people to make illegal copies of copyrighted material.

Microsoft's Digital Rights Management (DRM) restricts the right to move and copy copyrighted content by encrypting material that is designated as Protected Content. Only playback software that has valid digital certificates can decrypt it.

Media Center PCs and Portable Media Centers are DRM-enabled devices. The owner of such devices acquires the digital licences for Protected Content when he or she buys such content, records a live TV broadcast, or downloads it from a subscription service. The terms of each licence may vary one from another, therefore, in order to remain on the right side of the law, the user should read the licence agreements before making copies of any copyrighted material. That said, you can transfer content from a Media Center PC to a Portable Media Center, both of which are owned by you, but copying protected material to any other device will be a waste of time because it won't be able to decrypt it.

Portable Media Centers

Add-on devices that can extend the sphere of a Media Center all around a house and outside it are already available, and additional devices are constantly being developed.

Portable Media Centers are either already available or are on their way to the UK. They have hard disks for storage, have an inbuilt screen, and can be used to play movies as well as music.

A standard Portable Media Center doesn't exist. All of the companies that make them have produced their own versions that offer similar or unique features. Examples are the Zen Portable Media Center made by Creative and the PMC-100 range of Portable Media Centers made by iriver.com.

MCE 2005 has a feature called Sync to Device that makes it possible to synchronise a Media Center PC with a Portable Media Center. USB 2.0 ports are used to link the two devices.

Microsoft has created a page on its website that keeps track of Portable Media Center players as they become available:

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/.../default.mspx

Media Center Extenders

Microsoft has created networking technology called Media Center Extenders.

Media Center Extenders work function similarly to networked media players. They allow a user to stream music, videos, photos, and stream live TV from a PC (that uses a version of Windows running Media Center) to another room in the house.

The versions of Windows Vista that come with Media Center are Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. The PC must have two TV tuners if you want to view and record programmes at the same time.

A Media Center PC can broadcast content to one or more of the extenders. Media Center Extenders are of two types: an add-on for Microsoft's Xbox games console, and a stand-alone set-top box. Via such an extender it is possible to access the Media Center's electronic programme guide (EPG), choose TV programmes to watch or record, and connect to Online Spotlight video and music services, such as Napster. Windows Messenger is also available.

The Media Center Extenders can work wirelessly or by being connected via Ethernet network cables.

An Xbox 360 already has a wired Ethernet network port. But if you want to go wireless you'll have to buy an adapter that makes that possible. A number of manufacturers have already made such adapters available for online gaming, e.g., the Linksys WGA54G Wireless-G Game Adapter.

The first generation of Windows Media Center Extenders were made available in 2004 in the US. However, the Linksys DMA2200 is currently (May 2008) the first dedicated media extender to be made available in the UK. The Microsoft Xbox 360 is currently the only other media extender available in the UK. Unlike the Xbox 360, the DMA2200 has built-in wireless networking.

Microsoft has created a page on its website that keeps track of developments of this kind:

Extenders for Windows Media Center -

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/.../devices/default.mspx


Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005: Media Center PC FAQs

Question 1

Is it possible to upgrade from Windows XP Home Edition to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005?

Answer

In a word, no, but it is now possible to buy MCE 2005 and install it on a bare system that has compatible hardware. However, if you don't have hardware that is compatible with it, you won't be able to get it to work. Microsoft has deemed that only hardware of suitable quality can be used with MCE 2005.

Question 2

Is it possible to upgrade my existing Media Center PC to MCE 2005?

Answer

The first issue of MCE came out in 2004. If you have a computer that runs that version, you may be able to upgrade it to MCE 2005, but it depends on whether or not the computer has hardware that is compatible with MCE 2005. The vendor that sold you the computer should be able to tell you if you can upgrade and, if so, supply you with the upgrade.

Question 3

Can I use a Media Center with an existing TV and set-top box?

Answer

A Windows Media Center PC can be connected to a television by using its TV-out (S-video) socket and the necessary type of cable. Some Media Centers, such as the set-top box type, have a SCART socket that can be used with the necessary type of cable. Once connected to the TV, the Media Center uses the TV's aerial to tune into the available channels. You then use the Media Center's remote control to access the programmes via the electronic programme guide (EPG).

Question 4

Can I use my Media Center as an ordinary computer?

Answer

Yes. Any software that can be used on a Windows XP computer can be run on a Media Center PC as long as the software is designed to for use with the file system being used by the Media Center. Under the entertainment features provided by MCE 2005, there is a fully functioning installation of Windows XP Professional Edition, the native file system of which is NTFS. The alternative FAT32 file system can be used by Windows XP in order to run utilities that were designed to be used with Windows 95/98/Me. Such utilities won't run on a computer using the NTFS file system. If you build your own Media Center PC, you can install MCE 2005 on a drive C: drive that you have formatted with FAT32, but a ready-made Media Center will be formatted to use the NTFS file system. However, any office applications that run on Windows XP will run on a Media Center PC regardless of the type of file system being used, because they are not designed for use with a particular file system.

Just make sure that you buy the right type of Media Center if you want to use it as a standard computer. You don't want the set-top box type that uses a TV screen, because it won't have the kind of screen resolution that is required for word-processing, etc.

You need to buy a conventional PC that has MCE 2005 installed in it. When they are made available in the UK, you could then purchase a Media Center Extender, which you would plug into the TV set. If the Media Center PC is equipped with wired or wireless network adapters, you'll be able to access the Media Center's entertainment functions.

Question 5

Can I watch one programme while recording a programme on a different channel?

Answer

You can do that if your Media Center PC has two TV tuners, but if it only has a single TV tuner, you can only view or record one live programme at any given time. A cable or satellite set-top box can only receive one programme at a time, so you won't be able to do that even if you have two TV tuners. However, there is nothing to stop you from watching a recorded programme from the hard disk drive or on a CD/DVD while the computer is recording a live TV broadcast.

Question 6

Is Media Center 2005 compatible with my digital TV service?

Answer

The two are compatible if have a Media Center that has one or two digital TV tuners rather than an analog TV tuner that is used to tune into the five terrestrial TV channels in the UK. If so, you'll have access to the Freeview digital channels, which include the digital versions of the five terrestrial channels. In order to use a Media Center to receive subscription digital cable or Satellite TV, it has to be connected between the service's set-top box and the TV set.

Question 7

How can I prevent my neighbours from tuning into my Media Center PC or Media Center Extenders, and is there any danger of interference from other household devices that use the same radio frequency?

Answer

A Media Center Extender is a set-top box that is connected to a TV set and to a wired or wireless network, of which the Media Center PC is the host computer. This setup enables you to access features of the Media Center PC via the TV set.

If you have a wired network, the only way anyone can gain access to the Media Center PC is via the Internet. If the system is connected to the Internet, installing a good personal firewall and virus scanner should provide adequate protection from hackers. Visit the Security page on this site for advice on computer-related security.

However, if you are using wireless networking equipment, there are a few security options that you should know about and enable.

Media Center devices support both the 802.11a and the 802.11g wireless network standards. (The 802.11b standard is not supported.) Both of the supported standards run at the same theoretical maximum speed of 54Mbit/s. For optimal performance, Microsoft recommends using 802.11a, which uses frequencies in the 5GHz waveband. However, the 802.11g standard is more popular in the UK, largely because it is backward-compatible with the older 802.11b standard. 802.11g uses the more crowded 2.4GHz waveband that is also used by many other household devices, such as microwave ovens and baby monitors. It is also prone to interference from neighbouring 802.11g networks. Therefore, if you experience any kind of performance degradation or problems, you can try switching the network to another of the 11 channels that 802.11g provides. Try channels 1, 6, and 11 first, because they are the only ones that don't overlap with the others.

To prevent your neighbours from accidentally or knowingly logging on to your Media Center network, you should enable its WEP encryption facility that encrypts data before transmission, thereby making it indecipherable to another network device that is not part of your network.

Moreover, note that recorded content from sources such as digital TV that is protected by Microsoft's Digital Rights Management (DRM) system, can't be played on any computer other than the Media Center PC that made the recording.

Read the article on this site called How can a wireless network be made secure? for more information on the subject of network security.

Question 8

I want to buy a Media Center PC to record television programmes. How much hard disk space should it have?

Answer

Like any kind of video recording, recorded television takes up plenty of disk space. Exactly how much space is used depends on the quality of the recording. You can select Good, Better, or Best quality. Media Center uses 3GB per hour at the Best setting, 2GB per hour for Better, and 1GB per hour for Best.

Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 - Recording quality:

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/.../guide/recordset.mspx

A 160GB hard drive has approximately 140GB free space after Windows is installed and space has been reserved for the Pause TV function. That much free space provides 47 hours of recorded TV at the Best setting. That should be sufficient for most needs given that most people will delete most of the recorded programmes after they have been watched. Instead of deleting the programmes you want to keep, you can burn them to DVD discs, so make sure that the Media Center PC comes with a DVD writer that supports double-layer DVD+R DL or DVD-R DL (double-layer) discs. You can store up to 8.5GB of data per disc.

However, if you're going to store photo albums, downloaded movies, music, etc., you need much more space. 400GB hard drives are available from most vendors and 500GB drives will soon be common, so if you need more space all you have to do is install an additional internal IDE or SATA drive, or make use of an external hard drive.

It would be a good idea to back up the contents of the internal hard drive(s) to an external hard drive in case Windows is rendered unbootable and irrecoverable, or the drive(s) fail permanently. Click here! to go to the information on backups on this site.


Relevant MS Knowledge Base/Technet articles

1. - Error message when you try to burn a CD or a DVD in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005: "CD DVD Recorder Required" - When you select the Burn CD/DVD option in Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, you receive the following error message: CD/DVD RECORDER REQUIRED Ensure that you have a CD or DVD recorder installed, and select Create CD/DVD Additionally, the following Error event is logged in the Application log: Event Type: Error Event Source: SonicMCEBurnEngine. - http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=921476


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