Pros and Cons of Windows Media Center
Windows Media Center (MCE) has a lot of pros and cons compared to traditional home entertainment setups — it can be a source of both great joy and desperate frustration. It pays to understand what you're getting into before you decide to invest in this system.
If you've never used a system like this before, be prepared to get excited. MCE, like other similar computer-based systems, will change the way you think about home entertainment. It's hard to describe just how good it is having all your media stuff in one place. Trust me — you need to experience it to understand why it's the biggest thing to hit the home entertainment market since the VCR. Here are just some of the things you can do:
- Access everything from one simple on-screen menu (and a single remote control): TV channels, radio stations, personal videos, music, photos and online media sources.
- If you like, use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control the PC from your couch. You can also purchase the purpose-built MCE keyboard/mouse-pointer combo which gives you everything in a small, tidy unit.
- Pause and resume live TV — phone calls in the middle of your favourite program are no longer a problem.
- Use the scheduler to automatically record programs daily, weekly or whatever — you never have to remember to record and your favourite shows are always waiting for you. Programs that are on in the middle of the night or while you're at work are just as easy to watch as any other program.
- Create custom playlists, video screensavers, photo slideshows, etc. You can even play music playlists with photo slideshows.
- Flick between watching TV and surfing the net. If you see something you want to investigate while you're watching TV, pause the program, do some surfing, then pick up the program where you left off.
- Add multiple tuner cards to record multiple channels at once (requires some computer expertise).
- With a bit of practice you can virtually eliminate ad breaks from your life.
This biggest overall advantage is the ease with which you can do all these things. For example, you can timeshift with your VCR but you could never do what the MCE scheduler does — it's in another league. Keeping control of what the kids watch is no longer a task. You will be surprised at how often you look at your home videos or photo albums when it's just another button on your remote. The list goes on — half the fun is in realising what you can do that you never thought would be practical.
If you are lucky enough to live in a country fully supported by MCE, and your installation goes smoothly, there aren't too many nasty surprises. However this is relatively new technology and things may not go quite as well as promised. For example, if you live outside the USA you may find that you can't easily program all your local TV channels or find a local programming guide.
The company which sells you your MCE system may not have the technical support needed to fix problems. For example, many shops may be happy to sell you a MCE PC but do not have staff trained to deal with configuration and tuning issues. I recommend that you make the terms of your purchase clear before you hand over the cash — you expect a fully-functional system tuned to all your channels and ready for viewing.
You may be disappointed in the quality of the video picture. This can be tweaked, but depending on your computer system and your skills, you may find it hard to get the same quality as your TV tuner or DVD player. This is becoming less of an issues over time, and it is certainly possible to get excellent pictures, but it's an issue worth noting.
Be warned: Many problems reported by MCE users are not easy to fix and may require measures such as editing the registry. This is not for the technically faint-hearted!