Building a Windows Media Center Set Top Box Install with Windows Embedded

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Since seeing the great Windows Media Center solutions running on Windows Embedded at CES I wanted to have a look at what you could do with Windows Embedded. Last year Microsoft opened up the beta of Windows Embedded Standard Edition SP1 and so I downloaded a build to play with. There are a couple of different ways of installing Windows Embedded, one option is to have a development machine that you pick the individual Windows features such as IE, games, accessories etc and then create an image for you to roll out to multiple machines. The other way of doing it is to download an image and install it on your target machine, pick the features you want eg Windows Media Center and then Windows Embedded will create an custom build for your system.  The installer has a list of templates you can pick from eg Thin Client or  Set Top Box, so I picked Set Top Box and off it went and installed a just the components needed for an install of Window 7 including Windows Media Center.

After a couple of standard Windows 7 install questions like PC name and user name the PC rebooted and booted straight in to Windows Media Center, there was no IE, no Window Explorer just Windows Media Center, if fact there was no way of getting out of Media Center so this is a Windows TV device. Windows Media Center in Windows Embedded is exactly the same as in Windows 7, home group worked out of the box. I imagine I could have added some additional applications such as the Made For Media Center addin or TunerFreeMCE and come up with a great install of Media Center.

So this has given me a taste of what can be done with Windows Embedded, there are a ton of customisation options. You could pick extra features, drivers and change the configuration from the installer so you can easily see how an OEM can make a great device. OEMs also have access to special Windows Media Center customisation tools that give them a whole range of options to brand and customise the install, so its easy to see the possibilities  . I installed all this on an old Sony Laptop so I am not talking about the hardware I was just curious about how Windows Embedded worked.

I am probably not doing a very good job explaining Windows Embedded and you can get a lot more information from Microsoft but from my initial messing around I can see the potential of the OS. Imagine getting a little Atom powered box and putting Windows Media Center on it without the rest of the Windows overhead (I nearly said rubbish) and connecting it up to your TV, you could have a really fast light weight system.

I can’t wait to try and build a little custom machine with Windows Embedded

More information from WindowsEmbedded.com

 

Installing WIndows Embedded

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Picking the install option

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Picking the Set Top Box option

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Windows Media Center up and running

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About the author Ian Dixon:
Founder of The Digital Lifestyle.com and host of The Digital Lifestyle Show. Started podcasting in 2005, Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP. Lover of gadgets from the Raspberry Pi to the iPad, Android to Windows 8. Also a massive motor racing fan
  • JayC

    That is really interesting. Shame there won’t be a legitimate way to get the OS for home installation as I can imagine re-using an older PC/laptop much the same as was possible with Windows Home Server. Now your challenge is to get the DVBLink Network Client up and running.

  • SCOOBY_666UK

    I have the DVBLink Network Client App running on embedded :) Just make sure you use atleast 2GB RAM & an SSD HDD….this will make the menu(s)/guide/MediaBrowser/MyMovies load up very quickly & very slick…..

    • Volkan

      Hi There!

      I see you have a good working embedded system with media center + my movies?
      Can you help me out with a few things?
      I like to install a set-top-box with media center but also running anydvd HD in the background, teamviewer and a few more software.

      How; is the question? ;-)

  • diehard

    As you mentioned, you have to add a user name and password. I could not find a way around this, it sucks that you have to have a keyboard so you can boot right into WMC.

    I did try a build for thin client so I canadd a few extra’s.

    The earlier build allowed me to hit CTRl+AL+Del repeatedly to get in and use the run command. I ended up installing Made For MediaCenter that way, hehe.

  • gkainth

    @SCOOBY_666UK – Hi. can you list what setup/config options you used to get this working? i.e which template and if there were any special tweaks etc?

  • SeeR

    All great, but tell me how can one build $100 STB when windows embedded licence costs you $90?
    How can one compete with let say Apple TV?

  • mmillmor

    Good article Ian. What I am struggling to understand though is what is the advantage to enthusiasts like us. Is the embedded version more stable, or more performant?

  • Ian Dixon

    for an enthusiasts a standard install is better. Embedded is for OEMS to build low cost devices, having said that I found the install much faster and a smaller footprint

  • SCOOBY_666UK

    @gkainth Me embedded setup/config included the following:

    DVBLink TVSource
    Internet Explorer
    Media Browser
    MacroTube
    iPlayer
    Media Center Studio
    Photato (Facebook)

    There are two ways of installing these applications:

    (a) Use the Toolkit and create an image – This way you can totally customise the boot screens and logos, which I replaced with my TV Logo.

    (b) Install using the Media Center Template – Once in Media Center press the help key (F1 on my computer)….this will re-direct you to the Windows help page. Type ‘command prompt’ in the search on the help page, then use this to browse to ur files and install all the additional software you need. This is the only way of getting out of media center.

    I hope that helps :)

  • SCOOBY_666UK

    @Seer – The only way we’ll see lower prices is once Microsoft release Windows for ARM.

    @mmilor – MCE is more streamlined and quicker this way. You are less likely to mess the system up. However, my SSD made the single biggest performance difference to MCE.

  • SCOOBY_666UK

    Oh yeah…my embedded install also included Sharks Win 7 Codecs :)