Hello Readers!

My name is Richard Speed, and I’ll be posting some articles on techniques I use to shift content from my Media Center to other devices, reviews of software, as well as my adventures in developing Windows Phone 7 applications.  First up – an introduction…

Media Center first entered my life when I was struggling to get XBMC working on a first generation XBox.  It was not a happy experience, but did mean I took a look at Media Center itself. 

I was looking for a way of centralising my collection of ripped CDs and an elegant way of viewing digital photos that didn’t involve wheeling out a laptop.  And when I realised that Windows Media Center would also act as a Freeview Digital TV recorder the deal was done.  XBMC was consigned to my overflowing dustbin of failed projects, and my first Media Center PC was born.

An old HP desktop machine, rescued from the hands of the work PC recyclers, took an install of Windows XP Media Center and a couple of single tuner digital TV cards (I forget the manufacturer) and we were off.  The machine did sterling work for a good few years, always on and never requiring a reboot.  However, there were some frustrations – I wanted to spread the Media Center experience around the house…

…enter Windows Vista Media Center.  This brought solutions and problems by the truckload.  For the solutions, there were the Extenders.  I went down the Linksys route, with 4 of the silent, low power boxes.  The Linksys extenders, lacking the speed and fluidity of the XBox 360 experience (and also the howling jet engine fan of the games console) are a bit like marmite.  You either love them or hate them.  I think they’re great. 

But with the Extenders and the more polished interface, there were also the problems.  Specifically recorded TV.  Channels would disappear, or become skippy and pixelated.  Playback would be choppy.  All told, it wasn’t a happy experience, and took me almost a year of manual tweaking and adjusting to stabilise things.  And even then, there was always a sense of uncertainty when scheduling a recording.  Will it or won’t it?  At times I was sorely tempted to return to XP.

Windows 7 sorted all of that out.  On first install of the final release (it would be unfair to single out problems with the betas) I realised that all the nasties in Vista had been ironed out.  The Media Center hardware had evolved as well – to a quad core machine quite capable of supporting my 4 Linksys extenders and XBox360.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever had to manually reboot the Media Center PC once since installation – it just sits in the loft and ticks over.

So where are we now?  I have a Windows 7 Media Center PC lurking in the loft, connected directly to the TV aerial.  An ethernet cable drops down outside the house, where it connects to a broadband router and switch.  This then connects to Powerline networking and all the Extenders.  Other devices, such as general purpose PCs, Playstations, XBoxes and the like connect using either WiFi or Powerline.  The Media Center also serves up hi-definition movies for a projector-based home cinema.  I flirted briefly with a Home Server, but found the performance to be a bit disappointing.  Software-wise, I am resolutely standard, with only MyMovies finding its way on to the otherwise pristine Windows 7 Media Center.

And all this is about to change again over the next 12 months…

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