Windows 8: Why bother upgrading for a media centre machine?

As this is my first post just a quick introduction. I’m Jonathan Hill live and work in Scotland for Scottish Water as their Telemetry Technical Specialist. Husband and father to 3 girls 11,9 and 6.

I get the impression from Microsoft’s pre releases of Win 8 they were out to get those of us that use Media Centre, with all the confusion and discussions around Media Centre not being included in Win 8, then it was via a pack (Pro or Media depending where you started from), then not natively playing DVD’s, removal of start-up of Media Centre on boot etc, etc it was all looking too much bad news. I gave it a wide berth as I couldn’t see why I would bother upgrading to Win 8 for a Media Centre machine. But I changed my mind, read on;

I have been frustratingly going round in circles recently. I have an old Pentium laptop running Windows 7 Media Centre connected to a TV for the kids, they use it to purely stream recorded TV shows and films from the Home Server 2011 (another death nail story for another time).

The issues I have been having are with stuttering with streaming content from the server. Strangely the symptoms only occur from time to time but when stuttering starts it gets worse and worse.  I have been through most of the common culprits like disk access speeds, networking speed and server loading, CPU, memory etc. I even ran network speed tests to/from the server comparing raid and non raid arrays looking for a repeatable reason for the problem.

For speed of the UI I am running the Media Centre laptop on an SSD so for obvious reasons playing from local storage is not an option, and anyway what is a server for!

Looking for another low cost solution I handed over the Raspberry Pi to the kids loaded with XBMC pointing to MP4 versions of the films on the server, all was great but it only took a few rainy days for them to realise that recorded TV (namely Tracy Beaker) we not conveniently waiting for them as they were via the media centre.

While they had the Pi it gave me time to try out the latest Release Preview of Win 8 on the now repurposed Laptop. I did remember before this confusion around Win 8 and Media Centre reports that boot time was fast and it was, so that got me thinking.

As this new OS is more efficient, I want to know how efficient, well actually is it efficient enough for my problem with streaming?  Short answer looks to be yes (so far). From my initial not very scientific tests it looks to be better up to the job than Windows 7.

Now I am exploring options into how to better mould the users into the quirks of it not starting up into Media Centre, but by using the Media Centre remote control in Windows 8 you can do a lot to get into Media Centre with just the remote.

I have found so far that setting the sign in options to use a Pin number and put media centre as the first tile you can get into media centre just with a remote without having to break out the keyboard.

 

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