My adventures with Windows Media Center

After exchanging a few Tweets with Ian and expressing an interest to contribute to this community he suggested I do a post about my experiences, so here it is.

I have been using Media Center for a few years now and I will keep
using it as it is the only solution that suits my needs. I would
categorise myself as an ‘enthusiast’ as I use WMC not just as a
solution but I enjoy tinkering and changing my media viewing experience. My background is totally non-technical but from an early age I have had a keen interest in technology and PCs so I have educated myself in many of these areas. Being a huge TV and film fan it only made sense that when the convergence of media and PC technology began to happen that my interests would veer towards multimedia solutions.

 Before WMC was available my multimedia setup consisted of one PC upstairs in a spare room and a modified original Xbox in the living room. I would burn my media to disc and play it on the great XBMC software for the xbox and watch it on my standard definition widescreen TV. Over time I managed to hard wire network my living room to the upstairs, add a router and a switch, streaming my media to the Xbox.

When I purchased my first HDTV I looked into PC solutions for my media to take advantage of the flexibility the PC would offer over the Xbox since the HDTV offered a much easier and better quality way of connecting a PC. This is when I discovered MCE 2005 and the ability to watch and record live TV through my system for the first time. The first hurdle was getting my TV output into Media Center. Extensive research on places such as The Green Button and AV Forums advised me on the tuner card (an PVR-150 MCE) and how to connect my Sky box to it. I built a Media Center PC and placed it in the living room. I was up an running.

 

I kept tinkering with my system. There were a few things that I wasn’t quite happy with. My PC components were modest and my HDTV was an older model before HDMI and so adjusting and playing with the resolution on my VGA was a constant experiment for me. The picture was good, but could always be better. The other niggle was the IR blaster solution. After trying all sorts of positions for the blaster I came to the conclusion that it would never be 100% reliable. I was overjoyed when I found a solution called ‘SkyEye MCE’ was used the RF2 connection on the back of the Sky box to control the channel changes. I also managed to ‘extend’ my media center to a TV in the bedroom using a ‘digisender’.

 

The next step was the Xbox 360 as an extender. When these became available it changed everything for me (and my wife as less clutter in the living room was her priority!) as I could put all my PC and Sky box away from the living room, get a more reliable picture and have a truly networked solution for my bedroom. I bought 2 Xbox 360s for this purpose. The extenders had their disadvantages (such as codecs etc) but for me being an enthuiast it was another challenge!

 

Having followed the development of Vista and what was to be available in VMC I upgraded as soon as possible. I built a more modern and powerful box and haven’t looked back. From there on my focus has been getting as much out of the extender experience as possible and finding solutions to their limitations. 3rd party addins became my passion I have not been disappointed. I ended up with a very stable solution that offered most of what I needed but there was nothing else I could really do to give me more features.

Now we have Windows 7 to play with I have moved over to it full time and I am really enjoying the experience, even at this early stage. The main reason for doing this now was not because of the native extender playback of xvid / mp4 because I don’t think it is up to scratch yet. I wanted to ditch my Sky box and go for a DVB-S solution which was not possible with Vista (without TV Pack) so I could have more control and experience BBC HD. I settled on a NOVA-HD-S2 which has worked flawlessly. Of course, being an enthusiast I can’t deny that part of the reason was that I could start tinkering again!

 

So here I am, on the ‘cutting edge’ so to speak ready to learn from this community and contribute where I can.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *