I have been using Media Center the RC build on Windows 7 for a little while now and I have been able to test it various ways so I thought I would pass on my findings.
Due to recent reorganisation in my home I am now using Media Center both directly from the PC and with an Xbox 360 acting as an extender where previously I was getting my content exclusively through extenders. This has allowed me to test and use areas of Media Center previously unavailable to me. My Media Center PC is a modest system comprising of a mid range Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM and getting TV content via ‘Freesat’ via a DVB-S card.
Overall, it is a step in the right direction but there are still some serious issues.
The Good Points
The UI is more responsive and less glitchy. The startup ‘fanfare’ is a lot smoother as are most of the transitions, especially the ‘fade out’ when stopping playback on a recording or live tv TV which used to stutter quite a lot. There is a very noticable improvement via extender especially.
Divx / xvid playback via extenders is totally seemless and glitch free in this build. No longer does the video look like it is being transcoded and it looks identical to the native dashboard output.
AC3 output on 360 extenders is fixed. No more dropouts.
Issues still to be addressed
I am still having issues with mpeg2adec.dll with this build it just doesn’t work when outputting ac3 5.1 via spdif from the PC to a receiver. I have had to replace the file with an older Vista version to get 5.1 audio to pass through on channels such as BBC HD for example, if I don’t all I get is white noise. Not heard much on this from others lately so maybe I am alone is this? UPDATE: It must have been me. After a re-install (to clear out old codecs) all seems to be well!
.h264 playback on extenders is still not up to par I’m afraid. There are various solutions floating about but all require some sort of remuxing / converting to achieve results as MKV file (although recognised by the extender) playback issues have not changed from previous builds. Converting the files to .M2TS with TSMuxer improves playback (and they play flawlessly directly on the PC) but at least for some including myself it creates it’s own set of problems. M2TS files cannot be paused on extenders. If they are it crashes the entire playback ability of the extender session. This includes recorded TV and every other file format. A restart of the extender session is the only thing that can be done to resolve this.
The Xbox 360 extender I am using in my system is networked wirelessly via 802.11a using a VGA output running at 1360×768 resolution setup via the 360 dashboard. Having run Vista Media Center in the past and even previous builds of Windows 7 I have had no major networking issues and it has been very stable.
For some reason build 7100 overrides the resolution I have set my xbox to when starting an extender session and will change my resolution to 640×480 which is VERY frustrating. There is no option to override this as far as I can see. Some have speculated this may be an attempt to ‘optimise’ and ‘compensate’ for bandwidth issues when networking via wi-fi and others have confirmed that no such ‘downscaling’ is occuring when connecting a 360 via cat5.
In my opinion this is a serious step in the wrong direction and I hope a fix can be found or this issue can be sorted out by official sources.
It is fair to say progress is being made and the majority of remaining issues seem to be extender based with a serious new issue cropping up on that front. All said and done, it is a very stable system and the improvements that it has giving us outweigh most of these issues for me so I have now problem staying with windows 7 as my main Media Center. With the great community feeding back so much to MS I am confident these issues will be addressed before official release.