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Living With Media Center: Introduction

Introduction

I have been a technology and video game addict for the majority of my life. Through the many cycles of gaming consoles I eventually landed as an avid Xbox fan and so in 2005 I eagerly awaited the first details of the next generation Xbox.

During the E3 Press Conference in which the Xbox 360 was officially unveiled, Microsoft’s J. Allard demoed a piece of functionality that I was not even expecting: connectivity to Windows Media Center. He showed a clip of the 2004 Superbowl in HD being served from a Windows XP PC with Media Center running through the Xbox 360. It was at that point that I became a Media Center fan.

I liked the philosophy of having one central location for all of your media. Most solutions at that point were centered around sharing music, photos and videos but did not have live TV as a component. I started to investigate the Media Center solution deeper and found a few reservations that prevented me from jumping into it with full force.

The introduction of the Xbox 360 solved my first reservation of not wanting a PC in the living room, but my second reservation was a deal breaker. I wanted to be able to get all of the same channels that I was currently receiving via my cable box through my Media Center PC. I found out that it would not be possible until Media Center supported cable card which was not going to be anytime soon. The idea of Media Center was put on the shelf.

Fast forward to 2007. Two years later the first Media Center supported Digital Cable Tuners with Cable Card support had been announced by ATI and were on their way. Engadget’s article had renewed my interest. I was ready to move to Media Center after living with the short comings of my Time Warner supplied HD DVR.

For the past two years we had wrestled with limited storage, unexpected lockups, the limitation of content location and the limitation of 2 tuners on the network battleground that is Thursday night. I started to make plans for the Media Center and soon realized that it was close but still a ways off.

First the tuners had to actually hit the market. Second, due to Cable Labs restrictions for Cable Card support I would need to buy a new pre-built PC. Once I had an idea of the cost I started to develop a timeline so that I can save money and buy the PC after the technology had matured. The new targeted date at that point became early 2008.

In January 2008 I began laying the ground work by installing CAT5e network cable around my house. I also began to prepare all of my collected media (music, photos and videos) for movement over to a new Vista Media Center PC.

The new PC was ordered on February 15, 2008, almost a full 3 years after the initial seed had been planted. After another month of configuration and test trials I officially removed the Time Warner DVR from the living room and moved the family onto the Media Center as our primary DVR on March 15, 2008.

Two months later to the day I thought it was time to reflect back on life with the Media Center and answer the basic question that non-techies will ask me: "Was it worth it?". Over the next 9-10 posts I will cover my opinions and my family’s experience with Media Center as the hub of home entertainment and eventually answer that question. Here is the what I will cover over the next few days:

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy one person’s perspective.

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3 Responses

  1. Andres, GREAT series of posts. I am a newbie at this. I finally got an HDTV in March and was excited to get the TWC HD DVR in Raleigh. Unfortunately the HDDVR is THE WORST piece of electronics I have ever encountered. I have a new computer with Vista Ultimate, and really like it. I had heard about WMC and was intrigued, but am missing a few steps in between. (I realize that in order to use CableCards, I’ll have to get a preinstalled computer). For now I’m just going to go Std def. with what I have. I have a couple of questions. You seem to be using satellite devices for viewing, pulling from the great PC in your study. * Is this PC your main PC for the house? * If so, do you see a big sag in performance when WMC is being used throughout the house?* Can you be more specific about what the HDHomeRun does? Does it receive just your local HD broadcast channels? Does it get Time Warner’s channels above 78 (but not the paid tier like HBO)?Note: Raleigh and Charlotte’s TWC are almost identical, so you can talk to me in CLT terms.

  2. One other question. On that computer in your study, do you have Windows Media Center running minimized in Vista all the time in order for the extenders to see it? Once again, I’m just confused about the burden WMC puts on a computer you want to use for things like Quicken, net browsing, etc.

  3. Thanks Hoopla. I will actually answer your questions in my next posts (coming later today).Thanks for the comments!!

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