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Windows Embedded Media Center Boxes

Well it looks like something that I was predicting is coming true, partially.  The first Media Center dedicated boxes with Windows 7 Embedded are being shown to the public.  Check out what Acer and Asus are showing over at EngadgetHD.

CEDIA is just around the corner and I am expecting/hoping that Microsoft is going to show some support and love to these systems to help build the ecosystem.  It would be great to be able to share protected recorded TV and recording schedules with these devices.  Time will tell.

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Cable Card Works on My Old Laptop

Now that Microsoft has opened up the flood gates on Cable Card usage in Media Center there are a lot of people that may be wondering if that old PC could be repurposed as a Media Center.  I have thought about it as well as I talk to friends about adopting Media Center so I decided to run a test.

I took my almost 5 year old laptop which is currently running Windows 7 RC and setup Media Center on it.  Since the tool to enable Cable Card has not been released yet I used the Cable Card hack to get my ATI Cable Card running on my laptop.  Here is the equipment list for the test:

  • HP Pavilion dv4000 Laptop running Windows 7 RC (1.73 GHZ Pentium M, 1 GB Ram, 1.0 System Rating)
  • ATI Digital Cable Card Tuner (1.17 firmware)
  • Linksys DMA2100

Step 1 – Install the TV Tuner:  The first thing I did was install the Cable Card hack which worked like a charm with no hiccups.  I think unplugged the ATI DCT from my main Media Center PC and plugged it into my laptop.

Step 2 – Run TV Setup: The next step was to run the TV tuner setup.  I only setup the one ATI DCT so the test was with a single tuner.

Step 3 – Test HD TV on an extender:  My laptop does not do well with HD video.  I know this from testing Home Group in Windows 7 with HD recordings from my main media center PC.  Because of this I used the extender as part of this test.  The extender was connected wirelessly while the laptop was hard wired via Cat5 to the network.  Below is a picture showing system resources while watching Hellboy on HBO HD.  There is also a YouTube video demonstrating the performance.

Low Power Media Center

Not bad huh?  This should definitely give hope that the cost of entry into Media Center is going to be low.  Of course you can buy a cheap desktop PC that blows this laptop out of the water and just add a cable card tuner to it.

Screencast: Swap SD for HD in your Media Center Channel Lineup

I have been wanting to really clean up my guide for awhile now.  I figured now was the best time to do it before the new fall lineup got kicked into high gear.  I don’t know about your channel lineup but the one provided to me by Time Warner Cable is a mess.  There are duplicate channels all over the place such as:

  • Noggin (47, 177, 623)
  • Disney Channel (54, 623)
  • Food Network (55, 631)

On top of that there are now a lot of HD versions of the same SD channels so they appear in the guide twice and I get twice the guide data when searching for a show or looking at what movies are on TV.  It also annoys the hell out of me when my Wife and/or Mother-In-Law tune into watch American Idol and turn to channel 11 instead of 240 and soil my HDTV with unnecessary SD content.

DirecTV has a nice feature on it’s box where it shows all of the HD channels right next to their SD counterpart.  So instead of HBO on 300 (SD) and 318 (HD) like I have with Time Warner they have HBO as channel 501 (SD) and 501 (HD).  Easy to find and easy to see the difference.  You can then further clean it up by hiding all of the SD channels that have an HD counterpart.  Unfortunately it is not that simple in Media Center, but it’s still pretty easy.  I created a video to show how you can do this through the Media Center interface.

You could probably accomplish this a lot faster with one of the new tools like Big Screen EPG or Guide Tool but I wanted to show what can be done from the normal UI without the need for installations or a keyboard and mouse.

Moving to Media Center – Call for Questions

My post on moving to a Media Center solution is bigger than I expected.  As I am writing the feature I keep referencing questions that were posed in the comments awhile back such as “How did you network your house"?”, “Can you use your PC while Media Center is running on an extender?” and “What hardware do you actually have?”.

So as I wrap up my feature I wanted to make one last call for questions.  What do you want to know about moving to Media Center?  What’s the one thing that is just not clear or you have not been able to get a straight answer about?

Please leave your questions in the comments.  I will take the questions and incorporate them into the feature and post it Monday afternoon.

Media Center – Enthusiast Only?

Charlie Owen is someone that has been a big part of the Media Center community for a long time and always had a unique perspective since he worked on the Media Center team at Microsoft.  I am in the process of finishing my feature post titled “Moving Your Family to a Media Center Whole Home Solution” and Charlie has just posted a great article on his blog that would be a great companion piece to what I will be posting later today.

The question the was presented to Charlie via twitter was: “Can Windows Media Center Go Beyond The Enthusiast Market?”.  Charlie’s response is very interesting and well thought out.  As I have been writing my article this question kept coming up but I did not know the best way to frame it.  Now I feel like I do.

Go read the article and come back later today for the “Moving Your Family to a Media Center Whole Home Solution” feature post.

Second test of the movie screen

We had a second test of the movie screen on Saturday night.  The first night we just watched a few things and the screen did not have it’s proper “legs” so it was leaning at an angle.  On Saturday it was properly elevated and my Mother-In-Law watched with us.  We watched scenes from Alvin and the Chipmunks and Coraline for Jacob and then we watched Miracle at St. Anna as the main feature when Jacob went to bed.

Screen with legs The screen with legs

IMG_2053The screen with the lights out, view from the projector 

Next stop for the screen is outdoors for one more equipment test before the big friends and family unveiling.

First test of the movie screen

I still have the screen inside the house.  Due to some rain outside we decided to test it first inside the house.  Here are some pics.

IMG_2042 IMG_2044

Jacob getting ready                                                     His first movie pick: Bolt!

IMG_2045

This one is a little fuzzy but you can see Jacob’s little head at the bottom.