In Valid Logic

Endlessly expanding technology

Impressions of Windows Media Center 2005

Last week, I got my Microsoft Action Pack subscription.  A part of it was an OEM copy of MCE 2005.  For a while, I’ve been planning on having a central media server when I move.  Have all TV viewing come from a central place, with pause/replay, recording, etc.

Currently, it has just been my computer connecting to a separate dedicated media server which does all of the recording.  I have been using Snapstream BeyondTV v3.0, but I am somewhat disappointed with it.  First of all, one of its major pluses was that I could connect to it from my PC, but it often had poor performance, such as 50% cpu usage on a 3.2ghz when watching live TV.  Second, it had no HD support, which was something I was really wanting.  And third, no pictures/videos/DVD support without buying their Beyond Media product as well.  Finally, in order to watch TV on an actual TV, I’d either have to build a mini media server and buy another BeyondTV Link license, or get the MediaMVP and use a kind of hack to change it to work with BeyondTV.

Obviously, an attraction to MCE was that it support HDTV.  From playing around with it in stores, I’d noticed that the interface was far more intuitive, sleeker, and faster.  Even things like overlays on videos were far cleaner and did not cause video stuttering.  Additionally, since it is Microsoft, there is bound to be more manufacturer adoptance, such as with the Media Extenders that easy viewing from TVs, and addins such as NPR, Reuters, ESPN, XM, etc.  It also has a nice, open SDK allowing me to write my own addins, if I ever find something to write and the time to write it.

After playing around with it for the past few days, I’ve got it running quite smoothly.  Had a view audio and mpeg decoder issues, but finally got all of those tweaked out and performing well.  Was getting this odd muting of the audio for a couple of seconds when using the SPD/IF out.  Finally found if I tweaked the decoder’s audio configuration to use the SPD/IF, it went away.  Finally, was having some issues playing HD streams.  The PowerDVD6 codec was frequently spiking the CPU to 100% and causing stuttering and slow system responses to remote/keyboard commands.  Then the nVidia codec was being picky about some channels and would oddly stop playing when watching LiveTV, as if it reached the end of a video.  The WinDVD6 decoder played everything flawlessly.  Audio stutters had gone away and HD played great with no CPU spikes.  Was also having some antenna issues with HD channels, but found the RF antennas were conflicting with UHF reception somehow.  Unscrewed them and all was golden.

My one annoyance is that you can’t watch live TV from another computer.  If the extenders can play live TV over the network, it is obviously capable of doing it, but there is no application to let you connect to MCE from a remote machine with the full interface, a sort of “Media Center Extender Lite”.  People say you can remote desktop into it, but what good is that to watch TV?  I can watch the recorded programs over a file share, but it is not live TV, and it is not the rich interface.

Aside from that, I am quite pleased.  It is incredibly easy to use (once configured), so Trish should have no problems using it.  Has nice, rich interface, plenty of plugins, and even more to come.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

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