Windows XP Media Center 2005

Review

posted 1/26/2005 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC
One of my biggest hassles was getting the picture to fill up a regular TV correctly. The adjustment settings in the Catalyst Control panel can never seem to get it right and without resorting to some third party program such as TVTool, I always had some black borders around my display. MCE 2005 does an auto-adjustment for you and it worked perfectly on multiple TVs I tried it with. No black borders were visible and the picture filled the entire TV screen. There’s no manual adjustment however and I would’ve liked some ways to tweak it. And I did experience one auto-adjustment where the picture didn’t even show up. The no-picture problem though was because of using some hacked drivers to get the AIW tuner running and there were a few tries in installation where I did get it to auto adjust correctly. Still, some manual way to adjust the picture would’ve been a nice feature to have.

On the setup with the HDTV Wonder, MCE was able to setup the channels and incorporate them into the guide. All the digital channels were in a four digit format consisting of the number 1, then two digits for the regular channel number, then a sub channel number. I really like Microsoft’s seamless incorporation of DTV channels in with the regular channels making it a lot easier to deal with. ATI’s Multimedia Center actually sets up two separate programs for DTV and regular Analog TV. MCE keeps it all in one interface and simplifies the process of watching OTA DTV along with analog TV.

Setting up the guide was pretty simple. Just by entering in your zip code and which cable provider you have, the guide downloads two weeks worth of data and you’re up and running. I do like the visual display of the guide but I prefer BeyondTV’s look a little more. I sort of miss the little vertical line that visually marks where in the timeline you are at.

You’ll also setup folders for your music, videos, and pictures. I was able to choose some networked drives without any problems and played videos off of them without a hitch. Oh, almost everything can be setup via the remote and I think you can probably get through it entirely without touching the keyboard.

Once you’re all done, you’re taken to the main screen of the Media Center GUI. It’s a very nice looking setup in my opinion and I do like the look of the icons with the blue background. You can’t change the skin without some third party programs currently so maybe in the future, Microsoft will build in a theme feature. There’s buttons to various functions and some of them also have sub functions such as MyTV. By digging a little deeper, you can access recorded shows here and a nice feature that I really like is the movies option. When selected, it will go out to the Internet and download box covers for all movies that are playing currently no matter what channel it’s on. It’s a nice general overview of what’s playing and upcoming with great sorting options such as by rating and genre. It’s really a slick interface to find movies to watch on TV.

One of the things I didn’t like about MCE was that the LiveTV buffer was set at half an hour and there’s no way to change it. The buffer is saved in five minute increments and as you go over the 30 minute limit, the earliest five minute block is erased. That’s a better implementation than BeyondTV’s where the whole buffer is erased once you hit the set limit. But, I would’ve liked to have the choice in buffer size and not be limited to MCE’s setting. There’s also no way to save the buffer to watch later. It’s a feature that I don’t think would be too hard to add and one that I think is really needed. There were a few times I was watching a program and I wanted to record the earlier parts to view later. A buffer record setting is one enhancement that I hope Microsoft puts in as an update or into next year’s version.
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