I recently rebuilt my Media Center PC (don’t use Antec cases or PSU’s, they used to be good, but now they blow chunks), upgrading to all new equipment other than my terabyte RAID5 (it sounded so big back when I first built it).
Back when I started down the Media Center PC path it was a Gateway Destination PC with a 36” monitor. The PC worked fine, the TV watching (no recording back then) worked fine, but the monitor was crap. I had it replaced 3 times under warranty, and finally asked for my money back.
Windows XP Media Center Edition
Some time passed and Microsoft released a Media Center Edition of Windows XP. Great! Unfortunately it was only available for OEMs on pre-qualified hardware.
The next version (2005?) was made available to system-builders in addition to OEMs. At the time I was working for a system builder and I built my own PC based on Windows XP Media Center Edition. It worked pretty well, but still had some lockups and some “weirdness” when it came to recording/encoding shows.
Windows Vista with Media Center
When Windows Vista came out I clean installed Windows Vista Home Premium (which includes Media Center). I was ticked that they axed support for the Original XBOX as an extender, so I was forced to go out and buy an XBOX 360 (there’s another story involving Walmart.com and a DOA XBOX 360 on Christmas Eve).
I was impressed. The Media Center in Windows Vista was stable, solid, and rarely had a problem. It was nice. Then I heard of “Fiji,” the update to Media Center for Vista. I waited for it to come out of beta and be released, only to be disappointed that it wasn’t being released to the public, only to system builders and OEMs, and only on specifically qualified hardware.
When my now quite old motherboard finally gave up the ghost (popped capacitors, even though it sat behind a good UPS) it was time to build a new Media Center PC.
Windows Vista with Media Center and TV Pack
TheGreenButton.com had threads talking about success stories from people who had successfully installed the “TV Pack” upgrade to Windows Vista’s Media Center. The instructions warned against an in-place upgrade, and advised to ONLY install on a fresh, virgin install of Windows Vista. I took their advice.
The installation and updates went smoothly, and I really enjoyed the added UI enhancements that came with the TV Pack upgrade, though I wasn’t thrilled about the new DRM scheme (is it time to outlaw DRM yet?).
Months passed and all was fine, then I got two separate updates to my Hauppauge Dual Hybrid tuner card. After that point the Media Center bits stopped working correctly, would not longer record shows, and would crash the application when trying to watch already recorded shows. Great.
Rather than trying to roll-back the driver, or roll back the OS to a restore point prior to that, I opted to install Windows 7 Beta 1.
Windows 7 RC1
Before I had time to burn my public beta of Window 7 to disc, I heard rumblings of RC0, then RC1. I skipped build 7077 (RC0) and waited for build 7100 (RC1) to come out, thinking I could get a copy from a buddy with a TechNet or MSDN subscription. Instead I ended up waiting for the public RC1 to be released a few weeks later.
I installed Windows 7 RC1 without much issue (I’m still upset that they’re not including Adaptec RAID controller drivers in the installation files, I had to abort the install, reboot into Windows Vista, and download an OEM setup driver disc, then hunt down a floppy disc, format it, find out it was a bad disc, hunt down another one, format it, then copy the files, then start the Windows 7 install all over again).
Media Center in Windows 7 RC1 is awesome. Recordings and live TV look much sharper than they did in pervious versions (even though I’m still watching them at the same 1080i as before), recording/encoding is much smoother and less prone to “pixelazation” than in previous versions.
I’m very, very impressed. Oh, and the new task bar is cool, too.
Windows 7 RC1 concerns
I’ve only run into two applications that don’t work properly in Windows 7 RC1.
- Netflix: The Netflix player won’t install because I don’t have Windows Media Player 11 (it actually tried to install WMP 11 on my machine, even though I have WMP 12 on it in Windows 7 RC1). That’s not a problem for me because I do 98% of my Netflix streaming to my XBOX 360.
- NBC Direct: NBC.com has a fairly decent streaming player for their shows. While my Media Center PC was down I watched all my NBC shows via NBC.com. One feature of the player is an “advanced” player that will let you download an app and subscribe to the series that you’re interested in, they’ll automatically download as soon as they’re available (no streaming when you go to watch them), and they’re in “higher” resolution than the streamed versions. There are some snags with NBC Direct in general, but I won’t get into them here. With Windows 7 RC1, however, the application installs, but the player doesn’t “see” the app, and doesn’t let you do anything that the app is supposed to let you do (auto-download, etc.). Streaming via the stock player still works. On that note, CBS.com and Hulu.com also work just fine. Who needs rabbit ears? 😉