Windows Media Center: Not New, but Maybe New For You
Media Center was an available app for Windows XP Media Center edition (which was only on OEM systems as a preinstalled OS). Vista users had the next version with their Home Premium and Ultimate editions. Windows 7 includes the latest and greatest version of Media Center.
Some like to use Media Center in lieu of Media Player on their system because they like the interface. But the true value of Media Center is that of a home-entertainment hub. It enables you to leave the computer in the office, and view your media over the network on multiple TVs using media extenders, or even on your Xbox 360, which has a media extender already built in. You can even purchase an MCE remote control that works with both your TV and your media options.
For the most part, the interface may appear unchanged (which is nice because it makes it easier for us to feel comfortable with this new version). There are many great new features, however, including the following:
- Dissolved shows in background: When you are already watching something and you want to pull up a menu or browse the channel guide, the show you are watching dissolves into the background.
- Thumbnail forward/rewind: If you want to jump around when playing back high-definition video, you can move the time marker and see a thumbnail miniature of the show moving forward/backward at the same time.
- TV launch from Start menu: You can put your Media Center in the Start menu and use a jump list-like hover to go directly to recently recorded shows or other features you use frequently.
- Turbo scroll: A chronological turbo scroll is great, but now there is an alphabetic turbo scroll for media.
Drifting cover art: This is not necessarily a functional improvement, but when you are listening to a song, the album cover art will appear with metadata included about that track (see Figure 3.3). However, in the background, there will also be cover art from other tracks in your library drifting around. Just a cool effect.
Figure 3.3 Media Center effects.
- Scattered photo show: While playing music, you can opt for a photo show of pictures in a folder of your choosing so that pictures are scattered around the screen, and then Media Center will zoom in on them one at a time.
- Copy remote content: Allows you to quickly copy content when browsing other libraries or systems with Media Center.
- Virtual channels without TV tuner: With Internet video channels becoming very popular (for example, YouTube and Hulu), there is less of a need for a TV tuner to watch certain shows.
For those of you who really want to design and build the ultimate Media Center environment, you'll need all the approved dfMCE (Designed for Media Center Edition) equipment. Here is a link (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=30e22722-a2bc-45a4-8f1a-f57503a9312d&displaylang=en) to the Microsoft site where you can download a list of components that are dfMCE-compliant. This includes DVD decoders, graphics cards, TV tuners, remote controls, and wireless routers. The document from Microsoft is called "Designed for Media Center Edition Master List."