What is Windows Media Center?

Ever wonder… “How do I get rid of my cable box” or get pissed off at how lousy the dvr interface from your cable company is… wish there was another option. Well, There is another solution… and its called Windows Media Center. For those of you that have windows 7, you have the software built into your computer already, and with a little, to no, start up cost, you can get your TV to communicate to this state of the art DVR built into your computer, as seamlessly as the interface on your Comcast box (AKA it will be wife & mom proof). This DVR however will have many, many, many more features, that I’ll get into later… I’ve switched over about 3 years ago, and I will never go back to renting Comcast’s crappy box, paying extra for their crappy HD box, or paying even more for their crappy DVR service…

Click after this break to see a brief synopsis of how to get things running on your TV with Windows Media Center

~If you have windows 7 operating system on your home computer, browse thru your start menu and look for the green button icon next to windows media center… this is the interface of the windows media center… check it out, because that is the basic interface, although the nice thing about media center is you can customize it later down the road…

~Now you may be saying… that’s all fine, but how do I get it on my HDTV. Well there are a few answers to that, but the most logical way is to use your Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender (assuming that your computer and Xbox are both on your home network) This basically this allows you to “stream” your Media Center to your TV without having to actually hook up your computer to the TV, which can be a pain for a number of reasons. Browse the system settings on your Xbox to connect to the media center, or more detailed instructions can be found here. The other nice thing about this is you can use the Xbox Controller, the Xbox remote, or any programmable universal remote to navigate the media center just like you would any other TV hooked up to a cable box or satellite receiver (this is one of the keys to having a wife proof system). If your not a big gamer, and still want the media center as your primary TV setup, there is an option on the Xbox to startup in Media Center, bypassing the Xbox Dashboard (you can always get back to the dashboard if need be)

~ So now that you have your media center interface on your TV, you want to be able to watch TV right… Well, for that you need one last piece of hardware for your computer… which is a TV Tuner card. There are many out there, but the most common are PCI cards that you have to open your computer case and physically install… if you’ve never done something like this before, its as easy as changing a light bulb on your car…. there will be instructions on how to do it with whatever TV tuner you get. I would recommend looking on eBay for a used one if you just want a taste of what media center can do for your television entertainment. You can always upgrade and add more TV tuners as time goes on.
I would recommend looking at a digital or hybrid TV tuner… the digital will most likely allow you to receive some HD stations via a QAM signal or HD thru a Digital Antenna, and a hybrid tuner will allow you to receive analog and digital QAM signals with the same card. If you want to just right into it and get all the encrypted digital channels that you can only get with a cable box you are going to need to by way better TV tuner called an OCUR card… these tuners have a slot in them that your cable guy has to come out and program with a special card (similar to how they do your cable box when you upgrade to HBO or something similar) The latest fancy pants OCUR tuner at the time of this post is the InfitiyTV 4 by Ceton. This baby has four built in tuners in one card (The number of tuners dictate how many shows you can watch and/or record at the same time).

~And that’s all you really need to play around with the Media Center on your TV. The shot on the right was ripped off from the technology blog engadget, but it shows the TV interface when you hit the info button to tell you about the show.
~~~Windows 7 w/ media center
~~~TV tuner(s) in your Computer
~~~Xbox 360 hooked up to your home network

Once you start with the above there are many built in settings and 3rd party plugin’s and modifications you can do to your media center setup that will blow your cable or satellites DVR box out of the water… some of them include.

~ Commercial Skipping on recorded TV shows
~ Rip your entire DVD or Blue-Ray collection to your TV interface (your own on-demand content)
~ Music and picture Library seamlessly on your TV / home entertainment receiver
~ Customize the backgrounds
~ Stream your music and recorded TV shows from anywhere with an internet connection
~ Download RSS tv shows (HBO Trueblood content for example without HBO) from the internet to watch on your TV like you would from recorded TV
~ Many Many More features as well…

Feel free to ask any questions about this or my particular setup in the comments below…

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