Vista Media Centre Review

Mikey 20 comments
Vista Media Centre Review

Microsoft's new flagship operating system is allegedly set for a January release, but for a lucky few Vista is already a reality. The company I work for are Microsoft Gold Partners, which gives us many privileges, among them being an early download of the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) version of Vista.

It should be noted that despite this being the full version of Vista, drivers are still an issue and do have an effect on overall performance. For example, Nvidia Geforce drivers are still beta, which while does not affect the desktop environment greatly it certainly shows its failings elsewhere. Additionally the drivers for my digital tuner card leave a lot to be desired. But with public release of Vista we should see drivers begin to mature as demand increases.

This review will focus on the basics of the new Vista Media Centre, which comes with all versions of Vista from Home Premium and above. For the uninitiated, Media Centre is one of Microsoft's many attempts to break into the living room market. We have been happily using Media Centre 2005 for more than a year now, ditching the DVD player and VCR a long time ago and never looking back.

Having a dedicated Media Centre really does change your living room life, so to speak. There is no need to buy and manage blank video tapes, you can program all your shows to record across different channels even if they are on at the same time, you can organise all your favourite TV shows, movies, music, photos and home movies, you can pause/resume/rewind/fast forward live TV broadcasts, and you can copy all your DVD's to the Media Centre so you don't even have to fish them out from your entertainment unit when you need them, all from a single remote control.

Our Media Centre is of modest specs, which does the job more than adequately on MCE2005. For Vista MCE we are testing with the same hardware but different drivers, composing of:

  • Asus A8N-VM motherboard (using generic Microsoft Drivers)
  • Onboard Geforce 6150 (128mb using generic Microsoft Drivers)
  • 512mb DDR400
  • SoundBlaster Live 5.1 (using WinXP Drivers)
  • AMD Athlon 64 3700+
  • Dvico FusionHDTV DVB-T Dual Digital tuner (using latest Dvico Vista Drivers)
  • 2 x 350gb 7200 rpm drives
  • 37" 8ms high definition LCD TV (720i)

I have deliberately not upgraded or added any more memory just to see how much of a performance hit (if any) will be associated with changing over to Vista MCE.

As it turns out, these specs on Vista seem to be barely enough. Particularly with the memory footprint, as hard drive thrashing was evident right from the start while Vista tried to compensate by writing to the swap file. Another 512mb would be helpful, although more is always better.

The new interface is eye candy indeed. MCE2005 (was) the best looking Media Centre interface on the market and now looks dull in comparison. At first it is a little daunting but you soon realise just how easy and intuitive it is.

Vista Media Center


The most notable difference between MCE2005 and Vista MCE is the direction required to navigate. Vista makes use of wide screen aspect ratio by displaying everything in a left – right (and vice versa) direction, which makes more sense than having to scroll up and down (ala MCE2005). Improved use of screen real estate means more information can fit on screen before having to scroll.


Like MCE2005, Vista MCE displays thumbnails of all media, unless it cannot read a particular file. This normally only happens when a media file has been encoded in a format that you do not have a codec installed. Xvid for example. When that happens the file name is displayed instead.

Thumbnails have been extended to include TV recordings which makes for better visual identification.

Unfortunately for those who went to the trouble of creating their own folder.jpg images for all media folders, (me included!) you will notice the aspect ratio of the thumbnails is no longer square. This means the top and bottom of the folder images are cropped away. I was unable to test if this only happens on wide screen displays. Typical 4 x 3 displays may display folders the same as they were in MCE2005. If anyone knows for sure, feel free to leave a comment below.

Vista Media Center

Vista Media Center

Vista Media Center

Live TV

Live TV works in the same fashion as on MCE2005 but with one large improvement: The TV broadcast still fills the screen when you navigate away. The menu is simply overlayed on top of the image with a blue gradient masking the bottom of the screen. This also works when playing any other video media. It looks fantastic and works well. It's one of those ideas that makes you wonder why they never thought of it before.

Vista Media Center

Switching between digital channels was significantly faster than it was on MCE2005. Unfortunately due to driver issues, MCE Vista only detected one of my Digital Tuners which means I could not record 2 channels at the same time, or change channel while recording another. That being said, the recording dialog and quality are the same. Also on the down side, TV was occasionally choppy thanks to the infant drivers, making it only watchable some of the time.

Vista Media Center

Recorded TV

As previously mentioned Recorded TV now displays thumbnails, and neatly organises your recordings with a number in brackets appended at the end, which indicates how many recordings of that particular show you have. This is yet another time saver, preventing the need to drill down further just to see what is down there.

Vista Media Center

You can still choose where to store Live TV recordings, and if you specify the same location you have on your old MCE2005 recordings, they work fine on Vista.


Thanks to the new sideways scrolling interface, viewing digital photos is a lot easier. And if you really want to you can reduce the thumbnail size to fit even more on screen at once although it is probably not necessary.

Vista Media Center

Hi Definition

The holy grail of the Media Centre is High Definition content, which is unfortunately lacking in quantity. Microsoft has a High Definition showcase encoded using their proprietary WMVHD technology (which incidentally looks stunning) and there are miscellaneous trailers and segments scattered all over the internet which can be sourced if you look hard enough.

Hi Definition playback on Vista MCE started jerky while the hard drive thrashed about, but eventually smoothed out. Again this is probably the result of average drivers and my apparent lack of RAM.

Vista Media Center

Summary so far.

Although Vista MCE is gorgeous to look at and the new navigation and other improvements are hard to resist, at this stage I will be sticking to MCE 2005. If Vista MCE detected my second digital tuner and the drivers were at a stage that didn't cause choppy Digital TV reception, I would be sticking with it.

Driver issues aside, there are many reasons to jump over to Vista MCE. But like any new technology the first versions always have issues, and Vista MCE is no different. My gut feeling is Vista MCE is a very polished product only being let down by inadequate driver support. Wait until your hardware is properly supported.

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Monday 1st January 2007 | 07:43 PM

Happy new year and greetings from the US. Thanks for the info and great screen shots. It looks like you have had more success with Vistas media center than most other reviews I have read. I have been playing with the idea of going over to Vistas media center and all my hardware is supported but drives take time to mature like you said. How does your system handle hidef with onboard vga on media center 2005?

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Tuesday 16th January 2007 | 12:31 AM

You've been digg! Hey I like that you didn't do an uber upgrade on your system before testing. But we all know Vista will need more resources.

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Tuesday 16th January 2007 | 02:14 AM

Nice article about the look and feel of Vista:">The Dutch are taking over the desktop

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Tuesday 16th January 2007 | 10:19 AM

I had a similar experience and I use the same Dvico card. Vista MC is awesome and a shame the card wont work on it properly.

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Tuesday 16th January 2007 | 03:31 PM

Hi Jenson. I have not had any issues with the onboard video that I know of. Actually the Dvico has been more of an issue, so much that I have decided to go up to a newer model because it apparently works fine on Vista MCE as well.

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Sunday 21st January 2007 | 03:58 AM

Hi! I have Vista build 6000 installed and I have been trying to test it on a seperate box before upgrading my MCE 2005 box.

I have run into one stumbling block that I wanted to ask you about. For all of my pictures and videos, my sub-folders show up, but none of the content will show in media center. It basically looks like a empty folders, but I know they are not empty.

Have you ever seen this happen to yourself or anyone else?

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Sunday 21st January 2007 | 12:42 PM

Hi John. I assume you have specified the correct paths to your pictures and videos within Media Centre? If not, then you know what to do. If so, then I can't imagine why that would be happening.

The 1st thing I did after setting everything up on Vista Media Centre was tell it when all my media is stored, and it worked as expected - TV recordings included.

The only thing I can suggest is to try moving your media to a different directory and then let media centre know.

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Sunday 21st January 2007 | 04:30 PM

John I had the same problem on Beta 2 and did the same thing Michael suggested and it worked. It was a waste of time in the end anyway it was so unstable! Good luck with it.

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Saturday 3rd February 2007 | 09:57 PM

Hey guys,

Just installed my new vista ultimate and eventually managed to get my DVB-T Plus card to work with a little stuffing around, I'm running a P4, 3.2ghz, 128MB NVIDIA 6600GT 1GB RAM with 300GB sata hard disk connected to a 42" Plasma. I'm experiencing choppy HDTV and was wondering if anyone can point me in the right direction to try an resolve this?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


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Saturday 3rd February 2007 | 10:17 PM

Hi Doodles. Welcome to RL. I had choppy HDTV as well. The only thing I can put it down to is the Vista drivers, as my system ran perfectly fine under Windows XP Media Centre.

The drivers may not be mature enough yet. That said, I have decided to sell my Dvico Dual Digital Tuner and get the">newer version, which was designed with Vista Media Centre in mind.

One of the benefits with this tuner is it does not rely on a USB pass through cable to supply bandwidth to the 2nd tuner. I am almost certain this is part of the reason why Vista did not detect the 2nd tuner on the card. (Bad Vista USB drivers for my motherboard)

Anyway, back to your problem. In the early days I had choppy HDTV reception which I eventually resolved with a simple BIOS change. My BIOS allows me the option to assign an IRQ to my main Video Card. By disabling this option, the choppiness went away. But that was on XP.

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Saturday 19th May 2007 | 11:31 PM

Hey Michael,

I looked in my machines BIOS and I dont have the option of assigning an IRQ to main video (DAMN IT), Im really unsure what is going on, the choppy vid is happening in the FusionHDTV application as well (I guess it must be driver related?) any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance

Kind Regards,


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Sunday 20th May 2007 | 09:42 AM

Hi Doodles. Sorry I am not sure what else to offer on that. I have since sold that card and have been been using the">new model which I might add has worked perfectly since I got it a few months ago.

It may well be driver related as you suggested. You might also look into other ways of re-assigning IRQ's to different hardware from within the Windows environment if your BIOS doesn't allow it.

Alternatively, I seriously recommended the">new model.

Good luck.

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Sunday 20th May 2007 | 01:11 PM

Thanks anyway Michael,

I will do as you have suggested and get the Dvico FusionHDTV DVB-T Dual Digital, I will pop back and leave my feedback.

Thanks again.


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Saturday 18th August 2007 | 10:38 PM

I find it very hard to believe, having lived with Vista Media Center for 4 weeks now how you could find the navigation system 'intuitive' - MS Should have included a 'Classic Mode' for those who like the navigation of previous versions of MCE.

I find the navigation system far to frustrating, everything is too many 'clicks' away, there is always a lag between button presses and actual screen movement (this is on a fairly high spec PC) . The new layout just doesn't make sense, the thumbnails make the whole thing look messy.

Videos or recorded TV is too reliant on the thumbnails which means you have to recognise the 'still' randomly pulled in from the video - you don't see the name of the video or recorded TV until you actually highlight it!! This makes finding epside 15 of Lost extremely difficult!!

Where has the recently recorded TV gone? When I eventually found it, I realised you couldn't actually play the item from the it's summary screen.

The whole navigation system leaves me biting my lip in frustration not being able to find the video I wish to watch and have to put up with a messy cluttered display when a simple text list is more than sufficient than having to wait for Vista to build 30 thumbnails that you don't even want or recognise.

Sorry to go on but having read you article above have just made the decision to ghost my Vista install (and wait for them to realise how wrong they got it then put it right!) and install MCE2005, you cannot of actually used Vista MCE in your living room for any extended period of time.


Phil (going to see if Ghost is compatible with Vista before I break everything)

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Saturday 18th August 2007 | 10:54 PM

Phil says "you cannot of actually used Vista MCE in your living room for any extended period of time."

Read this...

I still think it leaves MCE2005 for dead. Far more reliable and handles multiple tasks without breaking a sweat. And our machine spec is nothing special. I can't imagine why you are experiencing lag between button presses. Perhaps have a look around on google's media centre groups.

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Saturday 18th August 2007 | 11:46 PM

Hi....Fast reply!

The remote lag is a small complaint, and quite possibly due to other issues than just VMC (It is currently still building thumbnails of certain folders - which I still don't want) my main issue is with the navigation. What was once a couple of 'click' away are now irritating deeper down the navigation.

My family and I have used MCE2005 for well over a year with a medium spec PC and was intially very surprised that MS had got it so right for a change and have being very impressed with the system which has had hours of use so I decided to take the plunge to Vista Ultimate, a medium-high end spec with a very very nice Zalman HD160XT-S case.

After the expected initial problems with Drivers and codecs, although I still have choppy TV, recorded TV playback and DVD's, I'm sure if I could be bothered I could resolve.

I am today in two minds whether to cure the glitches or install MCE2005, it is the navigation system which is forcing the scales to MCE - I really think MS has their new interfaces wrong, as with Office 2007 - the whole experience leaves you frustrated and irritated.

I am also struggling to see any real benefits with VMC over MCE2005 (aside from the latter is more supported with Codecs and drivers) I really don't see the graduated overlay worthwhile, please, if there are any other benefits please tell me before comitting to flatten the box!!

The version of Ghost I have isn't compatible so am currently looking for other imaging tools, know of any?



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Monday 19th May 2008 | 11:47 PM

Hey Mikey-
Since your review, have you upgraded to Vista's Media Center?

I am running XP Media Center on a dedicated HTPC now and contemplating whether to invest the time to upgrade. And whether the benefits of vista media center is worth it. (any advice would be appreciated).


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Tuesday 20th May 2008 | 05:47 AM

Hi Brian. Absolutely. It's much better. I posted a follow-up review here:

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Tuesday 20th May 2008 | 09:57 AM

I'm on record at this site as someone who's none too happy with Vista. That said - I love Vista Media Centre. Using the Microsoft remote with it, it's as easy as using a a TV ever was and far more feature rich. Even my wife, who had trouble using the VCR, figured out how to record shows without any help.

My only complaint now that I have switched to a media centre and 39" LCD monitor instead of a TV, VCR and DVD player is that the PC which runs it all is too noisy (the CPU-fan) and I therefore shut it down when I am done with it - so it takes too long to boot, compared to just switching a TV on.

That said, I think it (and any other media centre) would suck without the Microsoft remote control. Using a keyboard and mouse to watch TV would be too much of a pain.

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Tuesday 20th May 2008 | 11:18 AM response to this comment by Rodney. We changed the power settings so that media goes into standby mode when you press the power button. It goes completely silent. No fans or drives making noise. Then press the power button again at its running again in about 5 seconds.

As for noise, yes that is one downside. Having 3 hard drives in our media centre doesn't help things, but we plan to setting up a NAS unit in our back room onto the network, which will make it as quiet it was the day I built it. And if you have a CPU that comes with software to dynamically change the CPU fan speed then tweak it so it's on the slowest setting.

Also consider how many fans are in use. The HTPC case I bought had 4 fans. We just use 1 of the 40mm fans to exhaust the heat which is more than ample.

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