Vista Media Centre: 6 months alongMikey 4 comments
Say what you will about Vista, but the Media Centre component (only available in Home Premium and Ultimate flavours) is without a doubt the best media centre experience you can get your paws on.
I reviewed Vista Media Centre in December 2006 at a time when drivers for my particular hardware were lacking. Both Nvidia, Microsoft and Dvico have collectively released stable drivers since then making for a much more stable media centre experience.
Since that time I have not upgraded, and just to prove you don't need the latest and greatest of components to run Vista Media Centre, here are my modest specs:
- Asus A8N motherboard with onboard Geforce 6150 (64mb assigned)
- 512mb DDR400
- SoundBlaster Live 5.1
- AMD Athlon 64 3700+ (single core)
- Dvico FusionHDTV DVB-T Dual Digital tuner
- 2 x 350gb 7200 rpm drives (enough for several hundred hours of video and hi-def TV recordings)
- Thermaltake Tenor case
These are by no means luxurious components by today's (or six months ago) standards with the exception of the case, which is a luxury item but not necessary at all. You can slap all that in a cheap $35 PC case if you want, but we wanted something that didn't look out of place in the living room. I should also mention these specs are good enough to do everything we need and more.
So to recap, or for the uninitiated, why would you want a Media Centre? If you already know then you can skip this part. Otherwise read on.
I guess I should explain our reasons. Having 2 young destructive daughters who change their minds between The Wiggles, Hi-5, Pocoyo etc...every 10 minutes becomes a royal pain when you have to keep getting up to eject a DVD, find the new one, swap it, and place the old one back in its case. And sometimes they would manage to get their hands on any of said DVD's and use them and Frisbees, drawing aids, and everything else that might see us buying them again.
Now when we buy a DVD, we copy it to the Media Centre PC and keep the original disc safe and sound. Not just content with the kids stuff, we have copied all our DVDs over for the sake of convenience.
Also, a lot of the TV shows we watch are on at hours that are inconvenient for us, so we can schedule recordings to occur (and reoccur) for playback later – all without the hassle of managing VHS tapes. In fact we threw away our VHS video record nearly 4 years ago now.
I guess in a nutshell the best way to explain it is to say that having a Media Centre gives the control back to you, instead of the other way around. We watch what we want, when we want, and skip the adverts with 2 clicks on the remote control. We can pause a live broadcast and then fast forward/rewind them on demand.
Anyway, apart from these basics, there are plenty of other cool things you can do that your DVD or VHS player won't let you. For example:
- Get up to the minute on-demand weather forecasts direct from the BOM
- Watch video streams from popular services like Youtub, Google video, MSN and Reuters
- Play games
- Organise your movies, TV shows, music and pictures
- Browse the Internet and check your email
- Chat with your friends using Windows Live Instant Messenger
- Manage your eBay account
- Burn DVD's and files
- Record 2 Hi-Definition TV shows at the same time while watching another channel
- Schedule and manage your recordings
- Import videos direct from your video camera
- Import photos direct from your digital camera
- Manage the whole home theatre remotely
All this from you most comfortable armchair and with a single remote control.
So 6 months on with Vista Media Centre and apart from some initial teething problems mentioned earlier it is fair to say a Media Centre will change your living room life.
The good news is that if you are interested the hardware can be picked up for only a few hundred clams if you are so inclined. The dual digital tuner card I have was a couple of hundred alone but you don't have to splurge on something like that. The most expensive part is the operating system itself, but you can pick up the upgrade version up on ebay for around $150.
If this is something you want to try, but you don't want to make the commitment right away, I would suggest getting your hands on a copy of Vista Home Premium from a colleague and installing it on a spare PC if you have one. It will give you 90 days of testing if you re-arm it every 30 days. After that you are forced to make a decision.
Some of the pictures below will give you an indication of how things work. Click on any image for a larger version.