There are a ton of “media center” applications out there. Most are of quality with plenty of options and merit. The first thing you need to know when making your decision: don’t pay for anything, at least not yet. There is plenty of hardware out there to enhance your TV watching experience but let’s see what we can do with the PC you already own first by getting a feel for your options before you start shelling out the bucks.
Starting with Windows XP Media Center Edition Microsoft has produced an excellent option for media center software, aptly if not simply named Media Center. With Windows Vista the product got better but the operating system was filled with problems and a stigma that overshadowed whatever quality the Media Center application may have possessed. I will say this before I move on, Vista was not a horrible operating system it simply needed more resources, ram in particular, than most systems were willing or capable of providing. But, I digress. Media Center evolved with Windows 7. If you want to use Microsoft’s Media Center (and I think you do) then Windows 7 is the operating system you need to go with. Media Center comes free with Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate editions. If you have one of those versions of Windows 7 then you are on your way. If not, then all I can say is, “Seriously?”
Media Center, free with your copy of Windows, provides you the ability to:
- Watch DVDs
- Watch and Record TV programs including Hi-Def (with the help of a TV Tuner Card)
- View pictures and home videos
- There are even some games that you can play within Media Center using the remote control.
- Share media content with other Windows systems using easy to configure home groups.
- Also you can share your content with Windows Media Center extender devices such as your X-Box 360. You can also view shared content on your Playstation 3 which we will discuss in another article. Right now the best I will say about the Playstation 3 interface is “Meh”
- Watch internet TV – Several shows are available including Star Trek Enterprise and the new Hawaii Five-O. Mostly what you will find is clips and interview and in some cases a limited selection of shows, but as with Enterprise, the entire series is available.
- An easy to use Netflix interface. One of the better looking versions of the interface in my opinion.
Over time we will address each of these features and how you can leverage them, until then just know that these are the features you want to make sure your media center has, no matter the make. These are the features you need and should not have to pay for. As long as Microsoft is providing these as part of their operating system then use what you have been given versus paying for something else.