Digital Media Centers

Being a computer geek, it is almost expected that I use computer technology to solve problems.  One of those that seem to be a good fit is media like music, photos, video, movies, and television offered through computer technology.   Since this media can be digital, a computer makes for an excellent conduit.

Several years ago, I jumped into the digital media arena with a Gateway Destination Home Theater PC.   Although a good first attempt, it wasn’t quite as easy and reliable as it could have been which made for a low WAF (wife acceptance factor).   The issue was that the “couch-interface” and remote weren’t quite there yet.   It ran on top of Windows 98 which in itself was quite a horror.   Like I said, a good first attempt but Gateway eventually terminated the product line.

When I moved into my new house, it was time to upgrade the technology from the TiVo I finally was using.   Shortly after my search began, Microsoft started to introduce a new product line called “Freestyle“.   As soon as it was released as a real product called Windows XP Media Center Edition, I snatched it up via HP’s offering.   And, even though a 1.0 release generally has its problems, I never regretted its purchase.

The Windows XP Media Center Edition PC is a superset of Windows XP professional.   This means that it is everything a Windows XP system is PLUS the “media stuff”.   “Media stuff” you ask?   These systems allow you to record television (like TiVo), play music, watch videos, view pictures, download movies on demand, rip your DVDs in Divx format for anytime.   Now a normal Windows XP PC offers most of these features but Media Center Editions adds a remote control and a “10 foot interface”.   So, you can do all these things from the comfort of your couch without a mouse or keyboard.  A demo and videos are available.

But, I am using them slightly different than was originally intended.   First, I use the computers more as appliances than PCs so we almost never use the PC interface of the computers.   Their sole purpose is to be the media hubs for the house which display on TVs.   Since I have two MCEs (one in the family room, one in the bedroom), I have coaxed the two MCEs to share the recorded TV between them.   So at any given time, I have about 400 programs waiting for me (I can record 250 hours) to watch and can record three shows on different channels at the same time.   This is what some call “a personal TV network” since I rarely channel surf because there is always something I want to watch recorded. I have also moved all the digital music and videos to a central server so all the clients access the same library of 15,000 songs.   With all the media stored on the media server, I don’t have the 700 CDs, 300 DVDs, and dozens of photo albums hanging out in the way. And, since Windows XP can play the recorded TV files, I can watch recorded TV programs on any PC in the house or on the road.   I am actually watching “Seinfeld” on my second monitor while I write this article. 🙂

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