I have a love/hate relationship with Windows Media Center. Microsoft has done a great job in creating a usable and simple system that most people can use but in order for it to be useful, you have to make some sacrifices.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I love the fact that I can have TV, photos, movies, and the Internet all available on the TV using one remote and one interface. I like the simple and usable interface so much, I am mimicking it for all Audrey’s touchpanels in the house. It makes it easy enough that anyone that comes over can pick up remote and intuitively find what they want. And since it is the same across all the areas of the house, it makes the house feel cohesive and well put together.
Unfortunately, in order to make it work the way I want, I had to install separate PCs all over the house. This created a few issues that bugged the hell out of me:
- The TVs didn’t “act” like TVs. Pushing the power button didn’t necessarily turn off the TV since the PC had to stay up to record TV shows. So it confused some guests in the house and made it appear to be slammed together. Plus, they would sometimes shutdown the PC causing all sorts of havoc.
- If one of the PCs recorded a TV program, it wasn’t always available on another TV in the house. That because there was multiple tuners with multiple hard disks so it became unmanageable.
- The PCs were generally louder and bulkier that I wanted.
- Virtualization was impossible if I had a bunch of PCs running all over the house.
Moving to Windows Media Center Extenders
One way to solve this is to centralize the Media Center server and then have all the clients in the house connect to that server for media. The best solution that fit my needs was to use Windows Media Center Extenders and have them connect back to my virtualized Media Center server.
At one time, Microsoft thought the Extender was the way to get Microsoft into the living rooms of America but with sales miserable, they seem to be getting away from it. That means it is probably a dying thread but for now, it fills my need. In its heyday, there wasn’t a shortage of extender varieties including set top boxes and TVs with MCX embedded. When I had the chance, I bought two HP MediaSmart TVs and two more HP MediaSmart set top boxes which I use around the house. Great solution.