Home Theatre Pc Software And Operating Systems (Part 1) - Windows Media Center

6/26/2012 11:30:10 AM

Ian Jackson compares and contrasts the three main HTPC applications available

The Home Theatre PC (HTPC) has become an increasingly prevalent addition to our homes. Gone are the days when only the geekiest of enthusiasts had a PC providing their multimedia needs, instead these extremely useful computers now sit underneath most serious movie and music fan's televisions. Nevertheless, normal desktop operating systems simply aren't designed to be accessed from the other side of the room - menus are too small, fonts are difficult to read and using a keyboard and mouse as a sofa controller is cumbersome and inaccurate.

Description: The Home Theatre PC (HTPC)

Fortunately there are now a number of dedicated HTPC applications that are designed to sit on top of your normal operating system, providing an experience that's just as easy to use from the comfort of your sofa as a conventional set top box or disk player. Today we will be looking at the three most popular applications, discussing their pros and cons and teaching you how to use their most commonly accessed features.

Windows Media Center

Description: Windows Media Center

Windows Media Center is an application that's built into Windows XP MCE, certain versions of Windows Vista and all versions of Windows 7 - apart from the practically invisible Starter edition. It's worth noting, though, that if you are using either of the older operating systems, the interface is a little different to the version we will be discussing today. Obviously the first major pro of WMC is that it's 'free' - in that, once you have purchased the ubiquitous Windows 7, licence no further expenditure is required. This fact alone makes it one of the most widely used HTPC interfaces around, also virtually guaranteeing peripheral support for any media remote or keyboard you end up purchasing.

Although it's the choice many enthusiasts love to hate, a properly setup WMC HTPC is also a capable, feature-rich choice that has some unique advantages compared to other open source offerings.

Windows Media Center is easy to use for the most part, and unlike some of its competitors, you can add content and perform the initial setup stages all from the comfort of your armchair. Adding content is a simple process and you can either wait for files to be added to the library in real time, or let it add files in the background as you continue to use the application. One of the key features of Windows Media Center is its ability to integrate seamlessly with the majority of TV tuners on the market, allowing you to use your PC as a Freeview digital video recorder. It even supports multiple tuners, so if you have more than one card (or a single card with multiple tuners) you can watch one channel while you record another.

Description: the Xbox 360 games console

the Xbox 360 games console

Another great feature of Windows Media Center is its ability to use extenders. These essentially work a little bit like a remote desktop client - everything you can do on your desktop you can also do in another room by hooking up a media centre extender. There used to be a number of standalone extenders on the market, but the only one still supported and available to buy is the Xbox 360 games console. Although older versions of Microsoft's ubiquitous games console are far too noisy to use for acceptable media playback, the latest versions are both efficient and discrete.

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