Archive for October 2nd, 2006

Windows Media Centre – How I love thee

I’ve been using Windows XP Media Centre (sorry, center) edition for a month now, and I have to say it’s the single most impressive bit of software I’ve used from Microsoft in a long time.

Instead of buying a pre-configured media PC I saved a bunch of money by building it myself, allowing me to get some decent kit on a budget.

The hardware consists of:

  • Shuttle XPC
  • NVidia 7600 passively cooled, linked to Panasonic LCD tv via a DVI – HDMI cable
  • Liteon DVD burner
  • MCE remote and keyboard
  • 250Gb SATA hard drive
  • SPDIF connected to my home cinema amp

I chose not to buy a capture card, as I really don’t need to record TV as I already have that facility, however I do like to download episodes of shows like House and Family Guy (I know, I’m a very bad man) as they’re shown in the US way before they’re available in the UK, and the media PC is ideal for viewing those.

Unfortunately, the DVD drive and MCE are both configured to be Region 2 out of the box, which is useless for me as I’m a DVD early adopter, and have lots (and I do mean lots) of region 1 dvds so this had to be solved.

I didn’t select the liteon drive just because they’re cheap, I also chose it because there are a plethora of de-regioning options available for it. A quick download of LtnRPC and the drive was ready. Windows was even easier to re-region, I just installed DVD Region Killer and away I went.

As this wasn’t a pre-built system, there was no built-in DVD display software, so I bought NVidia Purevideo Decoder Bronze edition, I don’t need the higher versions of the software as I’m passing the audio to my AV Amp, which can handle Dolby and DTS streams, so the base version suffices. I do have to say this, with the 7600 upscaling the dvd output to the native resolution of my LCD TV (720p) the images it produces are nothing short of stunning. It’s far better than my ‘normal’ dvd player, a mid-range Panasonic RA61 (not a cheap £30 player by any stretch of the imagination), fed with a high-quality disk like The Incredibles I’d swear it was an HD source, not a normal DVD.

Additional software I’ve added are the G-Force audio visualisation software, the MCE Power Toys, and Album Art Fixer.

All in all, I heartily recommend MCE, there are a few issues with it, like it’s lack of support for satellite and cable systems (it only officially supports DVB-T in the UK) but those, from my perspective, are minor niggles.

October 2nd, 2006


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