Tivo versus Media Center

I’m fully in the Windows Media Center camp in the debate over using Tivo vs. using MCE. At the same time, I got my parents a Tivo because I knew they wouldn’t want to mess with all the complicated setup in using a media center PC to record and view television. I think everyone could benefit from the media management aspects of a media center PC because watching a slideshow on your television is closer to the old slideshows I grew up with in the living room and whole house access to a common music library just makes sense. Still, Tivo’s simplicity is its biggest asset. You don’t need to be a geek to enjoy Tivo. Xbox 360 integration take the MCE experience in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.
digital501 offers an interesting comparison of the two home media managers, with the conclusion that the end game is all about money. I think this is where everyone gets confused. Tivo popularity has nothing to do with cost, although there is a perception that $300 for a box and “lifetime” service is cheaper than setting up a media center PC. Tivo, like the iPod, has a certain elegance media center solutions still can’t match. Agree? Disagree? Take up the discussion on Digital Media Thoughts.

Choosing an TV Tuner

Mark says, I want to buy a TV tuner card for my home PC. What feature should I be looking for? Will I need to increase the RAM on my system (currently 512 MB)?
If you don’t have an immediate need for the tuner, my best advice is to wait until CableCARD tuners start shipping around the end of this year. Current TV Tuner solutions require a convoluted wiring scheme to make using a remote control with the TV tuner and cable guide on the computer feasible because you still need a digital cable box in the mix. The remote functionality is necessary for both changing channels for viewing and using PVR software to record shows. CableCARD integrates the digital cable box function into the TV tuner, making everything work seamlessly. If what you’re looking for is an immediate solution for recording shows, you can find a number of reasonably priced options to carry you through the end of the year. Before deciding on a specific TV Tuner, you need to decide how you want to use it.


SageTV provides a clean program guide for easy navigation and scheduling. Of the media center apps I’ve tested, it performs better at avoiding duplicate recordings than almost any competitor, which is important if you record series. A recommend feature (not unlike the one found on Tivo consoles) supports intelligent recording and scheduling to find shows you might like based on your existing recording preferences. MPEG-2 is the default recording format, but more space efficient MPEG-4 and DivX options are also supported if you use a compatible tuner card. I personally prefer the SageTV search experience to anything currently on the market (although I’m still a Windows Media Center Edition user on a fulltime basis). Scheduling locates recordable programming based on favorite shows, actors and categories through an intuitive process. Over-the-air HD support is standard, with theoretically unlimited tuner support (you’ll run out of open ports before SageTV hits a limit. For video playback, both TV output and playback on PCs in your home network are supported using SageTV. Hardware SageTV extenders provide support similar to Windows MCE Extender support. A 15-day free trial is available. [Windows 9x/2k/XP $19.95/$79.95]

Pocket PC Remote for Windows Media Center

Darius Wey over at Pocket PC Thoughts wrote a remote control app for Windows Media Center. Using his plug-in for Media Center, in combination with software running on a Pocket PC, you can control playback of your media remotely. The app supports useful features like text entry where sending IM messages to friends might be cumbersome in using a Media Center remote. PPC Tablet is required for core remote control functionality.

Windows Media Center Gadget

So far, the Windows Live Gadget collection is nothing more than a novelty act filled with clocks, astrological updates, and weather data I can get somewhere else. The AJAXY drag-and-drop interface is killer and I like being able to create my own news page, but the functional benefits of existing plugins aren’t cool. I want features that enhance my experience, not make it quaint. Microsoft is finally delivering with a new gadget for scheduling Media Center Edition shows, recommending shows based on previous viewing experience and keeping on top of what’s coming up from your Windows Live account. The gadget monitors your Media Center recordings making it possible to update your recording schedule anywhere you can get signed in to Windows Live. We got a sneak peak today at Search Champs V4 complete with permission to post a semi-exclusive screenshot of the experience. Presumably this is an extension of the existing MSN TV Remote Record feature. No word on an official ship date for the MCE gadget, but you can bet I’ll install it the day it goes live.
Windows Media Center Gadget for Windows Live

Delete all music from Windows Media Center

I have several thousand individual songs in the My Music section of Windows Media Center. Since I never associated any of them with track information, they all show up as unknown. I want to delete them from Media Center without deleting them from my hard drive. Media Center won’t let me delete more than one at a time. Please tell me there’s an easier way.
Not being able to delete more than one track or one album at a time from Media Center can be frustrating. Fortunately, Media Center pulls all it’s album information from Windows Media Player, which means you can eliminate the tracks en masse using the Windows Media Player interface and effectively remove them from Media Center as well.

Google Maps for Windows Media Center

Surf the globe from the comfort of your couch by combining Google Maps with the Windows Media Center interface. Colin Savage hacked together a solution combining the Google Maps API and the Windows Media Center SDK to make a map surfable from the 10-foot experience. Up and down buttons on the MCE remote control move you around the globe with the channel buttons zooming in for a close up. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 switch between map view, satellite view and hybrid view respectively. To add Google Map functionality to your own Media Center install, add a shortcut Google Maps in the More Programs section by right-clicking this Media Center Google Maps link and Save Target As to: {system drive}\Documents and Settings\All users\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories\Media Center\Media Center Programs\

AV Music Game

One thing that improves both Windows Media Center and the Media Center Extender concept is add-ins that makes Media Center the focal point of entertainment. AV Music Game helps take the geek out of Media Center with a guessing game add-in. The game starts by selecting a playlist or all music in the Media Center music library, requiring contestants to listen to a track and guess the name of the song and artist. After guessing, a Jury feature reveals the answer and the room full of judges determines if respondents answered correctly. A second game option lets you guess artist and album based on seeing a segment of the album art. [Windows XP MCE $0.00]