As impressed as we were with Windows XP Media Center Edition when it first launched, it's no surprise that the Microsoft OS has not taken off by storm.

Distributed only to OEMs for use in custom built systems, this wasn't an OS you could go out and buy. Even though some managed to get it (through MSDN and other less legal routes), there were relatively steep hardware requirements keeping that barrier to entry nice and high. You had to have a hardware MPEG-2 encoder card, which at the time of the release of MCE was far from common (since then times have changed, mostly thanks to MCE). You had to have one of the fastest CPUs available on the market, which at the time was around a Pentium 4 3GHz. And you had to have the MCE remote control setup, which also wasn't readily available to end users.

Things have changed however, and while it was still difficult to get a hold of the copy of the OS, the rest of the items became much easier. Places like Newegg began selling the Media Center remote control, with the stipulation that you had to buy it with some sort of hardware to make it look like you were buying a PC with it. And the price of CPUs went down, as the power of CPUs went up. The introduction of the Athlon 64 provided a nice, very powerful, very capable alternative to the Pentium 4 with one very important feature - an on-die memory controller. The on-die memory controller would prove to be very helpful in making the Athlon 64 an extremely high performer when it came to Media Center PCs.

In between MCE's maiden launch and today, Microsoft released a much-needed update to the OS: MCE 2004, which provided bug fixes, performance enhancements and introduced a few new tweaks and features to the OS. But it was clear that MCE 2004 was not an example of perfection, rather an example of the direction Microsoft was going in. There were still numerous features missing from the MCE equation, things like HDTV and multiple tuner support were left unaddressed, only to be serviced in the latest version of Microsoft's Media Center OS - MCE 2005.

Today marks the official launch of MCE 2005 and although there have already been reports on what's new in the updated OS, we've taken an in-depth look at it to not only evaluate the changes made to the OS, but also to finally investigate the performance of the OS and find out how fast of a system you truly need to run this beast of an OS. There are many details within and tons of screenshots, but we strongly suggest that our read our original article on Windows XP Media Center Edition as we will not be rehashing most of the information covered in that article.

Windows XP Media Center Edition: The OS
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  • martydee - Sunday, February 6, 2005 - link

    Does anyone know if a PVR card with a hardware DVD DECODER (such as the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 350) is compatible with Windows MCE? And would a hardware decoder give any real benefits to the system over the software equivilent (i.e. nVidia DVD decoder)?
  • louisb - Thursday, January 13, 2005 - link

  • mulminute - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    My biggest use is sending music and photos to entertainment center,. Should I use MC 2004 or wait for 2005
  • mulminute - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    My biggest use is sending music and photos to entertainment center,. Should I use MC 2004 or wait for 2005
  • CZroe - Sunday, October 17, 2004 - link

    "Windows MCE will never be any use for people serious about video until it allows you to select what codecs you want to use for encoding from all the DirectShow codecs installed on your system. Having to use the proprietary MS stuff with all their DRM garbage is unsuitable."

    You're clearly one seriously misinformed individual. MCE isn't an interface to multiple video formats and types and simply wonld not function correctly if it were.

    Understand this: An MCE PC has one or more TV tuners and video capture cards in it and they will function exactly like any other PC with that hardware. If you want to record in the format of your choice with an XP MCE PC, no one is stopping you. Fire up your application of choice, select your codec and complain to the software maker that they don't have their own integrated EPG and automatic scheduling capabilities. Honestly, how would you expect EVERY format to support embedded CC and on the fly sequence removal? How could you expect hardware encoding support for any directshow enabled codec? You can't just throw a pre-encoded MPEG2 stream from the hardware into any encoder and expect real time results.
  • glennpratt - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - link

    Definately go to I'm in the US so I don't know much about getting EPG and what not in Australia, but there are a bunch of people from around the world there. The first page load is excruciatingly slow on the site, but once you on its OK.
  • tantryl - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - link

    Quick question that again I haven't seen addressed that much. On the Best/Better etc. quailty settings, what is the average MB/hour ratio?

    How many hours could you store on your average 200GB (191 real GB)?
  • tantryl - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - link

    Thanks glenn.

    I'm in Australia so TiVo or the like is not currently an option (although I've heard rumours it'll be here within another year). The main problem with it is the program guide.

    Australia is officially supported by MCE2005, and I'm very interested in just what that means. So far it looks like no Australia specific music or movie internet services are supported, but I can't find anything to say definately either way. I'm so desperate I'm even considering ringing up Microsoft and going through the quagmire that is customer relations there. But the good thing is, I'm fairly certain (although again, not seen it in writing yet) that the program guide system will work. We only have 5 free-to-air channels and a couple of pay-tv subscription services (that are really the same service packaged differently) so it shouldn't be too hard for them to keep up to date.

    Looking at the performance I'm not seeing a hugley compelling reason to go any higher than a Sempron 3100+ although that might be something that would change once I actually get my hands on it and experience it.

    Hmmmm. All interesting stuff.
  • glennpratt - Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - link

    jamawass - There is an IR blaster connected to the remote USB reciever. There are two ports on it, but the old remote only came with one blaster, the new one which is actually cheaper then the old one comes with two.

    If you have one you'll understand (or a linux based competitor). The flexibility is awesome (just think about it, it's a whole computer. Not only do you have all the flexibilty advanteges of MCE, you have a full blown OS underneath) compared to a Tivo. It's also MUCH MUCH faster then a Tivo.

    As for stability, it all depends on the computer you build it on. You can't tell it's a PC if all you have is the remote. Mine has run for nearly a year, nonstop. You can even put it in S3 (Suspend to ram) and it will still wake up and record when it has to, just like Tivo.

    Really, HTPC serves a very different market then Tivo. It has a million more uses then Tivo + DVD Recorder.

    For me I have an old high end CRT data projector in my living room, and the cheapest thing I could connect to it when I first got it was a computer. Haven't looked back, even as transcoders have gotten much better and cheaper.
  • jamawass - Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - link

    How does mce control digital cable boxes for scheduled recordings? Does the remote have a built in IR blaster?

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