Windows XP Media Center Edition: The OS

While most users won't have to install MCE 2005, we did. MCE 2005 is the first Windows XP OS version to ship on two CDs, and yes you need both of them during the installation process. During the installation process you'll have to swap the discs out twice; once to pop disc 2 in, and once to put the first disc back in again.

While all previous versions of the OS were based on Windows XP SP1, Media Center Edition 2005 is built on Service Pack 2, but with a few additions. There's obviously the built in Media Center application, but there is also a new XP theme called Energy Blue, as well as a few new programs that are automatically installed: Windows Audio Converter, Windows CD Label Maker, Windows Dancer and Windows Party Mode.

Windows Audio Converter is a program that will let you convert mp3, wav and wma files into mp3, wma, wma (vbr) or wma lossless formats. The most interesting option is the lossess Windows Media Audio format employs a lossless compression ratio to get the bit rate down as low as possible without actually discarding any of the original audio data.

Windows CD Label Maker is pretty straight forward, it is a program that will let you make and print CD Labels, furthering the idea of using your MCE PC as a multipurpose "media center" of your digital life.

Windows Dancer is a program that will cause a little person to dance around on your screen. By default you can set Windows dancer to dance according to the music being played (although MCE 2005 only ships with one dancer, there is an option to automatically choose the dancer based on what type of music is being played). If you really enjoy the dancer you can even turn her loose without any music playing. We didn't like her enough to do that.

The final "Digital Media Enhancement" app that Microsoft ships with MCE 2005 is Windows Party Mode. Windows Party Mode is basically a full screen skin for Windows Media Player 10 that you're supposed to use at parties where everyone can come up and interact with the playlist, choosing what they want to hear next from your WMP10 Library. The skins available are far less polished than what's offered in the actual Media Center UI, but we can see how the feature would be useful in some situations.

MCE2005 is configurable to start with or without the Media Center interface, by default it is configured not to but changing it isn't a problem. Below we have a screenshot of the new XP theme, Energy Blue:

Click to Enlarge

Launching the Media Center application is the same as before, you either use the green button on the remote or click on the green icon that looks like the aforementioned button. Regardless of which method you choose, the end result is that you're dropped into a fairly familiar interface.

The Media Center interface, My TV is the default selection

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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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