GENERAL OF THE ARMY
- May 25, 2004
What is a Media Center PC?
It is basically a regular PC, but designed to fit into your home entertainment system to replace your DVD player, Hi-Fi, TV set-top box, as well as allowing other functions as email, web browsing and more, all from the comfort of your armchair, or elsewhere
Many new Media Center PCs (MCPCs or Home Theatre PCs - HTPCs) are styled like hi-fi components to blend in under your TV, while many are regular PCs with extra multimedia functions.
What is Windows XP Media Center Edition?
Windows XP Media Center Edition (or XP MCE for short) is basically Windows XP Professional (Service Pack 2) without advanced networking support (but including Remote Desktop Connection) and extra applications to turn your PC into a fully fledged Home Theatre PC (HTPC). The main Microsoft Media Center appplication allows a full screen interface suitable for viewing on TVs (pictured below left) and controlled by an easy to use Microsoft remote control device (below right), so you can watch and record TV, view DVDs and listen to audio CDs and digital music files.
How do I get WinXP MCE?
At the time of writing, XP MCE is only available as an OEM pack which you can purchase from your nearest dealer or online reseller, or if pre-installed on a purchased system. MCE is currently only available as a 32bit (x86) version, but works on 64bit systems.
The Media Center application is also included with the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista.
How do I install WinXP MCE?
MCE installs the same way as any other version of Windows XP. However it cannot be installed as an upgrade, you must do a clean install. MCE comes on two disks; a WinXP XP SP2 disc, and the MCE extras disc. Boot from CD1 as you would normally when installing Windows. The setup screens will indicate Windows XP Professional, this is normal. During the graphic part of the install process, you will be prompted to insert CD2. This is obviously the second CD of the set which you should insert, as it contains the necessary extra Media Center enhancements. When it is done, Setup will ask you for the "Windows XP SP2 CD". It is actually just asking for the first disc again, so reinsert it and let it continue.
When install is complete, the system will reboot, and you will see the normal Windows XP desktop, though with a slightly different theme. To begin using the Media Center program straight away, click on Media Center in the Start Menu to begin the Media Center Setup wizard.
What graphics hardware is required for MCE to work correctly?
MCE works with DirectX 9.0c, so ideally your hardware at a minimum needs to be DirectX 9.0 compatible.
MCE requires a minimum of 64mb video RAM (shared or dedicated), 128mb recommended for the full visual "eye-candy" interface effects.
For Nvidia GPU chipsets, MCE drivers can be found here: nVidia Drivers. You'll need at least a Geforce FX5200 for MCE to work (however I have it running on an integrated Geforce 4 MX with no problems).
For ATI GPU chipsets, drivers for MCE can be found here: ATi Drivers. You'll need at least a 9250 for MCE to work, but I understand that the 9200 may also suffice.
Unfortunately, I understand that SiS and Via (S3) chipsets (as found on many mobos with integrated VGA) are NOT MCE compatible. Some Intel integrated VGA chipsets will work now, you should refer to Intel's website for updated drivers. I also understand that Via have introduced MCE compatible drivers for their Epia SP13000 ITX board, again refer to Via's website for correct drivers. However, it is recommended to use an add-in VGA card for best results, unless you have a new board which has integrated Geforce 6100 or ATI Xpress chipsets
What TV hardware works with MCE?
In order to display TV output, MCE requires an MPEG2 stream to display. It cannot encode this itself, so requires a hardware based TV tuner / capture card, such as the Hauppage PVR MCE series, or the MSI Theater 550PRO (above left). The card receives analog video through the aerial connection, or svideo / composite inputs, encodes it into MPEG2 format, which MCE can display.
This type of analog card is required to connect a cable or satellite box (eg Telewest, NTL or Sky in UK). Using the Microsoft remote receiver, two supplied IR blasters affix to the set-top box, so MCE can automatically change channels when needed.
For best picture quality on digital TV though, you can use a software-based DVB-T card, such as the Hauppauge Nova-T or the Black Gold DVB-T (above right). Using a regular aerial, these receive high quality digital terrestrial (OTA) signals (eg the Freeview service in UK), which are broadcast in MPEG2 format, and therefore no encoding is required. In the USA, ATSC is the digital terrestrial standard used, as DVB is not available there.
Unfortunately UK users of DVB-T cards will currently not be able to make use of DVB subtitles, interactive text-based services such as Teletext and BBCi,
Unlike with VGA cards, MCE requires that your TV hardware has special BDA (Broadcast Driver Architecture) drivers which are MCE compatible. Check your hardware manufacturers website for compatible drivers.
Unfortunately, analogue TV hardware that is software-driven (such as MSI TV@nywhere and Vox) won't work in MCE.
Windows Vista Media Center will introduce support for cable (DVB-C) and satellite (DVB-S)tuner cards
Do I need any other software to make MCE work?
As MCE is essentially based around Windows Media Player 10, you will be aware that WMP cannot play DVDs until you install a suitable DVD codec. This is also the case with MCE, as until you install this MPEG2 codec, MCE won't play ANY video (including TV). So you will also need to purchase additional MCE compatible DVD player software, such as Cyberlink PowerDVD 6, Intervideo WinDVD 6, or Nvidia's DVD Decoder MPEG codec. Results can be varied using different codecs, so it is best to try a trial version of such software to see which gives you the best results before purchasing. You may find that suitable DVD software may already be supplied with some VGA or TV tuner cards.
Anything else I need?
You will also require an internet connection (not imperative, but certainly very useful) in order for MCE to access the internet in order to find and download TV guide listings, and album and artist information when playing CDs, MP3s and WMAs.
Without guide information, you will have to manually schedule TV recordings, and no programme information will be available.
If you are planning on having your Media Center in your living room, the Microsoft Remote Controller will allow you to control all aspects of the MCE interface without the need for a keyboard or mouse connected.
If you are connecting your Media Center to your TV, then your video display device will need TV-out capabilities (S-Video or Composite). S-Video offers better picture quality over composite video, but you will need to ensure your TV supports S-Video input, otherwise you will just see black and white video.
If your TV supports RGB inputs, then you may be able to obtain a VGA > RGB adaptor, which offers even better picture quality (search with Google, there are lots of sites about this). Many modern LCD and plasma TVs also support direct VGA / DVI inputs. VGA > RGB/SCART is only compatible with ATI Radeon VGA cards.
Can I watch one channel while recording another?
Yes, but you will need two identical TV devices, eg 2x DVB-T cards. You cannot have one analogue card, and one digital, as MCE presumes both hardware devices receive same channels, and can pick and choose between them. (However in the USA, you may have two analogue tuners, and one HDTV tuner)
This is straightforward when using two identical DVB-T cards. MCE has a channel list and guide data, so for example you are watching BBC1 on one tuner, MCE uses the other tuner to record the other programme on ITV2. Both cards are receiving the same input.
It gets a little more complicated if you want to do the same with a paid subscription service, such as NTL Cable or Sky Satellite in UK. As well as having two matching tuners (although I understand that some companies, including Hauppage, are releasing "dual-tuner" cards) you will also require two set-top boxes, with a subscription for each, as MCE needs to be able to change the channel on each set-top box seperately.
- Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 homepage
- The Green Button - very good MCE community forum
- MCESoft - for all sorts of plug-ins and extras for MCE
- XPMCE.com - Windows Media Center forums
- ukShazam.com - Media Center help & more
Note: MSI is not responsible for the content of external links
Look out for me in the XPMCE forums if you need further help!
That's about it for now, hope you find it useful. As I think of (meaning "remember" ) other stuff I'll add it above. If you know something that I've missed out, please post below with as much info as you can, and I'll add it to the guide, with a credit to you!
If you need help to solve a problem or want to ask a question, then START your own thread, with as much info as you can, please do NOT post in this thread, this thread is only for tricks,tips and useful reference info.