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Upgrading Vista Media Center to Windows 7 Media Center

October 10, 2009

Yesterday evening, my package for the Windows 7 launch party I agreed to host arrived containing a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate. After everyone else in the house had gone to bed I began the process of upgrading the Windows Vista Ultimate installed on our Media Center PC to Windows 7. I did the in-place upgrade so as to preserve the ability to watch all of the shows recorded using our twin OCUR CableCard tuners (which put DRM on everything).

The install went relatively smoothly, taking less than two hours. A word to the wise: take out the Windows 7 DVD before the first reboot or you risk booting from the DVD when the PC restarts. Other than that the install process required little attention beyond answering a handful of questions at the beginning.

Here is what went well:

The upgrade left the PC connected to our home domain (we run Small Business Server 2008 as well).

TV shows recorded with CableCard tuners under Vista play back fine under Windows 7.

Scheduled recordings also carried over, but not counts of how many shows had been recorded. So if I have Media Center set up to keep only five episodes of a series, Windows 7 applies that limit only to episodes recorded under the new Windows 7 installation not those recorded under the old Vista installation, i.e. the Vista recorded shows don’t seem to get deleted automatically.

Extenders did not need to be reconnected. On their initial connection to the Windows 7 Media Center PC, they downloaded new software and connected without any need to reconfigure anything.

“Extras” that aren’t designed for extenders (e.g. that rely on capabilities missing on extenders) don’t seem to show up on extenders. I do not recall this being the case under Vista.

Here were the glitches I have discovered so far:

Strangely, Windows 7 did not recognize the onboard soundcard in my media center PC, necessitating hooking up a spare USB sound device. This had not been flagged in compatibility test I had run previously. This proved to be important because Windows Media Center won’t play back recorded TV files without an audio output device installed.

All of the non-TV media on network shares that had been part of the libraries needed to be added again using each extender. Fortunately, the process of selecting network shares to add to media libraries has been streamlined, but it still a multi-hour process to add about 30,000 audio files to the Music Library. The process of adding files to media libraries doesn’t appear to have improved significantly in Windows 7, but I hope to pbe proven wrong about this.

MyMovies 2.56 works, but does not appear in the main Media Center menu. (I noticed by perusing the MyMovies forum that others have had this problem with an upgrade but not a clean install.) Hopefully My Movies 3.00 (due to be released October 22, 2009) will not suffer from this problem. Fortunately the new Movies menu item built in to Windows 7 did a nice job of scanning the directories containing my movies and picking up cover art, making MyMovies less important.

Before playing any music on extenders, you must first try playing music on the main Media Center PC, this does some necessary initialization of Windows Media player. If you don’t do that, I discovered that attempting to play music files on extenders generates a cryptic error message.

Overall I am pretty pleased with how well the upgrade went. More to come as I explore some of the new features in Windows 7 Media Center.



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