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Some Nice Features of Windows 7 Media Center – Part 1

October 13, 2009

Here are a few of the enhancements to Media Center in Windows 7 that I have been enjoying so far:

Better conflict resolution between series recordings. Now all of the shows that overlap in a block are identified and you can choose which among them you want to record throughout the length of the overlap, not just the current portion of the overlap (which is seemly how Vista Media Center handled such conflicts). I have read that Media Center will not pick up the rest of a partial recording later if a conflict (including use of live TV) prevented a complete recording.

When setting up a series to record, you can now specify that HD showings are preferred. This is not really an issue for us, where all tuners (2 ATSC and 2 CableCard) always have access to the HD version of a show if at all. But if we had some NTSC tuners, this would allow us to record a show in standard definition in lieu of missing it entirely in cases where higher priority shows were on at the same time.

The guide is much improved. Channel logos make it much easier to identify channels (something I would not have believed before). Channel logos aren’t available out of the box, but the APIs that make them possible are and can easily be installed by downloading myChannelLogos.

The guide can also been enhanced by turning on color coding by type of show. The is set by going to TasksSettingsTVGuideGuide Page Options and checking the option to apply colored backgrounds to shows.

You can also set up favorite lists of channels, so that when viewing the guide you only see those channels. This filtering is pretty important when dealing with several hundred available cable channels (which we have on using just the first tier (beyond basic) of Comcast’s digital cable service.

With several hundred cable channels to choose from, finding a channel you want an be a pain, but now you can search for channel from the guide instead of having to look for it manually.

I can now easily play all my video podcasts (vodcasts?) using our Xbox 360 media center extenders. Before, quicktime or Mpeg 4 encoded videos could not be played back using the Xbox 360 acting as an extender. I am also looking forward to not transcoding our home movies (which are all taken in MPEG 4 format).

The Movies section of the Media Center Start menu has made MyMovies unnecessary for the time being. I look forward to version 3 of that application, but until that time I can still now easily access our ripped movies. This would not have been possible in Vista (and was the reason we used MyMovies.

There are several interface differences that give access more information, e.g. moving the selection to a previously recorded show displays a thumbnail of the show at the bottom of the screen along with more information on that episode. Selecting an episode to play allows access to a variety of additional information and actions with respect to that show by moving left or right (similar to the type of menuing (pivot views) in the Music Section. That information now includes a “Cast + Crew” section with hyperlinks to other content involving listed cast and crew members. I don’t remember any similar functionality in Vista Media Center, but maybe it was buried in a way that I never noticed it.

These are just the features I have noticed so far in our setup which consists of a PC in the basement that acts as a server and Xbox 360’s hooked up to TVs throughout the house. This configuration means that many of the new features that are not available on extenders, e.g. thumbnail views when using the scrub bar at the bottom of video files when using the mouse to select a new position in a video are not things we have been able to use. Even for us, there are some significant enhancements that make Windows 7 a nice upgrade to Media Center.



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