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Windows Media Center

The explosive growth of the Internet and resulting global communications have ignited consumer demand for triple play products which capitalize on the three formats of media presentation, voice, video and data. The invention of the telephone enabled us to speak to people in far away lands. The introduction of the television to households allowed us to "visit" faraway lands and understand how people worked and lived in all parts of the world. Along came the Internet which allowed us to send data all over the world, exchange documents and communicate with people all over the globe in a matter of seconds!

Microsoft Windows Media Center PC with remote control

Windows Media Center brings these three worlds of TV, radio and the internet together on one system. It is a high performance computer which allows you to send e-mail, browse the web, listen to music, play games, access movies or download them at your will. With the many computer tools available for online chatting, sending and receiving phone calls, etc, we can have a virtual triple play system right in our home! While we send emails or surf on the web, the PC could be recording hundreds of Giga bytes of video on to hard disk or streaming movies to the different computers on the home network.

The Media Center System is geared towards families who have home theater systems or people who would like to set up entertainment for home as well as for special occasions such as parties and other celebrations. Also, using the latest streaming technologies, a home user can broadcast streaming videos or music to friends and family across the world. Celebrations such as weddings, engagements, birthdays, children's festivities or religious gatherings can easily be shared with anyone who has the necessary equipment at the other end to receive it.

Subscribers of satellite systems now have a set-top box for control TV for display and TiVo or a DVR for storing movies, etc. The Windows Media Center system incorporates all of these devices into the computer.

Many of the high performance CPUs available on the market along with the Windows Vista or Windows XP Operating system may also be easily adapted to perform as a home Media Center.

The hardware that you need for a Media Center configuration is summarized in this chart:



How many
Ethernet Ethernet network adapter One for each computer on your network
  Ethernet hub or switch (only needed if you want to connect more than two computers)
One (a 10/100 hub or switch is best and should have enough ports to accommodate all computers on your network)
  Ethernet router (only needed if you want to connect more than two computers and share an Internet connection) One (you don't need a hub or switch if you have a router because it has ports on it for your computers)
  Ethernet cables
One for each computer connected to the network hub or switch (10/100 Cat 5e cables are best)
  Crossover cable (only needed if you want to connect two computers directly to each other and not use a hub, switch or router) One
HPNA Home phone line network adapter (HPNA) One for each computer on your network (USB-to-phone line network adapters are best)
  Telephone cables
One for each computer on your network (use a standard telephone cable to plug each computer into a phone jack)
Wireless Wireless network adapter One for each computer on your network
  Wireless access point or router (recommended) One

Steps to configure a home Media Center network):

  1. Install the hardware ( refer to the table above).
  2. Check the internet connection.
  3. Connect the computers (set up one computer and when that works, add more computers to the network).
  4. Set up the wireless routers or Access point.
  5. Connect an analog or digital TV tuner on the computer to play and record TV.

An additional piece of equipment optionally required is the "Windows Media Center Extender" which can be connected to the network. This device helps us to multitask with the Media Center computer by allowing other users in the home record TV on one computer, watch it on another while the Media Center computer is performing other tasks. An Xbox 360 may be uses as a Media Center Extender. Also, there are TVs and DVD players available on the market that has Media Center Extender functionality built into it.

The success of the Media Center Experience also depends on the resources available on your computer system such as a high performance processor, large memory, optimized graphics capabilities as well as availability multiple card slots and USB ports.

Using the Media Center Extender, several home users can simultaneously:

  1. Play music that is stored on the computer.
  2. Enjoy slides shows or photo albums.
  3. Watch movies that are stored in the computer.
  4. Record TV shows while watching them, play them back later, etc.

Although analog TV systems are getting obsolete, the Windows Media Center is compatible with a number of analog TV signals such as NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. The Media center supports digital signals such as ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee), QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation), ISDB-T (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting), DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting), and DVB-S. These signals may be received over the air by using an antenna or via a satellite system.

Satellite TV system transmits the signal to an orbiting satellite that receives the signal, amplifies it, and then transmits it back to earth. These signals are in digital format and are usually encrypted. Windows Media Center supports DTH (direct-to-home) satellite content through the TV provider's set-top box.

Here are some instructions on how to use the Remote Control or Keyboard to use the Media Center.

How to watch live TV

  1. On the start screen, scroll to TV + Movies, then click LIVE TV or press LIVE TV button using the Windows Media Server remote control.
  2. Right-click the TV show while it is playing and choose "Program Info".
  3. Changing the channels are the same in a regular remote control or the Window Media Center system. Just press ch+ or ch- on the remote control.
  4. Use the "Pause" button to pause LIVE TV. After seeing the missed portion of the movie later, click "Play" to see the rest of the movie.
  5. Use the "movies guide" to find and watch movies.
  6. Use the "Search" button to look for movies with a specific phrase or word in the name, etc.

Setting up your Guide listings

  1. On the start screen, scroll to Tasks->Settings->TV->Guide->Set up Guide Listings.
  2. Follow the directions to set up your guide listings.
  3. You can also get the guide listings downloaded manually by using the option "Get Latest Guide Listings" .

Listen to Music

  1. a. On the Start screen, go to Music->Music Library.
  2. Use the search function and find the music by entering letters on the keypad on your keyboard or by using the remote control.
  3. Watch a slide show with music by using clicking on Album Artists, Albums, Artists, Genres, Songs, etc . Then click Play Slide Show.
To do this Use this keyboard shortcut
Open Windows Media Center or return to the Windows Media Center start screen Windows Key+ALT+ENTER
Close Windows Media Center ALT+F4
Accept the selection ENTER
Go back to the previous screen BACKSPACE
Go to the first item in a list HOME
Go to the last item in a list END
Go to the next page PAGE DOWN
Go to the previous page PAGE UP
Move left, right, up or down ARROW KEYS
Go in and go out of windowed mode ALT+ENTER

For people who have problems with hearing or vision, Windows Media Center has certain features that may resolve these issues:

Narrator is a text-to-speech utility in Windows Vista which can be used by blind or people who have impaired vision. This application reads the contents on the screen, menus or the any text that was typed.

Screen Magnifier displays a magnified portion of the screen in a separate window so that users who have impaired vision can read the text easily.

Descriptive Video Service provides users with additional information about the pictures on the screen. Captions and subtitles can also be turned ON for most programs.

The Windows Media Center also allows us to create DVDs or CDs, listen to them, rip music from CD, use parental controls on TV channels or timings, listen to the radio, edit photos and play games.

The disadvantages of such a system is the same as that for computers; they are easy to mess up. So they may need restarts, installation of corrupted applications, disk cleanups, virus cleanups, etc.

Overall, the Windows Media Center is an idea whose time has come. Since most computers that are on the market can handle some or all of the applications described above, it will certainly benefit the home users to set up their systems as Media Centers and save money on numerous assorted electronics devices. As flat panel displays get larger and computers get smaller, we should be able to replace the TV, the DVD Player, the Boom boxes and other electronics with one wall display in each room that will serve as the Multimedia Entertainment Center which provides centralized video, audio or other information on demand.


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