Microsoft Media Center 2005… Underwhelmed


“Microsoft has had clear competitors in the past. It’s good that we have museums to document them.”

- Bill Gates, at the Computer History Museum (former SGI HQ)

Ok… so to start with, how can Media Center 2005 NOT have HDTV capability for satellite and cable receivers? What the hell? TiVo announces back in January 2003 and delivers earlier this year and MCE has an opportunity to do a major release on their product and it doesn’t include HDTV support? Something is seriously amiss in Redmond. Although the product allegedly will support the ATI HDTV Wonder card it is my understanding that this card only supports OTA (over the air) HDTV broadcasts. WTF? You mean I can watch NBC in high def but not HBO, Showtime, Bravo, ESPN HD, Discovery HD, etc. etc.? Obviously they have not seen Discovery HD Theater yet.

As much as everybody in all the media user groups have been screaming and clamoring for HDTV for the past three years to not include full satellite or cable HDTV support in this latest release is a colossal misstep. I mean I already gave up my MCE television responsibilities to my HDTV TiVo in June of this year – but I’m an early adopter. I guess they want to let the rest of the world do the same thing — so much for dominating the living room.

To be fair, it’s not entirely Microsoft’s fault. Microsoft is simply taking the broadcast flag very seriously and doesn’t see the point in creating HDTV capability just to have it shut down by the broadcasters. On the other hand TiVo seems to be doing this today without any problems… of course Time Warner (who broadcasts beautiful high def versions of Six Feet Under and The Sopranos) also owns 8% of TiVo, and even more significantly, there is no easy way to get content off the HDTV TiVo box… yet. My point is though if a little upstart software venture named TiVo can somehow find a way to do satellite HDTV, certainly the big giant cash rich Microsoft can find a way.

I still think that Microsoft should use some of those high priced attorneys that they have left over from that little scrap with the Justice Department and say screw you to the content providers and just make the damn box anyway and defend it in court just like Sony defended the Betamax years ago. But the present trend seems to be more Ballmer wanting to make nice with the studios and refer to iPod users as thieves of music than really being the defender of the end user and the consumer. Then again, hopefully the EFF will have more success in this venture with regads to the broadcast flag.

Well, now that I got THAT off my chest lets talk about what is included in MCE 2005.

First off MCE now supports more than one tuner. More details will be emerging on this in the upcoming days. This is pretty significant. I don’t know about you but I like shows on different networks and channels. Sometimes, just to try and screw with me, network executives will try to put two shows I like on at the same time – trying to pit me against myself. With the previous version of MCE it only supported one tuner (wayyyyyy archaic). Now you can have MCE tackle the task of recording two shows on at the same time. Kind of like what TiVo did back like three or four years ago. But BRAVO guys (oops or is that like HD BRAVO on my DirecTV HDTV TiVo) better late than never.

With Windows Media Player 10 and service pack two built in the music and pictures do seem faster. I’ve harped on MCE for a while for being inadequate for my large digital library. It still is but not as badly as before. If I stick to genres and playlists I can get by – but try to sort by album or artist or especially song, or god forbid, an actual search and you are dead in the water. With a large digital mp3 library MCE 2005 is damn slow. Not as slow as MCE 2004 but not all that much better either. For the life of me I just cannot understand why the engineers at Microsoft simply don’t index the Windows Media Player library (the real culprit behind MCE’s slow music load times).

Pictures. Ok the picture transitions are really cool in MCE 2005. It looks like it might be video. They float across the screen in an animated way. A great effect and creative work on this part. Still missing though is a comprehensive way to filter pictures like I can do with playlists in music. I can only filter by folder and file structure. So if I want to see say all of the pictures of my son in September 2005 that were taken at the park I can’t do this. Microsoft should allow you to build basic filters with my pictures so that you can easier create custom slide shows.

Ok the online spotlight was part of MCE 2004 but just to recap: Online Spotlight. Napster downloads are available via MCE. No big deal though. I wouldn’t buy a DRM crippled audio file if my life depended on it. You just start putting one or two of those into your mp3 library and it is bound to screw everything up. No thank you. I’ll buy (err… borrow) the CD and rip it myself into a DRM free mp3.

Movielink. Ok so now you can order movies and have them download to your hard drive and watch them. The problem? The picture quality sucks — certainly not worth watching on a 43” HDTV Plasma and certainly no comparison to the crystal clear pay per views I get off of my HDTV TiVo. It is pretty cool though how MCE 2005 now has little icons for all of the movies on tv — fancy. It also is a pretty large selection of movies to “rent.” But if you are a picture quality fanatic and have a large HDTV this service will leave you sorely disappointed. It takes about 20 minutes to download a movie.

Online Spotlight integrates an RSS reader into the app via Newsgator. The only problem here is that Newsgator wants to own the RSS and charge you monthly fee for using it in MCE. Geez. Whatever happened to “news is free.” No thank you. I’ll stick with Bloglines on my regular PC for now. It has been suggested that Microsoft might be willing to put a different RSS reader in the app if one was made available. Is anyone from Bloglines reading. Make this thing happen. It would be great exposure for Bloglines to be the reader in MCE. News really should be free.

Ok, what else? There is a little subsection in the system for “other applications.” You can now use a little plug in called HTML mail and see your hotmail on the screen. That’s pretty cool if you use hotmail. I use powweb though for my internet based email and could not get it to work with powweb. I think this plug in also worked with MCE 2004… theoretically.

The user interface is slightly better in my opinion but I have not tested it out long enough to comment on stability yet. The first version of MCE was horrible when it came to stability. It may have well still been a beta. By MCE 2004 Microsoft had at least gotten most of the bugs out. I can’t really see too many new bugs as they haven’t really done much of anything significant with the software by way of changes. The user interface improvements mostly have to do with little things like shifting animations on the title page and things like that.

I still can’t get the DVD player to work 100% of the time. Most of the time it works which is better than before but it still freaks out every now and again. Then again, with all those high def movies I’ve TiVo’d off of my HDTV unit and pay per view, who really needs DVDs anymore.

So those are the first initial thoughts. I’ll update things as I figure them out. All in all I would have to say I’m disappointed with the MCE 2005 release — but in the same way that a parent of a B student is disappointed when they know that their student has A student potential. I was really hoping for more from the guys at Microsoft. The initial concept was so amazingly cool back when it was first released in October of 2002 and I can’t believe that they have not executed on so many important items – HDTV especially – here in the 4th quarter of 2004.

The HDTV thing is my biggest gripe. Recently someone commented to me that watching the Tonight Show in high def is no funnier than watching it on regular televsion. For me, however, I find that given the choice between watching non high def television or not watching at all I’m more and more choosing the later. Pretty much these days if it’s not in high def I just won’t watch it. But that’s just me and I’m whacked that way. I can understand that to a certain degree Microsoft’s hands are tied because of the media companies but if TiVo can do it I have to believe that Microsoft can somehow find a way.

Hopefully I’ll be looking forward to writing a much more positive review for MCE 2006.

Update: One thing that I didn’t spend any time on in my MCE 2005 review a few months back was the start page and the new recently opened buttons next to the various main menu items (my music, my pictures, etc.). Essentially if you move to the right on any of the main menu items it gives you the three most recently opened menu items for that type of media. This is turning out to be invaluable for me.

As “my music” is panifully slow in MCE with my large mp3 library, being able to have a coded shortcut that goes directly to my 4 and 5 star rated songs or some of my recent genere plays has me avoiding taking the long slow trip through the “my music” menu path.

Although the music is still slow to load I can click the recently used button and go do something else and when I come back it’s on vs. having to go through 4 or 5 different steps to get my common playlists which takes even longer. It is also a nice feature for my pictures as well.

I missed this the first time around and hope you find it useful. It would be nice to have MCE list 5 or 6 most recently used “my music” or “my pictures” items instead of only three. If anyone knows how to modify it to do this let us know.

Continued Coverage

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45 comments on “Microsoft Media Center 2005… Underwhelmed
  1. Peter Near says:

    You’re being somewhat hard on Microsoft, there simply is no way to get an encrypted signal onto a PC at this time. Your comparisons to TIVO are unfair, since that is a closed box whose hardware is controlled by same company who is doing the encryption.

    I do agree that sharing the digital signal from any source (satellite, cable, over-the-air) is quickly becoming the #1 issue in the home entertainment space. There are a cascade of things that need to happen before a software maker can do anything about it:
    1. Content owners need to feel that their content is secure.
    2. Regulators need to ensure that there is a standard way to get access to that encrypted signal.
    3. Hardware manufacturers need to create devices that comply to that standard.

    Microsoft can help by applying their enormous lobbying clout, but as a software maker they are somewhat bound by the realities of the market.

    We, the users, can help out by helping to work towards a reasonable DRM solution. Assertions of “I wouldn’t buy a DRM crippled audio file if my life depended on it” will only serve to delay the distribution of any other high-quality media files in the future.

    Pete

  2. Mark says:

    Well someone drank the Kool-aid now didn’t they Pete?

    Microsoft’s problems are not *my* problems. If TiVO have it cracked while Microsoft don’t, that’s Microsoft’s problem not mine.

    I’ll just vote with my wallet.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m using MCE 2004 and some of the stuff discussed above has been available since MCE 2004 came out in September last year. Napster, MovieLink, and CinemaNow were a big part of the MCE 2004 launch. You have been able to order/listen to music from napster since September 2003. Same goes for ordering movies from CinemaNow and MovieLink.

    As far as the RSS feeds and Newsgator, that has nothing to do with Microsoft. Microsoft includes a link to the Newsgator service in Online Spotlight (just like it does for Napster, MovieLink, CinemaNow, etc), but they don’t run/control the Newsgator service.

    TiVo worked with DirecTV directly to make their HD-TiVo. You can’t use that HD-TiVo with anything other than DirecTV (i.e. not Dish or your local cable company). Microsoft doesn’t work with any cable companies [yet] with the MCE product. That certainly makes a difference and limits their flexibly. Hopefully they will team up with a provider shortly, but who knows.

  4. vern says:

    Just curious;
    Are you a registered MS beta tester? I am curious how you were able to get a pre-release to do a review of…

    Vern

  5. Anonymous says:

    Microsoft isn’t charger for Newsgator, Newsgator is charging for Newsgator.

  6. Discfree.com says:

    I’ve got to say that I have been unimpressed with Microsofts efforts to force DRM upon me. I don’t think that lack of HDTV has anything to do with “broadcast flags” and has more to do with Microsoft trying to get in bed with big Media. Recently, I installed the service pack 2 and all of a sudden Kazzaa became very unstable. I understand the Media Player 10 has the same effect. I remember when Softie spent a BILLION dollars on advertising for their XBox, it was billed as an all-in-one solution for the living room. The last piece of home entertainment software that we would ever need. I was never able to fill up more the 500 megs of the 10 (or was it 20?) GB hard drive. I’m surprised that they have not tried to consolidate their Xbox with their Media Center. Why not add their Media option to the Xbox and have a sleek machine that the kids and the parents will want. I can’t imagine that Tivo would be able to offer this type of functionality to their box without partnering with Sony or Nintendo, then again Tivo has proven to be a bit more resiliant then the naysayers would have led you to believe. I can see Sony making a PSTivo just to upset Gates and Ballmer.

  7. Anonymous says:

    HDTV is such a non-issue. Look at the market penetration numbers. Sure, for ultra-mutant-genius-superadopters like yourself, it’s a reason to riot in the streets. But for everyone else, and by everyone else I mean 99.999% of the population, HDTV isn’t even remotely important.

    Sure, 5 years from now, it will be. It might start to be significant in two. Plenty of time for MS to rev their product.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think you are forgetting that the overlap between people who want HDTV and are likely to be interested in MCE is pretty much 100%. So MS need to cater for their potential customers.

  9. Anonymous says:

    For me the point is not just the missing HDTV it’s the fact that there is not really any significate upgrade here. Yes i realize the cover art my load faster but unless you have 3 or 4 thousand songs it doesn’t really matter, and oh boy you can see what movies are on tv by cover art! Who cares!

    The point here is that MS is simply hitting us for another sale before they finally give us something substantial when Longhorn comes out. The benifit I see here is the Extender which will allow me to view my DVD collection when I’m laying in bed!

    MS has been touting this as the future center of home entertainment and communication. Where is it, I don’t see it! All these promises, and no follow through.Take a look at this link http://www.microsoft.com/athome/tvshows/hightechhome/1.mspx this is what MS is after. The technology is there but in usual MS fasion they have to do it in steps to the most money out of us.

    One last opinion.. The lack of DVD archieving. Yes I do use the program DVD Collection and it is wonderful, but this should be part of the MCE. The argument of legality is not valid here. IT IS PERFECTLY LEGAL! What is not legal is “Copying” a DVD. Many other companies out there are already doing this. Example: http://www.amx.com one of the biggest home automation companies out there. Check out their MAX product line. It rips your dvd, puts it in a menu, and you can view it on any tv.
    I figure a lot of this is comming with 2006 but we’ll have to see!

  10. Anonymous says:

    There seems to be some miscommunication regarding HDTV.

    Thomas, since you’re taking such a hard stance here — please direct me to the third party product that I should be using to receive non-OTA HD signals. When answering keep in mind that DirecTV’s offering is NOT a third party device.

    There is no doubt that people would like to see that feature. However, you need to give it time. The standards just came online in the middle of summer. I’m sure that TiVo and Microsoft (among others) will introduce Open Cable offerings in the future.

  11. Thomas Hawk says:

    It doesn’t need to be a third party device for it to work for me — although this would be nice and is something that TiVo should do.

    As far as my eyes are concerned it doesn’t matter that I’m watching HDTV on a Hughes DirecTV box vs. a stand-alone box. I see the same thing. DirecTV was my provider prior to getting their box. Bottom line is today I’m watching CBS, NBC, HBO, Showtime, ESPN, Discovery, HDNET, BRAVO HD, etc. etc. all on HDTV and doing it with TiVo’s excellent interface and I have had zero system problems since I plugged the thing in months ago (I definitely cannot say that about my MCE machine).

    My own preference for satellite over cable is due to a few factors. First I like being able to get East Coast network feeds. Jib Jab is showing their new cartoon on the Tonight Show this evening. I can watch it at 8:30 pm tonight on a high def East Coast feed rather than have to wait until 11:30 pm to watch it.

    DirecTV also recently launched four new satellites and will soon have the most expansive HDTV line up of any of the providers.

    In my case (yes this doesn’t work for everyone admittedly) had TiVo offered the box as a stand-alone unit I would have used it with my DirecTV service — no material difference. My eyes would be seeing the same thing either way. My brother, whose landlord won’t let him have a dish on his roof, probably feels differently about this than I do and I can understand and appreciate that. In an article I wrote entitled 10 Things that TiVo and Microsoft Must do to Win the Living Room. I specifically mentioned that one of the things TiVo needed to do was to offer a stand-alone unit.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’ve finally figured it out; you don’t understand that to make a “Stand-Alone” TiVo/MCE requires buy-in from the provider. Unlike analog cable/sat service there is too much data to simply encode on the fly.

    As such, TiVo/MCE/Others have three choices a) put multi-thousand dollar encoding boards in their products (per tuner) b) sign deals with the individual Sat Providers/MSOs or c) wait for CAD standards to emerge.

    Open Cable was designed to handle just this situation. Unfortunately, its adoption hit at the wrong time. I would be surprised if the major players (Microsoft included) were not planning to roll out products that take advantage of this standard.

  13. Anonymous says:

    One more thing:

    You are also a little confused on the “Broadcast Flag.” Most likely, you are referring to CGMS-A. This has nothing to do with HDTV. While you are correct that MCE is, in fact, observing the flag, you are mistaken that it’s prohibiting HDTV.

    Like I said in the previous post, it’s purely a technical reason.

    If you are going to continue to write on digital media, you really should take the time to learn some of these things. I don’t mean to be rude, but I just don’t want others getting the wrong ideas.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    http://www.theevilempire.com/

    (So as not to seem “anonymous”)

  14. Thomas Hawk says:

    On June 1, HBO implemented the copy generation management system for analog (CGMS-A) in the vertical blanking interval (VBI) of the HBO Family feed and in a few titles on HBO On Demand (HOD) and Cinemax On Demand (MaxOD). By mid-June, CGMS-A was included in all HBO programming services.

    CGMS-A provides copyright protection information for content delivered to consumer electronic equipment capable of making digital recordings so that compliant devices can respect digital encoding rules.

    The broadcast flag does not inhibit HDTV. It inhibits making copies of HDTV content which is necessary in order to save to disc and watch later — basically PVR functionality.

    HBO has not fully restricted all PVR functionality with regard to their Broadcast Flag option because to do so they would lose subscribers. People would call and cancel their service if they could not record shows for later playback.

    If a content provider wanted to, they could turn the broadcast flag on to completely disallow recording in HDTV — a more likely considered outcome if a company had a box that made getting HDTV content off easy (such as MCE) and with no PRV functionality via MCE Microsoft is concerened.

    The studios are concerned about copyrighted movies and files floating around the internet but they’d be REALLY concerned if they were high def copies floating around the internet.

    For MCE to be compliant with the broadcast flag they would have to make their device prevent the copying of digital television if flagged by the content provider (for example HBO). Technology is not the problem. It would be easy enough for Microsoft to make a box that could record HDTV. The problem is that Microsoft is reluctant to make a box to record HDTV only to have the HDTV content blocked and unwatchable by the Broadcast Flag.

    CGMS-A has EVERYTHING to do with HDTV if the content providers choose to flag their content and make it un-PVRable. This is the point I was making with regards to being fair to Microsoft.

    The broadcast flag was a point of concern when I spoke with one of the MCE software engineers about MCE and HDTV a while back.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Let’s try this again:

    In CGMS-A the A stands for analog. It’s a copy-protection scheme that is designed for analog (hence the VBI).

    Yes, MCE is respecting the flag. However, that will play a large part in SD MCE (and I would suspect PMC).

    For instance, if a person records “The Sopranos” off of regular cable (no HD) that content will be subject to the flag. This could mean that MCE will be the only PVR that doesn’t allow you to keep SD versions of the Sopranos for longer than a set time. It could also mean that MCE will prevent you from trancoding those files to other formats.

    I’m not saying to that there won’t be similar copy-protection on HD, but copy protection is NOT the reason there is no cable/sat recording of HD for MCE.

    Cheers,
    Steve

  16. Anonymous says:

    The point is that MCE/Microsoft isn’t pulling back because of the content. They are more likely waiting for a mechanism that doesn’t rely on a very expensive D/A A/D conversion process.

    Cheers,
    Steve

  17. Anonymous says:

    Gentlemen we seem to be losing focus here amongst the squabbling. 1) Yes there is now an HDTV card that can record by cable/satellite and not just over the air. Please take a look at the slashdot archives and do a little searching. It was released about a month or two ago and is currently being finalized for mass production. 2) Windows can not record HDTV content until this little piece of hardware comes out publicly and hopefully cheaply. What everyone seems to miss is the fact that the hardware is required to get the data to the software so it can be recorded. Now that problem should be ending soon. 3) Microsoft is of course playing both sides against the middle for the Broadcast Flag. The reason is that the Broadcast Flag is not going to be a software issue but a hardware one. MS doesn’t need to waste manpower or support dealing wth something that may chop them off at the knees. This is business and in order to stay in business it helps to get paid by the subscription folks such as movielink and napster. If you don’t like it then think back to when all copies of Windows came with preinstalled ISP software for AOL, Earthlink, and others. MS has to be nice to both sides until one side wins and there is a clear business model to follow. 4) Tivo is an integrated device and as such has some serious relationships with the guys who made the encryption chips for digital TV. This is why a tiny box with a processor the size of a PDA can handle HDTV encoding and decoding. If you want microsoft to follow suit without someone offering the hardware at competitive prices you will have to wait for them to switch their business model to that of Apple Computer’s. Don’t hold your breath all of their previous attempts at this have failed, some miserably (BOB). 5) When in doubt vote with your wallet. There is a reason I do not use a single subscription service or one-time-pay software shell such as BeyondTv or Sage. I have found that I am willing to tinker with everything except my TV. It is the one thing I want constant and beautiful. If I can not have my setup beautiful out of the box I see no reason to pay for it. This is the reason people buy Tivos and ReplayTV. They will hack their cars, their computers, and their diets but TV is the one sacred thing that just needs to WORK or the whole family is upset. If MS wants to be a player in this market they will either need to push upon their resellers to have a special Certification (MCP of MCE?) or they will need to take hints from the open source community and top software already in this field. They need to look to a future where their OS is not free but the additional integrated software goodies are. They need to add additions beyond HDTV that NO ONE can do yet and they need to improvise in the cases of things such as controlling digital cable and satellite boxes. Windows was really the first of it’s kind and was marketed heavily. This is why MS is now where it is. It seems your PR and Marketing Gurus have grown old, fat, and senile since the company first revolutionized home computing. Time to get witht he program. If you can’t supply the hardware do the next best thing. Give more options for fluff such as weather, news, local driving conditions, web comics, karoake, gaming (MAME, xbox, third party), internet radio, webcam, chat, VOIP, blogging, multitasking all on one screen, perfect widescreen viewing everytime, and DVD ripping for storage. And you make these additional pieces a standard part of your installation and options category.

    Just because it’s shiny and says it’s better doesn’t make it so. Right now MCE is being beaten bloody by MythTV. Do you know why? It’s a pain in the butt to install, free doesn’t really mean free (when you have to have special hardware to get it running), but it has more options and things to play with than anyone knows what to do with yet and this makes geeks think of it as an ultimate party pack. MS is a powerhouse of code monkeys. It’s time for them to stop bickering over the speed of listing 3k+ files at a time and get down to the fluff and choices. This, gentlemen, is why you are both right and wrong at the same time.

    MCE 2005 is weak and will need a lot of support to get anywhere or it faces a death bell in the next 2 years. Tivo has seen the light and realizes that right now the only thing keeping them afloat is their HDTV. They had better pray for a new specialty in the next 2 years as well.

    And now, on with the show.

    Brigham
    Bright Wire
    smokeyalien @ h tma l com

  18. Anonymous says:

    Brigham,

    Uh, what the heck are you talking about?

    You have factual errors and erroneous conclusions throughout your comment.

    Yes, TiVo is an integrated device, but everything after that is wrong. TiVo is able to do what they do because they *don’t* encode. DirecTV sends its streams as encrypted mpeg2 streams and the OTA signals are unencrypted streams. DirecTV then uses their access card to decrypt the stream (a fairly low cost operation). At they core of this relationship is that these are DirecTV boxes.

    IM(never-so)HO Microsoft’s lack of HD via cable has nothing to do with Broadcast Flags. It has nothing to do with “being cut off at the knees.” It’s simply that they were waiting for a) the appropriate standards to emerge and b) it to be anywhere near the bother. It’s not an issue of content. It’s an issue of delivery. The broadcast flags are set further upstream. It’s a red herring.

    The real issue is that they could either a) negotiate with each and every MSO to open up proprietary encoding or b) wait for a standard to emerge. There is no doubt that TiVo did well in licensing its software to DirecTV, but even that relationship is in question (and will probably soon end). They will then find themselves cutoff at the knees.

    Furthermore, TiVo would be absolutely crazy to consider licensing to DirecTV their niche. HDTV is a VERY VERY small market right now, and when all is said and done they get very little money for their DirecTV customers.

    Let’s give the digital cable market (TiVo/MCE/etc.) 12-18 months to embrace the new standards. If players haven’t adapted by then, I’ll be the one with the loudest megaphone.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    http://www.theevilempire.com/musings/

  19. Anonymous says:

    Steve you seem to miss the point I make here. Please notice that for the most part I was AGREEING with you in regards to the hurdles MS is going to have to overcome and deal with. Also please note that my references to Tivo were not strictly of HDTV but of Digital Cable/Satellite of which there is a HUGE difference. My comments about your red herring of broadcast flags is true in that I state it is something uncontrollable by MS as it is predominantly a HARDWARE issue. Please also note that I admit at the end of my comment that I was wrong in my statement that HDTV is floating Tivo. What I meant to say was Digital Signal (cable/satellite) is what is keeping it floating amongst the current options available. Moreso the digital satellite than anything else. Now taking into accoutn what MS MCE is up against I noticed you only replied to the tivo portion and not on the freeware or thrid party application information. Is this because you would like to remain on the “no comment” side of the fence on this issue? The fact remains that market share will be lost unless some serious tweaking is done to provide the next great thing. MCE is your chance to show the world that hip, cool, fun, and easy to use is what you are all about. If you are still in doubt then remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the easiest way to make a buck. Look at your competition’s plugins and I’m sure with all the code monkey power redmond has you can kick out plugins on a weekly basis while developing the uber cool plugin no one has even thought of yet. Out of curiousity, based on your releases of this software, does MCE have all of 5 coders, 1 PR guy, and 10 managers or is there someone back there really mucking things up?

    By the way, I prefer Windows any day to the other flavors out there. Now show me why you guys are the best and should have the controlling market share in this area too.

    Brigham

  20. Anonymous says:

    Guys,

    Interesting discussion I guess, but awfully long winded.

    Here are my thoughts:

    -I’ve just spent a week installing, re-installing and re-installing MCE (from MSDN). What a pain. This application could hardly be more fragile. I wonder if MS deliberately makes the install more difficult to prevent it from just being distributed freely amongst the hacker crowd. (Said another way…this thing is JUST AN APP that makes use of certain drivers. It doesn’t need to be a whole separate XP release.)

    -I love my DirecTivo and will not even attempt to watch TV on my MCE. MCE for me is only for music and photos, and maybe I’ll use it to play DVDs.

    -I like that it’s integrated with the Windows Media Player. Boy is the Media Library slow, though. It’s a pain to delete and move files around.

    -MCE’s config options suck…I wish it was easier to have it monitor multiple folders for videos and photos.

    -Seems like Microsoft needs to go to DirecTV and work out a plan for a DirecTV tuner card. This is what TiVo has done. Why can’t MS? Perhaps TiVo has an exclusive deal. DRM can address the copy protection issues fine.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I hear many people say that it would be very cool if MCE offered web surfing feature… I think a lot of people assume you can surf the web via browser with a wireless keyboard/trackball and enjoy large big screen friendly fonts but alas this is unfortunately not the case. IMHO, offering this WEBTV-like “killer app” add-on to MCE will indeed complete the ultimate digital family room.

    Oh and offering an official MCE version made exclusively for version 1 XBOX’s NOW wouldn’t hurt either!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Get a life!

    Or maybe take a marketing class. Consider yourself lucky (or perhaps stupid). Very few people have shelled out thousands of dollars to buy pre-standard beta vs. VHS style format wars HDTV gear.

    The market is miniscule and the lack of HDTV support is not an issue at all.

    Microsoft is not aiming for nerd/geeks like you. The MCE product is designed for the mass consumer market – not the audiophile.

    I suppose you have tube amps, right? Otherwise your wasting all that visual on cruddy electronic sound right?

    The average Tivo user:

    has regular quality tivo – not HDTV
    has a single tuner tivo – not dual or triple
    hasn’t a clue about technology
    doesn’t count scan lines, interlace, or care about
    enjoys their tivo because it IS NOT a computer

    Personally, I have several computers including 3GHz Pentium IV Extreme Edition and the last thing I want to do is to leave that thing running 24×7 as a $3,000 version of the $100 tivo I just bought.

    If i really want to watch photos on my tv (not) or listen to music thorough my tv, I can just load up the tivo “server” program on a $300 pc clone and voila – same thing.

  23. Anonymous says:

    It’s customary when reviewing a product to describe it in detail first then to offer your opinions about it afterwards.

    This helps give a balance between what the product can do and what the reviewer likes or dislikes.

    I’m quite interested in this product and really wanted to get to the end of this review but the constant biases and put-downs made it hard to digest which is a shame.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I came here for an objective review on MCE-2005
    But man am iI disapointed. The author seems to be one of those many Microsoft haters who just likes to flame on everything that Microsoft does. I’m pretty sure that MCE 2005 isn’t perfect but other apps are also not perfect. What i expect is an objective review on how MCE 2005 compares compares to the others like SageTV, BeyondTv, Meedio or if you like freevo & mythtv
    2 bad i had to read this microsoft bashing blog

  25. Anonymous says:

    Are you a COMPLETE idiot? Nobody makes DirecTV or “cablecard” add-in tuners for the PC, so how do you expect MCE 2005 to support hardware that doesnt exist? You might as well complain that your MCE PC cant make good russian Vodka.

    -kraemer

  26. Anonymous says:

    I’ve seen Media Center 2005 today on a expo, it was really disappointing for me.
    I’m using at the moment MythTV, it has more features than Media Center 2005 and it’s free, why should i pay for something that is out of date.
    I also use VDR for satellite (dvb-s) tv, with an CI (common interface) i can use pay-tv (decrypted channels).
    I can’t understand why they are only talking about TIVO and Media Center 2005, there are more Media Center’s to use.
    Mythtv, KnopMyth, Freevo, VDR, LinVDR, etc….
    Just search in google and look at the screenies, they are older than MS Media Center

  27. Anonymous says:

    What is the boot time of MCE. I am used to walking up to my networked DVD/Divx player/HD recorder, popping in a disc (or connecting to my PC upstairs) and pressing play. I used to have a PC configuration but got fed up with waiting for windows to get started. MCE Would neet to startup immediately if you want
    to quickly see something.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Yawn dot com.

    I’m sure there are more important things to moan about.

    Sigh.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I have a HD-DVR box from the cable company which works great and I use almost exclusively for recording and watching HD content (SHO-HD HBO-HD). Since I never had to but a box from the cable company, and the monthly rental rate for the DVR box ($7/month) is less than TIVO, this works great for me.

    In addition, I have a $2K Alienware MCE 2005 PC …. since I have a three-year on site warranty (cost $215) I have no worries about keeping it on 24/7 as someone else alluded to. I use it for all other recording purposes and stream it to all the tv’s in the house via extenders (Xbox, linksys, etc.) … this has been a good complementary solution.

    My biggest gripe is what to with the recorded content from HBO/Max …. unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the broadcast flag before I bought my system. I don’t understand why I should be restricted from archiving my own content, which is my only intention. I hope a solution for this comes forth in the near future.

  30. Anonymous says:

    There have been numerous references to MythTV here …. does this address the broadcast flag issue?

  31. Anonymous says:

    Kraemer,

    Idiot is such a strong word… and it’s somewhat humorous that you are talking out your ass. Cable companies are required by law to provide such a solution. Call your local cable vendor: comcast, charter, etc. They have the cards and MUST provide them to you at a nominal price, usually about $1.25 a month and sometimes free. MCE simply doesn’t support them yet, although rumors abound that there will be a patch in the fourth quarter that will enable support for them.
    It appears Microsoft is simply waiting for a standard; this is the way they have always done things. Don’t wedge yourself (Microsoft) into a proprietary situation where you have to decode not only the proprietary encrypted HD feed but also a proprietary DSS satellite feed.
    Microsoft is an extremely savvy business machine–sometimes it’s a little off putting, but always impressive. It is naïve to think they are just ignoring some facet of the market. They will wait or push for a standard then include it in their product line. That is when, as always, the competitors will be left holding their proprietary hardware.

    –Grumby

  32. Anonymous says:

    I am not sure where this info came from. I am using a Fusion HD card from Dvico and MCE runs it nicely and it alsointegrates it into the chennel lineup in the 1000′s 1102(CBS), 1104 (NBC) etc…

  33. TimonUK says:

    Count yourselves lucky over in the US, at least you can see cable/satelitte going straight into your PC “Sometime” in the future!

    In the UK were at LEAST 10 Years behind the US as far as TV’s are concerned, we have maybe 3 cable companies and 1 satelite Provider, Sky. Sky offers BY FAR the best channel line up but they also have a vested intrest in thier SKY+ box which to be quite frank is JUST like a TiVo box.

    Cablcards? UK? Don’t make me laugh if i see a cable wire going straight into my MCE Machine in the next umm 10 years i’ll eat my hat! and if i see a Sky card IN my PC in the next 20 years i’ll eat my hat too!

  34. NMMNG1969 says:

    AT THIS POINT , I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE HDTV PROBLEM…MY PROBLEM IS BIGGER….MY DELL W/ THE LATEST TECH FOR MEDIA/GAMING W/ MCE 2005($3,000) WILL NOT SUPPORT ANY OF THE 2 SATELITTE RECEIVERS THAT I HAVE…BOUGHT THE DELL IN JAN1,2005 W/ THE MEDIA EXTENDER ($300) AND CANT USE FOR 1 OF THE REASONS I BOUGHT IT FOR… TO RECORD TV AND WATCH AT MY CONVEINENCE ON MY EXTENDER..10 MONTHS–STILL NO SUPPORT FROM DELL OR MICRO…CAN ANYONE HELP…(P.OFF)

  35. NMMNG1969 says:

    AT THIS POINT , I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE HDTV PROBLEM…MY PROBLEM IS BIGGER….MY DELL W/ THE LATEST TECH FOR MEDIA/GAMING W/ MCE 2005($3,000) WILL NOT SUPPORT ANY OF THE 2 SATELITTE RECEIVERS THAT I HAVE…BOUGHT THE DELL IN JAN1,2005 W/ THE MEDIA EXTENDER ($300) AND CANT USE FOR 1 OF THE REASONS I BOUGHT IT FOR… TO RECORD TV AND WATCH AT MY CONVEINENCE ON MY EXTENDER..10 MONTHS–STILL NO SUPPORT FROM DELL OR MICRO…CAN ANYONE HELP…(P.OFF)

  36. Tonycomm says:

    Great stuff on video/TV but I am a new MCE user downloading my CDs both through ITunes and through the Media Player interface. I need some help!

    I like a high a fidelity bit rate since I want to perserve my CD collection and play it through my stereo system. This is the reason I purchased MCE it to begin with. It appears to me that MMP only downloads from a CD at around 190 KBS and the ITunes will allow me to download at over 300KBS which I prefer. My problem is that when downlosding from ITunes Some tracks and other metatag info do not get downloaded into the My Music part of the application especially album cover info but when I import using MMP 100% gets imported but with an inferior bit rate.

    I hope that this question is not naive but I could use some help!

    Tonycomm

  37. Anonymous says:

    to the guy who said the xbox sucked, get a modchip. XBMC (xbox media center) kicks MCE’s butt on so many levels its just sick.

    The only thing that sucks is no tv recording. I just use MCE for that and XBMC for the rest.

    Divx, Xvid, screenshot functions, you name it.

    Its called XBMC

  38. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know how long ago this original message was posted, but I’m having a slight issue and maybe some of you guys can help. I’m interested in the amount of overhead on MCE 2005. I’m running a 1.8 athlon 64 939 chip, with 2 gig’s of RAM, and I’m experiencing some ‘lag’ with the windows interface. And I THINK, not sure, just think, that it’s affecting my gaming as well. I’ve disabled services and well as interface ‘perks’ and it seemed to get better, but I’m wondering should I just switch to XP Pro and not worry, or is having that 2005 build of XP the best bet when it comes to stability?
    I don’t really use the media center console, but I really like the glass aqua improvements on the taskbar, windows etc…
    So here’s my question.
    Is it worth the overhead?
    Thanks,
    Mike

  39. Anonymous says:

    Well The whole flag issue doesn’t have anything to do with the software. It keeps tuner manufactures from making fully capable tuners. This mandate put out by the FCC the same people that tell you what words you need not hear, in July 2005. SO all HD tuner cards that where being sold prior to July 2005 (points to eBay)will continue to work. With that said not really sure about MCE 2005/04, but with the more stable and customizable MYTHTV would allow you to record your, HDTV.

    Also I would like to address this constant comparison to TIVO and MCE, you have to remember that while TIVO is a Linux based box, its only function is to record on the fly and that is it while it is possible to make it do other things it doesn’t have the full functionality of a computer. You still have this function with MCE and other HTPC software. One has dedicated chipsets for that work for one purpose to encode video on the fly. While the other is jerry rigged, if you will meaning it was an after thought and was added to the an exsiting computer that still is running tons of things in the background. Demanding it to edit pictures, video, music, word processors, and 3D games. Now we want it to control our TV and still do all these other task, that is asking a lot from one box, and not to mention most of the machines built are built with budget parts to “make it cheaper” making the problem worse. The Idea is faily new people just expect things to work right the first time when they have to pay for them, which is understandable. But the truth is that it is going to suck hard for the first few years, wouldn’t be so bad if it was open source…….oh well good thing there is MYTHTV. Although I do have a MCE 2005 box running in my house.

    This issue with all the moans and complaining comes up within the MYTHTV community, where someone will get it installed and because its not perfect and need to be tweaked every other day. Has some lag all the normal gripes. These are not the people that should be in the HTPC scene. It is in a very early stage and, requires patience MONEY and willing to try things and have them not work. With out this happening it won’t progress, so if all you want to do record your TV shows and watch them. Then I say that a box with dedicated chipsets and custom dedicated software is for you so get a TVIO and wait a few years for HTPC’s to get better just needs time that’s all

    In my opinion I do think that if Microsoft waits years in between builds that it will flop, to add to the fact that it’s not possible code patches and fix problems….I think it will last a few years then they will move on to something different. So if you want my advice which I sure you don’t, go the open source route there is more support and plenty of walkthroughs I mean step by step. Well that’s my two cents.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Just because I feel the need to chime in, cause it’s fun…

    The CableCard standard is already available in the US, and you can request the CableCard to receive HDTV support. Actually, there are 2 CableCard standards (2 versions)

    Microsoft, despite some belief that they aren’t bothering, is trying it’s best to get it. One person was completely correct in stating that you are allowed to get a CableCard! Great! And where do you plan to STICK that CableCard? Were you aware that it’s against the law to develop a CableCard-supported device in the US without getting it approved from the CableLabs, the owner of the patents and algorithms used? Yes, Microsoft has *FINALLY* gotten approval from CableLabs to handle CableCard reception. This is just to help people understand WHY they don’t have it yet. Tivo can support CableCard because CableLabs granted their closed-player a license to use CableCard. DirecTV is the same problem, they have a closed system, and it would be illegal in the US to develop a PC device to circumvent the tuner system without approval from DirecTV. Blame the cable company and SAT providers for the MCE not supporting their content, they are the ones blocking it, not Microsoft. Microsoft is too busy making MCE unstable. ;)

  41. CJay says:

    Wah Wah WAh!

    MCE sucks! Why? Menu navagation is crummy. Forward and back, Up and down. What a pain. The whole idea is kinda neat, but wait! How about a windows desktop that is formated for tv screens. Then what do I need MCE for. Get a All in wonder card if you want to tivo! MCE could be used for other things like web content. I’m so over MCE, it makes me vomit when I use it.

    Bottom line MCE is OLD HAT.

  42. Anonymous says:

    “Anonymous said…
    HDTV is such a non-issue. Look at the market …….by everyone else I mean 99.999% of the population, HDTV isn’t even remotely important.
    Sure, 5 years from now, it will be…..”

    - I imagine that is what some people had to say about the telephone.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I am running MCE 2005 with dual tunners and bought the boxed solution from HP. A real media center built to do Media Center functionality. I have two Series 2 Tivos and my picture quality is better on the MCE box. I also have HD service and would like the ability to view HD from my MCE box, however I am a realist and don’t really want to pay for the storage to record it. I have a Xbox 360 setup as a media extender and also a HP media center. I would say that multi-room viewing on MCE is far superior to Tivo Series 2. I will add that I work for Microsoft and don’t feel that you are giving them the time to get everything down. They did put out MCE 2005, but keep in mind that with the launch of Vista comming around the corner and it built with graphics aceleration into the UI, it is apparent that it is the future of MCE and probably the when you will see something that supports HD. It is my understanding that the problem is not MCE not supporting HD as much as it is the lack of hardware manufactures that have produced HD recording PCI cards. This all said, I believe that my setup with portable media centers, Creative Zen Vision:M, Xbox 360, HP Media Extender, and HP Media Center is far supperior to my Tivo functionaly, however if all you want is video quality… go with the Tivo for now and continue to pay the service fee to be on the cutting edge until MCE has matured to its next release.