MCE Television and LaCie Big Disk Problems
Well this weekend I attempted to rehook a television signal back into my MCE machine and I was reminded that television indeed may be the biggest thing still holding Media Center back. The issue really boils down to two things. 1. Really poor television quality and 2. Incredibly complex set up.
These two things, in my opinion, hang around MCE’s neck like a gut wrenched albatross.
Let’s examine the two issues.
1. Poor television quality. Now maybe I’m just incredibly spoiled and forgot how bad MCE television quality is after spending the last few months watching all of my high def television on my DirecTV TiVo. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that there is more to it than this. One of the things that has perplexed me with MCE from day one is that there is a huge amount of signal degradation. Last night I tried connecting my new DirecTV satellite box directly to my plasma and it looked adequate. Not great, but adequate. When I connect it to the MCE box on the other hand the picture looks washed out, muddy, etc.
A while back someone once suggested to me that the compression technology that MCE uses is inferior to the TiVo compression technology which was the reason why it looks so bad.
On the other hand, for the most part I’m less concerned with the image quality of this machine because I’m using it for things where image quality is less of a concern — making .mp3s and making DVDs for the kids. Still, I don’t know how I spent two years watching something so poor and so terrible.
2. The complexity of set up. Ok, so I should know better. I pride myself on staying on top of MCE technology but there I was at 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night on the phone with HP Tech support for a little over an hour. I could not get the television signal to come in at all under the TV signal settings in MCE. I kept getting the famous, “the required video files are missing or corrupt” error message. The tech kept walking me through the basic things while I goggled away trying to figure it out myself. Finally after about an hour the tech asked if he could call me back tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the evening. He needed to escalate the issue and do more research. Fine I said, and continued my quest to fix it myself.
In the back of my mind I remembered something about a MPEG decoder and finally after more searching I remembered that I needed to download and install a new DVD decoder. Ok, so I should have known better — but, geez, so should the HP tech. Anyways, I download the 30 day trial decoder from Nvidia and everything was fine. My wife of course was not happy with me as she had to sit there without television in the living room for the four hours that I dealt with this.
I still can’t believe that Microsoft did not include some kind of free DVD decoder with the 2005 upgrade — or at least hit me with an error message that said, “hey idiot, you need a DVD decoder,” instead of the very random, “the required video files are missing or corrupt.” By choosing to cheap out on the DVD decoder they add to the aggravation and decrease the WAF (wife acceptance factor) immeasurably.
Everything is fine now but it reminded me why so many people hate computers and why there still may be quite a bit of hesitancy for people to move them into their living rooms. I barely have the patience to deal with issues like installing a new DVD decoder, uninstalling corrupted drivers and reinstalling new drivers, going to websites and downloading patches etc. And although I’m nowhere near the PC expert that I should be, there are a hell of a lot of people who know a lot less about PCs than I do. I can only imagine the fear of moving a PC into their living room and dealing with these complexities.
In his year end prediction, Biggest Flop of 2005: The Media Center PC, Phillip Swan took a lot of flak for predicting that people do not want PCs as Media Centers. “Consumers see the Media Center PC, whether it’s from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard or Gateway, as just another personal computer — and a more expensive one at that with prices running more than $1,000. Although the Media Center is supposed to be an entertainment device (it enables you to watch TV on your PC and transfer music and photos to your TV), the vast majority of Americans will never — I will repeat that — never think of the PC as an entertainment device. The PC is for work and the TV is for relaxation. End of story.”
Now I hope that Phillip is wrong. However, perhaps the historical complexity of install, maintenance, etc. really has instilled in people a fear of moving a PC into their living room. Certainly not including something like a free DVD decoder with an upgrade — or at least making sure your HP techs recognize this problem early on — doesn’t help the situation.
My TiVo on the other hand has always been amazingly simple. Plug it in. It works. No problem, ever.
My other problem has to do with the LaCie Big Disk that I was bragging about yesterday. The one connected to the MCE machine is working fine and shows are already recording to it. The one for my home office though is behaving terribly. I cannot copy a bunch of .mp3 files over to it. It starts the copy job and each time ends up coming up with an error about not being able to find the file or path. I have to turn the LaCie drive off, turn it back on in order to use it again at all and I get the same problem each and every time I begin the large copy job.
I have always been disappointed with these USB 2 external drives. The Maxtors frequently give me I/O device errors when I try and copy large batches of .mp3 files, but this performance from LaCie is the worst yet.
Of course the problem could also reside in Windows Explorer somewhere as well. I’d love it if someone could point me to some kind of better file/copy utility or somehow come up with some suggestions on this one.