Tinkering with my Windows Media Center (complete with dual Freeview TV tuners and connected to my HD plasma television) is usually a job I leave to the autumn and winter months, as I tend to take every opportunity to get outside when the sun makes an appearance over London. Six years in the UK makes anyone understand just how precious the commodity of sunlight can be.
In the past, I didn’t set the agenda when it came to deciding when to tinker – instead, the technology demanded a reboot, graphics card driver adjustment, and other assorted problems every week or so, driving my girlfriend and therefore me to frustration. Those were the days of Windows Media Center 2005, based on Windows XP and one of Microsoft’s first forays into the ‘pc as a home entertainment hub’ market.
I chose the Media Center as I couldn’t comprehend paying for a service I’d hardly ever watch, but wanted the advantages of recording television for programs of interest. And besides, I’m happy with the choice of over 30 Freeview channels and to pay for a few diet lemonades to watch the football / cricket down the local that were being shown via subscription services.
But after a few months, the problems started to become something we’d have to fix every day or two. It did have the benefit of turning my previously pc fearing girlfriend into a Media Center second line support technician, but frankly the experience was disappointing – especially when you consider that these problems occurred with a machine configured specifically to perform the task at hand.
Step forward Windows Vista Media Center. After reading a few forums of user experiences with the kit I have, I decided to wear the reboots and the changes to my machine in its current configuration. ‘At least I have a fighting chance to get it MCE 2005 working if something goes wrong’ was the general consensus.
In my desperation and out of my ‘self imposed’ tinkering exile, I installed the Windows 7 Release Candidate early last year to see if any improvements could be made. I was sold within the first week, and six months later my opinion remained the same – minimal problems, increased functionality (internet TV, Sky TV plug in (subscription required) and a good user experience.
Granted, not as good as a subscription set top box (they just work), but it was now something which didn’t command four letter expletives every time the television was turned on. Now installed with an official copy, everything is going along smoothly, leaving me to plan my next component upgrade or additional feature.
With the release of Freeview HD in most parts of the UK, I’ve been looking to upgrade my TV tuner cards to be Freeview HD compatible – something that is not readily available just yet. Windows 7 does support Freeview HD, but the cards themselves won’t be available until the end of this year. Just in time for my next tinkering window, and hopefully it will also be enough time to ensure ill-timed adverts aren’t placed in the middle of global sporting events on HD channels by free to air television stations.