After about 10 months of using Windows Media Center I decided to look back at how I use it. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the feature I actually use is the very same feature that motivated me to start using it in the first place. That’s right, out of everything it’ll do, for the most part I just use it as a DVR. The problem is that although it has a nice enough interface for listening to music, watching misc vidoes and looking at pictures, these features aren’t useful to me.
Music and Photos
These Media Center components actually work pretty nice, the problem is that my content lives in an Apple ecosystem. Sure you can just copy over your pictures and music, but you lose all your playlists, metadata, etc. There are some 3rd party applications to help integrate iTunes with Media Center, but to someone who also ownes an Apple TV, it just doesn’t make sense. So whenever I want to look at pictures or listen to music I switch inputs to the Apple TV — to my wife this means hitting the blue button on the remote.
This is the most useless of all Media Center features. Luckily most of the reasons why it is useless are resolved in Windows 7, but just to cover the highlights. The fact that you can’t resume videos, and even worse you can’t fast forward or rewind — only skip — makes it completely unusalbe. And then there is the folder fiasco. I mean why is it so hard to limit the folders that show up here. Do people really what to see the sample folders etc? I know I don’t.
I really only have one add-in that I use on a regular basis and that is mControl. And even with it, I have like 20 things I don’t like about it. Overall the worst thing about add-ins is how difficult it is to add the shortcuts to the main menu. But even once you get in, most of the add-ins feel very tacked on, and I find that programmers don’t seem to like Media Center’s UI as they try their best to not look like it. The most popular add-in for most is My Movies and although I could see it being useful if I still watched DVDs, the cover-art is way too small. And where are the good (free) weather apps? I just don’t understand why there aren’t more great add-ins.
The DVR rocks!
I can’t say enough great things about the way the DVR works though. I have a few complaints, but overall it is very enjoyable and so much better than TiVo. One thing is for sure, the thing is rock solid — when I haven’t broken something. I don’t think I’ve missed one recording because of a malfunction in the past 10 months.
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. In my household you don’t watch TV without watching it on Media Center. I have my home automation system setup so that when someone hits the power button on my Media Center remote the TV turns on to the correct input, the AVR turns on to the correct input and the Media Center goes to the Recorded TV screen. So it is a true one button, on one remote setup. I use the same remote in every room of the house and it functions the exact same way. From a user’s perspective the only difference is that Blu-ray and Apple TV re limited to the main room. Provided I don’t mess with it — a big if — it is very dependable.
I look forward to the features in Windows 7 and hope to see other competitors give Media Center a run for its money, but as it stands now when it comes to the ultimate DVR experience for the home, it is Media Center and by a long shot.