Done with Windows MCE

November 28, 2006

I’ve shut down my Windows Media Center, at least for the time being; it just isn’t what I need it to be.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the interface; I love it more than Tivo, and that’s saying something.

The big problem is HD. As HD becomes increasingly important to me, and as more and more HD content becomes available to me, MCE becomes increasingly irrelevant.

MCE does a good job of recording OTA HD. Unfortunately, two of my majors don’t come in terribly well with my antique OTA antenna. When it rains, most of them don’t come in. I could doubtless fix this, but since Dish now gives me my majors in HD off the satellite, I’m not terribly inclined.

More importantly, there’s the 25 or so channels of “premium” HD I now have available. There’s not a prayer on the horizon that MCE is going to get those, or the satellite based HD locals either.

There’s been a lot of talk about CableCard support in Vista, but it’s become clear that these are only going to be available for “certified” off-the-shelf MCE boxes. The odds of me being willing to a) spend the money for a pre-configured box, or b) being willing to live with that configuration if I did (vs. modding it and possibly breaking the CableCard DRM) are slim and none.

And Slim’s out of town this month.

Then there’s the increasingly more Byzantine DRM rules that are coming to light regarding Vista MCE and CableCard — built on a base of a system that doesn’t handle DRM terribly well already.

Last but not least, instead of the vast (compared to other providers) selection of HD content I have now, I’d have to go with a smaller selection from a cable company.

And put up with a cable company (something I haven’t done for 15 years now).


Dish’s HD PVRs are now a bit more stable, and a lot more affordable ($200 up front, roughly). For less than half of what an XBox 360 would cost me to use as a Media Center Extender, I can add an HD PVR with two tuners of its own, and 30 hours of HD recording to each HD TV.

Which leaves watching digital video off my network (which I do a lot of). For about the same price as an HD PVR, I can drop an HD network media player on each of those TVs, and watch content via UPNP (off the box I used to use for MCE), without all of the transcoding issues that come up trying to watch non-WMV content on a 360 media center extender.

When it comes right down to it, MCE just isn’t relevant to my needs today, and doesn’t appear to have any prospects to become relevant in the foreseeable future.

I’m going to miss that interface, though.

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