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Niggles with MCE

Updated on August 6, 2006

WinXP MCE rocks... but it's not quite pain-free

I've had the MCE up and running for about a year now and it's working pretty sweet. It started out with WinXP MCE 2005 and has been upgraded to RU2 with all the various service packs in between. It's great to see Microsoft deliver full support for the Australian standards - DVB-T and AC3 audio for instance.

The lack of an "official" Australian EPG is very frustrating. I'd tried some solutions like BladeRunner and FreeXMLTV for a while before moving to IceTV. I'm really impressed with the new Free*EPG but the lack of full descriptions (and no cover for the Gold Coast when I was comparing it to IceTV) meant the family opted for the more complete (but still quirky) IceTV. Of course, the biggest problem with any EPG is that all the networks arepretty bad at actually putting transmissions out consistently on time!

So, a year later... what bugs me about the current iteration of MCE?

Luckily nothing major. It's still the primary media device in the house, so Microsoft are on track in the race to win the living room. I know Vista will bring some changes... but they're not here yet

Channel swap time

Okay, so I know it's a matter of the card itself in most cases (not the Media Centre) but it's a niggle. On my TV channel change is instant. So even a couple of seconds is annoying. Although I normally don't watch TV live these days when I do... I remember why I don't channel hop!

PiP

Sometime there are a couple of shows going on that you don't care enough to record. Or you want to see what's happening in the footie while the ads are on but not miss the movie. Picture-in-Picture is the obvious answer (in a dual tuner setup). A lot of TV/Tuner combos, STBs and even dual tuner card setups manage this without too much fuss.... so why doesn't MCE?

More than 2 tuners

MCE only supports two tuners unless you're willing to mess about with lots of registry tweaking and pain. Because of some other issues it would be nice to have 3 or even four tuners supported out of the box. The oft-mentioned excuse is performance... but if the useris willing to rig up a bleeding edge multi processor/core machine with CPU cycles to spare then MCE should recognise and support 2,3 or 4 cards (or beyond for the really insane)

Analogue and Digital - TV and Radio

While I'm happy to live in a pure digital TV environment I do miss the ability to listen to FM radio through the same box (and record it). There are mixed mode TV tuners, and Digital TV tuner cards that feature analogue radio and MCE can't take advantage of that hardware. I know most radio stations worth their salt actually have concurrent web streams but sometimes they're in non Windows Media format. Of course the guide would also need to support radio schedules from disperate sources as well as potentially multiple TV sources. Providing mixed mode TV would also facilitate connection to (say) analogue cable TV sources without some of the hoops people have to jump through.

Issues scheduling programs in the guide

Sometimes the guide goes mad and you can't schedule recordings without a reboot. Apparently it's due to a memory leak - which hopefully would be easily fixed. The IceTV PIMP application does include a fix (restarts the eHome service - not good if you're currently recording!) but it shouldn't need a third party tool to fix things

Consecutive shows on the same channel needs two tuners 

When recording two consecutive shows on the same channel it's very frustrating that the system needs to allocate a tuner to each show, rather than being smart with the hardware and splitting the recording files out. This is especially frustrating when there is a show on a second channel because the clash means you either have to reduce the extended recording (potentially missing the end of one of the shows) or give up on the clashing show. It's especially an issue when you have a scheduled recording for a show which often has two episodes back-to-back

Record from the buffer

When watching live TV MCE has a buffer - it facilitates pausing live TV. It would be great if you suddenly decide a show is worth recording it would be great if you could dump that bugger into the recording to add value.

 

More open standards support

Thanks to it's WindowsXP base MCE is very flexible (much more so than the XBox360) it would be nice if it supported DivX, AVI and other movie formats out of the box. I don't mind adding ffdshow or the K-Lite Code Pack but it would be nicer if they were already supported to save me adding potentially unstable solutions.

 

2' management as well as 10'

There are some functions of the MCE that are better handled with a keyboard, mouse and an LCD monitor rather than the MCE remote and a TV screen (channel setup, scheduling some recordings etc). While not risking a lack of focus on making the core UI better it would be good to see some more 'traditional' windows UI tools to help manage the more mundane tasks, as well as set up capabilities to (say) archive recorded TV shows to a folder structure

10' editing of recorded shows

I use VideoReDo to trim recorded TV to strip off the extra content before/after shows I want to keep (and sometimes pull the adverts out) but it would be nice to have that facility via a 10' UI, ideally integrated into the interface when watching a show. I imagine we'll never see automatic ad removal in MCE but basic trimming capabilities would be great.

Easier 'screen free' operation

To use MCE as a music player it would be great if it it worked either via a two-way communication with a remote with a screen, a touch screen or a small secondard screen. Now that's something I know is coming in Vista (and the two way control is available via Bluetooth and WiFi for some PocketPC devices) but it would be great to see more ways to fully integrate the MCE seamlessly into the living room for all functions.

 

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