Media Center Rocks on Windows 7

If you’re interested in Windows 7, you’ve probably seen lots of positive blog posts and reviews about its overall functionality. Gizmodo’s  Windows 7: The Complete Guide is a good example. In my experience, Windows 7 works well. The clean install process was painless. All my devices just worked. Performance-wise, it seems snappier than Vista on just about everything. It’s been rock-solid for a while now. There’s a lot to like—especially on the Media Center front.

I’ve been using Media Center on Dell PCs for years now, starting with Windows XP on my Dimension 8400. I agree with the folks at EngadgetHD said in their Win 7 MCE review (see the Conclusion section): Media Center on Windows 7 is simply in a class by itself. Media Center functionality is built into Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate versions.

I’ve been running Win 7 on my current rig, an XPS 720 with a two-year old 3.0GHz Extreme Edition processor and 2GB RAM. I have it connected to an Xbox 360 over Ethernet. TV Tuner-wise, I’ve been running my Cat’s Eye 150 HDTV tuner that’s connected to an over the air antenna. The Windows 7 install recognized all of devices so setup was pretty easy. And the little things just work as well. Just before writing this post, I downloaded the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack from Amazon. Even before my PC had finished downloading all the songs, I was able to see them in Media Center without doing anything.

One thing that’s improved over Vista is the channel guide. In the Windows 7 version, several thing make it easier to find things you’re looking for. Microsoft’s Ben Reed, who’s the product manager on the Windows Media Center Team walks you through featurees like Turbo Scroll, color coding of programs by type, creating customized guide views and more in the video below. Thanks to Brandon LeBlanc over at the Windows Team Blog for the video.

As a little experiment, I pulled up a live HD signal on my PC, streamed an HD recording of a football game to the Xbox 360 and streamed MP3s to a Mini 10 that I also installed Windows 7 on. The result… CPU utilization that hovered below 15% and memory stayed below 1.65GB.

Windows 7

Another killer feature… Remote Media Streaming. It gives you the ability to stream media content (music pictures and video) from your home PC to a laptop or other Windows 7 device via the Internet in another location. Only downside is that both machines need to be running Windows 7. Still very cool though, and it works beautifully. ZDNet has a bit more detail on Remote Media Streaming. The Play To function is also cool (Faith Chenault mentioned it in her recent post). It allows you to kick off a playlist from one Windows 7 device to another on your HomeGroup. Take a look at the video in Windows Media Center section of Paul Miller’s Windows 7 review to see how it works. It’s worth noting that Play To works with music, photos and video—even recorded TV.

A couple of things I didn’t get to try out yet that I’m looking forward to:

Bottom line: if you use your PC for multimedia these days, an upgrade to Windows 7 is a no-brainer.

Update: Noticed earlier this afternoon that Netflix streaming has been added to the Movie section in Media Center from my PC. Watched an episode of Calliou with my son… it worked well.

About the Author: Lionel Menchaca