Microsoft gave us a gift when they included Media Center in Windows. Windows Media Center (WMC) is a media player (organize and show pictures, slideshows and videos) and a digital video recorder (view and record live TV). Pictures and videos are really no big deal, Windows Media Player, WinAmp and VLC all do a fine job. The real gift is the ability to watch and record TV. It is possible to configure Media Center to handle up to 4 TV signals. Originally WMC was a separate version of Windows XP (Windows XP Media Center Edition), but it was later included in Vista (Home Premium and Ultimate), and finally all versions of Windows 7 (except Starter). Unfortunately, it is not included in Windows 8, but is available for Windows 8 Pro as an add-on for $9.99. (It was free for Windows 8 Pro early adopters up until January 31, 2013.)
WMC uses TV tuners to record and play back TV from a standard antenna, cable or satellite signal. Digital tuners support TV broadcasts in High Definition or Standard Definition. A TV tuner is a device you use to connect an analog or digital TV signal to your computer. TV tuners come in two basic model types: external TV tuners, which usually plug into a USB port on your computer (the only choice if you are using a laptop), and internal TV tuner cards, which you must install inside your computer. In order to watch and/or record TV using Media Center, you'll need to physically connect a TV signal to the TV tuner on your computer. This typically involves connecting one end of a coaxial cable to your tuner and the other end to your TV signal source (e.g. over-the-air antenna, cable TV jack in the wall, cable TV set-top box, or satellite TV set-top box).
WMC can record TV programs manually, on a One-Touch-Record basis, or it can schedule recording shows using an included Program guide (that is customized to the local TV broadcaster). Recordings can then be put on to a DVD or portable media player (given that there are no copy restrictions). While watching live TV, WMC buffers the program so that the user can rewind, fast-forward or pause the live show, allowing users to review a spectacular touch-down pass or simply skip the commercials.
The User Interface is a little different than what Windows users are used to. The menus are very large, making them suitable for viewing on a big screen TV from your most comfortable chair. With the addition of a Media Center Remote, the user can control the operation from his/her easy chair without having to go to the computer keyboard (a wireless keyboard also gives the desired result). As expected, the “Close”, “Restore Down”, and “Minimize” buttons are in the upper right of the display, and note that a “Back” button is a left facing arrow in the upper left side of the display. These buttons appear when the mouse is moved.
You can record a live (currently airing) TV show (the show is recorded from the moment you press the “Record” button). Obviously, if you're halfway through watching a show before you start recording, the first half won’t be recorded. (Microsoft has not yet conquered time travel.) To start recording a show, Click the “Start” button, click “All Programs”, and then click Windows Media Center.
On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to TV, and then click “Live TV”. Move the mouse so that the playback controls appear, and then click “Record”.
WMC provides a Guide that is customized to your own local provider and typically displays a schedule for the next 12 or 13 days. To schedule recordings using the Guide, scroll to TV and then right-click the program that you want to record, and then left-click “Record” to schedule the recording of that program. You can also search to find a TV show or movie that you want to record. On the WMC start screen, scroll to TV, and then click Search. Click the category that you want to search by (such as Title), and then follow the instructions to start the search. On the search results page, click the TV show that you want to record, and then click “Record” to schedule a recording of that program. In order to record your favorite TV show every week, you can automate the process by scheduling the recording of an entire series. On the WMC start screen, scroll to TV, and then click Guide. Locate the TV series that you want to record, click it, and then click “Record Series”.
Once you have recorded shows, they can easily be watched. From the WMC start screen, click TV and then click Recorded TV. This will display all the shows that have been recorded in order of “date-recorded”, “title”, or “original air date”. This display is a horizontal scrolling list of thumbnails that represent each of the recorded shows. To move left or right, hover around the end of the list to illuminate the arrow for that direction, then click the arrow to move the list. Select a show to watch by clicking the thumbnail. This will display a summary of the show selected. To watch the show, click “Play”, (or click “Delete” to remove the recorded show, or “cancel series” if you’ve changed your mind about the future recording of this show). When you click “Play”, the show will start with playback controls in the lower right hand side of the show. These controls will disappear in time, but to get them back, just move the mouse. Click “Pause” to temporarily stop the program. Click “Play” to resume the show. Click “Rewind”, to watch something again, or click “Fast Forward”, to move ahead in the show. Click the “Volume Increase” button (the plus to the right of speaker) or the “Volume Decrease” button (the minus to the right of speaker) to increase or decrease the volume, or click the “Mute” button (the speaker) to turn the sound on or off. When you've finished watching the show, move the mouse, and then click “Stop”.
WMC provides many additional features, many of which allow you more specific control of the recording process. You can set up Media Center to automatically record a specific channel at a specific time. And, you can set up Media Center to automatically record TV shows and movies based on keywords that are associated with a program such as actor's name, director's name, or even a word that appears in the title. (Then in the future, when a TV show or movie airs that matches keywords you specified, the program will automatically record.) But even without these extra features, WMC turns your computer into a very capable Digital Video Recorder that you can use to time-shift TV shows.
By Phil Sorrentino, Past President, Sarasota PCUG, FL
October 2013 Issue, PC Monitor