I’m sure you’ve heard about Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 already, the new and fantastic operating system that will finally make the PC a must have item in every living room. In reality we feel that Media Center Edition 2005 is far from deserving to replace your VCR, DVD player/recorder or photo album for that matter. Why? Simply because the added Media Center functionality is far from flexible and simply can’t keep pace with many of the features offered on devices costing only a fraction of a Media Center Edition 2005 PC. Because honestly if you pay up to $1500 for a Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 PC you’d think it includes everything you’d possibly need or would want to use, well, I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t.
For example, one of the nice things about having a dual tuner setup is that you can watch and record TV at the same time. That’s how I regularly use my DVD recorder, and once whatever I’ve recorded is completed I often take out the DVD-R and go to the other room and watch it there. This way around other people in my household can continue watching whatever they’re watching. With Windows XP MCE ’05 you can’t do that, you can’t even simply record a TV-show to DVD, all that it supports is recording to the harddisk and from there you can record to DVD, but not at the same time. This strikes me as a major oversight; don’t people at Microsoft own DVD recorders? But there’s more.
Suppose you’re like me, pretty much anal when it comes to image quality, and you’ve just spent a good bit of last month’s paycheck on a Windows XP MCE ’05 PC, wouldn’t you expect the very best? Unfortunately Windows XP MCE ’05 fails to deliver in that respect, the live TV image quality is even worse than that of a $200 TV. There is no simple way around this, other than to upgrade to a HDTV tuner. By design the analog TV signal is converted to an MPEG stream which is buffered on the harddisk and then played back again, that’s the signal you watch. By that time the analog signal has been encoded to MPEG and decoded again, losing valuable image quality.
And how about protecting your data? Once you start using Windows XP MCE ’05 the way Microsoft intends you to do it’ll quickly fill the harddisk with photos, personal videos and TV shows you recorded. But underneath it still runs on the vulnerable Microsoft Windows XP operating system, what if a virus wipes out your harddisk’s partition table? There’s nothing you can do, just say goodbye to your data. And even if you would like to back things up the files you create with personal videos or TV recordings are easily several GBs in size, not something you’d cram onto a DVD and store and can't be played back by anything but Windows Media Player 10 either. And what if the harddisk fails, not an uncommon occurrence? We’d opt to use a RAID1 array of disks if you plan to make the Windows XP MCE ’05 PC the center of your digital home, yet Microsoft never mentions that this is a pretty good investment.
So these few examples show you that behind all the hype there’s quite a few shortcomings, and to be honest this is just the tip of the iceberg. All in all Windows XP MCE ’05 certainly is a step up from previous versions, but has yet to learn quite a few things from devices such as DVD recorders and set top boxes such as the popular TiVo in terms of making it more user-friendly. On the technical side of things the image quality is just not good enough to compete with other CE, consumer electronics, devices. And the fact that a virus could potentially wipe out all your personal files, photos and videos is just inexcusable. So when you are looking at buying a new PC feel free to give Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 a look, just don’t buy it because of the multimedia features, there’s other devices that’ll do a much better job at a fraction of the cost. We’ll have more details about Windows XP MCE ’05 in an upcoming article, detailing minimum and recommended system specifications and a run down of the things we liked and disliked.