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Windows Media Center Edition 2005

Written on September 29, 2006 by William George


This is the crowning jewel of the Media Center interface. If you have a TV tuner, which most home theater computers should have, this will be the default menu choice whenever you start up MCE. You can select "My TV" directly, or you can use the right arrow button to go directly to either "Recorded TV", "Live TV", or "Movies" (you can also access these categories other ways, within the My TV interface).

If you navigate in through the main My TV button, you are presented with a screen broken into three parts: a menu (on the left), a list of recent recordings (top right), and a list of things soon to be recorded (bottom right). There is also room toward the bottom left that is normally empty, but if you already have something playing (DVD, TV, even music) then there will be a picture-in-picture style miniaturization playing there, so that you can navigate the MCE interface without having to stop or pause playback. Every screen in Media Center has this area, actually, so that wherever you need to go your media can follow you.

The left menu options allow you to go to Live TV, Recorded TV, the Guide, a Search page, or Movies. Incidentally, the two TV options and the Movie link here take you to the same place within MCE that the direct shortcuts mentioned earlier do.

Live TV is just that - live TV. You can surf channels, like any normal TV, but you can also pause, rewind (to a certain extent), or begin recording what you are viewing. Because of the way Media Center interacts with the TV tuner(s) in the computer, any show being viewed is also temporarily recorded. That is what allows you to pause and, to a lesser extent, rewind and fast-forward. You cannot rewind any further than when you began viewing a given channel or about 10 minutes, whichever is shorter, and you cannot fast-forward any further than where the recording is taking place. Being able to simply pause in case there is an interruption, or rewind to recap a great sports moment, is quite convenient.

Recorded TV provides an interface for viewing past recordings, or setting up new ones. You can control properties about a recorded program or something scheduled to be recorded by selecting it with the remote, keyboard, or mouse. You can set up new recordings for individual episodes, or for whole series. Additionally, you can control what quality something is recorded at, how long before and after the show is recorded (to make sure nothing gets missed), how long the recording will be kept, and in the case of a series what airtimes and channels you want recorded. If you manage to schedule multiple recordings for a single time-slot, Media Center will notify you and allow you to select which show to actually record. If you record multiple series, you can also set the default priority order of those series so that you don't have to manually monitor each time two recording overlap. Of course, you could also get a dual-channel tuner and not have to worry as much about recording conflicts - but hardware selections like that will be dealt with later in this article.

The Guide is a very helpful tool, which is updated automatically to provide you with 7 to 10 days of information on what is playing at what time on each channel. The accuracy of the information here is dependant on you having set everything up properly, with the right zip code and type of TV service. You can select a program airing currently to go directly to it, or you can set up a recording in advance by navigating directly to the channel and show you want. Sometimes this can be easier than using the Recorded TV interface, particularly if you know when something is on but not its exact name. The Guide can also make it easier to find something good on TV if you don't have any pre-recorded shows to watch.

Alternatively, you could use the Search feature. It allows finding a scheduled show based on the name or a keyword. Because the remote control doubles as a text input device, performing such searches doesn't require you to get off the couch - and is often the quickest way to find when a program is on (or what channel it is on, etc). Again, just like with the Guide, you can set up recordings directly from this page.

Lastly, the Movies page provides a cleaner interface that caters only to feature-film-length programming. You can use any of the other interfaces to find movies as well, but if you are looking specifically for a TV airing of a movie then this page makes it much easier. You can view movies currently in progress, ones that are starting soon (within about 2 hours), perform a search, or view all movies that are scheduled by genre or actor. To make recognizing a specific film even easier, thumbnail views of the movie poster or DVD cover are also provided (if you are connected to the internet). And, once again, you can schedule something to record directly from this interface.

Tip: As long as you have plenty of space, you might as well record as many different programs and/or movies as you'd like. With enough shows readily available you may never need to channel surf for something to watch on TV again.

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