For the past 15 years Homer, Marge, Maggie, Lisa and Bart all piled into their living room, hopped on the brown couch and let their faces be illuminated by the glow of their television screen. For millions of people, The Simpsons became a weekly ritual; much like the opening credits, they funneled into their rooms, jumped on a piece of cozy furniture and stared mindlessly into the lives of 5 fictionally yellow characters. But what happened when you had to work late one night, or you forgot about the extra long Halloween special? Before you could search for these shows online, before TiVo and before ReplayTV – a VHS cassette and a VCR was all you needed.

The power to record the TV shows you want to watch has been around for quite some time; the VCR brought the technology to the mainstream, but it lacked some refinement and features that would truly make it suitable for recording TV shows you’d miss. The main problem with the VCR was that it was not an intelligent device; it couldn’t detect conflicts, it couldn’t tell you if you were going to record a rerun or if this week’s episode of the Simpsons would start 10 minutes later than usual. Not being able to get your regular dose of the Simpsons isn’t a life or death situation but it would be nice.

Whenever AMD or Intel release a new CPU, everyone asks the question what we need faster processors for? The most common response for that is “to enable future applications” and a couple of years ago, there was enough processing power in a cheap enough form to finally give the VCR a brain – the idea of a set-top Personal Video Recorder (PVR) was born.

The idea was simple; what if your VCR could intelligently record the shows that you want to watch. You don’t want to watch whatever is on Fox at 8PM on Sundays, you want to watch The Simpsons, regardless of when they are on. In order to add intelligence to an otherwise dumb piece of electronics all you need is a dedicated processor and a good software interface. But as is the case with most things this “simple”, the process of making an intelligent VCR is much easier said than done.

A Series of Simple Attempts
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  • GreyMack - Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - link

    Excellent review, but I don't think it was harsh enough.
  • baboon68 - Wednesday, October 29, 2003 - link

    Well, if nothing this article shows that MCE is NOT capable of settling comfortably the living room for a variety of reasons. MCE does not do away with the windows menu and the instability/driver issues. The HP box is certainly worse than a custom assembled Shuttle SSF or Ahanix box. The latest ATI Multimedia Center software in conjuntion with an RF (not IR) control is also quite close to the MCE experience - I have one and it works quite well on a cheaper Athlon 2K+. ALso free/cheap updates to the ATI software can only make it better - never mind the HDTV capability using the 40$ adapter. And last bat not least, if I look at the additional capabilities of Freevo or MythTV (Weather, RSS feeds, MAME, etc.). Also missing - at least from the article - is a discussion of: support for people outside of the US, possible DVB-S card support, external IR Transmitter support (to control a Sat receiver box), and more.
    I think the MCE is at best another flawed attempt by Microsoft to market beta quality software at a loss or at the expense of hardware integrators to gain market share in the Tivo market.
  • Anonymous User - Monday, October 20, 2003 - link

    After reading this article I'm not clear why the author thinks MCE is preferable to alternatives like ATI All-in-Wonder, which sounds like does the same things and is more flexible what computers it will work with. In particular, the author says the MCE interface is significantly better than ATI but doesn't adequately explain why. Also, the ATI remote will work without line-of-site required and can control the computer mouse, which MCE can't. Seems like ATI is a better deal.
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - link

    Do the same thing for free
  • Anonymous User - Friday, August 29, 2003 - link

    This is a great review. Will a Dual processor xeon machine combat the stuttering? i presume its compatible as its xp pro based.
  • Anonymous User - Monday, August 11, 2003 - link

    Thank you, AnandTech! Your review is extremely helpful, as it debunked some of the myths of Windows Media Center. Plus, it gave me inside look of the machine I'm looking to buy.

    Still, I have one question: About the "skip" function, when you skip 30 seconds ahead, does the machine record the commercials also or does it only record the areas not skipped? If it doesn't, is there some kind of software that can erase the commercials?
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - link

    yeah basically
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, July 17, 2003 - link

    So, the the final word is the MCE is just Xp pro plus PVR right.. ???
  • Anonymous User - Saturday, July 12, 2003 - link

    This is a great review. It explains every aspect of this Media Center PC in great detail. I have looked all over the internet to find a review like this and this is the only one I could find. Thanks alot. This will make me even more jealous to buy it since I am planning to purchase one.

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