A Series of Simple Attempts

It became very clear early on that a home PC was not the ideal machine for a PVR, the main limitation being an easy to use interface to harness a PC-PVR’s power.

Out of all of the hardware manufacturers, ATI came the closest to truly offering a solution that could transform your PC into a full-fledged PVR that you could rely on to capture those priceless Simpsons memories. Compared to 3dfx, Matrox and NVIDIA, ATI had considerably more experience in video capture functionality built into their consumer cards. Both 3dfx and NVIDIA were late comers to the game, 3dfx with their Voodoo3 3500TV and NVIDIA with their Personal Cinema, both being released in the past few years. Matrox had much experience with professional video editing and eventually brought some of that expertise to the home with their Marvel line of graphics cards, but ATI had been bridging the gap between home PCs and TVs for quite some time.

Dating back to their PC2TV line of cards that boasted fairly impressive (for their time) TV output quality, ATI has been focusing on developing the hardware and software to make this dream of an intelligent VCR come true. ATI’s latest All-in-Wonder line comes extremely close; closer than any previous attempt, but ATI is still bound by the tragic flaw of a PC based PVR – the Windows interface.

Companies like SONICblue and TiVo were not bound by this tragic flaw; instead they attempted to introduce the PVR as a set-top box, much like the VCR. TiVo introduced their aptly named TiVo PVR as a concept in 1997 and once product started shipping, received strong support from the market. Through acquisition, SONICblue became proprietor of the ReplayTV brand – TiVo’s primary competition. Both solutions offered all of the intelligent features we just mentioned including a very easy to use interface, but they were bound by the small amount of dedicated resources these set-top boxes had.

Today’s PCs on the other hand are infinitely more powerful than current set-top boxes, and in theory could duplicate any of their functionality. The hardware is here today, all we need is someone to step forward and provide an easy to use interface and bring it to the masses. For that we turn to a company that is quite possibly the single most influential in the computing industry, Microsoft.

Microsoft has stepped forth and provided an enabling platform for transforming the PC into a PVR; they call this platform Windows XP Media Center Edition. As the name implies, Windows XP Media Center Edition is designed to turn your PC into no less than a “media center.” A device you can use to watch TV, record the shows you want, store your videos, and create a picture album and more. It is Media Center Edition that will supposedly turn your PC into an “uber PVR”; finding out whether or not Microsoft has accomplished that is the focus of this review.

Index Introducing Media Center Edition
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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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