I get it, Microsoft begrudgingly included Media Center in Windows 8. When it comes to entertainment, XBox is their baby now. And what a trojan horse baby it has been. XBox has evolved from a game console into a formidable set top box that is vying for control of the digital living room, a battle far from decided and will certainly heat up in the next few years thanks to Apple, Roku, Google, and many others of their ilk.
But I want to go back to Media Center. For those of you not familiar with it, it’s an add on to Windows that lets you watch, record, and share live TV from your computer. It never quite caught on in the mainstream because well, it was still a computer attached to your TV, which meant Windows Updates, reboots, etc, or things that most of us want to ‘enjoy’ exclusively to when we are working on our…. computers No one wants to be watching TV, unwinding, and see a ‘Windows needs to reboot your computer to install updates’ pop up do they? It’s not something I would recommend to most ‘civilian’ households, but for geeking out, it’s an outstanding product! And it fits perfectly into my whole house media solution, especially with Windows 8.
Funny thing is, you have to jump through a few hoops to get Media Center on Windows 8. Unlike with Windows 7, it doesn’t come with it out of the box. Fortunately, it’s a free add on and Paul Thurrott from winsupersite.com explains how to do it here. I run a Media Center box in my garage, it’s a dual screen setup with a 22″ monitor along with a 42″ plasma which I have tilt mounted on a support beam. It’s handy for when I’m in my garage and want to watch a game or catch the morning news while doing a light workout.
When I did my Windows 8 upgrade from 7, it resulted in me losing Media Center. I should add that my original copy of Windows 8 was from my Technet subscription. Through extensive searching, I came to discover that only retail versions of Windows 8 Pro are able to have the Media Center add on. Technet, MSDN, or Volume Licensing copies cannot add it. This meant I was biting the bullet and doing a clean install. So I bought a retail copy of Win8 Pro and proceeded with my clean install. To my pleasant surprise, it found and installed all the drivers on my HP Pavillion desktop including my Hauppage WinTV tuner that I used with Media Center. I followed the steps to add Media Center via the Add Features Control Panel and SUCCESS!
I have my Media Center recording Over the Air HDTV, no cable, no satellite. Neither are easy to do with your computer. But I am more than happy with my programming selection via good old fashioned rabbit ears. I now have created a pretty solid recording/sharing workflow that consists of:
- Record my programs
- Transcode the recordings into MP4 format automatically(I use MCE Buddy, highly recommended!)
- MCE Buddy drops the recordings on a network share on my Windows Essentials 2012 Server
That’s where the Magic begins. Once it’s on my network, I can view them on any device in my house. Like my iMac:
Or my Surface:
Or any other laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet on my home network. If I want to transfer to an iOS device, I just drop the recordings into iTunes, which is 1 extra step if I choose to do so. Best of all, I can load TV Shows to my Windows Phone to enjoy on the road or anywhere else. I’m not confined to having to be on my home network at that point.
While I consider Media Center to be a great solution personally, it seems to have suffered the same fate as the Zune, never quite caught on with folks despite it’s superiority to comparable products in the marketplace. And also like Zune, despite it being essentially put to pasture by Microsoft, it is something I will definitely continue to use extensively. For a geek like me, it offers the functions and flexibility that I certainly don’t get from my DirecTV boxes. I’m definitely happy Media Center is still available in Windows 8, meaning I will drive it til the wheels fall off or Microsoft pries it out of my cold dead hands!