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Media Centre Edition 2006 Media Centre Edition 2006
Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006

Media Centre has come a long way since its humble beginnings. It all started with Media Centre Edition 2004, then Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 and the newest version today is Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006, which is currently a Beta 2 version (build 5384).

With every new Beta version released, Media Centre changes ever so slightly as new features are added. The most noticeable change is its visual appeal. There has been extensive use of transparency and alpha blending to improve the visual appearance of Media Centre itself. The results are truly stunning and it is hard to do it justice with only still screenshots. So, without any further delays lets take a closer look at Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006.

Media Centre is completely menu driven. Once you are familiar with the layout of the menus, Media Centre is very easy to use. The top most menu is called the Start menu. When you press the Green Button on the Media Centre Remote Control you are taken to the Start menu. The Start menu includes the following menu options :-

The most stunning of all the screens to see is the TV & Music menu options. With screenshots of these two menu options you will be able to get a feel for the rest of Media Centre.

The TV Menu

Most of your time will be spent using the TV option, which you use to gain access to the Recorded TV, Live TV, Guide and Search buttons.

TV Menu

Recorded TV is a holding place for all the TV programs you record. Once recorded they can be watched and deleted at a later date.

Recorded TV Screen

The Recorded TV programs are displayed in a list with either a small or large icon next to the title of the TV program in question. The choice of small or large icons is up to you. Pictured above are small icons. The icons displayed are created from a frame that is 8 to 9 minutes into the recorded TV program. In many cases the icon displayed had nothing to do with the actual TV program that had been recorded, because TV stations routinely run 10 to 15 minutes late. There is no way of turning the icons off to display the list using text only.

From the Recorded TV screen, there is a small button called View Scheduled in the upper left hand corner. Use the arrow keys on the remote control to navigate to the View Scheduled button and press the OK button to view the Scheduled screen as below. The scheduled screen includes a list of all the TV shows that are going to be recorded in the near future. There is a new feature in the scheduled screen called Custom Recording. In the previous versions of Media Centre, when the EPG was installed, there was no way to manually schedule a recording, it all had to go thought the Guide. Custom Recording allow you to schedule a manual recording even if you have the Guide installed.

Custom Recording

Live TV includes all your major digital Channels including ABC, ABC2, SBS, SBS World News, Seven, Nine and Ten. Some areas in Australia include community channels which would be picked up by Media Centre also. In our case there were no community channels. Even though we installed Hybrid TV Cards, Media Centre was unable to pickup any of the Analogue channels, only the Digital channels worked. We also checked to see if 3 or more TV Cards would work. The more TV Cards installed the less likely you are going to run into conflicts with the TV programs you choose to record. Media Centre would only use a maximum of 2 TV Cards. The AV inputs on our Hybrid TV Cards were also non functional. We installed the manufactures application software that came with the TV Cards to compare. Everything worked as expected in the manufactures application software, but it was a different case with Media Centre which could only manage to get the digital channels working.

Live TV

We also enabled the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) using IceTV's IceGuide which worked as expected. The Guide was presented in the familiar table, where you navigate to the TV program you wish to record using the arrow keys on the remote control and press the red record button to schedule the desired TV program to be recorded.

Guide Screen

The Music Menu Option

If you listen to music and just about everyone does, then you will end up using the Music menu option a lot.

Music Menu

The Music Library is a place holder for all the music CD's you may have. They are copied to the Hard Disk and all the information about the CD is downloaded from the internet, including the Cover Art.

Music Library Screen

The Radio Screen includes both internet Radio and AM/FM Radio. Media Centre was unable to detect the Radio hardware that was included with our Hybrid TV Cards. This meant the Radio was not functional in Media Centre. Again, this was not the case with the Manufacturers Application Software which worked as expected.

The Pros and Cons

Overall, Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006 is stunning to look at. This alone may be more then enough reason to upgrade to the new Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006 when it becomes available. Other advantages include no external video decoder is needed as there is a video decoder built-in. At the time of writing, we were unable to compare the quality of the video output of the built-in video decoder with Nvidia's PureVideo Decoder. We suspect the Nvidia PureVideo Decoder might have the edge over the built-in video decoder. The TV Cards were also plug and play. The drivers were automatically detected by the OS and the installed without any intervention on our part.

On the other hand, there are not many new stand-out features in Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006. Most of the new features were visual in the form of a make-over. Many of the issues in Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 are still there. Things, such as, only 2 TV Cards are supported, where 3 or more TV Cards would be better. Only Digital TV channels are available on a Hybrid TV Card, where both Analogue and Digital channels should be available. There is still no support for AV in that is present on many TV Cards. The AM and FM Radio is not detected on Digital TV Cards that include Radio hardware.

When will Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006 be available?

Your guess is as good as ours, but rumour has it Windows Vista Media Centre Edition 2006 will be available sometime in the first quarter of 2007.

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