Moving from Windows Media Centre

I’m a big fan of taking control of your life by not living your life around TV schedules. I have been committed to the use of Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) for many years, starting with the ultimate nirvana of PVRs, TiVo. TiVo was a product before its time, when I explained the benefits, people just didn’t “get it”. Now, with Sky+ (an inferior product in many ways) with its more useful marketing campaign, many people now understand the benefits of leaving your TV viewing to an intelligent device that records your TV and allows you to watch it when you’re ready.

TiVo was the best product, but its lack of development and commitment to the UK market (it’s a big story in the US) led to me being forced to alternatives. Sky+ was never an option, as it is an inferior product with numerous usability issues. I also resent paying an additional fee for a service I receive with a basic subscription anyway (the required guide data). This left me to the adoption of Windows Media Centre 2005. This required the building and careful preparation of a Home Theatre Personal Computer (HTPC) to be able to process incoming video data, storage and simultaneous playback. Windows Media Centre has proved the hub of our media needs for the last 5 years and has been ideal. We’ve moved from Windows Media Centre 2005 through Vista and now Windows 7. The XBox extender system also allows us to relay content around the house very easily.

Using Windows 7 Media Centre has not been as pleasurable as Vista Media Centre. It’s much slower to use and even on a 100Mbps network video frequently breaks up. The music catalogue also requires rebuilding whenever you view the music library. I don’t know whether these issues are related to Windows 7 being in beta (I’m using the Release Candidate) but the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is low. I’d be happy to put up with it but for some reason BBC2 isn’t switched using the infra-red sender so we have to be on constant watch for BBC2 recording. Obviously, this is against the point of a PVR.

Windows Vista supports HD content, but not in the UK. Apparently, Windows 7 does support UK HD which is great because HD content from BBC HD is awesome and is a key reason why I have adopted the Freesat from the BBC option. So we decided to give the Humax Foxsat HDR FreeSat+ PVR a try. This will allow us to record HD content (previously we would have had to watch it live) along with SD content.

I’ll leave other people to review it as a product, I’m just going to give my feedback. Overall, I’m not that impressed. There is no Component Video sockets, which is a real shame as I have limited HDMI sockets and I would have preferred not to use an HDMI socket for content that is less than 1080p, which DVB-S HD cannot achieve (not in the UK anyway). The guide itself is a little sluggish and there is only 8 days of guide data. A screensaver appears whenever the screen becomes static which is frustrating as I happen to like frozen screens and LCDs are much less prone to screenburn than conventional CRT displays. Either way, I would like the option to turn this screensaver off. I’m not using a second LNB feed so conflicts will be a problem for me. One such conflict has just occured, with the device trying to turn the channel over at Championship Point in the 2009 Wimbledon Men’s Final. Whether or not I pressed a button or the device switched over I cannot be sure, but it did switch and then I could not switch it back. Typing “108″ to revert to BBC HD would not work. Consequently, I missed about 2 minutes of the climax of the final, ruining two weeks of tennis for me.

The device is pretty good, but I don’t think it is going to work for us in the longer term. Maybe we have been spoilt by the high quality of Windows Media Centre. In the shorter term, I’m keen on reducing my electricity usage, which is why I bought this device. (It uses just 1W on standby.) For “newbies” to DVRs or certainly users of the appalling Sky+ implementation, it’s well worth it, particularly for HD recording. But for me, I think I’m going to upgrade my Windows Media Centre PC for Windows 7 when it comes out and have another go. It still offers the best and most flexible solution.

Update:

After a few days of using it, I’ve found more poor design decisions:

  • For some reason, while the device is recording, you cannot delete *other* programmes.
  • When the device is recording, it is possible to turn over the channel. It is not clear whether the recording completes or not.
  • When time slipping, it is not possible to use the Red-button. Fair enough, but moving to Live TV by pressing Stop also does not permit Red-button services.

A few more weeks/months later …

  • When watching a recording programme and timeslipping, once the recorded programme ends, “live” viewing is resumed so you have to rewind back to the position you had time slipped to.

I’m counting the days till I get a Haupaugge DVB-S card for Windows 7 Media Centre.

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