Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC for Dummies (ISBN

Windows XP
Media Center
Edition 2004 PC
®
FOR
DUMmIES
‰
by Danny Briere and Pat Hurley
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Windows XP
Media Center
Edition 2004 PC
®
FOR
DUMmIES
‰
This page intentionally blank
Windows XP
Media Center
Edition 2004 PC
®
FOR
DUMmIES
‰
by Danny Briere and Pat Hurley
Windows® XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies®
Published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
111 River Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
www.wiley.com
Copyright  2004 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published simultaneously in Canada
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About the Authors
Danny Briere founded TeleChoice, Inc., a telecommunications consulting
company, in 1985 and now serves as CEO of the company. Widely known
throughout the telecommunications and networking industry, Danny has
written more than one thousand articles about telecommunications topics
and has authored or edited nine books, including Internet Telephony For
Dummies, Smart Homes For Dummies (now in its second edition), Wireless
Home Networking For Dummies, and Home Theater For Dummies. He is
frequently quoted by leading publications on telecommunications and
technology topics and can often be seen on major TV networks providing
analysis on the latest communications news and breakthroughs. Danny
lives in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, with his wife and four children.
Pat Hurley is a consultant with TeleChoice, Inc., who specializes in emerging
telecommunications technologies, particularly all the latest access and home
technologies, including wireless LANs, DSL, cable modems, satellite services,
and home-networking services. Pat frequently consults with the leading telecommunications carriers, equipment vendors, consumer goods manufacturers, and other players in the telecommunications and consumer electronics
industries. Pat is the coauthor of Internet Telephony For Dummies, Smart Homes
For Dummies, Wireless Home Networking For Dummies, and Home Theater For
Dummies. He lives in San Diego, California, with his wife and two smelly dogs.
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Dedication
In the past few years, Danny has thanked his wife for being so understanding,
his kids for helping Dad with his projects, his parents for investing in his education, his sister for her daily support at work, and a host of other friends, relatives, and business associates who make each book a success. One person
whom Danny wants to thank in particular this time is Tom Redford, known to
me as Mr. Redford when I was growing up in Richmond, Virginia. Tom was my
scoutmaster, my employer, and many years later, my friend. He took me under
his wing and introduced me to the way things really work in life. “Briere, how
can someone so smart have so little common sense,” he used to tell me all the
time, and unfortunately, he was right. Tom didn’t put up with my slick book
smarts but rather challenged my lack of street smarts, whether I was navigating
the furnaces and rats at his brick yard during a summer job or carrying the
dutch oven to the top of a mountain on a camping trip. All of us need someone
like Tom to whip the wimp out of us and challenge us to be something we would
not otherwise become. To Tom, I owe my larger (yet still small) amount of
common sense, the knowledge that sucking blood out of a snake bite really does
not work, and the ability to describe how bricks are made. Oh yeah, and a much
stronger and more thoughtful character. We all need a Tom Redford when we’re
growing up, and I hope I can have such an effect on some smart yet stupid
young kid someday.
Pat thanks — well, thanks is insufficient but the best that can be offered in this
venue — his wife, Christine. She put up with four books in ten months, rooms
full of gadgets and gizmos, cables strewn across the floor, espresso stains everywhere, missed Padres games, terrorized dogs, working vacations (oxymoron
anyone?) — plus a house move. And she had to deal with all that while (in the
words of Loretta Lynn) “One’s on the way.” Pat dedicates this book to her and
to the schmoos (they know who they are). And he promises a real vacation,
and soon!
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Authors’ Acknowledgments
You can’t write a book alone. At least not a good one. You need help from all
sorts of people — and we were lucky enough to find people who were generous
with both their time and their knowledge.
We’d like to thank Tom Laemmel at Microsoft most of all. Tom is one of
Microsoft’s Product Managers, and he gave us unprecedented access
to Microsoft’s work on the latest version of Media Center, answered innumerable questions, introduced us to many Microsoft partners, and generally
gave us what we needed. Thanks Tom.
Continuing the Microsoft theme, we’d also like to thank Ed Rich — he did
the technical review of the book (right in the middle of finishing up the launch
of Media Center’s newest version) and kept us honest. Mark Pendergrast at
Microsoft got us “in the door” and introduced us to a bunch of other helpful
folks at Microsoft.
The folks at Gateway and Viewsonic outfitted us on the equipment end —
thanks to Jason Martineck at Gateway and Trevor Bratton at Viewsonic. We’ve
got nothing but good things to say about the Media Center PCs from these two
companies and their technical support.
We’d also like the thank Paul Lefebvre at Sonic, Larry Fischer and Doug Barrett
at Show & Tell, Deborah Hamilton at UEI, Ann Finnie at HP, Glen Chiswell at
Mind Computers, Andy Marken and Linda Herd at InterVideo, Larry McDonnell
Director of Public Relations at Sprint, Michael Scott at D-Link, Kelly Poffenberger
at Toshiba, Roger VanOosten at InFocus, Lisa Hawes and Tracy Yen at NETGEAR,
and Duval Hopkins (Shutterfly’s PR representative).
Ed Ferris, TeleChoice’s IT Director, deserves special thanks for supporting us
and our numerous PCs (MCE and otherwise). Everybody should have their own
Ed — someone they can run to when the latest PC experiment goes awry.
Finally, we’d like to thank Susan Pink, our project editor, and Melody Layne, our
acquisitions editor at Wiley. They supported this project from the first “Here’s
an idea” stage right on through to completion, and gave us a needed kick in
the rear end on occasion. Thanks for the support.
Publisher’s Acknowledgments
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located
at www.dummies.com/register/.
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and
Media Development
Production
Project Editor: Susan Pink
Acquisitions Editor: Melody Layne
Technical Editor: Ed Rich
Project Coordinator: Maridee Ennis
Layout and Graphics: Joyce Haughey,
Stephanie D. Jumper, Heather Ryan,
Janet Seib, Melanie Wolven
Media Development Supervisor: Richard Graves
Proofreaders: Laura Albert, Andy Hollandbeck,
Brian Walls, TECHBOOKS Production
Services
Editorial Assistant: Amanda Foxworth
Indexer: TECHBOOKS Production Services
Editorial Manager: Carol Sheehan
Cartoons: Rich Tennant
(www.the5thwave.com)
Publishing and Editorial for Technology Dummies
Richard Swadley, Vice President and Executive Group Publisher
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher
Mary C. Corder, Editorial Director
Publishing for Consumer Dummies
Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher
Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director
Composition Services
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services
Contents at a Glance
Introduction ................................................................1
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC .............7
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition .............................................9
Chapter 2: A Look Inside a Media Center PC ...............................................................25
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC ................................................35
Part II: Integrating Your Media Center PC ...................49
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components ......................................................51
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC ............................................................67
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet ..........................................................................81
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time ..................................................................97
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience ..........................................................113
Part III: Using XP Media Center Edition ....................135
Chapter 9: Watching TV ................................................................................................137
Chapter 10: Listening to Music ....................................................................................165
Chapter 11: Working with Photos ................................................................................185
Chapter 12: Playing DVDs .............................................................................................203
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos .....................................................................211
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications .................................................227
Part IV: Connecting to the Rest of Your House ...........239
Chapter 15: Building a Home Network ........................................................................241
Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System .........................................251
Part V: The Part of Tens ...........................................263
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC .................................265
Chapter 18: Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs .............................................279
Chapter 19: Ten Great Places to Visit with Your Media Center PC .........................289
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your
Home-Entertainment System .....................................297
Index .......................................................................313
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Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................1
About This Book ..............................................................................................1
Conventions Used in This Book ....................................................................2
What You’re Not to Read ................................................................................3
Foolish Assumptions ......................................................................................3
How This Book Is Organized ..........................................................................4
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC ...............................4
Part II: Integrating Your Media Center PC ..........................................4
Part III: Using XP Media Center Edition ..............................................4
Part IV: Connecting to the Rest of Your House ..................................5
Part V: The Part of Tens ........................................................................5
Appendix ................................................................................................5
Icons Used in This Book .................................................................................5
Where to Go from Here ...................................................................................6
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC .............7
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition . . . . . . . . . . .9
What’s Special about XP Media Center Edition? .......................................10
The Media Center Interface .........................................................................12
My TV module ......................................................................................14
Radio module .......................................................................................15
My Music module ................................................................................16
My Pictures module ............................................................................18
My Videos module ...............................................................................19
Play DVD module .................................................................................20
Online Spotlight module .....................................................................21
Big Screen and Big Sound, All over the House ..........................................22
Where to Get Your Media Center PC ...........................................................22
Chapter 2: A Look Inside a Media Center PC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
A PC as an Entertainment Device? ..............................................................25
Connections Galore on Your MCE PC .........................................................28
Speeding Up with Fancy Processors ...........................................................31
Video Capabilities .........................................................................................32
Audio Features ...............................................................................................33
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Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
Overview of Media Center PCs on the Market ..........................................35
Buyer’s Guide Checklist ...............................................................................37
Appearance ..........................................................................................37
Processor ..............................................................................................38
Hard drive .............................................................................................39
Interfaces ..............................................................................................42
Bundled components ..........................................................................44
Support .................................................................................................47
Warranty ...............................................................................................47
On-site maintenance ...........................................................................47
Price ......................................................................................................48
Where to Shop for Your MCE PC .................................................................48
Part II: Integrating Your Media Center PC ....................49
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51
Inventory Time ..............................................................................................51
Cables and Connectors 101 .........................................................................54
Audio Interconnects and Connectors .........................................................56
Analog audio interconnects ...............................................................56
Digital audio interconnects ................................................................58
Speaker Cables and Connectors ..................................................................59
Video Interconnects and Connectors .........................................................61
Analog video interconnects ...............................................................61
VGA all the way ....................................................................................63
Digital video interconnects ................................................................63
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67
Planning Your Connections ..........................................................................67
Connecting to the Monitor ...........................................................................69
Connecting to the TV ....................................................................................70
Connecting to Your TV Signal Source .........................................................72
Tying in Your Speakers .................................................................................73
Hooking up your MCE PC to your stereo system ............................74
Connecting headphones and mics ....................................................76
Connecting Peripherals ................................................................................76
Connecting to the Telephone Line or Network .........................................78
Connecting Your IR Devices .........................................................................79
Connecting Your FM Antenna ......................................................................80
“Houston, We Are Go for Liftoff!” ................................................................80
Table of Contents
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .81
Internet Connection Basics ..........................................................................81
Dial-up Modem Connections ........................................................................83
DSL Connections ...........................................................................................85
DSL pieces and parts ..........................................................................86
Choosing a DSL provider ....................................................................87
Cable Modem Connections ..........................................................................89
Cable modems for everyone ..............................................................89
Getting your hands on cable modem service ..................................90
Other Ways to Get Online .............................................................................91
Making the Online Connection ....................................................................92
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97
Powering Up Your MCE PC ...........................................................................97
The Media Center Edition Interface ............................................................98
MCE Start menu ...................................................................................98
Navigating in Media Center ..............................................................100
MCE remote control ..........................................................................101
Other MCE interfaces ........................................................................104
The Media Center Edition Start-Up Process ............................................104
Time for Your Calibrations! ........................................................................105
The ABCs of calibrating your TV display .......................................106
The Display Calibration Wizard .......................................................107
Third-party programs .......................................................................108
Windows Transfer Wizard ..........................................................................109
Turning Off Your XP MCE PC .....................................................................111
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113
Setting General XP Preferences .................................................................114
Mouse customization ........................................................................114
Keyboard customization ..................................................................117
Desktop and monitor customization ..............................................118
Setting General Media Center Preferences ..............................................121
Keeping up appearances ..................................................................124
Setting sounds ...................................................................................126
I want to notify ...................................................................................126
Play Misty for me, automatically .....................................................127
Putting the kids in their place ..........................................................128
Getting MCE online ............................................................................129
Readjusting your remote control ....................................................131
It ain’t nobody’s business .................................................................131
Other Media Center Settings .....................................................................133
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Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Part III: Using XP Media Center Edition .....................135
Chapter 9: Watching TV . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .137
Setting Up My TV .........................................................................................137
Controlling your recordings .............................................................139
Customizing your Guide ...................................................................144
Customizing TV audio .......................................................................145
Using the Guide ...........................................................................................146
Guide basics .......................................................................................147
Filtering the guide .............................................................................150
Searching the Guide ..........................................................................151
Playing with Live TV ....................................................................................152
Mastering Your TV Domain ........................................................................153
Controlling live TV ............................................................................153
Doing the time shift ...........................................................................154
Recording your favorite shows ........................................................159
Watching Your Recorded Shows ...............................................................159
Saving Recorded Programs to DVD ..........................................................161
Chapter 10: Listening to Music . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .165
Digital Music 101 .........................................................................................166
WMA leads the way ...........................................................................167
MP3 for me .........................................................................................168
CD audio and WAV .............................................................................169
Setting Up My Music ...................................................................................169
Setting your CD copying codec .......................................................169
Configuring My Music .......................................................................170
Getting Music into Your Media Center PC ...............................................172
Getting your CDs into the MCE PC ..................................................173
Getting online music into your MCE PC .........................................176
Organizing Your Music ...............................................................................177
Removing files from Media Library .................................................177
Searching for files outside Media Library ......................................179
Playing with Your Music .............................................................................180
Radio .............................................................................................................182
Chapter 11: Working with Photos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .185
Digital Photography Basics ........................................................................186
Setting Up My Pictures ...............................................................................188
Getting Pictures into Your MCE and Moving Them Around ..................192
Making your pictures available to all ..............................................195
Organizing your pictures ..................................................................196
Table of Contents
Correcting Your Pictures ............................................................................197
Creating a Slide Show .................................................................................199
Printing Your Pictures ................................................................................200
Chapter 12: Playing DVDs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .203
Configuring Your MCE PC to Play DVDs Your Way .................................203
Playing a DVD with Media Center .............................................................207
Getting into DVD Menus .............................................................................210
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .211
Getting Ready for My Videos .....................................................................212
Connecting your camcorder to your PC .........................................212
Connecting other devices to your MCE PC ....................................213
Be Your Own Director .................................................................................215
Capturing DV camera images to your PC .......................................217
Capturing analog video to your PC .................................................219
Editing and finishing your home video ...........................................220
Playing Your Movies ...................................................................................221
Sharing Your Movies ...................................................................................223
Making Your Own DVDs in XP ...................................................................224
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications . . . . . . . . . . . . .227
Buyer Beware ...............................................................................................227
More Programs ............................................................................................228
MCE WebGuide ............................................................................................229
Getting ready for WebGuide .............................................................230
Configuring WebGuide ......................................................................232
Using WebGuide .................................................................................233
My Weather ..................................................................................................233
Media Center Solitaire? ..............................................................................235
Other Programs ...........................................................................................235
Reverting to Stability ..................................................................................237
Part IV: Connecting to the Rest of Your House ............239
Chapter 15: Building a Home Network . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .241
What’s a Home Network? ...........................................................................242
Components of a Home Network ..............................................................243
Ethernet: Your home language ........................................................244
Hubs, switches, routers, and more .................................................245
Other home-network components ..................................................247
Configuring Your Home Network ..............................................................247
Getting Your Network on the Internet ......................................................248
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Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System . . . . . . . .251
Wireless Networking 101 ............................................................................252
Introducing wireless LAN standards ...............................................253
Wireless LAN pieces and parts ........................................................255
Choosing Wireless Network Equipment ...................................................257
Integrating Wireless with a Wired Network .............................................259
Other Devices that You Can Connect to a Wireless Network ................260
Phone and Power Line Alternatives ..........................................................261
Part V: The Part of Tens ............................................263
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC . . . . .265
Making Digital Picture-Taking Easier ........................................................266
Going digital .......................................................................................266
Salvaging your analog .......................................................................267
A digital camera jackknife ................................................................267
Upgrading Your Remote .............................................................................268
Going Wireless .............................................................................................270
Enjoying the Great Outdoors .....................................................................271
Making Movies .............................................................................................274
Being a film auteur ............................................................................274
Burn baby, burn! ................................................................................275
Gaming Galore .............................................................................................276
Beefing Up Your Infrastructure ..................................................................277
Chapter 18: Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs . . . . . . . . . . . .279
Wireless Connectivity between TVs and Other Devices ........................280
Multituners ...................................................................................................280
Support for Remote Content and Servers ................................................281
Better Support for Network Content ........................................................282
Better Support for Gaming .........................................................................282
Better Video — HDTV Support, Too! ........................................................283
Better Audio .................................................................................................284
Support for Portable Devices ....................................................................285
Cooler Cases ................................................................................................286
Remotes with a Power Button! ..................................................................287
Chapter 19: Ten Great Places to Visit with Your
Media Center PC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .289
Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition Home Page .....................290
Media Center FAQ Sites ..............................................................................290
Media Center Fan Sites ...............................................................................291
Table of Contents
Yahoo! Music Videos ...................................................................................292
NetFlix ...........................................................................................................292
MovieLink.com ............................................................................................293
Shutterfly ......................................................................................................294
Atom Films ...................................................................................................295
Galleries Galore ...........................................................................................295
Kodak’s Picture of the Day .........................................................................296
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your
Home-Entertainment System .....................................297
Index........................................................................313
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Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Introduction
W
elcome to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies. What
a mouthful! But each word is important, nay, critical! This book is about
Microsoft’s next generation of operating system, Windows XP. But this is not
an ordinary piece of software — Media Center 2004 is Microsoft’s major push
to merge the computing and entertainment domains in your home. In other
words, Microsoft is getting involved in something called convergence — where
two previously separate worlds (computing and entertainment) become one.
But wait, there’s more — it’s not just about the software, because this software
comes matched with purpose-built PC hardware platforms: souped-up, totallywired (and wireless), processor-rich computers that can drive your television
and stereo as easily as they can download your e-mail.
This book tells you everything you want to know about these Media Center PCs.
We’re truly on the verge of a new revolution in the home, in which the power
of your stereo, home theater, TV, VCR, CD/DVD player, radio receiver, satellite/
cable receiver, and other entertainment devices are sucked into a powerful
computing platform that can sit beside your TV.
About This Book
If you’re thinking of purchasing a Media Center Edition (MCE) PC and installing
it in your home, this is the book for you. Even if you’ve already purchased an
MCE PC, this book will help you install and configure your entertainment
system. What’s more, we help you get the most out of your investment after
it’s up and running by connecting it to the Internet and your home network, if
you have one.
With this book in hand, you’ll have all the information you need about the
following topics:
Planning your home computing and entertainment system
Evaluating and selecting a Media Center PC
Installing and configuring Windows XP Media Center Edition in your home
Watching and recording live TV
Recording and playing DVDs and CDs
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Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Surfing the Internet connection on your TV
Playing computer games over your home network
Viewing photos in Media Center’s slide-show mode
Watching home videos (and videos downloaded from the Internet too)
Archiving your home camcorder videos
Connecting your PC to your home network
Conventions Used in This Book
Pat and Danny don’t like to think of anything as conventional, but, alas, when
your publisher asks for conventions, you must have conventions.
All Web site addresses have this type of font:
www.microsoft.com
When we introduce a new term for the first time, we put it in italics. We also
remember to define what that term means, or refer you to a section of the
book that describes it in greater detail.
We’ve also created a bit of a shorthand terminology to describe how you use
your remote control to perform actions on the screen in Media Center. You’ll
notice that we use the term select a lot. When we say select, we mean that you
should use the arrow buttons on the remote to move the cursor to that item
and then press the OK button on the remote. This is a basic action that you’ll
perform almost every time you use Media Center, so we figured we’d give you
some quick and easy instructions up front.
Keep in mind that you can also use the mouse and keyboard in Media Center,
just like you would on any Windows XP PC.
If you’re stumped by normal Windows XP operations, don’t worry, lots of
people are. Check out Andy Rathbone’s Windows XP For Dummies (published
by Wiley Publishing, Inc.). It will help you get up-to-speed on all aspects of the
Windows XP experience. Just e-mail Andy if Windows XP doesn’t work — it’s
all his fault. (Just kidding, we don’t know Andy but we hear he has a sense of
humor.)
Introduction
What You’re Not to Read
If you already have a Media Center PC and are looking for help with the new
features in the 2004 version, you can skip Parts I and II and go straight to Part III.
If you’ve cheated and already assembled your new MCE PC, but are having
some problems finding your way around, go straight to Chapter 7 and 8, where
we discuss how to customize and navigate MCE.
Other than that, feel free to move around the book at your desire. The
For Dummies style enables you to dip in and out of the book as your attention
span permits.
Foolish Assumptions
Unlike other operating systems — which you can install on your existing PC,
as long as they meet some basic requirements — Windows XP Media Center
Edition requires a specific hardware setup. At the time of this writing, the
hardware was available from only 12 PC vendors (listed in Chapter 3). These
PCs meet strict system specifications that Microsoft provides only to the PC
vendors who build MCE PCs.
Microsoft has put a lot of effort into refining Windows XP Media Center Edition
so that it can run on less powerful and therefore lower-priced machines. So we
expect to see many more inexpensive MCE PCs hit the market soon. (As of this
writing, HP just announced the first MCE PC under $1,000.)
You can’t buy XP Media Center Edition software in a store without the hardware, so you can’t load it on an existing PC. You have to buy a new system —
at least now.
You don’t need a separate TV set to run MCE. Instead, you can display it on a
monitor. You also don’t need a receiver or other stereo components except
speakers. However, MCE is compatible with most standard entertainment gear,
connecting to them through RCA composite, S-video, coaxial cable, and other
interfaces.
3
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Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
How This Book Is Organized
This book is organized into five parts. The chapters are presented in a logical
order — from buying and installing your Media Center Edition PC to using it.
You should feel free to also use the book as a reference, reading the chapters
in any order you want.
Part I: Introducing the Media Center
Edition PC
The first part of the book is a primer on evaluating, buying, and installing your
Media Center PC. If you’ve never seen an MCE computer in action — much less
attempted to configure one — this part of the book provides all the background
information and techno-geek lingo that you need to feel comfortable. Chapter 1
presents the general concepts surrounding Microsoft’s software; Chapter 2
looks under the hood of your customized PC and discusses key PC technology
that will drive your decision about which MCE PC to buy from the available
vendors. Chapter 3 walks you through that purchase process and makes sure
you get the best bang for the buck!
Part II: Integrating Your Media Center PC
The second part of the book helps you set up your Media Center PC and
connect it to all your home audio, video, and networking components. You
get help in deciding what to connect to the PC and where to put what in your
home. By the end of Part II, you’ll have connected your PC to all your entertainment gear as well as to the Internet — laying the foundation to serious
fun ahead.
Part III: Using XP Media Center Edition
Part III discusses how to use your MCE PC. Whether you want to watch TV or
play your home movies, this part of the book explains how to access, play and
record all types of audio, video, and photographic content. We cover each of
the major media capabilities of Windows XP MCE: MCE-driven TV, audio, photos,
DVDs, and home videos, as well as some third-party applications.
Introduction
Part IV: Connecting to the Rest of
Your House
The first chapter in this part introduces you to the concept of whole-home
networking. The next chapter looks at ways to extend your PC around the
house wirelessly, including the latest in low-cost wireless access points.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Part V provides three top-ten lists that we think you’ll find interesting We
describe ten neat things you can add to your Windows XP MCE PC to give extra
oomph to your entertainment dollar. In the next chapter, we don our soothsayer’s hat and list ten things to expect from Windows XP Media Center Edition
in the near future. We close out the part with ten neat places to go on the
Internet to show off your newfound capabilities.
Appendix
In the appendix, we help you tackle the sometimes difficult task of connecting
your Windows XP MCE PC to all the home-entertainment equipment it’s been
designed to work with: TV, cable and satellite set-top box, home-theater receiver,
surround-sound speakers, and more. We use lots of clear before-and-after
pictures to show you how you can get an MCE PC into almost any kind of homeentertainment setup — whether you have a simple antenna and TV or a complicated digital surround-sound home-theater system.
Icons Used in This Book
These days, everyone is hyper-busy, with no time to waste. To help you find
especially useful nuggets of information in this book, we’ve marked the information with little icons in the margin. The following icons are used in this book:
This icon is your clue that you should take special note of the advice that you
find there — this is essential information. Bottom line: You’ll accomplish the
task more effectively if you remember this information.
5
6
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Computers are high-tech toys that make use of some pretty complicated technology. For the most part, however, you don’t need to know how it all works.
The Technical Stuff icon identifies the paragraphs that you can skip if you’re
in a hurry or just don’t care to know. If you’re a bit geeky like us, however, you
may want to read this stuff.
As you can probably guess, the Tip icon calls your attention to information that
will save you time and maybe money. You might want to skim through the book,
reading the tips.
The little bomb in the margin should alert you to pay close attention and tread
softly. You don’t want to waste time or money correcting a problem that you
could have avoided in the first place. Definitely pay attention to warnings.
We’re almost entirely devoted to using the remote control and the special
10-foot interface that Media Center provides. (It’s called a 10-foot interface
because it’s designed to let you sit on the sofa, 10 feet away from the screen,
while using your MCE PC.) But some features and functions of the MCE PC
require you to get off the couch and sit in front of your computer with the
mouse and keyboard. To reduce confusion, we use this special XP icon to tell
you when you need to leave Media Center’s interface and perform an action
in the traditional XP interface.
Where to Go from Here
Where you should go next in this book depends on where you are in the process
of buying, installing, configuring, and using your Windows XP Media Center
Edition PC. If computers and the Media Center Edition of XP in particular are
new to you, we recommend that you start at the beginning with Part I. When
you feel comfortable with computing terminology, or you just get bored with
the discussion, move on to the chapters in Part II about connecting the PC to
all your home-entertainment and networking gear. When you have your system
installed and interconnected, Part III will help you start using it straightaway.
Part IV gives you the most useful and whole-home ways to use your MCE PC —
something we highly recommend to get the most bang for your buck.
To begin, just point your remote control to this part of the page and press the
Play button. (And if you really did that just now, make sure your kids help you
with each step of the installation!)
If you find that you just don’t get the answer you want in this book, drop us an
e-mail at dummies@telechoice.com. Everyone in TeleChoice knows who the
dummies are in the company, so the message will find its way to us.
Part I
Introducing the
Media Center
Edition PC
M
In this part . . .
icrosoft (and its partners in the PC business) looked
hard at what home PC users want to do with their
computers, and came up with an entirely new way of looking
at the PC: the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC.
The MCE PC does all the stuff that any old Windows XP PC
can do — send and receive e-mail, surf the Web, word
processing, spreadsheets, games, and so on — but it adds
to the equation a unique new way of using the PC as a
home-entertainment device. With an MCE PC, you’ll find
that dealing with digital media — whether it be music, TV,
movies, radio, photographs, and even home movies — is
easier, faster, and just plain better.
In this part of the book, we walk you through the basics of
the Media Center Edition interface. Although MCE is easy to
use, it’s also quite a bit different than anything you’ve ever
seen on your PC. Then we talk about the pieces and parts
that make an MCE PC different than the garden-variety PCs
that you’re probably used to. Finally, we provide detail
about the different MCE PCs on the market today, giving
you some guidance on how to choose the one that’s right
for you.
Chapter 1
All about Windows XP
Media Center Edition
In This Chapter
Comparing MCE with regular XP
Taking a tour of the Media Center interface
Connecting to a big-screen TV and audio system
Buying a Media Center PC
W
indows XP Media Center Edition 2004. It’s a long name, so we’re going to
call it just MCE most of the time. But it’s also a descriptive name. Let’s
break it down into its constituent parts, shall we?
Windows: Yep, it’s a Microsoft Operating System (OS), so it works on PCs
using Intel or similar AMD chips and motherboards, the main components
of a PC. But (and this is an important but), not all standard Windows PCs
can run MCE. You need a special PC that meets the rigorous requirements
of MCE — you can’t just install MCE on your existing PC.
XP: This is the latest version of Windows (released in 2002), with an
improved user interface (it’s a lot more colorful), greater performance
(it goes faster), and increased reliability.
Media Center Edition: Not only can MCE computers do all the normal
computing stuff that any version of Windows XP can do — Web surfing,
e-mail, report writing, and so on — but Microsoft has added enhanced
functionality for managing, editing, and playing back various forms of
electronic media such as TV, movies, music, home video, and digital
photographs.
2004: This is the most recent edition of the Windows XP MCE platform, and
this book contains all the latest and greatest info about what you need to
know. We’re part of the beta team for the MCE platform, so you’re getting
the straight scoop here!
10
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
What’s new in 2004?
Before Windows XP MCE 2004, there was one
prior version, the original XP MCE 2002 program.
Some of the improvements in the 2004 version
follow:
New online capabilities with the Online
Spotlight module, so you can access online
media without leaving the Media Center
interface
A new radio tuner interface (and related
hardware) that lets you listen to FM radio
stations on your MCE PC and buffer up to 30
minutes of live radio for playback later
The capability to record CDs to your hard
drive directly in the Media Center interface
instead of using Windows Media Player
Enhanced 16:9 support to take advantage of
the new TV screen acreage provided by
today’s latest wide-screen TVs
The capability to prioritize your scheduled
TV recordings, in case of a conflict
Advanced photo management that enables
you to view slide shows as well as reduce
red-eye, adjust contrast, rotate, and zoom
your favorite pictures in MCE
Beyond these changes, the folks at Microsoft
have spent a lot of time making general
improvements and upgrades so that MCE
works faster and more reliably. They’ve also
completed some serious work on the TV capabilities of MCE PCs, with a bunch of new software upgrades that make the MCE experience
look even better when you hook up your MCE
PC to your big-screen TV.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’ll be so
many ooohs and ahhhhs emanating from your
living room, you’d swear the Temptations joined
the party.
Media management and display are at the heart of MCE. Its full-screen interface
and handheld remote control enable you to sit across the room and use the
MCE PC like a piece of gear from your home theater. MCE takes the PC to a
whole new realm — and may very well take the PC to a whole new room — in
your house.
Everything about Windows XP Media Center Edition is special, advanced,
enhanced, entranced, romanced . . . geez we can get carried away! It’s that neat.
What’s Special about XP
Media Center Edition?
An MCE PC is a high-end machine, with more features and faster processors
than regular Windows PCs, as well as some specialized parts for media functionality. The only big differences you might notice, however, are the screen
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
(which is usually larger), the larger and more powerful speakers, and perhaps
the general speediness of the machine. (MCE PCs have the fastest Pentium
processors and the biggest, baddest graphics chips in existence — we talk
about these in Chapter 2.)
You can’t add MCE software (the MCE OS, in other words) to just any old PC.
In fact, you can’t add it to any PC you own, even if the PC meets all the equipment and performance criteria we’re about to discuss. Microsoft doesn’t sell
MCE this way. Primarily for reasons of reliability and performance, Microsoft
has decided that MCE will be available only preinstalled on PCs that meet its
minimum specifications. This requirement creates a known environment in
which Microsoft can do its operating system magic, without trying to make MCE
compatible with the millions of equipment permutations that more general
versions of Windows must deal with.
The first time you fire up an MCE PC, it will probably look like any other
Windows XP PC. You’ll see the standard XP desktop interface, with the big
green Start menu at the bottom left.
You can ignore the MCE features and use your MCE PC as a high-powered
PC. You can surf the Web using Internet Explorer or your Web browser of
choice. You can check e-mail with Outlook Express. If you have Microsoft
Office installed, you can work on that spreadsheet of widgets or write that
overdue paper (or, in our case, book).
But if you look on the desktop or between the sofa cushions, you’ll see a shiny
new remote control, as shown in Figure 1-1. If you’ve already installed your MCE
PC, go ahead and press the start button. (It’s the green button in the middle
of the remote.) The start button launches the Media Center interface, which
is designed to let you sit away from your computer and use it as an entertainment device, not a data terminal.
We can’t guarantee that your remote will look exactly like the one in Figure 1-1.
But somewhere on your remote you will find the arrow buttons, the OK button,
and the Start button.
The first time you open Media Center on your MCE PC, it prompts you to go
through a 10- to 15-minute process of setting preferences. If you want to do
this now, skip ahead to Chapter 7, where we describe this process.
You might be tempted to cancel out of this process and go straight into the
Media Center Start menu with the factory default settings in place. We do not
recommend skipping the Media Center Set-up Wizard. Your TV programming
guide will not be installed, your remote control may not work to change channels on your set-top box, and other features may simply not function.
Complete the wizard. (Patience, patience.)
11
12
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Figure 1-1:
Sit on the
sofa and
control your
MCE PC.
The Media Center Interface
The Media Center interface, shown in Figure 1-2, is the key to using MCE — it’s
what differentiates MCE from plain Windows XP. The Media Center interface
is designed for “lean back” computer use. The text on the screen is big and
can be read easily while you sit in your comfy chair across the room.
The Media Center interface does away with many of the normal Windows interface systems that require a mouse. For example, you won’t find the pull-down
menus that normal Windows XP (and XP applications) use in its menu bar.
In fact, you won’t find a menu bar (or a Start button) at all. Everything is laid
out in a linear and hierarchical manner for ease of use with a remote control
(though you can use your mouse as well, if you want).
Pretty much everything you’ll ever want to do with MCE can be accomplished
with the four arrow, or directional, buttons on the remote (up, down, left, and
right) and the OK button. The MCE was designed for the remote control, not the
keyboard. In fact, some things are downright hard to do without the remote
control, such as access the More Info data about a movie.
To select a menu item, use the arrow buttons to reach the menu item
(it becomes highlighted in green), and then press the OK button.
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
Figure 1-2:
Everything
in MCE
starts here.
If a menu item has choices below it, they appear when you select the main
menu item. To select one of the subitems, simply use the arrow buttons to
reach it, and press the OK button.
Want to look at that neat TV image in the little window to the side? No problem.
Use the arrow buttons to reach the image (it becomes highlighted in green) and
press OK. Now you’re watching TV. Cool.
The Media Center interface is a lot like the interface you might see when digging
around in the setup menus on a TV or a home-theater receiver attached to a TV,
except that MCE is a lot more user friendly. We will now boldly predict that it
will take you all of two minutes of messing around with the arrow buttons and
the OK button to get the hang of making choices in MCE.
If you ever get lost in the Media Center interface, start pressing the Back button
on the remote. You’ll eventually return to the top of the menu hierarchy — the
interface shown in Figure 1-2.
In the remainder of this section, we talk in general terms about what each
choice — we call them modules — on the main MCE page is all about. In Part III,
we describe each one in detail, telling you how it works and how you can get
the most out of it.
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14
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
What Media Center can’t do today —
but will do soon!
Microsoft is in the second iteration of Media
Center Edition, and it’s adding features as fast as
it can. Here are a few that we hope it adds soon:
Devices that let you remotely display your
MCE interface on TVs and other displays, so
you can control and use your MCE PC from
anywhere in the home
Devices that let you use the MCE wirelessly, without making Ethernet or other
connections
More support for online gaming
The capability to create (burn) CDs and DVDs
directly from the Media Center interface
More options for purchasing and downloading online content (such as music) in
the Media Center interface
Read Chapter 18 to find out more about the
future functions and features of MCE.
My TV module
One of the coolest things that every MCE PC can do is help you watch television. And we’re not just talking about watching TV the old-fashioned way —
sitting in front of that glowing box, waiting like a sheep for a show to come on.
Nope, MCE lets you move into the future and take control of your TV habit.
(Admit it, you have a TV habit — everyone does!) All you have to do is select
the My TV module in MCE.
With MCE, you can do the following TV stuff:
Watch live TV (the old-fashioned way) on your computer monitor or
on a TV hooked up to your MCE PC
Keep track of what’s on, and what will be on, with an on-screen
program guide
Record and play back broadcast TV programs at your convenience
This last feature is perhaps the most compelling. After all, you can watch TV
on any old $199 box from the warehouse store. And if you have a satellite dish
or digital cable, you probably have an on-screen program guide. But MCE
includes a full-featured PVR (personal video recorder) with just about all the
functions of the TiVo or ReplayTV device that a small number of TV-crazy folks
have in their homes.
Like those other PVRs, MCE dispenses with the bulky and inconvenient tapes
that VCRs use and instead records TV digitally on a computer hard drive. The
advantages over a regular VCR are immense. In addition to storing a ton of TV
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
shows, you can use the PVR function of MCE to pause, rewind, and fast forward
live TV while you’re watching it.
No longer do you have to rely on broadcasters for timing your snack and bathroom breaks. Press a button and walk away — when you come back, catch up
where you left off. Or watch that last-second three-pointer again, right now,
without waiting for Dickie V. and the boys in the ESPN truck to cue up the
replay.
Figure 1-3 shows the main My TV interface. We talk about how to use it in
much more detail in Chapter 9.
Radio module
Newer MCE PCs have begun to ship with an FM radio tuner that does for radio
what My TV does for TV: gives you control over what you listen to and when.
With the MCE Radio module, shown in Figure 1-4, you can use the MCE interface
and the remote control to tune in to your favorite stations, and pause and
record live radio broadcasts.
Figure 1-3:
Find your
favorite
shows
and watch
or record
them here.
15
16
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Figure 1-4:
Tune in
to Rush
Limbaugh or
Limp Bizkit
with your
MCE Radio
module.
You can run to the kitchen for some more mineral water (or whatever your
beverage preference) while your favorite talk show drones on. On your return,
you can pick up listening where you left off. The Radio module can record up to
30 minutes of live radio. Like any digital radio, the Radio module lets you scan
for stations or directly enter the frequency of the station you want to tune to.
You can also set up presets, so you can quickly find and tune to your favorite
stations.
My Music module
Because you’re interested in buying an MCE PC or have already bought one, we
bet you’re already into the PC music world. If you’re not, are you in for a treat.
People have been recording their favorite music on their PCs for years now —
and online music download systems such as Napster (now dead and gone) and
Kazaa (www.kazaa.com) have received tons of press (and lawsuits) as people
share music online (illegally). Now legal downloading options such as a new
version of Napster and the Rhapsody Music Service (www.listen.com) are
taking off as well.
In other words, computer-based music is an official BIG DEAL. And the MCE
My Music module makes handling music easy, no matter how many albums
and songs you have on your computer. Figure 1-5 shows My Music’s main menu.
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
Figure 1-5:
Access
all your
music here.
My Music lets you do several things:
Organize your music: You can navigate your music collection by
sorting your MP3 files, Windows Media files, and CDs by song title,
album title, and artist. You can categorize your music by genre
(such as rock, punk, and blues) and create playlists of favorite
songs.
Search for music: If you have a ton of music on your MCE PC (we do!),
you can easily search for a song, an artist, or an album name using the
remote control or the keyboard.
Copy CDs to the MCE PC hard drive: Adding your favorite CDs to
your music collection is dead simple with your MCE PC — just a few
presses on the remote, and your CD’s audio tracks are downloaded to
your MCE hard drive. In addition, the song titles, album title, and even
the CD cover art are downloaded automatically from databases on the
Internet. Not bad.
Buy music online: Pressing a button on your remote automatically sends
you to a Web page (outside the MCE interface) that lets you buy more
music from a particular artist.
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18
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
And, of course, you can use My Music to play back music through the speakers
attached to your MCE PC or through your stereo or home-theater system, if you
have one attached to your MCE PC.
Windows XP Media Center Edition makes use of Microsoft’s powerful Media
Player 9 functionality — Microsoft’s standalone music software. Windows
Media Player 9 is one of the few examples of something you can’t access from
the Media Center interface. Sorry, but you’ll have to grab your wireless keyboard and mouse and tap away in the normal Windows XP interface to load
your music onto your MCE PC. Then you can jump back into Media Center to
organize and play your music. We tell you more about Media Player 9 and how
to hook up your stereo to your MCE PC in Chapter 5 and how to take advantage
of your My Music module in Chapter 10.
My Pictures module
Digital cameras have revolutionized the world of picture taking. No longer do
you have to wait for your pictures — not even the One Hour Photo shop is fast
enough compared to digital photography. Snap a picture, plug your camera into
your MCE PC, and instant gratification. Can’t beat that, huh?
Although you can download digital pictures to just about any PC, MCE’s My
Pictures module makes it even easier to deal with your photographic art
(or poorly composed snapshots). With My Pictures, you can
View any pictures you’ve downloaded from your camera to your MCE PC’s
My Pictures folder (the default folder for downloaded pictures). Pictures
can be viewed in full-screen mode, zoomed, and panned (meaning you can
zoom in on certain segments of the picture and then move your view
around to other zoomed parts of the picture).
View pictures stored on removable media such as Compact Flash or
SmartMedia cards, the “digital film” used by many digital cameras.
Many MCE PCs have built-in readers for this type of media; you can
also add media readers through your USB port.
Watch slide shows of your favorite pictures on the MCE PC monitor or your
TV. You can even add your favorite background music from My Music.
Correct pictures, so that those poorly composed and lit snapshots look
like something your megabuck wedding photographer took. My Pictures
can automatically analyze and optimize your photos.
Print your pictures with just a few presses of the remote.
Adjust brightness (resuscitate those dark pictures) and remove red-eye
(so long, Terminator).
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
Figure 1-6 shows the My Pictures main menu. We delve into the digital darkroom
and your MCE PC in Chapter 11.
My Videos module
If you have kids — Danny’s got four, so he’s speaking from experience here —
you have a video camera. Or three video cameras. And if you’re like most
amateur videographers, you have three good minutes buried in a ten-minute
tape that also includes footage of your feet, the back of your spouse’s head,
and one blinding close-up of the sun. MCE comes to your rescue with the My
Videos module, shown in Figure 1-7.
My Videos lets you store your videos on your MCE PC’s hard drive just like any
other kind of media file. All MCE PCs come with USB, USB 2.0, and FireWire 1394
(we explain these systems in Chapter 3), which enable you to connect your
digital camcorder to your MCE PC and import your video.
Figure 1-6:
Display
photos
and slide
shows in
My Pictures.
19
20
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Figure 1-7:
Break out
the wine
and cheese,
we’re
watching
home
videos in
My Videos.
Media Center PCs include a cool Microsoft program called Windows Movie
Maker 2 that lets you edit and combine video clips into finished videos for playback later. My Videos then lets you organize and watch these videos on your
computer monitor or TV.
To use Windows Movie Maker 2, you need to exit the Media Center interface
and work in the regular Windows XP interface. After you’ve saved your
masterpiece, you can jump back into Media Center to organize and play
your movies.
Play DVD module
Just as PVRs (mentioned in the “My TV” section) have pretty much made the
VCR obsolete for recording TV programming, DVDs (digital video discs) have
made the old VCR into the video equivalent of a buggy whip for playing back
prerecorded movies. And now that many people have begun to buy their own
DVD recorders, DVDs can even be created at home.
Well, MCE didn’t miss the boat when it comes to the DVD — all MCE PCs have
a DVD player, and MCE itself includes the Play DVD module.
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
Play DVD lets you do the following:
Play DVDs on your MCE’s monitor or your TV
Play DVDs in a window while you’re doing other things with your MCE PC
Access detailed information about a DVD (title, length, rating, and so on)
Turn on parental controls to keep the kids from watching Memento when
they should be watching SpongeBob SquarePants.
Stretch, zoom, and letterbox your DVD to best fit the size and shape of
your TV
Play DVD also unleashes the powerful video graphics chip in your MCE PC to
provide a high-resolution, non-interlaced display of your DVDs. (If that makes
no sense and you have a DVD in hand, candles lit, and a date on the way over,
hurry up and skip ahead to Chapter 12!)
Online Spotlight module
Perhaps the biggest leap forward in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 is
the addition of Mediacenter.com online content into the Media Center interface. The Online Spotlight module of the Media Center interface lets you use
your Internet connection to do the following:
Keep up with the latest in Media Center news, tips, and tricks
Watch movie trailers and keep up to date on movie news
Listen to hundreds of Internet radio stations
Download music, movies, and photographs
In previous versions of MCE, you had to do all online activities in the regular
XP interface (up close and personal to your PC, using your mouse). Online
Spotlight uses a special interface designed — like the rest of the Media Center
interface — for viewing and remote control from across the room. This means
you can sit back and use your remote control to browse and use online content.
We can’t show you a picture of Online Spotlight because Microsoft and its partners were still putting the finishing touches on this module when we sent the
book to the printers. But we’ve used beta versions of Online Spotlight, and trust
us — it’s really cool.
Online Spotlight content — like any online content — is best experienced when
using a broadband Internet connection such as DSL or a cable modem. We talk
about these connections more in Chapter 6. Trust us on this. If you’re shelling
out more than a thousand bucks on an MCE PC, it’s worthwhile to spend a few
extra bucks a month on a fast Internet connection.
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22
Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Big Screen and Big Sound,
All over the House
For many users, MCE PC is the primary means of viewing and listening to
content. In other words, many people use the MCE PC’s computer monitor and
computer speakers to watch and listen to digital media. This works great if your
MCE PC is in your dorm room or home office.
But if you’re like us and have your MCE PC installed in your family room or
home theater or media room, you might want to branch out to a bigger display.
Well, MCE has you covered, because one key attribute of all MCE PCs is that
you can connect them to a big-screen TV and a home audio system for a bigger,
faster, and louder media experience. All MCE PCs have video outputs and analog
or digital audio outputs that can drive your TV and audio system to new heights!
We talk about the hardware specifics in Chapter 2.
We highly recommend that you connect your MCE PC to your TV and audio
system. (Danny has his MCE PC hooked up to his InFocus projector TV system,
so he can watch MCE videos and DVDs on a really, really big screen.)
Media Center PCs also come with built-in Ethernet cards, so you can
connect the MCE PC to a home network. We talk about the basics of wired
home-networking options in Chapter 15 and wireless options in Chapter 16.
For the details on installing a home network, see our books Smart Homes For
Dummies or Wireless Home Networking For Dummies (both published by Wiley
Publishing, Inc.).
In the future, we expect Microsoft to announce a lot of cool new products that
will take advantage of home networks. In particular, we think that MCE PC will
soon be used as the media server, enabling you to access MCE PC-stored media
from all sorts of devices and places in your home.
Where to Get Your Media Center PC
Buying a Media Center PC (that’s what PC makers call them) is easy. Microsoft
and its partners have taken the guesswork out of the process by creating PCs
that meet all MCE requirements.
Chapter 1: All about Windows XP Media Center Edition
More cool MCE 2004 features
As they say on TV, “But wait — there’s more!”
Microsoft squeezed a lot of cool little new features in the 2004 release of Media Center
Edition. We discussed a few of the big ones previously in this chapter, in the “What’s new in
2004?” sidebar. Some of the other features that
we think make the upgrade to 2004 worthwhile
include the following:
Active Accessibility 2.0: Improved accessibility for folks who need help with reading, hearing, or physically accessing their
MCE PC.
Display Calibration Wizard: Provides an
improved experience for setting up your TV
to work with MCE.
Set-top box learning mode: Makes it easier
to connect different TV set-top boxes to the
MCE PC.
Automatic digital media library synchronization: MCE automatically searches for
media on your MCE PC or network.
Phone call notification: On MCE PCs with
the right hardware (modem), caller ID information appears on your TV or MCE PC
display.
High-contrast schemes: The colors on the
screen have been redesigned for easier
reading from across the room.
Automatic Guide updates: MCE can automatically download program guide information, whenever your computer is
connected to the Internet.
Record on or around: For programs that
infuriatingly start a minute or two early (or
end late), you can adjust MCE to start or
stop recording early or late.
Enhanced record history: Media Center
keeps track of all recorded TV and lets you
know what happened if there was a mistake — so you don’t make it again
Now Playing (music): No matter what function of Media Center you’re using, you’ll
always see an on-screen display of the
music you’re listening to
Guide filtering: MCE lets you filter the TV
program guide by categories — so you can
show, for example, all movies or all sporting
events
Silent Personal Video Recording (PVR)
functionality: Media Center will wake your
MCE PC from standby to record schedule
shows and will leave the audio and video
displays off so that recording doesn’t interfere with other work you’re doing on the
MCE PC
Auto-playlists: MCE automatically creates
music playlists based on your listening
habits
Full-screen visualizations: MCE visualizations (the cool screen effects that correspond to music you are listening to) are now
full-screen.
Print pictures: You can print pictures
directly in Media Center, without going into
the traditional Windows XP interface.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
You can get a Media Center PC from the following vendors:
ABS Computer Technologies (www.abspc.com)
Cyberpower System (www.cyberpowersystem.com)
Dell (www.dell.com)
Gateway (www.gateway.com)
HP (www.shopping.hp.com)
iBuypower (www.ibuypower.com)
MIND Computer Products (www.mind.ca)
Northgate (www.northgate.com)
Sony (www.sony.com)
Tagar Systems (www.tagarsystems.com)
Toshiba (csd.toshiba.com)
Touch Systems (www.touch-systems.ca)
Viewsonic (www.viewsonic.com)
ZT Group (www.ztgroup.com)
Microsoft works with a lot of different computer vendors, so this list will
change (mainly with the addition of other manufacturers). For an update
on who’s making Media Center PCs, go to Microsoft’s MCE home page, where
you’ll find links to all current vendors:
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/default.asp
For more on where to get MCE PCs and how to buy them, see Chapter 3.
Chapter 2
A Look Inside a Media Center PC
In This Chapter
Dissecting your Media Center PC
Looking at the connections
Revving up with a fast processor
Enhancing video
Augmenting audio
Rounding up the spare parts
I
n this chapter, you find out about the key elements that make up your Media
Center PC — in other words, the hardware itself. (We talk about the software
side of things in Chapter 1.) We talk about how the MCE PC is outfitted with
input and output jacks compatible with your stereo, TV, VCR, and other homeentertainment gear. We explain how super-fast processors make sure your DVDs
are not jerky and your real-time TV records high-quality images.
You then look at the capabilities added to enhance your video and audio experience. We wrap up with a discussion of other notable improvements that
super-size your PC for media use. By the end of the chapter, you’ll have a solid
understanding of the key components in any Media Center PC — background
necessary for Chapter 3, where we talk about how to decide which MCE PC is
the best for you.
A PC as an Entertainment Device?
A Media Center PC embodies the evolution of the home PC from a powerful
computing platform to a full-fledged digital media hub — a central gateway that
consolidates your entertainment choices and allows you to access those choices
with a single remote control. Through your MCE PC, you can control audio and
video signals, DVDs and CDs, TVs and computer monitors, keyboards and
remote controls. Anything you can do with your home-entertainment system,
you can now do through your MCE PC. Way cool!
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Media Center PCs are entertainment PCs because they’re outfitted with the
following:
Mid- to high-end processor: Media Center PCs sport the faster
processors — at this writing, HP is shipping its Media Center PC
with a 3.06-GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor. Wow!
Tons of memory: MCE PCs have a minimum 256MB RAM (random
access memory); most have 512MB or more.
High-capacity drives: All MCE PCs ship with at least an 80GB hard drive.
Viewsonic’s M2000 PC ships with a 160GB drive — enough space for
140 hours of video or thousands upon thousands of audio tracks. In
Chapter 3, we discuss just how large your hard drive should be.
CD and DVD drives: All MCE PCs have an optical drive that can play back
CDs and DVDs. Many can record CDs, and a few can even record DVDs.
Advanced audio/video and graphics interfaces: MCE PCs have highend audio and video cards that can handle digital audio and video —
just like the chips inside a fancy home-theater receiver or a high-end
digital television. The graphics card in an MCE PC can be used with
both computer displays and televisions — at the same time. In MCE
2002 PCs, these graphics cards were typically members of the NVIDIA
GeForce4 family of processors. MCE 2004 PCs will ship with either NVIDIA
or ATI Radeon cards.
Surround sound speakers: To fully enjoy your movie soundtracks, you’re
going to need surround sound, just like you get in the theater. Surround
sound 5.1, its official designation, consists of five speakers — front left,
front right, front center, rear left, and rear right — plus a subwoofer for
those deep booms when something gets blown to bits. Various computer
manufacturers have teamed with the leading speaker vendors, such as
HP and Klipsch, and Gateway and SoundBlaster.
Expansion slots: PCs are designed to grow up — they’re like kids that way.
So most desktop PCs have a bunch of expansion slots that enable you to
add capabilities to the PC as your needs dictate. Laptop PCs, for reasons
of space, have much less in the way of expansion. Most MCE PCs have the
following types of expansion slots:
• Optical drive expansion slot: This is a slot for a second optical drive,
so you could, for example, have a CD recorder in one slot and a DVD
recorder in the other.
• Hard drive expansion slot: Many tower-style MCE PCs have a
slot for a second hard drive for extra data storage.
• PCI expansion slots: Most MCE PC internal cards connect to a PCI
bus, which interconnects any internal cards and sends data between
them and the CPU. Extra PCI expansion slots leave room for additional cards, such as wireless network cards.
Chapter 2: A Look Inside a Media Center PC
• Memory slots: You can expand the RAM in the MCE PC by simply
inserting a memory card. The number of open memory slots depends
on what was installed when your MCE PC was built. Unless you
bought 1GB RAM or more, you should have slots available for adding
addition al RAM.
Networking connectivity: All MCE PCs have at least an Ethernet port
for connecting to a wired home network. Many have built-in wireless
networking systems as well, so you can hook up to a standard 802.11
wireless network (more on this topic in Chapters 15 and 16).
In addition to these features, which are shared by many other computers,
MCE PCs have a few unique requirements that Microsoft imposes on its MCE
partner PC makers. These items are not found on your typical off-the-shelf PC.
When you open your Media Center PC box, you’re likely to find most or all of
the following components to facilitate your entertainment experience:
A Media-Center-compatible remote control: All MCE PCs come with an
infrared (IR) remote control that lets you sit across the room and control
your MCE PC’s audio, video, and digital photography functions without
using the keyboard or mouse. You can even record live TV with a single
press of a button.
A remote infrared sensor: All MCE PCs come with an IR sensor (usually
connected to a USB port on the computer) that works with your remote
control — the sensor picks up the IR (light) signals from the remote and
sends them to the computer as commands. Many MCE PCs also include
a capability for the IR sensor and remote control to pass standard commands (such as channel up or down) to your cable set-top box or digital
satellite system (DSS) satellite receiver.
A TV tuner: All MCE PCs connect to a TV antenna, a cable TV feed, or the
output of a cable set-top box or satellite receiver for TV viewing. The TV
tuner is used with some other elements of the MCE PC (such as the hardware encoder) for recording live TV.
A hardware or software encoder: MCE PCs can record television programming onto your computer’s hard drive for later playback and for neat
features such as pausing live TV. A hardware encoder takes some of the
load off the main CPU (the Pentium 4 or Athlon XP chip), making the
recording and playback process work better and faster. The hardware
encoder is a computer chip that converts video to and from a digital
format known as MPEG. Some cards, like the ATI cards, use software
encoding with a faster processor, instead of a hardware encoder.
A TV output: Although you can watch TV on the standard PC monitor
attached to your MCE PC, all MCE PCs can also be connected directly to
a TV — both traditional analog TVs and newer digital (or HDTV) TVs —
so you can enjoy your MCE content on the big screen.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
A radio tuner card: Some of the newest MCE PCs include an FM radio
tuner that lets you pick up standard over-the-air FM broadcasts that
you can listen to and record with your computer.
A digital audio output: If you have a home-theater system and an A/V
(audio/video) receiver with digital connections (like the ones you use with
many DVD players), you can interconnect these entertainment devices to
the audio outputs of most MCE PCs. This type of digital connection gives
you higher-fidelity (better-sounding) audio, and lets you listen to digital
surround-sound content in all its multichannel glory.
This 5.1 channel digital audio will work only during DVD playback. Media
Center doesn’t support 5.1 digital surround sound for TV, even if your TV
provider (digital cable or satellite) offers it.
In Chapter 3, we describe in greater detail the bells and whistles — the speeds
and feeds as they’re called in the data-networking industry — of the MCE PCs
on the market today.
Connections Galore on Your MCE PC
Assuming that you’ve purchased an MCE PC that includes a monitor and
speakers, you can connect your MCE PC components together and start
watching TV, recording CDs to your hard drive, and listening to those CDs.
But your enjoyment options really multiply when you start using all the
connections on your MCE PC to get more of your media into and off your
computer.
Following is a list of just some of the hookups we think you might be interested
in making. Don’t worry if you don’t understand some of these terms; we define
them all shortly. You can do the following with a Media Center PC:
Use a USB connection to connect a digital camera or scanner to your
MCE PC to store, edit, and display digital pictures.
Use that USB connection again to connect a color inkjet printer and make
prints of photographs.
Use the IEEE 1394, or FireWire, connection to download video from your
digital video camera. Now you can finally do something with those home
movies!
Use the Line Out or Digital Out connections from your computer’s audio
system (the sound card) to connect your MCE PC to your home-theater
or stereo system.
Use the composite video, S-video, or VGA connections from your MCE
PC’s video card to hook up your TV.
Chapter 2: A Look Inside a Media Center PC
Use a 6-in-1 card reader to directly grab digital pictures from your digital
camera, without having to tether the camera to the computer.
Use the USB or FireWire ports to connect extra external hard drives to
your MCE PC for even more storage space
Use the Ethernet port to connect your MCE PC to your cable or DSL
modem or to your home-computer network or LAN.
Those are only some of the connections you can make. We haven’t mentioned
all the inputs, such as the microphone input for recording your voice and the
Audio In port for connecting audio sources such as cassette decks.
We’ve also not talked about the standard PC connection interfaces, such as
parallel ports (for some older printers), serial ports (for some older mice and
keyboards) and PS/2 ports (also for older mice and keyboards). Really, when
you get right down to it, you can plug a lot of stuff into an MCE PC.
USB and USB 2.0: USB, or Universal Serial Bus, is a connection technology
that takes its name seriously. USB is used for just about every computer
peripheral device you can buy these days: digital cameras, keyboards,
mice, scanners, handheld PDAs, printers, audio speakers, pocket-sized
USB storage devices, joysticks, and controllers for games. Heck, we’ve
even seen USB-powered fans and night lights. Two kinds of USB systems
are available:
• USB is the older, slower version and can transmit data at a maximum
speed of 12 Mbps (megabits per second), which is good enough for
almost all uses except video.
• The new-fangled USB 2.0 rockets along at 480 Mbps — 40 times faster
than USB — and is great for video cameras and portable and removable hard drives.
USB 2.0 is fully backward compatible with regular USB, so you can plug
either kind of device into either connection, and it will work. However, if
you plug a USB 2.0 device into a regular USB port, it will transfer data only
at the slower speed. Most MCE PCs have only USB 2.0 ports these days,
but some have a few of each kind (the ports are labeled as such).
An external USB hub adds extra USB interface ports to your PC. A four-port
hub can connect four devices to a single USB port on the PC. You can get
a USB hub from your local computer store. These are relatively inexpensive, with a four-port unit costing $20 to $30. You can stack (daisy-chain)
these too, if you get a stackable hub.
IEEE 1394 (FireWire): The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic
Engineers) standards body approved IEEE 1394 as an international standard, so all IEEE 1394 devices work together, regardless of which company
made them. Apple Computer, which was a primary developer of this
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
technology, named it FireWire. FireWire is a fast system (about 400 Mbps)
that supports applications such as audio and video. You’ll most likely
see FireWire connections on digital camcorders and Apple’s iPod music
player. You might see FireWire also on a handful of devices such as CD
burners and portable hard drives, though most vendors use USB 2.0
instead (because it’s a bit cheaper for them to manufacture). All MCE
PCs should have at least one FireWire port to support video cameras.
Line Out and Digital Out: Line Out connections are basically identical to
the connections on the back of a CD player — they’re used with standard
audio cables to carry audio signals (or line-level signals) to a receiver or
an amplifier. Line-level audio connections are analog, so they plug right
into the CD In or Aux In connectors on the back of your receiver.
Digital Out connections carry audio signals digitally — surprise! — and are
connected to Digital In connectors on the back of a home-theater receiver.
Using Digital Out provides you with the highest audio quality and best
surround sound when listening to DVDs.
With some MCE PCs, the Digital Out connection may do double duty as
a Line Out connection. You select which mode the connection uses by
making a software adjustment. (We describe this process in Chapter 5.)
Composite video and S-video: Televisions have several types of
connections. An antenna or cable TV connection is the most common.
The majority of newer TVs also have composite video and S-video
connections.
• Composite video connections look just like audio Line Out connections and use a similar-looking composite video cable.
• S-video connections use a funky-looking multipin connector
(shaped sort of like a house) to carry video signals.
• VGA connections, for the highest quality outputs, and higher
resolutions. Higher end TVs and projectors generally have this
option. You will need to use VGA for output to 16:9 TVs, 1280 x 720
resolution.
When you have a choice, use S-video because it almost always gives you
a superior picture on your TV screen. The S-video cable uses separate
wires to carry different parts of the TV picture, so it provides a crisper,
clearer picture than composite video.
6-in-1 card reader: Found on some MCE PCs, this device can accept all the
different types of media cards (or digital “film”) used by digital cameras.
(We discuss these readers in more detail in Chapter 11.) This feature an
be a real time saver, because instead of finding the cable and hooking up
your camera to the computer, you just pop the card out and stick it in the
reader. You can even stick your spare card in the camera and keep taking
pictures while the others download to your MCE PC.
Chapter 2: A Look Inside a Media Center PC
Ethernet: Ethernet is the standard system used by nearly all computer
networks (or LANs) for carrying data between and among computers.
Ethernet is used also for connecting high-speed Internet modems to the
computer — it’s a useful system! An Ethernet jack looks like a phone jack
on steroids. And basically it’s just that: a phone jack that uses not four
wires but eight.
Figure 2-1 shows the back of a typical MCE PC. On the back of the PC, you’ll
find that all these fancy connectors are nicely labeled for your perusal.
MCE PC vendors want to make it easy for you to hook up your gizmos, so some
connections may be on the front of your MCE PC instead of the back.
Figure 2-1:
Connections
galore on an
MCE PC.
Speeding Up with Fancy Processors
A crucial attribute of any Media Center Edition PC is a simple but vitally important one: raw power. An MCE PC must be capable of playing fast-moving DVD
video, converting strings of 1s and 0s and playing them back in hi-fi sound, and
browsing through huge digital photograph files at hyperspeed. An MCE PC
needs some serious power.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
One of the keys to any computer’s speed or power is the CPU, or central
processing unit. MCE PCs are without exception loaded with some of the
fastest CPUs available to mere civilians. Two brands of processors are available in MCE PCs:
Pentium 4: Intel’s latest and greatest, at least until the Pentium 5
comes out
Athlon XP: AMD’s equivalent to the Pentium 4 — the great contender
in the battle of CPU heavyweights
We’re not going to debate which processor is better because we think both
work equally well. Also, there are no compatibility issues with an Athlon XP
versus a Pentium 4. Some folks are leery about buying a PC with a processor
that’s not made by Intel, but we don’t share that point of view.
When you’re choosing an MCE PC (as we discuss in Chapter 3), you’ll probably
be faced with a choice of processor clock speeds. These speeds were once
measured in MHz (megahertz, or millions of hertz) but are now measured in
GHz (gigahertz, or billions of hertz), due to the rapid pace of CPU development.
The processor clock speed is basically the number of CPU tasks, or instructions, that can be performed per second. Although clock speed is not the
only measure of CPU speed, it’s a good guideline. The higher the clock speed,
the faster the processor.
Intel adds the clock speed to the name of the chip, such as Pentium 4 2.80 GHz.
AMD uses a number that represents the performance of the chip compared
to a Pentium 4. For example, AMD’s Athlon XP 3200+ is competitive with the
Pentium 4 3.20 GHz, even though the Athlon’s clock speed is lower.
Okay, we know you want an answer to the question, “Which chip is better?”
The fastest Pentium 4 chips seem to do a bit better — but not a lot better —
than the fastest Athlon XP chips. However, Athlon XP chips tend to be a bit
cheaper. We leave the decision of which to buy in your hands. Whatever you
decide, you can’t go wrong.
Video Capabilities
The CPU is often the largest determinant in the speed of a PC, MCE or otherwise. The second largest factor is often the video card — the subsystem in
the computer that does a lot of the work of displaying text, graphics, and
video on your computer’s monitor or your TV.
In an MCE PC, the video card is vitally important because so much of what
Media Center brings to the table revolves around fast moving, brightly colored,
cooler-than-heck images on the display. As such, all MCE PCs have video cards
that fit somewhere between great and awesome on the official geek scale.
Chapter 2: A Look Inside a Media Center PC
The two major makers of video cards for MCE PCs are
NVIDIA (www.nvidia.com), which makes the GeForce4 family of cards
ATI (www.ati.com), which makes Radeon cards
Both companies make excellent video cards. NVIDIA’s are the most common
on the early MCE PCs, but you’ll see the ATI cards in the MCE 2004 PCs too.
Microsoft has strict rules about which video cards are required for MCE PCs,
taking the guesswork out of choosing video cards. Many PC makers offer
upgrades to the standard video card, which consist of either more video RAM
(or memory for the video card to perform its calculations) or a faster graphics
engine (the CPU, which is the specialized computer chip that’s the heart of the
video card). However, these upgrades aren’t necessary because Microsoft
already specifies a nearly top-of-the line video card for all MCE PCs.
Some MCE PCs include a video card with a DVI (Digital Video Interconnect)
connection. DVI is an all-digital connection for monitors and displays and is
used mainly for connecting a very large, flat-panel LCD or plasma display to
a computer. If you have a display unit in your home theater that can use DVI,
you should buy an MCE PC with a DVI connection because you’ll get a much
higher-quality picture on your big screen.
Audio Features
Except for the laptop versions, most MCE PCs have no internal speakers.
Instead, for high-quality audio reproduction, MCE PCs are designed to be
hooked up to external speaker systems.
To feed these external speakers with the best quality audio, MCE PCs have highperformance audio cards. Just as the video card is a subsystem of the PC for
reproducing video and graphics, audio cards are a subsystem for reproducing
audio. The audio card has some specialized chips that turn the digital data in
the MCE PC into analog audio that your ears can hear.
And again like the video card, Microsoft has set a high bar for its PC partners
when it comes to audio cards. Audio cards in Media Center PCs must be able
to support 5.1 surround-sound audio, which means they must support front,
center, and rear speakers and a bass-notes-only subwoofer, just like the
speakers in a home-theater system.
The biggest difference between MCE PC audio cards is whether they support
digital audio signals coming out of the MCE PC. Some audio cards, such as
SoundBlaster Audigy2 from Creative Labs, can send digital audio signals out to
your home-theater receiver when playing your DVDs or other digital content;
other cards have only analog (line-level) outputs.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
If you want to connect your MCE PC to your home theater, digital output is the
way to go. Digital signals are much less prone to interference and degradation
as they make their way into your home-theater receiver, so you’ll end up with
a sweeter-sounding listening experience.
If you look at the specifications of the audio cards used in MCE PCs, you might
see 24 bit or 96 kHz. Music is stored digitally using a process called sampling,
which basically slices analog sound waves into lots of little pieces that can be
stored as 1s and 0s. The bigger the sample (the number of bits) and the higher
the sampling rate (kHz, or number of samples per second), the better the sound.
Windows Media 9.0, the program behind MCE’s audio system, can handle audio
with up to 24 bits and 96 kHz sampling. (In comparison, CDs are sampled at
16 bits and 44.1 kHz.)
Chapter 3
Evaluating and Buying a
Media Center PC
In This Chapter
Shopping for a Media Center PC
Determining the right specifications for you
Finding the best deals on an MCE PC
M
CE-powered PCs vary widely in the extra features and capabilities
they offer. It can be downright confusing when you try to compare
these systems. In this chapter, we make sure you get your money’s worth
by describing what you should look for when buying a Media Center PC.
Overview of Media Center PCs
on the Market
Not just anyone can build a Media Center PC. The following manufacturers
have licensed the rights for the XP MCE operating from Microsoft and offer
Windows XP Media Center PCs:
ABS Computer Technologies (www.abspc.com)
Cyberpower System (www.cyberpowersystem.com)
Dell (www.dell.com)
Gateway (www.gateway.com)
HP (www.shopping.hp.com)
iBuypower (www.ibuypower.com)
MIND Computer Products (www.mind.ca)
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Northgate (www.northgate.com)
Sony (www.sony.com)
Tagar Systems (www.tagarsystems.com)
Toshiba (csd.toshiba.com)
Touch Systems (www.touch-systems.ca)
Viewsonic (www.viewsonic.com)
ZT Group (www.ztgroup.com)
As shown in Figure 3-1, Microsoft maintains a current list of MCE PC manufacturers. Check out the Microsoft Web site (www.microsoft.com/WindowsXP/
mediacenter/) to see which new PC vendors have smartened up and added
a Media Center PC to their product lines.
One of the big improvements in the latest version of Windows XP MCE is a
reduction in the need for computer resources such as processing power,
memory, and storage space. As a result, the 2004 version can ship with some
lower-end PCs — bringing MCE to the masses. Whether you buy a lower-end
or higher-end PC depends a lot on what you intend to do with it now and in
the near future.
Figure 3-1:
The
Windows
XP Media
Center
Edition PC
Showcase
at Microsoft.com.
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC
Your MCE PC will be doing double-duty as an entertainment server in addition
to its regular computer processing tasks. This places extra stress on computer
resources. As we discuss in Chapter 18, Microsoft is working on future versions
of MCE to make it easy for you to extend your MCE experience throughout the
home. That means you could have multiple TVs, receivers, and other devices
accessing your MCE PC at the same time. If you don’t intend to do too much
of this multitasking in the beginning — or you simply don’t have a lot of devices
in your home — you can get by with a lower-speed processor, fewer interfaces,
and less hard drive space. But if you can envision using MCE all over the house
(we can), you’ll want to get a powerful MCE PC to start.
Buyer’s Guide Checklist
Certain characteristics differentiate Media Center PCs from different vendors.
Some of these characteristics are the look of the machine, the processor, the
size of the hard drive, the supplied interfaces, the bundled components, the
price, the comprehensiveness of the warranty, and the on-site maintenance
plan. In this section, we describe each of these items.
Most vendors enable you to customize your machine by adding hard drive
space, upgrading the processor, and more. This type of customization is more
common and flexible when you buy your MCE PC on the Web rather than in a
brick-and-mortar store.
Appearance
We hate to start our discussion of buying criteria with something as superficial
as appearance, but some people can be downright finicky about the way their
entertainment area looks. Even with rounded edges and chrome molding, Media
Center PCs look like, well . . . PCs.
Some manufacturers, however, are more creative in the design of their units. For
example, you can use Viewsonic’s M2000 vertically or horizontally. Alienware —
a company that started manufacturing MCE PCs, stopped for a while, and has
promised to return to the MCE PC marketplace — has modern, stylish PC cabinets. ZT Group’s products are so small (a 12-by-8-by-6-inch cube) that they look
more like a small photo file cabinet than a computer and can be easily placed
on a shelf alongside your CD collection.
To top that, Toshiba’s Satellite 5205-S705 MCE PC is a laptop (see Figure 3-2)!
Its TV tuner fits in the device’s media bay, and it has a built-in recordable
DVD drive. You can record TV shows and save them to the 60GB hard drive
or to DVD.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
Figure 3-2:
Toshiba was
the first on
the market
with a
Windows
XP MCE
laptop.
PCs are becoming smaller, more attractive, and more flexible, and MCE PCs will
ride the same development curve. Before long, we expect to see black-matte,
stereo-like MCE PCs, to match your fancy home-theater system.
Processor
What can you say about processors? The faster the better. Period. When shopping for Windows XP MCE PCs, you’ll likely run across the Intel Pentium 4 or
the AMD Athlon XP processor (or their successors). Unlike in the past, the
Pentium 4 is now similar in price to the Athlon XP, so we think you’ll be happy
with either one.
You’re more likely to have to make a decision as to clock rate, and again, faster
is better. Because you pay a high premium for the latest processors on the
market, the best value is to buy a processor one or two steps below the fastest
processor available. Unless you buy the lowest clock speed, you’ll still have a
fast machine for almost all your applications.
The price difference between the 2-GHz processor and the 3-GHz processor is
about $250 street price. The street price is the price you encounter in a store or
on the Web. The list price, which is almost always higher, is the price the manufacturer places on a product.
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC
You’re likely to run across the term hyperthreading when shopping for Media
Center PCs. Hyperthreading is a new Intel technology that improves the performance of multithreaded software products (that is, software that does many
things at once, in parallel). In the past, threading was enabled in the software
by splitting instructions into multiple streams so that multiple processors could
act upon them. Hyperthreading, however, uses processor-level threading, in
which one processor efficiently does many things at once, such as recording a
TV show while playing music. Because of the multitasking nature of Windows
XP MCE, performance is clearly improved in a hyperthreading environment.
Although XP is designed to take advantage of hyperthreading, MCE is not.
Therefore, the XP portions of your MCE PC may perform better with Intel
hyperthreading-enabled processors than with the Athlon.
If you want to know more about the nitty-gritty of processors, check out Tom’s
Hardware site (www.tomshardware.com), a great source for information on
all sorts of computer topics.
Hard drive
How big a hard drive do you need? The easy answer is, “As big as possible!”
However, the largest drives cost more per gigabyte than the smaller drives
(about $1.50 to $2.00 per gigabyte), so you’re paying more per gigabyte as
you go up in size.
The correct answer for you depends on how you intend to use your MCE
PC. Some customers prefer a large hard drive for storing full seasons of their
favorite TV shows and only a recordable CD drive for making music CDs.
Those with a set-top DVD player might not need as much internal storage if
they choose a recordable DVD writer to make DVDs of recorded TV shows
and home movies.
One complicating factor is that Windows XP MCE 2004 doesn’t treat all storage
space the same. Depending on your use of the software, you might need
different levels of storage. Some MCE modules, such as My TV, make you set
aside huge chunks of space on a particular drive (defined storage). Other
modules let you put content wherever you want (dynamic storage). This makes
for an uneven use of hard drive space. Some defined storage areas can be
almost empty (if, for example, you don’t record TV shows), while the rest of
your hard drive is packed full of dynamically situated content.
How big is big enough? Let’s answer that by looking at the ways that MCE deals
with different types of content.
Storing audio
Windows XP MCE 2004 makes extensive use of Microsoft Media Player to
find, catalog, and play audio and video content. Media Player 9 operates by
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
searching your local and network hard drives and attached network devices
for content. Media Player then either links to the content from your MCE PC,
if you’re on a home network, or copies the content to your designated directory on your local hard drive for playback. If it finds 1000 songs across your
drives and home network, for example, you might transfer those 1000 songs
to the designated drive on your Media Center PC. Therefore, if you have a lot
of CDs and want them stored locally on your MCE PC, you’ll need a lot of space
on your MCE PC. What’s more, if you want others to be able to play those songs,
you have to put shortcuts in your Shared Music folder to avoid creating duplicates of the same songs on your hard drive.
Also, as with any media content on your MCE PC, file size depends on the
quality of the recording. For CD-quality sound, expect to use 3MB to 4MB for
each song. Perfectly acceptable but less pristine recording formats use about
half the space. We talk more about recording, storing, and playing your audio
files in Chapter 10.
Storing home videos
To view home movies on MCE PC, they must be on your MCE PC in the My
Videos folder in My Documents. Home videos share the same issues as
recorded TV — namely, the size of the file increases as the quality increases.
In addition, home videos are often of poorer quality, so you might use higherquality levels when converting them to a format readable by your computer.
This will result in larger file sizes. The file sizes listed for recorded TV — a range
from 1GB to 3GB per hour of video — are a good estimate for home video. For
more on home-video recording, see Chapter 13.
Storing TV and radio content
Recorded TV and radio are nothing more than recorded video and audio.
Following are the “costs” for different levels of recording quality:
Best recording quality for TV shows uses about 3GB per hour.
Better quality uses about 2.5GB per hour.
Good quality is about 2GB per hour.
Fair quality is about 1GB per hour.
In addition to setting the recording quality level, you set the amount of storage
space (entered as a percentage of the total hard drive) that you want to allocate
for recording TV shows. The more you allocate, the less that’s available for use
by other programs, whether you use the space or not. If you plan on recording
many TV series, you’ll need a lot of hard drive space.
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC
Radio storage requirements are a lot less, roughly the same amount as lowerquality CD recording. Because the Radio module only temporarily records
30 minutes worth of audio (Radio doesn’t keep this data recorded for you to
access later), there’s not a lot of concern for drive space for this module.
Recorded TV is stored on the main or C: drive of your MCE PC. However, you
can change where these files are stored if you want to add supplemental storage
in the future.
To add more storage capacity, you can add an new internal hard drive, if space
permits, or connect an external one through your FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB
2.0 connection. (When formatting the drive, choose the NTFS option.) You could
have, for example, a 100GB external hard drive dedicated to recorded TV
programs and your internal drive for all your other MCE storage needs. We
discuss recording TV in more detail in Chapter 9.
Storing DVDs
Windows XP MCE assumes that you’re going to only play DVDs, not record or
copy them to your hard drive. This probably won’t stop a lot of people from
wanting to back up their DVDs to their hard drive so that they can access them
easily from their newfound “video server.”
If you regularly download movies and TV shows from the Internet, you’re
familiar with their file sizes. Your DVD video file sizes can range substantially
depending on the recording quality and whether all the additional content from
the DVDs is included with the download. A DVD disc can hold up to 17GB, and
publishers cram as much as they can on the discs. The largest hard drives in
the MCE PCs at the time of this writing are only 200GB, so you won’t be able
to fit too many movies on your hard drive at DVD-quality levels. We talk more
about DVDs and backing them up to your hard drive in Chapter 12.
Storing photos
If you scan pictures into Windows MCE or save pictures from your digital
camera, Windows XP stores them in the My Pictures folder in your My
Documents folder, unless you tell it otherwise. Photos from other media,
such as Compact Flash cards, can be viewed directly from those media, without having to copy them first to the My Pictures or Shared Pictures folder.
There is no standard for photo size, and the file size varies greatly depending
on the format. The issue again is file size versus quality. A 35mm 24-exposure
film at resolutions commonly provided by film processors (1200 dots per inch,
or dpi) takes up about 100MB on your hard drive.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
As we discuss in Chapter 11, if you scan your photographs, you’re in control
of the stored resolution and therefore the file size. We suspect that most of
you are like us: If you’re bothering to scan your pictures, you select as high
a resolution as possible. A 35mm 24-exposure roll of film at 4000 dpi takes up
more than 1GB on your hard drive. This is one part of your hard drive storage
requirements that may grow quickly, especially with the fast pace of product
development in digital cameras that has driven down camera prices and moved
digital photography to other devices, such as your cell phone.
The bottom line
We expect future versions of MCE PC to be much more flexible in where you can
store files and in how you manage available hard drive space, especially as the
MCE PC expands to cover other types of devices around the house. Then, if you
need additional space for any of your modules, you can just add some storage
capacity through your FireWire or USB connection or use the storage capacity
on other network-connected devices.
The price of hard drives is dropping so fast that it doesn’t make sense to buy
too much more capacity that you think you’ll use in the near term. In general,
to get a lot of flexibility, you want a minimum of 80GB to 100GB of hard drive
space. If you need more capacity internally as well as externally after you’ve
purchased your MCE PC, you can always swap out the hard drive in favor of
a larger drive. Another option is to offload some content to recordable DVDs
and CDs.
You’d be surprised how fast your hard drive will fill up. Video eats up storage
space — especially if you’re recording series of shows. After you start recording
TV and audio, you might never stop! We’ve been storing digital content for
years, and we’ve always filled up every hard drive we’ve owned.
A final note on hard drives. You’ll see rpm (revolutions per minute) in reference
to hard drives. The faster the rpm, the faster the drive read/write rate. You want
as high an rpm rating as possible.
Interfaces
Microsoft defines a minimum level of audio and video connectivity for any MCEoutfitted machine. As a result, the minimum interface capabilities that allow you
to connect your MCE PC to your TV or your set-top box, such as S-video or
analog audio connections, are similar from machine to machine. However,
fancier cards, such as those found in high-end MCE PC packages, add more
processing capacity, extra interface ports (the jacks on the interface cards where
you plug your cables in), and extra software features for your video-display
and audio-rendering capabilities.
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC
We talk about audio and video interface cards in Chapter 2. Here’s what you
should look for in video cards:
More memory: The more memory on the video interface card, the faster
your card can perform the processing required to translate video into
something the computer understands.
Enough analog and digital connections: Make sure that you have enough
VGA, DVI, and S-video connections for your MCE PC. In Chapters 4 and 5,
we describe how to set up your system. In addition, check out the diagrams
in the appendix for information on setting up your particular system. That
way, you can establish a set of minimum connection requirements for your
MCE PC.
A note on terminology: Some PC makers refer to their video cards as graphics
cards. However, your MCE PC has another video interface card called the TV
tuner, or Video In, card that accepts inbound signals. We don’t talk about the
TV tuner card in this section because it usually can’t be customized. However,
you can customize the video card, which is the video interface/graphics card
we’ve been talking about up to now.
Windows XP MCE 2004 has FM radio capability, but some PC vendors are shipping tuner cards without the extra coaxial interface for your FM antenna input.
The ATI AIW 9000 card is an example. So if you plan on using the FM Radio
capability, make sure your tuner card has both Video In and FM input connection ports.
The quality of your video interface card affects the quality of your MCE experience. The difference in price between the minimum Microsoft-specified video
capability and a souped-up video capability can be as much as $200, buy we
think it’s worthwhile to get the best possible video interface card you can. The
top of the line for us, as of this printing, is the 8X AGP NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900
Ultra 256MB with DVI and TV Out ports. Nice!
The biggest difference in audio boards is in how they support multichannel (or
surround-sound) audio. Some MCE PCs come with integrated surround-sound
systems with built-in connections for the six speakers (five main speakers and
a subwoofer for that room-shaking bass). Many PC manufacturers bundle highend, six-speaker surround-sound computer speaker systems with the MCE PCs
(more on this in the next section). If you want to move beyond small computer
speakers and hook up your MCE PC to your home-theater system, look for a
system that has digital audio output on the back of the audio card. (These may
be called Digital Audio Optical or Digital Audio Coaxial ports.) The digital audio
connection lets you use an inexpensive optical or coaxial connector to hook
your MCE PC’s audio directly into the back of your fancy home-theater receiver.
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You can hook up two basic types of speakers to your MCE PC:
Computer-oriented active speakers: These tend to be smaller units with
their own amplifier, so they can be plugged directly into the audio interface
card port on your MCE PC. This is the type of speaker that’s often bundled
with your MCE PC.
Entertainment-center-oriented or traditional passive speakers: These are
the speakers you usually find in stereo and entertainment stores. A separate amplifier is required to power the sound to the speakers.
Many MCE PCs use a SoundBlaster Audigy audio card. We like the Audigy2
Platinum card, available as an upgrade on many built-to-order MCE PCs. This
is top-of-the-line stuff, and sounds great in a fancy home theater. It should cost
about $150 to upgrade to a top-of-the-line audio interface card.
In addition to differences in audio and video cards, MCE PCs differ also in the
availability of other interfaces. To maximize your use of the MCE PC, look for
the following:
Front-panel interfaces: This interface consists of a bay of interface ports
on the front (not back) of the MCE PC for plugging in your cables — are
handy. A good front panel interface will provide a USB, RCA composite,
and FireWire connection, which saves you from having to turn your MCE
PC around just to plug in your camera or camcorder to download pictures.
Extra USB interface ports: Because more and more devices are standardizing on USB as their interface to the PC, figure out how many USB ports
you’re going to need. These days, printers, Web cams, computer mice,
keyboards, and more sport USB interface connectors instead of older,
lower-speed and bulkier serial and parallel interfaces. You can find MCE
PCs that ship with eight USB 2.0 ports as standard equipment, with some
of these ports on the front of the unit! We explain USB and USB 2.0 in
Chapter 2.
If you’re short on USB ports, an external USB hub adds extra USB interface ports
to your PC. A four-port hub can connect four devices to a single USB port on
the PC. You can get a four-port USB hub from your local computer store for
$20 to $30. You can stack (daisy-chain) these too, if you get a stackable hub.
Bundled components
Some manufacturers bundle certain components with their basic system; others
sell these same components separately at an added cost. For instance, HP sells
for $19.99 a Media Center PC Accessory Bundle that contains a 12-foot S-video
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC
cable, an RCA-stereo-miniplug-to-two-phono-RCA-plugs adapter cable, and a
coaxial two-way splitter. Viewsonic gives you the S-video cable and RCA miniplug adapter with each Viewsonic MCE PC product. It pays to read the specifications so you’ll know which cables and other paraphernalia are included
with your purchase.
We suggest that you read the specs not so you can save money but because it’s
a hassle to unpack your new MCE PC, get excited about installing the system,
and then find that you need to purchase a cable separately. We hate that!
Some manufacturers include a 6-in-1 media reader (see Figure 3-3), which allows
you to read Compact Flash Type I and II, IBM Microdrive, SmartMedia, SD Card,
MultiMediaCard and Sony Memory Stick media. Other manufacturers suggest
that you buy a USB or internal add-on unit, which can add up to $70 to the price
of your system.
Figure 3-3:
A 6-in-1
USBconnected
media
reader for
your camcorder and
camera
memory
cards.
Manufacturers differ also in the surround-sound packages they include with
their system or their special-offer packages. You’ll find packages with no
speakers, just two little stereo speakers, or full-fledged surround-sound
systems. Some offer all these options. HP, for instance, bundles a Klipsch
ProMedia 5.1 THX-certified, 500-watt, 6-piece computer-speaker audio system,
powered by a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 24-bit sound card with
Dolby 5.1 and analog surround sound. Cool! But HP does so on only its highestend MCE PCs (see Figure 3-4); lower-end MCE PCs don’t have bundled speakers.
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
We don’t have room here to go through the ins and outs of home-theater
speakers (we wrote Home Theater For Dummies for that), but we can tell you
that these Klipsch speakers are excellent add-ons. You might find (as Danny
did) that you’ll get rid of the old speakers in your home-entertainment system
and use the Klipsch speakers exclusively. After all, with all the TV, radio, DVD,
and other capabilities of your MCE PC, you might find that your existing entertainment system can’t do the things that your MCE PC can do. Heck, Danny
even uses these speakers for outdoor movies. They’re that powerful!
Figure 3-4:
The HP
Media
Center 884
PC ships
with a
complete
hometheater
sound
system.
Some audio interface cards work only with specific types of audio entertainment gear. Therefore, if you already have a set of computer speakers or a
receiver-based audio system that you intend to use with your MCE PC, make
sure it’s compatible with the audio interface card. For instance, the Klipsch
speakers just mentioned require input from three 3.5mm-miniplug cables for
its five channels, and some audio cards support only two channels through
two 3.5mm cable ports. Ask the salesperson or check online to see whether
you need to buy a different audio interface card.
Finally, remember that most MCE PC packages do not come with a display. The
manufacturers assume that you already have a display, or are going to pick one
up separately, or are planning to use a high-quality plasma or other display to
serve as both the TV set and the computer monitor.
Chapter 3: Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC
Support
We want to stress that you should not buy from anyone without 7x24 support.
You’re likely to need support at odd hours — when cuddling in bed, in a rush
in the morning, or on a rainy weekend day. These times are hardly compatible
with a 9-to-5 customer support line.
Check out who gives you unlimited telephone support and how long that
support lasts. Gateway and Viewsonic served as our evaluation platforms for
the beta trials of the new 2004 software, and we called their customer service
lines at all hours of the day and night. They solved our problems quickly and
directly each time. We hope you have similar experiences.
Warranty
Check out the warranty period because the various vendors have substantial
differences in their limited warranties. Some vendors have only a 15-day moneyback guarantee. iBUYPOWER, however, provides a full 30-day money-back
guarantee (not including shipping, handling, and rush service fees). Note that
shipping costs are often the customer’s responsibility.
Make sure you keep all the original packing material for your MCE PC. If you
ever have to ship it back to the vendor, many of the ground shipping companies
won’t insure the system unless it’s in its original packaging.
You can buy extended warranty packages. Some vendors have additional forms
of warranties you can buy too. For example, Gateway has an Accidental Damage
Protection plan that covers you against damages when Little Susie knocks over
the Media Center PC, which was delicately balanced on top of the TV set, or
Jack Junior trips with his hockey stick, ramming it into the back of your MCE
PC. Gateway covers the system for three years at a cost of $99. If your spouse
is accident prone, consider this. Toshiba has the same plan, but calls it the
SystemGuard plan. Check with your vendor to see what’s available.
Some on-site repair plans have distance limitations. For instance, Toshiba’s
plans apply only if you’re within 75 miles of one of their service center cities.
Make sure you’re eligible before you sign up for a plan.
On-site maintenance
Doctors may have given up making house calls, but PC technicians have not.
Most vendors have an option for making house calls to fix your machine. When
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Part I: Introducing the Media Center Edition PC
you consider the hassle and cost of shipping the unit and waiting for its return,
these on-site maintenance plans start to look pretty good. They’re not that
expensive to add to your existing warranty (under $100 per year).
These support packages are location specific. Before you buy, make sure that
you’re within their service area; there are distance and special instance limitations where they won’t come on-site. (For instance, they won’t come to Danny’s
vacation house on an island two miles off the coast of Maine.)
Price
In general, you can expect to pay around $1000 for an entry-level Media Center
PC. You can pay up to $4000, for the Gateway Media Center PC with a 42-inch
plasma TV. The average price is about $1500, plus any extra costs for a monitor
or a speaker system.
Prices change all the time, so we provide updates at our Windows XP Media
Center Edition 2004 PC for Dummies Web site at www.smarthomesbook.com.
Want to know more about buying a MCE PC? It pays to surf around. CNET
has a good site for generic advice on buying desktop computers. Go to
reviews.cnet.com/Desktops/4520-3118_7-5021315.html?tag=cnet.fd
Also, as we mention in Chapter 19, check out the Buyer’s Guides at www.
thegreeenbutton.com and www.xpmce.com.
Where to Shop for Your MCE PC
The correct answer to the question of where to shop for your MCE PC is “It
depends.” We suggest that first you visit the Web site of each computer you’re
interested in. Figure out the exact model and configuration you want. Some sites
have online system configurators that help you craft the system you want.
Then, armed with that information, check out manufacturer’s Partners pages
to find their online distributors. Some manufacturers won’t have any — instead,
you buy directly from them online. Other manufacturers sell through many
channels so check to see who has the best special for your selected package.
Part II
Integrating Your
Media Center PC
T
In this part . . .
he Media Center Edition PC is a cool gizmo. Take it out
of the box, plug in all the pieces and parts, and you’re
ready to listen to music, watch videos, and more. But to get
the most out of your MCE PC, you’ll want to hook it up to
various devices and gadgets in your home. After all, the
MCE PC can be the centerpiece to your home-entertainment
system, if you let it. (It’s the little PC that could — you just
need to give it a push.)
In this part of the book, we tell you how to connect your
MCE PC to your home-theater or home-entertainment
system. The MCE is a powerful machine, so why not enjoy
it with your biggest and best screens and speakers?
We also talk about getting your MCE PC online, including
a discussion on how to get online with a broadband connection (such as DSL or a cable modem). Pay attention here,
because MCE has been optimized to work with a fast
Internet connection.
Finally, we walk you through configuring the MCE PC to your
liking. You set user preferences, tell your MCE PC where
in the world you live (vital for TV viewing), and more. After
you’ve finished this part, you’ll be ready to get down to
business and start using your MCE PC for fun!
Chapter 4
Cables, Connectors,
and Components
In This Chapter
Confirming that you have what you need
Wading through cable spaghetti
Making the audio connection
Connecting your TV and display
R
ipping open that Media Center PC box is like unwrapping the best present
you ever got! We get goose bumps just thinking about it.
In this chapter, we tell you what you should expect to find in the box with your
Media Center PC and what you might need to run down to the Radio Shack or
local computer store to get. You find out what all those cables in the box do and
why you need them. Finally, you get some instructions for connecting your
Media Center PC to your audio and video equipment.
Inventory Time
Let’s start with a checklist of lessons learned. When taking your Media Center
PC out of the box
Be careful if you’re using a knife to open the box because many manufacturers slip last-minute documentation updates on top.
Lay a white sheet on the ground under the box, and put things from
the box onto the sheet. This way, nothing gets lost.
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Part II: Integrating Your Media Center PC
Make sure you have everything. Somewhere in the box is an inventory
checklist. Some MCE PC makers provide the inventory list on a poster-like
installation and connection sheet.
Keep all packaging materials. Most manufacturers won’t accept (and shipping companies won’t insure) returns unless you ship them in the original
box and packaging.
Different vendors bundle different items with their MCE PCs. Regardless of
what brand you buy, each MCE PC has extensive audio and video capabilities,
including a TV tuner card for receiving video signals from your cable or satellite
system, a video card to drive your computer and TV displays, and an audio
card to drive your sound system. However, there’s often more than one way
to connect things. Different vendors provide different combinations of cables
and connectors, which can make things a bit confusing. In this section, we talk
about all the most common ways of connecting audio and video systems.
When you open the box of a typical Windows XP MCE PC, you should find most
or all of the following items in addition to the PC itself. Look for these items (if
you don’t find them in the box, you may need to go out and buy a few of them
to get things up and running):
Remote control with batteries
Power cord for the PC
RJ-11 telephone cord if your MCE PC is configured for a modem connection
CAT-5e RJ-45 network cable if your MCE PC is configured for a homenetwork or broadband connection
Coaxial cable, one each to connect to the TV, cable or satellite service,
and the VCR
S-video-to-composite-adapter cable to connect your PC to your TV
Composite-video cable to connect your PC to your TV
DVI-VGA adapter to connect your PC display to your PC
Digital audio coaxial cable to connect to your stereo system
Digital audio optical cable to connect to your stereo system
Analog audio cable to connect to your stereo system
Stereo miniplug-to-RCA audio cable to connect to your stereo system
IR remote emitter control cable to connect to your cable or satellite box
to change channels
Even the biggest MCE PC box might not have all the little accessories and
connectors required when you install your Media Center PC. You might also
need the following:
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
Remote sensor for picking up IR signals if you’re not in line-of-sight with
your PC IR pickup
Speakers with speaker cables for a true surround-sound-5.1 experience
USB-connected or internal 6-in-1 memory adapter for a digital camera
and other digital storage cards
Powered cable signal splitter; if you use a VCR, you need one or two of
these
Coaxial A/B switchbox, if you plan to hook up your VCR to your MCE PC
RCA A/B/C/D switchbox if you plan to hook up a lot of devices that use RCA
or composite-video connections, such as an Xbox or electronic toys that
require video
Finally, we advise you to get the following connectors at Radio Shack or
elsewhere:
Three female-miniplug-to female-miniplug connectors (the miniplug
also called a 1⁄ 8-inch or 3.5mm plug)
Three female-miniplug-to-male-RCA-plug connectors
Three male-miniplug-to-female-RCA-plug connectors
We recommend that you buy high-quality surge-protector power strips, such
as Monster Cable’s Powerbar (www.monstercable.com). When you plug in an
AC adapter on that expensive power strip, however, it ends up covering one or
two slots. We’ve found a solution to this problem: the Power Strip Liberator and
Y-Splitter Liberator adapter cables from ZIO Tek (www.ziotek.com) as shown
in Figure 4-1. They’re like a handy 1-foot extension cord from your surge protector to your AC adapter.
Where should you put your Media Center PC?
The current version of Media Center is designed
to be used in one area of your house. In Part 4,
we help you connect your MCE PC to a home
network and access the media on your MCE PC
from anywhere in the house. In future versions
of the software, we expect Microsoft to add
wireless distribution capability. But even though
you can connect a Media Center PC to a network to access files stored on its hard drive, you
can’t access the Media Center interface itself
from remote locations.
So, where do you put your Media Center PC? If
you plan on using it not only for entertainment
but also for traditional PC stuff such as crunching numbers in spreadsheets, put it where you’ll
feel comfortable working. It’s nice to be able to
use the remote from the bed, but we wouldn’t
want to type a long report from there.
Our advice is to set up your MCE PC next to your
TV first. After you get everything working, you
can add wireless or long-range connections to
equipment located across the room or even in
other rooms.
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Part II: Integrating Your Media Center PC
Figure 4-1:
ZIO Tek’s
Liberators
take the
hassle out
of power
adapters.
At a bare minimum, you need surge protection in your setup. But surge protection doesn’t protect you from other issues. For example, voltage drops can
lower the output of the amplifier powering your speakers. Improperly grounded
electrical systems can cause a hum in your audio and lines on your video
display. Consider investing in a power conditioner, which improves and stabilizes your AC power. For example, Monster Cable’s Home Theater Power Centers
provide surge protection, voltage stabilization, and noise filtering. Check them
out at www.monstercable.com/power.
Cables and Connectors 101
We’re as impatient as anyone. We like to rip open a box and just plug everything
together, with the full expectation that it will work. If it doesn’t, we turn to the
documentation.
However, the recent proliferation of new cable types and the related increase
in the complexity of the configuration have made us take a more thoughtful
approach. Many cables look the same but are used for different purposes. Other
times, you can plug the right cable into the right interface, but it won’t work
because that interface isn’t enabled (or turned on) for the purpose you are using
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
it for (connections that aren’t enabled sometimes pop up when you are making
video connections). And in other cases, you can use the wrong cable, have it
look like it works, but with poor results. You might encounter any of these problems when working with your MCE PC, so we’re including an introduction to
audio and video cables.
In the rest of this chapter, we talk in detail about the different kinds of audio and
video connections you might have available to you on your MCE PC. Table 4-1
is a brief rundown of these cable types and connectors. We describe these in
more detail next.
Table 4-1
Cable and Connection Types
Category
Type
Connector
Audio interconnects
Analog audio interconnects
RCA connector
Digital audio interconnects
Toslink optical
Toslink cable connector
Coaxial
RCA connector
Speaker cable
12-, 14-, and 16-gauge cable
Video interconnects
Analog video interconnects
Pin connectors, spade
lugs, or banana plugs
(or bare wire, which is
not recommended)
Composite video
RCA connector
S-video
S-video connector
Component video
RCA connector
VGA
VGA connector
Digital video interconnects
FireWire
DVI
If after reading this chapter you want to know more about audio and
video cables, check out our Home Theater For Dummies (published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.).
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Audio Interconnects and Connectors
Most of the connections you’ll make to your MCE PC are short runs — that is,
connections between devices and components sitting just a few feet from each
other (or at least in the same room). The cables you use for these connections
are called interconnects.
An interconnect cable is simply a short run cable (used for making audio or
video connections). With all the connects we’re throwing around, it’s not hard
to get an interconnect confused with a connection or a connector.
Analog audio interconnects
The most common type of cable in any home-entertainment application is the
standard analog audio interconnect. You’ve probably used these to connect a
VCR to your TV set, for instance. Traditionally, audio interconnects came in
pairs, for two-channel (stereo) audio connections, but in the realm of the home
theater — with its multiple surround-sound channels — you might use an individual cable (such as the cable that connects a subwoofer to the receiver or
the controller) or a big bunch of cables (such as the six cables that connect
an advanced digital DVD player to the receiver).
Audio interconnects use a standardized jack known as an RCA jack, so any audio
interconnect will plug into a corresponding RCA plug on a piece of A/V equipment. Figure 4-2 shows the RCA plugs and jacks on a stereo (dual) pair of audio
interconnects.
L
Figure 4-2:
The
ubiquitous
RCA jack
and plugs.
R
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
Miniplug connectors
Standard audio interconnect cables are not the
only analog audio cables used by computers.
You’ll often also find mini-RCA-like interconnect
cables with 3.5mm (1⁄ 8-inch) connectors called
miniplug connectors (see the figure).
As you might guess, these miniplugs are smaller
than RCA plugs. They’re often found in portable
audio gear (for connecting headphones to iPods
and similar devices).
A typical sound card for surround sound 5.1
might have three 3.5mm connections — one for
the center speaker, one for the front left and
right speakers, and one for the rear left and right
speakers. These cables connect to the powered
subwoofer, which then connects through 3.5mm
(or other format) speaker cables to the speakers
themselves.
If you go shopping for audio interconnects, you’ll find a huge array of cable
constructions. The typical audio interconnect is a coaxial cable (a cable
containing two electrical conductors) with a shielded jacket. The shielded
jacket keeps stray electromagnetic energy from getting into the conductors
and causing interference with the audio signal. Other audio interconnects are
made of unshielded, twisted cable.
Although you can use the audio cables included with your MCE PC, we think
you might eventually want to upgrade them if you want to refine your picture
quality. However, we don’t think you need to pay $1000 a foot for double-secretmojo cold-fusion reactor-type cables. There’s a happy medium. Look for cables
that have oxygen-free copper (OFC) conductors and jacks with gold-plated
surfaces, which resists corrosion. Use the shortest run of cable possible; the
longer the run, the greater the chance that the audio signal will be degraded
by interference or attenuation (the weakening of the signal as it travels over
any cable).
You can buy high-quality cables from dozens of companies, including Monster
Cable (www.monstercable.com), Kimber (kimber.com), and Audioquest
(www.audioquest.com).
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Digital audio interconnects
Digital surround-sound systems (such as Dolby Digital and DTS) have made the
digital audio interconnect commonplace. Microsoft doesn’t require that MCE
PCs have a digital connection, but the company strongly recommends that they
do. All MCE PCs that we’ve seen have one.
If you want to use your MCE PC with a surround-sound home-theater receiver
and you want to watch DVDs using Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound, you
must use a digital audio interconnect.
Digital audio interconnects are used to connect DVD players, HDTV tuners,
video game consoles, and more to the A/V receiver or controller. The two main
types of digital audio interconnects are Toslink optical and coaxial. Your MCE
PC card will probably have one or both of these interconnection options.
A coaxial cable looks like a single (mono) audio interconnect, with RCA jacks
on either end and a coaxial cable in-between. Put a coaxial cable and a mono
audio cable side-by-side on a table, and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
But the conductors inside coaxial digital audio interconnect cables are different
than those in analog audio interconnects to handle the higher frequencies of
digital signals. You shouldn’t use a standard audio interconnect instead of a
coaxial digital cable.
Composite video and component video cables, which we discuss shortly, also
look the same as audio interconnects, but each type uses different internal
conductors and designs.
A Toslink optical interconnect uses fiber optics instead of copper cabling, and
carries the digital signal as pulses of light instead of as an electrical signal.
Viewed head-on, the connector on a Toslink cable looks like a house, but with
a flashing laser. Figure 4-3 shows the Toslink interconnect.
Figure 4-3:
Fiber optics
in your
house! The
Toslink interconnect.
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
The female Toslink connector (on your receiver or DVD player or wherever
you’re plugging in a Toslink) is usually covered by a removable dust cap. If you
don’t take this cap off, you’re going to curse like a sailor trying to get that cable
plugged in.
Speaker Cables and Connectors
Another cable that you’ll find in just about every surround-sound setup is
speaker cable. Speaker cables connect the outputs of the power amplifier or
the amplifier section of the receiver or PC audio card to the speaker, and carry
the higher-powered electrical currents required to move the internal components of the speaker. You need one pair of speaker cables for each speaker in
your system, except the subwoofer. (The vast majority of subwoofers have their
own amplifier and need only a single audio interconnect cable, not a pair of
speaker cables.)
Speaker cables (the conductors within, to be precise) are thicker than interconnects because they have to carry signals over longer distances and also carry
more electrical current. Thicker conductors have less electrical resistance to
the current flowing through them. That’s a good thing, because too much resistance can alter the audio signal. The longer the cable, the greater the resistance
to the signal traveling over the cable.
The thickness of a speaker cable is referred to as its gauge (using a standard
system called AWG, or American Wire Gauge). The lower the gauge, the thicker
the conductor. We recommend cables no more than 16 gauge; our preference
is 14 gauge. For longer runs of 40 to 50 feet or more — for example, to surroundsound speakers in a large room — we recommend 12-gauge cables if they fit
your budget.
Unlike the different types of audio interconnects, which share the common RCA
connector, many connector choices are available for speaker cables. (These
connectors are sometimes called terminations.) The simplest approach is to
use the bare wire itself (stripped of any insulation), but we recommend that
you don’t do this — the connection isn’t as good and the bare wire ends can
corrode over time, making the connection even worse.
Following are the three main types of connectors for speaker cables:
Pin connectors: These look like their name — a straight or angled pin at
the end of the wire. Pin connectors work best with the spring-loaded clip
type of speaker connectors on less expensive receivers and speakers, but
they work also with the five-way binding posts found on better models.
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Spade lugs: These U-shaped connectors fit behind the screws on a five-way
binding post. You slide the open part of the U over the post and then screw
down the plastic nut. Spade lugs provide the tightest, most reliable connection because they’re screwed down.
Banana plugs: If you squint really hard, you might think that banana plugs
look like bananas. To us, they look like pin connectors that are fat in the
middle. Banana plugs come in single and dual configurations. The dual
configuration is simply two banana plugs (one for each wire in the speakerwire pair) stuck in the same housing.
Figure 4-4 shows the pin, spade lug, and banana plug. Figure 4-5 shows a
five-way binding post.
Figure 4-4:
From left to
right, a pin
connector,
a spade
lug, and a
banana plug.
Figure 4-5:
The fiveway binding
post is your
versatile
friend.
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
Which type of speaker wire termination you use depends on which kind of
termination your speakers will accept. Unlike fancier home-theater speakers,
some speakers for computers don’t have five-way binding posts. In this case,
you might not be able to use your own speaker cables, and instead have to use
the speaker cables that came in the box with your MCE PC or speaker system.
Video Interconnects and Connectors
The two components of a video signal are the luminance and the chrominance.
The luminance provides the video display with the brightness information that
determines which parts of the screen are darker or lighter. The chrominance
adds information about what color each segment of the screen should be.
Analog video interconnects
You’ll find three types of short-run analog video connections in a home theater.
There is a definite hierarchy among these connections — one is visibly worse
(in terms of picture quality) than the other two, and between the two superior
methods, one is better (though not as significantly) than the other. In order
from worst to best, these connection types are as follows:
Composite video: Both luminance and chrominance are combined in a
single signal. A comb filter inside the display separates these two components and sends them to the appropriate internal circuitry.
S-video: Luminance and chrominance are separated onto two separate
signal paths, so the signal can bypass the comb filter in the TV. This
usually results in a much clearer picture, with more defined colors and
images.
Component video: The signal is separated even further, providing one
path for luminance information and two separate paths for chrominance
information. Component video connections can be further enhanced in a
wideband component video connection, which allows the higher frequencies needed for HDTV to travel from the source (such as an HDTV tuner)
to the HDTV monitor.
We haven’t seen an MCE PC with component video connectors yet. But that’s
not surprising because component is most useful for HDTV, which MCE PCs do
not yet support.
The big difference between composite video (the lower-quality video signal)
and S-video and component video is that the better connections carry luminance and chrominance information separately. Why is this a big deal when the
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comb filter in the display separates the signal? Well, comb filters do an imperfect job and can leave visible artifacts in your picture (objects have fuzzy
edges). You want the sharpest, most colorful picture you can get, don’t you?
Composite-video cables and component-video cables use standard RCA
connectors and look similar to audio cables (and the digital coaxial cable,
for that matter). Composite-video cables are loners (you need just one);
component-video cables travel in small packs of three (often labeled Y, Pr,
and Pb).
Composite-video cables are usually color-coded yellow (that is to say, the
connector has a yellow ring around it, or the rubber boot around the connector
is yellow).
S-video is an unmistakable cable with its own S-video connector, which has four
pins that correspond to four holes on the S-video plug on your gear. Figure 4-6
shows an S-video connector and plug.
S-video connectors can be difficult to line up and connect. The bottom set of
pins is spaced slightly wider than the top set. If you’re having trouble with the
connector, check to see that you aren’t trying to push the connector in upside
down. A little plastic doohickey keeps you from destroying the connector, but
bent pins are far from unknown to first-time S-video users.
S VIDEO
OUT
Figure 4-6:
Separate
chrominance and
luminance
with an
S-video
connector.
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
VGA all the way
If you’ve ever owned a computer that didn’t have an integrated monitor (like a
laptop does), chances are pretty good you’ve dealt with VGA video connections.
VGA (Video Graphics Array) was developed by IBM a long time ago (in the ’80s!)
as a standardized system for connecting PCs and monitors.
VGA is actually a specific display mode (640 x 480 pixels), but the term has
become more generic and is used to describe any analog computer monitor
cable that uses a standardized connector (called a DB-15 connector).
The vast majority of MCE PCs use a VGA cable to connect the MCE PC to a
standard computer monitor (an exception is described in the upcoming “DVI”
section).
For the most part, you won’t use VGA to connect your MCE PC to a TV — most
TVs don’t have a VGA port. However, you might be able to use a VGA connection to connect to a projection TV system. If you have this option, we recommend that you use it, unless you also have one of the digital video connections
we list in the next section. (If you have digital, use it instead.)
Digital video interconnects
The video-connection systems we’ve discussed are all analog systems — they
carry analog video signals, not digital ones. Analog connections are more
susceptible to interferences and other losses of signal quality when compared
to digital connections. And in the case of digital signals (such as HDTV and
other ATSC digital television broadcasts), there’s no reason to convert to analog
until the very last minute (inside the display itself). As Dick Vitale would say,
“Keep it digital, baby!”
Some analog connections (particularly component video) require multiple
cables per connection. If you want to connect the component video output of
an HDTV tuner card to your receiver and then on to your display, for example,
you’ll need six cables (three for each link). Add a DVD player using component video into the mix, and you have six more cables. Pretty soon you have
spaghetti.
In addition, analog connections don’t have an inherent copy-protection system.
If there’s one thing that content providers (movie and television studios) want
to prevent, it’s people copying their content.
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To satisfy all these requirements, the consumer electronics industry (in association with the content providers) has been working overtime to develop digitalvideo interconnection systems. We discuss these next.
FireWire
One of the first systems for digital video crossed over from the computer
industry: FireWire (also called IEEE 1394, or i.LINK). FireWire was developed
by Apple Computer for connecting peripheral devices to Macintosh computers.
Companies such as Sony picked up on the technology and began incorporating
it in their camcorders and PCs, and it grew from there. (The FireWire in
camcorders is often called DV.)
Some HDTV tuners and HDTV-ready displays (as well as a few other devices
such as JVC’s D-VHS) include FireWire connections. However, it appears that
FireWire will become less common as a means of connecting HDTV devices
together.
The only place that FireWire is being used on MCE PCs today is not for
connecting to the television. Instead, many MCE PCs have a FireWire connection that lets you hook your digital camcorder to the MCE PC. (See Chapter 13
for more on camcorders.) We mention FireWire here mainly because it’s a
common system for connecting HDTVs to external HDTV tuners, and you might
have a FireWire connection on your own high-definition TV. With today’s MCE
PCs, you can’t use that connection for the PC-to-TV hookup.
Next up is FireWire’s biggest competitor in the digital video connection world:
DVI. It looks like DVI is winning the war and will become the most common digital video interconnect. Battles are still being fought, however, so don’t count
FireWire out yet.
DVI
One reason that FireWire is becoming less common in the digital video world
is the success of its competitor, DVI (Digital Visual Interface). DVI is another
technology adopted from the computer world, where it was developed as a
means of connecting computers to digital LCD screens. Figure 4-7 shows a DVI
connector.
The main reason DVI is becoming more popular than FireWire has nothing to
do with performance or technology. Instead, it’s because DVI systems used for
HDTV allow much stronger copy protection (meaning the TV provider can keep
you from recording shows). So the TV and movie studios are pushing the copyprotected version of DVI onto the industry.
Chapter 4: Cables, Connectors, and Components
Figure 4-7:
DVI is
becoming
the standard
digital video
connection.
Along the way, DVI picked up a strong copy-protection system called HDCP
(High Definition Copy Protection), and became a favorite of the HDTV industry.
The HDCP system makes DVI a relatively dumb connection — all it does is send
video in one direction (for example, from the tuner to the display), and it won’t
let you make a digital copy of what you’re watching (so forget taping that CSI
episode on your digital VHS tape deck).
Not all devices with a DVI connector incorporate HDCP. (For example, you
connect an LCD computer monitor to MCE PC using DVI without HDCP.) If you
use a DVI cable to connect an HDCP-enabled HDTV tuner to a non-HDCP display,
you will not get a full HDTV signal. Instead, the signal is converted to a lower
resolution.
DVI connections are becoming standard on digital high-definition televisions
and are popular for computer monitors as well. That’s probably not too
surprising, because many large flat-panel computer monitors (such as LCD
displays) operate in a similar way as flat-panel TVs. Many new MCE PCs use
DVI instead of the older, traditional VGA analog connectors to connect to
flat-panel digital computer monitors.
In Chapter 5, you take some of this cable knowledge and put it to work by doing
the plugging and connecting needed to get your MCE PC ready to go.
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Chapter 5
Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
In This Chapter
Planning your connections the right way, the first time
Plugging in a display (or two)
Ensuring all video sources link to your MCE PC
Extracting 5.1 surround sound from your system
Connecting peripherals, IR devices, and more
I
n this chapter, we describe the process of hooking up your Media Center PC.
Each manufacturer approaches the process in a slightly different order, but
the result is the same. Linking all the different elements of your MCE PC package
together and then hooking your MCE PC to your entertainment system aren’t
difficult tasks, but you need to look out for some serious gotchas. We help you
with those in this chapter.
Planning Your Connections
Most PC manufacturers provide you with diagrams showing the different ways
you can configure your system. If you’ve put together any sort of entertainment
system, such as an Xbox or a DVD player, you’re probably familiar with these
types of diagrams.
When figuring out the connection scheme for the MCE PC and your entertainment devices, you might run into trouble in two areas: connecting a VCR and
connecting speakers.
Microsoft decided not to support a VCR connection to the MCE. If you have a
VCR, chances are you would think it appropriate to connect the signal cable to
your set-top box (if you have one), then to your VCR, and then to your MCE PC.
That way, any signals coming from the VCR are treated as inbound signals to
the MCE. This would allow you to record onto the PC any home movies stored
on VCR tapes. For more information on editing, viewing, and storing video tapes
on your MCE PC, read the “MY VCR” sidebar in this chapter.
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My VCR
Microsoft left out the VCR in its architecture
because of the fast move to digital and the complexity of supporting the many brands of VCRs
on the market. Still, with all the video tapes out
there, we think Microsoft should have included
the VCR in some fashion.
But Windows XP MCE doesn’t have a My VCR
feature, so you have to kludge your cabling plan
and recording habits to view and capture VCRresident content through your MCE PC. In
Chapter 9, we talk about how to tape from the
VCR to your MCE PC. Here, we tell you how to
cable your VCR and MCE PC together so that
you have a smoother interface between them.
You need to split the signal back to the PC by
inserting another powered splitter (such as a
Radio Shack model 15-1196 bidirectional CATV
amplifier, $39.99) in-line between the VCR and
the TV set, and then running a patch cable to a
coaxial switchbox (such as a Radio Shack
model 15-1968 remote control A-B switch, $29.99)
that sits in front of the PC. (A switchbox allows
you to switch between signal A and signal B.)
Only one signal should go into the PC at any
time, and this setup gives your PC access to the
VCR signals. Now, you might ask, “Then why
split the signal at the cable box to the VCR and
the PC to begin with?” With this setup, you can
both watch your VCR and tape a show with your
PC — if the VCR and MCE PC were in-line, you’d
be limited to one or the other function at a time.
Another challenging area is in connecting your speakers to your PC. You have
a choice that you’ve never had before: You can run your speakers directly from
your MCE PC or from an intermediate receiver that’s part of an entertainment
system.
Only in the past few years have audio systems for your PC become so sophisticated and on par with speakers for entertainment systems that you would
consider using them instead of a separate audio system. The Klipsch speakers
mentioned in Chapter 3, for instance, rival similarly priced and sized speakers
that you could connect through your receiver. Your MCE PC, with its CD/DVD
drives, links to video and radio signals, and picture slide shows, gives you
an alternate entertainment center — you don’t need a lot of other expensive
audio gear.
If you’ve already invested a lot of money in your entertainment system, there’s
no question about what to do: Route the audio through that system. If you have
an old or low-end receiver and speakers, however, you might think about
driving the sound from the MCE PC instead of your present receiver. After all,
the FM tuner on board MCE 2004 provides almost as much capability as your
stereo receiver — everything but AM radio.
If you go this latter route, all sorts of speakers and speaker connections are
available. We get into more detail about speakers later in the chapter, but in
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
general, if you purchased an MCE PC with a speaker package, your cables and
card interfaces should match. If you didn’t buy them together, you could be in
for some trips to Radio Shack for connectors.
Connecting to the Monitor
Perhaps the first things you connect to your PC are your local PC cables for
your keyboard, mouse, and monitor. These connections are basic — most new
PCs even have color-coded ports and cables to make it as easy as possible to
connect the right cable connectors to the right cable ports.
If you have a wireless mouse and keyboard, you might need to attach a transmitter to the back of the machine. If you do have a transmitter and you notice
that your mouse doesn’t move fast enough or skips around when you move the
cursor, make sure that nothing is blocking the transmitter. (You might have inadvertently stacked stuff behind the PC.) Check that your wireless transmitter
cables aren’t intertwined with a power cable — this can cause interference and
make your mouse not work properly. Also check the batteries — sporadic
movement of the cursor or missed keystrokes could mean that the batteries
are low in power and should be replaced.
You’re probably going to want to connect both a computer monitor and your
TV set to your MCE PC. We recommend this highly, especially if you don’t have
a new, large LCD or plasma screen — small computer type is hard to read on
regular TV sets. Setting up both a PC monitor and TV display, however, can get
a little tricky depending on your video interface card and the cables supplied
by your PC manufacturer. In some instances, where it might appear that you
should plug one cable connector into a certain port, you actually shouldn’t
because of other system issues. So please read this section closely if you’re
using both a TV and a PC monitor.
Your MCE PC has one video card, which handles outbound video signals from
the PC. The video card handles one signal (your MCE PC’s desktop, in other
words) distributed across its two active ports, so you can attach two displays
and see the same thing. (This capability is a base requirement of Microsoft’s
MCE PC license.)
A graphics card is just another name for a video card.
For example, Danny’s Viewsonic MCE PC and Pat’s Gateway both have an
NVIDIA graphics card that supports three video output signal formats (S-video,
VGA — the standard analog computer monitor video connection — and digital
video using the DVI connection system). At any particular time, two of the
three Out ports on the video card can be in use, one for a TV and one for a
PC monitor.
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Because card manufacturers have to match two outbound signals with three
ports, two of the ports must share a signal. This means your video card can
support only certain combinations of simultaneous output port connections.
Here are the options for Danny’s NVIDIA card:
Display 1
Display 2
Option 1
DVI
S-video
Option 2
DVI
VGA
Option 3
DVI-to-VGA adapter
S-video
In this example, DVI (digital visual interface) is the primary output source
signal and VGA and S-video share the secondary output source signal. Now
suppose that Danny’s TV doesn’t have a DVI connection, and his computer
monitor doesn’t have an S-video connection — it has only VGA. That means
his only option is to hook up the PC monitor to the DVI port using a DVI-toVGA adapter, and use S-video for the TV.
This example is important because it’s non-intuitive to most of us. If you were
just plugging in cables without reading the fine print in the manuals, you would
probably plug the VGA cable from your PC monitor into your video card’s VGA
port, and plug your S-video connector into the S-video port. But as you can tell
from the preceding table, that won’t work.
Note that in Chapter 3 we mention an S-video-to-composite adapter. Does your
TV have only has the three colored RCA-composite jacks (white and red for
audio and yellow for video)? If so, you’d have to use the S-video-to-composite
adapter (in the preceding example) to send video to your yellow video port
on your TV.
You may find more about your specific video card’s capabilities buried in
troubleshooting areas or in FAQs on the vendor’s Web site. This information
was not in the main body of any of the PC manufacturers’ user manuals that
we reviewed for publication.
Connecting to the TV
In one sense, connecting your TV to your PC is simple. You run a cable or cables
from point A to point B. Keep in mind our advice from earlier in the chapter
about the relative hierarchy of video connection cables: component video is
best, then S-video, then composite video.
One of the most frequent complaints that we hear from people about hooking
up their TV set to their PC is a statement of dismay that they don’t have the
same resolution on the TV as on the computer display. That’s because many
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
TV sets struggle to give you 480 x 440, but many computer displays have a
1024 x 768 resolution, if not 1260 x 1024!
As a result, you can’t read small print well on a traditional TV, so Web surfing
can be tough. There’s not much you can do about this limitation, except buy
one of the new TV sets with high-resolution-display technologies. The good
news is that LCD and plasma TV displays — the type required to act as large
computer monitors — are available for lower prices each month. For example,
you can now get a 20-inch LCD TV for around $1100, and a full 42-inch plasmascreen TV from Gateway for less than $3000.
When connecting your MCE PC to both a monitor and a TV, attaching the cables
is only one step. The other step is telling the computer that you have two
displays — and making sure it “sees” both of them.
In this section, we walk through an example of what you need to do, using the
HP Media Center computer with Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition
and the NVIDIA GeForce4 video card, which is a common video card. The
procedure for your setup should be similar. Check the manual that comes with
your MCE PC to see whether the exact steps you should follow.
The following steps are not performed inside the full-screen, remote-controllable
Media Center interface. Instead, you do the following in the regular keyboardand-mouse Windows XP interface:
1. Turn on the computer and the television.
2. Make sure your TV is set to the right input source.
Your source is the MCE PC. Your TV settings should be the same as
with your present video signal. Most TV sets have a Video/TV toggle
button on the remote control or the front of the TV. If you have problems seeing an image during this process, try switching the input
source setting (usually line 1, video 1 or S-video on your TV screen).
3. Right-click anywhere on an open area of the Windows XP desktop
and choose Properties.
4. Click the Settings tab, and then click the Advanced button.
5. Click the tab whose title matches the name of your video card, as
shown in Figure 5-1.
6. Choose Clone, click Apply, and then click OK.
7. If a Monitor Settings dialog box appears after the screen properties
change, click Yes.
8. In the Display Properties dialog box, click OK.
9. If a Monitor Settings dialog box appears after the screen properties
change, click Yes.
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This will clone, or recreate exactly, the image on your desktop to the TV.
These steps will be different on your MCE PC if you have a different video card.
We very strongly recommend that you check your PC and video card manufacturer’s Web sites for assistance if you have a different card than the one we
describe here.
If you follow these steps and don’t see the signal on both screens, check that
the Video Out cables are connected to the correct jacks on the back of your
MCE PC.
Figure 5-1:
Cloning your
display
signal in
Windows
XP MCE.
Connecting to Your TV Signal Source
Now it’s time to connect your content signals to your MCE PC. After all,
connecting your PC to your TV helps when you want to play home videos
and DVDs, but it won’t do much for recording TV shows.
If you have a set-top box, antenna, or other source for your TV signal, connect
that source to your PC using the TV or Video In port on your PC. If you have a
coaxial connection from, say, a cable set-top box, you’ll find a complementary
coaxial interface on a card in the back of the PC. If your source is outputting an
S-video or composite-video connection, use the S-Video port (using an S-videoto-composite-video adapter cable).
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
If you use an S-video or composite-video cable to connect to your TV source —
instead of using the coaxial cable connection — you also need some separate
cables to carry the audio signals that correspond with your TV video (in other
words, the dialogue and soundtrack). In this case, you plug your audio cables
into the PC using red (right) and white (left) audio interconnect cables.
Be sure to read the “My VCR” sidebar earlier in this chapter for more information about including a VCR as a signal source in your setup.
Tying in Your Speakers
Different audio interface cards have different ports. Most MCE PCs are designed
for folks with an existing stereo system or a set of PC computer speakers —
and either two-channel stereo or 5.1 surround sound.
Your audio card in your Media Center computer outputs a high-quality but
nonamplified signal. If you’re using conventional speakers — the type that you’d
connect to your stereo system — make sure they’re self-amplified or that you
have an amplifier somewhere in your system. (This amplifier can be a standalone audio amplifier, or in a home-theater receiver, or in a regular stereo
receiver.) Computer speakers that come with MCE PCs have their own builtin amplifiers, so you don’t need an external amplifier like the one in a receiver
in a home-entertainment system.
Speakers with built-in amplifiers are often referred to as active loudspeakers.
Conventional stereo-connected speakers without built-in amplifiers are called
passive loudspeakers.
Audio cards vary in terms of their capability to output different types of signals.
You get three major forms of sound from these cards:
2 channel (stereo)
4 channel (quad stereo)
6 channel (5.1 surround sound)
You also may see some vendors pitching a 2.1 system, which is a left and right
channel with a derived bass signal to a subwoofer. A derived signal means that
the processor is filtering out only specific frequencies from the other signals
to create a signal for the subwoofer. Contrast this approach to a true 5.1 system,
in which an encoded special-effects channel in the audio signal goes to the
subwoofer.
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These three forms of sound are output on one of four connectors:
Analog RCA connector
Analog miniplug (3.5mm) connector
Digital optical connector
Digital coaxial connector
Connecting your computer speakers to your MCE PC is a matter of connecting
the speaker cable connectors to the appropriate ports on the audio out cards.
Hooking up your MCE PC to
your stereo system
If you have a newer or high-end stereo system, you’ll probably want to tie your
MCE PC to your receiver or preamplifier using the digital optical or coaxial interfaces. If your receiver has only RCA Audio In jacks, you’ll use either the analog
RCA or miniplug connector (with a miniplug-to-RCA adapter — we told you that
you’d need those adapters).
Integrating speakers into your MCE PC can become complex because some
audio interface cards were designed to work with computer-oriented amplified
speaker systems, such as the Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 (www.klipsch.com/, $499)
or the Logitech Z-680 (www.logitech.com, $399) — two of the most commonly
bundled speaker sets for MCE PC computers. From the cabling used to the color
coding on the ports, these cards are often matched to computer speaker sets.
Take a look at the Sound Blaster Audigy card, one of the most popular cards
for MCE PCs. This card has the following audio connectors:
Mic (Pink): Connects your microphone
Line In (Blue): Connects to an analog audio source
Line Out-1 (Lime Green): Connects to an active stereo or multichannel
speaker system, either as the single link to a 2.1 speaker system or as the
first (front speakers) of three links to a 5.1 speaker system
Line Out-2 (Black): Connects to an active stereo or multichannel speaker
system, for the rear speakers of a 4 or 5.1 speaker system
Line Out-3 (Orange): Connects to an active stereo or multichannel speaker
system, for the center speakers and subwoofer of a 5.1 speaker system
Digital Out (same connector as Line Out-3): Connects to a digital device
such as a preamp or a stereo receiver that has a digital input port
So depending on what speakers you have, you might be using one, two, or
three cables, and either analog or digital ports. Whew.
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
Another example of an MCE PC’s audio connections is the Viewsonic M2000,
which offers two analog RCA ports (for a 2.1 speaker system), as well as optical
and coaxial digital outputs (for 5.1 signals). But if you have an amplified
5.1 computer-speaker system that doesn’t take anything but a miniplug interface, there’s no way to connect the two without going through some sort of
interface device, such as a preamp. You’d need to have speakers like the
Logitech Z-680, which can accept the S/PDIF optical or coaxial digital output from
your MCE PC.
After you connect your speakers physically, your next step is to configure your
MCE PC to support the type of audio setup you have. It would be a shame to
have a 5.1 surround-sound system installed but be outputting a simple, stereo
two-channel signal. Your audio should be set correctly for your speaker system
by default from the factory, but it’s a good idea to check it to be sure.
After you boot your system (see Chapter 7), you should check the following
configurations on your MCE PC:
1. Open the audio card utility program that comes with your PC and
set the speakers to the appropriate setting, such as 2 Speaker or 5.1
Surround Sound.
If you have an Audigy card, choose Start➪All Programs➪Creative➪Sound
Blaster Audigy, and then click AudioHQ to access the audio card settings.
2. Launch the Media Center interface (press the big green button on the
remote) and set the speaker preferences in the system Settings folder.
a. From the main Media Center screen, choose Settings➪TV/DVD➪
DVD➪Audio.
b. On the Audio tab, make sure that the correct speaker/channel
option is selected.
c. Click Apply and then click OK.
3. Open the Windows Control Panel and select right speaker/channel mode.
To do this:
a. Choose Start➪Control Panel➪Sounds➪Speech and Audio Devices,
and then choose Sounds and Audio Devices.
The Properties window appears.
b. Click the Volume tab. In the Speaker settings, click the Advanced
button.
c. Click the Speakers tab. In the Speaker Setup area, choose the
correct channel combo from the pull-down menu.
d. Click Apply, and then click OK.
Now your PC should be configured not only for Media Center usage but also
for any other audio or video application on your PC.
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Connecting headphones and mics
You can connect headphones to your PC. Generally, most headphones have a
1
⁄ 8-inch (3.5mm) male miniplug connector that you plug into your equipment.
So you would plug this connector into a headset 3.5mm port, a Line Out port,
or the speaker system itself. (Look for the port with the little headphone icon
next to it.) Not much to it really — just plug the headphones in and that’s it.
Because you’ll probably be sitting back a few feet from the MCE PC when you’re
using the headphones, you might consider buying a set of wireless headphones.
Freedom of motion (and freedom from tripping over that darned wire) is a beautiful thing.
You can hook up a microphone to your system as well. Most PCs have a small
3.5mm port for a microphone jack. Some manufacturers color code the jack
(HP’s is pink). You don’t need the microphone for any MCE functions we
discuss here, but it can be handy if you want to use your MCE PC and Internet
connection for voice chat or Internet telephony.
Connecting Peripherals
Your remaining peripherals — printer, USB devices, cell-phone data cord, and
so on — plug into the MCE PC according to the installation process laid out by
the manufacturer. Your MCE PC is just another Windows XP machine, so if a
peripheral works on a normal XP PC, it will work on your XP MCE PC.
So many types of peripherals and vendors are available that we can’t give
you explicit instructions here on how to connect them, other than to note
that peripheral devices generally connect to the PC through its USB, parallel,
or serial ports. For more on USB (and the two variants of this technology —
USB 1.1 and USB 2.0), see Chapter 1.
We recommend that you wait until you fully set up the software component
of Windows XP Media Center Edition before attaching any peripherals unless
they’re needed to turn on the machine for the first time. Otherwise, Windows
will detect and start to install these devices when it sees them, possibly interrupting the MCE installation process.
Recent advances in plug-and-play should make it even easier for you to connect
new devices, so we don’t have a lot to write about in this section. Microsoft
has had great success in expanding the number of peripheral devices that
truly are plug-and-play. And because Media Center is based on Windows XP
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
Professional, Plug-and-Play works just as well with an MCE PC as it does with
any XP computer.
You might have problems plugging older gear into MCE PC. If your hardware is
not on the Windows Hardware Compatibility List (HCL), search the vendor’s site
for updated XP drivers. The drivers should be easy to find because most hardware vendors have developed compatible drivers for their older equipment —
look at the support pages of the vendor’s Web site.
You can check the compatibility of your hardware (and software for that matter)
at the Microsoft Compatibility Web site at
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/upgrade/compatible/
or by choosing Start➪Help and Support. When the Help and Support Center
window appears (it’s also called HelpSpot), click the Find compatible hardware and software for Windows XP link.
You might have difficulty also if you’re plugging into a USB 2.0 slot older gear
that uses a USB 1.1 interface in. The combination of older and new equipment
on the USB 2.0 connection might cause some attached USB devices to not work,
particularly if you’re using an external USB 2.0 hub, a device that adds interface ports to your MCE PC.
USB 1.1 runs a slower speed than the newer 2.0 specification. Because USB is
a serial communications channel, everything connecting to that channel has
to use the same protocol and work at the same speed. The computer doesn’t
have a problem with this requirement, but the devices might. Many devices
(cameras, scanners, mice) can “speak” only one language (USB 1.1 or 2.0). If
you combine a USB 1.1 device and a USB 2.0 device on the same channel, one
takes precedence (by being the first to communicate with the computer) and
sets the language that will be used. In almost every case, the newer device wins
out because the faster 2.0 protocol is always the first to communicate with the
computer. The older device will not work, even though it’s plugged in correctly
(and even if its indicator lights indicate a valid connection).
You do have a way around this problem: The XP MCE PC has two USB slots on
the back. Each has a unique channel, so one could “speak” USB 1.1 and the
other could “speak” USB 2.0. Just make sure that all your older devices go on
one channel and all your newer devices go on the other. To do this, use two
dual-mode USB hubs. Connect all USB 1.1 devices to one hub, and connect that
hub to one of the USB ports on the PC. Connect all USB 2.0 devices to the other
hub, and connect that hub to the other USB port on the PC. Now every device
should be happy.
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All those cables . . . and the cat!
Do you have pets and are worried that they
might go after your cables? You can try a few
things:
Organize your cables: Viewsonic has a
wonderful, built-in hood, or cover, for its
MCE PCs that protects your cable connections (by keeping the cat away from them,
for example) and ensures that all the cables
exit in a common area, making it easier to
bundle them. For cables going to the same
place, such as to your entertainment center
or across to a network connection jack,
think about binding them with plastic tubing
or Velcro straps. Check out the great list of
cable and wire organizers at www.online
organizing.com.
Make your cables taste bad: We use
Grannick’s Bitter Apple spray to keep pets
away. We’ve heard that it tastes so horrible
that even pets won’t try it (and we’ve seen
our dogs taste a lot of questionable stuff).
It’s available in your nearby pet store.
In the next few years, you should see wireless
cables — little wireless adapters that create a
high-speed, wireless link between connected
devices. (For more in this topic, see Chapter 19.)
We simply can’t wait for that!
Connecting to the Telephone Line
or Network
After you’ve made all the local connections, it’s time to connect your MCE
PC to the outside world. In Chapter 6, we go into detail about connecting
|to the Internet. In this section, we focus on the physical aspect of plugging
in your connections so that you can do all the configurations we talk about in
Chapter 6.
Included with your MCE PC is a telephone line cord, with RJ-11 connections
(the little plastic jobbers) on each end. Connect one end of the telephone line
cord into the modem port on your PC and the other into a nearby phone jack.
There, that was easy.
Some MCE PCs come with modem cards that have both a Line In and a Line
Out RJ-11 jack, so you can share your wall jack with a phone. You run a phone
cable (with two RJ-11 jacks) from the wall jack to your PC Line Out jack, then
you run another phone cable from the PC to the wall. Now, both your PC and
your phone can work at the same time.
If your PC doesn’t have a Line Out jack and you’re using the wall jack next to
your MCE PC for your phone, buy a 2-to-1 splitter adapter from Radio Shack.
The splitter allows you to connect both the MCE PC and a phone to a single
wall outlet.
Chapter 5: Hooking Up Your Media Center PC
You connect to a cable modem, DSL line, or satellite modem using either the
USB connection or the Ethernet connection on your MCE PC. Most PC Ethernet
cards have a little green LED that will light up if you have a valid connection.
We continue the discussion of the configuration of your Internet connection
in Chapter 6. For now, it’s sufficient that all your cables are connected.
Connecting Your IR Devices
Your MCE PC is outfitted with IR-sensing capability for taking input commands
from the remote control. This sensor is part of the computer, part of the monitor, or an attachable remote sensor connected to your computer with a cable.
An attachable remote sensor allows you to extend your IR-signal-receiving capability, so you can tuck the PC away in a corner and not worry about having to
point your remote control at the front of the PC or the monitor.
The remote sensor is smaller than a deck of cards and connects to your PC
using (in almost all cases) a USB cable. Locate the remote sensor in a position that’s visible from all areas of the room.
If you have a cable TV, satellite, or other set-top box that controls your TV
signal, you need to use an IR-sensor control cable that will allow your MCE
PC to control that set-top (so that the MCE PC can change channels to record
a program for you). If you have a remote-sensor box, this control cable will
connect to the back of that box. Otherwise, the cable connects to the back of
your MCE PC.
Remote-sensor control cables have a little, clear IR-emitting head that you
should position over the IR-sensor eye on your set-top box. You have to remove
the tape backing on the IR head of the remote-sensor control cable and then
stick it to the IR sensor eye of the set-top box. Hold it there for a little while to
make sure it sticks.
In addition to taping the IR head to the sensor eye on the set-top box, tape the
sensor cable itself to the set-top box so that the cable doesn’t get yanked loose.
(The sticky side of the IR-emitter head on the cable can degrade over time.) It’s
common for the small IR-emitter head of a sensor cable to fall off, and you’ll be
mad if this happens at just the wrong time — say, when you’re running into your
room at 8:59 on a Sunday night because you forget to tell your MCE PC to tape
Sex and the City.
If you have a set-top box whose IR sensor is hidden behind a large panel of
smoked or red plastic, use a flashlight to see through the plastic panel and find
the IR sensor. The sensor is typically shaped like a small circle, about 1⁄ 8-inch
round, within a squarish frame.
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Connecting Your FM Antenna
For your FM tuner in your new Media Center PC to work, it’s going to need . . .
ta-da . . . an FM antenna. All sorts of FM antennas are on the market, from the
cheap, string-like, dipole antenna you can get from Radio Shack to expensive,
roof-mounted FM directional antennas. One nifty unit from Radio Shack is its
VHF/UHF/FM Antenna with IR Learning Technology (model 15-1870, $39).
The antenna “learns” and remembers the preprogrammed position for the
best reception for each FM station. Then, every time you select a station, the
antenna automatically adjusts to the same position!
Connecting an FM antenna to your MCE PC is easy. Connect the antenna’s leads
to the FM jack on your PC’s radio tuner card. The PC card typically requires a
75-ohm connection from the antenna, so make sure the antenna you choose
has one of these connections (it looks like a cable TV connector).
You’ll need to fiddle with the position of the antenna to find the spot with
the maximum signal strength.
“Houston, We Are Go for Liftoff!”
You’ve assembled and connected your Media Center PC, but you need to do a
few more things before everything is completely up and running. First, you need
to get your Internet connection online. In the next chapter you find out about
the different types of Internet connections you can use with your MCE PC (we
recommend broadband), obtaining service, and getting online.
Then you need to boot ’er up and go through the setup programs, which we talk
about in Chapter 7. We love configuring software so much that sometimes we
reset everything and do it all over again, just for fun! We walk you through the
things you see the first time you fire up your MCE PC (in Chapter 7) and then
give you advice on how to configure and customize Media Center (in Chapter 8).
Chapter 6
Connecting to the Internet
In This Chapter
Finding out the basics of connecting to the Internet
Using a dial-up modem for easy access
Speeding up with DSL
Using a cable modem for Internet access
Finding alternatives to DSL and cable modems
Getting your MCE PC online
G
etting online. Connecting to the Internet. It’s vital for any PC, including a
Media Center Edition PC. Getting your MCE PC online gives you a window
to the world of online music, pictures, and videos. And with new services such
as the new, legal version of Napster, Listen.com’s Rhapsody, and Movielink, you
can get songs and movies online legally and inexpensively. In addition, accessing the on-screen program guide to see what’s on TV and to program your My
TV module so that you can record TV shows requires an Internet connection.
In this chapter, we talk about the two ways to connect to the Internet: slow
dial-up and the much faster broadband. You find out how to get Internet
service and how to connect your MCE PC.
Internet Connection Basics
At the most basic level, you can connect your MCE PC (or any PC) to the
Internet in two ways:
Dial-up: Using the analog modem built into every MCE PC, you can create
a dial-up connection to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) such as AOL or
Earthlink. This dial-up connection uses your existing phone line and
connects you with your ISP at a speed of up to 56 kilobits per second (Kbps).
Hardly anyone gets a true 56 Kbps out of his or her dial-up connection,
however. For technical reasons we won’t bore you with, most connections
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are 44 Kbps or less. And your dial-up connection is slower in the upstream
direction (that is, from your computer to the Internet) than in the downstream direction.
Broadband: Using the Ethernet port on the back of your MCE PC, you
can connect to a broadband ISP at speeds that can be 20 or more times
faster than dial-up connections With a broadband connection, you don’t
have to sit around and wait for hours (or even days) to download music
and movies from the Internet.
We strongly recommend that you get a broadband connection for your MCE
PC, if you can. The amount of entertainment content (songs, movies, videos,
and pictures) that you can access online will only increase, and a dial-up
connection simply can’t handle many types of media because the files that
you need to download are too big.
Did you know that some services won’t even let you on their site if you don’t
have the right bandwidth? It’s true. If you have a dial-up connection, try to log
on to Movielink’s site (www.movielink.com). It checks your connection as you
log on and shunts dial-up users to a message saying that the connection is not
fast enough for its service. That’s harsh!
As you begin to connect your MCE PC to the Internet, you might come across
a few unfamiliar terms. To demystify them, we provide the following list of
definitions:
IP address: Every computer (actually, every device) on the Internet has
an IP address. (IP stands for Internet Protocol — it’s the common language
used by everything on the Internet.) Your IP address is sort of like your
telephone number for the Internet.
When you surf the Web, your computer and Web browser program send
out small requests for data (Web pages) to the IP address of the computer
(or server) hosting the Web page you want to look at. These requests
include your IP address, so that the Web server can send the Web page
data back to your computer and your Web browser. Everything you do
on the Internet is based on the concept of computers communicating
with other computers, using their respective IP addresses.
DNS: An IP address consists of four sets of numbers separated by periods
(for example, 64.236.16.116). When you want to read a Web page, you type
something like www.cnn.com instead of 64.236.16.116. Because it’s easy
to remember www.cnn.com, but not many of us can remember 64.236.
16.116, the Internet powers-that-be were smart enough to set up something called DNS (Domain Name System). With DNS, you enter a regular
text name (also called a host name) such as www.cnn.com. The DNS server
at your ISP converts that name to the IP address so your Web browser or
other Internet program can find what you’re looking for online.
DHCP: With the majority of ISPs, your MCE PC (or any PC) is assigned a
new IP address every time you connect to the Internet using a system
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
called DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). Because the IP
address changes every time you go online, it’s a dynamic IP address.
This is an automated and behind-the-scenes process, but we want to tell
you about it because in certain cases (for example, if you want to host your
own Web site on your MCE PC), you may want to pay a few bucks more
a month to your ISP and get a static IP address instead of dynamic one.
A static IP address never changes, which makes it much easier for other
people to find online services you’re hosting on your MCE PC.
DHCP is an important concept for people who are logging on to your home
network as guests. DHCP allows your brother-in-law’s kids to come over
with their sleek wireless-enabled laptops and log on to your home network
with relative ease. The laptops are considered another computer on your
network requesting a temporary IP address to access the Internet. For
more on home networking, see Chapters 15 and 16.
Dial-up Modem Connections
The easiest and quickest way to get online is to use a dial-up connection to
your ISP, using the internal modem built into your MCE PC. The advantages
of using a dial-up connection follow:
Dial-up is easy to do: The modem is already installed in your MCE PC. You
don’t have to do anything special to your phone line (that is, neither
you nor the phone company has to make any special preparations). Using
dial-up is just plug and play.
Dial-up is available anywhere: Just about every phone jack in the United
States can support a dial-up connection. Even in the most rural areas with
rotary phone dialing, you should be able to dial up your ISP, although it
might be a long-distance call.
If you’re new to the Internet and are using a dial-up connection to your
ISP, be sure to check whether it’s a toll call.
Dial-up is the cheapest way to get online: Depending on your ISP and the
service plan, you should be able to pay about $20 a month to get online.
You might pay less for a plan that gives you a limited number of minutes
online per month.
As we’ve already mentioned, dial-up is not ideal. Here are some limitations
to dial-up compared to broadband ISP connections:
Dial-up is slow: 56 Kbps is the maximum speed of a dial-up connection.
As mentioned, usually the connection speed is lower, probably in the 40
to 45 Kbps range. To put this in perspective, an average quality MP3 music
file is about 2MB. So downloading a single song using a modem can take
7 to 8 minutes. If you have a ten-song CD that you want to download, plan
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on spending an hour to an hour and a half. That’s a long time! This slow
downloading gets even worse when you start talking about video files
and movies (where the files are exponentially larger).
Dial-up can be a pain: Dialing into an ISP can sometimes be a quick and
painless procedure, but often it’s time consuming and slow. Busy signals
are not unheard of with some ISPs; just when you need to dial in to send
a quick e-mail or to check a sports score, you find that you can’t get online.
Even if there’s no busy signal, you may end up taking more time dialing
in than you will doing what you need to do online.
Dial-up connections block your phone calls: Probably the biggest inconvenience you might experience with dial-up connections is that it ties up
your phone line. For that reason, many people have second phone lines
at home, dedicated solely to dial-up connections. That adds about $15 to
$25 to your monthly bill (exactly the difference in price between dial-up
and broadband, you’ll notice).
Today, some ISPs offer an Internet Call Waiting service that displays a
message when someone calls while you’re online and offers you the
option to suspend your online activities so you can answer the phone.
Dial-up connections don’t play well with home networks: If you have
more than one computer (a work laptop maybe or a spouse’s computer),
dial-up can be inconvenient. It’s difficult to share a dial-up connection
among multiple computers, and even if you can get it to work, you’ll find
that the limited speed (bandwidth) is stretched even more thinly when
two or three people are accessing the Internet simultaneously.
Well, now that we’ve said a few good things and a few bad things about dial-up
Internet connections, let’s say this: Not everyone can get a broadband ISP
connection where they live, and not everyone who can get broadband can
afford it. (Broadband connections cost $15 to $20 a month more than dial-up
connections.)
Satellite Internet service reaches most of the United States and serves as a
reasonable link to the broadband world. More than 90 percent of Americans
have access to some sort of broadband connection (at least that’s what the
FCC tells us). We talk more about this in the “Other Ways to Get Online” section,
later in this chapter.
If you’re going to use a dial-up Internet connection, the first step is to choose
your ISP. A few years ago, ISPs were set up in just about every corner of the
globe, with small Mom-and-Pop ISPs serving a large percentage of Internet
users. In the intervening years, the ISP market has undergone a lot of consolidation, meaning that a few big players have bought up the smaller ISPs or
driven them out of business.
There are still some local dial-up ISPs around, and they can offer good service.
If you have some geeky friends, ask them whether they know of any local ISPs
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
in your area and get their recommendations. You can also look at your local
computer paper (you know the one — it’s stacked by the door at your local
coffee shop or computer parts store) to see what’s available.
Your other choice is a national ISP that provides — you guessed it — service
nationally. You might get less personal service with a national ISP, but it does
have some advantages. First, it’s more likely to have an access number (the
phone number you dial into to connect to the Net) wherever you go. So if you
move or travel with your MCE PC (remember, some MCE PCs are laptops), you’ll
be able to get online. Second, many also provide broadband ISP services. So
if you decide to upgrade to broadband later, you may be able to do so without
changing your e-mail address or going through the process of signing up with
a new provider.
Some of the national ISPs that you might consider include the following:
AOL: www.aol.com
Earthlink: www.earthlink.net
MSN: www.msn.com
NetZero: www.netzero.com
You can also get dial-up service from your local phone company (such as SBC,
BellSouth, Verizon, or Qwest). In many cases, the local phone company works
with another company — for example, SBC offers a dial-up service with Yahoo!,
and Qwest works with MSN. If you get your Internet access from your local
phone company, you may find that you can get a discounted price if you buy
a bundle of services from the company.
Our favorite online source for information about dial-up and broadband ISPs
is CNET. Check out its ISP information page at www.cnet.com/internet.
DSL Connections
The local phone company offers you an even better way to get online using your
phone lines: DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service. DSL is a digital modem technology that takes advantage of the unused frequencies on your phone line
(specifically, the frequencies above those used to carry your voice over the
phone line) to give you extra bandwidth, or speed, on your Internet connection.
Many variants of DSL technology are available, such as ADSL, SDSL, and IDSL.
The most common by far is ADSL (Asymmetric DSL). If you go to your local
phone company or your favorite ISP to buy DSL, 99 percent of the time you’ll
get ADSL.
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Filtering out noise
We mentioned that DSL — particularly the
ADSL technology used in residential DSL —
uses different frequencies on the phone lines
than your voice telephone service. Unfortunately,
things aren’t always that tidy in the real world —
systems that operate at different frequencies
may still send out stray frequencies that interfere with each other. So even though your
phone (on the lower frequencies) and your
ADSL modem (on the higher frequencies) are
not supposed to interfere, overlap occurs.
Early DSL modem installations used a device
called a POTS splitter to keep your voice and
the DSL modem on different segments of the
phone wiring in your house. This brute-force
approach of keeping things separate solved the
interference problem but came with a price. A
phone technician had to come to your house to
install this splitter, and you ended up with only
one phone outlet in the house that could accept
your DSL modem.
The current solution is more elegant. When a
DSL modem is installed, you simply plug a small
filter into your wall outlet between the phone
and the outlet. This filter is called a low-pass
filter because it lets only lower frequencies
through. The low-pass filter corrects any interference problems and lets you plug the DSL
modem into any phone outlet in the house. You
can also do the installation yourself, which
saves you time and money.
ADSL is called asymmetric because the downstream speed (from the Internet
to your MCE PC) is typically much faster than the upstream speed (from your
MCE PC to the Internet). Although some computer-savvy folks find that they
need a lot of upstream bandwidth (to host their own Web servers and the like),
the asymmetric bandwidth of ADSL is not a problem for most users. That’s
because most of the large files you want to access (such as movies and music)
are coming in the downstream direction. All that’s headed upstream are relatively small bits of data requesting those files.
So, how fast is ADSL? It depends on the provider and what service you choose,
but most ADSL services offer downstream speeds of 500 Kbps or faster — on
up to multiple megabits (thousands of kilobits) per second. In other words, DSL
ranges from a lot faster than dial-up to a whole helluva lot faster than dial-up.
DSL pieces and parts
Unlike dial-up ISP connections, which use an analog modem built into your MCE
PC, DSL ISP connections use a separate external DSL modem. This modem
connects to your MCE PC using an Ethernet port (the most common connection) or USB (Universal Serial Bus — a common computer connector also used
for things such as printers, mice, and digital cameras).
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
If you have a choice (and you usually will), go for the DSL modem that includes
an Ethernet port. A USB-only DSL modem isn’t useful if you want to start
creating a home network for more than one computer. Many DSL modems
include both a USB connection and an Ethernet connection, so there’s no
choice to be made. Easy as can be!
For the most part, DSL modems are not available off the shelf like other
computer accessories. Instead, you obtain a DSL modem that’s set up to
work with your DSL provider. Typically, when you order your DSL service,
the provider ships the modem to you. You either buy the modem from the DSL
provider (for about $100), or they lease it to you as part of the service and you
have to give it back if you cancel the service. In a few parts of the country,
you can buy a DSL modem at stores such as Circuit City or Fry’s — the DSL
modem is offered in conjunction with the DSL providers, so you buy the modem
and sign up for a specific service at the same time.
Choosing a DSL provider
Two general types of DSL providers are available:
Your local phone company
A group of competitive phone companies called CLECs
If you haven’t been paying attention to the news in the Internet business lately,
you might not have heard that CLECs have had a tough run the past few years.
Most have gone out of business or focused solely on the business (not consumer) marketplace. The one remaining large CLEC is Covad Communications.
That means you usually have a choice between your local phone company and
Covad for getting DSL.
Your options depend on where you live, but generally you can choose between
Covad (www.covad.com) and one of the following companies:
Verizon: www.verizon.com (serves the Northeastern U.S. and a few
markets elsewhere in the U.S.)
BellSouth: www.bellsouth.com (serves the Southeastern U.S.)
SBC: www.sbc.com (serves much of the Central and Southwestern U.S.)
Qwest: www.qwest.com (serves the Rocky Mountains area and
Northwestern U.S.)
If you live outside the service areas of the “big four” local telephone companies
listed here, your phone company is probably a smaller local one (often called
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an independent, because it was never part of the Bell system). If so, you’re
lucky — many independents are excellent providers of DSL services and have
wider availability and better services than the big guys.
When you choose a DSL provider — such as Covad or your local telephone
company — you usually have a choice of ISP. The DSL provider gives you the
connection, and the ISP provides Internet services such as e-mail, Web site
hosting, and music services.
Most DSL providers offer their own ISP service, but you can also choose from
both local ISPs (in most cases) and big national ISPs. Some of the bigger ISPs
who focus on DSL services are
Earthlink: www.earthlink.net
Speakeasy: www.speakeasy.net
AOL: www.aol.com
MSN: www.msn.com (available through Verizon and Qwest)
Yahoo! Broadband: sbc.yahoo.com (available through SBC)
Which to choose? We recommend that you look at the options and prices and
try to find the ISP that offers the services that best fit your needs. This is not
exactly earth-shattering advice, but each of these ISPs has their own specialties and services.
We like to choose ISPs that explicitly support home networks. Many will often
provide you with networking hardware, extra e-mail boxes (one for each person
in the house), and other neat Internet features such as fixed IP addresses
(helpful if you want to use applications such as videoconferencing) and firewall
services (to keep the bad guys out of your computer). ISPs offer their own packages of music and video services that help you get entertainment content for
your MCE PC. Check them out and see which one has the services you want
and the price you can afford.
Expect to pay between $30 and $50 a month for DSL service, depending on
the provider and the connection speed.
Many DSL ISP connections are always-on connections, meaning that the DSL
modem makes an initial connection to the Internet and stays connected at all
times. You don’t need to log on or enter a user name and password when you
want to access the Internet on your MCE PC. Some DSL providers, however, use
a system called PPPoE (or Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet) that forces
you to enter that user name and password every time you restart your
computer or want to get online. If you have a choice, we highly recommend
that you avoid PPPoE and find a DSL ISP that offers a true always-on service.
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
Many people who use AOL don’t want to upgrade to DSL or a cable modem
because they want to keep their AOL e-mail address and interface. No problem.
AOL sells high-speed Internet access in select areas, so you might be able to buy
it from them. AOL also offers a subscription package that allows you to add AOL
on top of any broadband connection for $9.95 per month. That means you keep
your AOL e-mail address and AOL service, but you access AOL over a broadband connection instead of dial-up.
Cable Modem Connections
The other common way to make a broadband Internet connection is to use
a cable modem. The cable modem connects to the Internet over your home’s
cable TV wires, not the phone lines used by DSL or dial-up connections, and
offers the same always-on, high-speed connection offered by most DSL
providers. Like DSL, cable modems offer downstream speeds measured in
megabits per second, not the kilobits per second that dial-up connections
offer. So, like DSL, cable modems are a fast broadband alternative to dial-up
connections.
We’ve seen many arguments (in advertising, in online forums, and the like)
about DSL versus cable modem — which is faster, which is better, and so on.
We’ve used both systems in our homes and offices over the years, and think
they’re roughly equivalent. What’s important is the service offered by your
local providers — check out the speeds and prices and see what suits your
needs best. We highly recommend www.broadbandreports.com as a source
of consumer reports and recommendations for broadband services.
Cable modem services, such as DSL services, typically range from $35 to $50
per month, depending on your cable company and what speed you choose
(some providers offer higher speed services for more money). And like phone
companies, cable companies tend to offer discounts if you buy that bundle of
services (in this case, high-speed Internet plus cable TV, digital cable, or even
cable telephone service). It’s most likely that your best economic solution will
come from your existing provider of telephone or entertainment (cable or
satellite) services. The incremental cost of adding broadband to your phone
service or your cable TV service is a lot less than buying it separately.
Cable modems for everyone
Cable modems, like DSL modems, are external (they sit on the shelf near your
MCE PC). Because the cable modem industry has done a better job than DSL
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providers of standardizing their systems nationwide, you’re more likely to
be able to just go to the local electronics superstore and buy your own cable
modem off the shelf (but check with your cable company first). Most cable
companies will also sell or lease you a modem, just as the DSL providers do.
The majority of cable modems have either USB or Ethernet connectors — a
few have both types of connectors. Again, we prefer the Ethernet modem or
Ethernet and USB combination modem because they’re more flexible if you
decide to start a home network or already have one. The USB-only modems
are simple to set up but too limited in their capabilities.
When you’re buying an external broadband modem, you’ll find some that
include other functionality such as a router or a wireless access point. These
can be no-brainer add-ons depending on what you plan to do with your home
networking strategy. We urge you to read Chapters 15 and 16 on wired and wireless home networking options before you buy or lease a particular model.
Getting your hands on cable
modem service
Getting cable modem service is a simple task. Unlike the telephone company
world, the cable world doesn’t have competition; only one cable provider is in
any given location. Most of the United States is served by a local cable company
that is affiliated with or is a subsidiary of a national cable company (or MSO,
multisystem operator). Some smaller towns and more rural parts of the country
have smaller, local cable companies, but increasingly, the cable business is
run by a few large, nationwide MSOs.
The most common cable (and cable modem) service operators follow:
Comcast: www.comcast.com (the largest MSO in the United States;
acquired AT&T’s cable business as well)
Time Warner Cable: www.timewarnercable.com (the cable modem
service is called Road Runner, at www.rr.com)
Cox Communications: www.cox.com
Charter Communications: www.charter.com
Cablevision: www.cablevision.com
Shaw Cable: www.shaw.ca (Canada’s biggest cable operator)
Rogers: www.rogers.com (the other large MSO in Canada)
For the most part, when you order cable modem service from your local cable
company, it also acts as your ISP (providing your e-mail mailboxes and other
ISP services such as a personal Web page). In some areas, particularly those
controlled by Time Warner, you may have a choice of ISPs.
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
For example, Pat is a Road Runner customer, but he can also use AOL or
Earthlink as his cable modem ISP. If you want to use a different ISP for your
cable modem service, we suggest that you check the Broadband Reports Web
site (www.broadbandreports.com) or check the Web pages of individual ISPs
(such as www.Earthlink.net) to see whether they offer cable modem service.
Other Ways to Get Online
Dial-up, DSL, and cable modems are the way the vast majority of us get online,
but they’re not the only ways. Alternative broadband technologies such as
wireless ISPs are beginning to pop up in a few locations. Chances are, you
won’t be able to get online with these technologies today, but here’s a quick
overview for future reference:
Wireless ISPs: Some ISPs have grown sick and tired of dealing with phone
companies or cable companies and want to provide their own connection
to customers’ homes, without relying on someone else’s wires and cables.
Dozens of new companies are offering wireless Internet access systems
to these wireless ISPs (WISPs) or to traditional ISPs who are considering
becoming WISPs. Different technologies are being offered but all involve
a small antenna and receiver that you can place in your window (or on
your roof) to pick up a wireless signal from the WISP’s own antennas.
These systems then connect to your MCE PC or home network using an
Ethernet connection.
Satellite Internet: If you live out in the boonies (or anywhere where DSL and
cable are not available), you might consider using a satellite connection
to get online fast. The most common satellite Internet service is offered
by DIRECWAY (www.direcway.com), the ISP arm of DirecTV. DIRECWAY
uses a special two-way capable satellite dish (which is slightly larger than
the DirecTV dish used for TV only) and a special DIRECWAY receiver (which
connects your MCE PC to the Internet through this dish). DIRECWAY service
(which can be purchased directly through DIRECWAY or through Earthlink)
offers relatively fast download speeds (up to 400 Kbps) and slower
upstream speeds (60 Kbps), which doesn’t quite match up to faster DSL
or cable connections. The service is available just about everywhere in
the U.S. for about $70 a month. DIRECWAY has a few disadvantages:
• Satellite connections have a lot of latency: Latency, or delay in the
connection, is inherent in satellite connections because of the long
distance that the signals must travel. So certain applications, such
as audio and videoconferencing and online gaming, don’t work well
on a satellite Internet connection.
• You can’t use DIRECWAY with a home network. DIRECWAY can be
connected only to a single PC. If your MCE PC is the only computer
in your house, you’ll be okay, but if you want to set up a home network, you’re out of luck.
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Electrical utility (powerline) services: Not very common in the United
States or Canada today but becoming popular overseas (particularly in
Europe), powerline services use the electrical wires coming into your
house to carry high-speed, broadband Internet services. A powerline
modem is connected to your electrical panel, and then uses Ethernet
to connect to your MCE PC or home network. This new technology is not
widely available, but some electrical utility companies are beginning to
look seriously at offering such a service.
Fiber to the home: The backbone of the Internet itself runs primarily on
super-high-speed, fiber-optic connections, which use beams of light from
lasers, instead of electrical signals, to communicate. Phone companies and
cable companies also use fiber in almost all their networks as well —
except for the copper-wire piece of the network that connects to your
house. FTTH (fiber to the home) providers extend this fiber right to the
side of your house, offering Internet access at speeds in excess of 10 Mbps
(and potentially much faster). FTTH deployments are extremely limited
(because it costs a lot of money to dig trenches and run fiber) but are
beginning to appear in new developments. All the major phone companies have decided that their long-term future revolves around this FTTH
network, so they’ve begun planning how they will deploy such a network
to their customers.
Making the Online Connection
One of the great things about Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 — or any
version of Windows XP, for that matter — is how easy Microsoft has made
the process of setting up an Internet connection. Windows XP was designed
as an Internet-friendly operating system, and Media Center Edition is no exception. The most important tool included with MCE is Microsoft’s New Connection
Wizard — an easy-to-follow, step-by-step system for getting your MCE PC online.
If you’re installing your MCE PC as part of a home network rather than
connecting it individually to an ISP, you can skip this section and go to
Chapter 15. That chapter discusses the ins and outs of home networking,
including how to use a home-networking router to connect multiple PCs to the
Internet — which is what you’ll need to do to get online with your networked
MCE PC. If you’re using your MCE PC in a dorm room or another location that
has an Ethernet connection for getting online, skip to the same chapter.
The first step to getting your MCE PC on the Internet is to choose an ISP. If you
skipped right to this part of the chapter and don’t have an ISP already, skip
right back and read through the sections on dial-up, DSL, and cable modem
connections. Go find an ISP that you like, and then come back here.
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
If you’ve chosen a broadband connection (DSL or cable modem), you need to
start with the DSL or cable modem installation. We can’t tell you exactly what
this will entail because every provider’s installation is a bit different, but in most
cases you can do the installation yourself. (The DSL or cable modem ISP will
send you a self-install kit with the modem as well as all the accessories you
need.) Generally you need to connect your broadband modem to the wall (your
cable TV or phone line), to an electrical outlet (use a surge protector strip!),
and finally to your MCE PC using an Ethernet cable (which should be
included in the self-install kit).
If you’re unsure of how to do all this plugging in and setting up, you can pay
your cable or DSL provider to come to your house and set up your broadband
service. They’ll install all the hardware and then configure your computer to
get online. Installations are usually $100 or more; self-installs are typically free
or inexpensive (about $25 for the kit).
If you’re going the dial-up route, you don’t have to do any special wiring or
modem installation. Instead just connect a standard phone cord to the modem
port on the back of your MCE PC and to an empty phone jack in your wall. If
your MCE PC has two jacks on the back, use the one labeled Line, not the one
labeled Phone. See, we told you that dial-up connections were a bit easier!
If your ISP requires that you have a user name and password, and you already
know these items, make sure you have them handy because you need them in
the following set of steps. If you don’t have the user name and password from
your ISP yet (perhaps because you’re connecting to the ISP for the first time),
the New Connection Wizard will give them to you. Dial-up connections also
require a local access number, or phone number for your modem to dial into.
After everything’s plugged in and turned on, use the following steps:
1. Open the New Connection Wizard by choosing Start➪All Programs➪
Accessories➪Communications➪New Connection Wizard.
The wizard appears and says “howdy.” Actually, it doesn’t say howdy,
but it does tell you what’s coming next, as shown in Figure 6-1.
2. Click Next.
3. Choose the Connect to the Internet option and then click Next.
Remember, if you’re connecting through a home network (or other
Ethernet network like the one in a dorm), you don’t want to choose
Connect to the Internet here. Instead you want to choose “Connect to
the network at my workplace (for the dorm)” or “Set up a home or small
office network (for your home network).” We give some tips on running
the Microsoft Home Networking Wizard in Chapter 15.
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Figure 6-1:
Starting
the New
Connection
Wizard.
4. Choose one of the three options shown in Figure 6-2 (based on the
advice we give next) and then click Next.
a. If you don’t already have an ISP account (from another computer,
for example), you’ll probably select the “Choose from a list of
Internet service providers (ISPs)” option. The wizard then dials up
a toll-free number using your modem, displays a list of locallyavailable ISPs (at least a list of locally-available ISPs who have cut
deals with Microsoft to be included in this list), and asks you to
choose one. When you do, the wizard automagically finishes your
ISP setup by itself and gets you online.
b. If you already have an ISP account, choose the “Set up my
connection manually” option. Continue with Step 5.
c. If you have a CD from your ISP, choose the “Use the CD I got from
an ISP” option. This ends the wizard installation and launches your
CD’s installation program. Follow the on-screen instructions. Many
larger national ISPs (such as AOL) use these CDs, and most broadband ISPs include a similar CD in their self-install kits.
5. If you chose the Set up my connection manually option, select the
option that describes how you’re connecting to the Internet. Then
click Next.
a. If you’re using a dial-up connection, choose the “Connect using a
dial-up modem” option.
b. If you’re using broadband and your broadband ISP (requires you
to use a user name and password to get online (it’ll tell you when
you sign up), click the “Connect using a broadband connection that
requires a user name and password” option.
Chapter 6: Connecting to the Internet
Figure 6-2:
Choices
galore in
the New
Connection
Wizard.
c. If your broadband provider doesn’t require a user name and password to get online (our favorite kind), click the “Connect using a
broadband connection that is always on” option. Click Next, and
you’re finished!
6. In the text box, type a name for your ISP. Then click Next.
The name can be just a name you’ll remember rather than the actual name
of your ISP. If you end up with multiple ISP connections on your MCE PC
(for example, if you have a laptop computer MCE PC and take it to different
locations), you’ll be able to choose the appropriate ISP connection by
selecting this name.
7. Type the phone number for your ISP and then click Next.
This is the local access number for your dial-up connection. If you’re
using broadband, you skip this step.
8. Type your user name, and type your password twice (see Figure 6-3).
If you’re using a broadband connection that requires a user name and
password or if you’re using a dial-up connection, this is where you type
the user name and password you’ve been saving all this time.
9. Leave all three check boxes at the bottom of the screen checked, and
then click Next.
The “Use this account name and password when anyone connects to the
Internet from this computer” option means that even if you set up multiple
users on your computer, they’ll be able to get on the Internet without
having to go through all these steps and recreating this connection.
(User accounts allow everybody who uses the MCE PC to have their
own customized settings.)
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Figure 6-3:
Complete
your Internet connection by
entering
your user
name, password, and
preferences.
The “Make this the default Internet connection” option simply means
that the computer automatically uses this connection when you try to go
online. In the future, if you add additional connections, you may not want
them to be the default connection. For example, if you take your MCE PC
to your in-laws’ house for the holidays, you’d want to set up a connection
from there that’s not the default — unless you like your in-laws a lot!
The “Turn on Internet Connection Firewall” option enables XP’s internal
firewall system, which helps keep out the bad guys who want to sneak
into your MCE PC.
10. Click the Finish button.
You’re finished. Windows XP MCE connects you to the Internet, and you’re
online.
If you want to make sure that you’re connected, just open Internet Explorer by
choosing Start➪Internet Explorer — it’s right there on top. By default, Internet
Explorer should display the MSN home page; if MSN loads, you’re online and
all set.
If you decide to move to a different ISP or add additional connections, just fire
up the New Connection Wizard again and run through these same steps.
If getting online is a complicated procedure for you (perhaps you have a
special setup in mind), check out The Internet For Dummies by John Levine
et al. (published by Wiley Publishing). It will turn you into an Internet pro.
Chapter 7
Starting MCE for the First Time
In This Chapter
Pressing the power button
Understanding the Media Center Interface
Configuring your MCE PC
Calibrating your video display
Transferring files from your old PC
Turning off your PC (the right way)
Y
ou’re sitting on the floor, staring at your fully-configured MCE PC, and it’s
just ready to be powered up. The anticipation is enough to make you want
to just fire it up and start playing — but we recommend that you take a more
measured approach.
In this chapter, we guide you through the process of starting your MCE PC for
the first time. You are also introduced to the Media Center environment. We
walk you through the first screens that appear when you launch Media Center
and go through the MCE startup wizard. We end with a discussion of how to
turn your PC off — a topic that might seem unnecessary but is a point of confusion among new users.
Powering Up Your MCE PC
When you turn on any PC for the first time, you’re in the realm of the PC vendor.
That vendor decides what you see, when you see it, and where you see it. When
you turn on your Windows XP MCE system, you may have to go through a
Windows XP setup process. You may be presented with the Welcome to
the Windows XP Setup Wizard. You may have to fill out a registration screen.
You may be prompted to sign up for an Internet service, in the hopes that you
don’t have an ISP yet. The vendors spent a lot of time refining their startup
process to minimize the calls to customer support, so it’s best to just let their
screens guide you through the setup process.
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During setup, you’ll probably be prompted to activate your Windows XP MCE
software. This is part of Microsoft’s efforts to cut back on software piracy. (If
you want to activate the software at another time, do so by choosing Start➪
All Programs➪Activate Windows.) Note that activation is not the same as
registration. You have to activate XP within 30 days to use your system. Registration with Microsoft is optional.
We don’t want to dwell on the XP side of things, except as it affects Media
Center and its operation. We’re biased. We think the real configuration starts
when you start the Media Center interface for the first time.
Starting your PC is not the same as starting the Media Center interface. When
you’ve completely started your system, you’ll see a normal Windows XP
desktop, with shortcut icons, a Start button, and a taskbar. This is the normal
Windows XP Professional OS — just like you’d find on any of the millions of new
PCs sold every year. What is different is that this version of Windows has a
green Media Center shortcut button that activates your Media Center interface.
The Media Center Edition Interface
Before we get into the details of the MCE startup process, we want to take a
quick detour to the “Tell me about the Media Center user interface” rest stop.
We highlight the main features of the user interface so that you’ll know where
to find what you need as you go through the startup process.
We tell you about the main elements of MCE’s look and feel — that is, the navigational and graphical elements that help you get around the program. We also
introduce you to your MCE remote control, which is the main device you use
to control MCE.
But first, you need to open Media Center itself. You can do this in one of three
ways: by double-clicking a shortcut on the desktop, by clicking the Start button
on the taskbar of your desktop and choosing Media Center, or by pressing the
green button on your MCE remote control.
MCE Start menu
When you enter Media Center for the very first time, Windows XP MCE sends
you into a setup wizard, which we talk about in the following section. However,
before we do that, we wanted to introduce you to some of MCE’s navigation
and usage standards, so you know what to expect when you see the MCE
interface — wizard or not — for the first time. So in this section, we talk about
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
the overall look and feel of XP MCE, even though we’re not launching MCE just
yet. Be patient and read this section — you launch the application in the next
section.
When you enter Media Center, you see the main Media Center Start menu (see
Figure 7-1). This screen presents you with a single, unified, full-screen portal
for all your entertainment needs. Everyone should have one, don’t you think?
The date and time are prominently displayed in the center of the screen, with
the Media Center modules listed alongside. The modules are in a loop, so you
can cycle through them.
At the bottom left of the screen is an inset window that shows the media currently playing. This window is called, not surprisingly, the Now Playing window.
The media playback toolbar is below the inset window. (Microsoft refers to this
toolbar as the desktop controls toolbar, but we — and everyone else, it seems —
prefer the name media playback toolbar.) The media playback toolbar gives you
direct access to the entertainment in the forefront of your screen. Here you
can change channels (- and +), pause, play, stop, rewind, fast forward, mute, and
change volume (- and +). This playback toolbar appears whenever you move
your mouse
Figure 7-1:
The Media
Center Start
menu is
your
jumpingoff point.
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At the top left of the screen are three buttons. From left to right, they
Let you quickly log off to end your Media Center session or to switch users
Return you to the main Media Center Start menu, like the Go Back
button on your remote
Access Media Center Help
An on-screen volume control gives you a visual view of the volume level and
indicates when the audio is muted. This volume control shows up when you
adjust the volume using the remote control and disappears after a few seconds.
In addition, a phone call notification (using Caller ID) shows you who is calling
and the phone number — you need to have a phone line plugged into your MCE
PC for this to work, of course.
For the Caller ID feature to work, you also need Caller ID service from your
phone company (you probably guessed that) and TAPI-compliant modem in
your MCE PC. TAPI (Telephone Application Program Interface) is a Microsoft
standard for modems that lets them do regular phone stuff, including Caller
ID. Check with your MCE PC vendor if you don’t know whether the modem
you have is TAPI compliant.
The upper right of the screen has the standard Windows tools for minimizing,
resizing, and closing the window. You can use the minimize capability to keep
Media Center running while you work in another program elsewhere on the
screen.
Navigating in Media Center
At the beginning of any software project, programming firms create a document
that defines the usage conventions for the software. As programmers develop
the code, they reference these conventions so that the process of moving,
scrolling, selecting, adding, deleting, and so on is similar throughout the
program. Here are the key usage conventions used in MCE:
Navigating: To move around and select menu items, you use the arrow
buttons on the remote control, the arrow keys on your keyboard, or the
mouse. You can get everywhere in MCE using only the arrow buttons on
the remote. To see everything in long Media Center menus or option listings, you use the arrow buttons (or arrow keys or mouse) to select the
scroll buttons at the bottom-right side of the screen, as shown in Figure 7-2.
Highlighting: MCE indicates that you have successfully navigated to an
item by highlighting it in green. The highlight is different depending on
the item. An item represented by a thumbnail or an icon — a picture,
movie, folder, file, and so on — becomes outlined with a bright green
border. A button or a check box turns green.
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
Selecting: To choose an item or an option, navigate to it (the item or
option becomes highlighted), and press the OK button on the remote
control, press the Enter key on the keyboard, or click the mouse button.
If a media selection is playing in the Now Playing inset window, you can
switch to full-screen mode by navigating to the inset window (the frame
turns green), and then clicking the OK button on the remote.
When you’re navigating in the MCE interface, just remember three things:
arrow buttons, green highlight, OK button. Selecting is that simple.
MCE remote control
The core component around which the entire Media Center concept revolves
is the remote control, shown in Figure 7-3. Microsoft is perfecting the 10-foot
experience for users — the ability to access content from 10 feet away. To
that end, Microsoft has minimized the number of buttons on the remote to
keep your interface with the program as simple as possible.
Central to this remote control, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, is the big green
button. It’s so prominent that there’s even a Windows MCE Web site named after
it (www.thegreenbutton.com). This button always brings you to the main
Start menu for Media Center.
Figure 7-2:
Scrolling
through
long menus
in Media
Center.
Scroll up or down
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Standby button
Transport/media playback buttons
Start button
Navigation buttons
Direct access buttons
Figure 7-3:
A typical
Windows
XP Media
Center
Edition
remote
control.
Mute button
Audio and video buttons
The MCE remote control has the following four groups of buttons:
Direct access buttons: My Videos, My Music, My TV, My Pictures, and
DVD Menu provide direct access into these particular functions. One tap
and you’re there — no need to navigate. The standby button — the power
button denoted by a circle with the vertical slash through it — puts your
PC and monitor into a power-reduced state.
Navigation buttons: These buttons move the cursor around and do
specific actions in Media Center. The arrow buttons move the cursor up,
down, left, and right. The OK button selects the task highlighted on the
screen (just like an Enter button). The Back button (we use this one a lot)
returns you to a previous window — keep clicking it to go back several
steps. The Guide button displays your television program guide. Live TV
is a shortcut button that launches full-screen live TV.
Audio and video buttons: You use the CH/PG button to change channels,
the VOL button to increase or decrease the volume, the mute button to
mute the audio, and the More Info (or Details) button to access data on
what you’re watching, such as the title, the artist, or a TV show summary.
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
The Clear button clears any numbers or letters you’ve entered on the
screen. The Enter button works like the Enter key on a keyboard. Finally,
the numeric keypad works like a cell phone keypad when tapping in text
(press the 2 button once for A, twice for B, and so on).
Transport/media playback buttons: These buttons control the recording
and playback of CD, DVD, and TV content. You use these to play, rewind,
fast forward, skip, replay, stop, pause, and record, as follows:
• Record: The REC button is the neat one here because you can just
tap the button, and the TV show you’re watching is recorded from
that point on.
• Fast forward and fast rewind: Press the FWD or REW button once
after your CD, DVD, or video content has started, and the fast
forward or rewind process, respectively, moves at double the normal
speed. With video content (DVD, recorded TV, or video) press the
button a second time or a third time, and you increase the speed by
40 times and 250 times, respectively — that’s fast. Press the FWD or
REW button a fourth time to return to double normal speed. Pressing
PLAY resumes the selection’s normal playing speed. Pressing PAUSE
freezes the video image on the screen.
With audio content, pressing FWD moves the pace forward at
1.4 times the normal speed. Pressing FWD again moves the pace to
5 times the normal speed, and pressing FWD a third time resumes
the playing at normal speed.
The REW button doesn’t do anything in audio programs (such as CDs
or music files you have in My Music). Only FWD works with music files.
• Skip ahead or backward: Press the Skip button to move to the next
audio or video track or to skip ahead 29 seconds when watching
recorded TV. (Hmmm, how long are those commercials?) Press the
Replay button to go back 7 seconds. Hold down the Skip or Replay
button for 2 seconds and the media moves ahead or backward,
respectively, by several minutes. Hold either button down longer
and the media moves to the end or the beginning, respectively.
Not all MCE PC remote controls follow these same groupings, but almost all
have the same general functionality. You might find the DVD Menu button
located by the navigation buttons on an HP remote control, for instance, but
sandwiched between the VOL and CH/PG buttons on the Windows-standard
MCE remote. The DVD Menu button works the same in both instances, however,
taking you straight to the main menu of the DVD movie.
Fighting over who turns off the PC? You need his-and-her remote controls! Order
extra Philips remotes from your manufacturer or from www.newegg.com, which
sells them for $32.
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Other MCE interfaces
The remote control is not the only way you can control your Media Center.
Here are some other possibilities:
Shortcut buttons on the front of the PC: Across the front of some PCs,
such as the HP, are shortcut buttons that you can press to go to live TV,
the program guide, your music collection, your pictures, or your videos.
These are handy when you’re working at the front of the PC downloading
files or videos from your camcorder or other device and want to quickly
check that the files were downloaded successfully into the system.
Keyboard shortcut buttons: Across the top of your keyboard, you might
have a similar lineup of shortcut buttons that will take you quickly into
select functions of Media Center. Some of these are programmable, so
you can customize your shortcut experience.
The Media Center Edition
Start-Up Process
Now we’re getting to the good part. When you start Media Center Edition for
the first time, you’re entering a whole new world.
The first time you press the green start button on your remote control, the
Media Center Setup Wizard process begins. You’re asked a series of questions
that customize and optimize the MCE interface.
You need to know the following information to get through the Media Center
Setup Wizard:
Your zip or postal code.
Your TV signal provider and, if you have a cable or satellite provider, the
package you subscribe to. (You might need to grab your monthly bill.) A
sample package might be the Platinum package from DirecTV or the Basic
Cable Service package from Charter Communications.
The manufacturer and model number of your set-top box, if you have one.
To download the TV programming guide data, you’ll also need an active
Internet connection. If you don’t have your Internet connection hooked up
yet, that’s okay. Just come back to this step later by going to the MCE Start
menu and selecting Settings➪TV.
During the initial Windows setup process (not the Media Center setup), you’ll
be asked to specify the country or region in which the PC resides. This information is required in combination with your zip code information to download
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
the television guide. If the country setting and the zip or postal code you
entered don’t yield a valid combination in the MCE database, you might see
an error message on your screen. If this happens to you, do the following:
1. Leave the Media Center interface and go back to the regular XP
interface.
To leave MCE quickly, navigate to the top-right corner of the screen and
click the minimize button. (It’s the one on the far left.) Don’t worry, your
MCE session will be right where you left it when you return — you’ve
just reduced the window to a button on the taskbar along the bottom of
your XP desktop.
2. Now that you’re back in XP, choose Start➪Control Panel➪Date/Time/
Language/Regional Options.
3. Click the Regional and Language Options tab.
Towards the bottom of the tab, the country appears in the drop-down
list. If you’re in the United States and speak English as your preferred
language, this should be ‘English (United States).’
4. If the country is wrong, select the correct one, click Apply, and then
click OK. If the country is correct, simply click Cancel.
5. Return to the Media Center interface.
To do so, simply click the minimized Media Center button on the XP
Windows taskbar at the bottom of your screen.
6. Check your zip code.
Navigate to Settings and choose Zip/Postal Code. Type your zip code again.
If you changed the country in Step 4, you should see that new choice
now. (If you don’t, call your MCE PC’s vendor’s technical support line.)
7. Click Next.
You’re prompted for your TV signal provider.
8. Select the provider, and then click Next.
You can now download your TV program schedule. MCE seeks out the
appropriate databases from the master MCE databases at Microsoft. You
can always update your TV guide manually by going to the MCE Start menu
and choosing Settings➪TV➪Guide➪Get Guide Data.
That’s it . . . it’s not a complex installation or startup process. So what’s the
first thing to do after installation? Read on and find out!
Time for Your Calibrations!
If you’re connecting a TV to your MCE PC, you need to make sure that the display is calibrated correctly. Most TV displays come from the factory improperly
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calibrated. The brightness and color are set at unnatural levels to make the
displays stand out on the showroom floor in a brightly lit store. Put one of
those displays in a darkened home theater, and the picture looks awful. You’ll
be asking yourself why you spent so much money. Even if your display is not
brand new or all that fancy, calibration can breathe new life into your picture
quality.
The factory-set, overly bright settings can reduce the lifespan of a CRT (directview or projection) or plasma display.
Windows MCE comes with its own calibration program to guide you through
the process of changing the various settings on your TV. Before we walk
you through the calibration process, however, we define some terms you’ll
encounter.
The ABCs of calibrating your TV display
You, as a non-technician, can make five adjustments on the average display. A
few displays let you adjust more, and service techs with the proper manuals
and codes to get into the service menus of the display can adjust almost
anything. We average folks can adjust the following:
Contrast (white level): Contrast ratio is the ratio between the brightest and
darkest images a display can create. In terms of display adjustments, your
contrast control adjusts the white level, or degree of whiteness your screen
is displaying.
In video displays, whites and blacks are measured on a scale called the
IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers — they must have named this a loooong
time ago!) units. Black is 0%, and white is 100%. You can actually drive
your TV beyond 100% if your contrast is improperly set. If you do this,
white portions of your picture tend to bleed over into the darker portions
surrounding them, reducing the quality of your picture.
Brightness (black level): Now to throw in a counterintuitive statement,
the brightness control on your display adjusts the black level that you see
on the screen. Weird, huh? If the black level is set incorrectly, you won’t
be able to discern the difference between darker images on the screen.
Sharpness: The sharpness control adjusts the fine detail of the picture —
it’s the TV’s capability to display small details. If the sharpness is set too
low, you have a fuzzy picture. If it’s set too high, your picture appears edgy,
often with blobs instead of clearly defined lines around the edges of objects.
Color: Along with tint (which we discuss next), color is one of the two
controls that you use to set the balance of colors on your display If your
color setting is too low, images begin to appear as black and white. If
the color setting is too high, images take on a reddish tinge. (For example,
Nicole Kidman’s face will turn as red as her hair.)
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
Tint (hue): On most TVs, this control is labeled tint, but a few TVs use
hue, which is the more technically correct label. The tint control adjusts
your display’s color in a range between red and green — your job is to
find the perfect balance between them.
Almost every display has an on-screen indicator that shows the status of these
settings. Typically, you see a horizontal bar with a vertical hash mark that
moves as you change the settings, or the entire bar moves left or right as you
increase or decrease the settings. Some displays also have a numeric display
that shows the current settings.
These settings are performed using the controls directly on your monitor or
TV. (You can often use your TV’s remote control instead of buttons on the TV
itself.) Media Center provides the pictures and instructions on the screen to
tell you what kind of adjustments you need to make, but you have to do the
adjustments yourself using the controls specific to your TV or monitor.
The Display Calibration Wizard
When Microsoft created MCE, it wanted users to think that this was the best
way to watch video, no questions asked. But to do that, it had to rely on users
to have their TVs set up correctly. Many don’t.
So Microsoft included a Display Calibration Wizard in the MCE interface.
To use it, follow these steps:
1. From the MCE Start menu, choose Settings➪General.
2. Select the Appearance button.
To do so, navigate to the button (it becomes highlighted in green), and
then press OK on your remote.
3. At the bottom of the Appearance page, select the Adjust display settings
option, and then press OK on the remote.
This option is your doorway to the wizard.
We like the little movies that Microsoft has added here and there to
provide information. In the Adjust Display system, Microsoft has a helpful
video that explains what happens as you adjust your settings. To watch
the video, just select Watch video and click OK on your remote. When the
video ends, you’re taken back to the same screen you were viewing before
you watched the video.
4. Select Next and click OK on your remote.
The wizard starts.
5. Answer the wizard’s questions, selecting Next and clicking the OK
button on your remote after each step.
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The wizard asks you questions to extract the best viewing experience on
your TV. It will ask about the type of display you have (such as CRT, flat
panel, or plasma) and whether your TV has a wide-screen display. XP MCE
adjusts the content it displays if it knows there is more space, which is the
case with a wide-screen display. For instance, instead of showing 9 images
of pictures in the My Pictures area, MCE shows 12 picture images because
it has the room. Also, in the Programming Guide, MCE can now show an
additional 30 minutes of Guide content.
Then calibration mode starts. You see a series of videos that help you
adjust the tint, brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. The program
makes use of inset pictures that you compare with your generated picture
in the larger portion of the screen, and uses tools such as on-screen images
that disappear when the settings are correct.
You need to use the controls on your display itself (either on the front of
the display or on the remote that came with it) to make adjustments to
the display. You can’t fine-tune the display with your MCE remote.
6. When you’ve run through all the Display calibration settings, select
Done and click the OK button on your remote.
You’ve successfully calibrated your monitor!
Third-party programs
You can also adjust your video with a DVD home-theater calibration disc from
a third party. Why do both? You can use the disc with all the TVs in the house,
not just the MCE TV. Also, we’ve found that third-party programs add a little
more accuracy to the settings.
We think that these discs (which cost about $50) are an essential part of the
investment in your home-theater and home-computing environment, unless
you’ve had a professional calibrate your system. Following are the most
common home-theater calibration discs:
AVIA, Guide to Home Theater: Available from Ovation Software (www.
ovationsw.com) this disc contains a ton of great background material
about home theaters. It also provides a series of easy-to-follow on-screen
test patterns and signals that let you correctly adjust all the settings we
discussed previously, as well as test tones for your surround-sound audio
system.
Video Essentials: Found online at www.videoessentials.com, this is the
definitive calibration disc. Two versions are available — one standard
disc and one for digital TVs.
Sound and Vision’s Home Theater Tune-up: This disc is produced by
Ovation Software, this time with Sound and Vision magazine (one of our
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
favorites, www.soundandvisionmag.com). This disc includes videos and
tutorials that demonstrate aspect ratios and let you test the S-video and
component-video outputs on your DVD player (to see which works better
in your system).
We like all three discs and would be hard pressed to recommend just one.
The AVIA disc and Sound and Vision disc are probably the best bet for
people who aren’t trained video calibrators. Video Essentials is geared more
to the professional. AVIA is a bit more detailed and comprehensive, and the
Sound and Vision disc is a bit easier for first-time users. All will give you a
better picture.
Unlike Microsoft’s package, these three include a blue filter. You use this filter
to block out certain light frequencies when adjusting some of the color and tint
settings on your display.
Using one of these discs is a simple process. We’re not going to recreate it here
step by step, because the on-screen instructions do a better job than we can
in a book. However, before you adjust any settings, set up the room with the
same lighting conditions you’ll have when you sit down to play movies or watch
TV. Ambient lighting has an immense effect on what you see on your screen
(regardless of what type of display you have in your home). So lower the
blinds, close the door, and dim the lights. Then just follow the instructions,
step-by-step.
When you’re finished, you’ll notice that your picture looks different. (We sure
hope it does!) It’s going to look darker. If you’re not accustomed to a calibrated
video picture, this might be a bit disconcerting. Give yourself some time to
get used to it. You’ll notice a more detailed picture, one that looks more like
the movies. And isn’t that what you’re after?
Windows Transfer Wizard
Suppose you want to keep all the files and settings from your old computer.
How do you go about doing that? Windows XP MCE has a tool called the Files
and Settings Transfer Wizard that walks you through the process of transferring the settings and files from your old machine to your new machine. Note
that the wizard transfers only settings and files, not programs.
If your old machine has a lot of files — CD songs, videos, or pictures — you’d
save yourself a ton of time if you transfer just the settings now, and make sure
your machine is configured correctly. Then transfer the files using a home
network or direct cable connection between the two — this is preferable to
using floppy discs. (Danny’s machine prompted him for 4177 floppy disks to do
the transfer of his files and settings.)
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Before you can transfer your settings and files, you need to have the same
programs installed on the new machine as you have on the old machine. The
wizard checks to see which programs must be installed on the new computer
before you can proceed with the transfer, so you can double-check that they’re
all there.
You launch the wizard in the regular XP interface, not the Media Center
interface, as follows:
1. Choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪System Tools➪Files and
Settings Transfer Wizard.
2. When asked, Which computer is this?, choose the Old Computer option.
This is the computer from which you’ll get the files and settings.
3. Select a transfer method, and then click Next.
If you have a direct cable connection linking the two computers or a home
network in place, the program senses this and provides those options.
Otherwise, it prompts you for a removable media drive (such as an E:
writable CD drive). Select the means by which you intend to move the
files and settings from the old PC to the new one.
4. Select the files and settings to transfer.
The default setting is to transfer global Windows settings for things such
as taskbar options as well as specific folders such as Desktop, Fonts, My
Documents, My Videos, My Pictures; files and settings for specific applications such as Outlook Express and Internet Explorer; and file type associations for your PC.
We suggest that you accept the defaults. If want to customize what is
transferred, choose the “Let me select a custom of files and settings when
I click Next (for advanced users)” check box and follow the on-screen
instructions that appear after you click Next.
5. Click Next.
The wizard checks to see which programs must be installed on the
new computer before you can proceed with the transfer. Some files
and settings, called program dependencies, work only if a certain
program is installed.
If the wizard finds files that require programs to be preinstalled on the
new machine, a Depended programs screen appears. If any of these
programs are not on the new machine, dig out those programs’ CDs and
install them now.
Otherwise, the wizard begins the process of collecting the files and settings
from the old computer. This can take a while, so stand up and stretch but
don’t leave the computer, because it’s not necessarily a one-step process.
The collection process occasionally turns up a file that can’t be transferred, such as a .dat file, and asks you what to do.
Chapter 7: Starting MCE for the First Time
6. If the computer asks you what to do with a file that can’t be transferred, just click Ignore.
After the collection process is finished, you’ll get a list of those files and
settings.
If a lot of files are listed, consider highlighting them, copying the list into
Notepad (choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪Notepad), and saving
the list for future use.
7. Start the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard on the new target computer.
Choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪System Tools➪Files and
Settings Transfer Wizard.
8. Indicate that this is the new computer by choosing the last option.
That option is titled: I don’t need the Wizard Disk. I have already collected
my files and settings from my old computer.
9. Tell the wizard where to look for the collected items.
When your transfer is finished, you’re finished! Your new computer is
ready to go.
Turning Off Your XP MCE PC
It might seem silly to have a section about turning off your MCE PC, but we
want to say a few things about this JSYK (just so you know).
When using MCE, figuring out when to use one of the “suspended” modes
and when to turn off the machine can be challenging. The power management features in Windows XP are hibernate, standby, and the turned off
state:
Turn off: Shuts things down entirely. Anything saved in RAM (your computer’s memory) is lost (of course, your hard drive retains its memory),
and all loaded programs and states are not retained. Therefore, make sure
you save any open files before you turn off the computer. To use the
programs again, you need to reboot the MCE PC and start the programs.
If you turn your computer off, it will not start itself back up to perform
scheduled TV recordings. So if you have a TV recording scheduled during
a time you’re away from your MCE PC, use the Standby option described
below instead.
Hibernate: Saves an image of your desktop with all open files and documents, and then powers down your computer. When you turn power on,
your files and documents are open on your desktop exactly as you left
them. We don’t recommend that you use the Hibernate option unless
you have the 2004 version of Media Center — Media Center won’t wake
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up to begin recording shows unless the PC is in standby mode (or
actively running).
Standby: Reduces power consumption by cutting power to hardware
components you’re not using. Standby can cut power to peripheral devices,
your monitor, and even your hard drive, but it maintains power to your
computer’s memory so that you don’t lose your work.
You can turn off your XP MCE PC at any time by going to the XP Start
menu (if you’re in Media Center, minimize or close it) and choosing Turn Off
Computer➪Turn Off. This completely shuts down your PC. When you want to
turn on your MCE PC again, press the On (power) button on your computer,
and wait for the PC to reboot.
You can also put the computer in standby mode. This eliminates the rebooting
process by keeping memory alive, but saves power by turning off your display
and hard drive. To put your computer in standby mode, simply choose Start➪
Standby. Or if you don’t want to get out of the Media Center interface, simply
push the remote’s standby (or power) button.
To wake up the computer from standby mode, do one of the following:
Briefly press the On button on the MCE PC
Press the Esc key on your keyboard (or the Standby key, if your MCE PC
keyboard has one)
Press and hold the Standby button on the remote control for a few seconds
When you see the Windows XP startup menu, press the green button on your
remote to launch MCE or click any MCE window running in the Windows
taskbar along the bottom of the screen.
If you plan on using the PC to record TV shows while you’re not using the
computer, be sure to put the PC in standby mode so that the computer can
wake up at the right time, change the channel as needed, and start recording.
To check your power management settings, choose Start➪Control Panel➪
Performance and Maintenance➪Power Options. Work your way through the
various tabs there to make sure the settings are correct. You might want to set
the Auto-Standby option to 30 Minutes of inactivity. Set Hibernate to Never
unless you’re using the 2004 version of Media Center — and even then we
recommend that you use Hibernate only if you have a laptop MCE PC).
When powering down your system, check the drives for CDs, DVDs, and anything that might be in your 6-in-1 card reader. It’s not a good idea to leave
anything in a PC — you never know what might get overwritten or corrupted.
Also, having disks in the reader might cause an error on reboot, because the
system tries to interpret the disk or content as it boots up.
Chapter 8
Customizing Your MCE Experience
In This Chapter
Setting up XP your way
Personalizing Media Center
Tweaking your audio system
Adding third-party programs
C
omputers have come a long way from the old days of command-line
prompts and DOS, when that flashing C:\> prompt was as sophisticated
as the user-computer interface got.
We know that some computer users enjoy memorizing arcane text commands
and using just the keyboard to control and manipulate data, but most of us
were glad when Windows (and the Mac) came along and gave us a mouse and
a nice graphical user interface (GUI) to control the PC. Windows XP Media
Center Edition is a further refinement of this GUI, designed for use with a
remote control (but also fully supporting the mouse and keyboard, if you
want to use them).
The coolest thing about MCE is that it’s not “one size fits all.” You can customize your interface and a lot of the behind-the-scenes settings to make
MCE work the way you want it to.
In this chapter, we discuss how to handle some basic settings in Windows XP,
such as setting up your mouse the way you like it. Then you find out about
the many ways you can customize settings in the MCE interface. Finally, we
talk about some third-party software you can add to your MCE PC to further
customize your Media Center environment.
When we say you should select something, it’s shorthand for this: Use the
arrow buttons on the remote to move the cursor to that item and then press
the OK button on the remote.
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Setting General XP Preferences
Before we get into customizing the Media Center interface, let’s run through
some of the basic customizations you can make in the regular XP interface —
such as setting up your mouse, keyboard, and monitor. These settings influence how your MCE PC reacts when you’re using it in regular computer mode
and also carry over to the MCE interface (when you use the mouse and keyboard instead of the remote).
You change these settings in the XP interface (the one you see when you start
your MCE PC) — so don’t press that famous green button on the remote yet.
Mouse customization
In Windows XP, you can customize how your mouse behaves so that it works
at the same speed that your eyes, brain, and fingers do. You can make the
cursor move more quickly or slowly on the screen, adjust how fast you need
to push the button for a double-click, and even adjust your mouse for lefthanded use.
If you change the mouse for left-handed use by swapping the functions of the
left and right mouse buttons, remember that whenever we use right-click you
should use your left mouse button, and vice versa.
Customizing the mouse is easy:
1. In Windows XP, choose Start➪Control Panel.
2. Click the Printers and Other Hardware icon.
3. Click the Mouse icon.
The Mouse Properties dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 8-1.
4. Click each of the five tabs in turn to access and change the different
settings.
For more information on the various options, read ahead a few paragraphs.
5. When you’re finished, click the OK button at the bottom of the screen
to save your settings.
In most dialog boxes, including the Mouse Properties dialog box, you can
see the results of your modified settings without saving them. Just click
the Apply button to use your mouse with the new settings. If you like the
settings, click OK to save them; if you don’t like them, click Cancel.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
Figure 8-1:
Configuring
the mouse.
We won’t walk you through each of the settings step-by-step — mainly
because you’ll probably want to leave many of these settings alone. Instead,
we describe each one briefly. Remember that when you finish making your
changes, click the OK button to save your new settings.
Following are the mouse properties that you can adjust to your own personal
likes and dislikes:
Buttons: This tab helps you adjust the buttons on your mouse. You can
switch from left- to right-handed operation. The specific areas in this tab
follow:
• Button configuration: Click the Switch primary and secondary buttons option to swap the left and right button functions.
• Double-click speed: Click the slider bar with your mouse and drag
it left to slow down your double-click speed or to the right to
increase the speed. You can practice on the little folder icon to the
right — when you’ve successfully double-clicked at the speed
you’ve set, the folder pops open.
• ClickLock: The Turn on ClickLock option lets you click your mouse
once (and let go) when you’re dragging items around the desktop
or selecting text (or other data) in a file. We never use this, but you
might want to try it out.
Pointers: This tab lets you customize your mouse’s pointer, which is the
cursor or arrow on the screen that your mouse manipulates and moves
around. Some people like to turn the pointer into a Mickey Mouse icon
or a rocket ship. You can select from a long list of schemes (options) by
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clicking the pull-down list. Or if these choices aren’t enough, you can
make up your own pointer scheme.
Pointer Options: This tab lets you further customize your pointers. You
have the following choices:
• Motion: You can adjust how quickly the pointer moves across the
screen relative to your hand moving the mouse. Click the slider
and move it to the right to increase the speed and to the left to
decrease the speed. We like to set this option for really fast speeds —
if your eyeballs can’t keep up or you need to do a lot of precise
mouse movements, you may want a slower speed. We think you
should always click the Enhance pointer precision check box
below this slider because this function helps the mouse handle
small movements more accurately.
• Snap To: This option makes your pointer go to the default button
in a dialog box (usually the OK button). This can be handy, but it
takes some getting used to. We like move our cursor manually, so
we leave this option unchecked.
• Visibility: Sometimes, when you’re using your mouse (or haven’t
used it for a few minutes), you lose track of the pointer on the
screen. The Visibility area provides three options. The Pointer
trails option means that ghost images of the pointer remain on the
screen for a few seconds, following the trail of the pointer. The
Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key option displays a bull’s-eye when you press the Ctrl key. And the Hide
pointer while typing option doesn’t help you find the pointer but
does keep it out of the way when you’re using the keyboard.
Wheel: Most mice that come with MCE PCs have a scroll wheel that lets
you move up and down a Web page, a Word document, or almost any
document without using the scroll bars on the right side of the document window. This tab lets you adjust that behavior and customize how
many lines of text you want the wheel to move. You can also click the
One screen at a time option, if you want the wheel to page down or page
up when you use it.
Hardware: You probably won’t need to do anything in this tab, unless
you’ve installed a different mouse and are having trouble. This tab lets
you select the mouse you’ve installed. You can also configure drivers
(the software that lets the mouse and computer work together) and
troubleshoot mouse problems here.
If you’ve installed a special mouse on your MCE PC (or the manufacturer has
provided a special mouse), your Mouse Properties dialog box might be different. In some cases, the dialog box stays the same, but you’ll have an additional
program with controls for the extra buttons and features of your mouse. To see
that extra program, choose Start➪All Programs, and look around — typically
you’ll see a folder that contains the manufacturer’s name (such as Logitech).
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
Keyboard customization
In addition to customizing your mouse in Windows XP Media Center Edition,
you can customize your keyboard. Just follow these steps:
1. Choose Start➪Control Panel.
2. Click the Printers and Other Hardware icon.
3. Click the Keyboard icon.
The dialog box shown in Figure 8-2 appears.
Figure 8-2:
Customizing
keyboard
behavior.
4. Click the two tabs to access and change the different settings.
For more information on the various options, read the description after
this set of steps.
5. Click the OK button at the bottom of the screen to save your settings,
or click Cancel to revert to the original settings.
You can change only a few keyboard options:
Speed: Like some electric typewriters (remember them?), the keyboard
on your MCE PC repeatedly types a key if you hold it down. Use the
Speed tab to customize the response speed of your keyboard:
• Repeat delay: This determines how long you have to hold a key
down before XP starts repeating that key’s character. Move the
slider to the right for shorter delays or to the left for longer.
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• Repeat rate: This determines how fast the character is repeated as
you hold down the key. Move the slider right for a faster repeat or
left for a slower one. There’s even a text box below the slider
where you can practice. If you are a mystery novel writer and need
to type Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah a lot, cranking this speed up can
increase your productivity.
• Cursor blink rate: The only reason why your cursor blinks is to
help your eye find it amongst all the text on the screen. Use the
slider in the Cursor blink rate area of the Speed tab to set the blink
from no blink to the fastest blink.
Hardware: Like the Hardware tab on the Mouse dialog box described
earlier, this tab lets you select and troubleshoot your keyboard hardware. If you start having problems with the keyboard, go here and click
the Troubleshoot button.
If your MCE PC came with a keyboard that has special function keys and buttons (such as volume controls and keys that provide one-touch access to programs or modules in MCE PC), you’ll probably have additional software on
your PC to tweak these extra settings. Sorry, but you probably have to read
the manual to find out what kind of extra keyboard software you have, where
it’s located on your hard drive (try Start➪All Programs), and how to use it.
Desktop and monitor customization
Now that your input devices are customized, it’s time to customize your
output devices — the monitor and the desktop that appears on it. To do so,
follow these steps:
1. Choose Start➪Control Panel.
2. Click the Appearance and Themes icon.
3. Click the Display icon.
The screen shown in Figure 8-3 appears.
You can open this dialog box also moving your cursor to an open spot
on your desktop, right-clicking, and choosing Properties.
4. Click each of the tabs along the top of this dialog box and make
changes.
We describe each tab in detail shortly.
5. When you’re finished, click the OK button at the bottom of the dialog
box.
Your changes are saved and applied.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
Figure 8-3:
The Display
control
panel.
The Display Properties dialog box has five tabs:
Themes: Microsoft makes it easy to overhaul the appearance of your
MCE XP desktop by providing several themes. These themes define the
colors of windows (the foreground, the background, the borders, and so
on.) and the system sounds. We leave ours in the Windows XP theme
(who has time to mess around with this stuff?). If you’d like to try other
themes, simply click the arrow to the right of the pull-down menu and
make your selection.
Desktop: This tab lets you customize the picture on your desktop —
that is, the image you see in the background behind all the icons and
other elements. Just click the picture you want to use and you’re all set.
You can also use any picture from your digital camera, any JPEG or GIF
image someone sends you, and more. Just copy the image to your My
Photos folder.
If the picture isn’t exactly the right size to fill your desktop, you see a
small pull-down menu on the right. You can center the picture, tile it (the
picture is repeated to fill the screen), or stretch it. If you center your picture or select the None option, use the other small pull-down menu to
select a color to fill in the uncovered space.
If you have a picture somewhere on your hard drive that you want to use,
just click the Browse button. A Find File dialog box appears. Use this
dialog box to navigate your hard drive, find the picture, and select it.
Screen Saver: In the old days, when all monitors were CRTs (cathode
ray tubes, like traditional televisions), you could burn-in (leave permanent images on) the screen if you left the same image on it. To prevent damage to the screen, many people put screen savers on their
computers — if your PC is idle for a while, it times out to a screen-saver
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program, which displays moving images on your display to avoid having
any particular image burn into your screen.
This problem isn’t much of an issue any more because many MCE PCs
use an LCD screen, which is not susceptible to burn-in problems.
However, it can be an issue for your TV set if the TV display is connected to the PC. We recommend that you use XP’s screen-saving capabilities to avoid any burn-in problems.
If you run a screen saver, just select it from the pull-down menu. There
are also buttons to adjust the settings of the screen saver (Settings) and
to preview the screen saver you’ve selected (Preview). You can use the
input box below the screen saver menu to set how long your MCE PC
must be idle before the screen saver starts up, and you can create a
password that must be entered before the screen saver is turned off.
(If you have a snooping roommate, this is for you.)
Appearance: This tab lets you get to the nth degree of customize by
changing the appearance of various Windows elements (such as the size
and shape of borders and arrows). We don’t get much out of this setting,
but you might.
We want to point out one setting, however, for those with an LCD computer monitor (not an LCD TV). Click the Effects button. When the
Effects dialog box opens, go to the area of the screen labeled Use the following method to smooth edge of screen fonts. Make sure that check
box is checked (click it if it’s not), and then click the pull-down menu
and choose ClearType. Click OK. ClearType is a special system in XP
that makes fonts (text characters) appear smoother and less blocky with
LCD monitors. It’s worth using.
Settings: This tab lets you select the display size in pixels, which are
individual points of light in your display. The more pixels you choose,
the more stuff you can see on your screen at once. Here are the options:
• Screen resolution: This slider lets you select the number of pixels
displayed on your monitor. Check your documentation before you
mess with this too much. Some monitors have specific screen resolutions that work best and other resolutions that don’t work at all.
Slide the slider to the right to increase the number of pixels and to
the left to decrease the number.
It may seem like a good idea to show as many pixels as possible,
but this isn’t always the case. If you cram too many pixels onto the
display, the picture isn’t sharp. And if you’re eyes aren’t what they
used to be (perhaps too many late nights in front of the screen
writing books?), you might want to use a lower resolution because
this makes everything on the screen appear bigger.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
• Color quality: This menu lets you select the color quality (or color
depth) displayed on your monitor. The color quality is measured in
bits (the same kind of bits that you think of when we talk about
bits and bytes of data). The higher the number of bits, the greater
the number of color gradations shown. It’s always best to select
the highest number of bits. You usually have a choice of Medium
(16 bit) and Highest (32 bit). With some computers, you need to
select a lower color quality so that performance doesn’t suffer, but
MCE PCs have such butt-kicking video cards that you can happily
select Highest and go on your way.
You should always use the Highest (32 bit) setting for the best possible picture and user experience with MCE.
At the bottom of the Settings tab, note the Advanced button. We mention this button in Chapter 5 when we discuss supporting two displays. You click the Advanced button to begin the process of setting
up your video card to support a television as your second monitor.
If you change anything in the Settings tab (which controls things
such as the resolution and color depth of your monitor), the
changes are temporarily applied, and you see a dialog box asking
the following: “Your desktop has been reconfigured. Do you want
to keep these changes?” If the new desktop looks okay to you, click
Yes. If it looks funky, click No or just wait (it reverts to your previous settings after 15 seconds).
Setting General Media Center
Preferences
All the stuff we’ve discussed so far in this chapter provides you with a means
of customizing the traditional Windows XP interface in your Media Center PC
(though some of these settings also affect the Media Center interface as well).
Now we dig into the different settings and customizations that you can do
within the Media Center interface. To access these settings, follow these steps:
1. Start Media Center.
Click the green button on your remote, or choose Start➪Media Center.
2. In the Media Center Start Menu, select Settings.
Navigate to the Settings option and press the OK button on the remote.
The Settings window appears, as shown in Figure 8-4. You see six
options: General, TV, Music, Radio, DVD, and Pictures.
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Adding users to your XP MCE PC
Adding users to your system isn’t difficult. In XP,
choose Start➪Control Panel➪User Accounts,
and then click the Create a new account option.
A wizard appears for adding a new user account.
Simply follow the on-screen instructions.
Your big decision as you add users is whether to
make them computer administrators or give them
limited accounts. An administrator can do more
stuff, such as add programs, install hardware,
and change system-wide settings, but they can
Figure 8-4:
Getting into
your Media
Center
Settings.
also do more damage to the system when
making these changes. You need at least one
administrator (the first person to use the computer is usually set up as the administrator). We
recommend that you use limited accounts for the
kids and guest users of your Media Center PC.
That way, they can still set their own preferences
and create their own user environment, without
affecting your favorite settings or adding and
removing programs without your permission.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
Not all of these settings can be manipulated by all users. Windows XP can be
used with multiple users, with different levels of assigned privileges. Users
who have administrator privileges can adjust all the settings we describe in
this section. Other users can’t adjust items such as parental controls and privacy settings. If you have several people who will be using your PC, we
strongly advise that you set up your system to support multiple users. To
find out more about adding and changing user settings in XP, see the “Adding
users to your XP MCE PC” sidebar in this chapter.
Each user of the Media Center system can have his or own settings in the
Media Center interface. One user can turn on animations and turn off phone
call notifications, for example, and those settings will not affect the settings
of the other users.
The General MCE settings are just what they say. They’re general settings
that apply throughout the Media Center interface. Figure 8-5 shows the
General Settings window.
Figure 8-5:
Tweaking
the General
settings in
MCE.
To select a setting in the General Settings window (or any of these windows,
for that matter), simply navigate to the setting you want and press OK on the
remote control.
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Keeping up appearances
First up in the General Settings window are the Appearance settings, which
are shown in Figure 8-6. These settings let you adjust some effects and the
color of Media Center on your screen.
Figure 8-6 contains the three types of controls in MCE:
Check boxes
Radio buttons
Plus and minus controls
Check boxes work much like they do in the traditional XP interface — click
them with the mouse, or select them with the remote (by using the arrow
buttons and pressing OK). You can select multiple check boxes in a window.
Radio buttons, on the other hand, are either-or settings. When you select one
(with the mouse or the remote), you automatically deselect the other (or
others) in that section of the screen.
Figure 8-6:
You can
determine
how objects
appear.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
The plus and minus buttons let you select from a list of options (similar to a
pull-down menu in the traditional Windows interface). The plus sign moves in
one direction in the list, and the minus sign moves in the other direction.
With the remote, just select either plus or minus, and press OK repeatedly
until you get to the setting you want. (When you get to the end of the list in
the plus or minus direction, the opposite button is selected so that you can
start moving your way back through the list.)
The options in the Appearance window follow:
Check the effects you want to enable: This option has two choices, and
because they’re check boxes, you can select one or both. They are
• Transition animations: Select this check box to enable transition
animations, which basically just give a fancy appearance to your
MCE by animating the screen when you switch between functions
and screens — this isn’t necessary, but it sure looks smooth and
cool when you’re navigating through menus.
• Window always on top: Select this check box if you want your
reduced size MCE window to always be on top of whatever you’re
looking at in Windows XP. We like to keep this one turned off, but
some people can’t miss a minute of Oprah, so they keep this
window on top even when they’re working.
Choose text and colors for: This option is a pair of radio buttons labeled
Computer monitor and TV. Select the one that you’ll use most in the
Media Center interface, and MCE adjusts the picture so that it looks best
on your selected monitor type.
Background color: This option (which uses the plus/minus controls)
lets you select the background color that surrounds your video picture
when you’re watching TV and movies. Some programs may appear with
bars on the screen (letterboxing) because they’re designed for screens
with a wider or narrower format than the one you’re using. You can
select the color for those bars using the Background color option. We
like black, but choose your own favorite.
To save your changes in the Appearance settings screen (and all the others
we’re about to discuss), select the Save button and then press OK on the remote
(or click Save with your mouse). The General Settings window reappears.
If you don’t want to save your changes, select Cancel and press OK on the
remote.
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Setting sounds
The next item in the General Settings window is Media Center sounds. This is
an easy one — in fact, it’s so easy we’re not going to waste valuable trees by
including a picture of the window.
Media Center sounds are the little bings, bongs, and boings you hear through
the speakers when you select items in Media Center. It’s just aural feedback
to supplement the visual feedback on your screen. The window for Media
Center sounds contains a single pair of radio buttons for choosing to keep
sounds on or off.
As usual, select Save and then press OK to save your changes, or select
Cancel and press OK to not save them.
I want to notify
The next item in the General Settings window is Notifications. This item
allows you to customize when Media Center notifies you of issues, events,
and the like. Figure 8-7 shows the Notifications Settings window.
Figure 8-7:
You can set
your own
notifications.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
The Notifications window contains the following options:
Taskbar notifications: This check box lets you turn taskbar notifications
on and off. Basically, MCE can keep you appraised of certain activities
(such as downloading the TV Guide) or situations (such as running out
of hard drive space to record TV programs) in the Windows taskbar.
TV tips: The TV Guide includes little pop-up tips that help you learn how
to use it. After you’ve used the Guide for a few hours, you’ll grow weary
of these tips and want to shoot the people who put them there. Don’t
bother. They were smart enough to include this check box to disable the
tips, preserving your sanity and their safety.
Telephone call notification: Media Center can tell you who is calling by
displaying a notification (if your telephone line is plugged into your computer’s modem line). Three radio buttons let you turn this function on only
when a Caller ID signal is received, turn it on all the time, or turn it off. We
use the first setting — if there’s no Caller ID, it’s probably one of those
pesky telemarketers. (On an unrelated note, make www.donotcall.gov
your first Internet destination on your new MCE PC, and get yourself on the
national Do Not Call list.)
Caller ID requires a special kind of modem (a TAPI modem) that not
every MCE PC has installed. If your MCE PC doesn’t have this special
modem installed, you won’t see this Telephone call notification
Play Misty for me, automatically
When you launch a file or insert a disc of a certain type, Media Center can
automatically start and play that content for you. You don’t even have to lift a
finger. The Autoplay settings window contains two check boxes that enable
(or disable) autoplay for two specific types of content:
Enhanced Media Center content: Check this box if you want Media
Center to automatically open and play any enhanced Media Center content. This will typically be content that you received on a CD or (more
likely) downloaded from Online Spotlight.
HighMAT player (if installed): HighMAT (High-performance Media
Access Technology) is a new system developed jointly by Microsoft and
Matsushita (the humungous Japanese consumer electronics company
that makes Panasonic, among other brands). HighMAT makes it simple
to share content between computers such as MCE PCs and consumer
electronics (such as CD players, DVD players, and video camcorders).
Windows Media Player 9 — which is the underlying program for a lot of
what Media Center does — can play these specially-coded HighMAT
discs. By checking this box, you can set up Media Center to automatically open and play any HighMAT disc you put in your system.
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Putting the kids in their place
We don’t know what you watch with your MCE PC. We don’t even care. But
you may — just may — have content on your MCE PC that you don’t want the
kids to watch. Maybe you just bought the entire season of Sex and the City on
DVD. Well, with the Parental control option, you can set up your MCE PC to
keep the kids from watching that DVD as well as other TV shows and movies
based on their ratings in the Guide.
There are just a few steps here:
1. In the General Settings window, select the Parental control option and
press OK on the remote.
A window appears with a single request, to enter your four-digit code.
2. Using the number buttons on the remote, type a four-digit code.
Use a number that you’ll remember, but don’t use 1-2-3-4 or the month and
date of your birthday — your kids are smarter than that. The first time
you do this, another text box appears asking you to confirm that number.
3. Retype the four-digit code.
A new window appears with the parental control settings.
You can choose one of three options in the Parental Control window:
DVD Ratings: Adjusts your DVD blocking function
TV Ratings: Adjusts the TV program blocking function
Change four-digit code: Lets you select a new code (for when the kids
figured out that you did use 1-2-3-4 after all)
Reset parental controls: Lets you start over from scratch
If you choose the DVD Ratings option, the window shown in Figure 8-8 appears.
In this window, you can select the following options:
Turn on movie blocking: This check box lets you enable or disable the
movie blocking function of MCE for your DVDs.
Block unrated movies: Not all movies are rated, and in some cases, even
if the movie itself has received a rating, the DVD may not carry that
information. This check box lets you block access to any movie on a
DVD that doesn’t include rating information.
Maximum allowed movie rating: Use the plus and minus controls to set
the particular MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rating that
you’re comfortable with. Any rating above the one you’ve selected is
blocked.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
Figure 8-8:
Keep the
kids away
from inappropriate
movies.
Setting the TV ratings option is almost identical. Select TV Ratings and you’ll
see a screen that mimics the one in Figure 8-8. The only real difference is that
TV uses a different ratings system than movies and DVDs — we discuss this TV
ratings system in more detail in Chapter 9, in the “Parental controls” sidebar.
Keep in mind that these settings do not keep you from watching this material.
When you try to tune in a movie with a rating above the maximum rating you
set, a window appears so that you can enter that double-secret, triple-dog-dare
code and watch away!
Getting MCE online
The next item in the General Settings window, Set up Internet connection,
helps you get MCE online — primarily for the purposes of downloading program Guide information. Whether you’re downloading the Guide for the first
time or updating it, follow these steps:
1. In the General Settings window, select the Set up Internet connection
option and press OK on the remote.
The Set up your Internet connection window appears.
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2. Select the Next button and press OK.
Media Center spends a minute looking at your MCE PC’s Internet connection (we discussed how to set that up in Chapter 5), and then displays
the window shown in Figure 8-9.
If you’re using a dialup connection or some kind of connection that
requires a password (in other words, you’re not using a broadband,
always-on connection), an intermediate window might appear, asking
you to enter your password or username or both).
3. Choose to download when you connect to the Internet or manually:
• Download when connected: Media Center automatically downloads the Guide whenever your PC is connected to the Internet —
maintaining the next 14 days’ worth of data in the Guide. This is
the way to go, unless you have a pay-as-you-go connection.
• Manual download: This option forces you to go into the My TV
module and manually download the program Guide. (We tell you
how in Chapter 9.)
4. Select the Next button and press OK.
Figure 8-9:
Choosing
how you
download
your TV
Guide.
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
A window appears to confirm your setting. If you want to change it,
press the Back button and make your correction.
5. If you want to check that your Internet connection is working, select
the Test button and press OK.
Media Center checks out your Internet connection and confirms that it’s
working.
6. Select Next and press OK.
Media Center tells you that you’re all set.
7. Select Finish and press OK.
You’re returned to the General Settings window.
Readjusting your remote control
The next item in the General Setting list is Set up remote control. You already
set up your remote control when you ran through the Media Center Setup
Wizard (in Chapter 5). If you buy a new or second remote control, however,
select this item and follow the steps to get the remote set up and working
with MCE PC. We won’t repeat the steps here because they’re simple. Just
follow the on-screen instructions.
It ain’t nobody’s business
Now for the final General Settings item, Privacy. Well there are two more, but
they’re just credits and an About screen, for those who want to read about all
the people and companies behind Media Center.
If you have problems with Media Center and are on the phone with tech support, you might need to know which version of Media Center you’re using.
For that answer, select About Media Center to displays the version and build
of your Media Center.
To configure your privacy settings, perform the following steps:
1. In the General Settings window, select Privacy and press OK on the
remote.
A window appears with three options. We encourage you to read the privacy statements for MCE and the Guide, but the action is behind the
third option, Settings.
2. Select Settings and press OK on the remote.
The window shown in Figure 8-10 appears.
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Figure 8-10:
Go public or
keep it
private.
3. Make your selections on this page. Then select Save and press OK.
Read the following paragraphs for more information on these options.
You can turn three privacy-related functions on or off:
Use the Guide and send anonymous information to Microsoft to
improve the quality and accuracy of the service: This one is a mouthful, but it’s also a no-brainer. We think you should check this box, even
though we’re both uptight about privacy.
Acquire licenses automatically for protected content: This falls into the
confusing world of DRM (or Digital Rights Management). Media Center
uses the DRM functionality of Windows Media 9 to allow online content
providers to sell you content (music, movies, and so on) with a license
describing how you can use that content. For example, a provider might
allow you to burn a CD with songs you paid to download.
If you check this box, Media Center automatically acquires licenses to
this protected content, and you’ll be able to use it. If you don’t check
this box, you might have to stop and answer screens asking whether you
accept the licenses for content you’re downloading or playing — screens
that might be hidden behind Media Center. This setting does not affect
Chapter 8: Customizing Your MCE Experience
your own content (such as audio CDs that you own and copy to your
MCE PC). We recommend that you check the Acquire licenses automatically box.
Retrieve media information for CDs and DVD from the Internet: If you
select this check box (we did), Media Center automatically goes out to
the Internet to gather information about the CDs and DVDs you insert in
your MCE PC. This feature makes it easy to get the cover art and song
names of each CD when you copy it to the MCE PC. We describe this
process in detail in Chapter 10.
Other Media Center Settings
When you’ve finished configuring the General Settings, press the Back button
on the remote control and you’ll find yourself in the Settings window (refer
back to Figure 8-4). Here you’ll see the TV, Music, Radio, DVD, and Pictures
settings.
You can get to these settings also from each module. When you’re in a particular module, just navigate to the menu on the left side of the window, select
Settings, and press OK on the remote.
We describe each of these settings in their respective chapter in Part III. For
example, we talk about the Music setting in Chapter 10.
Some adjustments to Media Center are made not in Media Center but in XP.
The setting you’re most likely to adjust is the autoplay setting for CDs and
DVDs. (In the Autoplay settings in the MCE interface, you set up autoplay
only for special file types.)
To make Media Center your default program for playing audio CDs and DVDs,
do the following:
1. Close or minimize Media Center.
Use the close or minimize button in the top-right corner of the Media
Center window.
2. With your mouse, choose Start➪My Computer.
Figure 8-11 shows the My Computer window.
3. In the Devices with Removable Storage area of the window, right-click
your optical drive and choose Properties.
In the example, the optical drive is DVD-RAM Drive (D:), but yours may
differ.
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Figure 8-11:
My
Computer —
yours
should look
similar.
4. Click the Autoplay tab.
5. In the drop-down menu at the top of the tab, choose Music CD.
6. Click the Select an action to perform radio button, and then click Play
Audio CD using Media Center.
7. Click Apply.
8. Still in the Autoplay tab, select DVD in the drop-down menu.
9. Click the Select an action to perform radio button, and then click Play
DVD Video using Media Center.
10. Click OK.
Now every time you put a music CD or DVD movie into your MCE PC, Media
Center will launch it and start playing it. Cool, huh?
Part III
Using XP Media
Center Edition
I
In this part . . .
f you’re going to read only one part of the book (and we
hope you’ll read it all), this is the one. We get down to
the nitty-gritty details about how you can use and enjoy a
Windows XP Media Center Edition PC. Microsoft made the
MCE PC easy to use, but we think you might still appreciate
advice from someone who’s been there (we have) and done
that (we did).
We start with a discussion of how to get from point A to
point B in plain old Windows XP, because every MCE PC is
built upon the XP foundation. So if you’re moving up from
Windows 98 or ME (or something older), you’ll be able to
get a feel for how Windows XP reacts to your mouse and
keyboard.
Then we discuss the fun stuff: using the MCE interface. You
find out how to use your MCE PC to watch TV, record TV,
pause live TV, and more. It’s the ultimate in TV watching!
Then you discover how your MCE PC handles audio and
how you can get your favorite tunes into your MCE PC.
Following that, we talk about using your MCE PC to take
your photography into the digital age. We also tell you how
to watch DVDs using an MCE PC (it’s easy!) and how to play
around with digital home movies (and other digital video
on your MCE PC).
Chapter 9
Watching TV
In This Chapter
Configuring My TV
Finding shows using the guide
Playing “Live” TV
Recording TV on your hard drive
Archiving TV shows on a DVD
W
atching TV is, in our minds, what the MCE PC is all about. We’re not
giving short shrift to the audio, DVD, digital photography, and video
functionality built into Media Center — we love that stuff too! But we think
that for most owners, the TV functionality that Media Center provides is its
most compelling feature. That’s why we recommend (in Chapter 3 and again
here) that you use the MCE PC with your TV.
In this chapter, you set up My TV, the Media Center module for watching and
recording TV. Then you find out how to use the on-screen program guide —
once you use it, you won’t want to live without it. We give you the information you need to know to watch live TV and tell you how to record TV shows
on your MCE PC. The chapter ends with a section on archiving recorded TV
shows onto blank DVDs, so you don’t run out of hard drive space when you
become addicted to My TV.
As mentioned in other chapters, when we say that you should select something, it’s shorthand for this: Use the arrow buttons on the remote to move
the cursor to that item and then press the OK button on the remote.
Setting Up My TV
Before you start playing around with My TV too much (the fun part!), we
recommend that you take a few minutes to configure it. A properly set up and
customized My TV environment will make it easier to use the Guide, find programs, and watch and record TV shows.
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We cover how to get your MCE PC configured for your particular TV service
provider (setting up the channels and Guide) in Chapter 7, where you start your
MCE PC for the first time and use the Media Center Setup Wizard. If you ran that
wizard, you already have a working TV connection and a Guide that shows your
specific regional TV listings. If you haven’t run the wizard yet, do the following:
1. Press the My TV button on the remote.
2. Select Settings.
3. To configure your TV connection, select the Set up TV signal option
and follow the on-screen instructions.
4. To configure the Guide, select the Reset Guide lineup option (in the
Settings menu), and follow the on-screen instructions.
We discuss the actual steps in these two wizards in Chapter 7, in the section
“The Media Center Edition Start-Up Process.”
The first step to setting up My TV is launching it. You can do this in one of
two ways:
Press the My TV button on the remote control.
Open Media Center, navigate to My TV on the Media Center Start menu,
and press OK on the remote.
Parental controls
In Chapter 8 we discuss setting up parental controls for your Media Center PC. These controls
let you keep the kids (or anyone) from watching
movies that are above a certain rating. This
function is mainly for DVD movies (that’s what
we talk about in Chapter 8), but you can set
rating limits also for My TV.
Setting rating limits for My TV is identical to setting them for DVD movies, with one exception: TV
uses a different rating system than movies.
Instead of G, PG, PG-13, and so on, you have both
show ratings (TV-G, TV-13, and so on) and specific
content warnings. So you might find a show that is
rated TV-13 and also includes a V in the rating, for
violence. You can set up your parental controls for
both overall ratings and these content warnings.
Check out www.tvguidelines.org for more
information on the ratings.
You can set your rating limit as follows:
1. In the Media Center Start menu, select
Settings.
2. Select General.
3. Select Parental Control.
4. Type your secret code.
5. Select TV ratings.
6. Select the maximum rating you want your
kids to see.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
When My TV is launched, you see a window similar to the one shown in
Figure 9-1. From here, you’ll configure your My TV settings, starting with the
Recorder settings. These settings tell Media Center how you want it to handle
the recording of individual TV shows and series.
These are global, or universal, settings for all My TV recordings. In other
words, anytime you record something in My TV, these settings will apply.
However, you can override these settings on a case-by-case basis using the
Advanced record option, which we discuss in the “Doing the time shift” section later in this chapter.
Controlling your recordings
To configure your My TV recording options, just follow these steps:
1. From the main My TV screen, select Settings.
The Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 9-2.
2. Select Recorder.
The Recorder Settings screen appears.
Figure 9-1:
This is
where it all
starts for
My TV.
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Figure 9-2:
All the
settings you
need are
accessible
from this
screen.
3. Select Recorder storage.
The Storage Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 9-3.
4. If you have more than one hard drive in your MCE PC, navigate to the
Record on drive setting’s plus or minus button. Press OK repeatedly
to scroll through the available drives until you find the one you want
to use.
Typically, you’ll have extra drives only if you installed one (or ordered
your MCE PC from the factory with an extra hard drive). See Chapter 3
for details. If you don’t have an extra drive, skip this step.
5. Navigate to the Disk allocation setting’s plus or minus button. Press
OK repeatedly to change this percentage if you want.
By default, the disk allocation is set to 75%. If you want to allocate less
of your hard drive space for video (perhaps you have a lot of audio files
that you want to put on your MCE PC), set this option lower. If you just
want to fill your hard drive up with TV, make it higher. As you change
the percentage of the disk that’s available for video, the numbers in the
Maximum recording time and Unused recording time change accordingly.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
Figure 9-3:
Set up your
recorded
video
storage
preferences
here.
6. Navigate to the Recording quality setting’s plus or minus button. Press
OK repeatedly to change this setting.
The higher the quality setting, the better the picture you’ll see, but the
more space it takes up on your drive because the files are larger. We keep
ours at the highest setting (Best), but we don’t keep a lot of old recordings
on our MCE PC. (We move them to DVD.) Again, the Maximum recording
time and Unused recording time change as you alter this setting.
7. Select Save.
If a dialog box appears asking whether you want to save these settings,
select Yes. This dialog box may appear after each group of settings you
make — just select Yes each time.
8. Select Recording Defaults.
The Recording Defaults screen appears, as shown in Figure 9-4.
9. Navigate to the plus or minus button next to each of the following settings and press the OK button as many times as needed to select the
setting you want:
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• Keep: This setting determines how long recorded programs remain
on your hard drive. If you want Media Center to keep recorded shows
until you run out of space for new recordings, select Until space
needed. Or you can tell Media Center to keep the show for a week,
until you watch it, or until you manually delete it. We keep our
recordings until we manually delete them — we like to store (or
archive) our shows to DVD and then delete them from the hard drive.
• Quality: This is the same as the Quality setting you selected in
Step 6. You can set the recording quality in either place. (We don’t
know why it appears twice, but it works fine in both places.)
• Start when possible: This setting lets you tweak the time when a
scheduled recording will begin — you can start it On time (in other
words, when the show begins in the Guide), or you can tell Media
Center to start recording earlier (if you’re paranoid about missing
a minute or two of the show). As long as your MCE PC’s clock is
correct (see the “Going atomic” sidebar later in this chapter), we
think you can stick with the On time setting.
• Stop when possible: This setting does the same thing as the Start
when possible setting, except it does it on the other end of the
recording time frame — at the end of the show. We also keep this
one set to On time.
Figure 9-4:
Recording
defaults are
set here.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
• Language: Sometimes, a program may be aired in one or more languages, at different times. In the Language option, you can specify
if you want to record only English programs or other languages as
well (for example, on HBO’s Spanish Channel).
10. If you told your MCE PC to record an entire series as opposed to a
single show, navigate to the plus or minus button next to each of the
following settings and press the OK button as many times as needed:
• Show type: This setting tells Media Center whether you want to
record only the first run (in other words, new episodes) of a series,
or both first runs and reruns. Media Center pulls this data from the
Guide database.
• Record on: This setting tells Media Center from where you want to
record a show. (You might want to record only from a movie channel that doesn’t have commercials, for instance.) This feature also
helps when you run into scheduling conflicts with other show
recordings. If you’ve selected other times or channels, the program
can schedule around the conflict.
If you select the first option, One channel only, the show is
recorded from only the one channel you selected in the Guide and
only within four hours of the scheduled time you’ve selected.
The One channel, anytime option means the show is recorded on
the channel you selected anytime it is on.
The final option, Any channel, anytime, means all available showings of the program are recorded by Media Center.
Customizing the Record on setting is handy also if you record a
show that appears on multiple channels, such as a show in syndication or a show on a movie network that’s played on all eight of
that movie network’s channels (such as The Wire on HBO). This
setting stops you from getting eight recordings of the same
episode as it’s aired on each of the channels during the week.
• Daily recording limit: You can tell Media Center how many times in
a single day you want it to record a particular show. Select No limit
if you want each showing of the series recorded in a single day.
Select Once per day if you want only a single showing recorded.
• Keep up to: Use this setting to tell Media Center how many recordings of a particular series you want it to keep. You can select 1, 2,
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 10 recordings, or you can select No limit to keep as
many as you can record.
The more recordings you keep for any particular series, the more
hard drive space you’ll use and the less you’ll have left for other
purposes.
11. When you’ve adjusted all the Recording Defaults settings to your
liking, select Save.
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Customizing your Guide
Next, you configure your Guide settings. The on-screen Program Guide is Media
Center’s primary interface for finding TV programming to watch or record. In
Chapter 7, you set up the main functions of the Guide while running the Media
Center Setup Wizard. Follow these steps to set up a few additional items:
1. From the main My TV Settings screen, select Guide.
To get to the My TV Settings screen, select My TV and then select
Settings.
2. Select Edit Guide listings.
The Edit Guide Listings screen appears, as shown in Figure 9-5. You can
remove channels so that they don’t appear in the Guide. The channels
are still available to view, but you won’t see them when you’re scrolling
through the Guide.
3. Uncheck the channels that you want to remove from the Guide.
Use the arrow buttons on the remote to scroll through the listings of the
channels. Press OK to uncheck any channels that you don’t want to
appear on the guide.
Figure 9-5:
Check the
channels
you want in
your guide,
and clear
the ones
you don’t
want to see.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
In case it’s not obvious from looking at the screen, channels with a check
mark next to them will appear in your Guide; those without a check
mark will not.
4. Select Save when you’re finished.
You return to the main Guide Settings screen.
5. If you’re missing a channel you expect to be in your Guide, do the
following:
a. Select Add missing channels.
b. Select Add channel and follow the on-screen directions.
c. When you’re finished, select Done.
6. Press the Back button on the remote.
You’re finished with the Guide for now. The My TV Settings screen appears.
You can manually update your Guide listings from the main Guide Settings
screen by selecting Get Guide data.
Customizing TV audio
The next step is to configure your audio settings. My TV not only lets you
choose the primary audio program included with a TV show, but also lets
you use SAP (or Secondary Audio Program) for listening to programs in a
second language and closed captioning (text captioning). Follow these steps
to set up your audio preferences:
1. Press the My TV button on the remote.
2. Select Audio.
The TV Audio Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 9-6.
3. Select your preferred setting for each of the following options by navigating to the setting’s plus or minus button and pressing OK on the
remote repeatedly:
a. Audio: Select Stereo audio in the primary language of the program or the SAP alternate language.
b. Captioning: Select CC1 or CC2. Most broadcasters use only CC1
(which typically carries verbatim English captioning), but some
use CC2 for a second language.
c. Caption display: Select when to display captions. Your options
are On (always displayed), Off (never displayed), or On when
muted (which displays captioning whenever you mute your MCE
PC during TV viewing).
4. Select the Save option.
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Figure 9-6:
Configure
your TV
audio
settings
here.
My TV has other settings, but we don’t think you’ll ever need to use them, so
we’re not going to walk through the steps here. We will, however, leave you
with one last tip.
If you change the monitor or TV that your MCE PC is hooked up to (or just
want to recalibrate your TV), the Display Calibration Wizard we talk about in
Chapter 7 can be restarted from My TV. Select Settings, and then select
Adjust display settings. The wizard starts up and walks you through the
process of fine-tuning your monitor or TV.
Using the Guide
The most important interface in My TV is the on-screen Program Guide. From
the Guide, you can see what’s on TV right now, or you can scroll into the
future to see what’s coming on in two hours (or two weeks). You can also use
the Guide to set up your TV recording schedule.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
147
Going atomic
You can make sure that your PC always displays
the correct time using Microsoft XP’s Internet
Time capability, which synchronizes your computer clock with an atomic-clock time server on
the Internet. Here’s what you do:
1. Double-click the time display in your task
bar (at the bottom right of your XP desktop).
The date is displayed on the screen. Make
sure your date setting is correct. The
Internet time server won’t update the time
if the date is wrong.
2. Click the Time Zone tab.
3. If you’re in a time zone that observes daylight savings time, click the “Automatically
adjust your clock for daylight savings
changes” setting.
4. Click the Internet Time tab.
5. Select the “Automatically synchronize
with an Internet time server” check box.
6. In the pull-down menu, select the time
server you want to use.
7. Click OK, and you’re finished.
If you have a personal or network firewall, time
synchronization might be blocked. Because so
many different firewall programs are on the
market, we can’t provide the steps for remedying any firewall conflicts you may run into. Call
the technical support folks at your firewall
vendor for advice.
Guide basics
You can open the Guide in a couple of ways:
Press the Guide button on the remote control.
In the My TV module, select the Guide menu item on the left side of the
screen.
When the Guide first opens, it looks similar to Figure 9-7.
The guide has three frames, or sections:
Inset window: If you’re currently playing a TV show or some other
media, it appears in a small window in the lower-left corner of the screen.
Channel guide: The channel guide is across the top two-thirds of the
screen — displaying seven channels vertically and up to two hours of
programs horizontally. (An extra half hour of programming is displayed
if you’re using a wide-screen monitor or TV.)
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Details or filters: Below the Guide is space for detailed information about
the selected program or filter options to narrow your Guide choices. (We
talk about these shortly.) As you scroll through programs in the Guide,
the Details section of the screen changes to reflect the current program.
The Guide can hold up to 14 days’ worth of programming information, all
downloaded from the Internet, all free of charge. Awesome!
To view what’s in your inset window in full-screen mode, just navigate to the
inset window using the left arrow button (the window frame turns green) and
press the OK button on the remote.
Navigating around the Guide with your remote control is easy. You can move
one channel at a time vertically or one program at a time horizontally using
the four arrow buttons on the remote. When you find a program that you
want to watch or record, just select it. We get into the specifics in the next
section, but selecting a program from the Guide performs one of two actions:
If the program is currently being broadcast, pressing OK starts playing
the program in full-screen mode immediately.
If the program is in the future, a screen appears so you can tell Media
Center to record the program (or the entire series) onto your hard drive.
Figure 9-7:
Find the
shows you
want to
watch.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
If you want to move through bigger chunks of the Guide (instead of moving
one channel at a time vertically or one program at a time horizontally), do
the following:
To skip 12 hours at a time ahead, press the Skip button on the remote.
To go back 12 hours at a time, press the Replay button on the remote.
To skip 3 hours at a time ahead, press the Fast Forward button on the
remote. To go back 3 hours at a time, press the Rewind button on the
remote.
To move up and down a page (seven channels), press the CH/PG button
on the remote.
To go to a specific channel in the channel guide, type the channel
number using the numeric keypad on your remote control.
To see more detailed information about a program you’ve selected in the
channel guide, press the More Info button on the remote. A new screen
appears with detailed program information (such as program rating, actor
names, and program length), like the one shown in Figure 9-8. From here, you
can play or record the program, using the menu on the left side of the screen.
Media Center is nice enough to keep playing your current media in the inset
window, so you don’t lose track of what you’re currently watching. To get
back to the Guide, press the Back button on the remote.
Figure 9-8:
Checking
out
additional
program
information.
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Filtering the guide
You can also filter the Guide so that it shows only certain types of programs.
In the main Guide screen, press the remote control’s Guide button again. New
options fill the bottom of the screen, where the program details were previously listed, as shown in Figure 9-9.
Use the arrow buttons on the remote to navigate to the category filter you
want to use (Movies, for example) and press the OK button on the remote.
Give Media Center a second to sort your program listings. The Guide reappears, displaying only the channels broadcasting the program category
you chose. You can now navigate through this filtered Guide using the same
techniques described in the preceding section.
When you want to go back to the full view of all channels and shows, press
the Guide button on the remote again.
Figure 9-9:
Filtering
your guide.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
Searching the Guide
When you don’t feel like browsing through the Guide, you can use Media
Center to search the listings in one of three ways:
Categories: Search for shows based on the category assigned to them in
the Guide. For example, you can search for movies, kids shows, or sports.
Title: You can type part or all of a show’s title (using the numeric keypad
on the remote or the keyboard).
Keyword: We think that this search is the coolest. You use the remote
control to type a word (such as the name of an actor), and Media Center
displays the shows with that word in their description.
Accessing the search function is simple but a bit nonintuitive. You can’t get
there from the Guide screen. Instead, you need to jump back to the main My
TV menu (Figure 9-1). If you’re watching TV or are already in the Guide. press
the Back button on the remote repeatedly. Or simply press the My TV button
on the remote.
Performing the search is easy — and intuitive:
1. From the My TV main menu, select Search.
The Search page appears, as shown in Figure 9-10.
2. Select the type of search you want to perform.
You can select Categories, Title, or Keyword in the menu on the left.
3. Depending on which search type you’ve selected, do one of the
following:
• If you selected a category search, use your remote’s arrow buttons
to navigate through the category list. Many of the categories have
subcategories that you can delve into by pressing the OK button
on the remote.
• If you’ve selected a title or keyword search, use the numeric entry
buttons on your remote to type the title or word you want to
search for.
These keys work just like those on a cell phone. A legend on the
screen shows which letters match up to which number buttons.
Just press the number corresponding to the letter you want, and
remember that you might have to press the number several times
to get to the letter you want. Press the Clear button on the remote
if you make a mistake. Media Center starts searching based on
what you’ve typed so far — so if you type just SEI, for example, it
will probably find Seinfeld.
The results of your search appear on the right side of the screen.
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Figure 9-10:
Searching
the Guide by
category,
title, or
keyword.
4. Scroll through the list of results in the same way you scroll through
the listings in the Guide.
5. When you find the show you’re looking for, press OK on the remote to
play or record it.
Playing with Live TV
If you just want to watch TV, you can get right to it by pressing the Live TV
button on the remote. Voila! Live TV takes over the screen and starts playing.
When you press Live TV, Media Center (and your cable or satellite set-top
box) tunes to and displays the last channel you were watching.
If you’re sitting in front of your MCE PC doing some work or Web surfing in
the traditional XP interface, you can shrink the full-screen TV display using
your mouse and keyboard. Just press the Escape key on your keyboard and
you’ll have a resizable TV window on your XP desktop. (You can drag the
corner of the window to resize it just like any other XP window.)
Chapter 9: Watching TV
You change channels just like you would if you were watching a regular TV
without a Media Center PC. Press the CH/PG button on the remote to move
up and down through the channels. Media Center displays a banner at the
bottom of the screen with the channel number, the program name, the air
times, and the current time — a nice touch that lets you know where you are
and what you’re watching even when there’s a commercial.
If you want more details about what you’re watching, press the More Info
button on the remote. This displays another banner across the bottom of
your screen with a brief description of the program, including the channel
number, title, air times, and part of the Program Guide’s description of the
program. If you don’t do anything, the banner goes away after a few seconds.
If you want to see more detail, press the OK button on the remote, and a fullscreen description of the program appears, with the program itself in the
inset window. (This is the same view shown in Figure 9-8.) Press the Back
button on the remote to go back to watching the program.
You can start recording a program from this window using the Record,
Record series, or Advanced record menu options, which are shown on the
left side of Figure 9-8.
At any time, you can press the Guide button on the remote to display the
Program Guide and see what else is on. When you do this, the program you’re
currently watching continues running in the inset window.
Mastering Your TV Domain
Our favorite feature of My TV is the capability to take charge of your TV experience in two key ways:
Control Live TV: My TV lets you pause, rewind and fast forward whatever show you’re currently watching. You don’t have to do anything
special — a rolling 30-minute recording session starts whenever you use
My TV.
Time shift your TV: Time shifting is the capability to watch the same
content aired on TV, but just shifted in time — so you can record a TV
show and watch it when you want.
Controlling live TV
My TV always records onto your MCE PC’s hard drive the up to last 30 minutes of TV you’ve been watching, so at any time you can rewind up to 30 minutes. The only limitation to My TV’s control of live TV is that Media Center
supports only a single TV tuner, which means it can control only a single
channel (the one you’re watching).
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My TV records the channel currently on the screen. Whenever you change
channels, MCE dumps its buffered content and starts fresh on the new channel. So you can go back only 30 minutes or as long as you’ve been watching
the current channel, whichever is shortest.
Controlling live TV is easy — just use the Pause, Play, FWD, and REW buttons
on the remote:
To pause live TV, press the Pause button on the remote. To resume,
press the Play button. If you instead want to go back to real time and see
what’s currently being broadcast, press the Live TV button.
To rewind live TV, just press the REW button on the remote. Remember
that you can go back up to 30 minutes.
All the tips for using the media playback controls (see Chapter 7) apply
here. This means you can control the speed of your rewinding and fast
forwarding by pressing the appropriate button more than once. Press
the Play button to resume playing.
To fast-forward TV, press the FWD button on the remote. This fastforwards your TV show until you reach the current time.
We feel a little silly saying it, but we will anyway. You can’t fast forward
your TV show past the current time. There’s no time warp technology
under the hood of Media Center. So if you start watching live TV, pressing the FWD button won’t do you any good. But FWD can come in handy
if you pause or rewind your live TV program.
Doing the time shift
Controlling Live TV is a great thing. When the phone rings (darn those telemarketers) or the dog has to go out, pausing your favorite program seems
like a life saver. But sometimes you want to record entire shows for later playback. No reason to rush home for that vital Buffy repeat when your Media
Center PC is on the job, ready to record for you.
Media Center offers you many opportunities to record a show whenever
you’re looking at the Guide or viewing detailed information about a program.
We describe the four easiest ways to record a show in My TV. Note that we’re
talking about individual showings here. We talk about recording a series in
the next section.
To record a show, you can
Browse through the Guide, find a show you want to record, and press
OK. By selecting the Record menu item that appears on the screen, you
can set up the recording.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
Search for a show in the Guide and set up recording.
Manually record (the VCR way!) by entering the channel number and
time into Media Center.
One-touch record by navigating to a show in the Guide (or even the show
you’re currently watching) and pressing the REC button on the remote.
After you’ve scheduled a few recordings, you can quickly check what Media
Center is planning on recording by going to the My TV main menu, selecting
Recorded TV, and then selecting Scheduled.
Recording a show from the Guide
To record a show from the Guide, do the following:
1. Open My TV by pressing the My TV button on the remote.
2. Select Recorded TV.
3. Select Add recording.
The screen shown in Figure 9-11 appears.
Figure 9-11:
The
recording
process
starts here.
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4. Select Guide.
The Guide window appears.
5. Select the show you want to record.
The Program Info screen appears.
6. Select Record.
Media Center saves this recording data in its little computer brain and
records the show when it airs.
In MCE 2002, your MCE PC had to be running or in standby mode — not
Hibernate mode — for this to work. Waking from Hibernate mode is now
supported in MCE 2004. (Microsoft needed to do this to support notebook computers.) We discuss these modes in Chapter 7.
7. Press the Back button (or any other Media Center function button on
the remote) to get back to what you were previously doing.
The program you selected for recording now has a little red dot next to
its title in the Guide. You can check that you did things correctly by navigating to the show in the Guide and looking for the dot.
Media Center checks to make sure that you haven’t already set up a different
recording at the same time. Recall that an MCE PC has only one TV tuner and
can record only one program at a time. If you try to make your MCE PC
record two things simultaneously, a Conflict screen appears, as shown in
Figure 9-12. It’s up to you to make a choice — use the remote to select the
program you want to record (this is a little bit of TV triage for you). The other
program will not be recorded.
Searching for shows to record
Just as you don’t have to manually scroll through the Guide to find shows to
watch, you also don’t have to manually scroll through the Guide to set up
recordings. With Media Center, you can search for shows to record, as follows:
1. In My TV, select Recorded TV, and then select Add recording.
2. Select Search.
The window shown back in Figure 9-10 appears.
3. Search for the show by category, title, or keyword. When you find the
show, select it.
For more information on searching, see the “Searching the Guide” section,
earlier in the chapter.
4. When the Program Info screen appears, select Record.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
Figure 9-12:
Oops! You
can’t record
two shows
at once, so
choose the
one you
want.
Pretending your MCE PC is a VCR
Suppose your favorite show is on a local access channel that doesn’t provide
programming information in the Guide. To record this show, you have to set
up a manual recording on your MCE PC:
1. In My TV, select Recorded TV, and then select Add recording.
2. Select Channel and time.
The Manual Record screen appears, as shown in Figure 9-13.
3. Use the remote’s arrow buttons to navigate between the Channel,
Frequency, Date, Start time, and Stop time options.
Use the numeric entry buttons on the remote to type the channel and
times. For the other settings, navigate to the plus or minus button and
press OK repeatedly to scroll through the settings.
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Figure 9-13:
Looks like a
VCR display,
doesn’t it?
4. To add a descriptive title to your manual recording, do the following:
a. Select Add title (on the left side of the screen).
b. In the screen that appears, use the numeric entry keys (or your
keyboard) to type a name.
c. Select Save.
5. Back in the Manual Record window, select Record.
The recording settings are saved, and your MCE PC is ready to record for you.
Taking the one-touch approach
The easiest way to set up a recording in My TV is to just use the REC button
on the remote. Anytime you have a show actively playing on your screen or
selected in the Guide, you can mark it for recording (or start recording it
immediately, if it’s currently playing) by pressing REC.
Are your kids watching a program on a school night, but it’s time for them to
go to bed? Press REC, and tell the kids they can finish watching the program
tomorrow. Can’t get much simpler than that.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
Recording your favorite shows
If you have a few shows that you watch all the time, you should set up series
recording. Series recording is similar to single-episode recording, except
Media Center keeps an untiring eye open to the Guide and records episodes
of a series each time they’re on. You won’t miss a single action-packed
moment of This Old House Classics!
You might hear the term PVR (personal video recorder) used by some vendors
when describing the capability to record TV shows on a computer hard drive.
My TV is a PVR on your PC.
The process for setting up a series recording is identical to the one for
recording a single show, except instead of selecting Record, you select
Record series. (See “Recording a show from the Guide” and “Searching for
shows to record” in the preceding section.) Media Center follows the series
recording rules you established when you configured My TV’s settings (we
told you how to do this in Chapter 6), and schedules your recordings.
If you want to sidestep those rules for this particular series recording, select
Advanced record instead of Record series. A window appears for configuring
custom settings, such as whether you want to record repeat or just firstrun episodes. These new modified settings apply only to the individual
series — the rest of your recordings adhere to the rules you set up in My
TV’s settings.
What if you’ve already selected a show for recording and then decide that
you want to record the entire series? No problem. First go to the Scheduled
recordings screen (select My TV, then Recorded TV, and then Scheduled).
Next, select the show. In the screen that appears, select Record series.
You’ve now switched that show from a single-episode recording to a series
recording.
When you select a show for series recording, it has four (overlapping) red
dots next to its name in the Guide.
Watching Your Recorded Shows
All these recorded shows don’t do you a bit of good if you don’t watch them.
They just crowd up your hard drive and sit there like the dumb pile of bits
and bytes that they are.
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Watching your recorded TV on other PCs
If you have a home network or a removable media drive such as a DVD burner or a FireWire hard
drive, you can share your recorded TV files with another PC if it’s a Media Center PC or a Windows
XP PC with Service Pack 1 and a DirectShow-compatible media player program (such as Windows
Media Player 9).
If the computer on which you want to play your recorded TV show is a Media Center PC, the
process is simple. First find the file you want to play. The file name will contain the name of the
show you’ve recorded, and the file will be in the following directory:
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Shared Documents\Recorded TV
Using your network or removable media, copy this file into the same folder location on the other
Media Center PC. Now you can open Media Center and My TV and play back the file just as if you
had recorded it on that TV.
If you have a regular XP PC, you won’t be able to watch the show using the My TV interface, but
you’re not out of luck. You can watch your shows as long as Windows Media Player 9 is installed,
and you download and install Windows XP Service Pack 1 Update from Microsoft’s Web site:
www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=FB4C2C2E-60EA4ED9-BC68-E93C9E65C58E&displaylang=en
Using your home network or removable media, move the recorded file to your hard drive, and then
open it with Windows Media player. It will work like any other media file on your XP computer.
The only potential gotcha — and we don’t think that it’s currently a problem — is that Microsoft has
implemented CGMS-A (Copy Generation Management System — Analog) in Media Player 9. This
system is one of the many methods that broadcasters and TV and movie studios have developed
to try to keep you from watching TV programs when and where you want to. (They want you to be
on their schedule, not yours.) We don’t know of anybody currently using the CGMS-A system, but
if a broadcaster or studio started using it, you’d be able to play back your recorded TV shows only
on the MCE PC you used to make the recording.
Watching recorded shows is — you guessed it — easy. Follow these steps:
1. Open My TV by pressing the My TV button on the remote.
Your most recently recorded shows are listed below the main viewing
window.
2. If your show is in the list, simply select it and then skip to Step 6.
Otherwise, continue with the following steps.
3. Select Recorded TV.
4. Sort your recorded shows in the fashion you prefer.
You can sort by date, name, or category.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
5. Use the arrow buttons on the remote to scroll through the list of shows.
If it’s a long list, you can jump quickly to the show by typing the first
letter of the show’s name using the numeric entry keys. Just press the
number key corresponding to the first letter in the show’s name until
that letter appears on the screen.
6. Select the show.
A Program Info screen appears.
7. To watch the show now, select Play on the screen or press the Play
button on the remote.
While you’re playing the recorded show, you can use the Pause, Play, FWD,
REW, and Skip buttons to control the playback.
The Skip button jumps forward 29 seconds, which is particularly handy
during commercial breaks.
When the show is over, a screen appears, enabling you to choose Restart
(start over from the beginning), Delete (erase the show from your hard
drive), or Keep (retain the recorded program on your hard drive). If you
select Keep, another screen appears where you can determine how long you
want to keep the show. We stick with the default Don’t change setting, but
you might want to use one of the other settings if hard drive space is tight or
if it’s a show that you definitely plan on watching again.
Saving Recorded Programs to DVD
One thing that Media Center is missing is a module that lets you create, or
burn, your own DVDs. Why would you want to create your own DVDs? Well,
we can think of a few reasons:
You want to create archived copies of your recorded TV shows:
Although MCE PCs have big hard drives, eventually they fill up, and you
need to erase some recorded TV shows to make room for new ones. If you
want to keep some of those older shows, why not record them to DVD?
You want to create a DVD of a favorite series: Perhaps you want to
make a SpongeBob SquarePants DVD for the kids to watch in the car on
that long trip to Disney World. Until they make MCE PCs that will fit in
the back of your car, a DVD is your best bet here. (But you know, that
Toshiba MCE laptop would fit nicely under the back seat.)
Although Microsoft has not yet provided a way to make DVDs, there is a way
to burn DVDs in Media Center: using Sonic PrimeTime software (www.sonic.
com/primetime). PrimeTime is a DVD-burning application that plugs itself
into your Media Center Start menu, so it’s easy to access and use with the
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remote control. You can even find PrimeTime in the Media Center Online
Spotlight (Chapter 14). Just open Online Spotlight and navigate to the
Downloads section to download a free trial version.
PrimeTime is designed to create DVDs of only your recorded TV content
(from My TV). For an all-purpose DVD creation program, you can use Sonic’s
MYDVD program (see Chapter 13). Many MCE PC vendors include a version
of MyDVD with their MCE PCs.
PrimeTime (which retails for $79.95 but is often available less expensively
through Net outlets) automatically searches your MCE PC for recorded TV
shows and organizes them by name, date recorded, or category — just like
My TV does. Using the remote control, you can select the shows you want to
burn to DVD and then record them with a single press of a button.
PrimeTime even records video CDs, which are similar to DVDs but are on
recordable CDs instead of DVD media. Video CDs hold a lot less video, but
can be played back on most DVD players and are an option if your MCE PC
doesn’t have a DVD recorder.
Figure 9-14 shows the PrimeTime interface in MCE. To get to this interface,
select Create DVD in the Media Center Start menu.
Figure 9-14:
PrimeTime
in action.
Chapter 9: Watching TV
PrimeTime is our favorite way of creating DVDs. It has a ton of great features,
including the following:
You can use DVDs created with PrimeTime in just about any DVD player.
PrimeTime is also one of the only programs we know of that can convert
the files that Media Center uses to record TV (called DVR-MS) to standard MPEG files that a DVD player can display. This is a BIG DEAL!
You can insert a rewritable DVD (marked RW) into your MCE PC and use
PrimeTime to change its contents. You can remove all the programs you
recorded and replace them with others, you can remove a few, or you
can add more shows if you have room.
PrimeTime uses Dolby Digital (AC-3 encoding) to record the audio portion of the DVD. Dolby Digital is a compressed audio system (we discuss
compression in Chapter 10) that uses about one-tenth the disc space of
the uncompressed alternative, PCM. So with PrimeTime (and Dolby
Digital) you use up less of the DVD’s storage space with audio — leaving
room for more TV shows per disc!
Media Center does not support Dolby Digital 5.1 for My TV, so you get
only two-channel (stereo) sound from any recorded TV programs.
PrimeTime has a handy “bit-budget” indicator. (See the disc on the left
side of Figure 9-14.) As soon as you select a show, the indicator updates
the amount of space left on the DVD.
PrimeTime works with all types of recordable DVDs (the blank discs themselves) and makes DVDs that can play in the vast majority of DVD players.
You can be pretty darned confident that grandma will be able to play that
disc you sent of the grandkids’ latest school recital. (For more on DVD discs,
see Chapter 17.)
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Chapter 10
Listening to Music
In This Chapter
Reciting the ABCs of MP3s (and WMAs, too!)
Running through the set-up process
Getting your music into MCE PC
Organizing your tunes
Playing music on your MCE PC
Listening to the radio
O
f all the features in Media Center, the music ones are our favorites. The way
Media Center manages digital music is just outstanding, in our opinion.
Media Center can easily handle just about any type of digital music you might
throw at it — Windows Media, audio CDs, MP3 files, and more. And because
Media Center is built around Windows Media 9, it can be extended to handle
even more types of digital music in the future with just minor — and most
likely, automatic — software upgrades.
In this chapter, we discuss the My Music module in Media Center, beginning with
some background on the different types of digital music it can handle. Next, you
set up My Music. Then it’s time to get music into your Media Center PC, organize
that music, and finally — the important part — play your music. We wrap up
with a discussion of something new to Windows XP MCE 2004 — Radio.
Windows Media Center is an interface that overlays Windows Media 9. That
means most of the complicated stuff for Windows MCE is performed by
Windows Media 9, and you have to leave the MCE domain and go to XP to do
certain tasks, such as transfer music into your system. Windows Media 9
works like a standard Windows program, so you’ll rely on your keyboard and
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mouse. MCE merely makes it easy to use Media 9 from across the room with
the remote control. We wanted to emphasize the distinction, so you understood in advance that to exploit My Music in MCE, you have to invest a fair
amount of time in XP.
Digital Music 101
Before we delve into the features of My Music, we want to take a moment to
discuss the different digital music types, or formats, that Media Center can
handle. In this section, we give you a little bit of background on the three primary types of audio file formats that MCE supports. That way, when people
talk about how they’ve loaded their MCE hard drive with WMA lossless files,
you’ll know what the heck they mean.
Digital music files are created by a process called sampling. A sound (typically a musical performance, though it could be, say, someone speaking or
the sound of a car engine revving) is inherently analog. This analog sound is
picked up by a microphone and sent to an analog-to-digital converter (ADC),
which captures that sound digitally by measuring tiny snippets of the sound
(samples). Basically the ADC takes a snapshot of that analog sound wave
thousands of times per second.
The size of this digital file and the sound quality depend on two factors:
The sampling rate, which is the number of samples taken in a given
period of time
The sampling precision, which is the amount of data that the ADC uses to
“describe” the music in each sample — measured in bits of data
A CD, for example, has 44,100 samples per second, and each sample uses 16
bits of data. So a typical, 74-minute-long CD uses more than 650 megabytes of
data (remember, a byte is 8 bits). If you want to copy all your CDs to your
hard drive, you’ll quickly run out of space without some way of making the
audio files smaller. That’s where compression comes in.
Media Center (and the Windows Media 9 software) uses one of several formats,
or codecs, to make audio (and video) files smaller. These smaller files don’t
crowd your hard drive and are easier to share over a network or the Internet. A
codec (shorthand for encoder/decoder) uses a special mathematical algorithm
to take the extra data out of digital music files without removing too much of
the audio quality. When you play the music files on your MCE PC, Media Center
decompresses these files and then converts the sound from digital computer
files to an analog sound wave that your speakers can play.
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
Many different individual audio codecs are available, but they all fit into one
of these two buckets:
Lossy: Most codecs are lossy, which means the compression process
removes more of the sound than can be replaced when the file is
decompressed. These algorithms use something called psychoacoustics —
a scientific study that determines what parts of the music can be omitted without changing how the users perceive the sound. For most
people, a file compressed with one of these codecs sounds just as good
as the original, but the music is not identical to the original, uncompressed music that began this process.
Lossless: A lossless compression system reduces the size of the music
file, but it does so in a way that the file, when decompressed, is an identical copy of the original. This is a better way, theoretically, to compress
a file, but it’s less efficient — that it, a lossless-compressed file takes up
more room on your hard drive than a lossy-compressed file.
WMA leads the way
The primary digital music codec used by Media Center is WMA (Windows Media
Audio). This is the built-in, default codec in Windows Media 9. When you turn
on your MCE PC, it’s set up to use WMA when you copy CDs to your hard drive.
You may be more familiar with the MP3 codec (discussed in the next section). WMA is newer than MP3 and provides higher levels of audio quality for
the same file size.
WMA comes in several flavors:
Windows Media Audio: This is the standard WMA codec, using what is
called CBR, or constant bit rate. A CD is compressed using the same
number of bits of data per period of time (called the bit rate). The advantage of a CBR codec is that it’s predictable. You always know beforehand
how much drive space will be taken up per song.
You can select a CBR bit rate ranging from 48 to 192 Kbps (kilobits per
second). (We tell you how in the “Setting your CD copying codec” section.) The higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality but also the
more hard drive space used to store the file.
Windows Media Audio, variable bit rate: This variant of WMA is a
VBR, or variable bit rate, codec. This means the codec applies more
or less compression depending on the complexity of the digital
musical signal.
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Compared to CBR files recorded at similar bit rates, VBR files are typically slightly smaller but also sound better. However, you can’t predict
the size of a VBR file. (The VBR file could end up being larger, depending
on the file’s characteristics.) You can adjust WMA VBR files (like regular
WMA files) to reflect a balance between file size and audio quality. The
smallest VBR files use a bit rate between 40 and 75 Kbps, and the largest
(but best-sounding) files use a bit rate between 240 and 355 Kbps.
Windows Media Audio, lossless: This is the crème de la crème of WMA —
a codec that preserves the original file perfectly, without discarding any
audio information along the way. As a result, WMA lossless uses the most
space on your hard drive: between 470 and 940 Kbps, depending on the
music. To put this measurement in perspective, an uncompressed CD
uses about 1411 Kbps.
If you have a lot of hard drive space and are serious about your musical
fidelity, try the WMA lossless codec. We find, however, that the WMA VBR
codec used at one of the highest bit-rate settings is more than good enough
for our ears and gives us more space for saving music (and TV programs and
other stuff) on our MCE PCs.
MP3 for me
MP3 — which stands for MPEG-2 Layer 3, in case you ever get on a quiz show —
is the most commonly used digital music codec. MP3 has spread throughout
the computer world as well as the consumer electronics world to become the
default language for digital audio. If you download music files from the Internet,
they’re often in the MP3 format. However, some online music stores are moving
to WMA (the default Windows Media 9 codec) because Windows Media 9 has
a robust digital rights management (DRM) system that controls the use of
downloaded music files. (In other words, the DRM system keeps users from
uploading files to a music file-sharing service.)
Media Center (and Windows Media 9) can play just about any MP3 file that
you’ve downloaded or transferred onto your MCE PC. But when your MCE
comes out of the box, it can’t create MP3 files. You can install additional
codecs in your system that will allow Media Center and Windows Media 9 to
create MP3 files. Microsoft has a list of these programs on its Media Player 9
site. To check out the list, go to windowsmedia.com/9series and click the
Plug-Ins link.
You might find that you never need to buy an MP3 codec add-on program for
your MCE PC. We think the WMA codec is at least as good as MP3. You may,
however, need to install an MP3 codec if you have a portable audio player
that can’t handle WMA files.
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
CD audio and WAV
Media Center also can play back CD audio files without any conversion or
other preliminary steps. Place a CD in your CD/DVD drive, and the Media
Center interface will launch, and your CD will start playing (if you followed
our suggestion in Chapter 8 to set up CD autoplay).
Media Center can also handle WAV (waveform) files stored on your MCE PC.
WAV files are basically uncompressed digital audio and are often recorded
with the same sampling rate and sampling precision as CDs. You probably
won’t have too many WAV music files on your MCE PC because they’re used
more often for things like system sounds and beeps.
Setting Up My Music
To use My Music, you can just press the My Music button on the remote, and
then press the Play button. But that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Although
you can just play music with My Music, you should spend a few minutes to set
up My Music’s preferences the way you want them.
Setting your CD copying codec
If you’re like us, the first thing you’ll want to do with your MCE PC is feed CDs
into the disc drive and begin filling up your music library. But we think your
first step should be setting up the codec you’ll use for copying your CDs to
your MCE PC’s hard drive. Otherwise, if you decide later to use a higher-quality
setting or, on the other hand, save space on your hard drive and use a lower
bit-rate setting, you’ll have to delete all those music files and start over.
To set up your preferred CD copying codec, just follow these steps in XP:
1. Choose Start➪Windows Media Player.
Windows Media Player appears.
2. In the menu bar of Media Player, choose Tools➪Options.
The Options dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 10-1.
3. Click the Copy Music tab.
4. In the Copy settings area, click the arrow to the right of the Format
pull-down menu and choose the codec you want to use.
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Figure 10-1:
Get handson with
Media
Player here.
We recommend that you use Windows Media Audio (variable bit rate).
By default, Windows Media Audio (the CBR variety) and 128 Kbps bit
rate are selected.
5. Click the Audio quality slider, and slide it to your desired setting.
We move the slider all the way to the right (to Best Quality), but you
may decide to use a slightly smaller file size (somewhere further to the
left) if you need to preserve drive space.
6. Click OK.
7. In the Windows Media Player menu bar, choose File➪Exit.
You’re finished. Whatever codec you chose is the one My Music will use to
record CDs.
Configuring My Music
You’ve almost completed the setup — just a few more quick steps. You can
sit back from the computer now, because you can follow these steps using
the remote control (no more of that old-fashioned mouse and keyboard stuff
for you).
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
All that’s left to do is to tell My Music how you want it to handle visualizations. These are the cool and somewhat psychedelic patterns that flow
over your display while music plays. (Visualizations are fractal images generated by the music itself — think of this feature as a built-in lava lamp!)
Just follow these steps:
1. Open My Music by pressing the My Music button on the remote.
The My Music screen and Start menu appear on your display.
2. Select Settings.
The Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 10-2.
3. In the Show song information during visualizations section, choose
when (or if) you want visualizations to appear when you play music.
4. If you choose the Never option, select Save, and you’re finished.
Otherwise, select the Select Visualizations option.
Figure 10-2:
The My
Music
Settings
screen.
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5. Choose which visualizations you want to use as follows:
• If you want just a few specific visualizations (maybe you’re picky
about your psychedelia!), select the Clear all item on the left, and
then select the visualizations you want (by navigating to each one
and pressing OK).
• To choose all the visualizations, select the Select all item on the left.
6. Select the Save button.
The screen shown in Figure 10-3 returns.
7. Select the Save button.
That’s all the settings you have to configure in My Music. Now you’re ready to
record and play music.
Figure 10-3:
Choosing
visualizations.
Getting Music into Your Media Center PC
Unless your MCE PC vendor was generous and preloaded your machine with
some music files, it comes out of the box with an empty My Music folder. So,
before you can play any music on your MCE PC, you have to get some music
into it. You can do so in three ways:
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
You can copy your CDs to the hard drive (so you don’t need to go find
the CD and stick it back in the computer next time).
You can transfer music files (WMA or MP3 files) from your old computer.
You can download music files from the Internet.
You’ll probably find yourself using each method at different times.
You can also play music directly from CDs without copying them into your
My Music folder.
If you’re like us, you have boxes of audio tapes as well as LPs or perhaps
even 8-track tapes or 45s. So how can you get this music into your system?
You need to add MP3 recorder or WMA recorder software to your system.
This software lets you plug your old audio equipment into the Audio In
jacks on your sound card and record the analog media as an MP3 or a WMA
file. Hundreds of shareware and commercial software products can do this
task. We recommend that you go to www.download.com and search under the
Audio section for “Rippers and encoders.”
If you’re trying to record LP records, you can’t connect the record player
directly to your sound card. Instead, run the record player through a receiver
that has LP or phono inputs and use one of the Tape Out jacks on the back of
the receiver to connect to your MCE PC’s sound card.
Getting your CDs into the MCE PC
Every MCE PC includes a CD or DVD drive that can play any CD in your collection. If you’ve set up CD autoplay (we tell you how in Chapter 8), just open
the CD drawer, stick the CD in there, and close the drawer. Media Center and
My Music launch, and your CD starts playing. If you don’t have autoplay
turned on, just select the CD in the listing of albums in My Music and then
select the Play option.
You can also select the CD and just press the Play button on the remote control.
Did you select the “Retrieve media information for CDs and DVDs from the
Internet” check box back when you were setting your Privacy options for
Media Center (discussed in Chapter 8)? Is your MCE PC connected to the
Internet? If you answer yes to both, Media Center will connect to a Web service and automatically download the CD’s information (title, artist, track
names, and even the cover art) and display it on your My Music page. This
process might take a few seconds, during which time the My Music screen
displays an “Unknown album” message.
When your CD is loaded and the program information has been downloaded,
you see a screen like the one shown in Figure 10-4.
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Figure 10-4:
The CD is
loaded and
ready to go!
You can view your CD’s information in different ways using the menu at the
left. Here’s what each option does:
View Song: Shows the CD cover art and the name of the current song.
In the background on the right side of the screen, you see the track number,
the total time of the track, and the elapsed time (how long the song has
been playing).
View Tracks: Lists the songs on your CD in a new screen, as shown in
Figure 10-5. You can select particular songs and play them.
Shuffle: Plays the tracks on your CD in a random (or randomish) fashion,
like the shuffle button on your home CD player.
Repeat: Repeats the music listed in the Now Playing window from the
beginning of the list.
Copy CD: Records your CD to your My Music folder (turning the CD into
a series of WMA files on your hard drive). After you choose this option,
you don’t need to put the CD back in your MCE PC again — everything’s
stored on your hard drive for future use. Cool!
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
While you’re in the middle of listening to a CD, you can copy it. (You might
experience a brief pause as the CD begins recording.) You’ll see a little
spinning disc icon next to the song that’s currently recording and check
marks next to those that have already been recorded.
Buy Music: Takes you to a Web page for the artist, where you can find a
discography (listing of the artist’s CDs) and find more information about
particular albums. You can even click links to buy CDs online.
This element of Media Center has not yet been optimized for remote
control use and the 10-foot interface. A warning screen will appear telling
you that this Web site may not work as well with your remote. So if you’re
not sitting in front of your computer with your mouse and keyboard handy,
you might want to select the View Later option (it’s selected by default).
This puts an Internet Explorer shortcut on your desktop, so you can go
back to that page at your leisure.
Visualize: Activates visualizations, or screen effects (see the “Configuring
My Music” section earlier in this chapter). When you want the visualizations to end, press any button on the remote.
Figure 10-5:
A listing
of Pat’s
favorite
Rolling
Stones
songs.
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Getting online music into your MCE PC
You don’t have to own CDs to get music into your computer — you probably
already know this if you follow the news about the online music services
Napster and Kazaa (Napster is extinct, but Kazaa is still around) and RIAA
(Record Industry Association of America). These services and dozens like
them are often used for peer-to-peer file sharing, where people copy CDs to
their hard drives (a process often referred to as ripping), and then share
them with others over the Internet. RIAA has sued just about everyone in
an effort to stop this file sharing.
We aren’t going to describe peer-to-peer file sharing services, but we are
going to discuss some for-pay music services popping up online. These
services have made deals with record labels and artists, and offer digital
music files for download — for a price. Typically you pay a monthly fee
of about $10 to get basic access to one of these services, which gives you
access to all the songs on its catalog. This access, however, is often just
for streaming the music files — you can access them on the Internet and
play them on demand, but you can’t save them to your hard drive. You
usually pay a per-song fee of $1 or less to save the files on your hard drive
permanently.
The two most prominent services are Napster and Listen.com. Here are the
details:
Napster: You probably remember Napster — it was the program that
launched a thousand lawsuits (well, close to a thousand) back when it
seemed that everybody you knew was getting “free” music from the
Internet. Well that version of Napster is long gone, but Roxio bought the
name and assets of Napster (the company) and is relaunching the service
as a new, for-pay online music service. Napster wasn’t launched by the
time this book was printed, but we got a sneak preview from the folks at
Roxio. For a monthly fee (not announced as we go to print), Napster will
let you access music files from all the major record labels — directly
through Media Center.
Napster will be available through Media Center’s Online Spotlight —
you can sign up with your remote control and start listening. With
Napster, you’ll be able to purchase songs and entire CDs, and automatically download them into My Music. The files you’ve bought can be
played back on your MCE PC, or you can burn them to a CD or put
them on your portable digital music player. We can’t wait for this one
to launch — it will be the first online music service available through
the Media Center interface.
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
Listen.com: Our other favorite online music service is Listen.com’s
Rhapsody service. Rhapsody doesn’t work through the Media Center
Interface — at least not yet, though we suspect that Listen.com will
eventually provide an MCE experience like the one Napster is launching.
For $9.95 you get unlimited, on-demand access to music from all the major
record labels (plus a bunch of independent labels), and you can download
songs onto your MCE PC (and into My Music) for $.99 a piece. Listen.com
also has a cheaper online radio service for $4.95 a month, with more than
50 commercial-free radio stations — plus you can create your own custom
radio stations with your favorite artists. We love Listen.com’s service, and
are feverishly waiting for an MCE version of Rhapsody.
Both use the WMA file format, for added compatibility with Media Center.
Organizing Your Music
However you get your music into your MCE PC (online services, your own
CDs, carrier pigeon . . .), you may at some point decide that you want to
organize your music. Perhaps you’re sick to death of that latest Euro disco
album you downloaded, or maybe you just want to free up some space on
the hard drive. Well, it’s easy to organize, delete, and add files to your music
library in MCE, but these tasks occur in the traditional Windows XP interface,
not in the Media Center interface. In other words, this is a job for the mouse,
not the remote.
Removing files from Media Library
Your music library is actually part of something called your Media Library,
which also contains movies, online radio stations, and other media. To remove
files from your Media Library, do the following:
1. Close or minimize Media Center.
Select the close or minimize button, at the top right of the Media Center
interface, and press OK on the remote.
2. Choose Start➪Windows Media Player.
Windows Media Player appears, as shown in Figure 10-6.
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Figure 10-6:
Organizing
your music
library in
Windows
Media
Player.
3. Click the Media Library tab, which is on the left side of the Media
Player window.
4. To delete an album or all the music of a particular artist, do the following:
a. Click the plus sign next to Album or Artist to expand it.
b. Find the album or artist you want to delete, right-click it, and
choose Delete.
You can also select an individual song for deletion by rightclicking the song’s name and choosing Delete. Regardless of
what you delete, a confirmation dialog box appears, as shown
in Figure 10-7.
c. Click the Delete from Media Library and my computer option
(unless you want to keep the files on your hard drive, but not
see them in Media Center), and then click OK.
5. Repeat the process in Step 4 until you’ve deleted everything you want
to clear off your hard drive.
6. Choose File➪Exit to close Windows Media Player.
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
Figure 10-7:
Confirming a
deletion in
your Media
Library.
Searching for files outside Media Library
You can use Windows Media Player also to search your hard drive (or other
hard drives attached to your computer) for additional audio files that aren’t
in your Media Library and add them. Follow these steps:
1. In the Media Player window, click the Media Library tab.
To get to the Media Player window, close or minimize Media Center
and then choose Start➪Windows Media Player.
2. Choose Add➪By Searching Computer.
The dialog box shown in Figure 10-8 appears.
3. In the Search on pull-down menu, select the Local Drives, minus
program folders option.
This tells Media Player to search for music files on every hard drive
attached to your MCE PC (in case you have more than one).
4. Click the New files and existing files in library without media
information option.
5. Click the Search button.
Windows Media Player digs into your hard drives and looks for music files
to add to your Media Library. When the searching and adding process is
over, a Search completed dialog box appears.
6. Click Close.
Figure 10-8:
Searching
the hard
drive for
music.
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Finding music on your home network
You don’t have to keep all your digital music files
on the hard drive of your MCE PC. You can have
files on other networked computers or even on
a file server (a computer just for storing files and
sending them out to other computers). With My
Music, you can play these files on your MCE PC
without having to copy them over to the MCE
PC’s hard drive.
First, your network must be up and running (we
tell you how in Chapter 15). Second, you must
have file sharing turned on for your music folders
on those other computers. Third, follow the
process for adding files to your Media Library
described in the “Organizing Your Music”
section. The only difference is that instead of
choosing the Local Drives, minus program folders option, you choose All Drives. Any networked computers that you have access to will
be included in the search, and any music files
found will be added to your library. The files
themselves are not moved, but Media Center
knows where they are and can access them.
Please note, as we discuss in Chapter 16, that
some wireless networks (particularly those
using the slower 802.11b system) may not be
fast enough for this process to work well.
By default, Windows automatically searches for new files in your My Music
folder (located in the My Documents folder), and adds them to the Media
Library for you. If you have other folders that you put music into, you can set
up Media Center to automatically search them, too. In Step 2, choose Add➪By
Monitoring Folders. A dialog box appears, and you can put additional folders
in this watch list of monitored folders. Having a watch list can be useful if you
use an online music service that downloads music files to its own folder instead
of to your My Music folder.
Playing with Your Music
If you’re a bit geeky (like us), setting preferences and organizing digital music
libraries can be their own reward. But the fun part comes when you listen to
your music files through a good set of speakers.
Playing music stored on your MCE PC with My Music is dead simple — we
pretty much described the process when we talked about how to play CDs.
In fact, My Music doesn’t differentiate much between CDs in your CD/DVD
drive and music files on your hard drive — it’s all music.
From the main My Music screen, you can find your music by having My Music
sort it using the following categories:
Album titles: Displays all albums. You can further sort your albums as
a text list or by showing the album covers.
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
Artist name: Displays your music according to the artist’s name. Select
any artist, and that artist’s albums appear on the screen.
Playlist: Displays your playlists. Using Windows Media Player, you can
create playlists of songs (sort of like those mix tapes Danny made back
in college to impress the girls). Basically, you mix and match songs in
the order you like, save the playlist and then play them back.
Media Center (and Windows Media Player) automatically builds playlists
for you — Auto Playlists — based on criteria such as songs you play the
most, songs you haven’t listened to in a while, and more. You can access
these Auto Playlists in My Music by selecting Playlists and then selecting
Auto Playlists.
Songs: Displays a list of every song in your media library.
Genre: Displays a list of musical genres (rock, jazz, hip hop, and so on)
in your MCE music collection. Genre information is collected from the
Internet when you first put your CDs in the MCE PC and copy them —
it’s part of the process that finds the cover art and album or song titles.
If you don’t have a genre listed for a particular album or disagree with the
verdict others have rendered on it (What! Barry Manilow is not punk!), you
can edit this tag (or any of the others — artist, track name, album name,
and so on) in Windows Media Player. Just right-click the song in Media
Library and choose Advanced Tag Editor. Make your changes, and click
OK. Sometimes tags are missing on songs you’ve downloaded from the
Internet or on obscure CDs that haven’t made it onto the online databases.
After you select the song or album you want to play — using any of the
preceding methods — just press the Play button on the remote control. The
Pause, FWD, and REW buttons also work just as you’d expect they would. (In
other words, they work just as they do on that CD player in your living room.)
Here are the specifics on what the buttons on your remote do in My Music:
Play: Starts playing the selected song or album.
Pause: Suspends the song. Press Pause again (or press Play), and the
song continues.
FWD (fast forward): Press this button once to skip through the song at a
slightly increased pace. Press again to move even faster, and press a third
time to zip through the song at breakneck speed.
REW (rewind): Does the same thing as FWD, but in the opposite direction.
Replay: Skips to the beginning of the song and starts playing it again.
Skip: Skips to the next song. This button is handy when you just can’t
stand that one horrible song on an otherwise great album.
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Radio
Radio premiered in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. With Radio, you
can listen to and control FM radio on your Media Center PC.
It its simplest form, Radio puts an FM tuner right into your PC, giving you many
of the same capabilities you have in your car stereo, such as preset stations,
scanning, and volume controls. However, your Windows XP MCE tuner has one
fancy additional feature — the capability to buffer (or store on your hard drive)
live radio. This allows you to do two major things:
Pause a station: Suppose you’re listening to a great interview on NPR,
and a Girl Scout comes to your door to sell you some of those great mint
cookies. You can’t simply say, “No!” to such an offer, but you really want
to listen to the interview, too. No problem. Just press the Pause button,
and you can record the show while you fill out the order form. MCE can
buffer up to 30 minutes of radio content.
Enjoy an instant replay: Did you miss that dial-in phone number for the
free concert tickets? Press the Replay button on the remote control to
skip back 7 seconds in the broadcast.
Very nice.
You see the Radio option on your MCE Start menu only if your TV card is outfitted with FM tuner capability. An FM-equipped TV tuner card is easy to spot —
it has two F (75-ohm cable-style) coaxial connectors, one for the TV cable and
the other for the FM cable. If you want to add the Radio feature to your MCE
PC, ask your vendor about upgrading to a TV tuner card with an FM input.
MCE 2004 will not show the Radio menu button on the start page if it does
not detect a FM tuner installed in the PC when Media Center is started.
When you select Radio from the Start menu, you see two options, Start FM
and Settings, as shown in Figure 10-9. Select Start FM to find and play audio
content from your favorite FM stations. Select Settings to access some basic
options for the Radio experience.
Microsoft kept the FM tuner screen simple. Here’s the quick lowdown on
what you can do with Radio and how to do it:
Use the arrow buttons on the remote control to navigate the screen.
To enter numbers, use the numeric keypad on the remote followed by
the Enter button. You can enter a station’s frequency (for example, 96.5),
and press the Enter button on the remote to tell Media Center to tune to
that frequency.
Chapter 10: Listening to Music
To find a specific station, navigate to the Tune option’s plus or minus
button on the screen, click the button until you reach the specific slot
in the FM frequency band that you want, and then press OK.
If you want to scan the available stations in your area, navigate to the
plus or minus button in the Seek area, and press OK to move to the next
tuned-in station.
There’s space for nine preset stations — stations that you can select with
one-button access. To establish a preset, tune to a station using the plus
and minus buttons or by directly entering the numbers, and then select
the Save menu option. MCE assigns that station to one of the open presets. From then on, just navigate to the station preset and press OK.
Want to move your presets around? No problem. Use the on-screen up and
down buttons to shift the station to another preset. If you want to get rid
of a preset station listing, select the on-screen Delete button (it’s an X) or
use the Delete button on your keyboard.
Overall, the Radio experience in MCE is second only to My DVD in ease of use.
Figure 10-9:
Your FM
Tuner in
Radio.
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Chapter 11
Working with Photos
In This Chapter
Finding out about digital photographs
Setting up the My Pictures module
Downloading your pictures and moving them around
Correcting red eye and the contrast
Playing slide shows on your MCE PC (and the big screen!)
Making your own digital prints
D
igital cameras have taken the photography world by storm — news
articles and market research show that digital cameras now outsell film
cameras. Heck, we both have standalone digital cameras, plus digital cameras
in our cell phones — Danny even has one built into his camcorder — and we’re
not even big photography geeks. Regular folks (we’re regular, really!) have begun
to embrace digital photography. We’ve even seen an announcement for an $11
disposable digital camera.
Microsoft is full of smart people who know a trend when they see one, so they
loaded up the My Pictures module with powerful digital photography features
that make it easy to store, organize, view, and print your digital pictures. And
an MCE PC combined with a high-quality, big-screen TV is a match made in
heaven when it comes to showing pictures of your vacation at Aunt Edna’s —
this will be one slide show where your friends don’t fall asleep or try to sneak
out. (“The babysitter — we’ve got to go relieve the babysitter!”)
And even if you don’t have a digital camera yet, you can still take advantage
of MCE’s My Pictures module. We’ll tell you about some inexpensive ways you
can get your regular film photographs into your MCE PC.
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If you don’t like to see pictures of two rather homely dogs, try to ignore the figures in this chapter. Pat had to use pictures of something to demonstrate My
Pictures, and the dogs didn’t complain when having their picture taken. In
fact, they liked to ham it up (as long as some biscuits were nearby).
As mentioned in other chapters, when we say you should select something,
it’s shorthand for this: Use the arrow buttons on the remote to move the cursor
to that item and then press the OK button on the remote.
Digital Photography Basics
If you’ve already read Chapter 10, you know how digital music works — an
analog musical signal is chopped up into millions of little pieces that can be
described by digital 1s and 0s. Digital photography works in a similar way: An
analog image (the light going into a camera’s lens) is divided into millions of
little dots, or pixels, which are described by digital 1s and 0s that can be saved
on a memory device (such as the hard drive on your MCE PC).
What to look for in a digital camera
Someone already wrote Digital Cameras For
Dummies, but we want to give you a few quick
pointers if you’re getting ready to buy a digital
camera. Here’s what we look for:
At least 3 megapixels: Unless you’re buying
an inexpensive camera for the kids (or to
stuff in your pocket for trips to the amusement park), we think 3 megapixels is the
minimum to shoot for (pun intended). Below
this point, bigger prints (such as 8x10s) don’t
look good. Prices for digital cameras are
dropping like crazy. You can get a really
good 3-megapixel digital camera for around
$300 (or probably even less by the time you
read this).
Optical zoom: Some digital cameras use
only digital zoom. (Zooming magnifies distant images — like using binoculars with
your camera.) Digital zoom doesn’t actually
magnify your image; instead, it zooms in
on a smaller part of the overall image. This
reduces your resolution, because your
image then consists of a smaller number of
pixels. Optical zoom uses a special lens to
magnify your image on the CCD, so you get
the full resolution.
USB 2.0: Most digital cameras connect to
the MCE PC using a USB cable (this is how
you download the images). USB 2.0 is much
faster than the older USB 1.1 standard, so
you can get your pictures into your computer
that much faster. (We discuss the USB standards in Chapter 2.)
Beyond that, it’s up to you. In Chapter 17, we list
a few of our favorite sites for learning more
about digital cameras and comparing the latest
and greatest models.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
The number of pixels that make up a digital picture determines the resolution. Usually a picture is described by the number of pixels measured
horizontally (across the picture from left to right) times the number of pixels
measured vertically. If a digital picture is 1600x1200, for example, it has
1600 pixels horizontally and 1200 pixels vertically. Multiply these numbers,
and you find that the picture is made up of 1,920,000 pixels — nearly
2 million!
The more pixels in a digital picture, the better it looks when enlarged (or blown
up). As the picture gets big enough, you can begin to see the pixels themselves.
For wallet-sized photos, almost any digital photo is fine, but when you start
thinking about 8x10 or larger prints, you need a photo with 3 million or more
pixels. Most computer monitors are set up to display 1024x768 pixels, so your
computer has to shrink this image down a bit to display it on your screen.
Media Center shrinks the image automatically.
If you’re shopping for a digital camera, you’ll hear the term megapixels, as in
2.1 megapixel cameras or 3.2 megapixel cameras. In this case, mega means a
million. So that 1600x1200 pixel picture we just described is nearly 2 megapixels.
Digital pictures are usually stored as one of two types of files:
TIFF files: TIFF (Tag Image File Format) files are uncompressed digital pictures (we talked about compression in Chapter 10). Most digital cameras
can be set up to take TIFF files, but this format is seldom used because
uncompressed files take up a lot of space — with many digital cameras, you
can fit ten or more compressed files on the digital “film” for every uncompressed file. Digital picture files using the TIFF format have a .tif suffix.
JPEG files: JPEG (Joint Picture Experts Group) files are compressed
versions of TIFF files. The JPEG system looks at the pixels in a picture and
uses mathematical algorithms to remove unnecessary data and make the
size of the file (the number of bits used to describe the picture) smaller.
Digital picture files using the JPEG format have the .jpg or .jpeg suffix.
JPEG files can have different levels of compression — many digital cameras let
you adjust a quality setting for this. Files that are more compressed take up less
drive space but may look blurry. This is because JPEG is a lossy compression
algorithm (we discuss this in Chapter 9), and too much compression crosses
the line from discarding superfluous data to discarding important data.
A few digital cameras save their uncompressed pictures in the RAW format —
this format is literally the raw data off the computer chip in the camera that
captures the analog image. You’ll probably need some special software that
comes with your camera to view this format — for the majority of pictures, we
recommend that you use JPEG instead.
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You can get a digital picture in two ways:
Use a digital camera: This is the best way. A digital camera uses a chip
called a charge-coupled device (CCD) to digitally capture the light coming
into the camera’s lens. Photos taken on a digital camera are digital all the
way — right up to the point where you turn them back to light (on a
monitor screen or your TV) or print them on paper.
Scan analog pictures (either film slides or prints): A scanner uses its
own CCD to create digital picture files by shining a light on existing
analog pictures and capturing that image. We talk more about scanners
in Chapter 17.
You don’t have to buy your own scanner to create digital photos from your
existing film pictures. Hundreds of companies (both local and mail order)
will scan your photos and send you a CD containing your digital images. Just
look in the local phone book or do a Web search for film-scanning services.
We talk about one service we like, Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com), in
Chapter 19.
Setting Up My Pictures
Like all the modules in Media Center, My Pictures is a snap to set up. My
Pictures automatically searches for picture image files in the My Pictures
subfolder of your My Documents folder in your MCE PC. (Yes, we know it’s
confusing to have a folder and a module with the same name — but the two
work together hand-in-hand.) My Pictures finds digital photo files in the My
Pictures folder on its own, so you don’t have to tell it where to look.
However, you do have to tell My Pictures how you want to display your
photos in Media Center. Set seven easy options, and you’re ready to play:
1. Open Media Center by pressing the green button on the remote.
You can also use your mouse and choose Start➪Media Center.
2. Select My Pictures.
The main My Pictures screen appears, as shown in Figure 11-1.
3. Select Settings.
The My Pictures Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 11-2.
4. In the first group of settings, choose the way you want your pictures to
appear on the screen when you use My Pictures to create a slide show:
• To display your photos randomly rather than in alphanumeric
order (using the pictures’ file names), select the Show pictures in
random order check box.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
Figure 11-1:
The main
My Pictures
screen.
• If you want the slide show to include pictures in subfolders in
your My Pictures folder, select the Show pictures in subfolders
check box. If you don’t check this box, only photos located in
the top level of the My Pictures folder are shown during your
slide show.
• To include any captions you entered for your pictures, select the
Show captions check box.
5. In the second group of settings, choose how My Pictures displays
information about the music it’s playing.
Media Center’s My Music experience can provide background music
during your slide shows (you just need to start playing music in My
Music before you begin the slide show, as discussed in Chapter 10).
This setting tells My Pictures how you would like to display song
information — you’ll see an MTV-style overlay at the bottom of your
screen. You can display this song information at the beginning and
end of the song, always, or never.
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Figure 11-2:
Configuring
My Pictures.
6. In the next group of settings, choose the effect My Pictures uses
during the transition between photos in your slide show.
You can choose Animated (My Pictures pans across the picture and then
animates the transition to the next picture), Cross fade (the current
picture fades out before the next one appears), or None.
7. In the Transition time setting, decide how long a picture remains
on the screen before you move on to the next picture in your
slide show.
Use the arrow buttons to move to the plus or minus button (shown in
Figure 11-3), and then press the OK button as many times as necessary
to increase or decrease the time between slides.
8. In the last setting, choose a background color for your slide-show
photos.
The final setting, Slide show background color, determines what color
appears on your display outside the borders of your photos. (When a
picture is not the same shape, or aspect ratio, as your screen, you have
empty space on the screen, particularly with wide-screen TVs.) Use the
arrow buttons to move to the plus or minus button, and then press OK as
many times as needed to move between black and white (with shades of
gray in-between).
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
Figure 11-3:
Customizing
slide shows.
9. Select the Save option (on the left side of the screen).
Your settings are saved, and you’re returned to the main My Pictures menu.
Is it a camera or a phone?
Another way to take digital pictures is using one
of the cool new camera phones offered by the
mobile phone companies. For example, Danny
just got a cool Sanyo SCP-5300 (you can get one
too — Sprint PCS Vision sells them at www.
sprintpcs.com). Danny’s phone (or is it
camera?) can take 640x480 digital pictures with
the press of a button. Granted, that resolution is
not the same quality you get with a $1500,
8-megapixel digital camera, but who wants to
carry an expensive digital camera around all the
time? Camera phones are great for the spontaneous snapshot.
The cell phone companies sell camera phones
mainly because they’d like you to use their data
services to e-mail or SMS (short messaging service) these pictures to your friends. You can also
get the pictures off your phone and into your
MCE PC at home without using up your minutes.
Most camera phones use a USB cable, an IR
(Infrared) connection, or Bluetooth wireless
technology. As long as your MCE PC is properly
equipped with the same connections, you can
just “send” the pictures to your XP desktop or
right into the My Pictures folder. A cool bit of
technology. Don’t leave home without one.
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Getting Pictures into Your MCE and
Moving Them Around
After you’ve configured My Pictures, it’s time to get your pictures into your
Media Center PC and put them in the proper location. Media Center can
display pictures located in three distinct locations:
My Pictures folder: This folder, located in your My Documents folder on
your MCE PC, is the default location for digital photos on your computer.
When you use a scanner or plug a digital camera into the USB or FireWire
port to download pictures onto your MCE PC, the downloaded pictures
end up in your My Pictures folder by default. Photos in the My Pictures
folder are available only to the current user. Each logged-in user can see
and edit only the pictures in his or her My Pictures folder. (See Chapter 8
for more information about multiple users.)
Shared Pictures: This folder (at C:\Documents and Settings\All
Users\Documents\My Pictures) provides a place to store pictures so
that they’re available to all users of the MCE PC. If you have pictures that
you want to share with the kids or your spouse, place them here.
Other Media: If you have a 6-in-1 memory card reader, Other Media is
for you. My Pictures can read and edit pictures stored on digital “film”
(removable flash media) when it’s inserted in a memory card reader.
This means you don’t have to download the pictures to your MCE PC
hard drive before viewing or editing them.
Getting pictures from your scanner or digital camera into your My Pictures
folder is easy. With most digital cameras (and media card readers), simply
plugging the camera into your MCE PC’s USB or FireWire port automatically
prompts your MCE PC into action.
To get your digital pictures into your MCE PC, just follow these steps:
1. Attach the camera (or external card reader).
2. If you see the screen shown in Figure 11-4, make your selections.
This screen appears the first time you download pictures. We recommend
that you choose the option titled Copy pictures to a folder on my computer
using Microsoft Scanner and Camera Wizard. This screen also appears
every time you download pictures, unless you choose the Always to the
selected action check box. So, if you want to skip this step in the future,
click that check box as well.
3. Click OK.
The Scanner and Camera Wizard appears.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
4. Click Next.
You see a series of thumbnail images of the pictures in your camera or
memory card.
5. Use your mouse to check the box next to the pictures you want to
download to your MCE PC’s hard drive, as shown in Figure 11-5.
You can click the Clear All button to deselect all the pictures in your camera
or memory card, or click the Select All button to select them all.
6. Click Next.
The screen shown in Figure 11-6 appears.
Figure 11-4:
Plugging
in your
camera or
media card
reader for
the first
time.
Figure 11-5:
Selecting
the pictures
you want to
download.
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Figure 11-6:
Finding
a place to
put your
pictures.
7. In the first text box, type a name for this group of pictures.
This name is used for a folder that contains all the pictures you’re downloading. If you’re downloading pictures of your dog running around the
house with a newly captured roll of toilet paper, for example, you might
want to name the pictures Toilet Paper Dog.
8. In the second text box, change the location, if you want.
By default, the second text box places your pictures in your My Pictures
folder, inside a folder with the name you just typed. If you want to put the
pictures elsewhere, type that location in the text box or click the Browse
button to navigate to another folder on your hard drive.
9. Click Next.
The wizard downloads the pictures to your preferred location, and
names the files. (It uses whatever name you chose, and adds a 1, 2, 3,
and so on to the end of each file name.)
10. When the download is complete, click Next.
You’re offered the options shown in Figure 11-7.
11. Make your selection in the Other Options screen, and then click Next.
Unless you’re going to use one of these options, click the option titled
Nothing, I’m finished working with these pictures. The Completing the
Scanner and Camera Wizard window appears.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
Figure 11-7:
Wrapping
up.
12. Click Finish.
The pictures you selected are now in your My Pictures folder (or wherever you told the wizard to put them). Easy as pie.
If you’re using a scanner, it should place the scanned photographs in your
My Pictures folder by default. If it doesn’t, most scanners will let you switch
the default folder location by choosing something like Edit➪Options or Edit➪
Preferences.
Making your pictures available to all
If you have pictures in your My Pictures folder that you want to make available
to everyone who uses the MCE PC, you need to move them over in the traditional XP interface — you can’t use Media Center to change a file’s location
on the hard drive.
The easiest way to move picture files follows:
1. Open the My Computer folder in Windows Explorer on your desktop.
Choose Start➪My Computer.
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2. Press the Ctrl key and double-click My Documents in the My
Computer window.
The My Documents folder appears in a separate window.
3. Click the My Computer window to select it and bring it to the front.
4. Double-click your hard drive icon (it’s probably C:\) and navigate to
the following location:
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\My Pictures
5. Put the two windows next to each other on the desktop.
You can move them around by clicking their menu bars and dragging
them into place.
6. Select the files you want to move by Ctrl-clicking each one.
7. Copy or move the files as follows:
• To copy the files to the Shared Pictures folder (and leave a copy
in your My Pictures folder), right-click one of the pictures you’ve
selected and drag it to the Shared Pictures folder. When you release
the mouse button, a menu appears. Select Copy Here.
• To move the pictures to the Shared Pictures folder and not retain
a copy, click and drag them to the Shared Pictures folder.
Organizing your pictures
Rearranging the order of your pictures is easy in Media Center. You can arrange
the pictures by name or by date, as follows:
1. Open My Pictures.
Press the My Pictures button on the remote control.
2. Select which group of pictures you want to work with.
Select My Pictures, Shared Pictures, or Other Media in the menu on the
left. If your pictures are in a subfolder in the My Pictures or Shared Pictures
folder, navigate to that folder and press OK.
3. Select your sorting preference:
• To sort your pictures by name, select the Sort by name option.
• To sort the pictures by date, select the Sort by date option.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
Your pictures are displayed on the screen of your MCE PC as a series of
thumbnails, or small images, so you can see a bunch of them at one time.
To see a picture full screen, simply navigate to it and press OK.
Press the OK button again to zoom in on the picture, a third time to zoom in
even more, and a fourth time to go back to the full-screen display.
You can press the Back button on the remote to go back to the thumbnail view
of your pictures, or press the FWD or REW button to scroll through your
pictures full screen, one at a time.
Correcting Your Pictures
Let’s face it, most of us are not professional photographers. Even though we
have high-quality digital cameras, we still take pictures that don’t look quite
right. Maybe the flash caused red eye, that evil-looking red reflection from
people’s retinas. Or perhaps the contrast wasn’t right, and the subject of the
photo is hidden in the shadows. It happens to all of us.
The great thing about digital pictures is that you’re not wasting film (or money)
by throwing these pictures away. But sometimes a picture with just one flaw
is the best in the batch (maybe you caught Uncle Al asleep in the chaise in
the back yard, and you need photographic proof).
My Pictures has tools that automatically help correct your pictures. You
don’t have to be a Photoshop expert or have the slightest idea of the difference between brightness and gamma.
To edit your photos in My Pictures, follow these steps:
1. Open My Pictures.
Press the My Pictures button on the remote.
2. Navigate to the picture you want to correct.
The picture becomes highlighted by a green border. If the picture
isn’t in your My Photos folder, you may need to select the Shared
Pictures or Other Media option on the left of the screen to find the
picture file.
3. Press the More Info button on the remote.
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The picture appears with a Picture Details menu on the left side of the
screen, as shown in Figure 11-8.
4. If you want to rotate the picture, select the appropriate Rotate menu
item.
You can rotate the picture counterclockwise or clockwise. Press OK as
many times as you want; the picture rotates 90 degrees with each press.
5. If you want to get rid of red eye or adjust the contrast of your picture,
do the following:
a. Select Touch up.
A Touch Up screen appears, as shown in Figure 11-9.
b. Select either Red eye or Contrast.
You’ll see a spinning “computer working” icon on the desktop
of your MCE PC, and then your picture appears with the effect
applied.
c. If you like the results, select Save. Otherwise, select Cancel.
Figure 11-8:
Picture
Details is
where you
edit your
picture.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
Figure 11-9:
Touching
up your
pictures.
If you want to edit other pictures, you can select the Next and Previous
menu items (shown in Figure 11-8) to scroll through your pictures.
Creating a Slide Show
Looking at thumbnails and scrolling through pictures manually is okay, but
when you want to show off your pictures, a slide show is the way to go. Media
Center and My Pictures make it easy to run slide shows on your display — if
you have a big-screen TV connected to your MCE PC, you can show your
pictures in a larger-than-life way!
To run a slide show, follow these steps:
1. Open My Pictures.
Press the My Pictures button on the remote.
2. Select the source of the pictures you want to use in your slide show.
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Select My Pictures, Shared Pictures, or Other Media in the menu on the
left side of the screen. If you have pictures in a subfolder in the My Pictures
or Shared Pictures folder, and you want to show only those pictures in
your slide show, navigate to that subfolder and press OK.
3. Select Play slide show.
That’s it! Your slide show starts.
4. When you want to quit the slide show, press the Back button on the
remote.
When you’re in the middle of the slide show, you can skip back and forth
between pictures using the left and right arrow buttons on the remote. If you
want to pause on a particular picture, just press the Pause button on the remote.
Printing Your Pictures
Sometimes you want a picture to put in your wallet, on the wall, or in that frame
on your desk at work (where your MCE PC is not located). Well, MCE makes that
easy by letting you print pictures right from My Pictures.
To print a picture, first you need to have a printer attached to your MCE PC
and working:
1. Connect your printer and set it up according to the manufacturer’s
instructions.
Most printers are easy to set up; the XP New Hardware Wizard walks
you through the process.
2. With Media Center closed or minimized, choose Start➪Printers and
Faxes.
The Printers and Faxes control panel appears.
3. Right-click the icon for the printer you want to use with Media Center
and choose Properties.
The Properties dialog box appears.
4. Click the General tab, and type MCE Printer in the text box containing
the printer name.
5. Click OK.
That printer is now configured to work with Media Center.
Chapter 11: Working with Photos
Printing the picture is simple:
1. Open My Pictures.
Press the My Pictures button on the remote.
2. Select the folder containing the picture you want to print (My Pictures,
Shared Pictures, or Other Media), and navigate to the picture.
3. Press the More Info button on the remote.
The Picture Details screen appears (refer to Figure 11-8).
4. Select Print.
A dialog box appears, asking whether you want a full-page printout of
the picture you’ve selected, as shown in Figure 11-10.
5. Select Print.
Media Center sends the picture to your printer.
Figure 11-10:
Use your
remote
control
to make
a print.
If you really like a picture, consider getting a poster-sized printout from an
online vendor, such as Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com). It’s easy, it’s cool, and
you can really embarrass Uncle Al with that picture of him snoozing through
his bachelor party in the back yard.
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Chapter 12
Playing DVDs
In This Chapter
Setting your DVD preferences
Playing a DVD with MCE
Using a DVD’s menu
T
his is the shortest chapter in the book because playing DVDs with Media
Center is so easy. (Then again, all the functions in Media Center are pretty
easy.) In fact, if you set up DVD autoplay as we explain in Chapter 8, playing a
DVD with Media Center is as simple as putting the DVD in the DVD drive tray
of your MCE PC and closing the tray. The DVD starts playing automatically, and
your MCE PC starts Media Center and goes into full-screen mode. That’s it!
A few tips, however, will keep you and your MCE PC on good terms as you
become a DVD junkie. In this chapter, you find out how to configure the settings
for DVD playback, how to play a DVD with MCE PC, and how to control that
DVD when it’s playing.
As mentioned in other chapters, when we say you should select something, it’s
shorthand for this: Use the arrow buttons on the remote to move the cursor to
that item and then press the OK button on the remote.
Configuring Your MCE PC to Play
DVDs Your Way
Before you get started with DVDs on your MCE PC, it’s worth spending a few
minutes setting your preferences for DVD playback. Just follow these steps:
1. Open Media Center.
Press the green button on the remote. You also can press the start
button and select Media Center.
2. Select Settings.
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3. Select DVD.
The DVD Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 12-1.
4. Select Language.
The DVD Language Settings screen appears, as shown in Figure 12-2.
You use these settings to determine the default language in which you
want to view movies.
5. Navigate to the plus or minus button next to each option, and press
OK repeatedly to cycle through the alternatives:
• Subtitle: The language in which you want your subtitles (or on-screen
text dialogue) to appear. The default is None.
• Audio track: The language in which you want to hear your DVDs.
(Many DVDs have audio tracks in multiple languages.) The Title
Default option lets your DVD decide which language to use.
• Menu: The language you want to use for the DVD’s on-screen menu
system. (Again, many DVDs have multiple languages available.)
Figure 12-1:
Setting
your DVD
preferences.
Chapter 12: Playing DVDs
Figure 12-2:
Setting
your DVD
language
defaults.
Most DVDs enable you to adjust the subtitle, audio track, and menu
languages from their own DVD menu. These override your system settings
when you play the DVD. So you’re not stuck with MCE-stored settings —
if you’re a Kurosawa fan, for example, you can decide halfway through that
you want to listen to Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) in Japanese,
with no subtitles.
If the language you select is not available on the DVD, you get the DVD’s
default language (usually English).
6. Select Save.
You return to the main DVD Settings menu (refer to Figure 12-1).
7. Select Audio.
A Windows XP dialog box appears on the screen, similar to the one in
Figure 12-3. That figure shows the InterVideo WinDVD used by Pat’s
Gateway MCE PC. What happens next depends on your MCE PC and
your DVD decoder hardware and software.
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Figure 12-3:
Setting your
audio up
for DVDs.
8. Choose the type of audio output you want from your DVD, and then
click OK.
The options will vary, depending on whether your MCE PC can support
digital audio outputs for connecting to a home-theater receiver. Some
general advice follows:
• If two speakers are connected to your MCE PC, click the 2 speaker
mode option. Under that option, click Stereo if you have two
speakers, or click Dolby Surround Compatible if you don’t have
digital audio outputs and are planning on connecting to a hometheater receiver with two analog audio-interconnect cables. You’ll
probably never choose the one speaker option (Mono).
• Click 4 speaker mode if four-speaker (quad) surround sound is
attached to your MCE PC.
• Click 6 speaker mode (5.1 channel) if a 5.1 surround-sound system
is connected to your MCE PC’s audio card.
• Click Enable S/PDIF output if you have a digital audio connection
to your home-theater receiver.
We talk about all these different speaker connections in Chapter 4.
9. Back in the main DVD Settings screen, select the last option,
Program remote buttons for DVD.
The Remote Control Settings screen appears, as shown in
Figure 12-4.
10. Select the option you prefer for the Skip and Replay buttons on your
remote.
Chapter 12: Playing DVDs
Figure 12-4:
Setting up
your remote
control.
• Select Skip chapters if you want these buttons to skip between chapters on the DVD. (Chapters are smallish segments of the movie.)
We prefer this setting.
• Select Skip forward and back if you want these buttons to behave
like the REW and FWD buttons on the remote (rewinding and fast
forwarding without regard to the chapter structure of the DVD).
11. Select Save.
You’re finished!
Playing a DVD with Media Center
Well, we already spilled the beans in the introduction to this chapter: If you’ve
set up DVD autoplay, you can play a DVD by simply sticking the DVD in the DVD
tray (the cupholder-looking thing) and closing the tray.
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Some folks prefer to play a DVD manually. If you haven’t turned on autoplay,
playing a DVD is pretty darn easy. After inserting the DVD, you encounter one
of the following scenarios:
If you’re already using Media Center: A dialog box appears like the one
shown in Figure 12-5. Select Yes to play the DVD right away. If you decide
not to watch right away (and select No), just go to the Media Center Start
menu (press the green button on the remote) and select Play DVD when
you’re ready.
If you’re not using Media Center: Press the green button on the remote.
Media Center launches and starts playing the DVD.
That’s almost all there is to it. If you’ve turned on Parental Controls (we tell
you how in Chapter 9) and the DVD exceeds your ratings limit, you see a
screen like the one shown in Figure 12-6.
Just press the OK button, and you’re be prompted to enter your four-digit
code. Type this code using the number buttons on the remote and the movie
will start. You don’t have to press the OK button in this case — just type the
code and watch that adult-oriented movie to your heart’s content.
Figure 12-5:
Media
Center asks
you whether
you want
to watch
the DVD.
Chapter 12: Playing DVDs
Figure 12-6:
Uh oh, you
can’t watch
this movie!
You can control your DVD with the remote control, just as you would if you
were using a regular DVD player in the living room:
To pause the DVD, press the Pause button. To resume playing the DVD,
press Pause again or press Play.
To fast forward or rewind the DVD, press the FWD button or the REW
button, respectively.
• Press the button one time for 3 times the normal speed.
• Press it again for 40 times the normal speed.
• Press it a third time for 250 times the normal speed (now that’s
moving!).
• Press that button one more time to return to normal play.
To stop playing the DVD, press the Stop button.
You can also use the VOL button and the mute button to adjust the audio
as you go along.
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Getting into DVD Menus
The final piece of the DVD puzzle comes from the DVD itself — the DVD menu
we’ve alluded to a few times throughout this chapter. Almost all commercial
DVDs have an internal menu that lets you do all sorts of interesting stuff.
Depending on the DVD, you can use the DVD menu to
Set up the surround-sound format you want to use.
Select between a wide-screen or normal version of the movie.
Turn subtitles on and off.
Select the audio track you want to use (typically you can switch
between the native language of the movie and a dubbed version in a
different language).
Some movies also have an alternative audio track with the director’s
comments interspersed with the dialogue. This is a cool feature if you’re
seeing a movie for the fifteenth time and want to know why the director
did something in that crucial scene!
Get into special features of the DVD such as “Making of” featurettes,
actor biographies, music videos, movie posters, and trailers.
Find Easter eggs on your DVD. These are special features hidden in
the DVD menu — you usually run across them by accident, but you can
also cheat and go online to a site such as www.dvdeastereggs.com to
find them.
Displaying the DVD menu of the DVD you’re playing is a simple one-step
process: Press the DVD Menu button on the remote control. After the DVD
menu is displayed, use the arrow buttons on the remote to navigate to the
different options. The process is a lot like navigating in the Media Center
interface.
In this chapter, we talk about playing DVDs — because that’s what Play DVD
does! If you’re interested in figuring out how to create your own DVDs, check
out Chapters 9 and 13.
Chapter 13
Working with Home Videos
In This Chapter
Getting movies into your Media Center PC
Editing your movies
Playing movies with My Videos
Sharing your movies with others
Saving movies to DVD
W
ith your MCE PC, breaking out the home videos when the family
visits takes on a whole new meaning. You can transfer, edit, play, and
download those special home-video moments that you’ve captured on your
camcorder, and also record live images from your Webcam.
In this chapter, you find out how to capture a video to your MCE PC, edit and
play the video, and then offload it to a DVD (so you can play it in your car or
at your neighbor’s house). Playing your video images on your MCE PC is so easy
that we focus on getting images into and out of your PC.
Media Center is well outfitted to help you play your video images (using the My
Videos module). However, to accomplish other tasks, such as getting information into and out of your PC and manipulating images, you need to use other
programs, which we mention in turn in this chapter.
Anyone who has been taking videos for a while knows that you have to take a
lot of extra footage to get those few America’s Funniest Home Videos shots that
make it all worthwhile. The more adept you become at editing your videos, the
more you’ll enjoy watching them.
We’ve told you this before, but here we go again. When we say that you should
select something, it’s shorthand for this: Use the arrow buttons on the remote
to move the cursor to that item and then press the OK button on the remote.
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Getting Ready for My Videos
Unlike the other major areas of Media Center, My Videos doesn’t require you to
configure any specific settings. So getting prepared to use My Videos is mostly
focused on getting your source video equipment connected to your PC.
The primary way to get your videos into the PC is through your camcorder. You
can also transfer movies created with a Webcam or stored on old VHS tapes,
and you can even download movies from the Internet. If you don’t have a
camcorder yet, check out the “Camcorder basics” sidebar in this chapter for
some tips on purchasing one.
Connecting your camcorder to your PC
You can connect a camcorder to your PC in three main ways:
IEEE 1394 or FireWire port (also called an i.LINK port by some vendors):
This is the most common digital camcorder interface. We talk about
FireWire in detail in Chapter 2.
S-video: If you have an analog camcorder and have a choice between
S-video and composite video, use the S-video connection because it delivers higher-quality video and audio.
Composite video: As described in Chapter 2, composite-video cables have
the familiar red, white, and yellow RCA plugs. This type of connection is
common for older and low-end camcorders.
A few digital camcorders use USB connectors instead of (or in addition to)
FireWire. We think USB is useful only if it’s the newer USB 2.0 version.
Otherwise, downloading your camcorder videos will take forever. MCE PCs
support both USB 2.0 and FireWire. If we were buying a new camcorder, we’d
go for the FireWire.
If you have an analog camcorder, connect your audio and video cables to
your PC’s Audio In and Video In ports.
In Chapter 3, we suggest that you consider getting an MCE PC with accessible
front panel ports for your FireWire or analog A/V connections. If your PC has
these, don’t forget to use them when downloading content from your camcorder
to your PC.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
Connecting other devices to your MCE PC
You can get video images into your PC in other ways than just downloading
images from a camcorder:
USB-attached Webcam: A Webcam can send an image that you can capture
to your hard drive using your Webcam manufacturer’s software. Most
Webcams attach to your PC using a USB connection. Danny uses a
QuickCam Pro 4000 from Logitech (www.logitech.com), shown in
Figure 13-1. The Pro 4000 ($85 street price) comes with 640-by-480 pixel
resolution, a built-in microphone, automatic face tracking (which keeps
your face in the middle of the screen), and a range of extra software to
help you take advantage of the Webcam. (You can even use the Webcam
for video instant-messaging sessions on your PC.) The Pro 4000 transmits
at up to 30 frames per second.
Network-enabled Webcam: A network-capable Webcam, such as
D-Link’s DCS-1000 (www.dlink.com, $190 street price) or its wireless
sibling the DCS-1000W ($280 street price), connects to your home
network and allows you to capture video from anywhere in the house.
These devices use standard RJ-45 Ethernet connections or wireless
interfaces, usually 802.11b. (For details on home networking, see
Chapters 15 and 16.) The D-Link DCS-1000W Wireless Internet camera
with VGA resolution at 20 frames per second (fps) can be set to stream
video from 160-by-120-pixels up to 640-by-480-pixel resolution at 24-bit
RGB color.
Figure 13-1:
With the
Logitech
QuickCam
4000, you
can capture
live video.
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Camcorder basics
The best way to capture great home movies is
with a camcorder — more specifically a digital
video (DV) camera. We consider a digital video
camera a must-have if you own an MCE PC —
older analog video systems don’t have the same
ease-of-transfer and control capabilities that
you get with a digital camcorder.
You can use an analog video camera, but we
recommend this only if you already own an
analog camcorder and aren’t yet in the market
for a replacement. (You plug the analog video
camera into your TV capture card — the same
one that you use to connect your television
source, such as your cable TV.) Analog camcorders record in formats such as 8mm, Hi–8,
VHS, and S–VHS. Using an analog camcorder is
inconvenient (particularly if you need to disconnect your TV source to hook up your camcorder)
and the video captured this way isn’t nearly as
good looking as video transferred to your MCE
PC digitally.
The first thing to look for in a digital camcorder
is an IEEE 1394 or FireWire (or i.LINK) port. We
talk about FireWire in detail in Chapter 2. Every
Media Center PC has this high-speed port, which
makes transferring digital video or audio files
from peripheral devices fast and easy.
The other big decision to make when buying a
camcorder is the camcorder format. The two
most common formats are
MiniDV: In consumer-grade camcorders,
this is the most common format. MiniDV can
provide a high-resolution (though not high
definition or HDTV) signal with quality
roughly equal to or better than DVD. MiniDV
camcorders are usually the top-of-the-line
and are slightly smaller than Digital8.
MiniDV camcorders use special MiniDV
tapes, which cost a bit more than other
types of camcorder tapes. Prices vary
widely, but you should be able to find a good
MiniDV camcorder for under $1000.
Digital8: These camcorders provide a DVDquality picture and use cheaper, standard,
8 mm camcorder tapes (used by many analog
camcorders). Digital8 camcorders are usually less expensive than MiniDV models but
are also a bit larger and have fewer features. You should be able to find a good
Digital8 camcorder for under $600.
From an MCE PC point of view, as long as the
camcorder is digital and has a FireWire port,
you’re good to go. How much you spend
depends on what kind of additional features you
want. Spending more gets you more optical
zoom (see Chapter 11 for why this is good),
bigger viewfinder LCD screens, better batteries,
a better lens, and other advanced features.
Keep in mind that many fancier camcorders
also can take digital still pictures and may be
able to substitute for a separate digital camera
(saving you a few hundred dollars).
For great comparison shopping of available
camcorders, check out CNET (www.cnet.com).
You can also find Webcams that connect to your Media Center PC using FireWire
instead of USB or a network connection. This type of Webcam costs more but
usually gives you a higher-quality picture because FireWire sends much more
video data to the PC than the other methods.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
In addition to the Webcam installation itself, you typically install driver software (which tells your MCE PC how to work with the camera hardware) and
as well as programs such as video-conferencing or movie-editing software.
Unless you have a FireWire-connected Webcam, you can’t just plug your Webcam
into your MCE PC and have movies show up in My Videos. Instead, you need
to first capture that video — using either the software that came with your
Webcam or Windows Movie Maker (which we describe in the next section).
Then you need to save the captured video as a movie file on your hard drive.
After that, you can play the movie in My Videos as is, or you can use Windows
Movie Maker (or another program, such as the one that may have come with
your Webcam) to edit the movie into something more polished.
In addition, your MCE PC can take VHS video input from a composite or S-video
signal and convert it to digital data.
In Chapter 5, we discuss how to connect your VCR to your MCE PC. If you want
to just temporarily hook up your VCR to your PC to download old movies, you
can attach Video Out on your VCR to your the Video In jack on your video
capture card, and the Audio Out from your VCR to the Line In jack of your sound
card on your PC. Or, if both your VCR and video card provide S-video connections, you can connect them with a single S-video cable to transmit both video
and sound. You may have to disconnect some existing connections (such as
those coming from your cable box), but you can reconnect them when you’re
finished transferring the video.
Using your VCR as discussed in the preceding paragraph is a bit of a
kludge — recall that Microsoft doesn’t have any built-in support for VCRs
in MCE. It does work, but occasionally (usually if you’re doing something
else with your TV tuner card in Media Center), you may get an error on
your computer. No big deal, but you might need to reboot your MCE PC to
get everything working again.
Be Your Own Director
As we mention at the beginning of the chapter, Media Center doesn’t provide
a system for capturing (downloading to your hard drive) movies from your
camcorder, editing your movie clips, and combining them into something
professional looking. Instead, Microsoft provides for free an XP program called
Windows Movie Maker 2 that gives you a way to download, edit, and save video
footage:
www.Microsoft.com/windowsxp/moviemaker
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Movie Maker 2 also has advanced editing features that let you add soundtracks,
opening and closing credits, and even titles for different scenes. We think that
the best thing about Movie Maker 2 is its extensive automation. Movie Maker 2
provides a simple interface for doing complicated editing work and can perform
many tasks on its own (based on answers to some simple questions it asks you
in a wizard interface).
We’re not going to get into a lot of detail on how to use Movie Maker — we’re
focused on Media Center here, and Movie Maker 2 is easy to use anyway.
However, here’s the basic process:
Capture: To create a movie file in Movie Maker, you need to feed the
program your video clips. Movie Maker provides a handy Capture
Wizard that automates the process of downloading movie clips from
your digital camcorder, a Webcam, or a movie file on your hard drive.
You can also add music files and digital still photographs to your movie.
Edit: After all the raw materials are in Movie Maker, it’s time to start editing. In this process, you can break video clips into individual pieces (such
as the 30 seconds you caught on tape of your kids trying to wash the
dog), and then assemble all these pieces in the order in which you want
them to appear in your final movie. Movie Maker 2 uses an interface
called a storyboard, which is a sequential display on your screen of all
the elements in the movie. You can drag and drop captured video, music,
or pictures onto the storyboard and then move them around until you
get the order you want. While editing, you can also add special effects
(such as titles and transitions) and create a soundtrack using music files.
Finish: When you have all the elements of your movie in place, you can
preview your work. When you’re happy with it, save the finished work as
a movie file. You can choose the file type, such as a Windows Media file
or an MPEG file, as well as the file size. (For example, you can trade
some quality for a smaller movie that fits on a CD or can be played on a
handheld PC.) For a list of supported file types, see Table 13-1.
Table 13-1
MCE Supports These Video File Types
File Format (Type)
File Name Extensions
Windows Media video and playlists
.wmv, .asf, .asx, and .wpl
AVI video file
.avi
MPEG video file
.mpeg, .mpg, .mpe, .m1v, .mp2, .mpv2, and .mpa
Movie Maker does not support the video streams coming out of the Hauppauge
or Emuzed TV tuner cards commonly found in MCE PCs. If you want to try to
get video into Movie Maker from your analog camcorder, check the Movie
Maker site (www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/moviemaker) to see whether
your TV tuner card is supported.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
Capturing DV camera images to your PC
You download your digital camcorder videos to your MCE PC using Windows
Movie Maker 2’s Video Capture Wizard. Follow these steps:
1. Set the digital video (DV) camera mode to play the recorded video.
This mode may be labeled VTR or VCR on a DV camera.
2. Open Windows Movie Maker 2.
Choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪Windows Movie Maker.
A screen similar to the one in Figure 13-2 appears.
3. Choose Movie Tasks➪Capture from Video Device. You can also
choose File➪Capture Video.
If the Movie Tasks menu isn’t visible, click View➪Tasks Pane. Your
available video devices appear. You may have more than one, such as a
Webcam and your camcorder. In the Available devices window, click the
DV camera and then click Next.
4. Type a file name and location for your captured video, and then
click Next.
Type a name for your captured video file and then, in the Choose a place
to save your captured video pull-down menu, select the location where
you want your video to be saved.
Figure 13-2:
Getting
video
into your
MCE PC.
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5. Choose the video setting you want to use for capturing video and
audio, and then select your video quality setting.
Choosing a quality setting is an important decision. Your choice is a
trade-off between storage space and image quality.
For the highest quality, select Digital device format (DV-AVI). However, this
choice takes up a lot of space on your computer and is the best option
only if you plan on re-archiving the video back to tape or DVD.
If you want to keep the video file on your computer, choose a lower-quality
setting that takes up less space. To save hard drive space, we always select
Best quality for playback on my computer (Recommended).
You can select other advanced settings in the Other settings category. If
you think you want one of these, click the Learn more about video settings
link in the middle of the page.
6. Click Next.
7. Select whether to capture the entire tape automatically or just
specific parts, and then click Next.
8. Watch the Preview window.
The tape in the DV camera rewinds. The capture process begins automatically when the tape is rewound and ends when the video tape ends. If
you don’t want the entire tape, you can halt the capture by clicking Stop
Capture in the DV Capture in Progress screen (see Figure 13-3), and then
clicking Yes in the ensuing dialog box to save the video that has been
captured.
Figure 13-3:
Movie
Maker 2
updates
you on its
progress as
it captures
video.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
If you want to separate the video into smaller clips, select the Create
clips when wizard finishes check box when the tape is rewinding.
9. Click Finish to close the Video Capture Wizard.
Capturing analog video to your PC
Movie Maker doesn’t support the use of the most common MCE PC TV tuner
cards as analog capture devices. Therefore, you may need to buy and install
a separate analog video capture card to perform the steps in this section.
To capture video from an analog source, follow these steps:
1. Set the digital video (DV) camera mode to play the recorded video.
2. Open Windows Movie Maker 2.
Choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪Windows Movie Maker.
3. Select the analog device you want to use to capture video and the
settings for where the computer should look for the audio and video
signals from that analog device.
a. In the Available devices window, click the analog source device.
b. In the Video input source list, click the input line you want to use.
For example, if your analog capture card supports both S-video and
composite connections, you’ll choose between those input options
here, depending on which ports your analog source is hooked up to.
c. In the Audio device list, click the audio capture device you want
to use.
If you have only one audio capture card in your PC, that card is
selected automatically for the audio.
d. In Audio input source, click the input line you want to use.
4. Click Next.
5. Name your video, select the place to save it, and click Next.
6. Select the video setting to use for capturing video and audio, and then
click Next.
Again, as discussed in the preceding chapter, select either Digital
video format (DV-AVI) or Best quality for playback on my computer
(Recommended), depending on where you intend to store the video.
7. Select the Create clips when wizard finishes check box to separate
the video into smaller clips.
8. On your source device, find the portion of the analog video tape you
want to record.
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9. In Movie Maker, click Start Capture, and then press the Play button
on your analog camera or VCR. When you want to stop capturing, click
Stop Capture, and then press the Stop button on your analog camera
or VCR.
10. Repeat Steps 8 and 9 for each part of the video tape you want to capture.
11. When you’re finished, click Finish to close the Video Capture Wizard.
You can use Movie Maker to capture video directly to your hard drive (that is,
without saving the video to tape first). Follow these steps:
1. Set the digital video (DV) camera mode to film live video and audio
(usually called Camera mode).
2. Open Windows Movie Maker 2.
3. Select the device you want to use to capture video. If the device is
analog, select the settings for where the computer should look for
the audio and video signals from that analog device.
4. Click Next.
5. Enter the file name for your video and choose the folder to save
your video.
6. Click Next.
7. To begin capturing your images, click Start Capture. When you’re
ready to stop capturing, click Stop Capture.
8. When you’re finished, click Finish to close the Video Capture Wizard.
Capturing video from your Webcam works in a similar fashion. In the Movie
Tasks menu, choose Capture from video device, and select your Webcam as
your input device. The remaining steps are the same as those for capturing
live video from your camcorder.
Editing and finishing your home video
You can stop here. Your video is now available to Media Center to play, as we
describe in the next section. However, you might want to consider editing your
home video first. Windows Movie Maker 2 makes it easy to edit your movies
and then save them to the appropriate format.
We recommend that you visit Microsoft’s site for Windows Movie Maker 2
for great step-by-step instructions for editing videos and manipulating
images.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
After the editing step, which you can skip if you want, you’re ready to view,
distribute, or otherwise use your video. Movie Maker 2 lets you save your
movie, e-mail it, upload it to a Web site, or save it to a CD. Each of these options
are available in the Movie Tasks menu on the left of the page or from the File
pull-down menu.
Playing Your Movies
You’re now ready to launch My Videos and view your masterpieces. You can
access My Videos in two ways:
Press the My Videos button on the remote
Select My Videos from the Media Center Start menu
The My Videos screen appears, as shown in Figure 13-4. Menu options are
on the left, and icons representing the available videos are on the right. The
icons display the first frame of each video.
Figure 13-4:
Smile,
you’re on
My Videos.
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The My Videos module looks for video files in the following three folders:
My Videos: This folder, located in your My Documents folder on the PC,
is the default location for digital videos on your computer and for any
movies imported with Movie Maker 2. When you plug a digital camera
into your USB or FireWire port and download videos, this is where they
go (unless you indicate otherwise in your capture program).
As described in Chapter 8, each logged-in user can see and edit the videos
in his or her own My Videos folder.
Shared Videos: This folder provides a spot for storing videos so that
they’re available to all users of the PC. The folder is located in the
following directory:
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\My Videos
Videos take up a lot of hard drive space on your PC, so consider placing
a shortcut to the video in your Shared Videos folder, instead of copying
it there. You can create a shortcut by right-clicking the file in Windows
Explorer and choosing Create Shortcut. Then drag-and-drop the shortcut
to the Shared Videos folder.
Other Media: If you have a FireWire-connected digital camcorder, you’ll
like Other Media. My Videos can read video content stored on a camcorder, so you don’t have to download the video to your MCE PC hard
drive before viewing it. Videos stored on removable media (such as
FireWire removable hard drives) also appear in the My Videos➪Other
media menu option.
The My Videos menu reflects these options with three high-level choices to
find your videos, as well as two additional ways to sort the videos after you’ve
found them:
My Videos: Accesses video files in the My Videos folder
Shared Video: Accesses video files in the My Videos folder
Other media: Accesses video on connected devices
Sort by name: Sorts the displayed video icons by their file name
Sort by date: Sorts the displayed video icons by their creation or
modification date
To play a video, simply navigate to it and press the Play or OK button on the
remote. You can use all the standard media control buttons on the remote
(FWD, REW, Pause, and so on) to control the playback of the video.
Not all videos will support the FWD or REW controls (they’re missing an
obscure video attribute called I-Frames). In those cases, you’ll need to use
the Skip and Replay buttons to navigate through the movie.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
To watch movies in your Shared Videos folder or on digital devices attached
to your Media Center PC, just navigate to the menu on the left side and select
the Shared Video option or the Other media option.
The More Info/Details button on the remote control provides information such
as the date the file was created and the size of the file. (In My TV, this button
displays information about TV shows.)
You can organize your movie files into subfolders in the My Videos or Shared
Videos folder. To create a subfolder, you must be in XP. Then open Windows
Explorer by right-clicking Start and choosing Explore. Under your My Videos
folder, right-click the open folder pane (in the window on the right). Choose
New➪Folder option, name the folder, and move any movies you want into
that folder by dragging and dropping. You can do the same with the Shared
Videos folder.
When you place a movie in a subfolder, a folder icon appears in My Videos
in MCE — select the folder to look inside.
Sharing Your Movies
Unlike your recorded TV shows (which can be shared only with other MCE or
XP PCs), the videos you capture and store on your Windows MCE PC can be
viewed by other people on just about any PC using Windows Media Player 9
or other multimedia player software.
The biggest issue you’ll have is getting the files to them, because video files are
huge. Depending on the file format and quality level you selected, your videos
could consume more than 700 megabytes per minute of video.
As we mentioned, any file in the Shared Videos folder can be accessed from
anywhere on your LAN, but in some cases, your network will not have enough
bandwidth to play the video file directly from the other computer. You need 6
Mbps throughput to sustain streaming video images, so rather than trying to
open the video file over the network, you may have to move the file to a
remote computer before you try watching it.
To share videos outside your home network, several options are available:
E-mail the video as an attachment: You can e-mail a short video to others
as an attachment. However, note that many e-mail systems routinely delete
e-mail messages with attachments greater than 2 megabytes. If you run into
an e-mail account that won’t allow your video through, you’ll typically get
an automated e-mail back from the e-mail system saying that your message
could not be delivered.
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Upload the video on the Web: You can upload your movies to a videohosting provider on the Web. If you don’t currently have a hosting
provider, you can sign up for one in the wizard.
Download the video to a DV camera: You can download your movie to
your DV camera and then archive the movie on a digital tape.
Copy the video on a CD: Windows XP offers support for CD burning. You
can copy movies created with Windows Movie Maker 2 to CDs, at the full
speed of the CD-R or CD-RW drive.
Copy the video on a DVD: The best option for sharing is a DVD because
it has so much space. For more information on this method of sharing
videos, read the next section.
Making Your Own DVDs in XP
In Chapter 9, we talk about PrimeTime (www.sonic.com/primetime), a cool
program that you can add to your Media Center PC. You can use PrimeTime
to create DVDs (and video CDs) of the programs you’ve recorded in the My
TV module in Media Center.
If your MCE PC has a DVD recorder, you probably have the DVD-authoring software you need somewhere on your computer. Although we can’t give you stepby-step directions on how to use the software on your machine, we can tell
you about the software we like to use for this function: MyDVD.
MyDVD is another bit of software from Sonic (the folks who make PrimeTime).
The folks at Sonic tell us that about 80 percent of PCs that have DVD recorders
installed use some version of MyDVD, so you may already have the program
on your MCE PC.
We’ve had a chance to play around with MyDVD 5 Deluxe, the beta of the next
version of MyDVD. (Beta software is the prerelease version that has most of
the functionality in place.) With MyDVD, you can create a ton of different customized Hollywood-type effects in your homemade DVDs. The main screen of
MyDVD is shown in Figure 13-5.
By the time you read this, the new version will be available at www.mydvd.
com. Following are some of the features of MyDVD:
Media Center’s special DVR-MS files can be translated into standard
MPEG files that can be viewed on any DVD player.
Cool integrated video-editing functions let you pretend you’re a producer.
You can create animations, splice scenes, create special effects, and more.
You’ll have a professional-looking DVD, even if it’s just footage of the dogs
getting into the kiddy pool again.
Chapter 13: Working with Home Videos
You can add chapter points, which are the DVD equivalent of song breaks
on a CD. Chapter points make it easy to navigate through a DVD.
You can create picture slide shows (with a soundtrack!) on a DVD. You
can even put the high-resolution originals on the DVD for reprints and
backups.
MyDVD uses Dolby Digital audio (AC-3) to record the audio portion of
your DVD. This system uses a lot less DVD disc space than the alternative (ten times less, in most cases). Depending on the video quality, you
can fit 20 percent to 150 percent more stuff on a single DVD.
MyDVD is not the only program out there for creating your own movie DVDs.
We’ve spent some time using InterVideo’s WinDVD creator on our MCE PCs,
and we love it! So check out some of these other DVD-creation software
systems:
InterVideo WinDVD Creator: www.intervideo.com
Pinnacle Systems Studio Moviebox DVD: www.pinnaclesys.com
Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2: www.ulead.com
Figure 13-5:
MyDVD’s
main
screen.
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Some of these programs will install their own video/DVD codec (the bit of
software that tells you computer how to decode video files). In a few cases,
this new codec may cause problems with Media Center’s TV and DVD playing
capabilities. If this happens to you, we recommend that you use System
Restore to go back to a restore point prior to your installation of the DVD
software. If you can, try before you buy with DVD-burning software — download the 30-day free trial (most DVD software vendors provide trials on their
Web sties). Install the trial, make sure it works with your MCE PC, and then
buy the software.
Chapter 14
Working with Third-Party
Applications
In This Chapter
Understanding More Programs
Reaching your MCE PC over the Internet with WebGuide
Checking for rain with My Weather
Playing solitaire the MCE way
Saying “nighty-night” with the MCE Sleep Timer
Getting back to solid ground when things get shaky
A
nyone can take a Mini ’03 Cooper S and soup it up with an engine blower,
custom 17-inch R85 wheel caps, large-size air intakes, and neon-lighted
underworks — to make sure you stand out at night on Rodeo Drive. (Wanna
try it yourself? Check out www.miniusa.com/crm/mini_entrance.jsp.)
But what can you do if you want to expand your MCE PC beyond its horizons?
Microsoft has provided a mechanism for software developers to create add-ons
to the MCE with an active Software Developer’s Toolkit (SDK) program. As a
result, you can download both authorized and unauthorized software that will
make your MCE hum like the three Mini Coops in Charlie’s Angels.
Buyer Beware
As we write, dozens of add-ins are in development by scores of groups. To find
out the latest on these programs, check out the downloads page at The Green
Button’s Web site (www.thegreenbutton.com).
Because many add-ins for MCE 2004 were not finalized by the time this book
went to press, we describe add-ins for the first release of MCE. The screen shots
you see here as well as the descriptions may differ slightly from the final release
of these programs.
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We put almost anything on our PCs because we love to try new software. But
most of these programs are not supported by the creators of the program or
by Microsoft, even the ones made by Microsoft. Therefore, you install add-ins
at your own risk. If you’re not comfortable dealing with bugs, we suggest that
you install an earlier version of an add-in program when possible because the
latest beta may not be as stable as an older version. If you’re not adept with
loading new software onto your machine — in other words, if you live and die
by Windows Update and that’s it — these programs might not be for you.
Make sure that you have the latest MCE updates installed on your machine
before loading any third-party programs. Run Windows Update to get your XP
software up-to-date. (To do so, choose Start➪Windows Update and follow the
on-screen instructions.)
When installing updated versions of an add-in program, we recommend that you
uninstall the prior version first, unless the manufacturer tells you otherwise.
You can uninstall any of these programs by choosing Start➪Control Panels➪
Add or Remove Programs, and following the on-screen instructions.
More Programs
With the new 2004 version of Media Center, Microsoft added a special menu
item called More Programs on the main Start screen of Media Center. Although
Media Center PC makers are not required to install this in their PCs, most will.
More Programs is nothing more than a folder on your MCE PC that can hold
third-party software that you can access from the Media Center interface. To
access More Programs, just select it from the Media Center Start menu.
MCE PC vendors can configure Media Center so that the Media Center Start
menu displays the two most recently used add-on programs (stored in the
More Programs folder). This makes access even faster — you don’t need to
select More Programs and then select the program you want to use. The list
is dynamic: Every time you use a different program from More Programs, the
list updates itself.
You can remove a More Programs program from the Media Center Start menu
by simply highlighting it and pressing the Clear button on your remote. This
does not delete the program from your computer. It simply removes it from the
list of recently used programs in the Media Center Start menu. This is handy
if you don’t want anyone to know you’ve been playing games!
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications
If your MCE PC vendor chooses to participate, Microsoft is also providing two
free game programs — think of them as a head start on populating your More
Programs menu. Both of these games — Otto and Gem Master — are designed
for use with the remote control. So if you’re lucky enough to have them on your
MCE PC, sit back, grab the remote, and play away!
MCE WebGuide
One of the neatest enhancement on the market is Show & Tell’s MCE
WebGuide:
www.showtell.com/mce_webguide/default.asp
The concept is simple: WebGuide gives you remote access to your Media
Center Program Guide. Figure 14-1 shows WebGuide in action.
With WebGuide, you can
Schedule or cancel individual and series recordings
Manage recorded and scheduled programs
Delete previously recorded shows or cancel individual and series
recordings
View your recorded shows over a LAN
Perform a keyword search of Guide listings
Figure 14-1:
WebGuide
lets you
access
MCE over
the Internet.
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To view recorded shows over your home network, you must share your
Recorded TV folder over the network and have enough bandwidth to stream
the files (usually at least 6 to 8 Mbps — exactly how much depends on the
size and encoding of the file). An 802.11b Wi-Fi network probably won’t cut it,
but the faster 802.11a and 802.11g versions should do the job. (Check out
Chapter 16 for more information on wireless networks.)
Getting ready for WebGuide
Getting WebGuide into your MCE PC requires a few tricky steps. MCE WebGuide
uses Windows XP Internet Information Services (IIS) as a Web server. (A
Web server handles requests coming from the Web and serves up the content
requested.) You can find out more about IIS at
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/evaluation/overviews/iis.asp
Windows XP Professional, which underlies XP MCE, includes IIS.
To find out whether IIS is installed on your machine, choose Start➪Control
Panel➪Add/Remove Programs. Click the Add/Remove Windows Programs
button. In the Windows Components Wizard, select Internet Information Services
(IIS) and then click the Details button. Confirm that everything except the Front
Page 2000 Server Extensions option is checked. Unless you expect to be using
Front Page to create Web pages and manage a local Web site, it’s better to leave
that feature off your system.
If IIS is not installed on your PC, you can add it from the Details area of your
Add/Remove Programs window, as follows:
1. Insert your Windows XP CD (the one that came with your MCE PC)
into the CD drive.
2. In the Details area of IIS, select all available options, except the
Front Page 2000 Server Extensions option.
If you’re not already in the Details area, follow the steps in the preceding
paragraph to get there.
3. Click OK.
4. Click OK to exit the Add/Remove Programs window.
Windows automatically finds the Windows XP CD in your CD drive
and adds IIS to your system.
5. When the installation is finished, restart your computer.
Sometimes program installations put older versions of operating system
components in place, so it’s a good idea to run the Windows Update program
after any installation.
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications
Microsoft’s .NET 1.1 (or later) platform must also be installed. Choose Start➪
Control Panel➪Add/Remove Programs. Look for .NET in the list of installed
applications. If .NET 1.1 isn’t installed, you can add it in two ways.
In the Windows Update program, select .NET from the Windows XP
options under Pick updates to install.
Choose Start➪Run and type the following:
\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v1.0.3705\aspnet_regiis.exe –I
With these pre-installation steps complete, you can now download the .NET
program at
www.showtell.com/mce_webguide/download.asp
The installation package for WebGuide walks you though the installation
process.
Whoa, my IP address changed!
To access your home network from the Internet
(at work, for example), you need to know your
IP address. Many cable modem and DSL services, however, don’t provide you with a permanent IP address for your home on the Internet,
so the address keeps changing.
Set up a home Webcam
Consider signing up for a dynamic DNS service,
which gives you a static IP address on its
system and puts software on your home network
to track when the IP address changes. The
dynamic DNS service always knows your actual
IP address and automatically translates between
your current IP address and your fixed address
on its server. (Many of these services are free
for home users.) With services such as
DynIP Software (www.dynip.com/) and
Dynamic DNS Services (www.dyndns.org),
you can have an address such as dummies.
dynip.com that you can always use, regardless
of your current IP address.
Establish a personal Web or FTP server (the
home computer, not the ISP, is the server)
Aside from making it possible to access your
WebGuide capability, you may need such an IP
translation service if you want to
Talk over the Internet with voice-conferencing
software
Access corporate VPN networks for working
from home
Build servers for multiplayer network games
or chatting
Run a personal mail server
Connect to friends in a peer-to-peer networking configuration
The lack of a stable address is the result of
a shortage of Internet IP addresses. No one
expected the Internet to grow this fast. In the
next ten years, as the world’s Internet providers
move to the next generation of IP addressing,
called IPv6, everyone (and everything attached
to the Internet) can have an address of their
own, and services like this probably won’t be
required anymore.
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Configuring WebGuide
WebGuide is a Web application, so you open it like a normal Web page (using
Internet Explorer), with your machine as a Web server.
To get into WebGuide from another computer, simply type the URL of your MCE
PC into your Web browser. For example, you might type http://12.129.198.
128/webguide, where 12.129.198.128 is the IP address of your Internet access
connection. For more information, see the “Whoa, my IP address changed!”
sidebar in this chapter. You go straight into the system, or you encounter a
login page if a password is set up in the configuration file for WebGuide.
After you install WebGuide, you can change your settings by going to your
\inetpub\wwwroot\webguide folder and opening web.config in Notepad.
You probably don’t even need to go to this configuration file, but we mention
it here for completeness.
You can configure the following settings:
password: Your password to get into the application. By default, it’s
MCE. Leave this setting blank to disable the password capability.
session_timeout: The number of minutes the system will let you remain
idle before requiring you to log on again. The default is 90 minutes.
recorded_tv_share: The folder to which your recorded TV shows are
stored. The directory is created by Media Center (in your All Users
folder). This folder is not shared by default, but you must share it to
use WebGuide effectively. To share the folder, right-click it and choose
Sharing and Security. Choose Share this folder. This enables you to
access the folder remotely. Note that you must be an administrator user
to create shares.
When you create a new resource share, like a shared folder, Microsoft XP
draws the share name from the folder name by default. MCE calls the
shared folder for recorded TV shows Recorded TV (no big surprise!). As
a result, WebGuide’s default for recorded_tv_share is Recorded TV. If you
change the share name in MCE, you must update the configuration file to
reflect that new name in the WebGuide application.
guide_rows: The number of rows to display in the guide at one time. The
default is seven rows.
guide_move_minutes: The number of minutes to incrementally shift the
screen in the Guide when scrolling. The default is 60 minutes.
list_rows: The number of rows to display in other list pages. The default is
seven rows.
use_smart_nav: A feature of ASP.NET that improves performance. The
default is set to On. Change it to Off if you have display problems.
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications
Using WebGuide
When WebGuide launches, the screen shown in Figure 14-1 appears. The
options in the main menu — Guide, Recorded TV, and Search — operate much
like those in the MCE My TV menu, so we won’t go into them in detail. (Check
Chapter 8 for a refresher if you need it.) Figure 14-2 shows you the on-screen
program guide for WebGuide.
Figure 14-2:
Your onscreen
program
guide for
WebGuide.
When looking around the program guide, you’ll see a clock and a calendar page
icon at the base of the guide. These show you a hyperlinked 24-hour listing
(so you can jump to 7 P.M., for instance) and a hyperlinked calendar (so you
can skip ahead to, say, Friday of next week). The links make navigating a lot
easier than using the arrow buttons on the remote.
If you want to watch recorded TV, click the file name — just like in the MCE
interface — and the file is played from the network location. Windows XP Media
Player plays the file from the hard drive of your MCE PC on your network as if
it were a local file on the machine you’re using. Note: It’s impossible to stream
a DVR-MS file over the Internet in the file’s current form. Shucks. (You can still
access your WebGuide over the Internet.)
We think everyone with an MCE PC will want WebGuide. It extends the usefulness of your XP MCE PC from your living room to anywhere in the world.
My Weather
Some things just make sense, such as having today’s weather outlook on
your screen when you turn on the TV in the morning. We’ve become fans
of our customized www.weather.com pages, especially their hour-by-hour
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forecasts. But navigating to that site with the MCE PC keyboard and MCEdriven TV display just doesn’t work. The text is too small, and you have to
leave the MCE interface to go to Internet Explorer.
Along comes My Weather — and we’re happy again. My Weather is a program
that runs outside the MCE interface but is integrated into the MCE Start menu
as, you guessed it, My Weather. My Weather works using the remote control,
just like any other Media Center application or module.
To install My Weather, go to www.nacontap.com. Installation is painless;
a setup wizard walks you through the process.
To launch My Weather, click it in the MCE Start menu. Although My Weather
has many of the same attributes as the MCE user interface (a blue background, green buttons, and remote control), it’s a regular XP program outside
MCE that’s running at the same time as MCE. You’re just switching back and
forth seamlessly between programs.
The main page displays the weather for your area, as shown in Figure 14-3.
You can use the right and left arrows to move forward and back through several days’ worth of meteorological prognostications. When you’re finished,
click the green Exit button, and you’re returned to the main Media Center
menu. Simple. Works. Useful. We like.
Figure 14-3:
My Weather,
in my MCE.
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications
Media Center Solitaire?
Microsoft has a page in its Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition site
where it lists PowerToys — programs that Microsoft’s developers work on,
often for fun, after a product has been released to manufacturing.
For version 1.0 of MCE, only the Solitaire PowerToy was listed. (We guess calling
it My Solitaire would be redundant!) This MCE PowerToy enables you to play
Solitaire on your Media Center PC from anywhere in the room using the remote
control. We expect that Microsoft will add additional PowerToys in the future.
We’ve been told that an Alarm Clock application and a Playlist Maker program for My Music will be added soon.
Downloading and installing any Microsoft PowerToy is easy:
1. Go to the following page, and click the PowerToy link:
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/downloads/powertoys.asp
2. Do one of the following:
• To begin the installation immediately, click Open or click Run this
program from its current location.
• To download the program to your computer for installation later,
click Save or click Save this program to disk.
3. After you’ve installed the PowerToy, go to its folder (usually located
at C:\Program Files\PowerToy) and view the ReadMe.htm file for
more information on how to use the PowerToy.
Note that PowerToys are no different than many other third-party addins. Quoting from Microsoft’s site: “Note: We’ve taken great care to ensure
that PowerToys operate as they should, but they are not part of Windows
XP Media Center Edition and are not supported by Microsoft. For this
reason, Microsoft Technical Support is unable to answer questions about
PowerToys. These PowerToys are for Windows XP Media Center Edition
only.” Enough said.
Other Programs
The programs we’ve discussed so far in this chapter aren’t the only ones
available for MCE. Here are some that may apply to MCE 2004. (We say may
because neither one was optimized for the 2004 edition of Media Center as
this book went to press.)
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MCE Sleep Timer: www.nacontap.com/MyMCE/MCESleepTimer
Software.cfm. This program adds a sleep timer (just like the one on
your clock radio) to Windows XP Media Center Edition. The software will
not put your computer to sleep, but it will close MCE after the period of
time specified. With MCE closed, your computer will be able to go into
standby mode after the time specified in the power-management options
(in the Screen Saver tab of the Displays control panel in XP). Any recordings will continue to record after MCE closes. (See Figure 14-4.) Microsoft
has created a similar program called Alarm Clock. We like MCE Sleep
Timer better because it lets you use whatever media you like for the
sleep timer function, but Alarm Clock can use only your My Music
playlists.
Record TV Button: www.nacontap.com/MyMCE/MCERecorded
TVButton.cfm. This program adds a button to your MCE Start page that
takes you directly to Recorded TV (instead of having to go to My TV and
then navigate to your recorded programs).
Another one of our favorite MCE programs is Sonic’s PrimeTime. PrimeTime
lets you organize all your recorded TV programs on your MCE PC and
copy them to a DVD — without leaving the Media Center interface. The
coolest thing about PrimeTime is that the DVDs you create can be used
on any DVD player. Check out Chapter 9 for more information about
PrimeTime.
Figure 14-4:
Rock-abye MCE.
Chapter 14: Working with Third-Party Applications
Reverting to Stability
Sometimes you load software on your machine and then regret doing so. Using
a program called System Restore, you can revert to a prior point in time and
reconfigure your PC with those older (but working) settings and programs. This
isn’t a perfect solution — and it can be drastic — because you get rid of anything
else you’ve added (through, for example, Windows Update) or changed since
that previous time (called a restore point).
Before you begin, close any open programs and save any open documents.
Otherwise, you might lose unsaved data.
To revert, here’s what you do:
1. Choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪System Tools and then
click System Restore.
The System Restore window (welcoming you to System Restore)
appears.
2. Click Restore my computer to an earlier time, and then click Next.
The window changes (it’s now labeled Select a Restore Point) and displays
a calendar, as shown in Figure 14-5.
Figure 14-5:
Select a
Restore
Point here.
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3. On the left, click a date (before you began experiencing difficulties).
On the right, click a Restore Point.
4. Click Next.
The window asks you to confirm your selection.
5. Verify that you selected the right date in Step 3, and then click Next.
Your computer performs the restore and then restarts. When the reboot
is completed, you see a Restoration Complete window.
6. Click OK to close the window.
After you do a restoration, it’s a good idea to run Windows Update again, in
case you deleted any critical Windows updates during the restore process.
Using Online Spotlight
With the launch of Windows XP Media Center
Edition 2004, Microsoft has created its own
online guide for third-party software and content for Media Center: Online Spotlight. You can
access Online Spotlight from the main Media
Center Start menu using your remote. Online
Spotlight is just what its name implies — an
online service. You need a working Internet
connection (preferably a broadband connection) to use the service.
Microsoft controls Online Spotlight, but most of
the content (software and digital media) available in the Online Spotlight is provided by thirdparty companies that have become part of
Microsoft’s software development program for
MCE.
Online Spotlight was just being launched as we
finished this book, and only a handful of the
more than 100 companies who were developing for Online Spotlight had working content.
Much more will be added to Online Spotlight
over time.
The content in Online Spotlight is divided into
five categories:
Music: Online music (and music video)
providers like Napster will use Online
Spotlight to offer music download and
online radio services.
Movies: Movie download providers such
as Movielink and CinemaNow will allow
remote-controlled movie purchases and
downloads.
News: Microsoft has customized its MSN
TV online channel for Media Center — you
can both read text articles and also access
MSNBC TV using your remote.
Tips: Microsoft also provides an online
compendium of tips for using Media Center
more efficiently.
Software: This is our favorite part of Online
Spotlight — you can access interesting
third-party Media Center software and
download it from Media Center. For example, Sonic’s PrimeTime software is available here, as are Microsoft’s Media Center
PowerToys software offers. We expect to
see a lot more programs here, as more
Microsoft partners develop their Media
Center software.
Part IV
Connecting to the
Rest of Your House
M
In this part . . .
ama never told you about stuff like this. Well, not
unless she’s a network administrator. In this part, we
get into the detail of using your MCE PC as a major cog in
your whole-home entertainment system. By spending a few
dollars and fiddling with a few pieces of software, you can
create a whole-home network that links your computers
(MCE or not) and your entertainment systems. The MCE
PC can play a powerful role as one of your centralized
repositories of digital media. Heck, Danny even has his
powering his outdoor “drive-in” theater.
We start by walking you through the basics of building a
home network — we even get down to the level of defining
the term home network. You find out what pieces and
parts you need. (MCE PCs already come with a few of
these, thanks to built-in Ethernet and easy file sharing
in Windows XP). Then we discover some other devices
(besides your MCE PC) that you can connect to a home
network.
We also spend some time — an entire chapter, actually —
discussing the hottest thing in home networking since . . .
well, ever. Wireless networking! We explain the different
systems and how to connect an MCE PC wirelessly. We
also talk about another hot topic: convergence equipment
that bridges the computer and the audio/video worlds in
the home.
Chapter 15
Building a Home Network
In This Chapter
Divining your optimal home networking solution
Working with hubs, switches, and routers, oh my!
Configuring and connecting to your network
Introducing your network to the Internet
Y
our Media Center PC is a powerhouse of audio, video, and home-computing
information. Properly set up, your Media Center PC is connected to your
stereo system, your Internet connection, and your TV set, making it a powerhouse of audio, video, and home-computing information.
As complete as that sounds, it’s nothing compared to what you can do with a
home network. Imagine being able to play a DVD on any TV set in the house,
or play CDs through speakers in the kitchen or even by the pool.
A home network can be as big or as small as you want. You can pipe signals all
over the house or limit the network to extending audio to another room. Adding
a home network simply makes sense. You spend a lot of money on entertainment
and computer equipment around the house, so it makes sense to be able to
access it outside its location.
In this chapter, you are introduced to the main concepts behind putting a home
network in place. We advocate a whole-home view of home networking — that
is, an approach that yields broad coverage all over house — instead of doing
it haphazardly on a room-by-room basis. You save a lot of money, and it’s far
more functional.
This chapter condenses an entire book that we wrote on the topic, Smart Homes
For Dummies (published by Wiley Publishing, Inc.). We highly recommend it
because we’re sure you’ll find lots of stuff in there worth thinking about. Also
check out its companion site, www.smarthomesbook.com.
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What’s a Home Network?
In a home network, your MCE PC can act as a massive central server with which
you communicate all over your home. The devices you connect to your MCE
PC become shared resources among many computers.
In computer parlance, you are going to be installing a full-fledged computer
local area network (LAN). A home LAN provides a high-speed data connection
among all the computers in your home, allowing them to share files, share
networked peripherals (such as printers), play networked games, and more.
Multiple computers can easily share high-speed Internet access devices, such
as DSL or cable modems, over a LAN. Your MCE 2004 PC is the center of all this,
providing content not only to TVs and audio systems but also to computers
throughout your house.
Following are the ways you can connect networked devices:
LAN cables running between machines (and under rugs, and around
corners, and so on)
In-wall LAN cabling (especially when building a new home)
Existing in-wall telephone cabling enhanced with data connectors
Existing in-wall electrical lines (yes electrical!) enhanced with data
connectors
Wireless LAN connections (various types)
Combination of the previous methods
We’ll focus on the first two methods in this chapter. In the next chapter,
we describe the other methods, which are alternatives to the wired LAN
solutions.
Our bias is toward building a structured wiring solution in the home, complemented with wireless endpoints to create a whole-home wired and wireless
backbone. This approach gives you a high-speed backbone with flexibly located
on-ramps to your content from anywhere in your house.
The exact networking solutions you use in your home will be based on how you
use your home network. Simplistically, the more data you need to send over
your network, the narrower your options. Windows XP MCE 2004 deals with
large files, such as video files and recorded TV files. Big files need big bandwidth. And most of the home-networking solutions you buy off the shelf today
were designed to facilitate getting computers onto Internet access pipes that
typically are not more than 1.5 Mbps, for applications such as checking e-mail
and browsing Web sites. They don’t have enough bandwidth to carry the MCE
video file content fast enough to give a quality picture, even if you’re just
moving it down the hallway.
Chapter 15: Building a Home Network
How much you plan to use your home network matters, too. Look at the Briere
household around 7 o’clock any weekend night. Danny has four kids playing
multiplayer games, instant messaging, surfing the Web, playing videos from
Yahoo! Launch, watching stored recorded TV episodes, and printing color
pictures. Dad and Mom are likewise entertained: editing home videos, creating
photo albums, and potentially streaming some recorded TV on their own. That
requires a lot of bandwidth.
Hence our bias toward wired and very-high-bandwidth wireless solutions.
In-wall data wiring (its special data-conditioned cable called CAT-5e, short for
Category 5e) is capable of very high speeds, at least 100 Mbps. The latest wireless solutions can carry traffic at speeds greater than 20 Mbps (although
vendors advertise much higher speeds). If you have a small place, you might
get better performance if you run cabling under the rug rather than using a
wireless option.
The bottleneck may not be your souped-up MCE PC — it could very well be the
weak points in your network.
Components of a Home Network
Building a LAN is easier than ever before, thanks to cool home-networking
wizards in Windows XP and off-the-shelf network equipment packages at
stores such as CompUSA and Staples.
If you’re building a new home, you’ll probably use more of a wired solution for
most connections. A structured wiring solution can be added to your house
for probably $2000 to $3000, which is a small price to pay for such a huge
benefit. Structured wiring solutions are available from companies such as
Leviton (www.leviton.com), Siemon (www.siemon.com), and ChannelPlus
(www.multiplextechnology.com/channelplus/).
If you have an existing home, some of the options in Chapter 16 — wireless,
home-phone line, and home-powerline networking — will play a larger role,
with point-to-point data wiring for specific key links.
With the exception of most structured wiring solutions, which are best installed
by professionals, most home-networking solutions involve plugging in adapters
and running some cable, or merely plugging devices into electrical outlets
(really, the data runs through the electrical cabling). It’s pretty easy.
Nearly all LAN technologies share a few basic building blocks:
A network protocol, such as Ethernet: The network protocol is a language
of sorts that controls access to the network, allows individual devices on
the network to find and identify each other, and determines when each
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device can transmit and receive data. Ethernet, which we describe in more
detail in the following section, is the most common protocol for home
network.
Network interface cards (NICs): You must have NICs (pronounced like
the New York basketball team) — in each device that connects to the
network. NICs generally work with only one kind of network, such as an
Ethernet NIC for Ethernet-based networks. Many computers and homeentertainment devices today are shipped with Ethernet NICs already
installed — all you see is the RJ-45 port on the back or side. If one of
your PCs doesn’t have one, it’s easy to install. Just pop the cover off
your computer and slide a card into an empty PCI slot inside, leaving
the RJ-45 jack part sticking out of the back of the computer.
Cables: Unless you have a totally wireless network, cables will provide the
connection between at least some of your networked devices. Most LAN
wiring is unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cabling. Like telephone networks,
computer LANs utilize a common connector on the ends of this UTP
cabling, the RJ-45 (see Figure 15-1). The standard jack and plug for all UTP
computer LANs, RJ-45 connectors look like the familiar (old-fashioned)
telephone jacks called RJ-11s, only wider. RJ-45 connectors terminate all
four pairs of wire found in typical CAT-5e UTP cables.
Figure 15-1:
The RJ-45
connector,
your path
to the
promised
LAN.
Ethernet: Your home language
Ethernet is the most common LAN for the home or small office (and in any size
business for that matter). Scores of Ethernet variations are available, based
on the total bandwidth and type of cable, but you need to consider only the
following options:
10BaseT: 10 Mbps over twisted-pair cable
100BaseT: 100 Mbps over twisted-pair cable — often called Fast Ethernet
1000BaseT: 1000 Mbps over twisted-pair cable — often called Gigabit
Ethernet, or Gig-E
The first number in each of these names stands for the maximum bandwidth
of the system in megabits per second, so 10BaseT is a 10-Mbps connection. The
Chapter 15: Building a Home Network
last number or letter tells you the kind of cable that it goes over; for example,
T means twisted pair.
Hubs, switches, routers, and more
Twisted-pair Ethernet LANs (such as 10BaseT or 100BaseT) use a network
architecture called a star. In a star configuration, all hardware connects to a
central device called a hub or a switch.
The hub transmits the data from each incoming cable to every other cable that
attaches to the hub — and, therefore, to each device that attaches to the far
end of those cables.
Hubs and switches do basically the same thing. They are the central point to
which each run of CAT-5e UTP cabling connects back to, and they allow data to
flow down different legs of the network to get from device to device. However,
a switch uses internal intelligence to figure out which legs of the network the
data needs to flow over, but a hub just sends the data (called packets) down
every leg of the network simultaneously. If only two computers are talking to
each other, the difference between these approaches isn’t significant. But as
more devices start to talk to each other, a switch can make things much faster.
We talk about only switches from here on out because they’re the superior
way to go and don’t cost much more.
Physically, the switch is a small electronic box with a number of RJ-45 connectors (called ports) across the front. Inside the switch is a circuit board that electrically connects all these RJ-45 connectors to each other in the proper way.
The proper way means that the wire carrying outgoing data from one computer
connects to the wires carrying incoming data to all other computers connected
to the switch.
The uplink port (also sometimes called a WAN port), which is a special RJ-45
port, is another feature of a typical switch. Unlike the other ports, the uplink
port doesn’t cross the incoming and outgoing data signals. Instead, it sends
them straight through (incoming to incoming, outgoing to outgoing). This
capability becomes useful if, for example, you want to connect two switches
or you have an Internet connection device, such as a cable modem, that you
want to connect to all computers in the network. In these cases, you use the
uplink port instead of a standard port.
Some Ethernet switches and hubs don’t have a dedicated uplink port. Instead,
they have a switch (a button, in other words) next to one of the regular ports
that lets you configure the port to act as an uplink port.
You might be thinking, “Well, where do home-network routers fit in?” Most home
routers have built-in Ethernet switches. So you don’t need to buy a router and
a switch. Just go shopping for a home-network router, and you’ll be set. We talk
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more about routers in a few pages. For now, if you’re buying just a switch, get
one with at least eight ports, each of which supports at least 100 Mbps.
Figure 15-2 shows a network using these components and built using a star
architecture.
Need to add another device to the network? Just run another length of network
cabling and connect it to the switch. Someone drive a nail through one of your
network cables? Your whole network doesn’t go down — just the affected
segment.
You can easily expand a star network by hooking up a switch at one of the
endpoints. So if you have a single Ethernet outlet in a bedroom and need to
connect two or three devices to it, you can just plug a switch into the outlet,
and then connect those devices to the switch. All computers connected to
this remote switch will be able to “see” the rest of your network — just as if
they were connected to one of your Ethernet jacks.
We recommend that you have a central point somewhere in your house for all
your wiring. It’s generally in a closet or in the basement. Your home LAN’s
central node — the place from which all your cabling runs start — goes here.
A key piece is a device called a patch panel or punchdown block mounted in
your central wiring closet that serves as a place to manage all the wiring
going in and out of the closet. The punchdown block needs to be CAT-5e
rated to allow high-speed data transmissions.
PC
RJ-45
wall outlet
Ethernet NIC
CAT-5e
patch cord
CAT-5e UTP
(4 pair)
Figure 15-2:
A typical
in-wall
10BaseT
network
with a
network
printer.
Ethernet switch
CAT-5e patch panel
CAT-5e
LAN printer
RJ-45
connector
RJ-45
wall outlet
CAT-5e UTP
(4 pair)
CAT-5e
patch cord
Chapter 15: Building a Home Network
The shortest Ethernet primer in computerdom
Ethernet in its traditional form is a shared
network. All computers and other connected,
networked devices share the 10 (or 100 or 1000)
Mbps of bandwidth available on the network.
Ethernet uses a protocol called CSMA/CD
(Carrier-Sense Multiple Access with Collision
Detection) to divide access to the network.
Basically, CSMA/CD means that all devices on
the network listen for a free moment on the network before sending data. When the coast is
clear, the data goes out. If two devices happen
to choose the same moment to send data,
a collision occurs. The devices then each wait
a random amount of time before resending
their data.
Newer versions of Ethernet hardware systems
are switched. These Ethernet networks use a
sophisticated device — the switch, of course —
to direct data throughout the network. Instead
of sharing 10 or 100 Mbps, each device has that
amount of bandwidth dedicated to it at all times.
The switch basically keeps each segment of the
Ethernet network separate from the others —
directing data between the devices that are
talking and keeping data off the wires running
to other devices, instead of sending the data
to every device. This process can reduce
the number of collisions and make the overall
network faster as more and more devices are
connected to it.
Other home-network components
With cables and connectors, patch panels, NICs, and hubs, you’re 90 percent
of the way toward putting together a home LAN. The final piece of the puzzle
is another set of CAT-5e cables called patch cables. Patch cables fill the gap
between wall outlets and computers. They also connect the patch panel to
your Ethernet switch or home-network router.
Just like all the other components in your network, your patch cables should
be rated CAT-5e. Most are, but some of the cheaper ones are rated CAT-3 or
even unrated. You don’t want these — they’re a false economy that may keep
your network from reaching its maximum speed or working reliably.
Configuring Your Home Network
Probably the most difficult task is configuring all the network protocols and
software on each of your home’s PCs and other devices. This job used to be
the domain of hard-core networking experts, but it has become less onerous
with each successive release of Windows software.
In XP, choose Start➪My Network Places. On the left, click Set up a home or
small office network. You are guided through the process of setting up your
XP MCE PC as well as any other attached XP PCs.
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For non-XP PCs, no specific Windows Networking Wizard walks you
through the paces like the one in XP. Setting up your network is more
complex than we can cover in one chapter, but here are some resources
for networking info:
Microsoft “Insider Home Networking” site (www.microsoft.com/
insider/networking/)
Cnet’s Networking & Wireless site (reviews.cnet.com/Networking/
2001-3243_7-0.html?tag=cnetfd.dir)
World of Windows Networking site (www.wown.com)
Home-entertainment and consumer devices typically have their own
network-enablement process. For example, Danny has an AudioRequest
music server (www.request.com) that contains his 600 audio-CD collection.
The AudioRequest unit has a settings screen that allows him to set up his
Ethernet configurations. Many consumer electronics do not even have this
much, defaulting to common Ethernet settings and self-discovery capabilities
to get on the LAN.
Getting Your Network on the Internet
The home network we’ve been discussing deals with moving data among
computers across your LAN. But what about getting data to and from the
Internet? That’s where the home-network router fits in. A router’s main
purpose (besides switching local LAN traffic) is to send data between your
Internet connection and the computers and devices on your LAN.
A switch is a device that connects multiple PCs on a LAN. A router connects
the computers on a LAN to a wide area network (such as the Internet). Although
we said that most home routers have a built-in switch, not all switches are also
routers.
The router handles its role as a traffic cop by creating its own subnet (or private
IP network) within the home. The router then assigns private IP addresses
to each computer connected it. When the router connects to the Internet, it
is assigned a public IP address (one that other computers on the Internet can
send data to and from) and then figures out which packets of data go to which
Ethernet device in the subnet.
The first time you set up your router (or when you change the configuration
of your network by adding or removing computers), you have to use network
configuration software to get things organized, but most routers have easy-tounderstand, wizard-style programs to lead you through the process. Figure 15-3
shows how you might set up a router in your home network.
Chapter 15: Building a Home Network
PC
PC
CAT-5e
UTP
PC
CAT-5e
UTP
CAT-5e
UTP
Ethernet switch
CAT-5e
UTP
Figure 15-3:
Using a
router to
share a
modem
across the
network.
Router
Note: Router, modem, and Ethernet switch may be one unit
Analog/DSL/cable modem
The types of technology that make your home router work are called NAT
(Network Address Translation) and DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol).
NAT translates between the private IP addresses of the computers on your
network and the public IP address that they all share and is smart enough
to make sure everything ends up in the right place. DHCP hands out those
private IP addresses to the computers on your network.
Many home-network routers use your Internet browser as the software to
configure the system. The configuration software is written as HyperText Markup
Language (HTML) files — the language of Web pages. To set things up, you
simply open your Web browser software, type the Web address of your router
(it’s usually a number, such as 192.168.1.1), and open these HTML files. Fill in
a few blanks, answer a few questions, and click a few buttons, and your router
is ready to go.
Home-network routers range in price depending on what kind of modem is
included (if one is included at all) and how many computers they can work
with. The majority of home-network routers work with only cable or DSL
broadband connections. So, if you’re still stuck on dial-up, you’ll have to shop
around to find a model that works for you. (A few models are available with a
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built-in analog modem, but they’re getting scarce.) Other features that influence the price of a home-network router include the following:
Firewalls: Although NAT itself provides some network security functions, many home-network routers also contain sophisticated firewalls,
which keep hackers out of your computer.
Wireless LAN support: The wireless networks we talk about in Chapter
16 are often supported by a home-network router. Many have built-in
wireless access point functionality, so you can support both your wired
and unwired computers from a single device.
Other home-networking support: Besides the wireless systems just
mentioned, many home-networking routers also include support for connecting PCs to your network using existing telephone lines or even electrical power lines. We talk about these systems in Chapter 16 as well.
Support for VPN: Many businesses use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)
to allow their employees to securely connect their computers from
remote locations back into the corporate network. Not all home-network
routers will let you connect in this way. (VPNs have special protocols
that not all routers will pass through to the Internet.)
The cheapest home-network routers start at about $100 (these boxes were at
least $500 just three years ago). The major vendors of home-network routers
and router-modem combos include the following:
Linksys: (www.linksys.com)
NetGear (www.netgear.com)
D-Link (www.dlink.com)
Siemens SpeedStream (www.speedstream.com)
2Wire (www.2wire.com)
Although you can buy your own home-network router directly from the manufacturer or from online and other retailers, you may also have the option of
getting one directly from your Internet service provider. DSL providers such
as BellSouth, SBC, and Earthlink will provide you with a home-network router,
usually for a monthly fee. Although you might end up paying more for such a
solution over time than just buying the router yourself, you do have the
advantage of having someone to call if you run into any problems.
Routers are the hardware-based way of sharing an Internet connection. Given
their low price, we think they’re also the best way. The software-based alternative is to install a proxy server program on one of your networked PCs. This
program performs a similar function as a router — that is, it distributes
Internet data packets from a single connection to multiple PCs on a network.
However, a proxy server program puts extra processing stress on your PC,
which is why we prefer routers instead.
Chapter 16
Using a Wireless HomeNetworking System
In This Chapter
Understanding the basics
Buying wireless network equipment
Making wireless and wired networks get along
Getting other devices on your wireless LAN
Looking at the alternatives
Y
our Media Center Edition PC makes a great centerpiece of a wholehome entertainment network — a network that lets you centralize the
storage and management of nearly all your digital content (pictures, movies,
and music), and share this content between MCE PCs, regular PCs and other
devices, such as home theaters and networked audio/video systems.
For many people, however, running the CAT-5e wire required for a traditional
wired home network (or LAN) throughout a home or apartment is often too
difficult and time consuming. For those who rent a house or apartment, running
wires inside walls is simply not allowed. And some homes, no matter who owns
them, present insurmountable obstacles to running new wiring.
You can take heart, though, because the hottest new technology in home
networking is the wireless LAN, which uses radio waves, not wires, to connect
computers. In this chapter, you find out about these exciting wireless LAN technologies and get advice on how to choose a wireless LAN for your MCE PC (and
the rest of your PCs). You also discover how to use wireless LANs to connect
other devices in your home (such as audio/video systems). And finally, you
read about some other “no new wires” networking technologies that you can
use to augment a wireless LAN.
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Wireless Networking 101
Wireless LANs aren’t that difficult to understand — essentially, they’re a lot like
cordless phones (note that we said cordless, not cellular). Just as a cordless
phone system has a base station that connects the wired and wireless worlds,
so wireless LANs have base stations, known as access points, that do the same
thing. And just as cordless phones have the wireless devices themselves (cordless handsets), wireless LANs have wireless devices known as wireless network
adapters.
In a wireless LAN, the access point connects to your Ethernet LAN (which we
discuss in Chapter 15), and the wireless network adapters go inside (or connect
to) your MCE PC and other PCs and devices. All the data that would have traveled over wires in a traditional home network is now converted to radio waves
(just as your voice is converted to radio waves in a cordless phone system),
and transmitted around your house.
Figure 16-1 shows a typical wireless LAN setup, with an access point connected
to a wired LAN (and the Internet), and PCs connected using wireless LAN
network adapters.
Wireless networks are based on an international standard known as 802.11.
The 802.11 standard ensures that different pieces of wireless LAN equipment
based on the standard will work together, regardless of which company built
a particular device.
Internet
AP
Wired PC
Wireless
PCs
Figure 16-1:
A simple
wireless
network —
look Ma,
no wires!
Cable/DSL
modem
Printer
Printer
Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System
Introducing wireless LAN standards
The 802.11 standard is actually a group of wireless LAN standards. Each one
is identified by an additional letter at the end of the name, such as 802.11a or
802.11b. These different standards identify the speed and radio frequency of
wireless LAN equipment.
The standards operate in unlicensed frequencies, a set of frequencies set aside
by the government that anyone can use without having a license. Some frequencies are more crowded than others. Common household items such as microwave ovens and wireless electronic gear can interfere with your wireless LAN
signals, degrading their network performance. The two major frequency bands
used by wireless LAN networks are in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz range, with most
household items, including most cordless phone systems, residing in the
2.4 GHz band.
The three groups of 802.11 wireless LAN equipment available today follow:
802.11b: This is the most common wireless LAN equipment. 802.11b
wireless LAN equipment operates at a radio frequency of 2.4 GHz and
has a maximum speed of 11 Mbps. In practice, however, most home
networks based on 802.11b are limited to speeds of about 4 to 5
Mbps — not blazingly fast, but fast enough for general file-sharing
network applications and to share streaming music files over a
network.
802.11b is not fast enough for sending streaming video files over a wireless
network. In other words, 802.11b is fine for sending files back and forth
between computers but not for watching video files stored on other
computers. Since so much of MCE is based on video content, we don’t
recommend that you install an 802.11b network. Luckily, 802.11g is quickly
replacing 802.11b in most stores.
802.11a: Despite the fact that a comes before b in the alphabet, 802.11a
is a newer wireless LAN standard than is 802.11b. 802.11a is a faster system
than 802.11b, with a maximum speed of 54 Mbps, and a “real world” speed
of about 20 to 30 Mbps. This speed is more than fast enough for most video
applications. 802.11a uses a different set of radio frequencies (in the 5 GHz
range, instead of the more crowded 2.4 range), so you can’t use 802.11a
equipment with 802.11b equipment.
802.11g: The newest wireless LAN standard, 802.11g was approved in
mid-2003. 802.11g uses the same 2.4 GHz radio frequencies of 802.11b,
but operates at the same high speed as 802.11a (54 Mbps maximum, real
world speeds above 20 to 30 Mbps). The biggest advantage of 802.11g is
that it is fully backwards compatible with 802.11b, so older 802.11b wireless
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LAN devices can communicate on the same network with 802.11g devices,
although at the lower 11 Mbps speed of 802.11b. And any 802.11g device
can connect to an existing 802.11b network — which is good news if your
MCE PC is a laptop and you take it to work or to use on other wireless
LAN networks.
Wi-Fi is a limited-range technology — you can’t go a mile from your access point
and stay within radio range. Nominally, the range of Wi-Fi systems can be as
long as 300 feet, but in the real world, with walls and bookcases and filing cabinets in the way, you can expect to be able to roam 60 to 100 feet from your
access point and still get good reception.
In case you’re wondering, Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity, which means —
well it really doesn’t mean anything, it’s just nice marketing-speak.
Table 16-1 summarizes the three major wireless LAN systems and their uses
in a home network.
Table 16-1
Comparing Wireless LAN Systems
Technology
Frequency
Speed
Compatibility
Usage
802.11b (Wi-Fi)
2.4 GHz
11 Mbps
802.11 g
File sharing, music
802.11a (Wi-Fi5)
5 GHz
54 Mbps
none
File sharing, music,
video
802.11g
2.4 GHz
54 Mbps
802.11b
(at 11 Mbps)
File sharing, music,
video
Moving forward, we think that 802.11b, a, and g will all be supported by the
majority of wireless LAN equipment. Just like most radios are AM/FM (meaning
they can pick up different kinds of signals in different frequency ranges), we
think that dual band (2.4 and 5 GHz), tri mode (a, b, g) wireless LAN gear is just
inevitable. Already, all the wireless equipment manufacturers we know (and we
know a lot of them) are working on developing inexpensive computer chips
that can automatically tune into the different frequencies used by the different
wireless LANs — so a single computer chip could be the basis of a wireless LAN
network adapter that could handle any wireless LAN. So increasingly, you’ll see
gear that supports all three standards, giving you flexibility to decide which
standard you want to use at home.
The Wi-Fi Alliance (www.wi-fi.com), a group of wireless LAN equipment makers
and developers, gives wireless LAN equipment the all-important Wi-Fi certification that ensures that equipment from different vendors has been tested to
be interoperable (in other words, the equipment plays nicely with others). If two
pieces of wireless LAN gear both sport a Wi-Fi certification on the box (and if
Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System
they’re using the same 802.11 standard), you can rest assured that they’ll work
together, no matter who made them. Look for this certification when buying
any Wi-Fi gear.
Wireless LAN pieces and parts
As we showed you back in Figure 16-1, wireless LANs consist of two major
parts: the access point and the wireless network adapter.
The access point, or AP, connects to your wired home network or directly to
your broadband (cable or DSL) modem if you don’t have a wired LAN. The
access point acts as the base station of your wireless network and performs
several functions:
It directs data between different computers on your wireless LAN. Just
as an Ethernet hub or switch directs traffic on a wired network (see
Chapter 15 for a refresher), an access point sends data to and from each
computer attached to the network, and helps ensure that the data you
send gets to the right computer.
It’s possible to create what’s known as a peer-to-peer wireless network,
where computers talk directly to each other, without going through an
access point. We think that this is not the best approach, particularly
since you can buy an access point for well under $80 these days. The
setup of a peer-to-peer network is considerably harder, and the performance tends to be not as good.
It acts as a bridge between your wireless and wired networks. The access
point sends data between wirelessly networked computers and devices
and can also direct communications among wired and wireless computers
on your network. So if your MCE PC is on the wired part of your network
and your laptop is wireless, your access point makes sure the two computers can talk to each other.
It can act as a home-network router. Like the routers we discuss in
Chapter 15, most access points can provide routing functionality such
as NAT (also discussed in Chapter 15) that lets all the computers on your
network share a single Internet connection and IP address.
If you think you’ll eventually have both wired and wireless computers on
your network, it’s a good idea to just buy a home-networking router with
an access point built in. Most of the vendors we discuss in Chapter 15
(such as Linksys, NETGEAR, Microsoft, and D-Link) make home-networking
routers with built-in access points.
The second major component of a wireless LAN is the wireless network
adapter, which is the wireless equivalent of the NIC (or network interface
card) we talk about in Chapter 15. Every computer connected to your
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network must have a wireless network adapter of some sort attached to
it. Many types of wireless network adapters are available, but the most
common are the following:
PC Card: Most commonly found in laptop computers, PC cards are
small (credit-card-sized) cards that fit into the PC (or, as many computer
old-timers call them, PCMCIA) card slots on the side of the computer. PC
Card wireless network adapters include a small antenna attached to the
end of the card (the antenna typically sticks out of the side of your laptop
an inch or so). PC cards also can be used in some handheld computer
devices.
PCI Card adapter: Desktop computers that don’t have a PC Card, can
use a wireless LAN card that fits into an internal PCI slot (the same
slots used for many wired Ethernet NICs or for video cards). If you
use a PCI Card NIC, you still need to have an external antenna (which
will come in the package), so everything won’t be all neat and hidden
inside your PC. Most MCE PCs do not have a PC card slot, but many
(except for laptop MCE PCs) have a PCI slot inside that can use this
kind of adapter.
USB external adapter: A better alternative for desktop MCE PCs is an
external NIC that connects through a USB port. Every MCE PC has a bunch
of USB ports, and the external NIC requires no real installation — just plug
it in and load the software driver. The only problem with USB adapters is
that most still use the older USB 1.0 standard, not the higher-speed USB 2.0
standard. For an 802.11b network, this is not an issue, because USB 1.0’s
maximum speed of 12 Mbps is faster than 802.11b’s maximum speed. But
for the faster 802.11a and g networks, USB 1.0’s maximum speed is well
below the maximum wireless LAN speed — so you’ll be leaving some
speed on the table. Figure 16-2 shows the wireless USB adapter that Pat
uses, NETGEAR’s MA111. It fits right in your pocket (it’s smaller than a
marker pen and very cool).
If you’re using 802.11g or 802.11a, and you want to use a USB wireless
network adapter, make sure it supports USB 2.0, and connect it to one
of your MCE PC’s USB 2.0 ports.
Wireless Ethernet bridge: The wireless Ethernet bridge is a relative
newcomer to the wireless LAN world. On one side of a wireless Ethernet
bridge is an antenna and radio system for 802.11b, g or a; on the other is
a standard Ethernet port. Using a wireless Ethernet bridge, you can connect
any device with an Ethernet port (meaning every MCE PC ever made) to
a wireless network without installing any additional equipment (or even
doing any special software configuration) — the MCE PC “sees” a standard
Ethernet connection and doesn’t even know that it’s connected to a wireless network.
Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System
Wireless Ethernet bridges are also handy for connecting non-computer
devices to your wireless network. For example, they’re great for hooking
gaming consoles (such as Microsoft’s Xbox) and networked audio systems
(such as Philips’ Streamium system) to the wireless network. Basically, if
the device has an Ethernet port (heck, even some refrigerators have them
now), it can connect to a wireless Ethernet bridge.
Figure 16-2:
NETGEAR’s
MA111
802.11b
wireless
USB
adapter.
Choosing Wireless Network Equipment
Now that we’ve talked about the different pieces and parts, it’s time to choose
which wireless LAN equipment is best for you. The first decision to make —
before you even start looking at different vendors and specific pieces of
equipment — is which of the 802.11 standards to use. We mentioned earlier that
we think all wireless LAN gear will eventually be able to work with both 802.11b
and g (remember, these two standards already work together) and 802.11a.
Let’s look at your choices again:
802.11b: This is the cheapest solution. (802.11b network adapters can cost
as little as $40, and 802.11b access points are under $80.) It’s the most
common, so if you take your wireless LAN-equipped computer elsewhere
(such as to a public hot spot), it should work. On the downside, it’s slow —
too slow to let you share video content in real time on your network. If you
want to send video between devices on an 802.11b network, you need to
move the file from computer to computer ahead of time, and then watch
it. We prefer to not have to move the files around between computers in
advance — we just want to play them when we want to play them. For that
reason, we think 802.11b is not the best wireless network to use for your
MCE PC.
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802.11a: This is faster than 802.11b and is the least likely to be bothered
by interference from other wireless devices in your home. Is this a home
run then? Actually, no, because 802.11a gear is the most expensive (more
than $150 for an adapter and more than $250 for an access point). So far,
it seems 802.11a is being marketed as a business-network solution, not a
home-network solution. Over time, prices will plummet, and consumergrade options will emerge.
802.11g: This is as fast as 802.11a but doesn’t cost as much as 802.11a
equipment (around $100 for an adapter, and about $150 for an access
point). It’s completely compatible (at lower speeds) with 802.11b. Sounds
like a winner, doesn’t it? We think so.
In the end, though, we’ll let you make up your own mind about what to buy,
based on your budget and your needs. If you can afford it, we highly recommend that you skip 802.11b and go right to 802.11g. If you’re a bit of a risk taker
and not at all price sensitive, you might want to use 802.11a — the fact that it
has much less chance of interference disrupting your network is a good thing
if you live in a crowded area. If you’re really loose with the cash, get an a/g/b
tri-mode access point. If you just want to be able to transfer files between your
computers, don’t overlook 802.11b. It’s cheap, and getting cheaper.
The price of just about every piece of computer equipment tends to drop like
a stone over time. Wireless LANs are no exception — so don’t be surprised
when you go shopping if our prices seem high.
After you’ve made your technology decision, it’s time to start shopping for wireless LAN gear. A lot of good Wi-Fi gear is out there, and we recommend that you
look online (at places like Amazon.com) for the best price. Among our favorite
vendors of Wi-Fi gear are the following:
NETGEAR: www.netgear.com
D-Link: www.dlink.com
Linksys: www.Linksys.com
SMC Networks: www.smc.com
Speedstream: www.speedstream.com
Microsoft: www.Microsoft.com/hardware/broadbandnetworking
When you’re looking at Wi-Fi equipment, particularly the network adapters,
check the box (or online) to see whether the equipment has been certified to
work with Windows XP (note that we said XP, not MCE). You can usually still
use gear that’s not certified, but it’s a lot more difficult.
Your shopping list should consist of the following:
Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System
An access point, or AP
A network adapter for your MCE PC
Network adapters for your other PCs
Optional: Network adapters (Ethernet bridges are best for this purpose)
for your Xbox or Playstation 2 and any other Ethernet-enabled homeentertainment equipment (such as Internet radios)
Consider an outdoor access point if you have a pool or other outdoor area
where you spend a lot of time. Many of the vendors listed previously have
environmentally-hardened units for that purpose.
Also, try to buy all your gear from one vendor, because you’ll have fewer problems. Although all the different vendors’ gear is made to be interoperable,
nothing beats the performance of a single vendor’s devices working together.
Integrating Wireless with
a Wired Network
Your wireless LAN can work well with a wired network (like the ones we discuss
in Chapter 15). In fact, when you’re building a whole-home network, this might
be the best approach due to the range limitations of Wi-Fi. (Remember, it can
reach less than 100 feet in typical conditions.)
Combining a wired and wireless network is simple. Depending on what kind
of access point you’ve purchased, the process may be as simple as plugging
wired Ethernet connections into the switch ports on your access point. (For
more on switches, see Chapter 15.) Here’s the lowdown:
If you’re starting from scratch for both your wired and wireless networks,
buy an AP that has both wireless connections and a built-in home-network
router and Ethernet switch. Most vendors call these wireless DSL/cable
modem routers. Use Ethernet cabling to plug any wired network connections into the switch ports on the router, and use the wireless network
adapters to connect other devices to the router’s internal AP wirelessly.
If you already have a wired network (with a router or an Ethernet
switch or both), just plug the access point into one of the switch ports
on your router. In this case, your AP acts as a network bridge connecting
the wired network (and your broadband modem) to the wireless PCs
on your network.
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Figure 16-3 shows a mixed wired and wireless network.
Wired
network
Wireless
PCs
Wired
PC
Wired
PC
Wired
PC
Printer
AP
Internet
Figure 16-3:
Mixing your
networks.
Cable/DSL
modem
Cable/DSL
router
Other Devices that You Can Connect
to a Wireless Network
Your MCE PC (and other PCs) aren’t the only devices that can connect to
a wireless LAN. An increasing number of computer peripherals and homeentertainment devices are being made with built-in wireless LAN capabilities —
so they can easily connect to your network without running cables.
Following are some examples of wireless stuff:
Printers: Many inkjet and laser-printer manufacturers have begun
offering 802.11b cards or adapters that attach to their home printers.
With a wireless printer adapter, you can stick that printer in some
out-of-the-way corner and still gain access to it for printing photos in
Media Center (or whatever printing job you might have). If you use a
wireless printer, you’ll need to have the driver software (that lets your
MCE PC use the printer’s services) installed on each computer you
want to print from.
Chapter 16: Using a Wireless Home-Networking System
If you already have a printer, consider a wireless DSL/cable modem router
with a built-in print server. This feature lets you connect a standard wired
printer directly to the router and access it from any computer on the
network (wired or wireless).
Webcams: Danny has a D-Link (www.dlink.com) DCS-1000W wireless
Webcam on his network, and he loves it. These cameras will send video
or still images to any computer on the network and even to remote
viewers on the Internet, without any wires. Most wireless Webcams have
a built-in Web server, so you don’t need any software on your PCs, besides
Internet Explorer, to view them. D-Link’s DCS-2000 adds motion detection
and surveillance options.
Digital cameras: These are new on the market (announced but not yet
shipped) and are very cool. Digital cameras with built-in Wi-Fi network
adapters can download their pictures to your MCE PC without any need
to find that darned cable hidden in your desk drawer.
Internet radios: Philips Streamium is our favorite example of this
product — a mini stereo system (complete with CD player, AM/FM
radio, and speakers) that can also connect to your network and play
Internet radio stations. Check out audio.philips.com/streamium/
product.asp for more information.
Check out Chapter 18 for our predictions about some future products
that will perform a very similar function, wirelessly, and work directly
with Media Center.
Cordless phones: For the home market, cordless phones don’t work with
Wi-Fi — in fact they work against it, as many cordless phones use the same
radio frequencies as Wi-Fi and cause interference. In the business market,
however, we’re starting to see a lot of Wi-Fi cordless phones that connect
to your access point (and can let you make inexpensive phone calls over
the Internet to boot). We expect that in just a few years, most cordless
phones will work with a Wi-Fi network.
Any device that has an Ethernet port on the back — game consoles, printers,
whatever — can connect to a wireless network using one of the wireless
Ethernet bridges we discussed earlier in the chapter (in the “Wireless LAN
pieces and parts” section).
Phone and Power Line Alternatives
Although wireless networks have been the most prominent and popular homenetworking technology, a couple of other technologies fit into the same “no
new wires” category (in other words, technologies that don’t require you to
run networking cables inside your walls).
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These systems use either your existing telephone lines or your electrical
power lines:
HomePNA: PNA stands for Phoneline Networking Association — the
industry group that sets the standard for this equipment. This system
uses the phone lines already in your walls to communicate. HomePNA
is currently on its second iteration (called HomePNA 2.0) and allows communications at speeds up to 10 Mbps between any phone jacks in the house.
(A newer version in development, HPNA 3.0, will allow up to 100 Mbps
speeds!) HomePNA is built into many home routers (such as those from
NetGear, Linksys, and 2Wire), so if you think you might want to use
HomePNA, choose your router accordingly. To install HPNA in your home,
you plug HPNA adapters into your wall phone-jack outlets; these adapters
enable you to plug your phone and Ethernet cables into the same outlet.
At the phone jack nearest to your Internet router, you run the Ethernet
patch cable into that router — and your network is connected to the
Internet.
HomePlug: This is the electrical powerline alternative to HomePNA.
HomePlug network adapters can “talk” to each other at speeds of up to
14 Mbps (although speeds are much slower in practice). It operates in a
similar fashion to HPNA. You plug HomePlug adapters into your electrical
outlets, and they communicate over the higher frequencies available on
your electrical lines. At least one vendor sells a HomePlug adapter that
includes an 802.11b access point — plug this into an outlet, and you have
an instant 802.11b network. This is great for big homes where the main AP
is too far away from the computers in the distant corners of the house.
The leading providers of routers also sport HomePlug options, so you can
connect to your network by simply powering up your router.
The coolest HomePlug gear we’ve seen comes from Speedstream
(www.speedstream.com), which makes home-network routers and access
points with HomePlug built in. To add an AP to a Speedstream network, you
just plug the HomePlug-enabled AP into a wall outlet — no other wiring is
necessary. Pretty simple and easy to use.
We prefer high-speed wireless over either of these systems for all the bandwidth
reasons previously mentioned. However, these other systems have their place,
especially as a way to extend a wireless network in a larger house. Between the
two systems, HomePlug is more popular.
Part V
The Part of Tens
W
In this part . . .
e’ve written several For Dummies books, and this is
the part we always have the most fun writing. This
is where we get to cut loose with some fun facts and interesting tidbits about Windows XP Media Center. We’ve tried
to come up with lists that will amuse and edify. We sure
hope we were right!
We start off by telling you about cool accessories you can
buy for your MCE PC. (We’re typical gadget guys that way —
we love the neat little tchotchkes that go along with our
computer gear.) Following that, we dust off the old crystal
ball and tell you where we think MCE is going and predict
the new features on the horizon. Finally, we talk about ten
online sites that will be just plain fun to surf to with your
MCE PC.
Chapter 17
Ten Cool Accessories for Your
Media Center PC
In This Chapter
A digital camera
A scanner
A 6-in-1 card reader
An upgraded remote control
A Bluetooth adapter
Your own outdoor theater
A digital video camera
A DVD recorder
A gaming controller
A surge suppressor or a UPS
C
ompared to the average off-the-shelf PC, Media Center Edition PCs come
loaded with features. Depending on which MCE PC you bought, your
unit might have tons of gizmos and gadgets (such as a remote control and
PVR software) that would be on the extras list of your average PC — if you
could get those features at all. But after you become an MCE PC pro (and find
yourself spending every non-working, non-eating, and non-sleeping hour of
the day in front of your MCE PC), you’ll probably want a few extra toys, to
make using your MCE PC more convenient and more fun.
In this chapter, we give you our list of must-have accessories. Note that some
items are standard with some MCE PCs or can be ordered when you configure your machine.
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Part V: The Part of Tens
Making Digital Picture-Taking Easier
The My Photo function of MCE is a great way to store, edit, view, and share
your digital pictures. My Photo takes a great hobby — digital photography —
and makes it even better. With MCE helping us out, we take (and keep) even
more digital photographs than we did before!
We love the concept of digital photographs: We can snap pictures of whatever
we want without worrying about buying, developing, and printing film. But digital photography requires that you have a way of creating digital photographs.
So our first MCE accessory recommendation (first three recommendations,
actually) is to get yourself equipped to enter the digital photography era.
Going digital
For all the pictures you’re going to take, we highly recommend that you put
that old film camera on the back shelf. Following are our favorite sites for
purchasing a digital camera:
Digital Photography Review (DPR) at www.dpr.com: This site is loaded
with news, information, and reviews of hundreds of the latest and greatest digital cameras in all price ranges.
Digital Camera Resource Page (DCRS) at www.dcresource.com:
Another great site that’s similar in scope and function to DPR. We’ve
been looking at sites by the creator of this one (Jeff Keller is his name)
for years. We don’t know him, but we trust his sites — and we think
you’ll feel the same way after you visit this one.
CNET’s digital camera page at www.cnet.com: Click the camera icon at the
top of the page. CNET’s reviewing and news-hounding capabilities are at
the top of the heap as far as we’re concerned — of all the big-name online
news sites, we go here first. It has a lot of reviews, articles, comparisons,
and links to online shopping sites. You can conduct your research and then
buy the camera you want online at a great price, all in one fell swoop.
Some of the newest models of digital cameras have USB 2.0 connections
instead of the slower USB 1.0 system. (We discuss these connections in
Chapter 1.) All MCE PCs come with USB 2.0 ports, and using this port will
allow you to spend much less time getting your pictures from the camera to
the MCE PC.
Wow, what a bonus. Two tips. If you’ve purchased a digital camcorder in the
past few years and never read the manual, you might find that you have a digital still camera on board! But if your camcorder is bulky, replace it — the
small shape and price of today’s digital camcorders make it likely that you’ll
want to upgrade.
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC
Don’t forget to call your cell phone company and see what camera-outfitted
phones it offers. You’ll want one of these, too. For more information, see the
“Is it a camera or a phone?” sidebar in Chapter 11.
Salvaging your analog
The second digital photography item we recommend is for your existing photographs. If you’re like us, you have shoeboxes (or albums, or archival-quality,
acid-free photo storage systems, if you’re the fussy type) with thousands of
pictures of you and your family when you were all younger, thinner, and more
beautiful. Don’t let those pictures miss out on your MCE adventure: Scan them!
Buy a digital scanner, and you can turn existing photos, slides, and negatives
into digital photo files for less than you think. You have two main choices to
make when looking at scanners:
Flat-bed scanners: These scanners, as the name implies, have a flat bed,
or glass screen, that looks like the one on your office copier. You can
place any document (such as a photo print, printed document, or magazine) on the bed for scanning. Flat-bed scanners are versatile, work well,
and are available for under $100.
Film or slide scanners: These are more specialized devices that can
accept 35 mm film negatives or color slides or both. A film or slide scanner usually gives you better results — mainly because film negatives and
slides have a higher resolution (or more dots making up the picture)
than a print does. You have to pay more for a film or slide scanner — at
least $200, and the price rises rapidly — and you can’t use these scanners for more general-purpose scanning.
If you’re going to work with a lot of photos, we think you should go with a
purpose-built film scanner, which is optimized for pictures. Again, we recommend that you go to the CNET site (www.cnet.com) for reviews and links to
online stores selling scanners.
If you’re not ready to buy your own scanner, a good interim solution is to use one
of the many film-scanning services. They have the MOAS (mother of all scanners)
and are ready to use it on your pictures and negatives, for a few dollars per print
(more or less, depending on the resolution of the scan and the size of the print).
A digital camera jackknife
We have one other must-have photo-related accessory for you: the 6-in-1 card
reader. (Many MCE PCs already have this accessory.) Digital cameras use
removable digital memory cards as their digital “film.” The default way to get
your pictures from this memory card to your MCE PC is to plug the camera
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into the computer (usually using a USB or USB 2.0 cable) and use software to
download the pictures to your hard drive. There’s nothing wrong with this
approach, but it’s cumbersome, particularly if you have multiple devices that
require downloads. An easier way is to just pop that digital film (the memory
card) out of the camera and into a dedicated card reader that’s always
attached to your PC. This gives you more flexibility (you can, for example,
pop a fresh memory card in the camera and keep shooting pictures while the
others download) and requires less juggling around with wires and cables.
You can buy an inexpensive, single-function card reader, which reads only the
type of card in your camera. However, for less than $40, you can buy a 6-in-1
card reader, which reads the most common types of memory cards and will
probably still be useful when you upgrade to a new card.
Here are those six different media (or memory card) types:
Compact Flash (Type I/II)
SmartMedia
Secure Digital (SD)
MultiMediaCard (MMC)
Memory Stick
IBM Microdrive
A 6-in-1 card reader can come in handy for more than just digital cameras.
These memory cards are showing up in portable MP3 audio players, handheld
PCs (such as PocketPCs and Palms), and even cell phones. The card reader
itself plugs into the USB port. Some models can even be mounted internally in
your MCE PC, if you have an available 3.5-inch drive bay (where an extra optical disc drive might be mounted).
Upgrading Your Remote
The remote control that comes standard with all MCE PCs is a handy device
that enables you to use your MCE PC the way it’s designed to be used: from
ten feet away. But the standard remote is not at the top of the remote-control
food chain. If you want a does-it-all remote control for your MCE PC — and
the rest of the devices connected to your MCE PC, such as your TV — you
need to do some shopping.
Luckily, the MCE PC uses a relatively standard IR (or infrared) remote control
that uses invisible light beams to do its business. This is lucky because it’s
exactly what 99 percent of the universal remotes out there use. These universal remotes are so-named because they can be programmed to control just
about anything and everything that has a remote — including your MCE PC.
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC
If you’re feeling rich, look into a touchscreen remote control, like those offered
by Philips in the Pronto product line (www.pronto.philps.com). These
devices, which can cost well over $1000, have a large, touch-sensitive LCD
screen. Instead of limiting yourself to a fixed number of buttons, you can
create soft buttons on the screen by programming the remote.
At $200 to $300, the programmable remotes offered by companies such as
Harmony (www.harmonyremote.com) are cheaper and almost as capable.
These remotes include a small LCD screen and an array of programmable buttons that you can customize to control functions on your MCE PC, TV, hometheater receiver, and more. You can also create remote-control programs
(called macros) that link a bunch of functions. So instead of turning on the TV,
setting your receiver to Video, and navigating through MCE to the Record TV
section, a Harmony remote can crunch those steps down to one efficient
Record TV button that you can create on your PC and load into the remote
through a USB connection.
If you want to spend about $150, check out the Gyration Media Center remote
(www.gyration.com/mcr.htm). This cool remote dispenses with most of the
buttons found on similarly priced remotes and instead uses an internal gyroscope that tracks the motion of your hand (and the remote) in the air. So you
can navigate through the MCE interface as if you were sitting at a desk with a
mouse. The included GyroTools software lets you assign certain MCE functions to specific hand motions or gestures. So, for example, a flip of the hand
up and to the right could switch channels or turn on your TV. It takes some
getting used to, but it’s very cool if you can master it.
If you want to get really high tech, check out Nevo software at www.mynevo.
com). Nevo software runs on Pocket PCs and Microsoft Smart Displays, such
as ViewSonic’s airPanel V110 and V150. Note, however, that only the Smart
Displays (which are special wireless touch screens that connect to your MCE
PC) can control MCE PC in the current version.
Nevo is sort of like Media Center — you can’t buy it and install it yourself.
Instead, you buy a Smart Display that comes preinstalled with the software.
Check out the Nevo Web site for an up-to-date list of Nevo-equipped Smart
Displays.
Nevo software (made by a company called UEI — Universal Electronics, Inc.)
is a whole-home control and automation solution. With a Nevo-enhanced
Smart Display (such as the ViewSonic shown in Figure 17-1), you can control
an unlimited number of home-entertainment devices (including your MCE PC)
and also control any automated devices in your home (such as lighting systems and motorized drapes). The Nevo interface lets you create macros and
automatically saves your most frequently used controls in its activity center.
For some good information on the latest in remote controls, visit the following Web site: www.remotecentral.com.
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Figure 17-1:
Going high
tech with
Nevo.
Going Wireless
In Chapter 15, we talk in detail about creating wireless home networks using a
system called Wi-Fi or 802.11. This is a whole-home wireless system that connects computers and computer-like devices (such as game consoles or
servers) at relatively high speeds. Another wireless networking system,
Bluetooth, is designed for shorter distances (30 feet instead of 300 feet) and
different uses, including replacing short-run cables that connect peripherals
(for example, the mouse or keyboard.) to your MCE PC.
Adding Bluetooth to your MCE PC is a great way to “cut the cord” for all sorts
of devices. Imagine downloading movies from your camcorder without plugging in a FireWire connection, or transferring digital pictures without using a
USB cord. Well, Bluetooth can do that. Even more importantly, Bluetooth can
make your keyboard and mouse wireless as well — so you can sit back on the
sofa and still use these more traditional input devices with your MCE PC. No
more getting off the couch when you need to switch out of the MCE interface
and send an e-mail.
To get Bluetooth working on your MCE PC, you need two things:
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC
A Bluetooth adapter for your MCE PC: These small devices (about the
size of a pack of gum), plug directly into one of the USB ports on your
MCE PC and contain a Bluetooth transceiver that can send and receive
Bluetooth radio signals. You don’t need to plug the adapter into a wall
outlet — it gets its power from the USB port. You can buy a Bluetooth
adapter from Belkin (www.belkin.com) or D-Link (www.dlink.com) for
under $100.
Microsoft sells a cool Wireless Optical Desktop kit (www.microsoft.
com/hardware/keyboard/wodbt_info.asp) for about $160 that
includes not only a Bluetooth adapter but also a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse.
Bluetooth-enabled devices: You also need Bluetooth in the devices you
want to connect wirelessly to your MCE PC. As Bluetooth becomes more
popular, you’ll be able to find it built into almost every accessory or
peripheral device for your MCE PC. As this time, Bluetooth-enabled keyboards, mice, printers, digital cameras, cell phones, handheld computers
(PocketPC or Palm), and even video cameras are available.
You can buy wireless keyboards and mice that don’t use Bluetooth. These
systems have their own proprietary radio systems. We’ve used these over
the years, and we’ve loved them. But if we were buying a new wireless keyboard and mouse system today, we’d probably spend a little bit more and
get a Bluetooth system. Although the proprietary systems work well, they’re
limited — you can’t use the same system for other devices. Bluetooth lets
you use a single adapter to connect any Bluetooth device to your MCE PC. So
you could, for example, carry your Bluetooth keyboard from PC to PC if you
needed to.
Enjoying the Great Outdoors
Ever go to the drive-in movies when you were a kid? Fun, wasn’t it? Well, driveins have pretty much gone the way of the dodo, but with a few (relatively)
inexpensive pieces and parts, you can create your own outdoor theater.
Danny has created an outdoor home-theatre-in-a-box solution that is easy to
set up and has a high “fun quotient.” Here’s what he came up with:
A projector: Unless you’re going to bring a direct-view, big-screen TV outside (we think you shouldn’t do this), you’ll want to use a front-projection
video system for your outdoor theater. An LCD or DLP projector (see
Chapter 4 for details) works best outdoors, because it can put out brighter
pictures than CRT projectors. Danny recommends InFocus SP-4800 ($1300,
www.infocus.com) in both indoor and outdoor theaters — it’s portable
and easy to set up quickly in both environments. The screen quality and
features are great. And the price point is about the lowest you can get for
such a high-quality device.
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An outdoor screen: The screen you use for your projector indoors is too
expensive, too fragile, and probably too small for an outdoor theater.
You don’t need to get too fancy (or spend too much money) here —
white sheets sewn into a frame work well. If you want something more
permanent, consider using professionally-mounted, white, vinyl tarps.
Danny got a great 10-foot-by-20-foot white tarp for $25, complete with
grommets and wonderful bungee cords, from www.partytentcity.com.
That’s about the size of the movie screen you see in many multiplex theaters! WAAAAAY cool.
If you have problems with wrinkles, consider ironing the vinyl tarp.
Place a cloth sheet over the plastic, and iron on low heat. Be careful so
you don’t melt the plastic.
An outdoor frame: You need to mount the screen to something. Danny
called www.partytentcity.com and asked them to create a special,
outdoor-home-theater product based on the same principles of a party
tent — lots of strong rods bundled together with special joints. The
result: An outdoor home-theater framing system that you can put up
anywhere. Check out www.smarthomesbook.com/outdoor.shtml for
details. With shipping, the joints should run around $200. You can get
the rods (1-inch EMT pipe) at any Home Depot or Lowe’s for about $100.
An early evening dew on a humid night can coat everything with a serious
amount of moisture. Keep a regular bed sheet over your electronics until
you’re ready to use them.
The next part of the equation — audio and video signals to power the stuff in
the preceding list — is more difficult because it depends on your situation,
equipment, and desires.
A big part of your home-theater equation will be about sound. Unless you’re
into silent movies, you’ll want at least full 5.1 surround-sound capability, presuming your source content (DVD, video) can accommodate that.
Hooking up your audio to your PC will entail some tradeoffs. Before you start
connecting everything, you must decide what to use as a source device. You
can get audio and video signals from a source file and into your outdoor
home theater in a number of ways:
Run cables from your MCE PC: You can run a fairly long set of cables
out to your outdoor home theater to power your content in the system.
(You can also disconnect your system from your TV and locate it right
near the outdoor theater, too.)
If you’re using cables from your MCE PC, InFocus can connect to your
MCE through the S-Video port or through the VGA monitor cables. We
found that the VGA monitor cables were the better way to go because
the quality of Danny’s screen-resolution driver is better than that of the
S-video driver in his laptop. Danny bought three 10-foot VGA “extension
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC
cords” from Radio Shack (www.radioshack.com) so that he could place
the InFocus 4800 30 feet away. This distance produces a 10-foot-by-20-foot
image on the screen. Danny also got 100-foot long speaker cables (be
sure to get 12 or 14 gauge for that long a distance) for the rear speakers
in the system. (More on speakers in a second.)
Run cables from a portable (laptop) PC: If you bought a desktop PC for
your MCE, you might want to create a DVD (as shown in Chapter 12),
and play it on a laptop. This approach can be easier than reinstalling all
the cables on the MCE when you’re finished using it for an outdoor theater. (In fact, Danny is craving a Toshiba MCE laptop with multiple docking stations for that reason!)
You need a Windows XP computer (with all the latest Windows XP service
packs installed) to play your MCE PC’s special DVR-MS recorded TV files.
Emerging programs will convert MCE-based DVR-MS files to MPEG2 and
other formats, so you might try one of those to make your saved movies
portable from one machine to another. Also, some material may be
encoded so that you can’t play it on other PCs (to prevent file sharing) —
this is rare, but it can happen.
Transmit content wirelessly: You can send the signal from your PC to
your projector and speakers with wireless options. Most of these systems
are based on two main approaches. The first is a wireless bridge with an
Ethernet or USB connection in one transmitting device and RCA plugs in
the other receiving device. You plug your speakers and projector into
this receiving device. The second approach is to use wireless speakers. If
you don’t want to bring your nice surround-sound speakers outdoors,
consider buying inexpensive wireless speakers designed for portable use.
(Radio Shack sells some good wireless outdoor speakers for about $200.)
If you want to get fancy, install permanent outdoor speakers, like those
from Stereostone (www.stereostone.com, starting at $300 a pair). These
speakers look like rocks in your garden — and they rock in the musical
sense, too. Video cue: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon DVD!
Some high-quality wireless bridges are flooding the market as we write.
Most of this gear transmits signals using proprietary signaling — not
Bluetooth or 802.11. As a result, the signals are mostly point-to-point.
Some 802.11b products coming on the market enable any compatible
device in range to pick up the signals, making your entertainment center
more accessible by lots of devices, from your PC to the audio server in a
car. Get an 802.11-based product if you have the choice.
Following are some places to look for these wireless units:
• The RCA Model RD 900W Lyra Wireless (www.rca.com, $99) device
plugs into your PC’s USB jack on one end and the entertainment
center’s RCA jacks on the other. Unfortunately, as of this printing,
the Lyra uses 900-MHz technology, not standardized 802.11 chips.
• Jensen’s Matrix Internet Audio Transmitter (www.jensen.com)
Model JW901 works the same way: a 900-MHz connection between
the PC and stereo.
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• X10’s Entertainment Anywhere (www.x10.com) uses a proprietary
2.4-MHz signal.
• Linksys’s (www.linksys.com; $199) Wireless Digital Media Adapter
is an 802.11b-based transmitter. Instead of connecting to an
Ethernet port like a normal AP, the device is equipped with
audio/video connectors.
• SMC Networks’ (www.smc.com, $210) EZ-Stream line of homeentertainment networking products includes a Universal Wireless
Multimedia Receiver, the SMCWMR-AG, which can wirelessly
distribute entertainment media — audio, pictures, and streaming
video — throughout the home.
Now, you may think that an outdoor theater is a bit much. But on a warm
August night, nothing’s better than sitting outside with your family watching
your favorite movies. It’s well worth the effort. Check out our site at
www.smarthomesbook.com for additional information.
For more detail on hooking up your home theater and ensuring you have surround sound enabled in your system, check out our Home Theater For
Dummies (published by Wiley Publishing, Inc.).
Making Movies
The MCE is a great tool for watching movies. You can play DVDs, TV movies,
downloaded movies, and more. But you can do more than just watch movies
on an MCE PC: You can make them, too.
You need two MCE PC accessories to create your own movies on your MCE PC:
A digital video camera for filming your new artistic creations
A DVD recorder to turn those films into DVDs that you and your friends
and family can watch
Being a film auteur
You can use one of the newer digital video cameras (using the Digital8 and
MiniDVD formats) and feed video into your MCE PC for editing and display.
These digital cameras have a higher resolution (meaning sharper pictures)
than analog video cameras, and connect directly to your MCE PC using the
IEEE 1394 or FireWire port (discussed in Chapter 2).
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC
Build your own drive-in
Sadly, one of the cultural icons of the twentieth
century is disappearing from our roadsides: the
drive-in theater. You can do your bit for americana by building your own drive-in — it’s not
hard at all. If you live some place where the
houses are pretty much jammed together, you
might not be able to even fathom a home drive-in.
If you have some land, however, it is really cool.
Your gear for the outdoor theater works well,
but you need one more item: an FM transmitter
to broadcast the sound to all the cars. A range
of low-cost ($60–$250) FM transmitter devices
rebroadcast audio from portable CD players,
portable cassette players, or computer audio to
an unoccupied channel on the FM broadcast
band. The range of the units varies from 50 feet
to 1⁄ 4 mile, so check the fine print.
Most of these units use a stereo miniplug connection between the external sound source and
the FM transmitting unit. To decide which FM
frequency to use, you must find an unoccupied
FM frequency by listening to the FM channels
at your location. You then tune the FM transmitter to an unused channel from 88 to 108 MHz,
and start transmitting.
Warning: Causing interference to existing FM
broadcasts is prohibited by FCC Part 15 regulations, so be sure to choose that spare channel
carefully. As long as you use the FM transmitter
unit in accordance with manufacturer instructions, you’ll be in compliance with FCC Part 15
rules and regulations.
We like the FM25B unit from Ramsey Electronics
(www.ramseyelectronics.com). It has
great range, great performance, and a reasonable price ($270). It connects directly to the line
output from your CD player/changer or to one of
the tape-out connections on your receiver.
Simple as that.
You’re not going to get surround sound out of
one of these FM transmitters — just like you
don’t get it at a real drive-in.
If you’re buying your first video camera or need to upgrade, go for one of the
digital camcorder models that use the FireWire connection. You’ll be able to
download movies to your MCE PC more easily and faster, and the picture is
far better.
Burn baby, burn!
Many MCE PCs come with a built-in DVD recorder, or burner. If your MCE PC
does, you’re in luck! Edit your movies in Windows Movie Maker (discussed
in Chapter 13) or your favorite movie-editing program, and you’ll have a
professional-looking DVD to send to grandma.
If your MCE PC didn’t come with a built-in DVD recorder, you’ll have to go to
your favorite electronics store and buy one. Unfortunately, the manufacturers
of DVD recorders haven’t agreed on a standard for recordable DVD formats,
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so you can’t play any home-recorded DVD in any DVD player. (We know this
is just plain stupid, but we aren’t in charge of the DVD industry.) The three
DVD recording formats on the market are
DVD-R/RW
DVD-RAM
DVD+R/RW
When you see R/RW in an optical format (such as DVD-R/RW or CD-R/RW),
you’re actually seeing two related formats. The R, or recordable, format refers
to optical discs that can be recorded once — record your data on the disc,
and it’s there permanently. RW, or rewritable, discs can be recorded multiple
times. DVD-R/RW systems are considered the most compatible with existing
DVD players. (However, even with DVD-R/RW, some DVD players won’t be able
to play your homemade DVDs.) The DVD-RAM format is the least compatible.
DVD+R/RW is somewhere in the middle — slightly less compatible with standard DVD players than DVD-R/RW but more compatible than DVD-RAM.
Expect to pay between $3 and $8 for a blank, recordable DVD disc.
You’ll always get the best results if you use high-quality, brand-name blank
DVD discs in your recorder (from companies such as Verbatim). Whatever
you do, make sure that the blank disc you’re using, the burner you have
installed, and the system you’re running are tested for the speed you want to
burn at. For example, if you have a 4x DVD burner, make sure the blank disc
you use has been tested at that speed (check the label).
Gaming Galore
Although few games are currently available for the MCE PC, its fast processor,
copious memory, and kick-butt video card make it an excellent PC gaming
platform. (See Chapter 18 for some prognosticating about the future direction
of MCE and gaming.)
Hook up an MCE PC to a fast Internet connection, load the latest and greatest
RPG (role-playing game), and you’ll be blowing away your friends in record time.
But to play games well, you need something better than a plain old mouse and
keyboard. Luckily, MCE PCs are loaded with USB ports, which you can use to
connect a variety of joysticks and controllers that make game playing more fun.
You can buy a controller that replicates a WRC rally car steering wheel and
controls, or a controller that gives you the stick on an F-14 (turn and burn!).
You can also buy specialized controllers for specific games. (We’ve even seen
game controllers that include a pad that you put on the floor so you can
dance along with a game.) If you’re a gamer, go to www.gamespot.com and
check out the reviews.
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC
Beefing Up Your Infrastructure
Our final set of accessories aren’t as sexy as the ones we’ve mentioned so
far — nor are they as far out there as an outdoor home theater (which really
is pretty cool, trust us). In this section, we talk about the underpinnings, or
infrastructure, of your MCE system. Except for us geeks, most people don’t
find this exciting.
Suppose that you just spent a lot of money on some fancy new W speed-rated
high-performance tires. You’re anticipating the fun and exciting driving you’ll
soon be experiencing. However, those tires won’t do you much good if the road
(the infrastructure) is a wreck. So too with your MCE PC. It’s exciting and fun,
but it won’t perform the way you want if it doesn’t have a solid infrastructure.
Here’s our infrastructure road map for your MCE PC:
Clean power: Electrical power is ugly. Between lightning bolts, bad drivers hitting electrical poles, and a thousand air conditioners being
turned on at once during the heat of summer, the nice clean electrical
sine waves that leave the power plant are not so nice and clean when
they get to your home. Surges occur when the voltage drops and then
rises beyond normal limits. During a surge, electronic devices get
zapped. So buy a good surge suppressor and use it. Keep your MCE safe,
sound, and protected. You can’t go wrong with any of the power protection from www.monstercable.com.
Staying power: Beyond cleaning up your power supply with a surge suppressor, you might consider keeping your power on, even when the
lights go out. Pat’s from Southern California, where brownouts and the
infamous “rolling blackout” have become a fact of summertime life. A
UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is just the ticket. These devices go
between your MCE PC and the wall outlet and have a built-in battery
that can keep your MCE PC running throughout a short blackout or at
least give you enough time to save open files and shut down properly.
Most types of UPS include a built-in surge suppressor. Check out
www.apc.com for some solid power supplies.
Fatter pipes: No, we’re not talking about a plumbing upgrade here.
Instead, we’re talking about your pipe to the Internet. We feel that broadband (if you can get it) is a must with an MCE PC, especially if you want
to play online video and movies. As more and more content for your
MCE PC becomes available on the Internet, you’ll find that much of it is
accessible only to broadband users. So, if you can, consider moving up
to DSL or cable modem service. If you have DSL or cable, but only the
lowest-priced (slowest) service, consider bumping up to a faster speed.
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Chapter 18
Ten Future Features of Media
Center PCs
In This Chapter
Wireless connectivity between TVs and other devices
Multituners to multiply your viewing options
Support for remote content and servers
Improved support for network content
Greater support for gaming
Better video
Better audio
Support for portable devices
Better form factors
Remotes with a power button
W
e think Windows XP MCE is plain cool. We use it all the time. Even our
kids are hooked. But there’s always room for improvement, and we can
always find something to wish for.
Over the next couple of years, we expect Microsoft to improve the MCE platform
to further refine its role as a centralized server of all content in the home. Media
Center PCs will be able to wirelessly connect to more parts of the home and
draw in more content from remote sources. Future versions of Media Center
will allow you to do more things at once, such as watch one TV show while
recording another, and provide access to more applications and media types.
It will get slimmer, sleeker, and more powerful — sort of like Demi Moore in
Charlie’s Angels.
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Wireless Connectivity between TVs
and Other Devices
As we discussed in Chapter 16, your Windows XP MCE PC is a great thing, but
why bottle it up in one corner of the house with one TV set? Why not share the
wealth? The most logical improvement in MCE is the expansion of its domain
in the home using wireless technologies to get from room to room, TV to TV.
A Media Center TV client could distribute all the great digital media experiences
and the simple user interface of a Microsoft Windows XP MCE PC to any room
in the house that has a display. You could listen to music, record TV programs,
or watch photo slide shows on a television or PC display in the living room,
even if your Media Center PC was in the bedroom.
An MCE TV client would be a hardware device (not just software), most likely
driven by 802.11a, 54-Mbps wireless technology. The goal would be to extend
the MCE experience to other places, through a device that could decode
content and decrypt the user interface on another TV or set of speakers located
elsewhere in the house. So you’d see the same interface on every TV and hear
the sound as if you were using the TV located with the MCE PC device.
What’s required to do create this MCE TV client? You’d need network access
and a powerful graphics chip. You’d need an OS designed for non-PC hardware,
such as Windows CE. This means the MCE TV client is likely to be a small box
about the size of a paperback book — something that can fit unobtrusively in
your living room.
Multituners
If you want to drive multiple TVs in the home, you have to be able to tune into
more than one show simultaneously. That means your PC must support
multiple TV tuner cards (multituners), each capable of outputting a different
channel. This gives you the ability to watch different shows on different TVs,
or to record one show while watching another.
This way, Mom and Dad could watch Alias on the TV upstairs, while the kids
watch Star Trek downstairs — driven by one MCE PC. It would also enable you
to watch something else on TV while you’re recording a favorite movie.
Chapter 18: Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs
Today, you’re limited to one stream, one tuner, one movie. Argh. You can,
however, watch a recorded show while Media Center is recording another
show. This requires the use of a single live TV stream, because the show
you’ve recorded is stored on disc.
Although you can add additional tuners to your MCE PC now, it’s not clear how
multiple tuners will work with MCE. People who have tried to use more than one
TV tuner card have reported only limited success. It’s best to wait for Microsoft
to fully support multituners on your MCE PC, we think.
Support for Remote Content and Servers
One of the problems with the current version of MCE is that it’s almost totally
focused on local content. (The exception is Online Spotlight, which extends
the MCE experience to a Web page on the Internet for content providers who
partner with Microsoft.) Windows XP MCE is designed to work with content
stored on local hard drives. If your CDs are stored on a CD server or your videos
are stored on a video server, why should you have to copy them to the MCE
PC if you have a decent home network in place? (You can use your network for
some parts of Media Center today, but it’s not as easy or intuitive as it should
be.) Why not support better software pointers around your home network,
enabling you to create a whole-home storage array?
Microsoft has announced a plan to develop Content Directory Services (CDS),
which is a fancy name for a home server that will enable hardware manufacturers to easily develop devices that are better at storing and playing PC media
files over home networks. The concept is based on the Universal Plug and Play
(UPnP) Forum A/V Working Group (www.upnp.org) specifications, which call
for different devices to be able to access user-specified music, picture, and
video files anywhere on a local network. The Content Directory Service will
allow compatible devices to access both the files and the metadata (such as
the name of a song or an album cover picture) associated with this media. This
means you could have non-MCE-driven electronic devices in your house that
store media files, and those files could be accessed by other compatible hardware devices, such as your MCE PC.
Suppose you have a wireless-enabled picture frame (an LCD display that looks
like a regular picture frame but displays digital pictures) that’s storing a
hundred pictures of your kids. Why duplicate those pictures on the MCE just
to display them in My Pictures on your TV, too? Under this new initiative, you
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wouldn’t have to duplicate the content — you could point to those pictures,
and your MCE would “see” them just as if they were on your MCE hard drive.
What effect does CDS have on today’s MCE owners? You’ll be able to buy
networked media devices and integrate them into your home network without
having to upgrade the hardware, install additional software, or follow complicated setup instructions. (Your system would have to support network connectivity, presumably wireless connectivity, to take advantage of this new OS
service.) As you add CDS-supporting devices in your house, they’d appear
on the network, and future versions of MCE would be able to find and catalog
their content.
Better Support for Network Content
Online Spotlight was just taking off when we wrote this book. Online Spotlight
allows third-party content (and Web pages) to be accessible from the MCE
interface. This will become really cool when you can do things such as true
interactive TV. Imagine watching the Discovery channel on your MCE PC, and
when the little “for more information” text box pops up on the screen, just having
to click it to go to the Discovery channel Web site. Well, in the future, we think
Media Center will have that kind of seamless integration with network content.
Right now, MCE is local-disk-drive-centric. Opening Media Center up to the
Internet just makes sense.
Better Support for Gaming
Something conspicuous is missing from the menu of your Media Center Edition
software: My Xbox — or at least My Games. Well, what’s really missing is
support for any types of computer gaming platforms or PC games.
Microsoft is already moving towards better game support with Media Center.
Some MCE PC vendors install two cool games integrated into the 2004 version
of Media Center. You can play these games on your big screen, using your
remote control.
Millions of Xbox, Nintendo, Sony, and other gaming devices are connected
directly to the TV set (like your MCE PC). Those users also have wired and
wireless devices to control the action on the screen (like your MCE PC). And
many people are using leading-edge, plasma-screen displays or other sophisticated displays for viewing (like possibly your MCE PC).
Chapter 18: Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs
And that’s just the gaming platform (such as Xbox) market. What about the PC
gaming market? Kids have tons of PC games. How will these fit into the MCE
architecture?
We think a good model for the future is to look at what’s on the market today.
Danny uses a program called Virtual CD (www.virtualcd-online.com/
default_e.htm) to put a semblance of organization into four kids fighting over
gaming discs. Virtual CD allows Danny to load each PC game onto the gaming
server connected to his home network. The server makes a copy of the game
CD, and when the kids want to play the game, they double-click a shortcut on
their machine, and the game starts playing over the home network. The game
can be accessed from any PC on the network, and the original discs sit in a box
in the attic.
We think this game server concept fits well into an MCE and home-server
environment, where the point is to serve up and control access to copyrighted content.
We also think that Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console system will probably
become more tightly integrated into a home network with the MCE PC. The
Xbox is just a powerful PC specially configured and optimized for gaming. The
connection between the MCE PC and the Xbox would be a marriage made in
heaven — the Xbox is capable of dealing with digital music and video stored
on the MCE PC, and every Xbox is ready to connect to an Ethernet network
and the Internet.
Totally off-topic: Want to read a good book about why and how the Xbox
came about? Check out Dean Takahashi’s Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft’s
Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution (published by Prima Lifestyles).
Better Video — HDTV Support, Too!
The current generation of MCE PCs are great for watching video on computer
monitors (such as the LCD monitors that come standard with many MCE PCs),
regular analog TVs (traditional TVs, in other words) and digital TV monitors
(such as plasma and front-projection TVs). But, unfortunately, MCE PCs can’t
display true HDTV.
HDTV, or high-definition television, is the new generation of television signals
that that use digital encoding (a technique in which video is transformed from
analog pictures into a electronic signal) and digital transmission (where the television signal is sent over the airwaves, or through a cable system) to provide
a more detailed picture on your display.
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HDTV video is distinguished from conventional video primarily by its resolution,
or number of distinct points that make up a video image. HDTV pictures using
the 720p system consist of 720 distinct lines. (The 1080i system uses 1080 lines.)
Each line contains hundreds of individual points, or pixels, like the display on
your MCE PC’s computer monitor. By comparison, regular analog TV (also called
NTSC) and even high-quality DVD video contains a maximum of only 480 lines
of resolution.
Because of the limitations of both software and hardware, MCE PCs can handle
only 480-line resolution for displaying TV, recording TV video, and playing DVDs.
So even if you have a fancy, megabuck HDTV television set hooked up to your
MCE PC, you won’t get real HDTV.
Most HDTVs use a technique called upsampling to display lower-resolution
480-line content on their high-resolutions screens. Special computer chips
inside the HDTV guess what the video picture would look like if it had 720 or
1080 lines of resolution. This approach usually improves your picture, but it’s
not HDTV.
In future versions of MCE (and in future MCE PCs), we expect that Microsoft and
its vendor partners will jump aboard the HDTV bandwagon by adding software,
TV tuner cards, and other hardware that will allow you to receive, record, and
watch HDTV through your MCE PC. The hardware that can handle HDTV on
the PC is already available (for example, many high-end video-graphics cards
already handle HDTV) and Microsoft already has versions of HDTV working
internally, so it’s only a matter of time before MCE PCs can be full-fledged
members of an HDTV system.
Better Audio
For listening to audio CDs and computer audio files (such as Windows Media
and MP3 files), MCE PC is about as good as it gets, unless your budget stretches
to high-end audio equipment costing thousands of dollars. And because the
MCE can handle digital surround formats, it’s also great for playing the audio
tracks that accompany DVD movies.
But the MCE PC isn’t perfect — yet. It should have the following audio features:
5.1 surround sound for TV: MCE doesn’t support surround sound for television programming that you watch and record — even though digital
cable and satellite TV systems are beginning to support digital surroundsound formats. (MCE does supports surround sound with DVD movies.)
We think Microsoft will add this functionality soon.
Chapter 18: Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs
Support for new high-resolution music discs: The audio world has seen
the arrival of two new optical music formats that use optical discs such as
CDs and DVDs. The formats, known as SACD (Super Audio CD) and DVDAudio (or DVD-A), use higher bit rates, or sampling frequencies, or both
to provide better-sounding audio. (Check out Chapter 9 for more on bit
rates and sampling.) Today’s MCE PCs can’t handle these new optical discs,
but we think future versions of MCE PC will, as audio cards and optical
disc drives mature.
Microsoft and Intel are cooking up some new audio system specifications in
their labs that we think will help support for these high-end audio systems and
bring even better audio support to MCE. Universal Audio Architecture (UAA)
is a Microsoft-led initiative that will provide built-in drivers on Windows-based
PCs to raise the bar in PC audio quality. With UAA, Microsoft plans to deliver
a new set of Windows audio drivers for USB, IEEE 1394, and Azalia, the code
name for Intel Corp.’s next-generation, PC-audio specification.
Support for Portable Devices
Portable devices present hardware designers with a tough line to walk between
maximum functionality and maximum portability. The last five years have seen
incredible miniaturization of devices — portable video players are now the size
of a deck of cards.
But portable devices have only recently started getting the attention they
deserve from the designers of the operating systems that reign over the
content to be transferred to the device. Microsoft is working hard to open up
its media systems and ease the flow of media to these portable devices. One
approach to this improved portability of content depends on Microsoft’s Media
Transport Protocol (MTP), which improves the transfer and management of
digital media between the PC and portable media players.
MTP enables devices to synchronize and manage playlists, and helps the MCE
PC figure out what kind of content goes on what device. Devices that use MTP
as their connection protocol can be installed on the home network without
additional software.
MTP is not the only approach that Microsoft is taking for portable media
content. For example, Microsoft has said it will continue to work on specific,
optimized transport protocols with individual vendors. Microsoft and
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic) have demonstrated their
High-Performance Media Access Technology (HighMAT), which improves
interoperability for digital-media content between PCs and popular electronic
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devices, such as CD players, car stereos, and DVD devices. HighMAT also
dramatically improves startup times for devices by providing a consistent,
easily-navigated method of storing, arranging, and playing back digital photo,
music, and video collections on recordable discs such as CD-RW and DVD media.
If you want to create a digital media collection on CDs or other physical formats
today, you’d discover that CD and DVD players read this data in different ways.
Each device has a different interface for finding media and viewable information
such as playlists, music metadata (the who, what, where information about
songs and artists), and folders containing photos and videos. This can make
finding content confusing. In addition, with large collections of music and videos,
it can sometimes take several minutes for the DVD or CD player to “read” what
music or video is available.
HighMAT solves these problems by creating a standard way for PCs to structure
digital media on physical formats and for consumer devices to read those discs.
This approach will make startup times for data CDs and other physical formats
faster and give consumers a consistent, easy navigation experience across a
broad range of consumer electronic devices — especially the portable devices
that consumers crave.
Cooler Cases
We often joke about how everything should come in a black matte finish to
match our stereo systems. But with MCE, it’s not a joke. MCE, and Windows-CE
based variants, are moving in next to your stereo and TV.
Right now the Media Center PC typically uses a standard tower-style desktop computer — a big box that looks just right in the office but not so good
in the living room or home theater. A few vendors have begun selling MCE
PCs that come in cool form factors (case designs) that look like pieces of
stereo equipment.
We think that Media Center will move further down this road over time. More
and more Media Center PCs will look not like a PC but instead more like a DVD
player or TV set-top box. We also think that there will be MCE PCs designed for
particular purposes or locations, such as home-theater MCE PCs and bedroom
MCE PCs.
We also expect that the MCE PC will become more socially acceptable in the
living room by staying out of that room entirely. With new generations of wireless devices that provide an extension of the Media Center interface (and
content) on your TV screen, you can leave the big tower PC hidden away and
still get the Media Center experience in your living room.
Chapter 18: Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs
Remotes with a Power Button!
As Pat says, “Danny won’t let this one go!” Danny is peeved that he has to retain
his DirecTV remote just to turn his MCE-driven TV on and off. The MCE reference design for its MCE remote control doesn’t include a universal remote
functionality that can control all your other electronic gear.
Universal remote controls are generic remote controls that you configure to
match your particular brands of remote-control-driven devices. We discuss a
number of universal remote controls in Chapter 17. But these are third-party
remotes, not Microsoft remotes.
Microsoft, in its quest to simplify the 10-foot experience (the experience of the
user 10 feet away from the PC), will enhance the design of the remote control
so that it can control all the new features being added to Media Center PCs.
And any of the high-end, home-theater remote-control companies could create
a killer MCE remote, if they wanted to. The remote will also be upgraded to
control MCE-accessible devices and other Microsoft products in the home. It
makes sense that more functional remote controls have to come down the
road soon.
Does this mean that the remote will get a lot more complex? No, but we do
expect that you’ll see some additional buttons. And one of those buttons had
better be one that Danny can press to turn off his TV set!
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Chapter 19
Ten Great Places to Visit with Your
Media Center PC
In This Chapter
Media Center Edition home page
Just the FAQs
Fan sites
Yahoo! music videos on your TV
Netflix mail-order service
Your link to movies: MovieLink.com
Printing photos with Shutterfly
Atom Films for your viewing pleasure
Gallery tour
Kodak’s amateur photo site
Y
our MCE PC is all set up, everything is working great, you’ve tested the
functions, and now you’re ready to take it for a spin on the Internet. The
only question is, “Where to go?”
In this chapter, we put together our top-ten sites to go to with your newly christened MCE PC to really put it through its paces. We describe each site briefly,
but seeing and hearing is believing.
The easiest (and best) way to get to online content from within the Media
Center interface is to select Online Spotlight from the Media Center Start
menu. Online Spotlight provides the Media Center 10-foot interface, and lets
you surf to specially configured music, video, game, and software download
sites from within Media Center, using only your remote control.
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Microsoft Windows XP Media
Center Edition Home Page
We find out something new each time we visit the Media Center Edition home
page, which is at the following address:
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/default.asp
Microsoft does a great job of consolidating a lot of information into one place
and keeping it fresh and up-to-date each time you go there. You can find the
latest news and software reviews, as well as tips for doing cool stuff with your
MCE PC.
In the Expert Zone, you can join chats with Microsoft product management
about its programs. (Here’s your chance to ask why the MCE remote doesn’t
have a Power button for your TV!)
Of particular significance is the Windows XP MCE newsgroup, where people log
in to answer questions about installation and operations issues. The newsgroup
is accessible at the following:
http://communities.microsoft.com/Newsgroups/default.asp?ICP=
windowsxp&sLCID=US&newsgroup=microsoft.public.
windows.mediacenter
This is the place to post your “Help!” questions when you’re desperate for a
solution.
You can also use your MCE PC’s Outlook Express e-mail program to view and
post to this newsgroup. Follow the instructions at the following URL to set this
up in Outlook Express:
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/expertzone/newsgroups/
setup.asp
Media Center FAQ Sites
We’ve found not just one but several useful FAQ (frequently asked question)
sites to recommend, all under the same topic — solving problems in your
Media Center PC. Microsoft and some of the more established Media Center PC
Chapter 19: Ten Great Places to Visit with Your Media Center PC
manufacturers provide tips about your Media Center PC. Here are the present
FAQ sites for the Media Center PCs and operating system:
Microsoft: www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/evaluation/
faq.asp
Gateway: www.gateway.com/dw/home/mediacenter_faq.shtml)
HP: (h20015.www2.hp.com/en/document.jhtml?lc=en&docName=
bph08021#P9_1037)
You can also find out a lot by reading user manuals from other manufacturers.
For example, Pat helped Danny solve a question about his Viewsonic by looking
up the way that Gateway handled it in its configuration. If you don’t find the
answer in this book nor in your PC maker’s manual, check out these online
sources of user guides for the Media Center PCs:
Cyberpower PC: www.cyberpowersystem.com/wrv_oemMANUAL.DOC
Gateway: support.gateway.com/support/manlib/Appliances/
mediacenter.shtml
HP: h20015.www2.hp.com/content/common/manuals/bph07860/
bph07860.pdf
Northgate Innovations: support.lan-plus.com/support/tech_notes/
MediaCenter.asp
Web sites change a lot so if these URLs are not correct, check out www.smart
homesbook.com, where we keep a current listing of all these URLs.
Media Center Fan Sites
MCE users are MCE fans. Two great sites have Media Center-specific forums
and help areas that can make your MCE experience even more exciting.
The Green Button (aptly named for the Windows MCE button on your MCE
remote control) is found at www.thegreenbutton.com. This site focuses heavily
on its message groups, where you can ask questions, review other people’s
dilemmas, and track down that one bit of information you were hoping you’d
find somewhere. It also has a download area where you can find unsupported
third-party software to supplement your MCE programming. And the news area
is a good place for finding out what’s happening in the realm of MCEs and for
researching your MCE PC purchase.
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Our favorite area is the Windows XP MCE Mother of All Wish Lists (MOAWL)
Forum, where people vote on what they’d like to see in the next version of MCE:
thegreenbutton.infopop.cc/6/ubb.x?a=tpc&s=9476092391&f=465604
2591&m=8246050043
Another great fan site is www.xpmce.com. This site, which was under development when we last visited it, has FAQs, download areas, forums, articles,
and more.
Although third-party downloads are available on both The Green Button and
XPMCE.com, third-party software is not directly supported by Microsoft. In
addition, if a program you install causes problems with your MCE, your MCE
PC vendor won’t be too helpful because you might have a maligned version
of the OS now. So, download these third-party programs at your own risk.
Yahoo! Music Videos
Yahoo! says it has the most videos on the Web at its Launch site (launch.
yahoo.com/), and we don’t doubt it. Pop, rock, electronic dance, R&B, you
name it, there’s something there for everyone. You can set up your own video
station made up of all your favorite videos (plus the ones Yahoo! thinks you’ll
like), and play them on your TV display. You want your MTV? You got it.
From your Internet Explorer browser, go to www.yahoo.com, and click the
Launch Music on Yahoo! link. You go directly to the Launch site.
If you click View Top 100 Videos, they begin playing automatically. When you
watch a video, you can rate it; your highly-rated videos are what populates your
video list in the Play My Video Station area. Your ratings also enable Yahoo! to
match you up with other songs based on other people’s similar ratings. This will
be a big hit at parties, where you can not only play the music but watch it, too.
NetFlix
We’re thrilled with the no-hassles NetFlix service. It’s simple: NetFlix subscribers can rent as many DVDs as they want, with three (or more) movies
out at a time. There are no due dates and no late fees. DVDs are delivered
directly to the subscriber’s address by first-class mail — with a postage-paid
return envelope — from shipping centers throughout the United States.
When you’re finished watching a movie, just drop it in your mailbox (using
Chapter 19: Ten Great Places to Visit with Your Media Center PC
that prepaid envelope), and when it arrives in NetFlix’s mailbox, it sends you
the next movie on your list (you maintain a queue of movies you want to rent
on the NetFlix site).
Pricing is fixed, based on how many you want to rent a month and how many
titles are out at a time:
$13.95: Four DVDs a month, two titles out at a time
$19.95: Unlimited DVDs, three titles out at a time
$29.95: Unlimited DVDs, five titles out at a time
$39.95: Unlimited DVDs, eight titles out at a time
NetFlix has more than 15,000 titles spanning 300 genres. Blockbuster and other
rental chains are launching similar services, but we’ve found NetFlix to be the
easiest.
MovieLink.com
Another way to watch movies is through a movies-on-demand service, which
you might be familiar with if you have a cable or satellite hookup. A new kid
in town is competing with the cable and satellite folks: a group of major
Hollywood studios and their Movielink Web site (www.movielink.com).
We didn’t get to see this in action before the book was printed, but we’ve
been told that Movielink will be part of Online Spotlight — so you can access
Movielink directly from the Media Center interface.
Movielink is an online movie download service that offers U.S. broadband
customers a decent selection of feature films including new releases, classics,
and foreign films. The service enables customers to rent movies for a limited
time on a per-movie (versus subscription) basis and legally download them
to their computer. Movielink generally offers new movies about 45 days after
the DVD release date, at the same time as other video-on-demand services.
You can view a trailer of any movie it has on the site for free, without downloading it.
After you download a movie from Movielink, you have 30 days to watch it —
after 30 days it self-destructs in Mission Impossible fashion. When you start
playing the movie, you have 24 hours in which to view it (and you can stop
and start it anytime within that period). This is far better than the traditional
pay-per-view on satellite channels. You can watch the movie as many times
as you like within this 24-hour period. Prices ranges from $2.95 to $4.99 per
movie.
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You can download a free two-minute preview from the Web site. The first time
you visit the site, you need to install Movielink Manager. Click Download Movie,
follow the on-screen installation prompts, and the movie begins to download
automatically. You can even pause and then resume the download if you want.
An average download (not the preview) takes about 80 minutes over a broadband connection. The average downloaded movie takes up 500MB to 600MB
on your PC.
To play the movie, simply double-click the Movielink Manager icon on your
desktop and select the Play Movie tab.
At the end of the 24-hour viewing period or rental period (whichever comes
first), Movielink deletes the file to restore your hard drive space, so you don’t
have to worry about doing it yourself. Movielink sends you an e-mail to remind
you of your last day to download and watch each movie.
Although it takes more than an hour to download a movie, this is a great
service. And an hour or so is not so bad, compared with the time it takes to
go to the rental store and back. In addition, you have tons of choices online.
So we say, “Two thumbs up!”
Shutterfly
In Chapter 11, we talk about getting pictures from your digital camera straight
into your Media Center PC. We also talk about the various ways you can scan
pictures and have your own slide show. Sometimes, however, you want someone else to do all the hard work for you. Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com)
is a Web-based photo service that expands the world of possibilities for you
and your camera.
After you upload pictures from your digital camera to Shutterfly or send in your
film to be developed by them, you can use Shutterfly’s online photo editing
tools to correct red eye, adjust the colors if they’re a bit off, crop the picture
to make sure your intended subject is the center of attention, and even attach
fun creative borders to make it extra special for the one you love. It’ll even
bind a personal picture album for you. Now that’s service!
Then, with the click of your mouse, you can order top-quality prints for yourself, friends, and family or share your online albums with anyone you choose.
Pricing is reasonable, but not as cheap as discount-store processing. But with
Shutterfly, you’re buying access to a range of services and flexibility.
Chapter 19: Ten Great Places to Visit with Your Media Center PC
When you put your pictures on the Shutterfly Web site, you can’t download
full-sized versions of them back onto your MCE PC. If you store your pictures
only on Shutterfly and then want your own digital copies of the pictures, you’ll
have to order a CD from Shutterfly. So you should keep your original files on a
Zip disk, CD-ROM, or other storage format as a backup unless you want to buy
Shutterfly-supplied CDs.
Atom Films
What better way to break in your new Media Center PC than to check some
content previously available only on PCs — and watch it on your TV set. Atom
Films, which was bought by Shockwave, specializes in creating and buying all
sorts of animated and live-action independent film shorts and making them
available on its site. You can find it at
atomfilms.shockwave.com/af/home/
Under each section, you can find the top five shorts for that genre. Be sure to
check out the comedy section. The most popular comedy when we visited was
“What’s Wrong With This Picture?” This live-action short of a 4-year-old boy
and his purple crayon stickman is universally funny.
To view these on your Media-Center-powered TV, simply surf to the Web site
and use your cursor to select the movies you want to watch. Windows Media
Player will launch automatically, and you can sit back and enjoy the films. Visit
this site — you’ll be glad you did.
Galleries Galore
One of the nice developments in the growth of the Internet has been the
degree to which artists all over the world have embraced the new distribution medium. We found a lot of galleries on the Web, including many that
showcase traditional art, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at
www.metmuseum.org, and those that display new computer-generated and
digital art, such as the International Digital Arts Awards site at www.
digitalart.org. If you find something you like, you can contact the artist
and see about getting a full-sized print for your home or office.
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Another neat site to visit is the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Virtual
Museum:
www.thinker.org/fam/about/imagebase/subpage.asp?subpagekey=76
You can create your own virtual gallery from the 82,000 images found in the
museum’s archives. Then have an opening and invite your friends to view
your selections.
Kodak’s Picture of the Day
You can find hundreds of other digital image sites. One of our favorites is
the Kodak Picture of the Day site. You can see amateur pictures at their best,
arranged in a neat matrix photoquilt:
picturespots.kodak.com/cgi-bin/potdQuiltAsCgi.pl?app=
photoquilt
You can’t help but smile when looking through these pictures. Now if they’d
only make them into a slide show, we’d be even happier!
Appendix
Connecting Your MCE PC to Your
Home-Entertainment System
S
etting up your Media Center PC entails a fair amount of discussion of
ports, cards, cables, amplifiers, connectors, and the like. But nothing
beats a picture.
In this appendix, we provide drawings of potential MCE setup configurations.
We show the most common entertainment gear — VCRs, cable and satellite
set-top boxes, receivers, monitors, and speakers — and how you would run
cables to and from this gear to your MCE PC, in different possible situations.
Your particular situation may be a combination of two diagrams. If so, follow
the appropriate parts of each diagram to accomplish your goal of setting up
your MCE PC so that it works perfectly.
When putting together a system, it’s easy to make a mistake. So make sure you
read the specific warnings and tips in Parts I and II pertaining to putting your
system together.
We present seven likely scenarios here, each in increasing order of complexity.
We start with just a TV set. Then we add a VCR, a set-top box (with different
types of cable connections), and a stereo system (with two-channel and 5.1
surround-sound connections).
Each scenario is presented in a before-and-after view — on facing pages — so
you can match your present situation as best as possible to the seven options,
and then plot your best course for connecting your MCE PC.
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Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Figure 1:
The most
basic
connection
— a single
coaxial
antenna or
signal cable
for the TV.
TV In
TV
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
TV In
MCE PC
TV Out
S-video or composite-video cable
TV In
Figure 2:
The MCE PC
sits in-line
between
the coaxial
wall jack
and the TV.
TV
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Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
Coaxial cable
TV In
Figure 3:
The VCR
sits in-line
between the
wall jack
and the TV.
TV
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Splitter In
1-to-2 splitter
Splitter Out
Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable
TV In
VCR Video In
MCE
PC
VCR Video Out
Coaxial cable
TV Video In
Figure 4:
The MCE PC
runs parallel
to the VCR
connection,
sharing the
inbound
signal.
TV Video In
TV
TV Audio In
TV Out
S-video or
composite-video cable
Analog audio (L/R) cable
Audio Out
301
302
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
Coaxial cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
Coaxial cable
Figure 5:
The set-top
box sends a
signal to the
VCR, which
in turn feeds
that signal
to the TV.
TV In
TV
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Remote sensor emitter cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
Splitter In
1-to-2 splitter
Splitter Out
Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable
TV In
IR Out
VCR Video In
MCE
PC
VCR Video Out
TV Out
Coaxial cable
Figure 6:
The MCE PC
sits parallel
to the VCR,
with an
IR emitter
cable
running
to the settop box.
TV Video In
TV Video In
TV
TV Audio In
S-video or
composite-video cable
Analog audio (L/R) cable
Audio Out
303
304
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
S-video or composite-video cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
S-video or composite-video cable
Figure 7:
The settop box
and VCR
with audio
and video
interconnect
cables.
TV Video In
TV
Set-top box/Satellite Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
VCR Audio In
VCR Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
TV Audio In
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Satellite or set-top box
supports multiple Video
Out interfaces
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Coaxial cable
Remote sensor emitter cable
Set-top box/Satellite
Audio and Video Out
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
S-video or compositevideo cable via adapter
Analog audio (L/R) cable
S-video or composite-video cable
Analog audio (L/R) cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
S-video In/
TV In
Audio In
IR Out
VCR Audio In
MCE
PC
VCR Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
S-video or composite-video cable
TV Out
S-video or composite-video cable
Figure 8:
The MCE PC
sits parallel
to the VCR,
with an
IR emitter
connection
to the settop box.
TV Video In
TV In on display would have
both S-video and composite,
one from MCE PC and one
from VCR
TV
Audio
In
TV
TV Video In
305
306
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Set-top box/Satellite Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
VCR Audio In
VCR Audio Out
Set-top box/Satellite
Video Out
S-video or compositevideo cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
S-video or compositevideo cable
Figure 9:
The set-top
box and
VCR are
connected
to the TV
and the
receiver
through
two-channel
cables.
Analog audio (L/R) cable
TV In
Audio In
Receiver
TV
Speakers
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Satellite or set-top box
supports multiple Video
Out interfaces
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Coaxial cable
Remote sensor emitter cable
Set-top box/Satellite
Audio and Video Out
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
S-video or compositevideo cable via adapter
S-video In/
TV In
Analog audio (L/R) cable
S-video or compositevideo cable
Analog audio (L/R) cable
VCR Video In
Audio In
IR Out
VCR Audio In
MCE
PC
VCR Video Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
S-video or compositevideo cable
Analog audio (L/R) cable or
digital audio (coax or optical)
cable
Figure 10:
The MCE
PC is
connected
parallel to
the VCR and
has links
to the TV
and stereo.
Audio In
TV In
Audio In
TV Out
S-video or compositevideo cable
TV In
Receiver
Speakers
Audio Out
TV
TV In connections on display
would have two S-video or composite
cable connections (for both), one from
MCE PC and one from VCR
307
308
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
Coaxial cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
Analog audio (L/R) or digital
audio (coax or optical) cable
Coaxial, S-video, or composite cable
Figure 11:
The set-top
box and VCR
connect to
the plasma
TV and
receiver
through
5.1-channel
cables.
Audio In
5.1 Digital
Surround-Sound Receiver
TV In
Plasma or other
high-resolution display
(LCD TV, or LCD projector)
Speakers
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Remote sensor emitter cable
Analog audio (L/R) or digital audio
(coax or optical) cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
Splitter In
1-to-2 splitter
Splitter Out
Depending on the capability
of the display, different cable
combinations are possible.
Audio In
Coaxial cable
IR Out
Coaxial cable
TV In
VCR Video In
MCE
PC
Analog audio (L/R) cable
VCR Video Out
Coaxial, S-video, or
composite cable
Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) or digital audio
(coax or optical) cable
Figure 12:
The MCE PC
is connected
parallel to
the VCR and
has links to
the TV and
stereo.
Audio In
Audio In
TV In
5.1 Digital
Surround-Sound Receiver
TV In
S-video, VGA, or DVI
(preferred) video cable
Plasma or other
high-resolution display
(LCD TV, or LCD projector)
Speakers
TV
Out
309
310
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Before
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable
VCR Audio In
VCR Audio Out
S-video or compositevideo cable
VCR Video In
VCR Video Out
S-video or compositevideo cable
Analog audio (L/R) cable
Figure 13:
The VCR, TV,
and receiver
before
you add
a second
computer
display.
TV In
Audio In
Receiver
Speakers
TV
Appendix: Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System
After
TV In on display would have
both S-video and composite,
one from MCE PC and one
from VCR
Wall
Coaxial wall jack
Coaxial cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video In
Remote sensor emitter cable
Analog audio (L/R) or digital audio
(coax or optical) cable
Set-top box/Satellite Video Out
Splitter In
1-to-2 splitter
Splitter Out
Audio In
Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable
TV In
IR Out
VCR Video In
MCE
PC
VCR Video Out
Coaxial cable
Audio Out
Analog audio (L/R) cable or digital audio
(coax or optical) cable via adapter
S-video or composite-video cable
Audio In
TV In
TV In
Receiver
Figure 14:
The MCE PC
with two
displays: the
TV and the
PC monitor.
TV Out
DVI or
DVI-to-VGA
adapter
DVI or
VGA
cable
Speakers
TV
PC
Monitor
311
312
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Index
Numerics
2.1 system, 73
5.1 digital surround sound
audio cards and, 33
hooking up system with, 308–309
on TV, support for, 28
overview of, 73
6-in-1 card reader
as bundled component, 45
buying, 267–268
Other Media folder and, 192
overview of, 30
powering down system and, 112
10BaseT Ethernet, 244, 246
10-foot experience, 101
16:9 TV
support for, 10
VGA connection and, 30
24-bit sampling, 34
96 kHz sampling, 34
100BaseT Ethernet, 244
802.11 standards, 252–255, 257–258
1000BaseT Ethernet, 244
•A•
access point, 252, 255, 259
accessories, recommended
Bluetooth wireless networking system,
270–271
digital camera, 266–267
digital scanner, 267
games, 276
infrastructure, 277
movie making, 274–276
outdoor theater, 271–274, 275
6-in-1 card reader, 267–268
upgraded remote control, 268–270
activating software, 98
active loudspeaker, 73
adapter
Bluetooth, 271
Linksys Wireless Digital Media, 274
PCI card, 256
power, 53
S-video-to-composite, 70
USB external, 256
wireless network, 252, 255–256
ADC (analog-to-digital converter), 166
adding user, 122
add-ins
MCE Sleep Timer, 236
MCE WebGuide (Show & Tell), 229–233
Microsoft PowerToys, 235
My Weather, 234
overview of, 227–228
Record TV Button, 236
administrator privileges, 122, 123
ADSL (Asymmetric DSL), 85–86
Alienware (PC manufacturer), 37
always-on connection, 88
analog audio interconnect, 56
analog connection, 43, 63
analog video camera, 214. See also
camcorder
analog video interconnect, 61
analog-to-digital converter (ADC), 166
antenna, FM, connecting, 80
AOL, high-speed Internet access
through, 89
appearance of PC, 37–38
Appearance settings, 124–125
Appearance tab (Display Properties
dialog box), 120
Apple Computer, 29–30, 64
arrow buttons (remote control), 100, 102
artifact, 62
314
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Asymmetric DSL (ADSL), 85–86
Athlon XP processor, 32
ATI
AIW 9000 tuner card, 43
Radeon cards, 33
Atom Films, 295
attachment, e-mailing video as, 223
attenuation, 57
audio
configuring setup, 75
home system, connecting to, 22, 43
interconnects and connectors, 56–59
storing, 39–40
television, customizing, 145–146
audio buttons (remote control), 102–103
audio card, 26, 33–34
Audio option (DVD Settings screen), 204,
205–206
audio system, connecting to, 22, 43
audio track of DVD, 201
Audio track option (DVD Language Settings
screen), 204, 205
Audioquest (cable supplier), 57
AudioRequest music server, 248
authors’ e-mail address, 6
Auto Playlists, 181
Autoplay settings
customizing, 127
DVD and, 203
Auto-Standby option, 112
AVIA, Guide to Home Theater (Ovation
Software), 108
•B•
Back button (remote control), 13, 102
backbone, whole-home wired and
wireless, 242
background color for slide show, 190
Background color option, 125
backward compatibility, 29, 253–254
banana plug, 60
bandwidth and file size, 242–243
base station, 252
beta software, 224
big-screen TV, connecting to, 22
black level, 106
blue filter, 109
Bluetooth wireless networking system,
270–271
bridge, 255, 256–257, 273–274
Briere, Danny
Home Theater For Dummies, 46, 55, 274
Smart Homes For Dummies, 22, 241
Wireless Home Networking For
Dummies, 22
brightness control, 106
broadband Internet connection
online content and, 21
overview of, 82
as recommended, 277
router and, 249
setting up, 93
Broadband Reports Web site, 91
buffer, 182
burn-in, 119–120
buttons on mouse, customizing, 115
Buyer’s Guides site, 48
buying. See also buying MCE PC; shopping
Bluetooth adapter, 271
camcorder, 274–275
digital camera, 186, 266
hard drive, 39–42
router, 250
6-in-1 card reader, 267–268
video card, 43
wireless network equipment, 257–259
buying MCE PC
appearance, 37–38
components, bundled, 44–46
hard drive, 39–42
interface, 42–44
on-site maintenance, 47–48
price, 48
processor, 38–39
shopping for, 48
support, 47
vendors, 22–23, 35–36
warranty, 47
Index
•C•
cable
audio interconnects and connectors,
56–59
coaxial, 57, 58
IR-sensor control, 79
network, 244
organizing, 78
for setup, 52
speaker, 59–61
types of, 55
VCR to MCE PC, 68
cable modem connection
overview of, 89–90
provider, choosing, 90–91
calibrating display
adjustment settings, 106–107
Display Calibration Wizard, 107–108
overview of, 105–106
third-party programs, 108–109
Caller ID feature, 99, 127
camcorder. See also video
analog image, downloading to PC,
219–220
buying, 274–275
connecting to PC, 212
digital image, downloading to PC, 217–219
as digital still camera, 266
formats, 214
video, downloading to, 224
camera, digital
buying, 186, 266
connecting to wireless network, 261
camera, digital video. See camcorder
camera phone, 191, 267
caption options, 145
Capture Wizard (Movie Maker 2), 216
capturing video
analog camera image to PC, 219–220
digital camera image to PC, 217–219
from Webcam, 215, 220
Windows Movie Maker and, 216
Carrier-Sense Multiple Access with
Collision Detection (CSMA/CD)
protocol, 247
CAT-5e wire, 243, 251
CBR (constant bit rate), 167
CCD (charge-coupled device), 188
CD
copying, 175
copying codec, setting, 169–170
copying video to, 224
information, displaying, 173–175
making Media Center default program for
playing, 133–134
playing, 173
recording to hard drive, 10
video, 162
CD drive, 26
central node, 246
central processing unit (CPU), 32
CGMS-A (Copy Generation Management
System–Analog), 160
channel
changing, 153
removing from and adding to Guide,
144–145
chapter, 207
chapter point, 225
charge-coupled device (CCD), 188
check box, 124
CH/PG button (remote control), 102, 153
chrominance, 61
Clear button (remote control), 103
ClearType system for LCD monitor, 120
CLEC, 87
ClickLock option, 115
client, 280
clock speed, processor, 32, 38–39
clock time, synchronizing, 147
cloning display, 71–72
CNET site, 48, 85, 214, 266
coaxial cable, 57, 58
codec
overview of, 166–167
setting CD copying, 169–170
video/DVD, 226
color control, 106
color quality settings, 121
compatibility issues. See also backward
compatibility
audio interface card, 46
DVD-creation software, 226
315
316
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
compatibility issues (continued)
peripherals, 77
wireless LAN, 253–255
components
bundled, 44–46
network, 243–244, 247
unpacking, 51–52
wireless network, 255–257
component-video connection, 61–62
composite-video connection, 30, 61–62, 212
compression
JPEG file and, 187
overview of, 166–167
computer-based music. See My Music
module
computer-oriented active speakers, 44
configuring
audio, 75
DVD playback preferences, 203–207
Internet connection, 92–96
My Music, 169–172
My Pictures, 188–191
My TV, 137–146
network, 247–248
outdoor theater, 271–274, 275
remote control, 131
WebGuide, 232–233
Conflict screen, 156, 157
connections. See also Internet connection
always-on, 88
analog, 43, 63
audio, 56–59
camcorder to PC, 212
digital, 43
Digital Visual Interface (DVI), 33, 64–65
enabled, 55
to monitor, 69–70
networked devices, 242
overview of, 28–31
peripherals to wireless network, 260–261
planning, 67–69
RJ-45, 244
with satellite, VCR, and TV, 302–305
with second computer display, 310–311
speaker, 59–61
with speakers, satellite, VCR, and TV,
306–309
to TV, 298–299
types of, 55
VCR, 67–68, 215
with VCR and TV, 300–301
VGA (Video Graphics Array), 30, 63
video, 61–65
Webcam to PC, 213–215
connectors needed for setup, 53
constant bit rate (CBR), 167
Content Directory Services, 281–282
contrast ratio, 106
convergence, definition of, 1
Copy Generation Management
System–Analog (CGMS-A), 160
copy protection, 64–65
copying
CD, 175
video to CD or DVD, 224
correcting picture, 197–199
country setting, 105
Covad Communications, 87
CPU (central processing unit), 32
Creative Labs SoundBlaster Audigy2, 33,
44, 74
CSMA/CD (Carrier-Sense Multiple Access
with Collision Detection) protocol, 247
customizing interface
Appearance settings, 124–125
Autoplay settings, 127
desktop and monitor, 118–121
General Media Center settings, 121–123
keyboard, 117–118
mouse, 114–116
Notifications, 126–127
overview of, 113
Parental control option, 128–129, 138
Privacy settings, 131–133
Program Guide, 144–145
Set up Internet connection, 129–131
sound preferences, 126
TV audio, 145–146
XP preferences, 114–121
Index
•D•
DB-15 connector, 63
decompression, 166
default for playing audio, making Media
Center, 133–134
defined storage, 39
derived signal, 73
desktop controls toolbar, 99
desktop, customizing, 118–121
Desktop tab (Display Properties
ialog box), 119
Details button (remote control), 102
DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration
Protocol), 82–83, 249
dial-up connection
advantages and disadvantages of, 83–84
overview of, 81–82
router and, 249
setting up, 93
digital audio interconnect, 58–59
digital audio output, 28, 43
digital camera
buying, 186, 266
connecting to wireless network, 261
Digital Camera Resource Page site, 266
digital connection, 43
digital graphic formats, 187
digital music formats
CD audio and WAV, 169
MP3, 168
overview of, 166–167
Windows Media Audio (WMA), 167–168
Digital Out connection, 30
digital photography. See also digital
camera; My Pictures module
basics of, 186–188
camera phone and, 191
printing and, 200–201
Digital Photography Review site, 266
Digital Rights Management (DRM), 132
digital scanner, 267
Digital Subscriber Line connection.
See DSL connection
digital video (DV) camera. See camcorder
digital video interconnect, 63–65
Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connection,
33, 64–65
Digital8 format, 214
direct access buttons (remote control), 102
director comments on DVD, 201
DIRECWAY (satellite Internet service), 91
disk allocation settings, 140
display, calibrating
adjustment settings, 106–107
Display Calibration Wizard, 107–108
overview of, 105–106
third-party programs, 108–109
Display Calibration Wizard, 107–108, 146
Display Properties dialog box, 118–121
displaying DVD menu, 210
D-Link DCS-1000 (Webcam), 213, 261
DNS (Domain Name System), 82
Do Not Call list, 127
Dolby Digital, 163, 225
Domain Name System (DNS), 82
double-click speed, setting, 115
downloading. See also capturing video
image from camcorder, 212, 217–220
movie from Movielink site, 294
movie from VCR, 215
picture, 192–195
PowerToy (Microsoft), 235
Program Guide, 104–105, 129–131
video to DV camera, 224
WebGuide (Show & Tell), 231
downstream speed, 86
drive-in theater, setting up, 271–274, 275
driver software, 215, 260
DRM (Digital Rights Management), 132
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection
always-on, 88
filtering out noise, 86
overview of, 85–86
pieces and parts for, 86–87
provider, choosing, 87–88
DV (digital video) camera. See camcorder
DV Capture in Progress screen (Movie
Maker), 218
317
318
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
DVD
controlling with remote control, 209
copying video to, 224
making, 224–226
making Media Center default program
for playing, 133–134
menu options, 210
Parental controls and, 208, 209
Play DVD module, 20–21
playback preferences, setting, 203–207
playing, 203, 207–209
saving recorded program to, 161–163
storing, 41
DVD drive, 26
DVD Language Settings screen, 204, 205
DVD menu button (remote control),
102, 210
DVD recorder, 275–276
DVD Settings screen, 204
DVD-Audio (DVD-A), 285
DVD-burning application, 161–163, 225
DVI (Digital Visual Interface) connection,
33, 64–65
dynamic DNS service, 231
Dynamic DNS Services (IP address
translation), 231
Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol
(DHCP), 82–83, 249
dynamic IP address, 83
dynamic storage, 39
DynIP Software (IP address translation), 231
•E•
Earthlink ISP, 91
Easter eggs, 210
Edit Guide Listings screen, 144
editing
in Movie Maker 2, 216
picture, 197–199
tag in Windows Media Player, 181
video, 211, 220–221
802.11 standards, 252–255, 257–258
electric power lines, using for network, 262
e-mail address of authors, 6
e-mailing video as attachment, 223
encoder, hardware or software, 27
Enter button (remote control), 103
entertainment center-oriented speakers, 44
entertainment device, PC as, 26–27
Ethernet. See also Ethernet port
CSMA/CD protocol and, 247
options, 244–245
overview of, 31, 243–244
switches and hubs, 245–246, 247
Ethernet card, 22
Ethernet port
cable modem and, 90
DSL modem and, 86–87
network and, 27
wireless Ethernet bridge and, 257
expansion slot, 26–27
external USB hub, 29, 44
•F•
FAQ sites, 290–291
fast-forwarding live TV, 154
fiber to the home (FTTH), 92
file. See also organizing; sorting
digital music formats, 166–169
digital picture formats, 187
picture, moving, 195–196
removing from Media Library, 177–179
searching for outside Media Library,
179–180
size of and bandwidth, 242–243
streaming music, 176
streaming video, 253
transferring from old to new machine,
109–111
file server, 180
File➪Capture Video (Movie Maker), 217
Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, 109–111
film scanner, 267
film-scanning service, 188, 267
filter. See also Parental control option
blue, 109
low-pass, 86
filtering
DSL noise, 86
Program Guide, 150
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Virtual Museum Web site, 296
Index
firewall system
enabling, 96
router and, 250
time synchronization and, 147
FireWire (IEEE 1394)
HDTV and, 64
overview of, 29–30
Webcam and, 214
FireWire port, 212, 214
5.1 digital surround sound
audio cards and, 33
hooking up system with, 308–309
overview of, 73
on TV, support for, 28
five-way binding post, 60–61
flat-bed scanner, 267
FM antenna, connecting, 80
FM radio. See Radio module
FM Radio capability, 43
FM transmitter, 275
folders
My Pictures, 188, 192
My Videos, 222
Other Media, 192, 222
Recorded TV, 229
recorded_tv_share (WebGuide), 232
Shared Pictures, 192
Shared Videos, 222, 223
subfolder, creating, 223
formats
camcorder, 214
digital graphic, 187
digital music, 166–169
DVD recording, 276
optical music, 285
video file, 216
frequency
of FM transmitter, 275
of radio station, entering, 182
of wireless LAN network, 253
front-panel interface, 44
FTTH (fiber to the home), 92
full-screen mode, switching to, 101
future features
audio, improved, 284–285
case design, 286
gaming support, 282–283
multituner, 280–281
network content support, 282
portable device support, 285–286
recommendations for, 14
remote content and server support,
281–282
remote control design, 287
video and HDTV support, 283–284
wireless connectivity between TV and
other device, 280
FWD button (remote control)
DVD and, 209
live TV and, 154
overview of, 103
video and, 222
•G•
game programs, 229, 276
Gateway
Accidental Damage Protection plan, 47
Media Center FAQ site, 291
Media Center PC with plasma TV, 48
support line, 47
gauge, 59
Gem Master (game), 229
General Settings window, 123
Grannick’s Bitter Apple spray, 78
graphic formats, 187
graphical user interface. See interface
graphics card, 26. See also video card
graphics engine, 33
Green Button Web site, 101, 227, 291
Guide. See Program Guide
Guide button (remote control), 102, 153
Gyration Media Center remote control, 269
•H•
hard drive
adding, 41
buying, 39–42
high-capacity, 26
keeping programs on, 142, 161
price of, 42
319
320
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
hard drive (continued)
recording CDs to, 10
recording settings for, 140
recording TV shows on, 14–15
rpm of, 42
storing videos on, 19
hard drive expansion slot, 26
hardware encoder, 27
hardware setup, Media Center Edition
(MCE) PC, 3, 11
Harmony programmable remote
control, 269
HDCP (High Definition Copy Protection), 65
HDTV
description of, 283–284
DVI and, 64–65
FireWire and, 64
headphone, connecting, 76
Hibernate mode, 111–112
highlighting, 100
HighMAT (High-Performance Media Access
Technology), 285–286
HighMAT player, 127
home audio system, connecting to, 22, 43
home network. See network
Home Theater For Dummies (Danny Briere
and Pat Hurley), 46, 55, 274
Home Theater Tune-up (Sound and Vision),
108–109
home video. See video
HomePlug, 262
HomePNA, 262
home-theater calibration disc, 108–109
home-theater, outdoor, setting up,
271–274, 275
hooking up system
FM antenna, 80
infrared device, 79
monitor, 69–70
peripherals, 76–77
planning connections, 67–69
with satellite, VCR, and TV, 302–305
with second computer display, 310–311
with speakers, satellite, VCR, and TV,
306–309
speakers, tying in, 73–76
telephone line or network, 78–79
TV, 70–72, 298–299
TV signal source, 72–73
with VCR and TV, 300–301
host name, 82
HP
Accessory Bundle, 44–45
Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 speakers, 45–46
Media Center FAQ site, 291
HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
file, 249
hub
home PC as, 25
twisted-pair Ethernet network and, 245
Hurley, Pat
Home Theater For Dummies, 46, 55, 274
Smart Homes For Dummies, 22, 241
Wireless Home Networking For
Dummies, 22
HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
file, 249
hyperthreading, 39
•I•
iBUYPOWER warranty, 47
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic
Engineers), 29
IEEE 1394 (FireWire)
HDTV and, 64
overview of, 29–30
Webcam and, 214
IEEE 1394 port, 212, 214
IIS (Internet Information Services), 229–230
i.LINK port, 212, 214
InFocus SP-4800 projector, 271
infrared device, connecting, 79
infrared sensor, remote, 27
inset window, 99
installing. See also hooking up system
add-ins, 228
driver software, 215, 260
DSL or cable modem, 93
HomePNA, 262
Internet Information Services, 229–232
PowerToy (Microsoft), 235
Index
Institute of Electrical and Electronic
Engineers (IEEE), 29
Intel Pentium 4 processor
description of, 32
hyperthreading and, 39
interconnect, 56
interface. See also customizing interface
keyboard shortcut buttons, 104
leaving quickly, 105
minimum capability, 42–44
overview of, 11, 12–13, 98
shortcut buttons on front of PC, 104
Start menu, 98–100
International Digital Arts Awards Web site,
295–296
Internet Call Waiting service, 84
Internet connection
broadband, 21, 82, 277
cable modem, 89–91
dial-up, 81–82, 83–84, 249
DSL, 85–88
electrical utility (powerline) service, 92
fiber to the home, 92
network and, 248–250
satellite, 84, 91
setting up, 92–96
types of, 81–82
wireless, 91
Internet Explorer, opening, 96
The Internet For Dummies (John Levine
et al.), 96
Internet, getting music over, 176–177
Internet Information Services (IIS), 229–230
Internet radio, 261
Internet Service Provider. See ISP
Internet Time capability, 147
interoperability, 254–255
InterVideo WinDVD Creator, 225
inventory list, 51–53
in-wall data wiring, 243
IP address, 82, 83, 231, 248
IR (infrared) device, connecting, 79
ISP (Internet Service Provider)
cable modem and, 90–91
choosing, 84–85, 88
DSL and, 88
home-network routers and, 250
national, 85
wireless, 92
•J•
Jensen Matrix Internet Audio
Transmitter, 273
JPEG (Joint Picture Experts Group) file, 187
•K•
Kazaa (online music download system), 16
keyboard
customizing, 117–118
wireless, 69
Keyboard Properties dialog box, 117
Kimber (cable supplier), 57
Klipsch Promedia 5.1 speaker system, 74
Kodak’s Picture of the Day Web site, 296
•L•
LAN (local area network). See also LAN,
wireless
components of, 243–244, 247
configuring, 247–248
connecting to, 22
dial-up connection and, 84
DIRECWAY and, 91
finding music on, 180
integrating wireless with wired, 259–260
Internet, getting date to and from,
248–250
IP address and, 231
ISP that supports, 88
overview of, 241–243, 251
sharing video and, 223–224
viewing recorded show over, 229
LAN, wireless
Bluetooth system, 270–271
choosing equipment for, 257–259
components of, 255–257
connecting peripherals to, 260–261
home-network router and, 250
integrating with wired network, 259–260
321
322
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
LAN, wireless (continued)
overview of, 251–252
technology for, 254
Language option (DVD Settings screen), 204
laptop, 37–38
latency, 91
launching
Internet Explorer, 96
Media Center, 98
My TV, 138
My Videos, 221
My Weather, 234
Program Guide, 147
Windows Movie Maker 2, 217
Levine, John, The Internet For Dummies, 96
limited account, 122
Line Out connection, 30
Linksys Wireless Digital Media Adapter, 274
list price, 38
Listen.com, 177
Live TV button (remote control), 102, 152
local area network. See LAN; LAN, wireless
locating MCE PC, 54
Logitech
QuickCam Pro 4000, 213
Z-680 speaker system, 74
lossless compression, 167
lossy compression, 167, 187
low-pass filter, 86
luminance, 61
•M•
macro, 269
maintenance, on-site, 47–48
Manual Record screen, 157–158
Matsushita (Panasonic), 127
MCE PC. See buying MCE PC; Media Center
Edition PC
MCE Sleep Timer, 236
Media 9
DRM functionality of, 132
Windows Media Audio (WMA) and,
167–168
Media Center Edition (MCE) PC. See also
buying MCE PC
connections on back of, 28–31
as entertainment device, 26–27
future functions and features, 14, 280–287
hardware setup for, 3, 11
as hub, 25
locating, 54
new features of, 10
overview of, 9–12
Media Center interface. See interface
Media Center Setup Wizard, 104–105
Media Library
Advanced Tag Editor, 181
finding music on home network, 180
removing file from, 177–179
searching for file outside, 179–180
media playback buttons (remote
control), 103
media playback toolbar, 99
Media Player 9
CGMS-A, 160
overview of, 18
sharing video and, 223–224
storing audio on hard drive and, 39–40
Web site, 168
media server, 22
Media Transport Protocol (MTP), 285
megabyte, 166
megapixels, 187
memory
overview of, 26
video card and, 43
memory card, 268
memory expansion slot, 27
menu item, selecting, 12
Menu option (DVD Language Settings
screen), 204, 205
menu, scrolling long, 100, 101
Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site, 295
microphone, connecting, 76
Microsoft. See also Media Player 9;
Windows Movie Maker 2
Compatibility Web site, 77
HighMAT, 127
Internet Information Services, 229–230
MCE home page, 23, 290
MCE manufacturer list, 36
Media 9, 132, 167–168
Media Transport Protocol, 285
.NET 1.1 platform, 231
Optical Desktop kit, 271
Index
Outlook Express, 290
plug-and-play, 76–77
PowerToys, 235
third-party software and, 292
Universal Audio Architecture, 285
Windows operating system, 9
Windows Update, 228, 238
Windows XP Service Pack 1 Update, 160
Mini ’03 Cooper S Web site, 227
MiniDV format, 214
minimizing window, 99, 105, 152
miniplug connector, 57
minus button, 125
modem. See also Internet connection
cable modem connection, 89–91
router and, 249–250
wireless DSL/cable modem router, 259
monitor
connecting to, 69–70
customizing, 118–121
television as, 121
Monster Cable
cabling, 57
Home Theater Power Center, 54
Powerbar, 54
surge suppressor, 277
More Info button (remote control)
live TV and, 153
overview of, 102
Program Guide and, 149
video and, 223
More Programs menu, 228–229
mouse
customizing, 114–116
wireless, 69
Mouse Properties dialog box, 114, 115, 116
movie. See DVD; VCR connection; video
Movie Maker 2. See Windows Movie Maker 2
Movie Tasks➪Capture from Video Device
(Movie Maker), 217
Movielink site, 82, 293–294
moving picture file, 195–196
MP3, 168
MTP (Media Transport Protocol), 285
music. See also music formats; My Music
module
finding on home network, 180
getting into MCE PC, 172–177
My Pictures module and, 189
optical music formats, 285
organizing, 177–180
sampling, 34, 166
streaming file, 176
music formats
CD audio and WAV, 169
MP3, 168
overview of, 166–167
Windows Media Audio (WMA), 167–168
mute button (remote control), 102
My Computer window, 133–134
My Music button, 102
My Music module
CD copying codec, setting, 169–170
getting music into, 172–177
organizing music, 177–180
overview of, 16–18, 165
playing music, 180–181
remote control and, 181
setting up, 169–172
sorting music, 180–181
visualization, 171–172
XP and, 165–166
My Pictures button, 102
My Pictures folder, 188, 192
My Pictures module
camera phone and, 191
correcting picture, 197–199
digital photography basics, 186–188
getting pictures into, 192–195
moving file, 195–196
music and, 189
organizing pictures, 196–197
overview of, 18–19, 185
printing and, 200–201
setting up, 188–191
slide show, running, 199–200
My Pictures screen, 188, 189
My Pictures Settings screen, 188, 190
My TV button, 102
My TV module. See also Program Guide
audio options, 145–146
Conflict screen, 156
controlling live TV, 153–154
defined storage and, 39
main window, 139
overview of, 14–15
323
324
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
My TV module (continued)
rating limits for, setting, 138
recording options, 139–143
recording TV shows, 154–159
Search page, 151–152
setting up, 137–146
starting Display Calibration Wizard
from, 146
watching recorded show, 159–161
My Videos button, 102
My Videos folder, 222
My Videos module
files and, 222
launching, 221
menu options, 222
overview of, 19–20
My Videos screen, 221
My Weather, 234
MyDVD (Sonic), 162, 224–226
•N•
Napster (online music download system),
16, 176
NAT (Network Address Translation), 249
navigating
in Media Center, 100–101
Program Guide, 148–149
navigation buttons (remote control), 102
.NET 1.1 platform, 231
NetFlix Web site, 292
NETGEAR MA111, 256, 257
network. See also wireless network
components of, 243–244, 247
configuring, 247–248
connecting to, 22
dial-up connection and, 84
DIRECWAY and, 91
finding music on, 180
integrating wireless with wired, 259–260
Internet, getting date to and from,
248–250
IP address and, 231
ISP that supports, 88
overview of, 241–243, 251
sharing video and, 223–224
viewing recorded show over, 229
Network Address Translation (NAT), 249
network interface card (NIC), 244
network protocol, 243–244
network-enabled Webcam, 213
Nevo software (UEI), 269–270
New Connection Wizard, 93–96
New➪Folder, 223
newsgroup, 290
NIC (network interface card), 244
96 kHz sampling, 34
Notifications Settings window, 126–127
Now Playing window, 99
numeric keypad (remote control), 103
NVIDIA GeForce video cards, 33, 43
•O•
OK button (remote control), 100–101, 102
100BaseT Ethernet, 244
1000BaseT Ethernet, 244
online, getting music, 176–177
Online Spotlight module
Napster and, 176
overview of, 10, 21–22, 282, 289
opening
box of components, 51–52
Internet Explorer, 96
Media Center, 98
My TV, 138
My Videos, 221
My Weather, 234
Program Guide, 147
Windows Movie Maker 2, 217
Opening the Xbox (Dean Takahashi), 283
optical drive expansion slot, 26
optical music formats, 285
optical zoom, 186
Options dialog box (Media Player), 169–170
organizing
cable, 78
music, 177–180
pictures, 196–197
video files, 223
Index
Other Media folder, 192, 222
Otto (game), 229
outdoor theater, setting up, 271–274, 275
Outlook Express, 290
•P•
packet, 245
packing materials, 52
Panasonic (Matsushita Electric Company),
285–286
panning picture, 18
Parental control option
DVD and, 208, 209
TV and, 128–129, 138
passive loudspeaker, 73
patch cable, 247
patch panel, 246
Pause button (remote control)
DVD and, 209
live TV and, 154
overview of, 103
pausing live TV, 154
PC. See Media Center Edition (MCE) PC
PC card, 256
PCI Card adapter, 256
PCI expansion slot, 26
peer-to-peer file sharing, 176
peer-to-peer wireless network, 255
Pentium 4 processor (Intel)
description of, 32
hyperthreading and, 39
peripheral, connecting, 76–77, 260–261
personal video recorder, 14–15, 159
pet, keeping away from cable, 78
Philips
Pronto product line, 269
Streamium, 261
phone
camera, 191, 267
cordless, 261
phone call notification, 99
phone company
Caller ID feature, 99, 127
dial-up service from, 85
DSL service from, 87–88
phone line
connecting to, 78–79
using for network, 262
photo. See also My Pictures module
management of, 10
printing, 200–201
storing, 41–52
Web sites for, 295–296
Picture Details menu, 198, 201
pin connector, 59
pixel, 186–187
planning connections, 67–69
PLAY button (remote control)
DVD and, 209
live TV and, 154
overview of, 103
Play DVD module, 20–21
playing
DVD, 207–209
music, 181
recorded TV show, 159–161
video, 221–223
playlist, 181
plug-and-play, 76–77
plus button, 125
Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet
(PPPoE), 88
pointer, customizing, 115–116
port, 42, 245
portable devices, 285–286
power adapter, 53
power conditioner, 54
power management settings, checking, 112
powering down system, 111–112
powerline service, 92
PowerToy (Microsoft), 235
PPPoE (Point to Point Protocol over
Ethernet), 88
preferences, saving, 125
preferences, setting
Appearance, 124–125
DVD playback, 203–207
general, 121–123
overview of, 11
power management, 112
XP, 114–121
325
326
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
preset station, 183
previewing video, 216
PrimeTime (Sonic), 161–163, 224, 236
print server, 261
printer, connecting to wireless network,
260–261
printing picture, 200–201
Privacy settings, 131–133
private IP address, 248
privileges, administrator, 122, 123
processor
in MCE PC, 26
speed of, 37, 38–39
types of, 31–32
Web site, 39
program dependency, 110
Program Guide
customizing, 144–145
downloading, 104–105, 129–131
filtering, 150
navigating, 148–149
opening, 147
overview of, 146, 148
recording show from, 155–156
searching, 151–152
sections of, 147–148
Program remote buttons for DVD option
(DVD Settings screen), 206–207
programmable remote control, 269
proper way, 245
proxy server, 250
psychoacoustics, 167
public IP address, 248
punchdown block, 246
PVR (personal video recorder), 14–15, 159
•R•
radio button, 124
radio content, storing, 40–41
Radio module, 15–16, 182–183
radio tuner card, 28
radio tuner interface, 10
Ramsey Electronics FM transmitter, 275
Rathbone, Andy, Windows XP For
Dummies, 2
RAW format, 187
RCA jack, 56
RCA Model RD 900W Lyra Wireless
device, 273
rebooting, 111, 112
REC button (remote control), 103, 158
Record Industry Association of America
(RIAA), 176
Record TV Button, 236
Recorded TV folder, 229
Recorder Settings screen, 139, 140
recording
CD to hard drive, 10
Conflict screen, 156
DVD, 275–276
manual setup, 157–158
saving program to DVD, 161–163
series, 143, 159
TV show, 154–157
TV show on hard drive, 14–15, 112
viewing, 159–161
while watching TV, 153
Recording Defaults screen, 141–143
remote control. See also specific buttons
arrow buttons, 100
Back button, 13
DVD and, 209
DVD menu, displaying, 210
DVD options, setting, 206–207
green button, 101
interface and, 12
My Music module and, 181
OK button, 100–101
Online Spotlight module and, 21
ordering extra, 103
overview of, 11–12, 27, 101–103
performing actions on, 2
printing and, 201
setting up, 131
10-foot experience, 101
universal, 287
upgrading, 268–270
Index
remote sensor, 79
removing
file from Media Library, 177–179
program from More Programs menu
list, 228
Replay button (remote control), 103, 222
resolution
connecting to TV and, 70–71
digital picture, 187
digital scanner and, 267
digital video camera and, 274
HDTV video, 284
setting, 120
resource share, 232
response speed of keyboard, 117–118
restore point, 236–237
reverting to prior point in time, 236–238
REW button (remote control)
DVD and, 209
live TV and, 154
overview of, 103
video and, 222
rewinding live TV, 153
Rhapsody Music Service, 16
RIAA (Record Industry Association of
America), 176
RJ-45 connector, 244
router, 245–246, 248–250, 255
Roxio (online music download system), 176
rpm of hard drive, 42
•S•
SACD (Super Audio CD), 285
sampling, 34, 166
sampling precision, 166
sampling rate, 166
Sanyo SCP-5300 camera phone, 191
SAP (Secondary Audio Program), 145
satellite Internet service, 84, 91
saving
preferences, 125
recorded program to DVD, 161–163
Scanner and Camera Wizard, 192–195
scanner, digital, 267
scanning
analog picture, 188, 192–195
radio stations, 183
scheduling TV recording, priorities for, 10
screen, outdoor, 272
Screen Saver tab (Display Properties
dialog box), 119–120
scroll wheel of mouse, 116
scrolling
long menu, 100, 101
through pictures, 199
searching
for file outside Media Library, 179–180
Program Guide, 151–152
for show to record, 156
Secondary Audio Program (SAP), 145
Select a Restore Point window, 237
select, definition of, 2, 113
selecting
menu item, 12
overview of, 100
subitem, 13
series recording, 143, 159
server, 242
Set up Internet connection window,
129–131
setting up
audio, 75
DVD playback preferences, 203–207
Internet connection, 92–96
My Music, 169–172
My Pictures, 188–191
My TV, 137–146
network, 247–248
outdoor theater, 271–274, 275
remote control, 131
WebGuide, 232–233
settings
Appearance, 124–125
double-click speed, 115
General Media Center preferences,
121–123
reconfiguring, 236–238
resolution, 120
transferring from old to new machine,
109–111
XP preferences, 114–121
327
328
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Settings screen (My Music module),
171, 172
Settings tab (Display Properties
dialog box), 120–121
Settings window, 121, 122, 133–134
Settings➪TV, 104
Settings➪TV➪Guide➪Get Guide Data, 105
Shared Pictures folder, 192
shared resource, 242
Shared Videos folder, 222, 223
sharing
Internet connection, 250
recorded file, 160
recorded_tv_share folder (WebGuide), 232
video, 223–224
sharpness control, 106
shielded jacket, 57
shopping. See also buying
for PC, 48
for wireless LAN, 258–259
short run, 56
shortcut buttons, 104
shortcut to Shared Videos folder, 222
Show & Tell MCE WebGuide
configuring, 232–233
downloading, 231
Internet Information Services and,
229–232
.NET 1.1 platform and, 231
overview of, 229
using, 233
Shutterfly (film-scanning service), 188, 201,
294–295
6-in-1 card reader
as bundled component, 45
buying, 267–268
Other Media folder and, 192
overview of, 30
powering down system and, 112
16:9 TV
support for, 10
VGA connection and, 30
Skip button (remote control)
overview of, 103
recorded show and, 161
video and, 222
sleep timer, 236
slide scanner, 267
slide show
creating, 188–189
MyDVD and, 225
running, 199–200
Smart Homes For Dummies (Danny Briere
and Pat Hurley), 22, 241
SMC Networks EZ-Stream products, 274
software
activating, 98
beta, 224
calibration, 108–109
driver, 215, 260
DVD-creation, 161–163, 225
MCE Sleep Timer, 236
MCE updates and, 228
MCE WebGuide (Show & Tell), 229–233
Microsoft and, 292
Microsoft PowerToys, 235
More Programs menu and, 228–229
MP3 or WMA recorder, 173
My Weather, 234
MyDVD, 162, 224–226
Nevo (UEI), 269–270
overview of, 227–228
PrimeTime (Sonic), 161–163, 224, 236
proxy server, 250
Record TV Button, 236
System Restore, 236–238
Virtual CD, 283
Sonic
MyDVD, 162, 224–226
PrimeTime, 161–163, 224, 236
sorting
music, 180–181
pictures, 196–197
videos, 222
sound. See audio; surround sound
Sound and Vision (magazine), 108–109
sound preferences, 126
SoundBlaster Audigy2 (Creative Labs),
33, 44, 74
spade lug, 60
Index
speakers
cables and connectors, 59–61
connecting to PC, 43–44, 68–69, 73–76,
306–309
DVD playback options and, 206
manufacturer packages, 45–46
outdoor, 273
surround sound, 26, 28, 45–46
speed of machine, 11
Speedstream HomePlug, 262
standards for wireless LAN, 252–255,
257–258
standby button, 102
Standby mode, 112
star configuration, 245, 246
start button (remote control), 11
Start menu, 98–100, 101, 228
start-up process, 104–105
Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪
Communications➪New Connection
Wizard, 93
Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪ System
Tools➪Files and Settings Transfer
Wizard, 110
Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪ System
Tools➪System Restore, 237
Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪
Windows Movie Maker, 217
Start➪All Programs➪Activate Windows, 98
Start➪Control Panel➪Add or Remove
Programs, 228
Start➪Control Panel➪Performance and
Maintenance➪Power Options, 112
Start➪Control Panel➪User Accounts, 122
Start➪Internet Explorer, 96
Start➪My Computer, 133
Start➪My Network Places, 247
Start➪Printers and Faxes, 200
Start➪Standby, 112
Start➪Windows Update, 228
static IP address, 83
Stereostone speakers, 273
Stop button (remote control), 209
Storage Settings screen, 140, 141
storage space
adding, 41
audio, 39–40
DVD, 41
flexibility and, 42
home video, 40
photo, 41–52
TV and radio content, 40–41
storing pictures on Shutterfly Web site, 295
storyboard, 216
streaming music file, 176
streaming video file, 253
street price, 38
structured wiring solution, 243
subfolder, creating, 223
subitem on menu, selecting, 13
subnet, 248
Subtitle option (DVD Language Settings
screen), 204, 205
Super Audio CD (SACD), 285
supplies needed for setup, 51–53
support and buying PC, 47
surge-protector power strip, 54, 277
surround sound
digital audio interconnect, 58–59
digital audio output and, 28
5.1, 22, 26, 28, 73, 308–309
manufacturer packages, 45–46
speaker cable, 59
S-video connection, 30, 61–62, 212
S-video-to-composite adapter, 70
switch, 245–246, 247, 248
System Restore, 226, 236–238
•T•
Tag Image File Format (TIFF), 187
Takahashi, Dean, Opening the Xbox, 283
TAPI-compliant modem, 99
taskbar notifications, 127
telephone company. See also phone line
Caller ID feature, 99, 127
dial-up service from, 85
DSL service from, 87–88
329
330
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
television. See also My TV module
audio, customizing, 145–146
big-screen, 22
connecting to, 70–72
controlling, 153–154
HDTV, 64–65, 283–284
Program Guide, customizing, 144–145
Program Guide, downloading, 104–105,
129–131
as second monitor, 121
signal source, connecting to, 72–73
watching, 152–153
10BaseT Ethernet, 244, 246
10-foot experience, 101
termination, 59
Themes tab (Display Properties
dialog box), 119
third-party software. See software
thumbnail, 197
TIFF (Tag Image File Format), 187
time shifting, 153
time, synchronizing, 147
tint control, 107
Tom’s Hardware site, 39
Toshiba
on-site repair plan, 47
Satellite 5205-S705 MCE PC, 37–38
Toslink optical interconnect, 58–59
Touch Up screen, 198, 199
touchscreen remote control, 268–270
traditional passive speakers, 44
transferring setting and files from old to
new machine, 109–111
transition animation, 125
transition for slide show, 190, 191
transport buttons (remote control), 103
tuner card, 43
turning off PC, 111–112
turning on PC first time, 97–98
TV Audio Settings screen, 145–146
TV capture card, 214
TV output, 27
TV shows, storing, 40–41
TV tips, 127
TV tuner card. See also video card
FM tuner capability of, 182
Movie Maker 2 and, 216
overview of, 27
24-bit sampling, 34
2.1 system, 73
•U•
uninstalling program, 228
uninterruptible power supply (UPS), 277
Universal Audio Architecture, 285
Universal Plug and Play Forum AV Working
Group, 281
universal remote control, 287
unlicensed frequency, 253
unpacking box, 51–52
unsampling, 284
unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cabling, 244
uplink port, 245
uploading video to Web, 224
UPS (uninterruptible power supply), 277
upstream speed, 86
usage conventions, 100–101
USB (Universal Serial Bus)
DSL modem and, 86
overview of, 29
Webcam and, 213
USB external adapter, 256
USB interface port, 44
USB 2.0
connecting peripherals and, 77
digital camera and, 186
overview of, 29
user
adding, 122
settings for, 123
user guides, 291
user interface. See interface
UTP (unshielded twisted pair) cabling, 244
•V•
variable bit rate (VBR), 167–168
VCR connection
overview of, 67–68
temporary hook up to download
movies, 215
VGA (Video Graphics Array) connection,
30, 63
Index
video. See also camcorder; My Videos
module; Windows Movie Maker 2
editing, 211, 220–221
HDTV, 284
interconnects and connectors, 61–65
making own DVD, 224–226
playing, 221–223
sharing, 223–224
sorting, 222
storing, 40
streaming file, 253
video buttons (remote control), 102–103
video camera. See also camcorder
analog, 214
digital, 274–275
Video Capture Wizard (Movie Maker),
217–219
video card. See also TV tuner card
buying, 43
in MCE PC, 26, 32–33
monitor, connecting, and, 69–70
video CD, 162
Video Essentials, 108
video file types, 216
Video Graphics Array (VGA), 30, 63
Video In card, 43. See also video card
viewing
CD information, 174–175
DVD menu, 210
recorded show over network, 229
Viewsonic
accessory bundle, 45
M2000 PC, 26, 37, 75
support line, 47
Virtual CD, 283
Virtual Private Network (VPN), 250
visualization, 171–172
VOL button (remote control), 102, 209
volume control, on-screen, 99
VPN (Virtual Private Network), 250
•W•
waking up computer from standby
mode, 112
warranty, 47
watching
recorded show, 159–161
TV, 152–153
WAV file, 169
Web server, 229
Web sites
Atom Films, 295
AudioRequest music server, 248
Bluetooth adapter, 271
book, 48
Broadband Reports, 91
Buyer’s Guides, 48
cable, high-quality, 57
cable service operators, 90
CNET, 48, 85, 214, 266
digital camera, 266
DIRECWAY, 91
Do Not Call list, 127
DSL providers, 87
DVD-creation software, 225
dynamic DNS service, 231
Easter eggs, 210
fan sites, 291–292
FM transmitter, 275
galleries, 295–296
game reviews, 276
Green Button, 101, 227, 291
Gyration Media Center remote
control, 269
Harmony programmable remote
control, 269
home-network routers, 250
home-theater calibration disc, 108–109
InFocus SP-4800 projector, 271
ISPs, national, 85
ISPs, national, with DSL services, 88
Kazaa, 16
Klipsch, 74
Kodak’s Picture of the Day, 296
Logitech, 74, 213
MCE Sleep Timer, 236
Media Center FAQ, 290–291
Media Center PC vendors, 23, 35–36
Microsoft Compatibility, 77
Microsoft Internet Information
Services, 229
331
332
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies
Web sites (continued)
Microsoft MCE home page, 23, 290
Microsoft MCE manufacturer list, 35–36
Microsoft PowerToys, 235
Mini ’03 Cooper S, 227
Monster Cable, 54
Movielink, 82, 293–294
My Weather, 234
MyDVD, 224
NetFlix, 292
networking information, 248
organizing cable, 78
Philips Pronto product line, 269
Philips Streamium, 261
Record TV Button, 236
remote control information, 269
remote control, ordering extra, 103
Rhapsody Music Service, 16
shareware and software, 173
Show & Tell MCE WebGuide, 229
Shutterfly, 188, 201, 294–295
Smart Homes For Dummies, 241, 272, 274
Sound and Vision (magazine), 108–109
Speedstream HomePlug, 262
Stereostone speakers, 273
structured wiring solution, 243
Tom’s Hardware, 39
TV show ratings, 138
uninterruptible power supply (UPS), 277
Universal Plug and Play Forum AV
Working Group, 281
video card makers, 33
white tarp, 272
Wi-Fi Alliance, 254
Windows Media Player 9, 168
Windows Movie Maker 2, 215, 216
Windows XP Service Pack 1 Update, 160
wireless bridges, 273–274
wireless LAN vendors, 258
Yahoo! music videos, 292
ZIO Tek, 54
Webcam
capturing video from, 220
connecting to PC, 213–215
connecting to wireless network, 261
WebGuide (Show & Tell)
configuring, 232–233
downloading, 231
Internet Information Services and,
229–232
.NET 1.1 platform and, 231
overview of, 229
using, 233
white level, 106
wideband component-video connection, 61
Wi-Fi Alliance, 254
Wi-Fi certification, 254–255
Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) technology, 254
window, minimizing, 99, 105, 152
Windows. See also Windows Movie
Maker 2; XP version of Windows
Media 9, 132, 165–166
operating system, 9
Windows Media Audio (WMA), 167–168
Windows Movie Maker 2
analog image, downloading to PC,
219–220
digital image, downloading to PC, 217–219
editing, 220–221
overview of, 20, 215–216
Windows Update, 228, 238
Windows XP For Dummies (Andy
Rathbone), 2
Windows XP Service Pack 1 Update, 160
WinDVD Creator (InterVideo), 225
wireless DSL/cable modem router, 259
wireless Ethernet bridge, 256–257
Wireless Home Networking For Dummies
(Danny Briere and Pat Hurley), 22
wireless ISP, 91
wireless network
Bluetooth system, 270–271
choosing equipment for, 257–259
components of, 255–257
connecting peripherals to, 260–261
home-network router and, 250
integrating with wired network, 259–260
overview of, 251–252
technology for, 254
wireless network adapter, 252, 255–256
Index
wiring, central point for, 246
wiring solution, structured, 243
wizards
Capture Wizard (Movie Maker 2), 216
Display Calibration Wizard, 107–108, 146
Files and Settings Transfer Wizard,
109–111
Media Center Setup Wizard, 104–105
New Connection Wizard, 93–96
Scanner and Camera Wizard, 192–195
Video Capture Wizard (Movie Maker),
217–219
WMA (Windows Media Audio), 167
•X•
Xbox gaming console system, 283
XP version of Windows
ClearType system for LCD monitor, 120
Internet Information Services and, 229
My Music module and, 165–166
overview of, 9
setting preferences, 114–121
Windows XP Service Pack 1 Update, 160
XPMCE.com site, 292
X10 Entertainment Anywhere, 274
•Y•
Yahoo! music videos, 292
•Z•
ZIO Tek Liberator, 53, 54
zip code setting, 105
zoom, optical, 186
ZT Group (computer supplier), 37
333
Notes
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