Using Windows Vista as a home theater hub

Using Windows Vista as a home theater hub

Summary: Thinking of using Windows Vista's Media Center in the living room? Follow along as Windows expert Ed Bott offers a guided tour to his Vista-powered home theater setup.


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Topics: Hardware, Data Management, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • Network Speed?

    Ed, I noticed that you had your machine physically plugged into the network. Did you consider wireless at all? Or is your home hardwired everywhere? Also, what speed network are you running? Thanks.
    • Hardwired

      This machine has onboard 10/100 networking and my entire house is wired with Cat5e cable, so it's easy to plug in.
      Ed Bott
      • I'm ready but AT&T isn't

        Ed -
        I built my home two years ago with the idea of incorporating all the ideas you've expressed in this article and series of photos. But I've run up against the hardstop of AT&T's refusal to extend optical fiber within 5 miles of my house. Cable or power line Internet is not an option either. I'm limited to 1.25 Mbps.

        I get my television service from Dish and pipe the signal into a closet where I have a AVR (for Surround Sound), five-station DVD player and DVR. The AVR has AM/FM radio on board, but now I'l be looking for one that also has an internet radio facility too. (Five years away?) I play music and HD TV around the house. But none of it is PC-based yet.

        I can put the your PC with Media Center in the closet too. Besides the current wiring to the TVs I also have an unused Cat6 cable from the closet to every TV, against the day when there's something to put on it. I'd love to have the slick user interface you've shown.

        BTW, if anyone is having ground loop problems which introduce a 60 cycle hum into your stereo when connected to your PC's sound card, I found a greatl ittle USB-based gizmo that uses a USB port instead of a sound card to carry the audio to the stero input ports. Thus no 60 cycle dirty power coming in through the sound card.
  • What a mess

    Ever thought about a real solution without the Spaghetti?
    Apple Tv maybe?
    • AppleTV doesn't do enough

      Hard disk too small. Doesn't support WMA. No TV tuner. Requires streaming and has to be managed from another room using iTunes. Etc. etc. etc.

      It's nice for some people, but doesn't do what I want it to do, as you would find out if you read the full story.

      And the "spaghetti" is neatly tucked away behind the cabinet. You can't see it unless you go poke your head back there.
      Ed Bott
  • Awesome. The same machine that

    you can do hardcore business and programming on as well. Very nice package for something not necessarily intended to be a Single Purpose Apple TV. Flexibility has no contenders....thanks for sharing these shots.
  • Nice.. i built three

    I have a multimedia server with vista and 8 500GB hard drives in an array. Hosts my entire DVD collection. The other two media centers connect over gigabit connection to the server(house is cat5e). I have raptor drives as the primary hard drive because it seemed that the 7200rpm drives made the interface kinda jumpy. The one thing i did do is build the secondary units to look like stereo receivers.. so its a little cleaner than that.. but that just my taste.

    BTW, i had dvi originally.. i switched out video cards for motherboards that had hdmi onboard. So now, i have a network cable, hdmi cable and a power cable.. thats it. :)

    But back to your stuff. its a nice setup regardless of how you execute it! Anyone who does it will soon realize that they have been missing out on a great thing.
  • Dang!

    Makes me want to go out and by another system for my new HD tv! I guess when I do decide to make that plunge, I will refer back to this article. Thanks for the info and pics!
  • Backup

    Very informative. I'm saving this article to use a template. BTW, What software do you use on your Home server machine for backup?
    • Backup

      He used the new Windows Home Server OS. This is what the OS does, in addition to a bunch more cool stuff. Of course, he is using a pre-release version. The final RTM should be available in the next couple months.

      This is the exact setup I have been working on as well. I think it is the ideal mix between early adopter and "I don't have enough time to figure out all that Linux crap" route.
      • Actually, I'm using the final code for WHS

        Microsoft provided me a review copy of the final release. It should be available for sale in a week or two.
        Ed Bott
  • Home Theater Installer Opinion

    I have been installing both XP and Vista MCE in home theaters for a few years now and my clients have been nothing short of thrilled. I even have one in a house where the owner was a devout Mac Man. He loves the windows box. I only have one feature that I would love to see but haven't had any luck getting intrest in from the OEM yet, that is a plug-in PCI satellite card or cable card. In my opinion that is all that is needed to make a MCE box the ONLY piece of source equipment needed in a home theater. Most of my home theater customers have DirecTV and I have tried routing through a video input card but it leaves less than omtimal results. If the cable/sat companies would build cards then you could control the channel and recording options directly from MCE and it would work as Microsoft intended. If anyone reading works for or with either cable or satellite pass the word on.
    • CableCard now, DirecTV someday

      The CableCard options are available now, but only from a handful of vendors and only in a handful of configurations. You can't just add your own CableCARD tuner to an existing Media Center.

      DirecTV and Microsoft have confirmed they are working on an add-in that would allow Media Center to accept direct digital input (and therefore HD). But no timetable announced yet.
      Ed Bott
    • Check out this vendors

      Cablecard support is available right now from Dell, HP and Sony as the more mainstream vendors but also from boutique ones like Velocity Micro, Niveus, S1 digital and Vidabox. Personally I have a Velocity Micro machine which has 2 digital tuners with cablecards. I also have a DVD firewire based changer (Sony Vaio XL3B) which works great with Vista MCE.
      • MCE Add-Ons

        The last system I did, which was about 4 weeks ago, was a Niveus Denali with the 400 disc changer. I was amazed at how quickly MCE would read the new disc and download the cover art and enter it into the library. I have read of some of the cable add-ins, but am really waiting for the DirecTV. Hopefully they will have a dual tuner model so that I can finally replace my Tivo based DVR. I really do not like the new DirecTV DVR since it went Tivoless. THanks for the info.
  • Sound Blaster card wrong size

    Thanks Ed for a wonderful article. It got me to finally move off my rear end and do something to unify my home thretre system.

    Ordered from your parts list: refurbished Dell arrived yesterday- but the optical DVD/CD drive was dead. So talked with Dell tech support today, and they will send me a replacement drive next week.

    Then I went to install the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE that you recommended. It does not fit- the connector side sticks up about a 1/2" outside the cabinet. Hmmm- I believe it is the same nodel as your parts list- and the picture in your article clearly shows that your card does not extend. I think I will just get a hack saw and cut the extra 1/2" off so I can get the cabinet side back on.

    Any thoughs?