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Inside the Windows Media Center TV Pack

Microsoft's decision to make the latest Media Center update a limited release has angered some Media Center enthusiasts. So what's the fuss about, and why should a true TV geek care about these esoteric changes. In this gallery, I provide the details to show you what's in the TV Pack.
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By Ed Bott
This version information (available with a few presses of the remote control button from Media Center's 10-foot interface) reveals that the Windows Media Center TV Pack is installed on this system.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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On the RTM and SP1 Vista versions, Media Center is limited to a total of four tuners, and the only way to add support for more than two CableCard tuners is with a registry hack.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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The process of setting up multiple TV tuners is greatly streamlined when TV Pack is installed. In this case, the setup routine detected the presence of a single CableCARD tuner, 2 over-the-air (ATSC) HD tuners, and an analog tuner. TV Pack can also use a ClearQAM tuner to enable reception of unencrypted HD cable channels.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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In the "old" Vista TV listings, you can see that a program is available in HD only by selecting it and looking at its description. The listings themselves show the title and nothing more.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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Compare the visuals on this listings screen after TV Pack is installed. The colors are softer, text a bit sharper, and (most importantly) every show available in HD has an icon in its listing to identify it as HD.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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The antenna strength meter in Media Center lets you quickly see whether your over-the-air antenna is aimed correctly. The old, pre-TV Pack version doesn't distinguish between multiple tuners.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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Not all TV tuners are created equal. With TV Pack installed, you can measure signal strength for each ATSC tuner separately. (Clear the check box at the bottom of the screen to see results for a separate device.) I was surprised to discover that one tuner on my test system was noticeably better than the other at pulling in HD signals.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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8 of 14 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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With Vista Media Center, all over-the-air HD channels are given separate channel numbers and lumped at the end of the guide. Channel 1021, shown here, is actually channel 2.1, the local Fox affiliate. But there's no way to merge this channel with its cable cousin.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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9 of 14 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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From the guide, you can right-click any channel and edit its settings. In this example, I want to disable a channel I never watch. Note also that I've elected to hide the preview that ordinarily shows in the background.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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10 of 14 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Here's another feature that TV geeks will swoon over. When TV Pack is installed, you can assign priorities to each installed tuner on a per-channel basis. By default, this HD channel has both CableCARD tuners at the top of the list. I want to change that so the ATSC tuners get first crack. That way, any ABC program will be unencumbered by DRM and can easily be transferred to a portable device or another PC.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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TV geeks will love this feature. On this system, the local ABC affiliate is available as Channel 7 (standard def) with the analog cable tuner, as channel 7.1 from the dual ATSC tuners, and channel 210 from Comcast cable. Using this button, I can consolidate all those listings under a single channel number.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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12 of 14 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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In Vista Media Center, the history page for each recording shows when it was recorded and when it was deleted. It also shows any problems. But for CableCARD tuners, you have to know which is A and which is B, and there's no telling which tuner recorded an over-the-air channel.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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13 of 14 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Every entry in the history section includes the tuner name, for analog and digital tuners. This allows you to see at a glance whether a particular tuner is having problems or is delivering less than perfect quality.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.
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14 of 14 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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This display shows five programs being recorded at one time on a single system running Windows Media Center TV Pack. Two of the programs here are HD, two are digital SD, and one is coming over analog cable. At the same time, I was watching a program on the main system and streaming two previously recorded programs to extenders. All programs recorded and streamed flawlessly.
For a more detailed discussion, see TV Pack headaches reveal Microsoft's Media Center dilemma.

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