A lot of press has been given to the new and enhanced features of the upgraded Microsoft Vista operating system due out later this month. While much of the attention has been focused on Vistas improved desktop and file management capabilities, the real interest for our clients is its new entertainment capabilities.
What was commonly referred to as the Microsoft Media Center Edition for the older Windows XP platforms has now been rolled up into either the Vista Home Premium or Ultimate Edition operating systems. The Media Center platform has been part of the Microsoft operating system for six-plus years and with each new upgrade it comes closer to providing the ideal media management software solution for the home. Lets look at these features more closely.
One of the most popular digital electronic products for home entertainment systems has been the personal video recorder (PVR). TiVO was the first to develop a Linux-based operating system that provided the recorded TV experience on a digital hard drive. Today almost all of the cable and satellite content providers have set-top boxes that allow you to digitally record TV shows to a local hard drive. Microsoft Media Center software has allowed the recording of standard-definition cable TV content and/or over the air antenna high-definition content for a number of years. What is now different in Vista is that, for the first time, you can record high-definition content from your cable provider because it supports the new, HD cable cards from CableLabs. With Media Center Extender devices, like the Xbox 360, this HD entertainment can be easily distributed throughout the home. Imagine that your client has recorded an Australian Open tennis match in high definition in the family room and wants to watch it in the master bedroom. Turning on the Media Center extender in the master bedroom allows them to watch the tennis match even though it was recorded on the family room Vista Media Center computera very powerful and flexible feature that cannot be found in any other TV PVR set-top box today.
Windows Vista now includes a special mode that instantly starts movie, TV, or music playback without waiting for a full operating system to boot up. Finally we can enjoy the feature-rich benefits of a computer in the entertainment room without paying the penalty of waiting one or two minutes for a full operating system boot up.
Windows SideShow supports secondary displays of the Vista Media Center computer, making it easy to view important information stored on the media center computer or access key controls on other media center connected devices. Imagine holding a universal remote control with its set of buttons and small LED screen in your hand. Now picture that same LED screen showing the controls for your whole-house audio system or your front door camera without affecting the TV show controls. In this example, Windows SideShow software allows the universal remote to poll the Vista Media center computer and control the whole-house music sources and distribution and/or the front door camera. With SideShow it is also possible to program the remote to control many of the other systems in your homesuch as lighting, thermostats, or security keypadsadding to the remotes functionality as the universal control for the family room entertainment experience (think about the power of an EI LifeWare application embedded on a universal remote LED).
Aero Screen Interface
The Windows Vista Aero interface has to be seen to be fully appreciated. It provides spectacular visual effects via transparent glass-like interface elements. Now the TV Electronic Program Guide (EPG) can be called up while you are watching your favorite show without any interruption. The EPG superimposes the channel and time grid over the top of the TV show, a transparent screen that still allows you to watch the TV program through the EPGits beautiful! Other graphical enhancements to the operating system include a more dynamic and rich method for selecting music, TV shows, and movies from a cover art interface that is engaging and intuitive. Windows Vista now supports touch screen support so the Media Center computer in the kitchen can now be controlled without a mouse and keyboard. Arrow keys have now been included on the Media Center interface so that navigation of entertainment content can be easily done with just the touch of a finger.