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September 15, 2005




I bought an HP MCE unit several months ago and my early excitement soon faded as I discovered that MCE just isn't reliable enough as a DVR nor is it speedy enough (this is a top end model) to handle lots of music or photos via the MCE interface.

With a DivX player, however, it is very handy to watch a bittorrent downloaded HDTV version of the television show that the DVR didn't manage to record!

It also makes for a large NAS.


You sure gloss over the classic disadvantages of non-dedicated solutions.

"Sure you have to restart Windows periodically".

"The extender feels very 1.0 and glitches".

"The extender costs as much as a Tivo with lifetime service"

When do you just give up all those hslles and get a dedicated device that additionally works a lot better?

John "Z-Bo" Zabroski


I have a home theatre using Ubuntu Linux and some non-standard distribution repositories.

Having such experience, if you are interested in following Chris's lead, I recommend you buy a seperate TV tuner card for regular input and another TV tuner card for HDTV input. Assuming you are on a budget, this is a much better strategy. Even if you are not on a budget, you will come to enjoy the fact that each TV display format is independent of one another.

I did enjoy that entry but a couple of things... Stupid marketing name aside, a Windows "Media Center" PC is maybe not the best example of how technology increasingly promotes the vendor-consumer accessibility cycle.

If you want an example with more permanency, I suggest using XML in your book instead. XML is a technology that allows all formats of a media to be generated from the same source, and all will be created using different style sheets to process the base XML files.

Microsoft is really a horrible example for anything consumer-driven. Their non-modular and monolithic code structure is the epitomy of poor software engineering and probably a part of the reason why Vista has had to have so many of its planned features slashed out to ever be releasable.

chris anderson


When I say we have to restart Windows "periodically" I mean every two weeks or so. It's not that big an issue.

The hardware extenders are indeed expensive ($250), but if you've got an Xbox already, the software is just $34. I expect those hardware extenders to get cheaper and more reliable with the next generation.

And don't forget that the Media Center PC route also effectively gives you a free TV (the PC itself). Our total investment was about $440, which gave us the equivalent of three TiVos and one LCD TV, with all the advantages of centralized media serving. You really can't beat that with dedicated devices.

MIke Jones


MEDIA CENTER PC!?! You should have bought a mac and equiped it with Elgato's DVR and video streamers...!!!

sun bin

great review.

what i read is that the linksys extender is not very satisfactory, because of limitation of the bandwidth, only compressed data can be beamed through. therefore, the codec decoder in on the extender, and hence severely limits the codec it can play.

see user comments here

i guess we need to wait for the new wireless standard with over 120Mbps before we can beam decompressed video to the TV.


Chris, I wonder if the market for repeated fart jokes would be considered Long Tail :)

Arun D

I was a little sceptical at first when my brother decided to buy one for 'research' for his business... and setting it up was far from plug and play.

However, once it was up and running... it really does change the way you watch TV, along with being a nice way to stream audio, photos etc. on to your big main display.

What I'd prefer Microsoft to do is actually manufacture the product themselves to improve compatibility, stability etc. On a related note, the Xbox360 will ship as a MC extender as well and it looks like a fair dose of media management capabilities built into the 360 'OS'.


The real question is when will users be able to easily use this new technology to it's full "long tail" potential. Both the Microsoft and TiVo products now allow users to source content from non-broadcast sources. Now we need more suppliers to provide alternative content, via the Internet.

Michael Burns


Nice review. With 2 kids you really need to get My Movies and a DVD ripper to start archiving your DVDs to your MCE. Then your children can watch commercial free television and you can truly limit their selections to appropiate content.

Our MCE is filled with Disney DVDs and children hardly ever see a commercial.

BTW, throw an HDTV tuner card in your MCE and you can start watching and recording HDTV television for the one time price of the card (~$140). Let's see TiVo try that one.


While I recognise the fact that it isn't for everyone I highly recommend repurposing your MCE machine as a MythTV box. Not only is the feature set much more impressive; you won't have to content with Microsoft's rather 'business-before-consumer'-oriented ideas on DRM. (of course the zero cost factor is interesting too :P)

A year ago creating a mythtv box would have involved an arcane knowledge of cutting-edge linux driver mumbo jumbo and a lot of time, these days there are numerous HOWTOs detailing step-by-step instructions for creating your own flavour of media center.

I detailed my own quest for the perfect PVR here, and the current incarnation not only performs the regular PVR duties, it also plays SNES, NES, atari and arcade games, holds and indexes my music library, scours bittorrent sites for the latest episodes of favorite shows (and of course queues and downloads and indexes them), displays the weather in my region, and rips DVD to convienient XVID format ready for burning (which it also does). Of course it has a web frontend running off of apache and can stream the content anywhere (codecs for windows PCs included)

All that for a minimal hardware investment (miniITX board, a large HD and two hauppage PVR-350's) and a couple of hours of my time.

Reading back my comment I guess I am a fanboy too ;)


I darsay I would count myself to it too.

Nice obe go on. I'll have a look of the rest.

Hugo  Moore

Hi, firstly a great post. Media Center PCs or MCEs have come a long way. I would advise people to read articles like yours before buying. Technology has moved and and MCE can do a lot more than people realise. I just love my Media Center PC.

Here's a good article;


Hugo  Moore

Hi, firstly a great post. Media Center PCs or MCEs have come a long way. I would advise people to read articles like yours before buying. Technology has moved and and MCE can do a lot more than people realise. I just love my Media Center PC.

Here's a good article;


gifts for men

I wouldn’t take the risk – why would you? – I’m running MS Security Essentials on my Win7 Media Center as well. So far so good....

The comments to this entry are closed.


The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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Order the hardcover now!