Thursday, July 20, 2006

TECH - media center pc's

As I recently mentioned on luke cage's blog, I'm a tech-enthusiast. I really dig the fact that there are so many types of useful and fun gadgets out there to improve our quality-of-life. I enjoy talking with people about them. Here's an example:

media center personal computers

Q: "What the heck is that?"
A: Basically, it's what you'd get if your p.c. and your TiVo had a baby.

A media center personal computer is a computer - pretty much like any other. Anything you'd do on most other personal computers can be done on a media center p.c., but, by plugging in a television signal (presumably cable-tv), you can also watch and record television shows.

TV Guide
It uses the internet to pull up a comprehensive television programming guide that tells you what's coming on, when it's showing, what the episode is about, and lots of useful information like that.

You can use a search feature which lets you search by name, category, etc. for the shows you're interested in.

You can watch television and, like with TiVo, pause and rewind live shows. Very convenient when you're watching something and wonder, "What did she just say?" Well now, you can just rewind and find out.

Since it lets you rewind as much as a half-hour back (or until the point when you switched to that channel, whichever's most recent), if you leave get caught up with something else, then walk in to see you just missed an interesting show, you can just rewind it and watch the last 30 minutes.

You'd be surprised how often this comes in handy.

You can also record these shows, like you could with a vcr or TiVo. I tend to go to the guide, find the show I'm interested in, click on it, then tell it to record it when it comes on. In fact, I can tell the computer, with a simple click, to record the show once or record the entire series with reruns or record the entire series without reruns or record whenever the show airs on a certain channel or time or record it whenever it airs on any channel at ANY time or...

Yeah. It pretty much be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. You can even fine-tune the resolution, if you like, which makes the television show files smaller... thus allowing you to store more, at a time.

One great advantage of this feature is that shows that switch times on you (i.e. playing at 9pm, one night, instead of in the usual 10pm time-slot) get recorded, anyway - depending on your settings, of course. There's nothing like tuning in to see your favorite show and catching the end because they bumped it for a Pokemon marathon.


What about those times when a special 2-hr episode is airing and you only set your vcr to record the regular 1-hr slot? Well, the media center is going to record the PROGRAM, not just the time-slot and channel. In other words, you'll get the special episodes like that, in their entirety... not just the first or the last hour. (Okay, this happened to me once or twice, so I really appreciate this feature.)

Another great thing about this is that you can play these files on just about any other computer you want, as long as it has a recent version of Windows Media Player.

DVD player
Like most other p.c.'s, it has an optical drive - in this case, it's a dvd drive (or more), which allows you to play dvd movies and whatnot just like you would on a dvd player. I've found that image quality has greatly improved since I started watching my dvd's this way (displayed through the digital projector).

In most cases, there's also a dvd burner, which allows you to burn those episodes onto dvd. You can burn them like you would a movie, so they'll play on regular dvd players... or you can even record them as data, so you can play them on any computer that has Windows Media Player.

Pro and Con
I hear that TiVo even records other programming it thinks you might like, based on your viewing patterns. Personally, my storage space is too precious for that, but it's a nice feature that the media centers don't seem to have.

One thing the media centers DO have, though, is freedom from monthly TiVo or Comcast DVR fees. All you need is your pc and a cable signal. You don't have to pay anyone any more than you already do for your cable programming.

One Size Fits All
It's a television (although I use it with my projector to make it a BIG-SCREEN television), vcr, dvd player, TiVo, radio, cd player, computer, and best friend, all-in-one.

And that's not all it does...

Highly recommended.

Questions or comments?


Luke Cage said...

Just one question. Can a brotha get one for being a cool blogger? I'm just saying that things not a media center or a moon, its a battlestation! I love it maaayyynnn! It would be perfect for the movie lover in me.. And I can see it sitting right on my entertainment table at home (Cage swipes other items off the entertainment table surface to clear room for the media center) There.. now I've got room.

West said...


How's that commercial go, "Nuh-UH, my brutha. You gots t'get yo' OWN."

It's a beautiful thing. We're moving the television, dvd player, vcr, and probably the entire entertainment center out of the living room and will be (hell, we ARE) using the media center in place of them.

If you set it up right, it can look REALLY cool. Plus, the media center application is a nice serene blue.

It comes with a remote control, wireless keyboard, and wireless mouse. That, combined with the jammin' speaker system really gives us all we need (although I suspect my g.f.'s gonna want to hook her more powerful sound system up to it).

Like I said, combined with a projector you'll have big-screen surfing capabilities along with television and movie-watching. Flip on the radio or play some mp3's, if you prefer.

You can even hook up your camcorder and do some video editing n whatnot.

I still haven't explored ALL the stuff it can do, but I will. :D

asdf said...

What do you use as a monitor? A computer monitor or an actual TV?

These things sound cool, they just aren't in my budget.

West said...

"I've found that image quality has greatly improved since I started watching my dvd's this way (displayed through the digital projector)."

I use the monitor and my projector, to display/view the images. The television can be used, but you need some fancy gear or a fancy tv.

I usually recommend that the budget conscious consumer wait until s/he plans to get another computer, anyway. Just make sure it's a media center pc.

Of course, if you're going to buy a television that's several hundred-to-a thousand dollars, you could just get a media center (especially if you already have a monitor).

So, it all depends on how you work it.

Hell, I got mine at the local flea market.

Remnants of U said...

What did you get at the local flea market, your TV? And about how much do media centers cost?

I used to have TiVo, so I know how convenient the rewind is when you didn't hear what someone said. Ohh I miss it.

West said...

re: " What did you get at the local flea market, your TV?"

Nope. The media center pc (and almost every other desk- and laptop pc I've ever owned, plus a ton of other stuff).

re: "And about how much do media centers cost?"

Looking randomly on Best Buy's site shows just the tower (AMD processor) for $614.99.

So, if you've already got a monitor n stuff, that's one way to go.

But that was just a random shot. or your local retail stores might (or might not) have a better deals.

Remnants of U said...

Hmm I need to find your flea market. The one close to me has clothes...fake name brands...DVD's of Movies still in the theater...I can't recall seeing computers.

West said...

Well, it can be tricky finding and buying high-quality, higher-priced used items. Plenty of people here have access to the same flea market I do, but wouldn't consider buying something that costs hundreds of dollars from someone there. Can't say I blame'em.

But it's true that my media center and two laptops came from two different flea market vendors.