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|Ch. 1||All about Windows XP Media Center Edition||9|
|Ch. 2||A Look Inside a Media Center PC||25|
|Ch. 3||Evaluating and Buying a Media Center PC||35|
|Ch. 4||Cables, Connectors, and Components||51|
|Ch. 5||Hooking Up Your Media Center PC||67|
|Ch. 6||Connecting to the Internet||81|
|Ch. 7||Starting MCE for the First Time||97|
|Ch. 8||Customizing Your MCE Experience||113|
|Ch. 9||Watching TV||137|
|Ch. 10||Listening to Music||165|
|Ch. 11||Working with Photos||185|
|Ch. 12||Playing DVDs||203|
|Ch. 13||Working with Home Videos||211|
|Ch. 14||Working with Third-Party Applications||227|
|Ch. 15||Building a Home Network||241|
|Ch. 16||Using a Wireless Home-Networking System||251|
|Ch. 17||Ten Cool Accessories for Your Media Center PC||265|
|Ch. 18||Ten Future Features of Media Center PCs||279|
|Ch. 19||Ten Great Places to Visit with Your Media Center PC||289|
|App||Connecting Your MCE PC to Your Home-Entertainment System||297|
In This Chapter
* Comparing MCE with regular XP
* Taking a tour of the Media Center interface
* Connecting to a big-screen TV and audio system
* Buying a Media Center PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. It's a long name, so we're going to call it just MCE most of the time. But it's also a descriptive name. Let's break it down into its constituent parts, shall we?
Media management and display are at the heart of MCE. Its full-screen interface and handheld remote control enable you to sit across the room and use the MCE PC like a piece of gear from your home theater. MCE takes the PC to a whole new realm - and may very well take the PC to a whole new room - in your house.
Everything about Windows XP Media Center Edition is special, advanced, enhanced, entranced, romanced ... geez we can get carried away! It's that neat.
What's Special about XP Media Center Edition?
An MCE PC is a high-end machine, with more features and faster processors than regular Windows PCs, as well as some specialized parts for media functionality. The only big differences you might notice, however, are the screen (which is usually larger), the larger and more powerful speakers, and perhaps the general speediness of the machine. (MCE PCs have the fastest Pentium processors and the biggest, baddest graphics chips in existence - we talk about these in Chapter 2.)
You can't add MCE software (the MCE OS, in other words) to just any old PC. In fact, you can't add it to any PC you own, even if the PC meets all the equipment and performance criteria we're about to discuss. Microsoft doesn't sell MCE this way. Primarily for reasons of reliability and performance, Microsoft has decided that MCE will be available only preinstalled on PCs that meet its minimum specifications. This requirement creates a known environment in which Microsoft can do its operating system magic, without trying to make MCE compatible with the millions of equipment permutations that more general versions of Windows must deal with.
The first time you fire up an MCE PC, it will probably look like any other Windows XP PC. You'll see the standard XP desktop interface, with the big green Start menu at the bottom left.
You can ignore the MCE features and use your MCE PC as a high-powered PC. You can surf the Web using Internet Explorer or your Web browser of choice. You can check e-mail with Outlook Express. If you have Microsoft Office installed, you can work on that spreadsheet of widgets or write that overdue paper (or, in our case, book).
But if you look on the desktop or between the sofa cushions, you'll see a shiny new remote control, as shown in Figure 1-1. If you've already installed your MCE PC, go ahead and press the start button. (It's the green button in the middle of the remote.) The start button launches the Media Center interface, which is designed to let you sit away from your computer and use it as an entertainment device, not a data terminal.
We can't guarantee that your remote will look exactly like the one in Figure 1-1. But somewhere on your remote you will find the arrow buttons, the OK button, and the Start button.
The first time you open Media Center on your MCE PC, it prompts you to go through a 10- to 15-minute process of setting preferences. If you want to do this now, skip ahead to Chapter 7, where we describe this process.
You might be tempted to cancel out of this process and go straight into the Media Center Start menu with the factory default settings in place. We do not recommend skipping the Media Center Set-up Wizard. Your TV programming guide will not be installed, your remote control may not work to change channels on your set-top box, and other features may simply not function. Complete the wizard. (Patience, patience.)
The Media Center Interface
The Media Center interface, shown in Figure 1-2, is the key to using MCE - it's what differentiates MCE from plain Windows XP. The Media Center interface is designed for "lean back" computer use. The text on the screen is big and can be read easily while you sit in your comfy chair across the room.
The Media Center interface does away with many of the normal Windows interface systems that require a mouse. For example, you won't find the pull-down menus that normal Windows XP (and XP applications) use in its menu bar. In fact, you won't find a menu bar (or a Start button) at all. Everything is laid out in a linear and hierarchical manner for ease of use with a remote control (though you can use your mouse as well, if you want).
Pretty much everything you'll ever want to do with MCE can be accomplished with the four arrow, or directional, buttons on the remote (up, down, left, and right) and the OK button. The MCE was designed for the remote control, not the keyboard. In fact, some things are downright hard to do without the remote control, such as access the More Info data about a movie.
To select a menu item, use the arrow buttons to reach the menu item (it becomes highlighted in green), and then press the OK button.
If a menu item has choices below it, they appear when you select the main menu item. To select one of the subitems, simply use the arrow buttons to reach it, and press the OK button.
Want to look at that neat TV image in the little window to the side? No problem. Use the arrow buttons to reach the image (it becomes highlighted in green) and press OK. Now you're watching TV. Cool.
The Media Center interface is a lot like the interface you might see when digging around in the setup menus on a TV or a home-theater receiver attached to a TV, except that MCE is a lot more user friendly. We will now boldly predict that it will take you all of two minutes of messing around with the arrow buttons and the OK button to get the hang of making choices in MCE.
If you ever get lost in the Media Center interface, start pressing the Back button on the remote. You'll eventually return to the top of the menu hierarchy - the interface shown in Figure 1-2.
In the remainder of this section, we talk in general terms about what each choice - we call them modules - on the main MCE page is all about. In Part III, we describe each one in detail, telling you how it works and how you can get the most out of it.
My TV module
One of the coolest things that every MCE PC can do is help you watch television. And we're not just talking about watching TV the old-fashioned way - sitting in front of that glowing box, waiting like a sheep for a show to come on. Nope, MCE lets you move into the future and take control of your TV habit. (Admit it, you have a TV habit - everyone does!) All you have to do is select the My TV module in MCE.
With MCE, you can do the following TV stuff:
This last feature is perhaps the most compelling. After all, you can watch TV on any old $199 box from the warehouse store. And if you have a satellite dish or digital cable, you probably have an on-screen program guide. But MCE includes a full-featured PVR (personal video recorder) with just about all the functions of the TiVo or ReplayTV device that a small number of TV-crazy folks have in their homes.
Like those other PVRs, MCE dispenses with the bulky and inconvenient tapes that VCRs use and instead records TV digitally on a computer hard drive. The advantages over a regular VCR are immense. In addition to storing a ton of TV shows, you can use the PVR function of MCE to pause, rewind, and fast forward live TV while you're watching it.
No longer do you have to rely on broadcasters for timing your snack and bathroom breaks. Press a button and walk away - when you come back, catch up where you left off. Or watch that last-second three-pointer again, right now, without waiting for Dickie V. and the boys in the ESPN truck to cue up the replay.
Figure 1-3 shows the main My TV interface. We talk about how to use it in much more detail in Chapter 9.
Newer MCE PCs have begun to ship with an FM radio tuner that does for radio what My TV does for TV: gives you control over what you listen to and when. With the MCE Radio module, shown in Figure 1-4, you can use the MCE interface and the remote control to tune in to your favorite stations, and pause and record live radio broadcasts.
You can run to the kitchen for some more mineral water (or whatever your beverage preference) while your favorite talk show drones on. On your return, you can pick up listening where you left off. The Radio module can record up to 30 minutes of live radio. Like any digital radio, the Radio module lets you scan for stations or directly enter the frequency of the station you want to tune to. You can also set up presets, so you can quickly find and tune to your favorite stations.
My Music module
Because you're interested in buying an MCE PC or have already bought one, we bet you're already into the PC music world. If you're not, are you in for a treat. People have been recording their favorite music on their PCs for years now - and online music download systems such as Napster (now dead and gone) and Kazaa (kazaa.com) have received tons of press (and lawsuits) as people share music online (illegally). Now legal downloading options such as a new version of Napster and the Rhapsody Music Service (listen.com) are taking off as well.
In other words, computer-based music is an official BIG DEAL. And the MCE My Music module makes handling music easy, no matter how many albums and songs you have on your computer. Figure 1-5 shows My Music's main menu.
My Music lets you do several things:
And, of course, you can use My Music to play back music through the speakers attached to your MCE PC or through your stereo or home-theater system, if you have one attached to your MCE PC.
Windows XP Media Center Edition makes use of Microsoft's powerful Media Player 9 functionality - Microsoft's standalone music software. Windows Media Player 9 is one of the few examples of something you can't access from the Media Center interface. Sorry, but you'll have to grab your wireless keyboard and mouse and tap away in the normal Windows XP interface to load your music onto your MCE PC. Then you can jump back into Media Center to organize and play your music. We tell you more about Media Player 9 and how to hook up your stereo to your MCE PC in Chapter 5 and how to take advantage of your My Music module in Chapter 10.
My Pictures module
Digital cameras have revolutionized the world of picture taking. No longer do you have to wait for your pictures - not even the One Hour Photo shop is fast enough compared to digital photography. Snap a picture, plug your camera into your MCE PC, and instant gratification. Can't beat that, huh?
Although you can download digital pictures to just about any PC, MCE's My Pictures module makes it even easier to deal with your photographic art (or poorly composed snapshots). With My Pictures, you can
Excerpted from Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 PC For Dummies by Danny Briere Pat Hurley Excerpted by permission.
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