Adam filed another article on the popular Hydrapinion blog, too: Media Centre PC – R.I.P.?
My initial reaction was, “NOOooooo, Adam, why would you say such I thing?!” I’ve had a Media Centre PC in the living room for some years, running various versions of Microsoft’s Media Center operating system; with varying degrees of success too, I might add.
What we’re talking about here is not just a Media Centre: it’s actually a PC Media Centre running in your living room, plugged in to the television, the surround sound and your computer network. Like any PC it’s got a monitor (which, invariably, is your big-arse LCD or plasma television), as well as a mouse and a keyboard.
But what does the Media Centre PC actually do? In Adam’s ideal lounge room, he breaks down the technology components into five key functions:
- High-Def PVR;
- DVD/Blu-ray player;
- Streaming media player;
- Online video player; and
- Gaming console.
Adam says you can mix and match gadgets, and I agree whole-heartedly, and I think that a Media Centre PC is the best device to achieve most (if not all) of these components.
For Points 1, 3 & 4 – my Windows 7 Media Centre has a tuner card (albeit Standard Definition – time to upgrade, Dr Ron?) and records free-to-air TV with ease. Ad-skipping is a breeze, and the programming and scheduling is made super-easy with an intuitive interface and electronic program guide.
Also, if you’re looking for a good streaming media player, I reckon the PC has got this nailed. Despite the occasional horrors of missing codecs, or proprietary players or buffering bandwidth, media streaming is made simple on a PC.
There are two problems that leap to mind with media streaming devices like Western Digital’s WDTV Live. Because there is no physical keyboard, you have to enter search queries, web addresses and server names with an on-screen “virtual” keyboard using the arrows on your remote control. I think I’d rather sit in a dentist’s chair for an hour than have to enter another URL on the WDTV Live with the supplied remote control. Don’t get me wrong, I own a WDTV Live and I think it’s an awesome device for what it is – but there are some things it just can’t do well. This is one of them.
Second, a lot of “TV connected devices” are region-blocked on providers like Google’s YouTube. Devices other than PCs and home computers can’t play a lot of content. To add insult to injury, the User Interface in these devices often recommends popular clips, only to deliver a perfunctory error, like: ”THIS CONTENT NOT AVAILABLE ON TV-CONNECTED DEVICES” or similar. Of course, the Media Centre PC sidesteps this problem nicely.
For a DVD/BluRay player and gaming console, nothing beats the Sony PlayStation 3 for high-quality DVD and BluRay playback. The digital outputs deliver top-notch audio and video to your 21st Century lounge room. The PS3 is also a sensational games console, despite the recent PlayStation Network difficulties and Sony’s apparent slap-dash attitude towards security. Hmmmmmm.
I found this comment of Adam’s interesting: “To be honest, these days [the PC media centre] is more of a media server than a player.”
In actual fact, we use it the other way around. Apart from recorded programs from free-to-air, we don’t keep any content on our PC Media Centre. Its primary use is playback, accessing on-line content like YouTube, and Windows shares on the family media server (which is a Linux-powered PC in Shack East – read, ManLand).
It also makes sense to me to have a simple PC as a “lounge room component”. Sometimes you just want to do stuff on your big-screen TV: like web browsing, or looking at friends’ holiday pics on their SD card, or even sniping the latest must-have on eBay or GraysOnline.
The only downsides I can think of are the mechanical noise of a PC (which is manageable, and certainly not as bad today as it was 10 years ago); potentially the space it takes up; and the unwieldy mouse and keyboard which need a home somewhere. Even without cables, the wireless versions take up a bit of space.
I agree with Adam that you’re unlikely to find one gadget to do it all. But wouldn’t you agree, the PC Media Centre comes close?