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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Windows Media Center 7 - 3 months in

My intentions were to follow up the 'upgrade' post with a few hands-on reports of how things were going at set intervals. Let's just pretend 3 months is the first time I planned on updating everyone.

First, the good:

I love it. The simplified interface and ease of access to watch our movies is great. There are a fair amount of add-ins that fill a few of the small gaps, and simplified things such as ripping DVDs.

The Harmony remote is working wonderfully. We wound up not using as a "super universal remote", but it does its base need of controlling the TV and WMC very well.

I even seem to have earned 'Wife approval' for ease of navigation with the remote. While our set up is still very simple, that's certainly an important win.

Finally, one of the add-ins we used the most is one that allows us to launch Hulu Desktop from the WMC menu, and our remote controls Hulu Desktop flawlessly. While I wish I didn't have to exit WMC, it works well, so I'll consider it a victory.

Now, for the bad:

The Netflix add-in for WMC is atrociously slow. While this doesn't seem to affect everyone, there is a thread at The Green Button where many of us have been sharing our woes, but by and large this issue seems to be entirely unresolved. For us, this problem has translated mostly to minimizing WMC and accessing Netflix through Firefox instead, which I was really hoping to avoid.

This contributes to another complaint, which is that my son almost entirely refuses to use the remote. He watches a lot of Netflix and since we can't control Firefox with the remote, it's understandable. Still, it's frustrating to spend so much time on a tool only to see someone not want to use it.

While I have found a reasonable solution to assist in DVD ripping, I'm aghast that it's so difficult to find a good hands-free solution to ripping episodic DVDs. Right now I'm forced to rip them and keep them in their native format, so when we want to watch the show we essentially launch the DVD Menu, and pick the episode from there. Like Hulu, it works, but not well enough for my tastes.

Finally, while the music player in WMC is great from a usability standpoint, it really lacks the visual punch that I love from the Zune Desktop client. I've yet to find a way to marry the two, but I dream of that day. We don't currently use the music feature much, but I could see us using it a lot more as we eventually entertain more. Maybe by then...

Where to from here?

Most directly, I started this system with Windows 7 32bit, because that was what I had access to when I finally had all the parts together. Sometime this week I will be reinstalling Windows 7 64bit, so that we can leverage the processor a little more when it comes to video encoding (but probably won't see a huge change).

With school about to start up, that means the Fall TV season is about to start as well. This gives us more motivation to set up a TV Tuner so that we're not complete victims of Hulu's delay (or in some cases, their lack of content).