November 1, 2004

Quick Impressions of MCE 2005

Well, I promised Scoble in an E-mail on Friday that I'd talk about my experience with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, so here's the quick version. I'll post a more in-depth review this weekend after I play with it some more.

Things That Are Nicer

1) Video playback. Even when watching a live TV stream with MCE 2003/2004, I saw a lot of banding, etc., on the TV. Not anymore. The default display settings greatly reduce the amount of banding. Even the blue background has significantly less banding than before. With the old version, my wife could tell if we were watching the cable box or the MCE. Now, neither of us can tell.

2) Smaller info panes. The volume control is no longer a massive eyesore on the right side of the screen. Instead, it's a small box in the upper right corner. Likewise, the program info pane no longer dominates the bottom of the screen. Excellent UI revamp.

3) The app detects if I'm trying to switch to a channel that has no signal and silently stops me from going there. While not ideal, a step in the right direction.

4) UI shortcuts. If I was watching a video and have to leave for some reason, I can hit my green button, go to My Videos, and hit Right to have a small MRU list.

Things That Are Not Nicer

1) MCE 2005 is less stable than the previous revs. It's already crashed on me three times in one day...and that's with all the updates. The Watson dialog can't be controlled from the remote, and "Automatically Restart" is not one of the options.

2) The User Experience designers really like their "$5 words." I'm evaluating this application as an "Average Joe." I'll sum up my advice in five words: Use smaller and fewer words.

3) MCE 2005 should have included drivers for all of the common MCE hardware that was in use prior to its release. The fact that I had to install sound drivers and TV tuner drivers on a machine that was first released in January 2004 is horrid, especially as the hardware in question has been available for longer.

4) Setup constantly refers to Windows XP Professional instead of Windows XP Media Center Edition. I realize that since MCE 2005 is primarily an OEM product, setup was one of the lowest priorities, but it does make MCE seem second-class to a geek.

5) No option during setup to force a login.

6) I rip my DVD's to my hard drive. I have shares on my main PC that correspond to the category the DVD is in. Most of my DVD's are not in a series, but my anime DVD's are, so I put my anime in subfolders under the share. So, why does "Add Videos" detect every share but my Anime share...while "Add Music" does detect that share? Also, why can't I key in a share?

7) No obvious way to clear MRU lists. You know, in case you don't want the wife to see that you've been watching a clip from "Pauline Pounds Pennsylvania" or something similar.

8) Skip forward and back in the Program Guide will occasionally affect the program being viewed rather than the Guide.

9) No integrated DVD playback.

10) No high-contrast backgrounds for use with a television set.

11) Windows Firewall should allow access to Windows File Sharing on the local subnet by default.

12) No way to get a digital cable decoder/tuner for my MCE.

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