Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Windows 7 on TV: What's New in Media Center

Published by Sunbelt Software FORUMS | RSS | MY PROFILE | PRIVACY  

Vol. 1, # 4 - Oct 1, 2009 - Issue # 4 
 Windows 7 on TV: What's New in Media Center

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Windows 7 on TV: What's New in Media Center
    • Follow-up: 7 for the road
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • MS Courier will run Windows 7
    • Browser ballot screen: still not good enough
    • Reach out and touch some Windows 7 computers
    • Looking ahead ... to Windows 8
  4. How to: Using the New Win7 Features
    • How to create a wi-fi hotspot with your Windows 7 computer
  5. Windows Security
    • Beware security scaremongering
  6. Win7 Question Corner
    • Do I need Windows 7 Pro to join my home network?
  7. Win7 Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • How to configure Windows 7 UAC
    • Install and configure Windows Live Mail on Windows 7
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Western Railway 3D Screensaver: A Legendary American 4-4-0 Train Journey Across the West.

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Editor's Corner

Windows 7 on TV: What's New in Media Center

I've been a Windows Media Center fan for a long time; we bought a Media Center PC way back when it ran a special edition of XP that was available only to OEMs and the only way to get it - unless you were an MSDN subscriber or otherwise had "connections" - was to buy a computer that came with it installed. Few of my friends even knew such a thing existed, and they were mightily impressed when I showed them how I could record my TV shows right there in Windows.

The release of Windows Vista changed things. Microsoft made the (in my opinion) very wise decision to incorporate Media Center into all copies of Vista Home Premium and Ultimate editions. Since Home Premium was the Vista edition that came with most of the PCs purchased by consumers, many more people were exposed to the application. Anyone could use it to organize their music, photos and home videos. However, to be able to use its most compelling feature, the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) functionality, you needed a TV tuner card in your computer and most didn't come with one. However, it was easy for anyone with a smidgeon of tech skill to buy a card and install it in an empty PCI slot. Then things got even easier, as USB tuners became available.

Now many casual computer users are recording their favorite TV programs with their computers, and it's no wonder, when you compare it to some of the competitors. TiVO is the standard and most of its users like it, but you have to pay a monthly fee to use it, and that rubs many people the wrong way, coming on top of a hefty cable, FiOS or satellite bill. The TV providers now will rent you their own DVRs but those often leave a lot to be desired. We tried an HD DVR from our cable company (Time Warner). The picture quality is beautiful but its user interface is just awful, slow and hard to navigate. The remote is clunky and unresponsive, and the DVR "loses" the programming from time to time so that even though you've set it to record a particular series, it just stops doing so for no reason. Often in the middle of playback it will suddenly start over from the beginning so you have to fast forward through everything you've watched to get back to where you were. Sometimes it does this several times during a one- hour program. Anyone who thinks a Linux-based device is inherently more reliable than Windows needs to spend some time with this box.

The problem is that recording HD content with Media Center has been much more difficult than it should be. Yes, many tuners support clear QAM, which means you can record over the air (OTA) HD - if you're able to receive the signals. If you're in the right place, you can pick them up with simple "rabbit ear" style antennae. In many locations, though, it requires a large outdoor antenna mounted on your roof, and in some locations, you still won't be able to get many HD channels. If you're already paying for digital cable, shouldn't you be able to input that to your Media Center TV, the same way you can with analog cable?

Well, you can, but you'll have to have a special digital tuner and you'll have to rent a CableCARD from your cable provider (which costs less than renting their DVR), and you'll also have to have a computer that has support for CableCARD built into its BIOS. That last is the source of frustration for many people, as only a few models from the major hardware vendors have that capability and it's usually the top of the line (i.e., expensive) models that support it.

And there's another "gotcha." Since Vista Media Center only supports two tuners of each type, if you wanted to record more than two programs at a time, you would need another CableCARD ready computer to do it. Thus you may end up spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a new computer to be able to record your HD content.

But that may be about to change, too. First, Windows 7 Media Center has bumped up the tuner support from two to four per type, so you can record up to four HD programs at a time. With some tuners, you'll have to rent four CableCARDs from the cable company, but they're relatively inexpensive. My cable company charges $2.00/month for each CableCARD, so four of them still cost less than renting their DVR ($12.00/month), which only records two programs at once. A new digital tuner from CETON, which was introduced at CEDIA EXPO in September, allows you to record as many as six premium HDTV channels at once with a single CableCARD.

Windows 7 will also support Switch Digital Video, so that you can record SDV content on your Media Center PC with the aid of a tuning adapter (which you get from the cable company). And best of all, with new tuners like the one from CETON, you may be able to add a CableCARD to your existing computer (if it meets certain criteria) instead of buying a whole new one:

Even if you don't subscribe to HD channels, Windows 7 still has many improvements to Media Center that will make your experience better. Sharing media content between home computers has gotten easier, thanks to the new HomeGroup networking feature, and the new remote media streaming feature lets you easily play your music and video that's stored on your Windows 7 computer when you're at a different computer, either across the home network or across the Internet when you're on the road:

If you're a home video maker, you may be happy to know that Windows 7 also adds support for the AVCHD format, which is used for recording HD video by many new camcorders. And of course, there are a number of changes to the Media Center interface, some of which I wrote about back in June in an article for TechRepublic:

In August, I wrote more about my ongoing experience with Windows 7 Media Center on the Amazon End User blog:

Windows Media Center truly is better than ever in Windows 7, and I'm looking forward eagerly to some of the upcoming hardware solutions, such as the CETON tuners, that will take advantage of its new capabilities. I'm also glad that Microsoft now includes Media Center in the Professional edition of the OS (equivalent to Vista Business edition), so that you don't have to go all out and buy Ultimate just because you want both Media Center and the ability to join a domain.

Tell us what you think. Do you love Media Center, or are you a fan of TiVO or one of the third party DVR software programs instead? If you've had a chance to run Windows 7, what do you like better about the new Media Center? Are there any changes that you don't like? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forums at

Follow-up: 7 for the road

In last week's editorial, I wrote about using Windows 7 on a portable computer and some of the new mobility features that make it work great on the road. Reader feedback indicates that a number of you have already taken the plunge and installed Windows 7 on your laptops, and most are pleased with the results.

A couple of readers brought up the issue of drivers for a fingerprint reader. That is the one thing that I haven't yet been able to get working on my Sony laptop (and I did like being able to log onto Vista by swiping a finger instead of typing in my password). I'm hoping those will be forthcoming once the operating system is actually released.

I was happy to see that some folks have installed Windows 7 on the HP TouchSmart tx2 and that the touch screen works properly. I'm very interested in the new multi-touch capabilities of Windows 7; in fact, I wrote about that this week in the Amazon End User blog:

And here's some more info on Windows 7 touch support:

One reader asked how Windows 7 would work with a dialup account. I have to admit that I haven't tried and don't know anyone who has. However, I can tell you that Windows 7 does still support dialup, and it includes a number of features designed to help make the dialup process easier, such as the ability to automatically "fail over" to an ISP's second phone number if the first one is busy. You can read more about Windows 7's advanced dialup settings here:

The same reader made the comment that "Also, I still use the IE6 browser. I suppose that will mean that somethings won't function, or some functions won't work." If you upgrade to Windows 7, you will automatically be upgrade to IE8, which is much more functional and far more secure than IE6. Most web sites work fine with IE8. However, for those few that don't, it provides a compatibility mode that makes it emulate IE7 for that particular site.

Thanks to all of you who participated in the discussion!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1856 - 1930)

The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. - Charles DuBois (1882 - 1939)

If at first you don't succeed, before you try again, stop to figure out what you did wrong. - Leo Rosten (1908 - 1997)

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Cool Tools


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Kill the background tasks belonging to (legitimate) software that run all day. Why? To get your speed back! But which ones can I kill? Try this:

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

MS Courier will run Windows 7

Last week, I wrote in my blog about a new prototype tablet PC with plenty of cool factor. No, it's not the long-rumored Apple Tablet - it's the Microsoft Courier. You can read that post here:

In the days since the news broke, we've gotten a few more details, although none of them have been confirmed by Microsoft. A recent leak suggests that the Courier will be running Windows 7 as the underlying operating system - which makes sense. Whatever it's running, I know I want one. You can read more here:

Browser ballot screen: still not good enough

The European Commission complained because Microsoft's Windows operating system comes with Microsoft's own web browser (sort of like Ford's cars come with Ford steering wheels?) so Microsoft planned to make a European version of Windows 7 that didn't include the browser. The European Commission didn't like that idea because, well, it's hard to download and install a web browser if you don't have a web browser, so Microsoft then planned to provide a "ballot screen" by which European users could pick a browser from a list when they first install or activate Windows 7. Oops. Looks as if that's still not good enough for some of the Europeans, although what they do want Microsoft to do instead isn't entirely clear. Do you ever get the feeling that there are some people who just can't be pleased? I'd love to know what those "threatening and confusing questions" are. Read more here:

Reach out and touch some Windows 7 computers

One of the improvements to Windows 7 is something that many people haven't had a chance to experience, because you need hardware that goes beyond the capabilities of the typical desktop or laptop. We're talking about the multi-touch support, with which you can do very cool things - if you have a multi-touch screen. Most of us don't. One reason is that vendor offerings in that area have been pretty slim - but here's hoping the release of Windows 7 changes that. Read my ramblings about touchscreen technology in my post to the Amazon End User blog at

Looking ahead ... to Windows 8

The party's not over; in fact, it hasn't even begun. The Windows 7 launch is still a few weeks away, but some folks are already thinking ahead, and speculating about what we'll see in Microsoft's next desktop operating system. At the moment, we're calling it Windows 8 and now that the code for Windows 7 is "a wrap," you can bet the Microsoft developers are already working on an encore. For news, rumors and idle speculation about Windows 8 and Office 2013 ( !), check out the UX Evangelist blog:

How to: Using the New Win7 Features

How to create a wi-fi hotspot with your Windows 7 computer

Let's say you have a handheld device that supports wi-fi, such as a PDA or iPod Touch, and you want to connect it to the Internet but you only have a wired Ethernet network. The handheld device won't plug into the wired network, but if you have a Windows 7 laptop that will connect to the wired network and also has a wireless adapter, you can turn the laptop into a wi-fi hotspot without the need for a wireless access point (WAP) or wireless router. Here's how:
  1. Connect the laptop to the wired network and make sure it can access the Internet.
  2. In Control Panel, click Network and Sharing Center and then click "Set up a new connection or network."
  3. In the wizard, select to create a new ad hoc wireless network.
  4. Enter a name for the wireless network and for best security, select WPA2 and make up a strong passphrase for the security key.
  5. Check the box that says "Save this network."
  6. Back in the Network and Sharing Center, click "Change adapter settings" in the left pane and find the adapter for your wired Ethernet network (usually called Local Area Connection). Right click it and choose Properties.
  7. On the Sharing tab, check the box that says "Allow other network users to connect through this computer's Internet connection." To see screenshots of the dialog boxes you encounter in performing these steps, see

Windows Security

Beware security scaremongering

The nice thing about the Internet is that there is so much information at our fingertips. The bad thing is that not all of that information is accurate. If you do a search for "Windows 7 security," for example, one of the first links you'll be directed to today is this one:

This article says "Now with yet another vulnerability found that causes Windows 7 to crash, Microsoft has more pressure to patch the holes before Windows 7 is released later in October." The link in that sentence leads to this article about the SMB exploit:

And as the second article clearly states, this vulnerability has already been fixed in Windows 7. Did the author of the blog post not even read the article that he references as his source? I'm not picking on this particular blog; you find this sort of thing all over the web. Sometimes an inaccurate statement is repeated so many times and in such presumably reliable venues that I've made the mistake of repeating them myself. But in this case, the fact that this particular exploit does affect the final Windows 7 code is pretty well known. So don't believe everything you read. Check out a few more resources before you accept every security scare as fact.

Win7 Question Corner

Do I need Windows 7 Pro to join my home network?

I'm a little confused. I have two XP Professional computers (mine and my wife's) that my son set up in a home network for us. We can share our files and print to the same printer (attached to my computer). I'm planning to buy a laptop when Windows 7 comes out. Can I join a Windows 7 Home computer to this network or do I have to have the Pro version? Will I have to upgrade the other two computers to Windows 7? I heard Windows 7 uses something called a Homegroup that XP can't join. What if I want my son to be able to use the remote feature to fix our computers from his computer (at his home)? Thanks! - Bill N.

Your home network is almost certainly a peer-to-peer network (a workgroup). Windows 7 Home Premium can join a workgroup and share files and printers with XP or Vista computers. The new HomeGroup feature in Windows 7 makes it quick and easy to share documents, music and pictures in the Windows 7 library with other computers. It does work only with Windows 7 machines. You would need Windows 7 Professional (or Ultimate) if you wanted your computer to be able to join a Windows domain. A domain is a more sophisticated type of network used mostly in businesses, or on home networks of IT professionals.

Windows 7 (all editions) includes Remote Assistance, by which your son can connect to your computer remotely and fix your problems. You need Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate if you want to use Remote Desktop, to connect to your computer's desktop remotely and run programs and access its resources as if you were there. For the specific scenarios that you mention, Windows 7 Home Premium is all you need. The Pro version does offer some other advantages, such as the ability to encrypt your files with EFS, the ability to back up to a network, and the ability to run older XP applications in an XP Mode virtual machine. Hope this helps!

Win7 Configuration and Troubleshooting

How to configure Windows 7 UAC

One of the big improvements in Windows 7 is to User Account Control, which many people found downright annoying in Vista because of its habit of popping up when you didn't want it. Microsoft made UAC much more configurable in Windows 7, so that you can control its behavior and make it less intrusive if you want. For instructions on how to customize the UAC settings to fit your preferences, see

Install and configure Windows Live Mail on Windows 7

Some folks were unhappy to see that Windows 7 doesn't include a built-in email client, as Windows XP and Vista did. However, Microsoft providesWindows Live Mail, which is a free desktop email client that you can download from the Windows Live web site and install on Windows 7. You can use it to access your POP or IMAP email accounts, as well as web mail accounts such as Hotmail or Google. For instructions on how to set it up, including screenshots, see

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

Western Railway 3D Screensaver: A Legendary American 4-4-0 Train Journey Across the West.

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