Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) is a version of Windows XP designed to serve as a home-entertainment hub. The last version, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, was released on October 12, 2004.
Currently there have been four different versions of MCE.
- Media Center Edition The first release based directly on Windows XP Professional, this release was only available from Tier 1 computer manufactures (HP, Dell, Zitech, et al).
- Media Center Edition 2003 Included support for FM Radio, among other changes.
- Media Center Edition 2004 (codenamed Harmony) released in 2003 and was later part of Windows XP Service Pack 2.
- Media Center Edition 2005 (codenamed Symphony) The first edition of MCE available to non-Tier 1 system builders, includes support for Media Center Extenders, and CD/DVD-Video burning support. This version also removes the ability for a MCE computer to join an Active Directory domain.
- Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Update Rollup 2 (codenamed Emerald) Released in late 2005, this was a collection of feature updates including support for DVD changers.
Windows XP Media Center Edition is distinguished from other editions of Windows XP by an exclusive preinstalled application, Media Center, which provides a large-font ("10-foot"), remotely accessible interface for TV viewing on the computer as well as recording and playback, DVD playback, video playback, photo viewing, and music playback.
Unlike competing commercial DVR products, Microsoft does not charge a monthly subscription fee for its Media Center TV guide service.
Due to strict hardware requirements, Microsoft has opted not to supply Media Center as an independent retail version. Microsoft only distributes it to MSDN subscribers and OEM System Builders in certain countries. Consumers generally purchase Media Center preinstalled on a new computer, or from a reseller that sells OEM versions of Microsoft software.
Features added in the last release
- Windows Movie Maker, upgraded to version 2.5 with new effects and transitions and support for DVD burning.
- Windows Media Player, upgraded to version 10.
- Royale theme: not included in other editions of Windows XP, it is included and enabled by default.
- Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition: a number of applications not included in previous versions of MCE are now included.
- SoundSpectrum's G-Force: a special edition is included as one of the music visualizations.
- Media Center Extenders, dedicated hardware devices that allow users to view the same content that is available on the MCE computer over wired or wireless Ethernet, are introduced in this version for the first time. Linksys and other companies currently sell Media Center Extenders, and Microsoft sells an add-on kit for the Xbox game console that allows it to function as an extender. The Xbox 360 also has Media Center Extender functionality out of the box, including HDTV support (which is notably absent from current extenders). Media Center 2005 currently can support up to 5 Media Center Extenders per household.
- First party hardware: Microsoft has released its own first party remote, receiver and infrared blaster with MCE 2005. A new specially designed wireless computer keyboard for MCE 2005 was released September 2005.
Features removed in the last release
- Joining a domain: in MCE 2005, Microsoft has disabled its ability to join an Active Directory domain post install. Instead, if the installation of MCE 2005 is an in-place upgrade from a previous version already joined to a domain, this ability is retained, unless a user uses a Windows Media Center Extender: in this case, such ability is lost and cannot be reverted back again. Presumably, Microsoft introduced this limit because Media Center Extender devices, introduced in this version, rely on the Fast User Switching component, but this component must be disabled in order to join a domain , so using an extender and joining a domain on the same computer isn't apparently possible (although, according to an unconfirmed source, it seems that the Linksys MCE Extender works fine when installed on a computer joined to a domain). Therefore, since MCE is targeted to home entertainment, Microsoft chose to completely disable MCE ability to join a domain for this type of users, while (reasonably) leaving this feature enabled for those who already used it in previous versions. Apart from this, MCE 2005 still retains most of the other Windows XP Professional-specific features, such as Remote Desktop and the Encrypting File System, but that limitation effectively precludes its use in a corporate environment. An unofficial method has been found to reenable the ability to join a domain in MCE 2005 but doing so will likely disable the Extenders installed on that computer, as said before.
Media Center has higher hardware requirements than other editions of Windows XP. MCE 2005 requires at least a 1.6 GHz (or equivalent) processor, DirectX 9.0 hardware-accelerated GPU (ATI Radeon 9 series or nVidia GeForce 5 series or higher), and 256 MB of System RAM. Some functionality, such as Media Center Extender support, use of multiple tuners, or HDTV playback/recording carries higher system requirements.
Media Center is much more restricted in the range of hardware that it supports than most other software DVR solutions. Media Center tuners must have a standardized driver interface, and they must have hardware MPEG-2 encoders, closed caption support, and a number of other features. Media Center remote controls are standardized in terms of button labels and functionality, and, to a degree, general layout.
In June 2007, the Media Center Components Database was set up as a resource for Media Center self builders to pool knowledge of which components play well with each other.
There are a number of hacks that change the intended features of Windows XP Media Center Edition.
- The viewing of Pay-Per-View using Media Center without an IR transmitter allows the recording of videos, which can later be burned onto a DVD.
- Official Microsoft Media Center Edition Website
- Listing of Logo'd Hardware Partners for MCE 2005
- Australian Media Center Community: Vista MCE & MCE 2005 Community Website
- Xbox Media Center Extender Page
- xpmce.com Everthing About Windows XP Media Center Edition
- Windows Vista Media Center Edition Talk
- Media Center Add-ons List at Ben's House
- MediaCenter Central helping new users into using Windows XP Media Center
- The Green Button: The Main MCE Community Website
- KnowledgeBase about Media Center PC Build or customize your Media Center!
Blogs for MCE 2005
- Addicted to Digital Media
- Matt Goyer's Media Center Weblog
- David Fleischman's Tales of MCE Project Management
- Ian Dixon's Media Center Show
- Windows Media Center Platform Team Blog
- Charlie Owen (Program Manager on Media Center Team)
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