Big Screen Blog

Media Center, Windows Phone7 + Silverlight Goodness..

Windows 7 + Media Center First Impressions..

with 2 comments

I have just installed Windows 7 (M3 build) x86 this morning – and thought I’d share my experience / first impressions on the new O/S – which comes with a substantially enhanced/improved Media Center experience. Media Center enthusiasts are the big winners here – as a lot of the other non Media Center stuff in Windows7 isn’t a big change from Vista so far (although several core features are still to come in the upcoming beta) .

Before I start – I should mention there’s a couple of posts on Charlie Owens blog – which gives a good ‘whats new’ overview (and screenshots) for Media Center. (including a seperate post for the dev enhancements).

Anyhow here’s some of my own thoughts while checking out the new o/s – with a GREAT/GOOD/UNDECIDED/HMM rating next to each.

1) Install (GREAT) – Installed fresh o/s on Intel Core Duo system in around 30 mins (this was run from inside existing Vista Ultimate setup – with ISO extracted to local HD as files). Now have a dual booting Vista+TVPack / Win7 system.

2) Out of the box Driver Support (HMMM) ASUS Motherboard Drivers (P5QC) not supported/supplied out of box – notably LAN Driver wasn’t found – so in turn the install wasn’t able to detect other hardware drivers via Internet (Tuner cards etc). I manually installed LAN driver from ASUS install CD (from Vista x32 Driver directory) and then all was well.

3) Online Driver Support (GREAT) Once the above ASUS Lan driver/internet connection issue was sorted – I did an ‘auto search’ on all other devices without drivers (namely the avermedia dvbt tuners) – and everything else was then detected/auto installed (except other ASUS drivers).  So now I have all hardware supported/working (which is great for a beta – with Vista some hardware couldn’t be used for a few months after RTM)!..

4) Media Center Setup (GOOD) Nice clean setup of Media Center (Using Custom/First Run wizard). All DVB-T channels/cards/etc detected on first go – no hiccups.  This was almost identical Tuner setup experience to TVPack – no surprises there. Library/Folder setup options are greatly improved – one nice feature is ability to add a share (which allows you to type in full path/username/password from within 10′ UI.   The Playready bit didn’t work for me (reported an error code) – however luckily I don’t need these for Australian FTA digital TV – but is required for other Premium HD offerings (US?). 

5) New Media Center UX (UNDECIDED) As you may have seen from the screenshots floating around – the UI for Media Center has been substantially enhanced.

Ok – while I really like all the new functionality from a ‘Remote Control’ + power user POV (ie ability to get to overlayed details screens much more quickly) – the actual design+layout really needs a lot of work. The big issue I have is that the current onscreen focus/cursor highlighting is way too subtle (notably on details screens + livetv overlay) – so it’s really difficult to figure out where you are onscreen – and makes the UI quite confusing to use. Similarly for the tabs/pivots on these details screens – the use of quite unattractively large/plain fonts (rather than small/bold) – and strange positioning of the selected elements makes it very difficult to see what tab you are on (and what action has been highlighted). 

In contrast – I thought one of the real highlights (pardon the puns) of the Vista MC UX was that you always were fully aware what part of the screen was being controlled – due to the way the animations were implemented and the simultaneous shadowing/fading/shrinking effects of non selected and focused elements.  (which resulted in a very slick looking UX). Win7 on the other hand is a bit of an onscreen jumble right at the moment.

6) DVD Library (GOOD)
DVD Library is now 1st class citizen in Media Center (no ‘showgallery’ registry hacks etc) – and gets it’s own menu strip. It also seems to scan in movies much quicker than before (TVPack and earlier locks up for 30 seconds or so when you have large collections of online movies). 

7) Weird Back Navigation on Main Menu (HMM) Ok – this might simply be a bug (and to be expected on a ‘pre-beta’ release) – but on main menu you can keep pressing Back Button (and it will flip between LiveTV and Main Menu) – which is very confusing (as the back/forward navigation paradigm gets broken and you don’t known when you’ve backed out of the entire stack).

8) MCPL Platform Improvements (HMM) There some improvements – but I’m not sure if it’s quite what was expected. There’s no SDK or tech docs available yet (so this entire comment is purely made from looking at Charlie Owens Platform improvements post). So far it fixes a few bugs and dev requests from the existing system (which mostly could have been fixed for existing VMC without any impact) – but then seems to solve a bunch of problems we never actually had (ie. Media Browser?, Onscreen Keyboard)… Some of the things devs were really crying out for over past couple of years weren’t there – like access to the ‘more info’ remote control button, MCPL UI enhancements to scrollers (to name a couple – but the list goes on) – so this is a bit disappointing.  I really need to get hold of the SDK to find out the full story here.

9) MCE 3rd Part Apps (HMM) Installation problems with 3rd party apps (mine included) – with MSI’s bombing out with weird Error codes. There seems to be something different going on with the OS Version Checking (done by Windows Installer – the NTVERSION >= 600 check seems to be failing) – and I need to do a few more tests to try and find out exactly what it doesnt like.  There’s potentially some new requirements causing this (such as having signed msi’s etc) – and without any developer/Wix specific info on hand yet – it’s entirely possible I’m missing something vital. I was however able to copy .dll’s into the ehome directory and manually register the addins – so had some MCPL working (just).

10)  Extender Support (GREAT) – Not much to say here – but can confirm it’s working fine on extenders (am running a PIKA 2.0 / Linksys DMA2100 with it now). As per Charlie’s post – H264 support has been added to the XBox360 extender – so this is really great news too. The movie library also appears on Extenders (without hacks) – but haven’t yet tried streaming DVDs with symbolic links.

11) Pre Beta Stability (GREAT) Seems to be remarkably stable for a ‘pre beta’ – with all the DVB-T support working beautifully out of the box (so this is a fully working system – not just something that you can look at for a few seconds in curiosity).   I’m having bucketloads of issues with TV Pack 08 (scheduled recordings disappearing etc) – and I’m wondering if i should just go straight to win7M3 for my ‘production’ setup. There’s currently a Aug9/2009 hardcoded expiry date on the M3 build – but the next beta should be out by then (hopefully).


OVERALL (GREAT) – Ok I know the above ratings don’t average out as a ‘great’ – but the stability and smooth installation/setup of this ‘pre-beta’ is a real highlight (and quite unexpected given then bumpy road in previous beta’s – that took many revisions before something was stable enough to use).  Anyhow I hope the Media Center UX gets improved from the design POV – so the powerful new features it offers can be enjoyed a bit more easily.

Anyhow – hope this helps (further) enlighten those looking at trying out this beta. If you have access to it – don’t be afraid to give it a try.


Written by mobilewares

October 29, 2008 at 5:08 am

Posted in Windows 7

2 Responses

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  1. Niall, if you are at PDC there is an SDK available for this build in ‘The Goods’. You can send me any questions directly via email and I’ll help you out.


    October 29, 2008 at 5:06 pm

  2. I tried installing Big Screen Weather on the 6956 Build and I am getting a modal popup from the installer that "Windows Vista Home Premium" or "Windows Vista Ultimate" is required. I am not getting the weird error codes you said you received in the M3 build. So, is this version check from your code or from the Microsoft SDK?


    December 12, 2008 at 9:02 pm

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