Sunday, June 17, 2007

Help! My mediacenter is dying!

Yesterday I told you about the positive impact our mediacenter has had on the way we watch TV. Unfortunately it hasn't all been positive.

From day one our mediacenter has been having hardware problems.

  • Motherboard replacement.
    Within two months of buying the mediacenter, its motherboard had to be replaced. And this is an A brand, mind you. Apparently that doesn't say anything about quality anymore. The service center was pretty close by, though.
  • Single tuner or twin tuner.
    We went for the mediacenter with two tuners in it. But unfortunately about half of the time, only one of the tuners seems to work. It's annoying, but apparently not annoying enough to send the machine back to the repair shop.
  • Hibernate or always awake.
    One the things that is really important is that your mediacenter should "go to sleep" when it's not doing something and then "wake up" when it needs to record a show. And at times that actually worked reliable for us.
    But most of the time, our mediacenter is much like a 15 year old kid: it wakes up when it feels like, stays awake as long as it likes and refuses to go to sleep when you tell it to.
  • What's that noise?
    We went for the more expensive VCR form factor mediacenter, because it was supposedly less noisy. And I guess a standard desktop PC would indeed make more noise that our mediacenter. But I still find the amount of noise it makes too much. It could really do with some less power-hungry parts, so at least some of the fans can be removed.
  • Wireless keyboard range
    The range that I can use the wireless keyboard at is ridiculous. I basically have to sit on the floor right in front of the mediacenter to get it to work. And even then it is intermittent. I would much rather have a reliable wired keyboard, but apparently am to lazy to get one that looks nice enough in my living room.
Ok, so much for the hardware problems. There also plenty of software problems. Our mediacenter came with Windows XP Mediacenter Edition. That is a whole Windows version dedicated to supporting mediacenter functionality. So it can't be bad, can it? Wel....
  • Installation assumes you have a monitor attached
    I bought a mediacenter to hook it up to my TV. Then why does the installation assume that I'm on a high-resolution monitor? Entering that 20 digit license code really is no fun when you can't read half of what's on the screen.
  • Windows Mediacenter is an application, not a special version of Windows
    When I saw Window Mediacenter Edition, I expected the whole Windows OS to center around the mediacenter functionality. Well, I was wrong. Mediacenter is nothing more than an application on top of regular Windows. And unfortunately that's how it feels. When I start (or wake up) my mediacenter, I firsts see the PCs POST screen, then I see Windows booting and finally I see the Mediacenter application starting. Imagine your TIVO doing something like that.
  • PDC? What's that?
    In Europe we have something called program delivery control, which sends some extra signals with the program when they start and end. The result is that you never miss the end of a program that is running late. Admittedly this is available for a limited number of channels, but for those that have it this is a great feature. Unfortunately Windows Mediacenter doesn't support this feature whatsoever.
  • Teletext support is laughable
    Again in Europe many TV channels carry teletext pages with useful information. Windows Mediacenter can display these fine, but why -on a PC with plenty of memory- do I still have to wait for it to cycle through the pages? Have the developers never heard of caching the pages? More and more TVs do this, but Windows Mediacenter... doesn't.
  • Why isn't there a web interface to the EPG?
    Programming recordings through the EPG on your TV screen is a real improvement to old-style, time-based VCR programming. But this is one are where a higher resolution screen helps a lot. So why isn't there a standard web-interface to the EPG data on my mediacenter. There's a great third-party program to do this, but why doesn't this work out of the box? Microsoft's own (add-on) solution is worse then the third party one and doesn't even work outside of the US.
  • Why isn't the EPG data up to date?
    The quality of the data in the EPG used to be really bad. For some channels we used to miss about 50% of the programs, because the data wasn't in the EPG. This has improved considerably since last year, but it still happens sometimes.
  • Failing recordings
    The mediacenter either doesn't start recording a show that it is scheduled to record. Or it records a few minutes, then stops, then starts again, then stops... you get the picture. The result is shows that I really can't watch.
    So I lied yesterday: I have missed quite some episodes of CSI lately. This is the biggest issue for us at the moment. All the other software issues are annoyances, but this one is making me think of unplugging my mediacenter. Or at least of re-installing it completely. I'd happily sacrifice the 40+ hours of recordings that are still on the hard disk to get it to function properly again.
I guess a lot of our problems have to do with the fact that we are early adopters. Mediacenter adoption has even now not taken off in full, so we should expect to find some "children's diseases" (that's a Dutch expression) in there. But on the other hand... if I buy something that looks like a VCR, I expect it to work somewhat like a VCR. I wasn't buying a beta version of some new application, at least that's not what it looks like. If something looks like a consumer electronics device, I expect it to work like one.

So that's the current story. As you can see it is really two-sided. On the one hand, having a mediacenter has really changed the way I watch TV. On the other hand our mediacenter has been a pretty constant source of frustration too. Let's just hope Microsoft cleans up its act in a next version of the Mediacenter software (the Vista version only seems to be somewhat better). Or let's hope that Apple adds a receiver to its Apple TV or the Mac Mini. I really hope for the latter, because a few more Macs would add some more technological styling to my living room. :-)

No comments: