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Go, buy that Media Centre now!
Leslie D'Monte | March 10, 2006
Media Centre is a great choice
Media Centre: Great entertainment hub
Televisions and personal computers had led separate lives so far, the TV being your entertainment channel and the PC - something on which you could complete your office work. The scene is rapidly changing. A couple of years from now, there may be a single entertainment hub - maybe much earlier.
For one, we already have Microsoft's XP Windows Media Centre in computers with processors (even HT (hyperthreading) ones) up to 3.2 Ghz.
The media centre edition is not as well-known as the other XP editions - maybe since its price is a little beyond the reach of the common man. A decent media centre could cost anywhere between Rs 32,000 to Rs 90,000 (depending on the functions).
However, this XP edition is one software from Microsoft that is not pirated for it is quite difficult to assemble a machine with the media centre software.
Besides, it was not available as an off-the-shelf product. Microsoft is expected to introduce the demo version in around 500 retail outlets all over the country from June.
All HP Pavillion and HCL Beanstalk computers are sold, loaded with the Media Centre. Sahara and LG have also joined in. Microsoft is aiming to ship more than 20 million Media Center PCs, which can record video and play digital music and images, by 2008.
What's so different about it?
A media centre PC is a video recorder and player, media jukebox, game console, digital picture viewer, TV Web browser and stereo system. Menus and commands are consistent across all digital media and easily usable using a mouse and keyboard or remote control.
Within one unified view, you can browse thumbnail images of your music, photos, and videos to find entertainment easily.
While you browse, the Now Playing window can keep your currently playing media selection in view and within reach. Search helps you find TV shows by category or keyword, or music tracks and albums by artist or genre.
You can connect your Media Center PC to a standard or widescreen TV or a high-resolution display, such as a plasma or projection TV, to create a home theater environment.
The TV Setup and Display Calibration wizards help you configure your TV signal, type of display, and video playback quality, so you can get the best possible quality experience.
Enhanced 16:9 support lets you toggle between normal, zoom, and stretch video modes to make the most of widescreen displays.
You can have your favourite shows waiting for you by using the Personal Video Recording features. You can navigate thumbnail images of photos stored in My Pictures, and zoom in, pan, and print a photo.
Or you can insert a digital-imaging storage medium, such as CompactFlash or Secure Digital Cards, and launch a dynamic slide show of your vacation or special event complete with animated transitions and your favorite soundtrack.
You can watch a cricket match, movie, or video while performing other tasks on your PC. Simply resize the Media Center window to view your program or movie while simultaneously working, e-mailing, or surfing the Web.
Windows XP Media Center Edition and Windows Media Player 9 Series help you build a digital music library or Media Library on your Media Center PC and make it easy to find the music you want.
You can copy your CD, including album art and information, to your digital jukebox at the press of a button on the mouse or remote. You can select from one of 20 auto playlists that automatically update depending on your listening habits, or create your own playlists.
With Intel's new dual-core processor - viiv - which should soon find its way in PCs, the media experience should become richer. The more powerful the processor, the better the viewing experience.
Is it a good buy?
The media centre is more expensive than a normal PC. And it's costlier than a PVR. However, it's worth mentioning that the experience and functionality is very different from that of a normal PC with a TV tuner card (used to watch TV on your PC).
The downside of a media centre PC, besides the price (which should ultimately come down with increased volumes), is that when you go out to buy these models, there are quite a few options which you need to be aware of.
First, some models ship without a TV tuner card. Also ensure that they have a remote. For instance, an HP Pavilion desktop a1310in that is priced at Rs 36,800 (Rs 1,000 extra for installing and commissioning) includes a 17-inch CRT (the bulky cathode ray tube) but no TV tuner card (which should cost around Rs 5,000 extra since HP insists on its own TV tuner card with this model failing which compatibility problems could arise).
The 15-inch (thin filament transistor) TFT variant costs Rs 41,100 and the 17-inch TFT costs Rs 47,700 (both need TV tuner cards to be bought separately).
The LG D5-L32 AR61 is priced at Rs 45,800 (CRT) and Rs 50,300 (15-inch TFT) and Rs 53,550 (17-inch TFT). Installation will be Rs 400 extra. It has an inbuilt TV tuner card.
The high-end HP pavilion desktop m7280 (with an in-built TV tuner card) would cost Rs 86,600 with a 17-inch TFT and Rs 78,900 with a 15-inch TFT. The 17-inch CRT variant is priced at Rs 72,300 (Rs 1,000 extra in all cases for installing and commissioning).
The second problem is applicable in the case of the low-priced media centre models. You cannot expect to keep your media centre on the whole day with the TV channels running (as you maybe accustomed to do with your TV).With all the other multimedia software you may have loaded (since that's the intention of buying the PC), you will need to shell out additional bucks to upgrade the random access memory to around 512 MB from the 128 MB that the PC comes with. This will set you back by an additional Rs 4,000-5,000.