Windows XP Media Center Edition offers a huge range of functionality, so let’s talk about the main features in some detail.

TV functionality is possibly the biggest draw to MCE in terms of the consumer ‘wow’ factor. MCE gives a you the ability to watch television full screen on your monitor or a connected television, or in a window on your desktop as you work. Remember that MCE has a full Windows XP Professional base underneath, with all of XP’s inherent benefits, so you are free to run normal Windows programs at the same time as using many of the media functions.

Supporting cable, antenna and satellite signals, both analogue and the new wave of digital television signals, MCE allows your PC to do more than just act like a regular television set.

Although much of this functionality has been available on PCs for a long time, MCE makes the whole experience far simpler, especially for the novice user. With MCE you can record your favourite TV shows direct to the PC’s hard disk, then burn your recordings and favourite shows to DVD or CD for watching elsewhere.

You can also pause live TV while watching it then resume the action from where you paused it. Have you ever wished you could stop your favourite show when the phone rings or someone arrives at your door unexpectedly? MCE allows you to do that very easily, bestowing the PC with TiVo-like set top box functionality.

You can even time shift recordings, so if you happen to come home half way through the England v Turkey match that you’re recording, you can watch it from the start without while the rest of the match is recorded.

MCE simply stores your archived recordings in set folders on the MCE PC, with its built-in DVD authoring system allowing you to create your own copies.

You get access to online programme guides, for scheduling the MCE to record your favourite shows or films, you can watch one channel while recording another, plus you get added features like setting bookmarks in the video so that you can find your favourite scenes easily.

If you ever wished for a feature on your regular TV, MCE more than likely implements it for you. For example, it allows you to preview up to 14 days of future TV programmes, allowing you to see what’s on in the next two weeks and of course you can ask MCE to record anything for you.

Audio gets similar treatment to the television functions, with the ability to playback all your existing audio and music files, be they MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio) or physical CDs. It even supports the newest audio formats such as Super Audio CD, DVD Audio and the latest 5.1 surround sound formats when playing back DVDs.

Inserting your favourite CD will prompt MCE to offer you the ability to copy it direct to the MCE PC, so that you don’t need the CD again. Commonly known as ripping, MCE rips your CD direct to high quality WMA format, preserving the quality.

Maybe most impressive of all is the ability to stream your collected audio and video to other PCs in your household, from the MCE PC. This way the kids can access all of the music or television shows recorded via the MCE PC and play it back on their own PC. The software needed to do so, on non-MCE PCs, is a simple free download from Windows Update.

MCE really was designed for applications like this, giving household wide access to entertainment functions that are usually confined to a single room. Of course current PC entertainment functions, like watching DVDs, viewing collections of images and creating your own home movies are all present and correct in MCE. A part of Windows XP since its inception, Windows Movie Maker is highlighted in MCE, giving you simpler ways to view your cinematic masterpieces than before.

That brings us on nicely to how the MCE functions are presented to you and how you interact with them.

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