Video Streaming with Windows Media Center
Windows XP Media Center Edition holds the keys to the future of home entertainment
Windows Media Center is a version of the Windows XP operating system created by Microsoft. The full name of the operating system is Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and is designed to be the hub of a home entertainment system. The operating system must be run on a PC and has very steep requirements. The PC that would run Media Center is an HTPC capable of all the things you've ever heard of in media players, recorders and PC based home theater equipment. Windows Media Center Edition simply puts all that functionality into one convenient operating system.
One of the requirements besides a high-end graphics card is a TV tuner capture card with built in MPEG2-based video encoding. The preferred method of building a computer to run Windows MCE 2005 would be to use multiple video capture cards, and MCE 2005 supports up to three. Using more than one tuner capture card allows the user to record and watch different channels at the same time and would allow for the use of multiple Media Center Extenders. Media Center Extenders are set-top boxes that extend the functionality of the media center PC to another room in the house either to allow someone else in the house to take advantage of its features or simply to allow the PC to reside in a different room while the extender is used near the home entertainment system. The use of an extender set-top box can go a long way in creating better quality sound and visual quality - any time you can have a noisy PC running in a room away from your amplifier powering your speakers you save on all that noise infiltrating your acoustic quality. That's why the HTPC or even using the PC as a source for audio has never really taken hold in the hi-fi community.
With a fully functional HTPC using Windows MCE 2005, you can record High Definition Television programming onto the PC's hard drive, so you're not limited to a PVR's finite storage. The ability to play backed-up DVDs and CDs and access your movie and music libraries by remote control frees you from digging around shelves for silver discs. Using a home network, you can store all your media on any other PC in the house and rack up nearly infinite storage for all your media with Windows MCE as its control center.
Playing back music, video and the PVR functionality is alone worth the price of admission to the HTPC powered by Win MCE but it's also got all the network connectivity options of the Windows operating system. You can use your household wireless router to connect your HTPC or connect to other machines in a peer LAN using a hub. Internet access to your machine opens up the possibility of buying media online as well accessing internet radio.
Win MCE pre-built machines are becoming commonplace anyplace they sell PCs. There are offerings from Dell, HP and others and these machines are priced to compete with homemade systems which not so long ago were the only way to enjoy a dedicated HTPC. The pre-built systems come in smart-looking boxes designed to sit on their side and blend in with your component-based home entertainment system. They look more like a receiver than a PC stacked in with your home theater gear and feature ultra-quiet fans. Another big advantage of the HTPC is the ability to play back one of the finest DVDs ever made, the T-2 Extreme Edition in full high-resolution glory if you have a TV capable of playing it back. You won't have to wait for HD DVD to finally be released to get a taste of DVD in HD.
Media Center Extenders are a convenient way to extend the power of the Window's based HTPC format to other rooms in the house. Xbox has a Media Center Extender disc you can buy to turn the Xbox into an Extender and the Xbox 360 will be complete with built in Media Center Extender software.