10 improvements in Windows 7 Media Center
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Launch WMC tasks from the Start menu
Windows Media Center was first introduced in a special edition of Windows XP, but it remained a niche product — in large part because the OS was available only to OEMs. The major hardware vendors marketed media center PCs, but they didn’t always implement them well, and prices were generally much higher than a comparable Windows XP Home or Pro computer.
nWith Vista, Microsoft decided to include the Media Center application in the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of the operating system. Consequently, many more people were exposed to this feature, and it has gained considerably in popularity.
nWindows 7 keeps WMC and adds it to the Business and Enterprise editions, as well (although IT administrators can easily turn off the feature, which may not be desirable in a business environment). In addition, Microsoft has made a number of changes to WMC in Windows 7, giving it a different look and adding some new functionality. Let’s look at the top 10 improvements.
nNote: This gallery is also available as an entry in our 10 Things blog and as a PDF download.
nIn previous versions of WMC, you had to start the Media Center application and then navigate to the task you wanted (such as watching Live TV, watching Recorded TV, or viewing the Program Guide). Windows 7 has cut some steps off the process, enabling you to choose a task right from the Windows Start menu. Just click the arrow next to the Windows Media Center selection on the Start menu and you’ll be presented with a list of the tasks that you frequently perform as well as those that are pinned to the submenu.
WMC desktop gadget
Another addition to Windows 7 is the built-in WMC desktop gadget, which lets you keep up with what’s available through Media Center. It displays your recently recorded TV shows (click the program name to display a fly-out with more information about the show), popular series, news programs, sports, your music categories, and more. As you can see here, you can play a recorded program, an Internet program, or music directly from the gadget’s interface.
Configuring the WMC desktop gadget
You can access Media Center content directly from the desktop gadget.nTo install the gadget, just right-click an empty space on the desktop, select Gadgets, and choose Windows Media Center from the list of available gadgets. You can configure the number of new TV recordings, the number of Internet shows per channel, the channels to display, and the transition time between categories.
Don’t have a TV tuner installed in your computer? Never fear. You can still watch virtual channels with Windows 7 WMC’s new Internet TV feature. Available programming includes popular shows from many genres, including TV series, movies, sports, news, music channels, “viral” videos, and lifestyles.
The Internet TV service is free, supported by advertising. The Internet channels also show up in the Guide. If you have a tuner installed and configured, the Internet channels will be displayed at the end of the list of channels from your cable company or other TV provider, as shown here.
Music cover art background display
Media Center has a brand new look when playing music. Now, the cover art from all your albums displays as a scrolling background behind the information for the song that’s currently playing. It’s a much busier look, but definitely more sophisticated.
Play games through WMC
Now you can launch Windows games from inside Media Center. The Extras Library contains Windows 7 games that you can play by simply clicking their icons.
New detailed Guide information
When you click a program in the Guide, you now get a more sophisticated dialog box that gives you more information and organizes your choices better. A synopsis page lets you record the program or set WMC to record the entire series.
You can also select other choices from the top of the dialog box. For example, if you select Other Showings, you get a list of upcoming scheduled showings of the program so you can pick the ones you want to record. There’s even an option to see a listing of the program’s cast and crew.
Music and Picture Favorites
In both the Music and Pictures + Videos categories, you’ll see a new selection called Play Favorites.
Selecting this option in Pictures + Videos will play a slide show of the photos you’ve set as favorites. This setting is made through the Tasks options. Similarly, you can set the favorite music through the Tasks | Music settings. In this case, you can use a particular playlist or use highly rated songs, most played songs, and/or those you’ve added in the last 30 days.
New look for Pictures Browser
WMC in Windows 7 uses the new libraries feature of the operating system to find your pictures, music, and videos. When you open the Picture Library from within WMC, you see a display of those photos that are in the root of your Picture Library.
nIf you look closely, you’ll see that some of these photos (the ones that have names under them) actually represent folders in your Picture Library. You can click on one of them to display the photos within it.
nSorting the photos is easy, with the selections across the top that include sorting by folders, tags, date taken, ratings, slide shows, or shared status.
Slide show creator
The new slide show creator in WMC lets you make multiple slide shows for different occasions. Just click Slide Shows and then Create Slide Show.
Adding music to a show
You can choose pictures from your library to include in the show, and you can add music to play during the show.
Playing a show
Simply click the name of a slide show in the list and a dialog box will open, displaying thumbnails of the pictures in the show and giving you the option to play it.
For sports fans
You’ll find a new option in the Sports category of WMC in Windows 7 called Leagues. This lets you sort games based on the league (NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.)