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Over the past week I have got a great amount of feedback (more feedback) from my question about switch to Vista Media Center.  First of all, I would like to thank everyone who has commented.  Reactions are all over the board to this question.  From people who will switch right out of the gate, to those waiting for the dust to settle, to those who see no point in an upgrade, and those who think it’s time to move on to another product.

I have mixed views about Vista Media Center, keep reading to see what they are!
PVR/CableCARD:  CableCARD is–without a doubt–the reason to upgrade to Vista Media Center.  Native digital cable support, native HDTV support.  However, a common problem however is that CableCARD’s are a technology only available within the United States.  Those outside of the states have yet to see any additional advances for Media Center being used as a PVR.  There is no addition DVB support, no MHEG support, no DAB support.  Those in the US don’t have to worry about these, but basically broadcasts outside of the US use different technologies then those inside of the US.  We can all thank the FCC for wanting another “standard” for the US to use.

We all know that only OEM systems are getting CableCARD, which is a real drag.  Not much to say about this though, I’ve said before it’s CableLabs way or the Highway.  I would much rather see CableCARD support then not.

EPG/Guide:  There are several enhancements in the EPG, the one everyone wants to the “mini-guide” which has been common to STB’s for years now.  Most people however, do not see this as something that they are dieing to have.

Extenders:  This is one of the biggest reasons not to upgrade to Vista Media Center.  v1 Extenders including the Linksys WMCE54AG, HP x5400, and Xbox v1 title are no longer supported under Vista.  This is a huge problem for people who have spent $300 a-pop on either the Linksys or HP Extenders.  It’s going to be very costly to upgrade Extenders.

v2 Extenders are on the way, codenamed Pika, and these better support additional formats like DivX and XviD or I’m going to feel even worse about not being able to use v1 Extenders.  If you are going to take away something, the second offering better provide what was lacking in the first-generation, along with a lower price tag (which, I believe they will).

UI:  I’m getting used to the UI more-and-more, but you just don’t mess with success like this.  Let’s not forget about the Media Center 2005 UI was actually an “award winning” design.  The UI is ok, but nothing special.  I like the MCE 2005 UI over the Vista UI, plain-and-simple.

Lack of Features:  Vista Media Center just doesn’t seem like its being enough to the table, to make up for what it dropped.  Windows Messenger support has been dropped, Caller ID support has been dropped, v1 Extenders have been dropped, the UI we all love has been dropped, even with RC2 stability is not what it should be, and the list keeps going.

Microsoft had a big chance with Vista to bring together all of the features it has lacked for the past four years.  I can’t say that they have done this.  First up, DVD Streaming something that I have talked about several times here.  I have said that Microsoft has the technology to do it, but for whatever reason Vista Media Center doesn’t support it.  While I don’t know everything about it, there is an public interview posted that talks about it.  With Sony’s DVD Changer selling for $300 Microsoft missed the whole idea here.  If DVD Streaming to Extenders can’t be done, I can surely understand that.  However, one thing that everyone would like to know from Microsoft is why.

This brings me to another point which has nothing to do with Vista, but Microsoft needs more transparency with its Media Center team. Since Matt Goyer has left Micosoft, it’s been very quite from the other Media Center bloggers.  Of course, working on Vista should be Microsoft’s top priority, but anyone from the Media Center team reading this I would like to see you start blogging.  Media Center has a growing community behind it, we need transparency with some of the issues and features that we (the community) feel you should be providing.

Back to Vista Media Center, Windows Messenger support being dropped kind of sucked.  We all know that Windows Messenger itself was dropped from Vista, but wasn’t the implied use of that fancy Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition for Messenger?  It might have just been me, but it was a perfect thing.

Called ID support has been dropped, which I can kind of understand—except—why drop it?  Even if it’s not used by many did the system change so much that it would have taken a ton of work to get it going again?  Somehow, I doubt.  Those who need Caller ID should now check out mceTapiRex which also support Skype.

“Softsled”:   On December 4, 2004, Paul Thurrott let the world know that Microsoft had a software-based Extender for PC’s.  Yet to see the light of day, there are several conspiracy theories why it has not be released.  Frankly, I don’t care what Microsoft reasons are they need to release it or open up development for the platform so it could be done by a third party.  Beyond TV Link does this for SnapStream’s product, I believe Myth TV has a like solution, and Sage TV Placeshifter does it for Sage products.  Those are all of Microsoft’s main competitors.  There isn’t much to say about this, but Microsoft needs to do something here.  I have seen many people dump Media Center for this very feature.

Overall:  Anyway, Keep bring your reasons for upgrade or not upgrading!  I know I left out some things above, and I’ll add too it below this when I think of other reasons why I will be upgrading (or not upgrading).

Right now, I’m sticking with MCE 2005.  I’m waiting to see what DIRECTV Support is going to look like.  If it’s not above what cable can offer, I will be buying a new PC with Vista and CableCARD.  I’m going to wait for that to play out, and by then maybe we can find out more about “Softsled” and DVD Streaming and I will be sold 100% on Vista Media Center again.  I’m still locked on Media Center, other packages just can not compete from my point of view until they either support CableCARD or DIRECTV.

Media Center still has the most potential, and at the same time is still very far behind.  Anyone want to get me a job at Microsoft and I’ll be the transparency for the team??  Just kidding.

Additions: Ian pointed out that Media Center Markup Language (MCML) could allow development of a Windows Messenger Live plug-in.  One thing I didn’t bring up above is that Media Center development for third parties has been much improved in Vista.  Plug-ins can now be much richer then the HTML ones from past versions of Media Center.

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