Monday, January 14, 2013

Giving up on Media Center?

I've been a big fan of Windows Media Center for quite some time. I have told people about it, recommended it, and revolutionized the way we personally watch TV and movies using it. Media Center is, quite simply, one of the best pieces of software Microsoft has ever made. It's elegant, clean, easy to understand, and works almost flawlessly.

But that doesn't seem to matter, as Microsoft is slowly letting Media Center die on the vine. They haven't abandoned it outright, but they haven't added any new features or given it any kind of attention since the launch of Windows 7. Now Windows 8 is on the market and while Media Center still exists, it's being paid very little attention. It's pretty clear that Microsoft has no future plans for it.

I've had to sit by and watch as other streaming platforms got more and more features while Media Center stagnated. There's still no way to stream music from Pandora or Slacker, and no way to watch video from Amazon, Hulu, Crackle, Vudu, etc. The $50 box from Roku, however, can do all of this and more.

So I'm done. I just got a Roku box myself and I'm going to give it a try. The media PC will still stick around, but it won't need to be connected to the TV. I plan to keep all of our ripped movies on that PC with the Plex Media Server running. Then the Plex app on Roku will stream our local library over the network. This setup will, in theory, give us exactly the same media selection we enjoy now, plus lots more streaming options.

The one thing Media Center still excells at is recording live TV over-the-air. The interface is brilliant, shows record automatically, and everything just works. Live TV is something the small streaming boxes are still trying to figure out...and I'm not sure how to handle it with Roku. I think Plex can transcode the recorded TV files, so I think I can let the PC continue to record shows, then watch them on the Roku through Plex.

This will require some experimentation. You can likely expect more posts about this over the coming weeks as I tweak the new setup. Hopefully, it's a smooth transition...