Windows Media Center
13th Mar 2009 | 10:10
This EPG makes finding what to watch a breeze
If you have the more advanced versions of Windows Vista or XP installed, then you probably already have a programme guide at your disposal as part of Windows Media Center.
If you don't have the DVB (including satellite) supporting TV Pack version you'll need an internet connection to download listings (for Freeview channels only). The upside of this is that Freeview-watchers still get 14 days of data as opposed to the seven days' worth contained in DVB transmissions. We used the version included in Windows Vista Home Premium, which had no trouble detecting our Pinnacle Flash stick and can be controlled with a Media Center compatible remote.
The TiVo-esque Media Center interface has benefited from years of refinement to become exceedingly slick. Data is presented as a grid for up to seven channels at a time (TV and radio are lumped together) which can be organised according to genre or whether they're the most viewed. Alternatively, you can view a list of shows for one channel at a time.
Selecting a show brings up a synopsis at the bottom of the screen and right-clicking brings up the option to record, including scheduling recordings of whole series if required. A separate menu lets you search for shows by category, title or keyword.
Media Center will accommodate single or twin-tuner devices and you're notified if clashes occur, whereupon the software will suggest alternative showings when available. You can set a buffer either side of recordings.
Remote recordings via the internet or mobile can be set up with TVonTime, a third-party browser-based, subscription-based service (costing £19 a year, although a 30-day trial is on offer) that features its own 14-day guide which can be synced with what's in Media Center.
However, we found it to prone to frequent failed recordings and, oddly, some shows which had yet to start could not be scheduled for recording as they had apparently 'already aired'. There are other third-party applications, such as Webguide, that provide this feature.
Ultimately, Media Center succeeds in getting the basics right and being as feature-rich as a 'proper' PVR.