“ Windows Media is the end-to-end platform that powers the next wave of digital media experiences. It dramatically improves the digital media playback experience with instant-on/always-on streaming - optimized for your needs - and fast and easy player. This comprehensive, industrial strength platform enables easy development and deployment of economical digital media solutions. Each model of Cisco Content Engine can be equipped with a specific Windows Media Streaming Option to support live streaming, stream splitting, multicast, and video on demand (VOD). „
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Windows New Media Centre.
I was not sure what to expect with the Windows Media Centre package. I mean, what use was it to me when I was happy with most multi media programs that I already had ? Would it enhance my experience ? Would it help me to achieve tasks ? What was in it for me as a user ?
Well, in many areas I was nicely surprised by parts of the experience, although there are weak areas. So what does the Media Centre offer you and what was my experience ?
I like the fact that everything is so clearly labelled. For example from the opening screen, you can access online services, which I shall explain later, tune in your television, provided you have the right gear attached to your livebox or equivalent, access your photos, your videos, your music, play DVDs, access your messenger, or look at the supplemental areas that the program has incorporated.
The experience as a whole is very good, although the weaker areas of the Media centre are the photographic area and the games which take a long time for a basic game to load, to the extent that I often press the control/alt/delete buttons to see if the program is still responding. These are the areas that I think Microsoft could improve upon. The photographic area is not as good as my individual photographic program, and thus will have limited use for me. There is one feature of the photographic package that I do like, and that is the usefulness of being able to see your photographs quickly and easily, and the size of the thumbnail (or small image) is better than is shown on a normal file search. It's impressive, and I use this area to access photos that I want to show someone, burn onto a CD or send to an MSN contact. This usage of the photographic area is good enough for those who don't want to edit photographs, and for the general organisation of photographs is very good. You can for example arrange all the photographs into date order which is handy or by name, which should suit those that like things labelled or numbered. As for those that want to edit and enhance their photos, forget it, because they really did not build this facility into the program.
The DVD experience.
What I particularly like about the media centre is its ability to be flexible. For example, if you play a video, you can copy it simply to DVD with a right click, and the program takes you painlessly through the procedure, even offering to compact your video to fit the DVD, or telling you to use less files. This has made my experience a lot easier and I do use the Media centre regularly for this. Whether it copes well with full size DVDs is a question mark, since the compacting is minimal and I believe that programs designed to back up DVD would do it better. I can see the sense of this area, since the media centre allows you to effectively record television programs and then put them onto DVD for watching on a normal DVD player. Again, here I do not benefit from the whole experience because television by computer line is not yet available in my area, although I do look forward to the experience. The setting up of television seems pretty simple and instructions clear enough for a technophobe. Split screen is rather neat and I liked this because it meant that I could multi task whilst watching something on the split screen player.
I think Microsoft got a bit too clever here. You can talk to friends via the messenger area on the Media Centre, although I actually prefer to use an independent messenger. It's bland putting it bluntly and doesn't add to my experience of the software. I shan't use it a lot since it is rare that I would have the Media centre open and working whilst online, and see no advantage over using an ordinary messenger.
I quite liked this feature and used it a lot at first, but that was before I understood that users would be asked to pay for services. One of the services available was a music search, and here I was really impressed that you could seek out those illusive musical tracks, or sort by artist, and be given whole songs to listen to. Then came the crunch. They wanted me to pay for continued use. Since most of what I need to listen to is available on Amazon, I didn't think that the efficiency of this part of the program justified paying good money for. There is also access to weather, and here the service was limited and I found my online site for weather was quicker to access. News and Sport takes you directly to Reuters, and frankly I prefer to BBC website. Games online is also accessed from this area though again, I get what I want from Yahoo games.
I think Microsoft got a bit to ahead of themselves with the Media Centre. Yes, it is a good layout, and helps a user access all the multimedia files that they have on their computer from one program, though what it offers from there is limited. Soon, I shall be firing up the TV section of the multi media centre, and I think that this is where the program will come into its own, as a means of watching television and recording programs. I have yet to experience streaming video, but was disappointed that the media centre didn't recognise the videos that I download from Google Video, though I can continue to watch them with the Google Video player.
As far as the games aspect of the Media Centre is concerned, it's slow and the games are very limited, and it only caters for dabblers, rather than people who really enjoy games. It seems almost like a project designed for the future, but not quite as user friendly as I hoped that it would be. There are little glitches, programs that get jammed, and buttons in the wrong places. For example, when you are recording film to a DVD all the buttons are shown on the left hand side of the screen which is really hard to use, since one would expect them to be displayed on the right. It does make a difference to the experience, and is a little irksome.
I really do think that there is a future for the Media Centre, although I don't think this pilot version is going to stick around that long, because of areas that fail. For users that just want to look at photos, or listen to music, or watch television or DVD, then it is functional, and the screens very easy to follow. Go further than that and the program seems to let you down. For example, the radio section of the program is cumbersome and it is actually easier to use my normal radio program than to be bothered with the screens that seem to take for ever to load.
Some areas are strong, though many are weak. I can see what Microsoft tried to do, and where they are going, although it's new and I am sure will change with time, to make it more useful to a computer user, rather than a novelty program.
For the time being, it gets a neutral vote. I shall use it, though not as much as Microsoft envisaged users getting involved in the whole multi media process, without the need for other programs. I still need my music program for making CD as it is easier than the Media Centre, still need my photographic program, as it offers me more, and suspect that users of this software will be disappointed at its limitations.
This program is pre-installed on new computers and is not currently for sale, though needs to be taken into consideration when buying a computer.