I have wanted to set up a Media Center PC for a long time now and I finally got a chance to do just that this weekend. I have to say that Vista Media Center has really impressed me. The flexibility of having a PC that manages many media elements such as pictures, music, and movies and being able to stream that content to multiple devices in the house is awesome. At this point I don't have my media center PC hooked up to my current broadcasting provider as I do not have a tuner that is capable of receiving the signal. Not having a tuner is probably the one thing that has kept me so long from setting this up. However currently I am not disappointed in missing the tuner because there is so much that can be done with media center.
In my house we currently have 4 PCs and an XBOX 360. I have all of them networked together to gain access to the Internet. Beyond a small amount of file and printer sharing the network served as an Internet provider. Well now all that has changed. With a central machine in place acting as the media center all other Vista PCs have direct access to the same content. This content is currently music, pictures and recorded video. It is such a nice thing to be able to stream this content to the XBOX 360.
I used to think that having a large coax video distribution network throughout the house was a requirement in order to get video from one room to the next. However video cable routing to each room can be pretty expensive. Then you have to have the means to be able to control the video source when you are in another room. Making this solution all Ethernet based is a real nice alternative, especially when you have PC's all over the house anyway. And the benefits of not limiting the content to video only is really cool too.
We have a pretty large DVD collection as well. With kids in the house the DVDs always get some abuse. They soon start skipping or wont work at all. So I have started saving our collection to the PC in order to preserve the original DVDs. This works really well with a couple added applications. First of all you need My Movies 2 in order to manage the collection and extend VMC to make it easy to view the movie on any PC in the house. My Movies 2 comes as a server and client component. You only need to install the server part on the master media center. All other PCs get the client part of My Movies 2. My Movies 2 has a really slick install that walks you through modifying the VMC menu options. Next you need DVDfab in order to rip your collection. I installed DVDfab on the master Media Center as that is were I will be managing my collection anyway. Lastly if you don't convert the ripped video files to a well known format for the XBOX 360 you will need another application called Transcode 360. This product will take the video files and convert them on the fly to a compatible format for the XBOX 360.
I think my next step in getting a great audio visual experience in my house is to get one of the Media Center Extenders and place it in our living room. I think the extender would provide me with all I need for living room entertainment.
Beyond that the only thing I would be missing is a way to get my DirecTV recorded programs accessible from VMC. As I see it there are 2 options for this. Option 1 would be to get a DirecTV tuner that would go into my PC. However this currently is not available. Option 2 is to get my existing DirecTV DVRs on the network so that I can expose the programs to VMC.