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An Introduction to Windows Media Center

Included in Windows Vista and Windows 7 is Windows Media Center, a powerful media player which can be used to turn your computer into a complete home entertainment platform. Unfortunately, however, Windows Media Center by itself is actually quite limited in its support for some of the lesser known video and audio formats. Add-ons and codecs can solve this problem, but they can be complicated to figure out. On 64-bit platforms, the complications are even more considerable.

Windows Media Center runs on top of Windows Media Player, basically acting as an alternative interface to that program. The software is best used with a remote control and a TV tuner card. This way, you can enjoy watching TV, listening to music, watching movies or playing photo slideshows all within a single application. The interface is also optimized for use on larger screens such as high-definition plasma displays.

What Can Windows Media Center Do?
Windows Media Center can be used for just about anything related to home entertainment. Aside from watching video or listening to music, Windows Media Center can also be used to play streaming video and audio over the Internet. If you have a TV tuner card, you can also use it for watching television with its integrated remote control features. For TV cards which have an FM tuner built in, you can also use Windows Media Center to listen to radio. You can also burn DVDs and CDs within the program. Other features include the ability to play photo slideshows from the hard disk or portable media, record television, pause live TV broadcasts and watch Internet TV channels.

Extending the Functionality of Windows Media Center
There are many audio and video formats that Windows Media Center has no native support for. Some of these are quite popular formats, such as the FLAC audio format. To solve this problem, you will need to download the necessary codecs for your computer. Separate codec packs are available for both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems. A codec pack such as the famous K-Lite or Shark007 adds support for just about every audio and video format out there. In addition, you will also need a tag extender add-on for unsupported formats. This will allow Windows Media Center to find and catalogue audio and video in otherwise unsupported formats.
Since Windows Media Center runs with Windows Media Player, any plug-in that you use with Windows Media Player should also work with Media Center. Unfortunately, however, you will only be able to configure the plug-in using Windows Media Player. For example, if you have an audio enhancement plug-in such as DFX, you will need to configure it in Windows Media Player and it should then run automatically in the background whenever you use Windows Media Center.

Alternatives to Windows Media Center
Many people are satisfied with using Windows Media Player, Winamp or another media player. However, if you want to take advantage of the more user-friendly interface, remote control support and use your PC in a similar way to a modern television set, Windows Media Center is ideal.


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