How Media-center PCs Work

By: Julia Layton

Windows XP Media Center Edition: Extras and Advanced Functions

Once you've made your connections and configured the Media Center software, you're sitting in your den with a PC-based home theater. You've got your TV programming, your sound system, the Internet and your entire digital library of movies, music and photos at your fingertips. What you can do in terms of accessing, inputting to, outputting from and combining those elements is virtually unlimited. Here are just a few of your options:

Downloadable plug-ins

  • mce Weather provides real-time local weather reports.
  • My Movies lets you download movie data and organize your movie collection based on title, director, keyword, genre, etc.
  • Media Center Karaoke turns your home theater into a karaoke setup.
  • MCE Caller ID Client receives caller-ID information from a PC connected to your phone line and tells you onscreen who's calling.

Add multiple monitors/displays

You can set up Media Center to have two displays -- your TV and a computer monitor, for example. The displays can show two different views simultaneously. You can watch a movie on the TV while you surf the Internet on the computer monitor. In most cases, the video card is already equipped to handle this function. You just need to configure it for two outputs using the xpMCE setup guide.


Multiple TV tuners

If you have two TV tuners, you can watch one pre-recorded show off the hard drive while recording two live ones. If you have three tuners, you can watch one pre-recorded show while recording three live ones. If you have, say, three tuners and two displays, you can watch two live shows at the same time while recording a third.

Media Center Extender

You can use one or more Media Center Extender to output the signals from your Media Center PC to other displays (and/or an Xbox 360) in your house. It's basically a networking system built specifically for the Media Center PC. For complete setup and configuration instructions, see Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.

The Windows xpMCE system offers the functionality of a PC and a home-theater receiver in a single box. If you're looking to integrate your digital activities, a media-center PC is a great way to go. But the technology is still in its adolescence. In the end, software-based integration may be just a starting point. It may be hardware developments that really direct the future of the home theater. Intel has developed a new processor platform called Viiv, which specifically addresses the needs of home-theater PCs. Intel's goal with the Viiv setup is to standardize the hardware aspects of the media-center market so that consumers and developers can depend on and build on a certain known set of parameters. PCs with "Viiv inside" should start shipping by the middle of 2006.

For more information on media-center PCs and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Antonoff, Michael. "Let Us Entertain You." Sound and Vision Magazine.
  • Apple iMac
  • "Build a Home Entertainment PC." PCMagazine.,1217,a=43779,00.asp
  • "Do-it-yourself multimedia." Macworld.
  • J. River Media Center
  • Medio Product Comparison
  • Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • SageTV Media Center V4 for Windows
  • SnapStream
  • "Viiv Inside? Intel Is Bringing Entertainment PCs to Life." DevX.