Although this was originally written after I got Media Center 2005, most of it still applies when running Media Center under Vista. I especially recommend you install both DRV-Edit (see usage technique below) and MCEBuddy, both of which you can find on the GreenButton download pages.
MCEBuddy takes your LARGE Windows Media Center television recording files and makes them small saving you disk space. It also removes commercials and converts your recordings into formats that are usable on other systems and handheld devices. It does all of this automatically with a minimum of fuss and little or no technical knowledge required.
MCEBuddy is an automated service for Windows Media Center XP, Vista and now Vista 64 that converts the Media Center native video format (DVR-MS) to a user-configurable file format (WMV, DivX or H.264). To use the DivX and H.264 formats you'll also need to install FFDShow; you'll find the link on the MCEBuddy website.
The Microsoft Media Center Edition (MCE) installation CD's come with a thin 24-page Setup Guide booklet. I assumed was about setting up Windows and didn't open the booklet (since MCE was already installed on my machine) ... big mistake. It actually has some useful information about how to wire things together ... and believe me this a bigger problem than you think (unless you have a 10 year old who can do it for you).
Before starting the on-screen Setup for Media Center, I recommend you setup your network first, see the first link below
Also note that I didn't pick large fonts as recommended during the Media Center setup. Later, I went back and changed my font size in Windows, but then the Roxio DVD program that come with my machine never worked again until I changed the font size back. Obviously a bug in Roxio ... when viewed on the TV screen the large fonts are easier to read.
Once I got Media Center running, I wanted to run two monitors: my projection TV hooked up via the S-Video output on my video card and a flat screen PC monitor next to my chair. The installed driver for my video card didn't have a "Clone" option (put the same output on both monitors). What I finally found that worked best for me was using my PC monitor as the primary monitor and using my projection TV as an extension of the desktop and moving the Media Center over there. There are several little problems: when Media Centers runs full screen I can't get the cursor back on my primary monitor. Only problems with running it in a window is that it has a border around the edge and when it restarts it always has to be resized. I did try installing the newest version of drivers for my video card ... gave me lots more options (including cloning) but the replay of a TV show would freeze after a few minutes ... happened several times ... reverted to the old driver and the problem when away.
My next flustration using Media Center was in how little control I had over it ... and the HELP was mostly useless ... it only said the obvious. First step in getting some more control is to go to Microsoft Media Center home page: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/ and clicking on Power Toys. Download and install Tweak MCE. There are also some other downloads there which you may find useful ... more on them after I've had a chance to try them out.
I understand that there is a way to record a TV program and burn it to a DVD at the same time. I can't find it ... in fact, when I ask Media Center to create a DVD it only copies the .dvr-ms files to the CD, it doesn't make a CD that plays on my DVD player. When I create a DVD with Roxio, it takes 2 hours to make a 1 hour DVD :( ... but at least it plays.
Obviously there is lots more to learn!
One very useful free program is DVR-Edit, see The Green Button link below. It makes it easy to edit commercials out of a program before copying it to a DVD ... of course like a lot of this stuff, how you do it is not immediately obvious. Technique:
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