Windows Media Center (MC) is a visually stimulating application that adds feature-rich multimedia capabilities to your computer. With MC (and the occasional additional piece of hardware, such as a TV tuner, DVD player/burner, and so on), you can watch or record TV or movies on your computer; listen to FM radio stations from around the planet; play, organize, rip, or burn music; view a digital photo collection; import, organize, and play your home videos; and more.
MC is available only on the Home Premium and Ultimate versions of Windows Vista. It is also available in Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE).
Figure 2.40 shows the start screen of Windows Media Center.
Figure 2.40 Windows Media Center.
The MC menu features the following options:
- Pictures and Videos—Picture library, capability to play a slide show, video library
- Music—Music library; capability to play music, play online radio stations, or search for music to add to your library
- TV and Movies—Capability to play recorded TV shows and set up your TV tuner
- Sports—What's on now, what's on later, scores summary, players statistics
- Online Media—Capability to access online multimedia streamed content
Tasks—Capability to change MC settings shutdown, burn CDs and DVDs, sync with other multimedia devices, configure an MC extender, or select to allow media only to hide the Minimize and Close buttons to avoid accidental interruptions or the shutdown of MC, as shown in Figure 2.41
Figure 2.41 Use the Media Only setting to avoid accidental interruptions or shutdown of Media Center.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Content providers and DRM-compliant multimedia applications, such as Media Center and Media Player, typically use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to control the distribution of digital content, such as music and videos. DRM is applied to the content in the form of media usage rights that act like permissions on the protected content. These media usage rights (also called the DRM license) are not stored on the content itself but are stored on the computer where the DRM content is being accessed. There are separate "rights" to play, burn, and sync digital content. See Figure 2.42 for an example DRM free license; you locate it by right-clicking the digital content file, selecting Properties, and then clicking the Media Usage Rights tab.
Figure 2.42 Media Usage Rights.
To add protection to digital content that you rip or burn to optical media, you must enable DRM in the Windows Media Player or in the Windows Media Center application, as shown in Figure 2.43.
Figure 2.43 Selecting the Add Copy Protection to Your Music option implements Digital Rights Management controls on your copied music.
Media Player is a multimedia application that is available on all versions of Windows Vista. It is not as fully featured as MC, but it is the tool MC uses to perform many of MC's "under the hood" tasks, such as copying (ripping) music from other media to the Media Player and the MC library.
Media Center Extender
Media Center Extender is a device used to connect your Media Center PC to TV, to bring all the great multimedia components of MC to any room in your house.
These devices, called set-top boxes, are placed near the TV and must connect to the Media Center PC over a wired or wireless network connection. They are manufactured by Microsoft (Xbox 360 is a Media Center Extender) and many other third-party manufacturers, and they are relatively inexpensive (less than $200 at the time of this writing).