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Live TV / PVR

One of the nice features of Microsoft Media Center is support for live TV and PVR features. Linksys supplied me with a USB HD TV-Tuner that I installed on the Vista notebook. With this in place, I was able download a current program guide (Figure 12) and use it to view, pause, record and play back off-the-air HD video on both the PC and on the 2200.

Program Guide

Figure 12: Program Guide

HD live TV is a powerful feature that comes "for free" as opposed to paying a monthly subscription fee to a cable or satellite company. The feature includes the usual PVR capabilities such as the ability to record all episodes of a show, simultaneous record and playback, etc.

Note that with only a single tuner, I could not simultaneously record and watch "live" TV; I could only watch a pre-recorded show, while another was recording. But the Vista Media Center can support multiple tuners, which would let me watch "live" TV and record at the same time.

In my area, I have pretty spotty over-the-air HDTV signals, so I was only able to pick up a couple of strong channels, and several marginal ones. When I had a good signal, things worked well. I could fast-forward, reverse, pause, resume etc. high-definition TV channels. I was especially happy to be able to view the Super Bowl in high def. Very nice.

But there were issues. When my signal was very bad, I'd just get an error indicating a lack of signal. But when I had a marginal signal, I'd occasionally get complete lock-ups where the 2200 appeared to be struggling and I'd lose connection to the Media Center on the PC (Figure 13).

Lost Connection

Figure 13: Lost Connection

I suspect the problem was in the TV device driver on the notebook and not on the 2200. But regardless, it was annoying when I'd have to reset the box just because I tried to change channels.

When I had a good input signal, I'd say the feature was well done, although once again, the fonts in the program guide were way too small and not easily visible across the room. In general, I'd say my six year-old dual-tuner satellite PVR box has a better user interface than the 2200. But you can't beat the monthly subscription cost of the 2200...free!.

I won't go into any deatils on the built-in upscaling DVD player, as it pretty much worked like any other. I checked it out by watching a movie and I judged it to be of good quality and with the features you'd expect of a higher-end player. Adding the DVD capability to the base price of the 2100 only costs an extra $50 or so, so you'll have to judge if having a built-in unit is worth the extra money vs. a stand-alone unit.

Internet Content

The 2200 can use your own media, but it also has the ability to view assorted content from the Internet. This includes Internet radio stations, Internet video sites, news and sports information. (Figure 14).

Online Content

Figure 14: Online Content

I found a few interesting sites through this capability, but it was a bit of a struggle. Many of the sections wanted to download and install their own viewer, which had to be accomplished on the PC. In addition to being a pain, this made me nervous, not really knowing how safe this was.

A couple of times I experienced what appeared to be an unreachable site that more-or-less locked the box up. Others sites were "free trial" only, and all had their own user-interface and style that didn't always fit with the rest of the system. Another time, I navigated deep into a "Discovery Channel" area and then hit the normal "back" button. Instead of going back one level, it kicked me all of the way out and back to the main 2200 menu.

In general, I found that the available "Internet" content was often really nothing more than low quality trailers or commercials for the real channels. Other channels, such as the "Home Shopping" channel, were nothing but sales vehicles. Overall the "Internet Content" area felt like a bit like the 2200's low-rent district, with a few gems and a lot of junk—pretty much like the real Internet!

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