Home > Media Center > MCE is for Canadians

MCE is for Canadians

 If you’re from the Great White North and you’re somewhat of a geek, then you’re accustomed to a few things about Canadian life:

  • Good beer
  • Cheap internet
  • Bad PVR options

Ever since their inception, I’ve been hounding TiVO and ReplayTV to make their offerings available in Canada with no success.  As PVRs trickle their way into the market, I’m constantly disappointed by the quality of hardware and software that makes its way up here.  Bell Expressvu customers have had a PVR option available for over a year now, but it’s quite honestly not very good – “digital VCR” it will do, but a PVR is supposed to be so much more.  Rogers customers recently had a PVR option made available to them, but reviews from colleagues have been mixed.  If you’re willing to learn how to compile a Linux kernel, there are some mostly-baked open source alternatives available but I don’t personally rank them in the “options available to my mom and dad” category.

No, in the last 5 years of searching and the last 2 years of actually trying some of the Canadian options out, XP Media Center is about the only useful PVR available in Canada.

I’d better back that up a bit so that I don’t become flamebait on Slashdot…  A decent PVR, for my needs, has to be able to do the following things:

  • Be easy to set up
  • Be easy to use
  • Be smart enough to “Record all new episodes of the simpsons“
  • Allow me to completely forget what “Live TV“ is all about
  • Take my TV shows with me on the road, in the car, on the plane

Most alternatives that are available in Canada fail in at least one of these categories.  Most notably, the options that are available from service providers simply don’t have the smarts to go out and grab all of the programs that I want to see.  Their logic falls short, which is frustrating because they hold so much promise as the simple option for Canadians.

Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE), however, does cover all of the bases that I would expect to find in a PVR.  The interface is fantastic, the remote is easy to use, the image quality is now amazing (I’ll admit, this wasn’t always the case), and it is easily expandable to every TV in your house via the soon-to-be release Media Center Extenders. 

My name is Pete and I am a TV junkie.  In my personal experience, MCE has changed the way that I watch TV.  In the pre-MCE world, I would arrange my evenings around the TV shows that are on.  I would watch really bad TV because there is nothing else on between shows that I really care about.  I would pee at commercial breaks (no really, it’s true!). 

Now with MCE in the picture, I watch whatever TV I want.  The progression of using MCE for television goes something like this:

  1. Wow, this guide is cool.  I can find any program I want and pause it.
  2. Who needs the guide, I’ll just record all the programs I want so my usual shows are always there.
  3. Man, I’ve got alot of space, I’ll start recording a bunch of stuff just in case I feel like watching it.
  4. Huh, they still make a TV Guide?  What’s a commercial?  How do I get movies online?

It’s an odd concept but because I’m only watching what I want to see, I find that I’m actually watching less TV.  A one-hour show takes 40 minutes to watch (no commercials), and I’m no longer forced to sit through a 30-minute sitcom that’s on between 2 shows that I really care about.  And just for fun, I always keep the latest episode of Leno, Letterman, Conan (but rarely if ever watch them).  And I’m now a huge fan of “The Daily Show” which was always on too late for me to get into.  Flying away on a business trip?  I just copy a bunch of TV to my laptop and watch them on the plane, it’s great! 

Anyone who has been using a Tivo for the last few years is probably reading this and thinking “big deal, this is not news”.  But for Canadians, there really hasn’t been any PVR that would allow you to change your TV viewing life like this.  MCE is the only game in town.

To be fair, I should mention some of the specific drawbacks to using Media Center as well. 

At the top of the pile is MCE’s inability to work with the raw digital streams that you’re getting from your satellite or digital cable box.  This is personally frustrating for me, since there is a pristine digital picture out there that we should be able to use.  I think it’s a matter of time before this happens – for now, all of that digital content is locked into your set-top-box because the powers that be are concerned that releasing the digital files will lead to piracy (to be honest, they’re probably right).  If you’re an Expressvu or Starchoice customer, MCE will still work but will use the analog signal that comes out of the set-top-box not the digital signal.

Some Canada-specific tweaks that you might want to consider if and when you buy a MCE:

  1. Many PCs sold in Canada come from the factory set as “English – US“, your experience with MCE will be better if you use “English – Canada“
  2. Out of the box, the guide shows a date that doesn’t include the day of the week.  In order to change this, go to Control Panel / Regional Options and change “Long Date Format“ to read “dddd, MMMM dd, yyyy“.  This will add in the day of the week not only for MCE, but for all of the applications in Windows.
  3. Yes, you can tell MCE to ignore channels that you don’t care about (for example french channels and parliament channels) .
  4. Many shows are broadcast on both US and Canadian networks.  MCE will prefer to use whatever channel you clicked on to set up the series recording.  For example, if you want to record “Law and Order“ you can do it on either CTV or NBC.  If you initiate the series recording from CTV in the guide, MCE will attempt to record on that Canadian channel first and then do all of its funky searching and conflict resolution to find other episodes on other channels as the second priority.

I’m personally located in the Toronto area, and use cogeco analog cable along with my XP Media Center Edition.  As you can tell, I’m happily relieved that there is finally a viable PVR available to Canadians.  I encourage you to give it a try…

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Categories: Media Center
  1. April 10, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    hey a quick q for you i have the same setup
    Express vu 3100 MCE 2005 with remote, and teh IR blaster

    all works well except the PPV CH in teh MCE guide they dont come in.

    Is there something i am doing wrong or is it teh way it is

    Thanks

    Roger
    rpayne@eastlink.ca

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