Windows 7 Review

MomTechnology Review-Windows 7

By Lori Cunningham

Contributing Writer


I recently hosted a Windows 7 house party to show the new features and benefits of the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system. As Windows 7 has just launched, there is a lot of buzz around it. All new computers are either bundled with Windows 7 or there is a promise to give you a free upgrade. Is Windows 7 just another highly marketed upgrade or is it worth your serious attention? If you’re not buying a new computer, is upgrading to Windows 7 really going to help you much? In a three part series, I will take you through some of the compelling reasons why you should consider Windows 7.

Media Center

This first article will focus on Windows Media Center. Most computers with Windows Vista or Windows 7 operating systems have Media Center on them. Yet, many people have never opened Media Center on their computer. Today is the day you’ll open this great program up, if you haven’t already. Media Center has a wealth of multimedia entertainment just waiting to be used. With Media Center you can access your favorite music, pictures, and videos. In addition, if you have a TV tuner and a coaxial connection from your TV provider, you can record live TV – it is a fully functional DVR.

window1 Media Center is a powerhouse of media – right at your fingertips. After some initial set-up, Media Center will point to all of your music, photos, and video files.

To begin set-up, open Media Center and scroll to Tasks.

Then scroll left-right to find Settings.

Click on Settings.

Media Center will then guide you through the necessary steps to set up your media files. Microsoft Windows 7 has a helpful website to assist you in setting up Windows 7 Media Center on your Windows 7 installed computer:

Understanding Media Center

Media Center contains five main areas: Pictures & Videos, Music, Sports, Movies, and TV. An overview of each of these areas is given below.

Pictures & Video

Media Center is a great tool for showing off your pictures.You'll be surprised how many photos you have on your pc

Media Center is a great tool for showing off your pictures.  Upon opening Media Center, click on “Pictures and Videos.”   You will be impressed by the way Media Center displays all of your pictures.

It categorizes your pictures by date taken, folders, ratings, and tags.  Your camera already adds a date to your picture files.  Most file uploading software also will place your photos in folders – typically naming them by the date.  Ratings and tags can be added by opening Windows Gallery Live, which, by the way, isn’t really “live.”
Scrolling through your pictures is a lot of fun, it’s a great way to see visually how many pictures you actually have on your computer.  The real beauty comes when you choose the Slide Show option.  Instantly you’ll get a great slide show featuring the pictures you selected.  You can choose to view just one folder or select all pictures and your computer will run through all of them until it finishes or it will continue if you choose loop.  I love this Pictures feature – I play it when we have friends over and the pictures are just background, but it can really add interest to a party.  Now your pictures aren’t laying dormant in your computer, they’ve been brought back to life.  To make your slide shows even more exciting, begin playing some music from the “Music” section of Media Center first.
Videos can also be played through Media Center.  You can actually watch your home videos with Media Center.  I did take the time several years back to upload my old video camera’s videos up to my computer.  And now, I have a Sony HD camcorder and have been uploading my videos.   With Media Center, it’s no longer a huge chore to play my videos.


Your Music Library Never Looked So Good!
Similar to Pictures and Videos, once you run Media Center setup on your music, Media Center will find all music on your computer.  Upon selecting Music, you will be treated to a visually appealing page such as the one below.Media Center connects to the Internet and finds any available Album covers for each of your songs.  It won’t find every album, but it finds a bunch nonetheless.  In Music, you can scroll by album, artists, genre, playlists that you create, etc. Once you select Play, you will be treated to neat visual graphics while the music plays on.  So select your favorite albums, create a playlist, and enjoy your favorite tunes.


Media Center Sports
Although the Sports section of Media Center is not very graphically appealing, it’s a great place to get the latest scores in any sports league, research upcoming games and game times, or even set up your own Fantasy football team and track each players scores.


Win 7 Movie Library Media Center
During set-up, Media Center will find any movies you have downloaded or copied from your personal DVD  collection.  It will then go out to the Internet and find the movie title and artwork to make it easier to view your movie collection.  Windows Media Player is bundled up with Media Center, so the controls are pretty much the same.  You can search movies by title, year released, genre, type, dated added, etc.
But the fun doesn’t have to stop at your computer.  Read the section below about Watching Media Center from the Comfort of Your Couch.  This is really where Media Center gets exciting.


Media Center - Recorded TV

If your computer has a TV tuner card and you are able to connect your TV signal to your computer, you will be able to watch and record live TV.  For help, watch this video on TV Tuner Set-Up with Windows Media Center– it will walk you through the steps you need to take.  This video uses a HP TouchSmart computer – but set-up is similar for any computer or laptop with a TV Tuner.

After setting up Media Center to recognize the channels your TV carrier receives, Media Center will search the Internet for the latest TV guide for your TV carrier.  Within minutes you’ll have a complete guide showing all the shows that are playing this week on TV.  Your computer is now your new digital video recorder (DVR).   With a click of the button you can record a single episode or a season full of your favorite show.  If  you have a particular show or movie but don’t see it listed, you can search for it.  If Media Center does not see your searched show in the TV lineup within the new couple of weeks, you can save the search and Media Center will automatically record if for you when it becomes available.   Any show that you record will reside on your computer, so you can watch it without the need for an Internet connection.  This is especially good if you have a laptop and want to take shows on the road with you.  Business people and kids alike can appreciate taking their fave TV shows on a personal DVR on a trip.

Microsoft’s Ben Reed demonstrates the new TV Guide Features in Windows 7 Media Center:

In addition, Media Center has included a section called Internet TV.  Internet TV includes TV found on the Internet.  Although there are a lot more shows available than what was initially available when Vista first started, there is still opportunity for more shows.  Nonetheless, CBS content, including Big Brother (past seasons), Survivor (current and past seasons), CSI, NCIS, The Amazing Race, Medium, and a bunch of other shows are available.  Other channels include MSN, MSNBC, PBS, The CW, etc.  You won’t catch all your favorite shows on these channels, so you have to search through them.  For example, there are no kids shows available on the PBS channel.  But hey, if you loved Melrose Place and 90210, you can see them again on The CW.  One night I was searching and I found the old Family Ties shows.  I loved that show!  Oops, I’m showing my age!

Watching live TV, recording TV, and watching Internet TV is a lot of fun – but watching TV from your computer is not always the most relaxing.  What if you could watch your TV shows, videos, pictures, music, and keep track of your sports teams right from your couch in your family room? Is this possible?

Watching Media Center from the Comfort of Your Own Couch

Yes, it is possible to access Media Center from your couch.  Microsoft has made it possible to extend Media Center from your computer to any TV in the house – however, you will need some additional equipment and some help setting it up.  If you already have a wired or wireless home network enabled and an Xbox 360, you have all you need to get started.   If you have a wired/wireless network but no Xbox, and no plans to buy an Xbox, you can buy a Media Center Extender which plugs into your TV and can connect to your wired/wireless network.

A Media Center Extender costs anywhere from $200-$300, depending upon the brand and model.  The Xbox 360 costs similarly dependent upon the model.  To me, the better cost value is to buy the Xbox 360, that way you have the capability of playing games and watching movies from the console.  However, the main drawback is that in order to watch your Media Center media, Xbox needs to be on.  Xbox has a fan that needs to run to keep the unit cooled down.  It can be noisy and you’ll want to turn it off when not in use.  With a Media Center Extender, you can keep it on all the time and it does not make any noise.

I’ll add that another way around this network business is to put your computer or laptop in your family room and attach it directly to the TV.  There will be little to no delay in displaying movies and you’ll have all your data at your fingertips – plus you can surf the web and use your TV as a large monitor.  Nonetheless, your computer does have a fan, so you will hear the fan running ocassionally.

Have an Xbox 360 already and want to learn more?  Watch this video from Microsoft’s Ben Reed:

My SQUEEZE on Windows 7 Media Center

Windows 7 Media Center is a great program.  It is a fantastic media toolbox to view your pics, music, etc. on your computer.  The DVR features are great and you don’t have to “rent” this DVR.  You can watch your favorite shows in a smaller window while you work on your computer.  Or, using the Media Center remote control that came with your Media Center PC, you can kick back in a chair away from the computer to watch TV.

Now that I’ve told you about all the gems and benefits of using Media Center, I will tell you that I rarely open up Media Center on my computer.  I think it’s a fantastic program and it has great user capabilities.  Nonetheless, when I’m at the computer, Idon’t watch TV and I use Windows Gallery Live and iTunes to view my pictures and listen to my music.

So why then am I so gung-ho about Windows 7 Media Center?  Because of it’s extension capabiliy.  I LOVE the fact that I can access my music, photos, home videos, movies, and recorded TV from my couch in my family room.  I do not need to be cramped up in my office chair to see this great content.  I can easily show friends our latest pics without having to leave the family room to go to my home office.  I can quickly set party mood music using my playlists to play in the background.  I can almost effortlessly show my daughter the video footage I took from her soccer game earlier in the day.  And I can do all this on my big screen TV.  I am doing all this usig my wireless network and Xbox 360.  Now all of a sudden, my filed away media gains new life.

Of course, Windows 7 Media Center isn’t perfect using Extenders.  One of my biggest pet peeves is the start-up – having to start up Xbox 360 and go through the screens to begin Media Center.  In addition, Media Center takes up a lot of your computer’s processing power, so it is best not to have other programs on your computer open at the same time.

In my next article, I will go over Helpful Features of Windows 7.  The last article in this Windows 7 series will focus on Photos and Videos: Such Ease with Windows 7.  Be sure to subscribe to so you won’t miss out on these upcoming articles.

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