The Payoff – Watching Your Movies

Ultimately the goal is for you to be able to sit back in your home theater, browse through your collection of videos, pull one up, and watch it in all its glory. Unfortunately, this is the weak link in the entire chain – you are wandering into uncharted territory here. But, there’s plenty of fun to be had as an early adopter, so I’ll lay out the options and you can decide where to go.

Right now there are three different categories of solutions for your DivX home theater viewing. They are, in no particular order:

  • The high-end media PC
  • The dedicated appliance
  • The home-brew solution

Each of these have their merits and disadvantages. I’ll take a look at the options here and let you decide for yourself.

An XP Media Center PC

You probably noticed in 2003 that Microsoft was pushing something called Windows XP Media Center Edition. Media Center PCs combine special hardware and software to create a box that fits nicely into your living room. Ideally, this PC is quiet, unobtrusive, operable via remote control, and connects to your TV and sound system.

The Media Center PC is more than capable of playing DivX videos, and is probably powerful enough to act as a server to other systems around your house. You can find out a little bit more about this version of XP at Microsoft’s Media Center portal.

When it comes to managing your home video collection, Media Center claims to have just what you need. Right out of Microsoft’s mouth:

Media Center is a full-screen interface that helps you access more entertainment with less effort. Using the Media Center remote control and Media Center interface, you can access your entertainment using just one remote and a handful of common commands. From your favorite chair, use the Media Center remote control to browse TV Program Guide listings for shows to watch and record. Browse thumbnail images of your music, photos, and videos to find entertainment easily. Sort choices by artist, show or album title, or genre. While you browse your entertainment choices, the Now Playing window keeps your currently playing media selection in view and within easy reach. You can also access Media Center while sitting at your desk using a mouse and keyboard.

Media Center PC

Now, I have to give full disclosure here and let you know that I don’t have a Media Center PC, so I can’t comment on whether the software is really particularly friendly. All I can say for sure is that the underlying technology for playing DivX videos is there in Windows Media Player, so you aren’t going to have any problems there. I can also say that Media Center PCs are manufactured specifically for the purpose of recording and playing video, so Microsoft has put a lot of work into the user experience.

Sounds great, what’s the downside? I really see only two downsides to the Media Center PC. First is price. This is an expensive box. At a time when desktop PCs are getting really cheap, manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and Gateway see the Media Center PC as a way to sell a system for a nice high price. Expect to see something well above the $1000 mark, with an average system probably going for $1500. (XP Media Center machines can be had for under $1000, but I haven’t seen an XP Media Center 2004 machine going for that price.)

The second downside of the Media Center PC is simple packaging. This is still a PC. The manufacturers have done a lot to make this thing fit into your media room, but they can’t change the fact that it’s a PC. It’s big, generates a lot of heat, and requires all the PC handholding and maintenance.