Why I Don’t Like Vista Media Center

January 15, 2007


Why I Don’t Like Vista Media Center

I have been using Windows Media Center Edition for over a year now. When Vista Ultimate became available, I immediately upgraded because I was drawn to the improvements in the UI. Now, several months later, I am not so sure. Although it’s unlikely that I will revert to XP Media Center, I will have to live with the following things that I don’t like about Vista Media Center. To be honest, not all of these problems are new…some of them plagued XP Media Center too. However, since this is a “Why I Don’t Like…” list, I’ll lump them all together.

1) Frequent lock-ups

My hardware hasn’t changed. It was stable with XP Media Center and my reboots were limited to manual ones when updating software etc. These were few and far-between. Now, with Vista Media Center, it seems like I have to reboot daily, sometimes multiple times. The 10–ft experience has become a 1–ft experience and is trying my patience. This is with a clean install of Vista. I tried the 64–bit version and am now on the 32–bit version and have not seen any improvement. Most lock-ups occur while viewing recorded TV. Although there is no good time for the computer to lock-up, this has to be the worst time. Vista was supposed to be more stable…what happened?

2) Media Folders

I am extremely picky about how I organize my data, especially media. I have photos organized by year, with event sub-folders and the same with videos. I recently consolidated the two to accommodate Media Center.

Unfortunately though, Media Center inherits some settings and the “media discovery” approach from Windows Media Player. Now, Windows Media Player continues to be the suckiest media player ever. I have successfully avoided using it for many years, but with Media Center I have no choice. When I tell Media Center where to look for media, it does it in the stupidest way possible. It displays folders in the UI even if they have the Hidden attribute set and even if they are EMPTY. What idiot developer wrote this portion of Media Center? If I navigate to “Picture Library” I will see many folders which happen to only contain videos and therefore show up empty. If I navigate to “Video Library” the opposite happens. A simple test to see if any media of the type being displayed exists before displaying a folder choice seems like the logical thing here. But that is not the case. This is the developer mind-set prevailing over the usability mind-set. It’s more efficient to not enumerate the contents of the folder, so let’s just display the folder even if it’s empty.

Wait, there’s more. When I add additional storage folders for Recorded TV, Media Center decides to use these folders for my Photos/Videos section too. Why? It makes no sense? There is a dedicated selection called Recorded TV. This is the only place I expect to find Recorded TV.

3) Music

Media Center’s ability to select music is nice. There are options to view by album, artist, genre etc. But it’s no good for me as I don’t want Media Center to decide how my music is organized…I want to decide how my music is organized. I have over 50 Gb of ripped music in English, Hindi and Gujarati. Since AMG is unable to help Media Center (or WMP) identify most of my music, the net result is that I have a selection called “Various” that has some 8,000 tracks. What a mess!

My music is already neatly organized by language, then genre and then album. All I want is to be able to navigate this hierarchy. This is virtually impossible to do with Media Center.

4) Movies

This is where Media Center almost got it right. The default “Play DVD” option is lame. But once you make the well-documented registry hack and enable “DVD Library” you unlock a much nicer movie-watching experience. I have two Terastations with a combined 3TB of ripped DVD movies. Again, same deal…organized by language (Hollywood, Bollywood etc.), genre and movie. This is based on my family’s movie watching preference. Shall we watch an English or Hindi movie? Action, Comedy or Romance? Easy.

Since DVD library relies on the incomplete AMG meta data, this too is not possible and the end-result is that I have to page through hundreds of movies to find one I want to watch. It’s all hit and miss.

I tried “My Movies” and found that to be even worse. It insists on putting a large disc icon overlay on all the movie covers which is entirely stupid since it conveys no useful information.

All told, I am fed-up with Media Center shortcomings. There are several other annoyances, but the above four are the main reasons I don’t like Media Center. I am not sure what I can do about the lock-ups other than try different hardware, which I will in a month or so. But I am frustrated enough with the remaining three issues, that I am going to do something about it.

My Solution

The sample “Z” application that comes with the Media Center SDK has a really nice UI. My idea is to hack it and create a “folder-based” media experience so that Media Center will respect how I have organized my media versus forcing its own convoluted approach on me.

My other idea is to remove the management aspects of the media from the Media Center computer. Whether you manage the media, cover art, meta data etc. using the remote or at the Media Center PC itself, both approaches are terrible from a usability and convenience standpoint. What I would like to do is create an embedded web server for Media Center and add-on DotNetNuke. Add a few modules and Voila! I have the perfect system. Not only will I be able to manage my media from any web browser, but I will also be able to selectively share photos and videos with others without having to replicate them from my home storage to some other photo/video sharing site such as Pickle.

These solutions require a fair amount of work and I am not sure how much time I will have in coming months, but I love working with media and I love creating usable apps, so this will be a good break from more serious work-related development.


Founder NftyDreams; founder Decentology; co-founder DNN Software; educator; Open Source proponent; Microsoft MVP; tech geek; creative thinker; husband; dad. Personal blog: Twitter: @techbubble
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