The word “vista” has everything to do with vision, both in the physical sense and the mental sense; that is, a view through a row of trees or a view of the future. For Bill Gates and Microsoft, Vista is the name of their new operating software, which is their “vision” of the future of personal computing. Skeptics say that Vista is too security heavy, to the point of inconvenience, and that consumers should wait months or years until the bugs are ironed out. Mac users say that Vista is Microsoft’s attempt to offer a slick interface design that is much closer to their own. But the common criticisms aside, Vista has done its part in opening up a few new possibilities for home entertainment and TV viewing.
With either Microsoft’s Home Premium Edition or Ultimate Edition of Vista, you get “Windows Media Center” included in the package. This is also included in the Windows “XP Media Center Edition,” but is enhanced in the newer version. The purpose of the Windows Media Center is to provide a reliable interface to all of the media content on your computer, including music, photos, videos, as well as access to any online media you may want to link to or archive. You can access this content on your TV via remote control. In addition, you can access it on television sets throughout your home with something extra called a Windows Media Center Extender, which taps into your wired or wireless home network. The Xbox 360 functions as a Windows Media Extender, and many other devices have them built in, such as some high-definition televisions, digital media set-top boxes, and DVD players.
If that covers your PC to TV options, Vista has the potential to enhance your TV to PC capability as well. But before you can make your Windows Media Center enabled PC the entertainment hub of your household, you still need a few things. First, you need a Tuner Card, which enables you to receive TV signals directly to your PC. This can be either integrated into the computer (via a PCI card) or external, in the form of a USB adaptor. In order to take full advantage of Vista, and to make use of its Electronic Programming Guide, you’ll also need high speed Internet access.
With this equipment in place, Windows Media Center will automatically detect your TV configuration: over-the-air signal or a cable, cable plus set-top box, or satellite set-top box. If you have a set-top box, Windows Media Center will take you through a step by step set up process. Vista gives you the ability to record and archive content and also burn it to DVD (when this is not prohibited by the content provider). The system features a new sports section, thanks to a partnership with FOX Sports and NASCAR, which gives viewers access to scores and updates in real-time, and some free broadcasts of sports events online. It is also optimized for widescreen and high definition display, and puts the power of instant replay in your hands.
In terms of TV entertainment systems, this is a basic outline of what Microsoft’s Vista operating system has to offer for those who just can’t wait. Of course, as with many new software releases, no matter how much in-house testing occurs, new customers are still the best guinea pigs. So sometimes it’s better to wait and see.