The Best PVR: Windows Media Center!

James Bruce 11-09-2011

pvr softwareDespite the perceived image of Microsoft as a lumbering beast with bloated software that ships full of bugs, they have actually produced some fine software over the years. Today I’d like to highlight Windows Media Center, and specifically it’s functionality as a PVR software Personal Video Recorder How to Record TV Shows on a PC: 5 Methods That Work You can record TV shows on your PC, but it depends on how you're receiving the video signal. We explain what that means and the options you have. Read More (like a TiVo) and media player.


Is it free?

Windows Media Center is included with most Windows 7 installations (though sadly not servers). It’s an entirely different application to Windows Media Player though, so don’t get confused between the two. It’s designed to run with a full screen 10-foot interface, and it’s actually quite a pleasure to use.


To get the best from Media Center, you really need to pair it with a TV card of some sort and it’s this functionality I’ll be focusing on today. I use an Elgato EyeTV hybrid (£110, comes with a remote) for it’s Mac compatibility, but most large brand name cards are generally well supported nowadays. You can find a list of all compatible cards here, and the menu on the left lets you explore by maker.

Note: if you’re in the UK make sure you check the various compatibilities for Freeview. The card I have is able to view digital Freeview channels, but not HD. If I want to view HD, it needs to be from Freesat (which requires a dish to be installed on the side of your house). This isn’t true of all cards, but do check as the UK has some odd standards.

It goes without saying that you also need a decent signal to get digital transmissions. If you card comes supplied with an aerial – don’t expect it to pick up much – you really do need to plug these things into something on your roof, from a satellite dish, or cable network.

I won’t run through the exact set up procedures here, but suffice to say if your card is connected with drivers installed you can open up Media Center from the start menu and head down to the TV > Live TV Setup. Installation should be painless but it takes a while to scan for channels.


Outstanding Feature – Movie Guide:

For me the most impressive feature so far is the movie guide. Set up from the regular TV guide interface, the movie guide is able to automatically extract all the movies that will shown on TV over the next 2 weeks, and presents them in an attractive wall of cover art, as well as allowing you to drill down by genre.

pvr software

The first time I used it, I actually had no idea where these movies were coming from (some kind of free movies from teh internetz perhaps?), but looking at the info for each one revealed both the channel and time they would be shown on TV.

personal video recorder software


The beauty of this is that you no longer have to go trawling through a full TV guide view just to find the movies, or even venture into the dead TV time that is after-midnight. Of course, you can’t instantly watch them, but you can pre-set a recording in one-click right there. You switch over to the other menu items to see what you’ve recorded so far and are available to watch.

personal video recorder software

Compared to seeking out a movie in torrents and the rigmarole that comes with it, this is actually easier – and quite fun – to use. It’s also not illegal too, which is always a bonus.

TV Guide:

There isn’t much to innovate in the TV guide area, but the Media Center covers this basic functionality as simply as possible. While I find the native Elgato PVR software that came with my card to be rather too overpowering, the TV guide in media center is just intuitive. In no less than a minute, I’d already setup up regular recordings for the whole series of Family Guy and Gardener’s World – which pretty much covers everything I’d ever want to watch on TV!


The search function is also discreetly powerful, which I tested by pulling up all shows even remotely related to gardening. This certainly isn’t unique to Media Centre by any means, but it is as much functionality as I wish for without feeling bloated.

personal video recorder software

There’s also a ton of free content from MSN-TV. Never heard of that? Me neither, but it seems to hold vast archives of popular series previously run on British TV (see the screenshot below for some ideas of content). It’s ad-supported, but a fantastic option when TV really does suck and you have nothing recorded.

pvr software


Media Center Extenders:

Windows Media Center also has some unique remote access capabilities that set it apart from the crowd. Tested with an Xbox 360, this allows your actual Media Center to be situated anywhere in the house, while the interface and content can be entirely accessed remotely. The interface is identical in fact, so apart from the slow initial connection you wouldn’t realize the center was situated elsewhere.

Having said that, I’m little disappointed that I can’t actually run Media Center on my server machine – since it can be remotely accessed, it doesn’t need to be in the living room – and the server is on 24 hours anyway so recording at night would be no problem. Media Center is strictly for use on client machines, not Windows servers.

I’m really in two minds about media centers in general right now, as I still absolutely love the meta-data abilities of Plex – for which there’s a Windows server, but no client application available – but it doesn’t handle live TV and probably never will. The EyeTV tuner I have ships with some acceptable Mac PVR software, but nothing groundbreaking compared to Windows Media Center. For now then, I’m forced to stick with both a Mac and a PC in my living room, as well as my always on server.

If you’re in the same situation, I highly suggest you check out Matt Smith’s guide to building a perfect media centre Watch the Web: AWESOME Media Center Guide TV over the internet exists, but to call it mature would be disingenuous. You should know what to expect before making the leap & and I’ll help you prepare Read More , as well previous articles on Plex Setup A Perfect Media Center With Plex [Mac & Windows] Plex is widely regarded by many as being the best media player, manager and streaming application around - available for both Windows, Mac and even mobiles (though the mobile apps are not free). If you're... Read More and XBMC XBMC 10 "Dharma" - A Mature, Feature-Rich Cross-Platform Media Centre Read More .

Related topics: Media Player, Record Video, Television, Windows 7.

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    March 8, 2019 at 7:33 am

    i just bought a used laptop, and that person had WINDOW'S MEDIA CENTER on board, and i thought about connectin to the MEDIA PLAYER? so i started signin up and paused for awhile, then became bombarded with them tryin to pull some "MAN HE LOOKS OLD & SENILE" shitt on me, and started sendin me popups sayin i need to close some programs to make room for others to be safe, cause i'm short on space??.......and low & behold, look who i ran into? FRYNDS***

  2. Will Barrows
    June 4, 2015 at 4:30 am

    I love Windows Media Center. I have a cheap USB TV 'dongle' and it works fine on Windows 7 but not on Windows 8.1. About 4 months ago I built a Media Center PC and bought a copy of Windows 7 specifically to get Windows Media Center. The high-powered graphics card in the PC allows me to play 4K video on my cheap 50" 4K TV. This gives me a better television picture than the TV's built-in hardware is able to. Microsoft have announced that Windows Media Center will not be available with Windows 10. I will not upgrade the media PC to Windows 10 unless I can find a viable replacement for Windows Media Center. I have investigated a few free/open source options. None of them work flawlessly, and of those that work at all there is a significant problem: They only find 18 of the 27 digital channels available here in Hobart, Tasmania. My favourite channel (SBS) is missing from the list. I'm happy to PAY for PVR software that just works. Does anyone have any recommendations?

  3. Agro
    September 12, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Last year I built a Win7 box as a PVR device.  Twin Hauppague dual tuner cards (so I can record 4 shows simultaneously) and using Win Media Center.  It works great!  I love that I can set it to record "all new episodes" of a show, which stays in force until I delete it. So I don't have to remember to re-set a show when the new season starts.

    I also use it to play DVDs, which works as well as any DVD player software.  The only thing I wish it did is play BluRay natively. I have to use different software for that, and all the ones I've tried suck in one way or another.  One of the tuner cards, I got the media center kit which came with a remote & infrared receiver. Also works great, much better than my old DVR's remote ever did.

    • James Bruce
      September 12, 2011 at 7:48 am

      Wow. I'd be hard pressed to find 2 shows on at the same time that I wanna watch, never mind 4. You must have cable... That certainly sounds like a fantastic PVR, but do you use it to watch any downloaded material? I guess you don't need to with that much recording capability...

    • Susan M.
      November 5, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      I had a Hauppauge TV Tuner that worked perfectly before the signal changed to digital but since then I haven't had any luck making it work. Do I need to upgrade my tuner? Sometimes when we are on vacation I would like to record some shows. What am I don't wrong?

      • James Bruce
        November 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

        Hi Susan. I'm not sure where you're located, but in many parts of the world analog signal has already been disabled. In the UK it's due to be switched off April next year. Digital signals are totally incompatible with analog ones - so yes - if your tuner is somewhat old then it will need to be replaced. Do try to just re-tune it first though, as it may be fine. 
        You also need to consider where you're vacationing. UK, Europe, and America all have very different signals even though they're all digital . It's a very comlicated area to be honest, and your best option is find a specific company and look at their digital compatibility table, which wil show you which tuners will work in which parts of the world. 

        Sorry I cant be of more help. If you let me know where you are, perhaps I can find the relevant links and recommend a card for your OS/computer. Or you could post in the Answers where there will likely be people from your part of the globe ready to help out quicker than I can. 

  4. jello
    September 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Not wanting to buy a pc tv tuner card I elected to buy a tv tuner I could simply plug into my usb port.  I bought the Avertv Hybrid Volar Max Tv Tuner kit for windows on Amazon for $50.  It works with Windows Media Center beautifully.

    • James Bruce
      September 12, 2011 at 7:49 am

      Thanks for the tip Jello, thats a good price for PVR functionality I reckon!