Well, the excitement never ends with a Windows box. My wife's Media Center TV shipped with no TV out, so we had to buy a new video card. That's not what I'm this is about though - HP decided what hardware to include, not Microsoft. I ran down to CompUSA and picked up a Radeon card (not a top of the line one - basically the same as the built in support, but with TV out). That's when the excitement started.
We tossed in the new card, flipped the VGA cable from the old (built in) port to the new port. Reboot, the XP screen shows.... and then winks out. First check - Windows supports two screens, but doesn't check the ports, apparently. So, we have to flip the cables back, tell Windows to use the secondary screen as the primary, flip the cables again, and have it work. Plug and play, it's not.
Next, Media Center stopped working. Ok.... I understand needing an updated driver. But the message we got was "Some files that are needed aren't installed. Reboot or install". Yeah, that was helpful. So the flat panel works again (we're back where we started!). Now, we tried hooking the composite video (RCA cable) from the TV out port to the VCR. Then, we tried playing some content. Nothing - Displayed just fine on the monitor, but nothing out to the TV.
Great. Now I'm back to reading manuals and websites. I keep hearing people rave about Media Center. So my wife fiddles with the thing for awhile, finds some help that directs her to the TV out settings for the card. First off, she gets a black and white bounce screen - like an old TV that has rabbit ears, it looks like. To get that far, we made the mistake of telling it that the TV was the primary out - at which point Media Center pretty much refused to accept settings until we turned full screen off, which required getting the mouse "just so" on the bar. There's a UI guy in Redmond who should be beaten over this
After getting that, we dove into the Catalyst configuration screen for the Radeon card. Oh boy - this is the UI from hell - the ATI guys need to visit the hall of shame. Fixed sized dialog, and if you don't set your fonts to the "too $%^&*( small to read" setting, it doesn't show all the information. Swell. After a lot of mucking around, we got the video scroll fixed - and we aren't entirely certain how.
I have news for Scoble and the rest of the MS gang - Media Center PC's may be selling like hotcakes, but that doesn't mean that average people are going to go through the sheer hell of setting up TV out. You want to know what you're competing against? Buy a TiVo or ReplayTV. You plug audio and video cables into the obvious in/out slots, and then you go mess with the on screen programming. There's a lot less swearing involved, and a lot fewer hostile defaults to be overcome. Right now, Media Center PC's are great if you want to watch TV on your PC, but they suck eggs if you want to push video out to a TV.