Inside Out

Pick your favorite remote control

All Media Center-compatible remote controls are not created equal . Different designs are available from PC makers and from third-party hardware designers. Every design has some common features (the green button, for example, and basic navigation controls), but different designers add their own touches to differentiate their designs. One element worth looking for if you plan to use the Media Center PC connected directly to a PC without a separate sound system is an extra power button to turn a TV on or off. For complex home theater installations, you'll probably want a universal remote control that can handle every component. Our personal preference in this category is just about anything from Logitech's extensive Harmony line (logitech.com/harmony). The setup software runs on Windows 7 and can assign functions to match your Media Center remote control without requiring any programming skills. From personal testing, we can confirm that these units consistently score highly on the crucial Spousal Acceptance Factor rating.

Most of the Start menu options are self-explanatory; the Music, Pictures + Videos, and Movies strips all lead to galleries of the associated content that can be sorted in a wide variety of ways, along with options to set up custom playlists of your favorite items, tune in radio stations, and so on . The Extras strip is where you'll find games and online services, and the Tasks strip is where you go to customize Media Center settings and hardware. Third-party software developers can add custom strips to the Start menu as well. For a good example of this capability, Media Center users in the United States can check out the Sports strip, which is linked with several online sports information sources and also ties into the program guide when a TV tuner is installed and configured.

The Now Playing strip is visible only when you're playing music, watching a video or recorded TV program, or playing a slide show. This strip includes a live thumbnail representation of whatever is currently playing, with a title beneath it. Select this thumbnail to play that content in a full screen

For some items, you can display a Details window that provides information about the selected item as well as commands and other actions you can take (for a picture, the View and Resume Slide Show commands are at the top of the list, with another group of options under the Additional Commands heading). For some items, the Details window is split into multiple panes, as is the case with the recorded TV program shown in Figure 14-3 .

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