Skip to main content

PCTV MediaCenter: The Complete TV Experience for your PC?

MediaCenter & ShowCenter: The Ideal Couple?

Pinnacle's ShowCenter acts as a multimedia server. Multimedia files are stored on the computer and accessible directly in your living room through an Ethernet or WiFi connection. This lets you avoid the need to have a bothersome, noisy PC in your living space. Connecting MediaCenter and the ShowCenter turns the latter into a real digital / personal video recorder (DVR / PVR).

Before you do anything, though, be sure you have the very latest version of the ShowCenter software (ShowCenter 1.7beta; the final release was announced in December). Once installation is complete, the ShowCenter will be automatically updated by flashing its BIOS. The PCTV heading then appears next to Music, Films, and Photos.

Like a traditional video recorder, ShowCenter can record a program directly or on a schedule. The procedure for recording won't seem unfamiliar: you choose the channel you want, the starting and ending time, and the name of the file, and then recording starts on the PC's hard disk. Recording settings can't be changed via ShowCenter - the MediaCenter settings are the ones that are used.

During direct recording, you can use the Time Shifting functions and start playing the program where you stopped it, or go forward or back. The video quality is excellent when the recording mode is at least SVCD.

We had one regret, nevertheless: the system is slow to react to commands from the remote control. And sometimes we did get an error page after launching a recording. Everything gets straightened out when you start up ShowCenter again, though, and the program isn't lost since the computer has recorded it. This is probably a fault with the driver, which is still in the beta stage.

Also, as with an old-fashioned VCR, you can't view the current program via the ShowCenter. To do that you have to change channels manually on the TV set. The ShowCenter was originally designed to be a multimedia server for accessing files stored on a computer connected to a TV that has its own independent tuner. That means you can't access the MediaCenter's tuner functions. This is a shame when you think about possibilities of such a dual-tuner system, and it takes away from the user-friendliness of the system. It would have been nice to be able to superimpose a window with the current program in it to be able to keep track of the recording in real time.

Conclusion

The PCTV MediaCenter is a very practical solution for easily turning a PC into a real multimedia center that you can control with a simple remote. Combined with MediaManager, accessing the various files on the computer is very simple and practical. It's no longer necessary to have a bulky video recorder, thanks to the PCTV's recording functions, and its Time Shifting function quickly becomes indispensable.

Combining it with the ShowCenter gives the latter the digital video recording functions it lacked for recording TV programs on the hard disk of a remote computer. But the collaboration doesn't go beyond the recording function, which is a shame given the potential that existed.

Be warned that a powerful PC is needed for the MediaCenter to work well, especially when Time Shifting is enabled, since it uses a lot of processing power. Also, it would have been a good idea to use a single software application for managing and accessing multimedia material rather than two separate applications. Perhaps that will be addressed in a future version of the PCTV MediaCenter.