Windows Media Center is a feature included in Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate that enables you to watch and record live TV on your computer. The TV signals and programming that you can watch and record depend on the following:

  • The type of TV tuner or tuners that you have installed on your Windows Media Center computer.

  • The type of signal that you have connected to your TV tuner.

  • The type of TV signal or signals that you can receive in your location, assuming there are no physical restrictions in the surrounding area.

  • The country or region in which you live and the broadcasting standard that is used.

  • The type of TV programming that you subscribe to from your cable or satellite provider.

  • Your TV cable or satellite provider.

  • The system resources available on your Windows Media Center computer. This includes system resources such as processor speed, memory, and video card capabilities, as well as available card slots and USB ports.

  • Whether or not your computer is running the Windows Media Center TV Pack. (To find out if you have the TV pack installed, see the "More Information" section in the Windows Media Center TV Pack Help and Support article.)

Windows Media Center supports a number of analog and digital TV signals. Examples of analog TV signals include NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Analog satellite transmissions (as well as encrypted analog TV content) are being phased out of use as many countries switch to digital TV. Analog TV signals are received through a cable TV feed or over the air, using an antenna. Examples of digital TV signals that are now adopted worldwide include ATSC, ISDB-T, DVB-T, and DVB-S. Typically, these types of TV signals are received through a digital cable feed, over the air using an antenna, or by way of satellite. The different types of digital TV signals include:

  • ATSC. Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is the group that helped to develop the new digital TV standard for the United States, although Canada, Mexico, and Korea have also adopted this standard. It is intended to produce widescreen 16:9 images up to 1920 × 1080 pixels in size—more than six times the display resolution of the earlier standard. Currently, Windows Media Center supports ATSC in the United States and Korea only.

  • QAM. Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) is the digital cable standard in the United States. Windows Media Center supports QAM signals with a Digital Cable Tuner in the United States.

    If your computer is running the Windows Media Center TV Pack, other types of QAM-compatible tuners are supported as well. (To learn more about the TV pack, or to find out if you have the TV pack installed, see the Windows Media Center TV Pack Help and Support article.)

  • ISDB. Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting (ISDB) is the digital TV and digital audio broadcasting format that Japan has created to allow radio and TV stations there to convert to digital format. ISDB-T (The "T" signifies a terrestrial rather than a cable or satellite signal) is not yet supported in Windows Media Center.

  • DVB-T. Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial (DVB-T) is the DVB European consortium standard for the broadcast transmission of digital terrestrial TV. DVB-T is the most widely adopted digital format and is supported in all locales in Windows Media Center. (A DVB-T tuner card is required for use.) For more information about DVB-T, go to the DVB website.

    If you live in Europe and have an antenna that supports DVB-T channels, the scan by Windows Media Center might have identified channels that you do not receive. If that occurs, you can remove the channels that you don't receive. To do so, on the start screen, scroll to Tasks, click settings, click TV, click Guide, and then click Edit Channels.

  • DVB-S. Digital Video Broadcasting Satellite (DVB-S) is the digital TV broadcasting method that is transmitted by satellite in Europe and other parts of the world. Whether the digital signal is free-to-air or fee-based, Windows Media Center requires a set-top box to support this broadcasting standard. The DVB-S satellite transmission protocol was created by the Digital Video Broadcasting Project, an industry organization that develops technologies for digital TV.

    Satellite TV is a TV system in which the signal is transmitted to an orbiting satellite that receives the signal, amplifies it, and then transmits it back to earth. Satellite TV signals are a digital format, although most of the standard televisions in the United States have analog format. To enable playback on an analog TV signal, the satellite TV receiver converts the digital signal into an analog format that a standard television can recognize and play back. There are two digital signal types for satellite TV:

    • Free-to-air. DVB-S is the primary signal type for free-to-air satellite TV. This type of program content is available around the world and is popular in Europe.

    • Fee-based. The majority of direct-to-home (DTH) satellite TV signals are encrypted, and therefore can only be viewed through a paid subscription. Subscribers receive set-top boxes from their TV providers; the set-top boxes decrypt the signals for encrypted programs. Windows Media Center supports DTH satellite content through the TV provider's set-top box.


  • An analog or digital TV tuner is required to play and record live TV in Windows Media Center. If your computer did not come with a TV tuner card, you might be able to add one. For more information about obtaining a TV tuner card, see Get help for your TV tuner card or contact your computer manufacturer.