Getting started with Windows Media Center



This article applies to Windows Vista. For Windows 7 help, see Getting started with Windows Media Center.

If your computer is using Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate, you’re in for a treat: Both include Windows Media Center.

Windows Media Center
Windows Media Center main menu

When used to its fullest, Media Center can turn your computer into a powerful home entertainment hub. You can unleash the full power of Media Center by connecting your computer to an HDTV and using a Media Center remote to control all the action from your couch.

A PC connected to a TV and a Windows Media Center remote
A PC connected to a TV and a Media Center remote

Another option is to connect your computer to a standard computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You can even stream your media over a home network to an Extender device. For more information, see Set up a Windows Media Center Extender device.

No matter which way you choose, Media Center keeps you entertained by letting you:

Setting up Windows Media Center

The first time you start Media Center, you’ll be given three options: Express setup, Custom setup, or Run setup later. The quickest method is, not surprisingly, Express setup. You can choose this option now if you want to jump right in. However, let’s walk through the Custom setup options to give you a better idea of what you can do with Media Center.

  1. Using a Media Center remote, press the Green Start button The Green Start button on the remote control.
  2. The first time you start Media Center, a setup screen appears. Select Custom setup.

  3. When you reach the page titled Get the Most from Windows Media Center, select Yes to allow Media Center to download album cover art, DVD cover art, current TV guide listings, information from online media services, and other useful information.

Windows Media Center music library
Media Center can automatically download album cover art and other information for your digital music

Tips

  • You can also use a mouse to open Media Center. Click the Start button The Start button, click All Programs, and then click Windows Media Center.
  • If you choose Express setup now, you can return to the Custom setup process later by following these steps from the Media Center start screen: scroll to Tasks, select settings, select General, select Windows Media Center Setup, then select Run Setup Again.

That’s it for the required setup options. The rest of the setup process is optional, but there are a few items on the Optional Setup page that might be of interest to you.

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Optimize how Windows Media Center looks on your display

Display Calibration is helpful for getting the best image quality possible on your TV screen or computer monitor. If you aren't familiar with terms such as "VGA" or "16:9," you can watch the video on the first page to get an overview of the different display options.

Display Calibration takes you through the main part of the process with a series of questions. If you’re unsure about the details of your hardware setup, such as the name of a cable or the type of display you have, look at the illustrations in Display Calibration—they can help you figure out what type of connection you’re using. When you’ve finished answering the questions, and you’re happy with the way your display looks, close Display Calibration. If you’re not satisfied, you can use the additional display options under Adjust display controls.

Adjust display controls screen in Windows Media Center
Display Calibration in Media Center offers tips for calibrating your TV or monitor

You can return to Display Calibration any time:

  1. Using a Media Center remote, press the green Start button The Green Start button on the remote control.
  2. On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to Tasks, select settings, select General, select Windows Media Center Setup, and then select Configure Your TV or Monitor.

Set up your speakers

If your computer is connected to a surround sound system, you can use Speaker Setup. Choose your speaker configuration, then use the test to play a chime sound. Listen closely to each individual speaker to make sure it’s receiving a signal.

Tips

  • If you’re not getting any sound at all, double-check that all the cables are plugged in correctly, and that the volume on both your speakers and your computer is turned up. (Even the most savvy computer expert can accidentally leave the Windows Mute option on once in a while.) If you still can't hear any sound, see Tips for fixing common sound problems.

  • If your computer is connected to a TV, note that many video cards and cable types don't support audio signals. You might need to connect the sound card in your computer directly to your speakers. For more information, see Connect your computer to a TV.

You can return to Speaker Setup any time:

  1. Using a Media Center remote, press the green Start button The Green Start button on the remote control.
  2. On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to Tasks, select settings, select General, select Windows Media Center Setup, and then select Set Up Your Speakers.

Set up your music, pictures, and videos libraries

Each time you start Media Center, it automatically scans the Music, Pictures, and Videos folders on your hard disk. But what if your music files are on an external hard drive, or your pictures are on a shared computer on your home network? Don’t worry—Media Center has solutions.

  1. In Library Setup, select Add folder to watch, and then select Next.

  2. Select Add folders on this computer.

  3. Browse to the folder where your files are stored, select the check box next to the folder, and then select Next.

Media Center will search the folder for digital music, photos, or videos. It will also save your folder selections for the next time you start the program.

Library Setup screen in Windows Media Center
Media Center will automatically scan selected folders for compatible music, pictures, and videos

If you want to import files from a shared folder on another computer, the process is similar: select Add shared folders from another computer and Media Center will search for shared folders rather than local ones.

You can return to Library Setup any time:

  1. Using a Media Center remote, press the green Start button The Green Start button on the remote control.
  2. On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to Tasks, select settings, and then select Library Setup.

Configure tuners, TV signal, and Guide

This option only appears in the Optional Setup menu if Media Center detects a TV tuner. A TV tuner is a hardware device that you can connect to your computer through an internal expansion slot or an external expansion port, such as a USB port. With a compatible TV tuner, you can connect a TV signal to your computer to watch and record TV.

TV Setup will guide you through the process of setting up a TV signal to watch and record in Media Center. When you reach the TV Signal Detection Result page, select Yes, configure TV with these results, and then Media Center will do most of the work for you.

You can return to TV Setup any time:

  1. Using a Media Center remote, press the green Start button The green Start button on the remote control.
  2. On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to Tasks, select settings, select General, select Windows Media Center Setup, and then select Set Up TV Signal.

For more information about setting up TV tuners, see TV on your computer: Understanding TV signals and TV tuners.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy

When you’ve finished setting up Media Center, select I am finished to open Media Center and start exploring. All of your digital music, photos, and home movies—as well as a variety of online media—will be only a few clicks away.