I’m a big fan of Windows Media Center. At home we only have one television that actually gets used – and everything we watch comes through the attached Media Center PC. Whether that be live TV, recorded TV, home video or downloaded video.
The HTPC is home assembled and running Windows Media Center 2005 (Rollup 2). It was mindbogglingly finicky to install so I’ve never bothered trying to upgrade to Windows Vista. Besides which the wife would be most irate if it went offline – she’s come to take the pausing of live TV for granted and can’t seem to do without it. Being difficult to install is much the fault of the TV Tuner card hardware and software as it is Media Center (reminds me of the early video editing days, and even earlier desktop publishing days). Also – being in Australia we have to use shareware TV guide software which comes in several components that must be integrated correctly. Oh and don’t forget downloading your own MPEG video codec.
Of course you could buy a ready made box – but where’s the fun in that!?
Anyhow just recently I was flicking through the Online menu in Windows Media Center and came across the Bigpond Movies button. Being an anti-fan of Telstra and knowing that they hire some of the worst UI designers on the planet (just check-out their websites) I wasn’t expecting much.
Well – it appears I was wrong. Its the first “online” Media Center application that’s really impressed me. Most of the video of demand type offerings go through the awkward transition as they jump from a Media Center powered UI to a clunky web one. But Bigpond Movies is rendered using the Media Center UI – and it shows. Transitions are smooth, the UI is well thought out and “10 foot” friendly.
As a rule I don’t watch many videos. The last time I rented a movie was about 10 years ago. But I was so impressed with Bigpond’s snazzy Media Center app that I couldn’t resist. Bonus points go to them for:
- Making it run on Media Center under both Windows XP and Vista (there were some significant API changes between the two).
- Use of .NET Framework 3.0 (not sure what for but its an installation dependency).
Once you’ve selected added movies to your cart and checked out…
You are taken to the My Downloads page where you can check the status of the movies you’ve ordered. This has a UI similar to the XBOX with smoothly scrolling vertical tabs. The movies are large (e.g. 1.4 Gb) but even on my modest 1500Kb connection they are ready for watching in about 10 minutes as the video is buffered.