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Old 05-14-2007, 03:00 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default Burning TV Shows to DVD Using Media Center: Where We've Been, Where We Are Now

One of the big changes I was thrilled to see with Vista was the inclusion of proper video DVD burning in the operating system. For those not familiar with the previous debacle, here's some background: Windows Media Center 2005 could not burn a TV show to a DVD and have it be playable on a regular DVD player attached to a DVD (i.e.: exactly what you'd want to do with it). Microsoft's response to this issue was that it was up to the OEM to include the appropriate software, and that all of them did. They were wrong.

I had purchased a Fujitsu N6220 laptop running Media Center 2005 in November of 2005, and it did not have the ability to burn a recorded TV show to DVD - the option was missing from the menu. Worse yet, there was only one company on the market that made software designed to do this (Sonic), and they never released a version designed for Media Center 2005 - why? They didn't see a market for it because, you guessed it, they thought all OEMs releasing Media Center 2005 computers were already licensing their software to burn TV shows to DVD. It was basically impossible to get the software even if you wanted it. You couldn't imagine my frustration - and anyone buying an OEM copy of Media Center 2005 would be left in the same boat. The "solution" was a dark one: if you looked up sonicencoders.msi in a search engine, you'd find a pirated/illegal version of the software. And if you installed that software, you'd get the ability to burn TV shows to DVD. It was completely ridiculous that Microsoft, Sonic, and OEMs such as Fujitsy were not giving users any other choice.

So when this was finally included in Vista, I was thrilled - until I started to use it. My dedicated Media Center machine is running Vista Ultimate with an AMD Athlon X2 5000+ CPU, two 7200 RPM 400 GB hard drives in a RAID 1 array, and 2 GB of RAM. Plenty of punch for Media Center. Yet, very frequently when burning a TV show to DVD, I'll see the CPU be almost pegged converting the DVD. Check out this screen shot:



SBEServer.exe is the Sonic Encoders doing the converting from the DVR-MS file to the appropriate bit rate for MPEG2 DVD burning. I quite often burn TV shows that are 65 minutes each, so the Sonic encoder will helpfully offer to lower the quality of both TV shows so they'll fit onto a single DVD. The problem isn't so much that the Sonic encoder is using up a lot of CPU power - I want the conversion to go as fast as possible after all - but if I try to watch a TV show at the same time, I see it sputter and drop frames constantly. I was able to transcode a TV show and watch TV just fine under Windows XP with much less impressive hardware: an AMD 3500+ CPU. So where's the bottleneck here? I'm not sure - my hardware should be up to the task, which makes me think that somewhere along the way, in giving us this new feature, Microsoft took Media Center a giant step backward in performance. I'm hoping that sometime this year my new, high-powered Media Center PC will be able to do the same things my much older Media Center PC could.

Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. he likes Vista for the most part, but sometimes it makes him extremely grumpy.
 
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