Microsoft's Windows Media Center TV Pack explored

In July, Microsoft released an update for Windows Vista's Media Center software. The company currently restricts this Windows Media Center TV Pack to PC vendors, but you can grab the software from a few third-party sites—and it apparently has much to offer home-theater-PC enthusiasts. PC Magazine has written a long article on the subject, complete with tips on how to install the update and use the new features.

Why should you install this on your media-center PC? For folks with HDTVs, that's a no-brainer: the TV Pack introduces support for Clear QAM unencrypted digital cable. That means you should be able to pipe digital (and potentially high-definition) broadcasts from ABC, CBS, NBC, other basic channels, and perhaps stations like MTV and TNT into your PC—something PC Magazine says was impossible with the previous version of Windows Media Center.

The TV Pack also brings other perks, like support for up to four tuners, tuner pooling (so you can select different tuners for viewing or recording a given channel), and a handful of user-interface and usability improvements. For instance, the update helps users keep listings up to date, sort content types, and rename or renumber channels.

PC Magazine claims the TV Pack still has a few bugs lurking around, though. "Many people" allegedly have problems detecting QAM channels, and users with CableCARDs similarly have had trouble tuning into channels they "ought to receive." Still, if you don't mind living slightly on the edge, the TV Pack looks promising—just make sure your tuner card(s) actually have Clear QAM support if you want to try the HDTV stuff.

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