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The death of Windows Media Center and the five stages of HTPC grief

Goodnight, sweet prince

Running Windows 8.1 so I can use Windows Media Center is totally fine, even if it's 2018. Windows Media Center is the best way to watch TV on my terms. All I have to do is pay for cable, and I can record all the shows I want with my HDHomeRun Prime. I don't have to mess around with any of that streaming nonsense or multiple subscriptions to network-specific content. If I wanted to, I could even run the hack that lets me use Windows Media Center in Windows 10. Besides, all my saved recordings are already in .wtv format. Everything is just fine.

Freaking Microsoft! I still can't believe they dropped Windows Media Center after all this time. It's all the Xbox's fault! To top it all off, all the other options out there suck. I don't want to change how I do things or fight with someone else's so-called "solution." Plus, what else will work with a cable card? Using a cable card makes me super awesome and nerdy. I can't just give that up and be one of the normals.

Well, maybe I can cut cable and just use Windows Media Center to record over-the-air TV. That's still sticking it to the man, right? If I stop paying for cable, I'll save a lot of money each month, and I can use that cash to buy new seasons of the handful of shows I really want to watch. In fact, it's probably better that way because I won't have to watch commercials like I would if I streamed those shows from Hulu or something. It'll be good to watch less TV.

This sucks. Every single show is a choice between spending money or watching commercials. It was so much easier when I could just pay one bill and do it all myself. My OTA channel selection is super limited, and the way things are going, Survivor is probably going to be spoiled before I get around to watching the new season. Everything was so much better before.

This HDHomeRun DVR software actually has some nice features, and it's really nice that the app runs on all our tablets and phones. I don't even really need my Windows 8.1 PC any more—all I was using it for was Windows Media Center. You know, I could probably get rid of the gaming PC hooked up to the TV if I moved the video card into my home server. Having just one computer in the living room instead of three is the kind of thing that will make leaving Windows Media Center behind sting a little less. I bet that if I document the whole process and write it up for TR, it'll be exactly the kind of therapy I need to wrap this up and move on with life.

And so it begins

Now, I know the thought process above has to be similar to what at least some of you have gone through. I figure I'm on the tail end of converts from ye olde Windows Media Center, but I know there are diehards still out there lamenting their loss or maybe still fighting to get Windows Media Center working on Windows 10 in a post-April Update world. To those of you good people, take a deep breath and listen to my tale. Maybe it will help you find peace.

I've used Windows Media Center since leaving BeyondTV sometime around 2008, right around the time the first HDHomeRun came out. Around that time, I had my sights set on getting a Hauppauge HD PVR as soon as I could. Back then, my HTPC was built around a Core2 Duo E6600 and a passively cooled GeForce 8600 GTS. That hardware had a good run, but it's history and not part of the equation today. Today's story really begins with the details of the three different PCs that did everything and the one PC that brought them all together.

First built in late 2012, and running Windows 8 from day one, my HTPC's foundation was an AMD A10-5700 and its Radeon HD 7660D IGP. I was a bit obsessed with APUs and mini-ITX at the time, but I won't rehash old forums posts here. I should mention, though, that the motherboard, an ASRock FM2A75M-ITX, became infamous for VRM fires shortly after it was released. I never had a problem with it, though, perhaps because of the 65-W TDP of my APU. I paired those parts with 8 GB of DDR3-1866 memory. A 128-GB Samsung 830 SSD and a 2.5" 750-GB spinner for recording storage rounded out the system.

I had a lot of fun with this build/mod back in the day.

That setup got the job done for a while, but the IGP was coming up short for even the light TV gaming it was asked to do. As a result, I moved the PC into a new case, switched to a 3.5" 2-TB hard drive, and dropped in a Asus Radeon R9 270 in the summer of 2014. It hasn't changed since—not because it didn't need to, but because it was trapped by Windows Media Center and its dependence on Windows 8.1.

The home server
Built not long after the first incarnation of the HTPC above, my home server came together in early 2013. Originally conceived as a dedicated PC for storage and game servers, its hardware configuration has stood the test of time. For one, I haven't outgrown its modest storage space, courtesy of three 2-TB Western Digital Reds in RAID 5. For another, the 16 GB of DDR3-1600 memory, picked for RAM drive experimentation, is still a respectable capacity even by today's standards. The Intel i5-3450S sitting at the system's heart is a bit of an odd duck, but it can turbo up to 3.5 GHz and does its job within 65 W. Everything resides in a Fractal Design Node 304 case, which I still have a strong attachment to.

I still do all my best projects on this workbench.

The gaming PC
When I replaced my main rig back in early 2017, my old system became available for redeployment. The venerable Intel i7-2600K that lived inside needs no introduction, but the system did need a new video card. My GeForce GTX 980 Ti had jumped ship to my Kaby Lake build, after all. Before the mining craze hit, I picked up an MSI Radeon RX 470 for a scant $175 to take its place. My old PC still rocked 16 GB of RAM and a 500-GB SSD, as well.

At the time, hooking this PC up to my TV solved a couple of problems. It was vastly superior at gaming compared to the HTPC I had before, and it could actually play 4K YouTube videos without looking like a fool (not to mention its ability to perform chop-free playback of 1080p video in funky broadcaster-specific players). As a Windows 10 box, though, it couldn't run Windows Media Center.

Whoa... The same screwdriver is in every vintage image.