I’m enjoying having a home server. Mine has been running for about a month now and overall the experience has been great. When I heard that Power Pack 3 was going to up the ante when it came to Media Center integration I knew I had to try it. And try it I have. While I’m happy to have the new integration, Power Pack 3 does have a few glaring shortcomings.
First, if you’re wondering what all Power Pack 3 can do, take a look at the screencast I posted last week. It pretty much shows everything that the new plugin will allow you to do within Media Center without you having to read a long boring description and saving me from writing one.
Let’s start with the console. While I’ve heard others say that they don’t quite see the point of the console view, I like it. I don’t always want to walk over to a laptop to check the status of my backups, storage status on the server, etc. by opening the connector software. This works much faster. While it doesn’t provide a ton of functionality it does keep me from having to make an extra trip to another room of my house. While starting the connector software isn’t that big of a deal, this is simply easier for me and our lifestyle. Media Center is where we view 100% of our content so it’s always there to take a look at.
The other big part of Power Pack 3 as far as Media Center users is concerned is the TV archive function. This is a great concept. Being able to not only archive TV I want to keep but to transcode it for use on other devices is a great idea and one that starts to bring WHS and MCE integration a little bit closer to happening. The problem is that while it’s a great idea and great feature to add, it’s missing too much to truly be useful yet.
For one, while I may want to archive a certain series for playback on my Zune, I don’t necessarily want to archive 500 episodes. Unlike “Series Settings” in MCE, the plugin doesn’t allow you to set a cutoff point where WHS will start deleting the oldest shows. When I set up a syndicated series on my Media Center, I only keep 5 episodes at a time. Any more than that is a waste since I’ve probably seen them already and I want to conserve space. PP3 doesn’t allow you to do this. If you set up a series for archive (transcoding included or not) then it’ll archive them all and you’ll have to go to your WHS manually to delete older episodes. This is a glaring omission. While I may want every episode of a series to be converted it doesn’t mean that I want to keep every last one of them. I can always just select specific episodes but then it becomes a manual process that I don’t want to have to do.
Another problem is that you can’t schedule the transcoding. While it isn’t the heaviest video process I’ve ever seen I did notice that if my Media Center server was transcoding TV files to wmv for the Zune, HD resolution video would slow down on my extender. Standard definition TV and other videos were fine, as well as music streaming from my WHS but why can’t I schedule when the transcodes happen so that there is zero interference with our daily viewing? You can schedule WHS backups and to me this would be a natural progression.
The other issue I have is ease of use. Let’s say I set up a new series recording but I’m not happy with my default recording options so I head into “Series Settings” to make some changes. While there I decide that I want to archive or transcode the series for my Zune. Instead of being able to set this up from right inside the “Series Settings” screen, I have to exit, head to my TV archive and do it there. While having an entire area dedicated to the TV archive makes sense, so does being able to set it up from right where most people will go to make changes to their settings.
Keep in mind that PP3 is still a beta so there’s time for MS to make changes as to how it integrates with Media Center. The fact that they’re headed in this direction is great news and hopefully it will continue. While I think PP3 is a good start, it’s definitely not finished. Even the new features it does add seem incomplete and this limits its usage except for specific instances.
Overall I’m happy I installed Power Pack 3 but I don’t see myself using the TV archive function much. It adds more work than I’m willing to put into it. I’ll simply use my Zune software to convert recorded TV for use on the device. Once my series are setup it’s automatic and even syncs automatically. When I delete the file from the Zune I don’t have to go anywhere else to clean up. The console view is a good addition and hopefully it’ll get more functionality in the final release. If you use both MCE and WHS, PP3 is good to have but don’t expect it to change the way you use the two together very much.