features of Windows Vista Media Center include:
* Support for up to four TV tuners* (outside the US, a maximum of two tuners can be used)
* Support for two dual-tuner cards* (outside the US, one dual-tuner card can be used)
* Native DVD/MPEG-2 decoding support
* Addition of Movies and DVD button which lists all the movies on the hard drive and DVD.
* Tasks button that provides access to jobs such as setting up and configuring Media Center Extender devices.
* The UI is translucently overlaid on the video, if the UI is navigated while the video is still playing. This presently only occurs with the Start and Electronic Program Guide menus. All other menus have the video playing in a small rectangle in the bottom left hand corner, in a similar fashion to previous versions of Windows Media Center. The layout is similar to that of Sonys XMB.
* Support for high-definition (HD) content, and CableCARD support*. Windows Media Center can play HD video in all countries, but does not support HDTV in any country except from the United States. Additionally, there is no native support for HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc movies in any country. Developers can, however, register their Blu-Ray/HD DVD playback applications with Windows Media Center so that the application will be launched automatically when a disc is inserted and Media Center is running. CableCARD support is only available by purchasing a new CableLabs certified computer.
* Ability for a digital tuner to function without an analog tuner present.
* New "Sports" section which gives real-time access to sports scores, as well as free broadcasts of games over the Internet.*
Microsoft partnered with Fox Sports and NASCAR to provide these services. Support for fantasy sport-style player tracking has also been demonstrated.
Like TiVo, Windows Media Center allows fast-forwarding through commercials of recorded programs. In fact, some users deliberately wait 10-15 minutes to start watching a program in the live buffer so they can fast-forward through the commercials and catch up to "live TV" by the end of the program.
Windows Media Center provides the ability (not supported by Microsoft) to skip commercials automatically, by installing external plug-ins like DVRMSToolbox, Lifextender or MCEBuddy.
Some TV tuners support FM radio. Media Center supports play back of all FM tuned stations.
Connectivity features of Media Center include various inputs and outputs, for example for RCA type cables (e.g., from cassette players or analog videocassette recorders), microphones, digital video signals and other inputs. Analog to digital conversion within the tuner card enables users to convert older type media to digital media.
Windows Media Center organizes and displays music found on the computer. Music can then be played by selecting "My Music" from the Start Menu. In the default view, albums are arranged in alphabetical order with accompanying album art. Album art can be downloaded off the Internet automatically, or it can be added manually into Media Center. The user can create playlists of different songs or albums, but once created, playlists cannot be edited.
When playing music, the user can pause and fast forward music, as long as Media Center is not in the "View Queue" mode. The user also has the option to shuffle or repeat music in the queue. Visualizations, as in Windows Media Player, can also be viewed, although Extenders do not have this option.
With the addition of TV tuner cards, Media Center can play back and record scheduled TV shows in either over-the-air High-definition TV, Digital Cable w/ CableCARD (1080i Premium HDTV) or standard antenna, cable, or satellite signal. While setting up the TV tuner, an IR (infrared) receiver or hardware is sought, such as a hand held remote control. After recording (which can be initiated either manually or scheduled via the program guide), it can then burn the shows to DVD or transfer them to a portable media player (with exceptions). Media Center originally had a limitation of 1 analog tuner, but was raised to 2 analog tuners with Media Center 2005. With Update Rollup 1 for Media Center 2005, support for a digital tuner was added, but an analog tuner must still be present for the digital tuner to function. With Rollup 2, up to 4 TV tuners can be configured (2 analog and 2 HDTV). All the tuners must use the same source, for example they must all be off an aerial or a set-top box using the same guide data, you cannot mix Sky Digital and DVB-T for example.
Hacks are available that remove the two-tuner limitation. Five DVB-T tuners have been confirmed to work simultaneously, but the maximum is unknown.
Media Center can stream live and pre-recorded television to Windows Media Center Extenders and to the Xbox 360 console, but other Windows computers can just access recorded content (not live).