Windows Media Center query-based recording

Here’s a tip for anyone running Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate editions (the ones with Media Center functionality), if you have a suitable tuner set up and configured. I mentioned this in passing to someone who uses Media Center as their primary TV tuner, and they didn’t know it was possible – largely because it’s a bit obscure and not exactly easy to find.

I don’t use Media Center as my primary TV – we have a Sky HD box to do that, and although I’m generally happy with the functionality and reliability of the Sky box, its UI isn’t anywhere near as flexible as MC’s. The Guide is one example of that – Sky lets you browse the guide but the options to search it are a bit thin, so it’s OK if you know there’s something you want to record. MC allows you to query the schedules (including all the obscure channels you might never watch) to find specific named programs, or even ones where the metadata matches your search.

My PC in the study has a cheap Hauppauge USB Freeview tuner installed, and an XBox 360 in the living room allows us to watch stuff that gets recorded on the PC.

If you go to Recorded TV on the main MC menu, and select to Add a Recording, you get:


… meaning, you can record something based on searching the Guide. If you choose the "Create a custom recording" feature, however, you can have MC automatically record a programme that isn’t scheduled yet, on the off-chance that it will be shown again at some point. Useful for catching up with old films that appear every few months.

In this example, maybe I want to record Ghostbusters. Select Keyword from the custom list:


Now, selecting any of the first 4 options will search against the current guide, and if there’s nothing scheduled, you won’t be able to select it. If you pick Generic keyword, however, and you get a slightly different UI:


Media Center will allow you to save your query, and will record anything that shows up in the guide at some future date, which features the word you just entered..


If you want to check what custom recordings you have scheduled, start again from "Recorded TV", and select "View scheduled" – you’ll see a list of anything that’s set to record, but only if it exists already in the guide.

image To see what you have set to record on schedule, choose the "Series" option on the left, and anything that shows up as "ANY CH" means it will record whenever the guide can match your query.


As I said, not exactly obvious… but very cool!

Virtuali(z)sation & datacenter power

It’s been very quiet here on the Electric Wand for the last month or so:

  • I took a new job in December which means things have been pretty hectic at work. I’m now managing a new group, and lots of time spent building up a great team.
  • Just back from Seattle from a week’s Microsoft internal technical conference.
  • To be honest, I haven’t had much to talk about on the blog 🙂

The TechReady conference I went to in Seattle had a few interesting themes, but much of the technical stuff presented is still internal only so can’t be discussed (yet) online. A good chunk is probably "subject to change" anyway …

There are a few themes which were either covered in a number of different sessions, or which really made me think hard about the way IT is going – amongst them Virtualisation (I do hate using the "z", even though it’s technically OK – it just seems so un-British), the march towards multi-core parallelism (instead of clock speed race) and the whole Green IT agenda of power usage.

I’m planning to write a bit more about both these topics in current weeks, along with business case for Office Communications Server, but here’s some food for thought:

A major enterprise datacenter could well be consuming 10s of Megawatt/Hs of power – something that could be equated to many, many flights or other so-called demons of carbon emissions. A back-of-an-envelope calculation of all Microsoft’s own datacenter power usage (including all the online services) would equate to over 100 Jumbo Jet flights from London to Seattle every day. That’s 100 planes, not 100 passengers…

This power usage topic is one which is going to grow in importance – not just because power prices are rising (eg a 100 MW/h power usage for a large internet datacenter could easily cost more than £15m per annum in power costs alone). One project internally in Microsoft is looking at the actual power usage and the equivalent tonnes of CO2 emissions of all of its datacenters – a concept that’s surely to become more mainstream in the future.

Citing datacenters by renewable energy sources (such as Google’s massive datacenter by the Colorado river in Oregon) makes the power usage more palatable, but it doesn’t remove the need to reduce heat (and air conditioning requirements) and overall power usage – even if it means employing people to physically go round pulling the plugs at night-time on the myriad rack servers.

Anyway, as I said, more on this topic in coming weeks – in the meantime, I’ve not gone away … just waiting for the right time to pipe up 🙂