10 Really Cool Windows 7 Media Centre Features

A few days back, I showed you the new touch interface for Media Centre PCs running Windows 7, and though I had to pull the video, I promised a walkthrough of proposed Windows 7 Media Centre features. I say "proposed" because, like everything else about Windows 7, this is all alpha and subject to change. But these features are very cool, and really should be included. One more thing: These screens were projected on a wall in a well-lit room, so they look horrible, but anyone familiar with Media Centre (and Microsoft has shipped like 100 million of them, so that should be plenty of ya) will have a good idea of the pleasantness to come. Or you can just drink in the following prose descriptions:

Shows appear dissolved behind menus - When you're watching something and want to pull up a menu to add a new show or browse the channel guide, or even go into another area of the Media Centre, the current show stays on, not as a picture-in-picture, but tastefully dissolved into the background.

Chronological turbo scroll for channel guide - When you're looking at the channel guide, but want to go from Tuesday to Sunday in a hurry, you just hold down the arrow button on the remote, and the days start to whip by. Listings become a blur, but the days of the week, and the portions of the day, appear floating over the listings to give you an idea of when to stop.

Live thumbnail forward and rewind - During HD video playback, you might want to jump around. Grab the time marker and drag it forward or back, and as you do, you see a miniature version of the show playing backwards or forwards at the same speed.

Launch TV from Start menu - Media Centre can occupy a pole position in the Start menu, and when you hover over the MC logo, a list of recently recorded shows pops up, along with other frequently used MC features.

Floating Media Centre gadget - Not only can you access shows from the Start menu, you can browse MC features from the desktop with the gadget. I am not clear whether or not you'll get to have actual video playing in it, but for people who need MC at their fingertips, this appears to be a nice, subtle execution.

Alphabetical turbo scroll for music - The chronological turbo scroll on the channel guide is cool, but this one will come in more handy for me: As you scroll through the countless artists in your music collection, the names become a blur but your location in the alphabet is denoted by two letters, probably so that those longer letters like J, M, R and S can be broken up better.

Drifting cover art grid - When you're playing a song, the album art for that track appears with some basic metadata, and all the cover art for every other track you own materialises and drifts in the background. The primary cover art jumps from side to side and top to bottom, so that everything is in constant, fluid motion.

Scattered photos picture show - As you're playing music, you can opt for a photo show that essentially reaches into a folder, grabs a handful of shots, scatters them evenly around the page, and then zooms in on one at a time. A nice touch: In the wide angle, all the photos look like desaturated black-and-whites, but as each shot gets its own screen time, it magically becomes full color.

Copy remote content - If you are browsing multiple libraries or Media Centre PCs and come across a show you like, you can watch it or save it for later by hitting "make a copy." As long as there's no broadcast flag or some other DRM, the vid will flow over to your local HDD so you can watch it when you've left the network.

Virtual channels without TV tuner - One of the new Media Center's central concerns is the new popularity of internet-based video, not just YouTube clips but whole TV episodes like those shown on Hulu. DVR functionality is key to making the most of an MC, but at launch there will be loads of virtual channels with shows you can watch just as easily. Microsoft demoed a special MSNBC channel that had clips and full shows; it's of course feasible for them to build similar channels for third-party web video services too. [Windows 7 on Giz]

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