Windows 7 can make a great media center – but it needs a few tweaks in order to meet its full potential.  Follow along and I’ll show you some of my favorites.

Editor’s note: In order to use the media center features of Windows 7, you’ll need Windows 7 Home Premium, Ultimate, Professional, or Enterprise.  You can also use Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, which have almost identical media center features.

Media Center Remote.

This is a must if you want to truly enjoy your Media Center as it was intended – from your couch, without a keyboard or mouse.  Some top options:

  • Media center remote:  This is the least expensive option, and includes both a Media Center infrared receiver (which is required unless you have a built-in IR receiver in your media centre PC), and a remote.  We like the AVS Gear GP-IR01BK, available from Newegg for around $24.00.
  • Harmony remote:  The Harmony is my personal favorite, as it controls much more than your media center — in fact it can control your entire home theatre.  Some good choices are the Logitech Harmony 550 ($80)  or the feature-packed  Logitech Harmony One ($210).  Note that you will need to by an infrared receiver in order to use your Harmony with your PC, such as the one included with the AVS Gear remote mentioned above.
  • iPhone remote:  if you have an iPhone or iPod touch, there’s a cool application called NControl that acts as both a Media Center remote and allows you to browse through pictures, videos, and TV shows.   You’ll need to install a Media Center plugin, and then download the free app from iTunes to your iPhone / iPod touch.

Netflix Streaming.

This one is about as easy as it gets.

  1. Get the latest updates for Windows 7 media center via the Automatic Update feature in the control panel.
  2. Launch Media Center and go to the Movies section.
  3. Select Netflix.
  4. Click Install.
  5. Sign in using your Netflix account.  (If you don’t have a Netflix account, sign up for one now).
  6. Start watching your favorite movie or TV show.

Hulu Streaming.

Hulu is probably the best site on the internet for streaming recent episodes of broadcast television.  They now have a desktop application that integrates nicely with the Media Center remote, and makes it easy to watch your favorite shows on your PC or TV.  However, this application doesn’t instantly link up to your Media Center – there are a few steps to make that happen.

  1. Download and install the Hulu Desktop application (PC or Mac).
  2. Download and install the Hulu Windows 7 Media Center integration app.
  3. Launch Media Center, and go to the Extras Library.  You should see a Hulu icon.  Right-click on it or use the “Info” button your remote, and select “Add to Start Menu”.
  4. The Hulu icon should now appear in the “Extras” strip in your Media Center.
  5. If you want to save shows for later viewing, or manage your Hulu preferences, you should also sign up for a Hulu account (free).

Boxee.

Boxee is a free application for Windows, Mac, and Linux, which allows you to watch and listen to all kinds of content that is normally only available via a web browser.  Boxee can be used in it’s own right as a media center app, and includes a ton of content sources, including Pandora, YouTube, MTV, Flickr, BBC, and a lot more. Boxee is a great option if you don’t have a version of Windows with media center features, or if you are using Linux or Mac.

Boxee supports the Media Center remote, and can also be integrated nicely with Windows Media Center.  Just follow these steps:

  1. Sign up for a Boxee account.
  2. Download and install Boxee.
  3. Download this file, and unzip it into your Boxee directory (usually C:\Program Files\Boxee).  This will create a  folder called “BoxeeMCE”.
  4. Browse to the BoxeeMCE folder, right-click on InstallBoxee.cmd, and select “Run as Administrator”.   You should see a “success” message.
  5. Launch Media Center, and go to the Extras Library.  You should see a Boxee icon.  Right-click on it or use the “Info” button your remote, and select “Add to Start Menu”.
  6. The Boxee icon should now appear in the “Extras” strip in your Media Center.

Editor’s note: Credit goes to Missing Remote for the Boxee media center integration files and instructions.   Also, if your are using 64 bit Windows, you’ll need to install a special 64 bit version.

Bonus: the Boxee remote control for iPhone / iPod touch is pretty darn cool.

Sync your iPod or iPhone with Windows Media Player.

If you’re not a fan of iTunes, or simply prefer to sync music from your iPod or iPhone with Windows Media Player / Media Center, then take a look at MGTEK dopisp.  It’s a plug-in for Windows Media Player that enables true, seamless syncing with your iPod/iPhone.

The only downside: you can’t sync music both from iTunes and Media Player to your iPod/iPhone.   However, if you have iTunes installed on your Media Center and purchase any songs from iTunes, these should automatically show up in Media Player / Windows Media Center since they are downloaded into the “My Music” folder.  From there, you can sync the music to your iPod/iPhone.