Building My Windows Vista Media Center – Part 1 – The System

For a while, particularly since Windows Vista Ultimate released with integrated Media capabilities, I’ve been interested in building out a home Media Center for use by our family.

I’ve played around with the interface for music and pictures, but really, my main goal is to have a rich Media Center PC for Recorded TV and Movies.

The Computer

This past weekend, I finished migrating PCs to free up my Dell Inspiron 9300 to turn into a Media Center for our main TV room.  This is not a new system, I got it about 18 months before Windows Vista released to home users, but it is a nice system for multimedia and support Vista just fine.

dell-inspiron-17in While we won’t be viewing the laptop LCD most of the time, it is 17″ widescreen that supports 1900×1200 and runs a 2.0 GHz Pentium M processor, 1GB memory, 80GB hard disk, and has an nVidia GeGorce Go 6800 video card that supports SVideo output in addition to a normal VGA out connection.  It also has integrated sound and DVD, with playback controls on the front.

dell-inspiron-9300-closed Also, an important consideration, the system looks nice with the lid closed when it is sitting under the television.  I don’t know about you, but having an old mid-tower PC sitting out in the living room was not a feasible option in our household.

What you can buy…

I did a quick check to see the latest budget box on ArsTechnica, but it was $653 excluding monitor and OS.

Alternatively, you can get a slim desktop from Dell (customize this C521 with Vista Home Premium, 1GB memory) for less than $600 – and this system would have more hard disk than my PC hardware and include the OS and Media Center.

The Media Center Software – Windows Vista Ultimate


Selecting the PVR/media center software was easy for me, given that I have access to Windows Vista from the company store – in fact I already had it running on a laptop partition.  However, I wiped the machine clean to get rid of my older partitions and reinstalled a fresh Windows Vista Ultimate.  I didn’t encounter any problems with this and did use WindowsUpdate to apply a few updates, including some updated drivers for my sound hardware.

Additionally, I went to the Dell site and downloaded the latest nVidia drivers and software for my system and installed that so that I could use the nVidia control panel for configuring multiple monitors (I prefer it, but you can do it from Vista without the nVidia control panel).

Our TV – JVC 56″ Rear Screen Projection

Decided to update and add this just to be complete.  When we moved last fall, sadly, I had to give up my Projector (9′ diagonal) because we don’t have a good blank wall area in the new house (sniff, sniff).  I don’t like to pay for the cutting edge of electronics, so after a lot of time consuming reviews of Plasma, LCD and rear screen projector options, we went with a JVC 56″ Rear Screen Projection TV. It has been great.


My primary cost/feature tradeoff was that this TV didn’t support 1080p, but that has been okay so far.  In connecting to my Media Center, I use 1280×720 resolution. 

Next:  Selecting a TV Tuner 

I’ll stop there for today, but this is where things just start to get interesting.  Next time, I’ll tell about my mis-steps in selecting a tuner, so you can avoid similar problems yourself…

About the Author
Jeff Jones

Principal Cybersecurity Strategist

Jeff Jones a 27-year security industry professional that has spent the last decade at Microsoft working with enterprise CSOs and Microsoft's internal teams to drive practical and measurable security improvements into Microsoft products and services. Additionally, Jeff analyzes vulnerability trends Read more »