Windows Media Center

Here's how to make your Windows 8 PC or laptop boot directly into Media Center.

QUESTION I've recently upgraded my home entertainment PC to a new system running Windows 8. I'm enjoying the faster boot times but, as I'm using it primarily for TV and music, I want it to boot straight into Media Center in full-screen mode. There was a setting for this under Windows 7, but I just can't find out how to do this in Windows 8. Can you help?

HELPROOM ANSWER There are a few things to consider when moving to Windows 8 on a dedicated Media PC. First of all, as you will already be aware, Media Center itself is no-longer supplied as part of Windows and must be purchased separately. The second big issue is in fact the one you mention – Microsoft wants users to boot into the lock screen and then, in turn, into the new Start Screen - the option to boot directly into Media Center has therefore been removed.

To disable the lock screen, you can make a configuration change using the Group Policy Editor. From the Windows Desktop, press Windows+R to bring up the Run dialog box. In here type "Gpedit.msc" and hit Enter. This will bring up the Local Group Policy Editor.

From here, navigate to Computer Configuration, then Administrative Templates, Control Panel, Personalisation.

In here you will find the option Do not display the lock screen. Double-click it and set it to Enabled, then click OK. From now on, you shouldn't see the lock screen when the system boots.

Of course, the Start screen is itself highly customisable and you're only a single click away from entering Media Center. You could, of course, remove all tiles except Media Center and place it somewhere prominent, but if you want the system to boot straight into Media Center, things get a little tricky.

One method would be to create a batch file and set it to launch Media Center maximised at start-up. This won't bypass the Start screen altogether and you will still see it for a moment, but the PC will automatically load and start Media Center from that point without user intervention.

To do this, create a batch file (we called ours StartMCE.bat) and edit it to contain the following commands:

Start /min %windir%\explorer.exe
Start /max %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe

This will first launch the Windows Explorer shell, including the Start screen etc. and then immediately launch the Windows Media Centre in maximised mode.

Save this batch file somewhere easy to remember. We created a folder called C:\Start

Now head back into the Group Policy Editor and go to User Configuration, Administrative Templates, System and then double-click on Custom User Interface in the right-hand pane. Select Enabled and then type in the full path name to the batch file you created earlier. Click OK.

Now, when you start the PC, you will momentarily see the Start screen which will then immediately be replaced by the Media Centre interface. If you wish, you can eliminate the Start screen entirely by omitting the first line from the batch file. Be aware though that if you do this, none of your usual Windows start up programs will run and when you exit Media Centre, you will be left with a blank screen.

If you want to return to normal Windows from here, you can press Ctrl-Alt-Del and select Task Manager. From here Select File, Run New Task, and type "explorer.exe" in the Open box (without the quotes). Click OK to bring up the standard Windows interface.

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