Do you have a … DVD player? TV tuner? Blu-ray player? This is the second part of our series on building the perfect media center. Today, we’ll dive into what Windows Media Center (WMC) is really capable of and show you how to customize it to your liking. (Don’t forget to read the first part of our series, where I began to explain how to replace all standalone, home entertainment equipment and create a media center—with a single PC.)
Step 4 – Getting around in the WMC
The whole idea behind WMC is its simplicity. Beginners can easily navigate it—with a single remote control. So, let’s bypass how you can view pictures or play a video, as this is pretty self-explanatory. Here are two cool tips and tricks you may want to try.
- Slideshows – Want to impress your family with the photos of your recent trips? WMC offers a great view for showing off your pictures. (No, I don’t mean the regular “play slideshow” function that you can find in the picture library.) The music library allows you to select a slideshow view that smoothly zooms into your picture library. To find it, open up your music library, play a song, and then select “Play Pictures”, which is located on the left hand side of the screen. Your WMC will show your entire library in black and white, slowly zoom in and add the color back into your photos.
- Skip / Back interval levels – When you watch TV or videos on your WMC, you can use the remote control’s “Skip” or “Back” buttons to automatically jump ahead 29 seconds or jump back six seconds. But, with the following steps, you can easily change how many seconds these buttons allow you to skip ahead or go back. (Be aware that this involves a little tinkering with the Windows registry; don’t change any other settings.)
- Click on the Start orb, enter “regedit”, and press the “Return” key.
- Open up the “HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Settings\VideoSettings” key by double-clicking each of the folders.
- Double-click on “SkipAheadInterval”, and select “Decimal”. Change the number you see there to “360000″, for example; this will enable WMC to jump ahead 360 seconds (or six minutes). You could also change it to 100000, and WMC will skip forward 100 seconds.
- Next, double-click on “InstantReplayInterval”, and change it to a value like 50000. Your WMC will now jump back 50 seconds every time you hit the “Back” button on your remote or click on the corresponding button on your screen (which is pictured below).
- That’s it! Close the “Registry Editor”, and try your new settings in WMC.
Step 5 – Installing Media Browser
If you have movies saved on your hard disk or that you stream, WMC isn’t the best solution. It doesn’t offer playback of a wide variety of files, the interface lacks a nice way to arrange your movie collection, and it does not display movie covers or any sorts of metadata. This is where Media Browser comes in! It is one of the best media managers and most useful plug-ins for WMC.
As you can see in the graphics above, Media Browser offers a couple of selection views and background information on each movie you have. To utilize the plug-in take the following steps:
- Download and install Media Browser from http://www.mediabrowser.tv.
- Start the configuration dialog, and click on “Add”. Select the folder(s), where your movies are located. This could be any local drive, an external USB drive or a shared network folder.
- Go to “plug-ins”, and install both the “MediaInfo Provider” and the “High Quality Thumbnails” options. These will increase the quality of all of the movie thumbnails. Want to also get access to movie trailers? Then, install the “Film Trailers” plug-in.
- You should now be all set with the installation process. Start WMC, and select “Media Browser”. You can choose between all of the folders you selected earlier or the “Film Trailers” file you could have installed.
- It is very likely that your Movie Browser will not automatically detect and download cover art and metadata.It may appear like the following picture.
If that is the case, move onto Step 6. If everything appears in the way you like, you can start exploring the different views of Media Browser. For example, if you like an iTunes-esque design, go to “View”, and select “Cover Flow” (pictured below). I personally favor the “Poster” view, as it shows most of the movie library—at a single glance.
- Click on a movie, and begin playing it. Media Browser will now show you a plot summary, the IMDB rating of the movie, the total runtime, and the video format of the file. Go to “Actors” and see who stars in the movie; you can even click on the actor’s or actress’s name, to find out other movies he or she has appeared in.
Step 6 – Filling the Movie Library with Cover Art and Metadata
Are you just seeing blank thumbnails in your movie collection? We recommend using meta<browser/> in addition to Media Browser. It is a small tool that collects all sorts of movie metadata, including a selection of posters, backdrops, actor information, titles, production years, ratings, and descriptions. It aggregates this data in your movie library, so that Media Browser is able to display it. To set it up, take the following steps.
- Download and install meta<browser/> from http://themetabrowser.com/. Start the tool, and click on “Options” in the lower, left hand corner. Click on the little “…” button, and select the location of your movie library.
- Make sure that “Minimize to tray”, “Start meta<browser/> on system startup” and “Load Minimized” are checked, and click “Save”.
- Note: In order for meta<browser/> to actually recognize your movie files, they have to be named correctly. So, for example, if you recorded The Green Mile on TV, the file should read as The Green Mile and not as “grn_mile_HD1080p.avi”. If you’ve recorded episode 14 of LOST’s fifth season, it should be named “5×14 – The Variable”.In meta<browser/>, click on “Refresh List”, and wait until the program has finished analyzing your library. Then, select the first movie on your list.
- Make sure that “Replace only missing MetaData” and “Auto Save” are checked, and click on “Process all Movies”. Check all of the items you see in the next window (pictured below).
- Click on “Next”, and check to see if meta<browser/> recognizes your movie collection. If you’re done, click on “Process”, and the browser will download all of the information. Don’t worry, if you see a couple of red (or unknown) entries, you can add the metadata by hand (see the next step).
- To select an unknown movie, click on it, and select “Fetch Movie MetaData”.
Check the movie title, and look out for any typos.
Click on “Search”, and select the correct title by double-clicking on it. Then, click on “posters”, and select the cover art of your choice.
Confirm the selection by clicking on “Select Poster”. Go to “backdrop”, and select the background you would like to see in Media Browser for your movie. Once you’re done, finish the process by selecting “Save MetaData” and closing the meta<browser/>. If you go back to Media Browser, you will see all of the missing cover art in your movie collection.
That’s it for now! The next part of our series around the WMC will show you how you can easily watch and record TV and more.