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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Forget Netflix! MCE LoveFilm 2.0 is here!!

You may have read my recent post here about MCE LoveFilm and the lack of a Netflix Windows Media Center add-in here in the UK. Well Martin Millmore of Milliesoft has been hard at work lately coding version 2.0 of his MCE LoveFilm add-in. I have been lucky enough to do all his beta testing so this version is pretty polished. There are new features and I think it works really well, version 2.0 is certainly a great improvement over previous releases and its the first version I have installed on to all my HTPC’s for everyday use!

I recently switched my LoveFilm package to the new unlimited streaming package which costs £4.99. Previously my package had no online streaming and was for discs in the post only.

MCE LoveFilm Setup:

Download and install the add-in from here. Once installed open Windows Media Center and launch the MCE LoveFilm add-in

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The first time you launch MCE LoveFilm you will see this screen, click on Set LoveFilm Username.

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A browser window will then open the LoveFilm website so you may need to minimize Media Center to see it.

Click the Link My Account button.

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It will then say: Link To Account – Approved.

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Now return to Windows Media Center and click the Click after authorizing button.

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You will then see a Success dialogue click OK.

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Your LoveFilm rental list should then be shown.

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Now we need to login to the LoveFilm website via the MCE LoveFilm browser window. There are two ways to do this, you can navigate to the Settings on the pivot menu and select the LoveFilm Home Page button.

Note:- mine says “Thank you for purchasing MCE LoveFilm” as this is a purchased copy. I will talk about this more later.

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When you click the LoveFilm Home Page button the MCE LoveFilm browser window will be launched outside of Media Center.

You only need to do this the first time, grab your mouse and select Sign In

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Sign In

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Or the first time you select to play a video you can press L on the keyboard and it will take you to the sign in screen.

Once you are logged in OK hit the backspace button on the keyboard to exit from the MCE LoveFilm browser window.

That’s it your setup of MCE LoveFilm is now complete and we can now look at the MCE add-in in more detail.

My Rental Lists

If you’re an existing LoveFilm user and you receive discs in the post then you will probably have some titles already listed in the My Rental Lists section. These are the titles you have selected to “Rent”.

I can see which title(s) I have at home and other titles shown in “Stuart’s List” are titles I was waiting to get the discs for.

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If you press OK on a title you will see the titles overlay details page. I can select to remove the title from my rental list if I decide I don’t want the disc after all.

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When browsing the genres for new titles I can choose to rent any title that is available on disc, by simply clicking the rent button, this will add that title to your rental list.

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Once you have selected a title to be rented, you can set the priority of that rental. To do this go to actions on the menu and then you can select if this rental should be High Med or Low priority.

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Genres

By selecting genres from the pivot menu we can select titles by genre. For example if I select action/adventure then I will see all the titles in that genre.

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You can see there are some new pivot menu options, we can now in version 2.0, filter the titles by Blu-ray / DVD / Watch Online. This is a critical new feature and makes finding titles by format for rent much easier, and it also allows us to view titles that are available to watch online.

Note:- Pay Per View and Free watch online titles are not currently visible in MCE LoveFilm, only titles that you can watch with your package are displayed. This may change in later versions of MCE LoveFilm.

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If we select a title, in this example I have selected Inception from the Blu-ray section, I can either play trailer or rent this disc. The front cover and the synopsis can also been seen. Unfortunately you cannot read the full synopsis, Martin tells me LoveFilm limit their synopsis text to 200 characters and there’s nothing he can do about it. We can also see the star rating as from the LoveFilm website.

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We can also push up and navigate to the cast + crew menu. Here we can select directors and actors.

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If I select an actor then all Blu-ray titles that this particular actor stars in will be displayed. If I navigate to the DVD or Watch Online sections it will also list titles for that actor under those sections as well.

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Action/Adventure genre DVD’s

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Action/Adventure genre Watch Online

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You can see in the above screen shots that only 50 titles are displayed at a time (Paid for version of MCE LoveFilm) You can scroll right to the end of the titles and then select the big arrow to bring up the next 50 titles

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In the free version of MCE LoveFilm I believe you can only see 25 titles, which means you will need to probably purchase the add-in if you want the full functionality, the price is currently £9.99 per PC. Personally I think version 2.0 is now worth buying. Perhaps Milliesoft can introduce some multi PC prices ? You can compare the free and premium features here.

All of the functions of MCE LoveFilm within Windows Media Center work with the remote control. However in this new version Martin is using a custom made browser window to display and play the Silverlight video from the LoveFilm website, this is external of Windows Media Center. The videos should auto play without your interaction.

In the screen shot below I have selected a title from the Watch Online section, you can see I now have an additional play button as well as play trailer and rent buttons. If I select play WMC will be auto minimized and the MCE LoveFilm browser window will be opened.

Note:- Due to limitations with the lack of information made available to MCE LoveFilm from the LoveFilm website, Martin is unable to accurately tell if a trailer is actually available for a title or not? So therefore the play trailer button is always there in Media Center, but you may find for some titles once the video page is displayed no trailer is actually available.

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Once you click on Play or Play Trailer as shown on the above screen shot, the MCE LoveFilm browser window launches externally outside of Windows Media Center and displays the LoveFilm website zoomed in to the video playback area of that page. Depending on which button you selected in Media Center, auto mouse movements will select to play the trailer or watch now with package.

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Video playback

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Don’t under any circumstances use your mouse and click the Full Screen button in the top left hand corner. You don’t need to press or use this button. If you do you will end up with a blank black screen and no picture and you won’t easily be able to exit out. Martin says the reason for this is “Because the full screen Silverlight control blocks all key inputs to the application”. So just don’t press that button!

You can however use the volume control and other transport controls as shown below. You can press the 0 button on your remote control to pause and play the videos.

Pressing the BACK button on the remote control however will close the MCE LoveFilm browser window and return you nicely back to MCE LoveFilm in Media Center.

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Due to LoveFilm not consistently placing the video playback area in the same position on each webpage on their website, we have to occasionally adjust the screens position. Don’t panic, we can easily do this using the up down / left right directional arrows on the remote control.

In this screen shot you can see the video is not quite fitting the screen correctly. To correct this I just have to press down arrow on my remote a few times till the video image fills the screen nicely.

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Video playback after using the directional arrows to move its position.

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These issues sound a lot worse than they actually are, I would suggest you install the MCE LoveFilm add-in for yourself and try it out . Over time I expect Milliesoft will improve things further and make things more seamless.

Search – There is also a search button at the top right.

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Summary

Overall this is a solid release of MCE LoveFilm allot of the kinks have been ironed out now and I will certainly be using this add-in for the first time on my TV screens and my youngest daughter is now happily watching Thomas the Tank Engine. As you are probably aware there is no official LoveFilm Windows Media Center add-in but we are able to use this great 3rd party add-in thanks to Martin at Milliesoft

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Netflix for Windows Media Center

With regards to the official Netflix Windows Media Center add-in and that it is still only available to users in the US. It is my opinion that it is fairly unlikely that UK users will be given access to the add-in. I can’t say for sure obviously and I might be wrong but users in Canada and Brazil never got it either. And I can’t see that any of the threads on the Netflix forums have received an answer either.

If Netflix / Microsoft are unwilling to give UK Windows Media Center users what they want, I would suggest said UK Windows Media Center users vote with their wallets. Stick to LoveFilm and use MCE LoveFilm for your Windows Media Center PC!

8 comments:

Ray Cunningham said...

Hi again Stuart. I have ending up reading a few of your articles and am curious how you managed to get a Lovefilm account with streaming for only £4.99? I had an account but it was £9.99 a month before it included streaming?

Stuart Harrison said...

I was an existing LoveFilm user. I just changed my package to the new £4.99 unlimited streaming package from my account page on their website. It cost me £1 to switch to this package. I am presuming new customers can also get the same offer but I didn't check.

Mark said...

the £4.99 offer is available to me as an existing user. i'm actually on the 2 disc at home plus streaming for £9.99 a/c but this offer shows as available in the package selection screen

Ray Cunningham said...

Looks like I might be rejoining Lovefilm then :-)
Thanks guys

Mark said...

just installed 2.0 and i'm impressed. having to line up the video isn't ideal but apart from that it works as advertised. now all it needs it the ability to have favourites and line up videos in a play list, which would be perfect.

Stuart Harrison said...

That's one of the items on the wish list to Mark titles for later viewing / favourites.

Mark said...

yeah, ideally i'd love to be able to queue things up in the lovefilm ipad or iphone app and have them play from the same list in MCE. a big ask i guess

D Evans said...

Fantastic MCE plugin! I can now successfully stream the Lovefilm HD movies without the Silverlight stuttering problem - thanks.
I'd been unable to get Lovefilm streaming working properly in Internet Explorer since they switched to Silverlight and HD. I'd tried all the fixes (updating graphics drivers, played with Silverlight settings etc). However it now works flawlessly via this MCE plugin.