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Monday, 28 April 2008

DVD Library on Extenders - How To

This is a very interesting development, a hack has been released that enables the DVD Library in VMC on the extenders. There was talk of just such a solution on the Green Button awhile ago now, I guess this is the result of those discussions.

This is a hack and your extender will still not natively play DVD vob's. This is a method that tricks the extender in to thinking a .vob is a .mpg file, with the use of symbolic links.
Also you will only get the main movie on the extender no menu's or extras.

DVD Library on Extenders - How To Guide

Here's the new discussion about it on TGB

I like what these guy's have done and it's a step in the right direction, but for me personally having already converted my DVD's to DVR-MS format as well, I think I'll stick with the My Movies add-in for use on the extenders.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Ripping DVD's for Vista Media Center and Extenders

This topic has been covered lots of times at TGB and there are various ways to achieve the ripping and streaming of standard definition DVD movies to Media Center and Extenders and to other secondary Media Center PC's.
Its a real shame there is no native support for this in Media Center, I can remember how disappointed I felt, when I discovered that the default DVD library in Vista Media Center was not extended to the version 2 extenders such as the XBOX 360 and the Linksys DMA2100 and DMA2200.

Support for such a feature may be coming in the next version of Media Center code named Fiji or so the rumor mills suggest. In the mean time the way I have achieved this is to rip my SD DVD's to my hard disk drive using my preferred tool Magic DVD ripper. If you are already using AnyDVD with Media Center, that will also do the job of getting those VOB files on to your hard disk.

Now you can rip just the main movie to save space or you could rip the entire disk including the menus and extras. I opted to rip everything. Once you have some of your DVD's ripped to the hard drive you can easlily get them in to Vista Media Center. To enable the default DVD Library in VMC you will need to make a small tweak in the registry. For instructions on how to do that see this MS KB article.

Now you need to tell VMC where your DVD VOB files are located? This is a common mistake to add a watch folder in to the wrong area of VMC and this is exactly what I did. When I first did this I went in to Tasks - Settings - Library Settings and added a watch folder to D:\Data\Movies\DVD but nothing happened and I could not see my newly ripped DVD's in the VMC DVD Library. What gives?

You actually don't add the watch folder in the main Library Settings of VMC. Instead you need to go in to the VMC DVD Library itself, right click and select from the menu add Movies and then add the location of your ripped DVD's. See this guide for more information and some screen shots.

Ok so now you have some of your DVD's showing up in the VMC DVD Library. On my main VMC PC these play great using the default MS MPEG-2 decoder and because I ripped the entire disk I have the menus and extra as well for the full DVD experience.

So what's next? Well depending on what other Vista Media Center systems and extenders you have in your house you can do a few things to extend this to other devices and areas of your home. For example in addition to our main VMC PC we also have a VMC laptop running Vista Ultimate. To have the same VMC DVD Library show up on that secondary media center laptop all I had to do was share out my DVD folder in Windows so it could be accessed from the laptop. Then in Media Center on the laptop go in to the DVD Library and add Movies again this time using a UNC path e.g. \\MCE01\DVD. MCE01 is the name of our main VMC PC. Excellent so now we can have access to the same DVD Library on the laptop say in the kitchen or in the garden and it streams really well over a 802.11g wireless network

Extenders are a totally different matter altogether and you cannot natively stream DVD VOB's. You have a few options here. What I did was to use an application called VideoReDo to convert the VOB's in to a DVR-MS file. A DVR-MS file is just a different container, so its a very quick process of quick streaming the files in to DVR-MS as there is no re-encoding. DVR-MS is the standard file used by VMC for recorded TV. Some other people simply rename the single .VOB file to .MPG for playback on the extenders.

Now it is not possible to have all the menus and extra's functionality on the extenders, so I found I had to re-rip my DVD's but this time only rip the main movie. Then in the VideoReDo application you just open the VOB, select the starting point and select the end point and mark the selection and then choose to output to DVR-MS 5 or 10 minutes later you have a lovely DVR-MS file of the main movie that can be played back on the extenders.

You could in addition rip the extra's separately if you wished and quick stream them in to additional DVR-MS files. I haven't really done this other than for things like the Star Wars extra bonus disks.

As we have already discussed the VMC DVD Library does not extend to the extenders UI. So you need some where in VMC to host the DVR-MS files for playback on extender. One obvious place would be the VMC Video Library, however that would mean having two different UI's for DVD playback on the main VMC PC and on the extender. My solution was to use the My Movies add-in on both. The great thing about using My Movies is not only do you get the same UI on the VMC PC and on the extender, it is also intelligent enough to know to play the VOB's if you are on the VMC PC and to play the DVR-MS file if you are on an extender so the whole thing is fairly transparent to the user. The obvious down side to this is having to have two copies of each movie and you need lots and lots of storage space on your disk drive(s).

But I am hoping that one day I can just delete all my DVR-MS movie files if and when DVD streaming is natively supported by Microsoft.

Confused about codecs? Then read on..

Over on The Green Button Media Center community website, I often see questions about codecs and members not being able to play this or that format in Media Center. I don't claim to be an expert on codecs but from my own experiences it is best not to install multiple codec packages as they can conflict with each other, more is not better in the case of codecs.

Allot of the questions ask how to play and manage file formats such as DIVX/XVID (AVI) and H.264 (MP4) in WMP11 and Media Center. The answer is pretty simple, uninstall any currently installed codec packs you may have installed such as the DIVX Pro Package. Strip your system back down and then install the FDDShow Tryouts directshow filter and the Haali Splitter. That's all you really need to ensure WMP11 will be able to add these formats in to it library and in turn Media Center will also be able to play these movies. Alternatively you could just install the K-Lite Full Codec pack which is what I use.

Some people recommend against using any find of codec package and just to use FDDShow Tryouts and the Haali Splitter, I have had no issues with the K-Lite Full Codec pack and I find it plays all of the movies I download from various sources on the Internet.

Another useful tool is GSPOT if your having issues playing a problematic AVI file for example you can use this utility to try and work out what codec that particular movie might need to be able to play it.

Also another good tip for the Linksys V2 extenders, if you are having issues playing back certain movies on the extender you might want to look at the Fourcc Changer utility. Because the DMA 2100 and 2200 have issues playing AVI files if the fourcc code in the file is set to DIVX or DX50.
Changing the fourcc code to XVID instead using the Fourcc Changer utility then allows the files to play fine.

More information on Chris Laniers blog here

Download Fourcc Changer here

Niveus release remote control software for media center

Niveus Media Inc have released a media center remote control software application called Niveus Media Center Companion. The fully featured version only available to Niveus customers, allows access to your Recorded TV and Movies and also has Extender Zone support. The free basic version available to the public allows access only to your Pictures, Music and the virtual remote.

I did have a play around with the basic version and to be honest I found it to be a bit of a let down, here's what I wrote about it on the Niveus forum:

This is a bit of a let down for myself, as it does not display my pictures properly, presumably because I am using the file shortcut method and not actually watching my pictures folder in the WMP11 / VMC library, therefore Niveus Companion does not see them? It's also listing other folders under pictures which it should not be, for example a recorded tv\temprec\tempSBE folder. And also its listing my Music folder and showing all the cover art images. I don't see any of these folders in WMP11 or VMC in the picture library so where's it picking them up from? Also I have no album cover art showing in the music section in the Niveus Companion. Again I am not using the default art caching in WMP11 and am using the MCE Album Art Work fixer which points to my HI-Res cover art Folder.jpg's in the ehome\art cache folder. This is a nice concept but it needs a little more work I think. The full version would be better if you could control your TV and Movies. Think I will stick with ngRC on my Sony PSP for the time being for controlling my Music via a hand held. MCEGuru also looks decent put you are limited to a Nokia Internet Tablet. Mirage is the other option for this kind of thing.

Try it out and let me know what you think about this software?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Vista Media Center Decoder utility

This is another useful utility for Vista Media Center that enables you to change what the default MPEG-2 Video and Audio decoders are? See Gary Whittaker's blog here for more details and a download link.

Monday, 14 April 2008

MCE Live TV Buffer Manager

For those of you who are not so confident with editing the Windows registry, here is a handy little tool to increase the Live TV Buffer Size. It works on MCE 2005 and Vista.
The default is 30 minutes, so after 30 minutes of pausing live TV it restarts unless you increase the buffer size.

Want to play MP4 movies via the XBOX 360 dashboard streamed from WMP11?

In my quest to find a solution to stream movies from my VMC PC to my XBOX 360 dashboard, this was before the release of the fall update that added support of the DIVX codecs to playback AVI's and before I was able to Transcode successfully in real time using Transcode 360, one solution I discovered was to add file support in to WMP11 / VMC for MP4 files.

After running a registry hack and then adding a watch folder in to WMP11 to point to my MP4 movies and enabling WMP11 media sharing with my XBOX 360, this then allowed for the playback of those MP4 movies via the media blade in the XBOX 360 dashboard.

After trying many registry hacks this is the only one that fully works and not only enables the MP4 files to be visible but for them to be played back in the XBOX 360 dashboard.

If you also want to add support for other file formats as well, such as M4V / M4A or you have a 64bit system please visit this page. The author there is the source of the MP4 registry hack I used on my own Vista 32bit system which can be downloaded from me here.

You will also need the right codecs installed on your PC, I would recommend Fddshow Tryouts and the Haali Splitter or just the K-Lite Full Codec Pack.

Disclaimer: Use at your own risk and ensure you have a full backup of your registry before applying the reg file. This is a hack for Vista 32bit and has not been tested on MCE 2005.

Top tip for "My Movies" database connection issues

I was pulling my hair out in the past, because my "My Movies 2" program stopped working, every time I opened the Collection Manager it simply would not connect to my database.
After much reading and messing about, I came to the conclusion that my SQL database was fine and that the SQL Server service for My Movies was running ok.

I changed a registry entry for My Movies under HKLM\Software\My Movies\ changing the Server entry from the local loopback address to the host name of my Vista Media Center PC and voila everything started working again.
Full details can be seen here on the My Movies forum.

Transcode 360

Transcode 360 is an application that can be used to playback DVD's, DIVX and H.264 movies on your XBOX 360 Media Center Extender (MCX). It works by transcoding on the fly these formats to Windows Media Video (.WMV) which the XBOX 360 MCX supports natively.

The latest versions of Transcode 360 where developed and hosted on However this website is now dead.
You can download one of the later versions of Transcode 360 from me here. This is version 1.6.3

I haven't as yet been able to get this working with DVD VOB's on my system as I'm getting an error, however I can transcode both AVI and MP4 movies for playback on the XBOX 360 MCX in the My Movies add-in user interface. This also works in the default Video Library in VMC by using the more option as the image above shows.

MC Menu Customizer

I really like this simple and easy to use application that allows you to customize the Media Center start menu. You can add your own custom strips to the Start Menu or add a tile to one of Media Center's default strips.

You can download the application from the Windows Vista & XP Media Center Support Community here.

MC Menu Mender

It looks like this application may have been update or replaced and given a new name "MC Menu Mender" there's more information over on The Green Button here.
The second beta version of MC Menu Mender can be downloaded from here.

MCE Multi Mon - Dual Monitors

This is a fantastic little application for MCE and gets around the issue of using two monitors and having the mouse pointer locked in to the Media Center window when in full screen mode.

I have used several applications that are meant to combat this limitation of VMC and this is the only one I have been satisfied with and works well with my setup.

MCE Multi Mon

Written by ryan.tollefson

Vista Media Center Keyboard Shortcuts

Here is a link to a comprehensive list of the keyboard shortcuts in Vista Media Center, that I posted over on the Green Button forum.

Friday, 11 April 2008

What ever happened to SideShow?

For a long time I have been pondering over Vista SideShow technologies and the great potential that they hold. From a Media Center point of view SideShow could be a great technology for controlling your Media Center PC on small SideShow hardware devices.

Rumors of a Vista Media Center SideShow gadget have been around for ages, reading several Microsoft SideShow team blogs eluded to the fact that their was such a gadget for Media Center in internal beta at Microsoft. Unfortunately no public beta or time frame has been announced.

Two 3rd party SideShow beta projects that caught my attention were the Control Think one which can still be found here and the Go Gadgets beta that closed a while ago from Ikanos Consulting. These were aimed at enabling everyday devices to be SideShow compatible. Devices such as Sony PSP, Apple iTouch/iPhone, Windows Mobile and PDA devices.

Hopefully this development work is still in the pipe line and we will see some exciting developments in this area in the future.

New Movies add-in for Media Center

Quiiq have released a new "My Movies" type add-in for Windows Media Center. Its had mixed reviews and the pricing seems a little expensive, the base package is $29.95 and the network package which is what most users would probably need is $65.95 The network package includes two client licenses.

I personally use My Movies its a decent movie add-in for Media Center and best of all its free. I'm looking forward to the release of the MCML based version 3.

Upgrade your home cinema experience

Relax, sit back and enjoy hours of pure entertainment with your family and friends. Put in your hands the power of an interactive home cinema and theater experience. QuiiQ MOVIES is a brand new way to archive, manage and watch your entire movies collection. Just use your remote control to transform your TV box into a glamorous cinema projector with direct links to your favourite titles, actors, directors and digital copies of your movies.

User friendly

QuiiQ MOVIES has a powerful user friendly interface, controlled either by touch displays, remote controls or wireless keyboards. It is highly effective with vast databases and provides access to thousands of titles, actors and directors instantly.

Network distribution

With QuiiQ MOVIES you can watch any movie stored in the digital archive from every access point of your home network. Search all the movies related information and create powerful filters to improveyour navigation experience.

For Windows Media Center

QuiiQ MOVIES is designed for the new Windows Vista™ Media Center platform. Take advantage of all the features available in the Media Center like pictures slideshow, playing video, listening to music, selecting radio stations and recording TV.

Control Windows Media Center Music via PSP / iTouch / iPhone

ngRC - next generation Remote Control

This is a great little program for media center that allows you to control and queue up your music on Windows Media Center using a hand held device such as a Sony PSP or Apple iTouch/iPhone.
I've tried this out on my own system and it works pretty well on my PSP definitely a good way to sit in the garden and control what's playing on your Media Center PC without needing to be in front of the monitor or TV screen!

What are the main features?

  • MediaCenter-like Skin on your mobile device
  • Lets you browse through your music library, play music, etc.. without the need to switch on your TV
  • Lets you remote control you Media-Center (every function that are on your normal IR-Remote Control are now within your mobile device)
  • Now you have a WiFi-Remote Control
  • Extender Support (lets you switch between your different extenders, with only one Remote-Control)
  • Control your music in any room
  • Multiple Skin-Support
  • OpenSource Software

Just download and try:

Here are some screenshots:

More details can be found on The Green Button here