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Essential Plug-ins

Lately it feels like I have been helping more and more people either discover Media Center or setup their own Media Center.  This activity has really had me thinking about plug-ins so I thought I would post on what are my current essential Media Center plug-ins. 

This list is ever changing so I will come back to this topic again at a later date.  So in no particular order here are my must have Media Center plug-ins:

  • TapiRex:  Once you have caller-id showing up on the TV you will never want to go back.  I know a lot of cable company DVR’s are adding this in now, but only if you have digital phone from the cable company.  I don’t have that restriction and I can edit the contact phone book so that each contact has a picture and multiple phone numbers.  This was the first plug-in I installed when I bought my Media Center.
  • Heatwave: This is a recent plug-in but I find myself using it every day.  Heatwave is basically a weather plugin.  It has a great UI and pulls it’s information from weather.com.  You can track weather for multiple cities and have shortcuts for up to 3.  Simple install and it just works.  Install it now.
  • VideoLibrary:  This is what I use to manage my TV library.  I tried MyTV, but I like this one better.  Of course it helps that it is free.  It also helps that once you get it setup, it is super simple to use and your library is on cruise control.
  • OML / Media Browser (BETA) / MyMovies: I am evaluating all three to organize my Movie Library.  I need to do a separate post on these three plug-ins so I will not put any detail here.

As you can see the list is short (I did say ESSENTIAL).  I also don’t like to add to many plug-ins because I feel like it clutters the experience and contributes to system instability.

Next post I will list my must have Media Center utilities.

So what are you must have plug-ins??  Comment below.


Busy couple of days

Wow! The past couple of days have been a blur. The computer arrived on Tuesday and it happened to coincide with a CRAZY work week. I haven’t had much time to setup the new PC over the past few days, but I have had some. This weekend should see the rest of the non-TV related setup completed. Now on to what has happened so far!

The first adventure with the new computer started as soon as I opened the box. I bought a 750GB sata hard drive from NewEgg to compliment the 500GB hard drive already in the PC. The hard drive arrived wrapped in bubble wrap with nothing else (no box, nothing). So turns out I was missing a sata data cable to hook up the hard drive. Late night run to Best Buy fixed that problem.

The next issue to resolve was that the hard drive was no showing up as installed. Enabling the sata data port on the motherboard through the system BIOS resolved that issue.

The next issue was getting the new hard drive to show up as usable in Windows Vista. It was showing up in the disk manager as unallocated. The disk manager though would not give me an option to create a new allocation. I resolved that one after a few hours of research and installing the Western Digital utility for my drive. It was only for XP so I had to install it in a compatibility mode.

So getting the additional hard drive and turning on the computer was the extent of day 1. I started to copy my data over and called it a night.

More setup follies including Transcode360 and Caller ID to come later.

New Day1 Plugin: MCE Customizer

I found a new plugin today while listening to the Media Center Show called MCE Customizer. It gives you a nice user interface to tweak settings that otherwise would require you to hack the registry. There are some nice tweaks here like “Enable Caller-ID” and “Skip Intervals” and it’s absolutely free. The full feature list after the jump.

Current features:
– Hide Or Show Startmenu Items
– Autostart Enhanced DVD Content
– DVD Notification Timeout
– Skip Intervals
– More Info Panel Timeout
– Seek Bar Timeout
– Mini Guide Timeout
– Display My Music As Last Viewed
– Display Wireless Passwords
– Disable Refresh Rate Changes
– Disable DirectX Check
– Enable DVD Gallery
– Disable EPG Discovery Service Reset
– Set Temp & Store Path For Recordings
– Notification Before A Recording Starts
– Recording Pre And Post Padding
– File Naming For Recordings
– Enable Caller-ID
– Enable Universal Remote Control
– Set Remote Control-ID
– Show Network Congestion Notification
– Show ‘Not Enough Bandwidth For TV’ Notification
– Prompt When Navigating To Insecure Pages
– Prompt When Submitting Nonencrypted Information
– Prompt On Mixed Content
– Start PC With Media Center Remote Control

New DVD backup method

I just cannot say enough about the community over at the Green Button. Everyday I find some great information there that will help me build the best MediaCenter experience for me and my family. Today it may have been an answer to my DVD backup needs.

One feature that I have been researching for awhile now in building the MediaCenter is DVD backup. I have been planning on using MyMovies plugin to access and organize the movie collection but I have gone back and forth on how I would get the movies off the disc and onto my hard drive.

Last night I sat down and cataloged all of my DVDs in a Google Docs Spreadsheet. I came up with a list of 290 DVDs. I ranked all of the movies on a tiered system to help me prioritize the order in which I ripped the movies and added them to my MediaCenter “always available” movie collection. The priority starts with tier 1 and works down to tier 4.

The method that I had been planning on using was the “Fast No Convert” method. This was the easy method to date and worked great with MediaCenter since it was MediaCenter specific. The steps are as follows:
1) Rip main movie with DVD Decrypter into single VOB file (1 click after initial setup)
2) Use VideoRedo to put the mpg file inside the VOB into a DVR-MS container (2 clicks)
3) Add DVR-MS file to MyMovies collection

It doesn’t get any easier than that. The only drawback is the file size. I did a quick estimate on hard drive space need to fit all 290 movies. If I did an average file size of 5GB per movie then I would need 1.4 Terabytes worth of storage for everything. Wow! I will have that kind of space by the end of the year when I get my Windows Home Server but I’m not there yet. That’s also a lot of space for what I have now. I’m not going to stop buying DVDs.

Now I have two options to deal with this. The first is to cut down the list of DVDs that I rip. Do I really need every DVD that I own to be available at the press of button? Of course not and I plan to revisit my list and trim it down.

The second option is to find another backup solution. I previously had a plan to convert all my movies to XVID. I found a great guide that even though it was a number of steps it produced great looking backups with 5.1 audio at half the file size. The only drawback here is that while the XVID codec is supported directly on my Xbox 360 these days, it is not supported when I use it as a Media Center Extender. The new version 2 extenders that have just been released do support DIVX/XVID so I am hoping that the Xbox 360 will be updated to match their capabilities. Unfortunately we are not there yet and I would prefer to no use Transcode 360 due to the FF/RW limitations.

Today I may have stumbled upon another backup method that I may be able to use. The new method is a one-click batch job that uses a number of applications to produce a WMV file with 5.1 audio. This has the added benefit of being compatible in more ways than the XVID method and it seems to have the file size that I am looking for.

I am going to test out the new method now and will post later on the results.

Interesting Plugin to Organize TV

I just came across a plugin on the GreenButton forums that gives you a different way to organize your TV. I am definitely interested but this will not be a Day1 plugin for me. If I started collecting episodes then I may think about installing and configuring it. I can see this as a strong possibility when I get my Windows Home Server and have 4TBs worth of storage.

Full Info Here

Increasing the Pause Buffer

Everyone with a DVR knows that it is always recording. The thing never stops unless you turn it off and sometimes that doesn’t stop it. It does this so you can pause/rewind/fast forward Live TV.

In Media Center, the default “Pause Buffer” is 30 minutes. This means that if you paused live TV it would “unpause” automatically after 30 minutes because your DVR is not storing more than 30 minutes back from whatever is Live at this moment.

With a simple registry hack in Media Center you can increase the pause buffer up to 2 hours. Here is how:

1) Run RegEdit
2) Go to registry entry “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media
3) Find setting “BackingFileDuration” with the default value set to “300 “
4) Change setting “BackingFileDuration” to “600” for 1 hour, “900” for 1.5 hours, “1200” for 2 hours.

This was taken from the community at the Green Button HERE.

MCE – Launch Live TV

One of my day 1 settings that I would like to have is the option to have the media center launch directly into Live TV.

If you have used Media Center before then you know that by default it launches into the Start page. From there you have to choose what you want to do with Live TV and Recorded TV as just two of a number of options.

Since I am trying to replace the cable box in the living room, I need the experience to be very similar to what we have now. When my wife goes to watch TV today she turns on the TV and then turns on the cable box. At that point live TV is on and she can choose to either continue watching live TV (channel surf or guide surf) or choose to watch recorded TV. The media center needs to provide a similar experience.

So I went to The Green Button and asked my question. I got two responses that look promising. When I have a solution that will work through an extender I will post my results.