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Media Center App Store

MFMC_Logo iTunes and the iPhone have introduced every to the notion of an App Store.  One central location to get everything you need for your device or ecosystem.  Now Media Center has the same thing thanks to the Digital Lifestyle.

Made for Media Center is being positioned as the App Store for Media Center.  It is an open market that allows developers to submit their Media Center plugins and utilities and gives end users a one-stop location for Media Center plugins and utilties.

The site is still in Beta and the UI is still a little rough in my opinion but it has the pertinent information that you need.  You need to setup an account to download directly from the site but I think it will be well worth it as the site expands.  The team is already thinking ahead by creating a Media Center plugin so that you can browse the App Store from within Media Center.

Go check out the site.  I think this is a great step forward in creating a cohesive Media Center ecosystem for the enthusiast and for those that will be getting into Media Center in 2010.

The Digital Lifestyle Article

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My Movies 3.10 release imminent

My Movies 3.10 has just hit pre release status and is almost ready for a full release.  Ian over at the Digital Lifestyle has a great write up.  Check out the write up and screenshots.  If you want to download the pre release go here.  Look for a full review when 3.10 is officially released.

My Movies 3.0 Review

Overview

The king is back!  All hail the king.  My Movies was the de facto standard for organizing online and offline movie libraries in Windows Media Center.  It was there at the beginning with Windows XP Media Center 2005 edition and slowly transitioned to Media Center in Windows Vista with the majority of new development focused on the database and back-end of the application.  The plug-in has made a huge leap forward in the User Interface and released My Movies 3.  Since the majority of this release is based on the Media Center client and not the database I will focus on that piece in the review.

Movie Overview

What’s New

The most obvious is the MCML User Interface upgrade.  My Movies 3 has four different views: Covers full screen, Covers and details, Covers centered, and List and details.  Covers full screen is the wall of covers with no menus or metadata to obstruct the view.  You can choose to have 2-6 rows of cover art.  Covers and details changes the view by adding a sidebar of metadata about the highlighted movie.  Covers centered is unique in the the movie highlighted will always be in the center row on the screen and a small strip of metadata flares out to the side of the cover art if you hover over a cover for a few seconds.  It takes getting use to but I kind of like this view.  I think most will choose between the first two options.

Parental controls have been implemented in this release and they work great.  The parental control option must be enabled in the collection management software but that is a one time setup.  You choose a 4 digit pin number that will be used to change parental control options in the future and to temporarily disable parental controls in the UI.  The nice thing about the implementation is that the controls can be set specifically for each extender as well as the main Media Center PC.  If you tie this feature in with the ability to disable the menu’s then you can really lock down an instance of My Movies 3 and get the perfect solution for an extender used primarily by the kids.

Fan art / backdrops support has been added in this release which catches My Movies up with MediaBrowser and OML in that feature.  If you leave the focus over a title for a few seconds the backdrop will fade in to cover the screen.  You will also see it when you drill down into the detail of a movie and as you scroll through the list of movies in the List and details view.

Movie Details

Trailers are not new to My Movies but the placement of the trailers button on the movie detail page is new.  If you are on the detail page of a movie and the application can find a trailer for that movie it will place a trailer link on the detail page.  This is a great help when you are trying to decide on a movie and someone in the group had never heard of the movie.  Most of the time you play the trailer and that’s all the convincing you have to do.  Since it’s pulling streaming trailers you will get more success on newer movies than old ones.  Oh and it does work on the extender!

Similar movies is also a new feature worth mentioning.  When you are in the detail page of a movie you can scroll over to the far right and see Similar Movies.  This feature will display movies from your collection that are similar to the movie you currently are reading the detail for.  The bigger the movie collection the better the results will be.

Overall there are not that many new features as this release was aimed at taking all of the features found in previous versions of My Movies and updating them in a new MCML platform.  Now that the base is complete Brian can start to think about new features and functionality that the users have been asking for but we not really feasible before.  I personally am looking forward to a Resume feature in a future release.

What’s Been Updated

At the top of my list for updates that I wanted to see were performance updates.  According to Brian Binnerup (the developer of My Movies) there would be a significant speed increase in loading movie titles in this release.  He claimed that the application could load 500 titles in 2 seconds, 2500 titles in 3 seconds, and 10,000 in 5 seconds.  I was really excited to see this action after my woes with MediaBrowser but unfortunately I did not experience these loads times at first.  My collection is about 430 so I was looking for an almost instant load of my collection.  Instead the load ranged from 15-30 seconds.  I must also place the caveat that my database is on a home server and not on the actual PC so network latency is always a concern.  So I can see and extra second or two added on but not 15 – 30 seconds.  By mere accident I deleted the database on the home sever and had to  rebuild it by scanning for the mymovies.xml files in the folders.  That accident ended up improving my results dramatically and now my load times is in the 3-5 seconds range on the PC and 5-7 on the extenders.

The main navigation is now hidden up top instead of persisted on the left.  It’s taking some getting use to but I like having it out of the way and not taking up screen real estate.  If you have seen this in MediaBrowser then you already have an idea of what to expect.  The My Movies implementation seems to be cleaner and more polished though.

During installation a My Movies strip will automatically be added instead of the option to choose on first launch.  Since you can disable these strips now in the Manage Extras settings it’s not a big deal.

Collection Management

This has been the strongest part of My Movies for a long time and that has not changed.  In fact the collection management software looks almost exactly the same as it did before.  The obvious changes are in the Options menu since it supports the options for the new user interface.

What’s Missing

Nothing really.  All the functionality that was present in My Movies 2 has been updated and included in My Movies 3.   There are some features that I would like to see in a future release:

  • Delete movie from title detail page
  • Resume
  • Play all (if you have a title that has multiple discs
  • The ability to change options via interface vs. collection management
  • Dynamic filters (all the filters have to be made ahead of time in collection management tool)

Vs. The Competition

Vs. OML: My Movies feels like a clean and polished version of OML at times without some of the nifty features like dynamic stackable filters and custom shortcuts from start strip.  My Movies database and collection management are a million times better than OML.

Vs. Media Browser: MediaBrowser has a lot of eye candy and My Movies has learned from it’s competitors.  It also has a nice home screen, title resume and better support for TV series.  My Movies is head and shoulders about MediaBrowser when it comes to performance and reliability though.  It will be easier for My Movies to catch up on the other stuff now that it has a good foundation.

Vs. Native Movie Library:  The only thing the native Movie Library app has going for it is the simplicity of setting it up.  It’s right there and all you have to do is point to your movie library folder.  The movie library does not scale well with large collections and performance will starts to become a hindrance.  It can automatically pull in movies recorded on TV which is nice but not enough.

Still To Come

On the Media Center Show Brian Binnerup said that he was working on the following features but they would not be in the first 3.0 release: resume, smart watch status (flagged watched based on amount watch, when watched, who watched), bookmarks (favorite scenes, share bookmarks with community), richer meta data for box set, cast and crew titles will include meta data from online to see what you own and what you do not own that the actor is also in, direct playback of chapters, new release around Christmas.

Wrap-Up

My Movies was the standard movie library plug-in for Media Center since the Windows XP days.  Now it has a new base MCML foundation to continue to build advance functionality in future iterations.  My Movies has a free version but it does lock out certain functionality based on a point system.  Read Damian’s review over at MediaSmartServer for more information on what features are effected by this.  Based on what I have seen you owe to yourself to try it out if you want a good looking stable movie library application for Media Center.  The other apps are bringing great competition but need more time to mature before I can rely on them again.  Go download My Movies 3 and let me know what you think.

Media Browser 2.1.3 Released

The latest version of Media Browser has been released just ahead of the Windows 7 launch as promised.  You can download it here and check out the main website here

I used an earlier version of Media Browser as my main movie library plug-in but performance issues led me away from it.  I have had a lot more luck with movie libraries that have a database in the backend (My Movies and OML) vs. a file based cache system (Media Browser and native MC Movie Library).  I will give the new version a try to see if the performance is any better but it’s going to be hard to bump My Movies 3 off of my Movies strip.  Look for my My Movies 3 review to be posted tomorrow.

My Movies 3.0 Is Coming!!

MyMovies was the go to plugin for organizing your movie collection in Media Center. Over time it started to show it’s age. We did get small updates and a nice Windows Home Server version to centralize the database. Finally after much anticipation we have news on MyMovies 3.0 from Ian Dixon:

I have some exclusive screenshots of the all new My Movies 3. On Tuesday I will have an interview with Brian Binnerup the developer behind My Movies and he is going to talk about the new features and UI in the Vista and Windows 7 version of My Movies. Tuesday will also be the release of the beta of the new movie app so listen to the show next week to find out all the details. I have to say its a great looking Media Center application!

I cannot wait to check this out. I really hope it brings much needed speed and stability to my movie collection. Check out Ian’s post for the screenshots.

MyMovies 3.0 Screenshots and Release Date

UPDATE: I just checked out the MyMovies website and I am stoked! It seems that it will have the speed improvements that I am craving. Check out this quote from the site.

My Movies 3 is mainly a new MCML (Media Center Markup Language) based interface, which will be much faster than our current interface. The interface is able to launch a collection of 2.500 titles in 3 seconds, and a collection with 10.000 titles in 5 seconds – the limitation on collection sizes with good speed will be above 25.000 titles.

My collection is up to about 420 movies so this should work great for me.

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Heatwave Plugin Updated

One of my new favorite Media Center plugins has been updated. All the details of the update and the download link can be found at the Green Button.



Heatwave is a great Weather plugin that pulls it’s information directly from Weather.com. It has a slick interface and it’s super simple to setup and use. It’s also FREE!! Great, simple plugin that everyone should have.

A few of the things that stands out on the change list:

  • Now compatible with TV Pack 2008, including extenders
  • The forecasts on the main page now animate from day to night mode
  • Extenders should now correctly use all the same settings as the server

It’s nice to see plugins starting to be updated to be compatible with TV Pack. I hope we see more of this.

This update also address my only real complaint with the plugin. Previously I had to setup all the same locations on each extender and the PC. Now I can finally set it up in one place and have it reflected everywhere. I can’t wait to get home and upgrade my version.

TV Tonic Olympic Content Gone After Sept. 15

Big thanks to Adam over at Entertainment 2.0 Blog for letting me know that my TV Tonic Olympic content will only be around for another two weeks.

I have not been as big of a TV Tonic user as I thought I would be. I have used it more for the Olympics. It has been great to be able to see the performance of the day and to get specific events that I may have missed. I used it a few times to see Usain Bolt’s amazing performances.

I hope Media Center gives us more content deals like this in the future.