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Cutting the Cord Part 5 - Media Center Add-Ons, Options and Wrap Up

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins – Page 1

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


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Now that we have our Windows Media Center up and running, we can investigate a few additional add-ons and plugins that can further improve upon the experience you can get from your Media Center.  In addition to discussing some great add-ons, I’m going to discuss how well our HTPC build has done with our power efficiency goals, so without further ado let’s jump right into it!

My Experience: The add-ons and plug-ins that I’m going to walk through are by no means all that’s out there.  There are tons of add-ons that will add anything from Local Weather to full overlays for your movie collection.  One thing to keep in mind is that any add-on or plugin can completely bork up your Media Center.  Always test the add-on on another box first, or even better, do a full image/backup of your Media Center before you try any new add-on or plugin.  You do have a full image of your brand new Media Center build on another machine that you can re-image yourHTPC with right?  (Check out Clonezilla or Acronis True Image if not…)

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins

Windows Media Center is excellent right out of the box, but there are a few add-ons and plugins I like to add to our Media Center to give us some additional functionality and increased usability.  By a wide margin, the one we use the most is Netflix.

Netflix

 

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Back when Netflix was a scrappy newcomer, trying to get subscribers, they were putting their client on every device and platform that would talk to them.  They worked out a deal with Microsoft to have the Netflix client pre-installed right into Windows Media Center menu.

My Experience: The built in application was apparently a joint project between Microsoft and Netflix, which may seem great, but has actually turned out to be a quagmire of finger pointing.  Since it was originally released, the application has not been updated since and both companies have washed their hands of it and point to the other as being responsible for the application.  The UI badly needs a facelift, in particular with the way you navigate through titles that have multiple seasons.  While all seasons of the title will show up as a single entry in your Instant Queue, there is no way to easily jump from season to season and the only way to navigate episodes is to pull up episode lists that starts at Season 1, Episode 1, every time you open up the episode list.  While this may not seem like a big deal, if you watch a show with a lot of episodes (like Cheers with 11 Seasons and 275 episodes) you have to scroll past every single prior episode to get to the next one you want to watch.  Clicking the down arrow on your remote over 200 times to get to the next episode you want to watch not only gets old real fast, but eats batteries like mad.

 

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Episode list problems aside, we still use Netflix on a daily basis and it’s relatively easy to setup.  First, scroll up to the “Movies” line and select the Netflix tile.

 

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You’ll be greeted with a full Netflix splash screen.  Put a check in the “I have read and understand the Terms of Service and Privacy Statement” checkbox which will then activate the “Install” button.  Click on Install and off we go.

Read on to see more add-ons that you can add to your Media Center!

 

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Netflix will install required components like Silverlight and the core components for Netflix itself.  Once installed, you will be asked for your Netflix account email address and password, or given the option for a 30 day trial if you don’t have one.  Enter your membership information, make sure there’s a check in the “Remember me on this computer” box and hit the Continue button.

 

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That’s all there is to it.  The Netflix UI lets you navigate and watch titles in your Instant Queue as well as search for other shows and movies by title or popular categories.

 

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December 13, 2012 | 02:06 PM - Posted by Andrew Van Til (not verified)

FYI - Container guidance is off. Rename "C:\Windows\System32\mfds.dll", install LAV Filters. Done.

If you want HBR bit streaming LAV Audio will need some configuring. Same is true on the video side if you want HWA decoding.

December 13, 2012 | 02:09 PM - Posted by Andrew Van Til (not verified)

Almost forgot. The installer should register LAV for MKV, but if it doesn't put this in a .reg (mkv.reg) file and run it.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.mkv]
"PerceivedType"="video"
"Content Type"="video/mkv"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Media Type\Extensions\.mkv]
"Source Filter"="{B98D13E7-55DB-4385-A33D-09FD1BA26338}"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Media Type\Extensions\.m2ts]
"Source Filter"="{B98D13E7-55DB-4385-A33D-09FD1BA26338}"

December 13, 2012 | 05:27 PM - Posted by JackNF (not verified)

Concerning leaving the box running 24/7 to make sure extenders can access content on demand... I'm not 100% clear on what settings I've got configured for this to work but my own Media Center recording box actually just wakes up automatically if it's asleep when I load up Media Center on my Xbox. It's maybe an extra 2 second delay (if that) compared to loading it up when the machine is already running. I don't have one of those Ceton extenders to see if it works with that as well, but I don't see why not.

Too bad about your IR receiver not liking sleep mode, but I just thought I should mention that you don't NEED to leave such a box running 24/7 if your goal is to stick it in a corner and only really use extenders.

December 13, 2012 | 05:50 PM - Posted by Chris Barbere

I'm pretty sure setting up the BIOS/UEFI to wake on LAN would work fine if I can figure out why the IR receiver won't wake up.  I'm going to keep experimenting :)

December 11, 2013 | 07:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

if you put a cross in the green and black wire on the 24 pin connector, it will leave the psu on, thus leaving the IR sensor functioning. hope this helps.

December 13, 2012 | 10:18 PM - Posted by Lunar (not verified)

Two things I would recommend based on my own personal experience. First, if you ever plan on watching copy protected content, I can't recommend the Gefen HDMI Detective enough. Windows HDCP support is terrible, especially if you have a receiver with an HDMI splitter. The HDMI detective stores the EDID's of devices down the chain making the EDID always available regardless of the status of the devices. This is really useful for setups in which you want to have it go to sleep and wake up.

This also leads into my next suggestion. Media Center Standby Tool is a great utility to make your HTPC act even more like a regular DVR.

For premium cable I recommend the Silicondust HD Homerun Prime CableCARD tuner. I currently use it because cable service is included with my rent. All I pay the cable company for HD channels is a $2 CableCARD rental. The HDHomeRun is much better than Ceton's option in my opinion because of the versatility it has by being a network tuner. Unlike the Ceton which requires the primary HTPC to be on at all times for tuner sharing the Prime is always there ready to go. I also had issues with resuming from standby with the Ceton. Having TV available on every computer in the house is really nice, and HDTV over WiFi is actually pretty good. Dropouts occur occasionally, but not much.

My HTPC:
Intel Celeron G530
ASRock H61M/U3S3 Motherboard
HIS Radeon HD 7770
4GB Corsair DDR3 1600
WD Green 750GB
ASUS Blu-Ray Drive
Corsair CX430 PSU
Hauppauge HVR-2250
Silverstone GD05B Case
Logitech K400 Keyboard/Mouse
Rosewill RHRC-11001
Silicondust HDHomeRun Prime

This build was designed with being my one stop shop for everything (TV, Couch Gaming, Blu-Ray, etc.) It has served me well as believe it or not the Celeron has more than enough juice for HTPC/Light gaming duties while running cool. It was definitely a learning process, and I went over budget when I decided to add CableCARD into the mix.

My recommendation to anyone deciding to build their own HTPC, especially if you plan to use CableCARD, is to plan ahead, do tons of research, and expect headaches.

Overall, you had a very well written, informative, and conclusive article series. Well done good sir.

December 14, 2012 | 03:54 AM - Posted by Justin 150 (not verified)

Like many people who have a serious media collection I have it all stored on a NAS.

Sadly on my HTPC I installed w8 because the interface seemed more sensible on an HTPC than classic windows (rookie mistake no 1!).

The NAS is on a workgroup because I also have desktops running XP (for work, why change), laptops running Vista (the laptop was free). W8 libraries do not play nicely with this, in fact but for a dreadful fudge they will not play at all. The idea of switching everything to a homegroup may not work either because of the multiple OSs across the home network and my HTPC is not on 24/7.

MS have not really understood the concept that home users might use a NAS.

Time to build a small server and set up an active domain !

December 17, 2012 | 05:24 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

Great article Chris!

A few other things to do with your HTPC. If you haven't checked out PLEX or XBMC, give them a look (for watching content off your network etc). I have XBMC running on my Raspberry Pi :-) I too have a (couple of) NAS drives/servers and like to store all my stuff for streaming around the house. I can do it with WMC, but I prefer PLEX for compatibility (too may iOS, Mac, Win, Android devices).

For control, I gave up on trying to use a remote. My Silverstone LC16M case came with a nice WMC remote and I'll occasionally use it but for controlling my HT"PC", I use a wireless Logitech keyboard with a built in trackpad. Its actually the one they made for their failed Google TV (have one of those too) but I picked it up online for $30. There are a few custom Google TV buttons and it isn't backlit but I love it.

There are some great iPhone/iPad/Android remote apps out there that can be slick. Mobile Mouse is one of my favorites. If you have a smartphone or tablet already, these can give you really nice custom UI's for different apps on the HTPC.

Boxee TV is crap, but there is a new product from a Kickstarter project called Simple.TV. Similar to Boxee but you record locally. Might be an option for those people that don't want to build an HTPC.

There are a few alternatives out there for people if they don't want to use WMC. I still use BeyondTV on one of my machines. I don't think the development is too active on it but you can still buy it. It isn't cheap, but it had a lot of post-processing features that I really loved.

I still use my old Hauppauge HVR-850 USB tuner and also a 1850. I'm lookiing to pick up the Centon quad tuner since I havne't convinced the wife/kids to drop cable yet. (my goal for 2013).

Something to keep in mind as well for those that are afraid about lack of content. I can't remember if you mentioned iTunes or Amazon Instant Video but both of these are great options for picking up content. RedBox has also just started a streaming service. I unfortunately have Hulu Plus and Netflix Subscriptions (dropping Netflix soon). the reason I like iTunes (no groaning) is that I can pick up a season pass for certain shows and watch them they day after they air. You may have to wait for some premium content like Game of Thrones, Homeland etc since HBO/Showtime want to milk their own services as much as possible first. Amazon has really turned out to be a suprise for me. $70/yr for Prime and I get free 2-day shipping on most purchases, Instant Video and a number of other perks. They just released a player for iPhone/iPod so they now cover the array of iOS devices for Instant Video streaming.

December 18, 2012 | 12:45 PM - Posted by Lunar (not verified)

Brady,

I don't know your specific use case, but I'd highly recommend looking into the HD Homerum Prime over the Ceton. The Prime changes channels significantly faster, and if you want to have your htpc go to sleep the Prime is much better at handling that than the Ceton. I kept having issues with the Ceton on resume. Plus, the Ceton gets really really hot. Also, because the prime uses your network any computer on your network can access TV using one of the three available tuners.

Just food for thought. In my experience the Ceton was nothing but headaches whereas the Prime has been fantastic. Also, keep in mind that the CableCARD tuners are only supported by Windows Media Center right now. That being said however Silicon dust just added DLNA certification to the Prime which means thou can view channels on DLNA devices like the PS3. Yet again though, the PS3 is currently the only DLNA device that will allow viewing of protected content.

December 18, 2012 | 02:18 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

When you say protected content, can you elaborate?

As for my use case - good luck :-) I just like this space so I've been playing with devices, hardware, software for at least 10 years now. I have 2x Rokus, 2x Apple TVs, Google TV, Sony SMP-N100 media player (tried N200), Boxee TV, Raspberry PI (running XMBC), Popcorn Hour 100, 3-4 devices no longer made, WD stuff, Seagate stuff, and 3 HTPCs.. I'm sure I'm missing a bunch too. (not including all the "smart" TV's, Blu Ray players etc).

I've looked at the Home Run. I almost bit the bullet a few times on that. I'm probably picking up the Smart.TV thing I mentioned first and after that I'll have to check out the Home Run. The Centon was really just a replacement for my Hauppauge that is getting a little old and figured I'd go with something that could do CableCard/Multi-Tuner. May have to rethink that.

In the end, the Beyond TV software I used to use would run on a box in the back (4tuner cards) it would record everything I wanted, post-process it all into various formats, move it to my media servers and bob's your uncle. I tore apart that box 4-5 years ago so I'm looking to go back to something similar. I want the family to be able to EASILY click a few buttons and find content on the network without a lot of fuss. Since some of them are stuff watching Housewives of who gives a crap, I'm still going to be stuck using stuff like iTunes/Apple TV to give them access to that. I just picked up a Mac Mini to possibly turn into another HTPC using XBMC, PLEX and iTunes. Probably put that up with them in the main viewing room.

This is the problem with this space, so many options, so many media content owners, so many people trying to "own" it. As a result, consumers get the shaft. I don't pirate content - period. But here I am waiting more than a year to PAY for it on iTunes because HBO is such a dumbass company. Drives me nuts.

I ranted about this on my site...

Oatmeal has a great comic about this too... awesome stuff
http://theoatmeal.com/comics/game_of_thrones

December 18, 2012 | 03:04 PM - Posted by Lunar (not verified)

Yeah, for you I would not recommend either the Ceton or the Homerun Prime because of the CableCARD requirement. Those tuners will function without a CableCARD after initial setup, but they, and I can't stress this enough, can not tune anything other than digital or clearQAM streams. For you I would recommend a Hauppage 2250. It supports ATSC and ClearQAM with the ability to tune 2 streams at once. Your other option could be the regular HD Homerun which is an ATSC/ClearQAM network tuner with 2 tuners as well. You could get two of them which would provide a total of 4 streams for any compatible device on your network.

Now, to explain what I meant by protected content. TV programming has two flags that the companies can set: copy-freely or copy-once. Copy-freely has virtually no restrictions allowing it to be played back on pretty much any device. Copy-once are your protected channels which only allow playback on the device they were recorded on. The flags are set differently by each cable provider. My cable provider sets the standard OTA networks (Fox, ABC, etc) as copy-freely, and everything else to copy-once. This means that Discovery HD, BBC America, etc are all copy-once and can only be played back on the HTPC that recorded them. You can't even use a media center extender to watch those recordings. The DRM system implemented for cable is a total pain, and based on what you told me digital cable is really not an option for you unless you decide to go ahead and run Windows. As I said before Windows Media Center is currently the only software that supports CableCARD devices, leaving Mac and Linux users out in the cold.

I hate DRM, but like you I choose to enjoy content legally and as such I have had to work through several headaches to get everything working as I like. If you read further up you will see how my setup is arranged.

If you would like to see the backbone of my cable setup:
http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e331/lunarx3dfx/2012-09-05184832_zpsb4...

The way I have everything setup is the router serves as my NAS with the 2 TB hard drive (mainly for XBMC and backups), and you can also see my Prime and the SDV adapter provided by the cable company. SDV is also another PITA that you have to deal with. I wont go into detail about what it does, but I will just say that it is required to view certain channels (yet again depending on who your cable provider is).

December 18, 2012 | 03:52 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

Thanks. Thats what I thought you meant about the protected content, but wanted to make sure they didn't slip in something else when I wasn't paying attention.

Lunar, I did get a laugh out of seeing SIN on the shelf. I was at BFG when NVIDIA suckered us into paying to bundle SIN Episodes... We had so many of those laying around.. (That and GRAW).

I'll take a pic and diagram my stuff some time.

December 18, 2012 | 07:56 PM - Posted by Lunar

SIN lol. I actually enjoyed that game even though it wasn't good by any stretch. I can't believe you worked for BFG. I loved BFG products. I was sad to see them go. Although, it sounds like you guys were screwed by NVIDIA.

I would like to see your setup. I love to see the different HTPC setups that people have.

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December 17, 2012 | 06:48 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

Chris,

Do you use an amp on your antenna? I'm about 50+ miles from Chicago (and Milwaukee) and pretty much north/south so I picked up a decent antenna http://www.amazon.com/Antennas-Direct-DB2-Directional-Antenna/dp/B000EHU...

I get about 30 channels (some dupes) but with a $20 amp from local home improvement store, it cleans up the signal on a few and brings in another 7 channels I didn't get before. I'm sure there are better/cleaner amps but for $20, I'm not complaining.

I watched the SuperBowl in Jan on the projector 100inches, 720P and full surround - all over the air. Was amazing. Way better than the "HD" from comcast.

December 19, 2012 | 10:09 AM - Posted by Chris Barbere

Yeah, I have an inline booster on the antenna to help boost the signal and push it down the coax.  I was using a simple Radio Shack inline booster that I don't believe is available anymore.  I've since gone with the Antennas Direct CPA19 booster and had pretty good luck with it.

December 20, 2012 | 03:54 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

Yeah I need to look at some other stuff. I have one channel I'd like to get a better signal on. The booster I'm using is only a 10db gain but then again it was under $20 :-)
http://www.amazon.com/RCA-10dB-Video-Signal-Amplifier/dp/B000N7FQB8/ref=...

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