Cutting the Cord Part 5 - Media Center Add-Ons, Options and Wrap Up
Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins – Page 2
Another heavy hitter in the video streaming arena is Hulu. Hulu is a partnership of multiple networks including NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, Nickelodeon and others that has ad-supported streaming video of many TV shows, as well as some movies and other media. The basic version of Hulu is free, but a good deal of the content requires a relatively inexpensive Hulu Plus subscription. While Hulu does not have a built in client for Windows Media Center, there’s a great (free) plugin available from Teknowebworks that ties the Hulu Desktop application into the Windows Media Center interfact.
To get Hulu integrated into Windows Media Center you need the following three pieces.
Flash is needed by Hulu Desktop and you may have already installed Adobe Flash Player during your setup. To double check and head on over to Adobe’s site and if you don’t have it, go ahead and download/install the latest version of the Adobe Flash Player. Installing Flash Player is relatively straight forward, but make sure you choose the “Install updates automatically when available” options when asked about your update preferences. You definitely want to keep Flash up to date, and this way it will do it on its own without you having to deal with pop up boxes that you need to connect a mouse to the HTPC to deal with.
Once you have Flash installed, download and install the Hulu Desktop. The installation is straight forward, so just Next your way through the install.
Now that you have Hulu Desktop installed, we can go out and grab the Hulu Desktop Windows 7 Media Center Integration Plugin developed by the fine folks over at Teknowebworks. All you need to do is to install the application to the default install folder and the installer will take care of everything else.
Once installed, restart Media Center and you’ll now have the option to launch the Hulu Desktop right from Media Center. How great is that?
My Experience: Hulu Desktop is actually a standalone application, and the Integration plugin simply minimizes Windows Media Center and then launches the Hulu Desktop application in full screen mode. When you exit out of the Hulu Desktop, the plugin will start Media Center back up for you.
My Channel Logos
Created by the same guys that have released the excellent Tuner Salad plugin that increases the tuner limit in Media Center up to 12 tuners, My Channel Logos for WMC is a great add-on for Media Center that will flesh out the information on your TV guide. By default, the TV guide in Media Center simply shows the channel number and the station callsign. My Channel Logos lets you tweak with the TV guide including letting you add the logos next to each channel so you know whether that station is Fox, NBC, ABC, etc. at a glance.
To get MCL, head over to the MCL website and grab the latest version of the My Channel Logos application. MCL does is available in a freeware Lite version that will give you the capability to download and then manually add a logo to each of your channels. But for a donation as little as $3.40, you will be allowed to download the full version that adds in features like auto-population/assignment of channel logos for most channels, customization and reconfiguration of many of the information displayed in both the rows and columns of the TV guide. To me, it was well worth the donation to not only get access to the improved feature set, but offer support to the MCL team.
Once you have downloaded the application, simply walk through the install, choosing all the defaults and you will then be able to launch My Channel Logos from the My Channel Logos folder in your programs list.
The program will first go out and download a library of channel icons available for you to use and then load into the main interface. With the full version (if you donated), you can simply hit the “auto-populate logos” button to automatically assign logos to many of your channels. Channels that MCL can not automatically determine what logo should be used will be shown in the “channels without logos” box (If you have the Lite version, all your channels will be listed there.) To add the logos for those channels, click on the channel ID in the channels without logos box and then click on the “add logo” box that shows up to right side and you will be able to choose from any of the logos available in the library.
Using the “guide” and “settings” tabs you can tweak many more settings to configure your TV guide as you’d like.
My Experience: Even though I donated and got access to the full version of MCL, there were still a handful of channels that MCL couldn’t figure out what logo to use. I don’t blame the program, as they were some off channels that the main networks stuck on the subnetworks like LiveWell or MeTV. In a few cases the library didn’t actually have the logo I needed, but you can easily add (and submit for others to use) logos to your library with simple 42x96 pixel PNG files. There were a few channels I had to dig around online to get logo’s for, but it was an easy process to get them resized and into MCL once I found them.
Playing MKV’s on Windows Media Center
Video and audio codecs can be a giant hassle not only in Windows Media Center, but for any playback in Windows itself. Not every file type is natively recognized by Windows, and there was a time not too long ago that you had to jump through hoops and download and install all sort of sketchy software and codecs to play certain file formats in Windows. While Windows 7 added in some of the missing codecs, there are still a few shortcomings, and the capability to be able to play MKV files is a big one.
MKV files stand for the “Matroska Multimedia Container” which is an open source format that can store an unlimited amount of video, audio, pictures and subtitle tracks all in one file. In certain circles, it is the primary format used for video files and the lack of support in Windows Media Center can be an issue for some. A while back I found a great walk through on how to get MKV files to play in Media Center with groovyPost’s How To on enabling MKV in Media Center and I’ve been doing that ever since. I have just recently discovered that I may be able to enable MKV playback in Media Center with one single package from DivX+ and will be investigating. In the meantime, I know he groovyPost method works, so if MKV’s are something you want to be able to playback, check out their How To and you’ll be watching MKV’s in no time.
There is a “Free Version” but for as little as $3.40, you can download the full deal that automates a lot of functions.
Other Add-ons and Plugins
There is a huge number of add-ons and plugins out there to expand and improve your Media Center experience. The ones I've detailed above are the ones that we use in our HTPC, but there are many more excellent ones that I've not tried. Here's a few of them worth checking out:
- My Movies - Excellent replacement for your Movie and TV Collections
- Media Browser - Yet another replacement for your Movie and TV collections.
- Media Center Master - Backend support for managing your Media Collection
- Heat Wave - Local weather right in your Media Center menus
- mcShoutCast - Addon that brings mcShoutCast Internet Radio into Media Center