Review: Media Browser 2.1.3.0 (Phoenix)

by Damian on November 4, 2009 · 28 comments

in Reviews

A few weeks ago I had a chance to review MyMovies3, a popular video management add in for WMC. Today I will take a look at  the latest Media Browser release (codename Phoenix), another popular video management add in for WMC. Before installing Media Browser you want to make sure that your media collection is set up properly (refer to the Prep Work section in my Metabrowser writeup). Also, a 3rd party metadata program like Metabrowser is not required as Media Browser can be set to scrape for metadata itself. However, many people use a 3rd party metadata program to compliment Media Browser and it also allows for easier management of your metadata outside of WMC.

Files to Donwload:

Initial Configuration:

Installing Media Browser is relatively painless, with only a few clicks required. When the setup wizard is complete you want to make sure that the “Configure initial settings” is checked (it should be by default).

Initial Install

With the installation complete, the Media Browser Configuration Tool should now pop up. There are two different views (basic and advanced) and the only difference being under the advanced view additional tabs (i.e. options) will appear.

MB Config Tool Basic

MB Config Tool Advanced

For the purpose of this writeup, we will go through each tab in the Advanced configuration mode.

Media Collection – Probably my favorite feature with Media Browser is the ability to create Virtual Folders of your media (i.e. you can have video files located across various folders or network locations grouped together). The Virtual Folders that you create will then be displayed as menu items when you load Media Browser. The easiest way I have found to set up is to click the “Add” button and point it to any folder/drive, it doesn’t matter. It should now show up under your “Add your media” section, so highlight and rename to your liking. Under the “Configure details” section you can now remove the original link and add your own folder locations. You an also assign an image to each virtual folder which will appear when in Media Browser.

 MB Config Tool Advanced-Media Collection

Completed virtual folders for my HTPC (the TV Series image shown below can be found here)

MB Config Tool Advanced-Media Collection Completed

Podcasts- here you can set up any Podcasts that you would like to access from Media Browser. A good list of working podcasts with Media Browser can be found here.

MB Config Tool Advanced-Podcast

Plug-ins- one of the promising features of Media Browser is the Plug-ins section. This provides for a central area to install Plug-ins for Media Browser. As someone who tests out a lot of different media center software, one of the frustrating thing is having to search all over the forums for plugins, and then installing each pluginhas its own set of instructions. XBMC has done an excellent job with this, creating an SVN repo, and I am very happy to see Media Browser following a similar approach. Currently there are six plug-ins (with Music Support being the latest) but I am sure there will be a lot more down the road.

MB Config Tool Advanced-Plugin

If you install the Music Plugin you  need to set it up. Simply click the “configure” button on the PlugIn screen, and the below should pop up.

MB Config Tool Advanced-Plugin Music Config

Extenders + Iso- if you store your video files in ISO you can specify what mounting tool to be used. Also, if you are using an extender such as the Xbox360 you can enable Transcode 360 which will transcode unsupported formats on the fly.

MB Config Tool Advanced-Extender

Display- here you can set enable a few options (such as display clock) under the General Display Settings. You can also decide if you want Media Tracking enabled, specify a default theme (currently Default, Vanilla, or Diamond), and set up Media Browser to display the current weather for your location. The get the correct Weather ID you can simply head over to Yahoo (a convenient link is provided) and enter in your town. Once you do this it is not apparent exactly where the Weather ID is, so you just need to look in your webpage address bar to find (see second screenshot below, I circled the Weather ID). NOTE – a bug has been reported with the current release of Media Browser where having the Weather ID populated freezes Media Browser. I have confirmed this on my system, so for the time being I recommend you keep this field blank.

MB Config Tool Advanced-Display

MB Config Tool Advanced-Display Weather

External Players- if you want to set up a specific file format(s) to be played with other then the default WMC player, you can set this up here (for example, if you decide you want all your mkvs to be played using Media Player Classic and not WMC). For further information on how to set up the optional parameters, see here.

MB Config Tool Advanced-External Player

Folder Security/Parental Control - Although two separate tabs, these really go hand in hand. If you plan on using parental controls based on folders (not just individual movie ratings) you will need to set up the folder ratings in the Folder Security tab. You can then go into Parental Controls and adjust to your liking (don’t worry, no questions asked about any content you want hidden!).

MB Config Tool Advanced-Folder Security

MB Config Tool Advanced-Parental Control

Windows Media Center Configuration:

With the initial configuration now complete (you can always access the Media Browser Configuration Tool via the Start Menu) now it is time to head into WMC. The first thing you should notice is Media Browser has now been added to the WMC Menu strip.

7MC - MB Menu

The first time you go into Media Browser an additional Configuration menu will pop up. If you plan on using Media Tracking you can specify a date where anything older then that date is considered watched. There is an option to allow for automatic updates (I don’t know if this works yet) and also an option to allow for metadata from Internet based providers. If you would like Media Browser to automatically scrape metadata check this option. Since I use metabrowser for my metadata I keep this option unchecked.

7MC - MB Initial Configuration

With Media Browser now configured you should be taken to your customized Main Menu. Each virtual folder created will appear in the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. A list of recently added files will appear right above the menu (you can navigate directly to one of those files) and the image assigned to the virtual folder will appear to the left. In the bottom right hand corner you will see a wrench. Clicking on this will  take you to the configuration screen.

7MC - HomePage

 In the General section you can shut on/off Media Browser’s metadata scraper, enable updates, and make a few additional tweaks to the UI.

7MC - MB Configuration General

 In the Media Options section you can choose how you want watched/unwatched media tagged, as well as allow for playlists

7MC - MB Configuration MediaOptions

In the Themes section you can change the theme being used, as well as make a few other enhancements. 

7MC - MB Configuration Themes

If you have set up Parental Controls (which must be done via the Media Browser Configuration Tool), you will need to enter in the PIN assigned to access these settings in WMC.

7MC - MB Configuration ParentalControl

Screenshots By Theme:

Currently there are three themes (Default, Diamond, and Vanilla) and I am sure a few more in the works. Part of the fun is testing out the different themes and figuring out which one fits you best. Right now I like Diamond the best, but you can decide for yourself.

DEFAULT THEME:

Thumb view

Default Theme - Thumb 

Thumb Strip view

Default Theme - Thumb Strip

Thumb Strip view (TV episode example)

Default Theme - Thumb Strip TV Shows

Poster view

Default Theme - Poster

Details view

Default Theme - Details

Coverflow view

Default Theme - CoverFlow

Movie details page

Default Theme - CoverFlow Details

 

DIAMOND THEME:

Thumb view

Default Diamond - Thumb

Poster view

Default Diamond - Poster

Thumb Strip view

Default Diamond - Thumb Strip

Details view

Default Diamond - Details

Details view – TV shows

Default Diamond - TV Show Details

Coverflow view

Default Diamond - CoverFlow

Details view - Podcast example 

Default Diamond - Podcast Details

Movie details page

Default Diamond - Movie Details

VANILLA THEME:

Strip view 

Default Vanilla - Strip

Strip view with details (press down on remote)

Default Vanilla - Strip w Detail

Thumb view

Default Vanilla - Thumb

Poster view

Default Vanilla - Poster

Details view

Default Vanilla - Details

Coverflow view

Default Vanilla - CoverFlow

Movie details page

Default Vanilla - Movie Details

Tips/Tricks:

Aside from choosing different themes, there are several other modifications you can make to add some further WOW to the UI. Now keep in mind that none of these tricks/tips are necessary. You could simply install Media Browser, set up the initial configuration, and be up and running in  no time.

Custom Background - if you want to have your own custom background show up when Media Browser loads it is a very easy to do. Once you find the image you want to use, simply save it to C:\ProgramData\MediaBrowser\StartupFolder (make sure the file is named backdrop.jpg or backdrop.png).

Background used  below was from a collection put together by DemonSeed which can be found here

Custom Background 

Change WMC Startup Icon – you can change the default Media Browser icon that shows up in WMC. Simply overwrite the Application.png which is located at C:\Program Files\MediaBrowser\MediaBrowser with your own file.

Media Browser custom icon (got here)

Startup Icon 

Stark CoversOne way to add some flare is to bring in custom covers, with a popular app for doing this called Stark Covers. The Stark Covers UI, which you can get here, will go through your movie/TV/music collection and add custom covers that you choose. This really does add a nice polished look to your covers but I am not sure how practical it is to maintain. For instance, every new video/music file you add to your library, you will need to run Stark Covers on the newly added files. It would be nice if Stark Covers gets integrated with a metadata program like metabrowser to help automate the process.

Stark Covers UI

StarkCovers GUI

Stark Covers – Added Blu Ray covers to my son’s Blu Ray movie collection

StarkCovers - Movie Library

Stark Covers – Added CD Case to my music collection (read Music section further down for more details)

StarkCovers - Music Library

Stark Covers – Added TV screen to TV show episode thumbnails

StarkCovers - TV Library

ImageByName – if you want to have actor images show in the UI, you need to download the actor images and point Media Browser to the location. You can download the latest Actor Images from www.theHTPC.net (actual download here). Since I am running multiple HTPCs I have the ActorImages stored on my WHS, so in order to point Media Browser to the location you need to go to C:\ProgramData\MediaBrowser, locate the MediaBrowser.xml file and edit the <ImageByNameLocation> field. Here is what mine looked like:

<ImageByNameLocation>\\SHAWSHANK\Videos\Utilities\Actors</ImageByNameLocation>

Actors image view in Diamond theme

ImageByName

Trailers – if you happen to have trailers saved for your movies (I use this great tool) you can play them back from the movie details page. To do so you will need to locate the mymovies.xml file which should be in the same folder as the movie you want to add the trailer to and edit the <localTrailer> field. Here is what mine looked like:

 <LocalTrailer>
    <URL>\\SHAWSHANK\Videos\Trailers\Tropic Thunder 1080p Blu Ray-trailer.mov</URL>
    <Type>1</Type>
 </LocalTrailer>

Vanilla theme – if a trailer is associated you will see a movie reel icon appear just below the play icon

Trailer

Diamond theme – if a trailer is associated you will see a movie reel icon with the word Trailer appearing just below the play icon

Trailer a

Box Set Collection - If you have any box sets that you want grouped together, one way to do so is by creating a “Box Set” folder and then placing shortcuts to each movie in this folder. This may not be the best way to do it as I have read some people on the Media Browser forums having problems with this when doing any sort of filtering, but since I have not done any filtering this seems to work. In my Videos Shared folder I created another folder called “Box Sets”. In this folder I manually created a folder for each box set that I owned (i.e. Back To The Future, The Matrix, Lord Of The Rings, etc…). In each of these folders I added a folder.png icon (downloaded from here) and also pasted shortcuts to each individual movie folder that belongs to the box set. The last step was to go into the Media Browser Configuration Tool, create a Virtual Folder for Box Sets, and point at the Box Set folder on the Shared Videos drive.

Media Browser Main Menu with Box Sets Listing

Boxsets b

View of all available box sets

Boxsets

View of movies available within box set

Boxsets a

Music - One of the newest features added to Media Browser was a music plugin. The default WMC music library actually works perfectly fine, but if you want to access your music from Media Browser here is your chance. The one downside is that the Music Plugin works the same as for videos, where a folder.jpg and a backdrop.jpg are needed (i.e. ID3 tags are not read). You will need to go through your music library and add these files if you want backdrops and album art to show. A program called MusicArt was created to help manage your music for Media Browser. It searches HTBackdrops for any available backdrops and Google for available album art. Since music backdrops is still relatively new compared to movie/tv show backdrops you may have a hard time finding backdopsfor older or lesser known artists. If the Music Plugin gains in popularity withMedia Browser I would hope down the road that gathering the art can be incorporated into one master program for both music and videos. You can download the MusicArt program here. Also, for more information on the Music Plugin, you can read further here.

Screenshot of MusicArt

MusicArt

The same views shown earlier for each theme are available for music as well. Below is a shot of Poster view in the Diamond theme

Music Library a

Below is a shot of CoverFlow view for each available album of a selected artist. You can select an album which will take you to a list of songs to play (you can only play one song at a time), or if you have an album highlighted and press the play button on your remote you get the option to play the entire album.

Music Library 

When a song is played the WMC default music library will appear.

Music Library b

Speeding Up Media Browser with a Flash Driveone thing I notice is that there is a slight delay (maybe about 1s or so) when I am scrolling through my video library and the associated fanart for each movie shows. This isn’t a big deal to me but the folks over at Hack7MC have put together an article on how to incorporate a Flash Drive to speed up Media Browser. I have not tried this method but thought it worth mentioning. The article can be found here.

Final Thoughts:

I have been using Media Browser as the main UI on my HTPCsfor much of this year and must say I am really impressed with the product. The ability to create virtual folders is a big plus for managing my media collection and making it as user friendly as possible (the all important WAF). Having a “one stop shop” for my movies, tvshows, and now music, further enhances the experience and keeps things as simple as possible for both myself and my wife. The addition of the plugin feature is real nice and offers a lot of promise for some great 3rd party add ins (like the music plugin) down the road.

The biggest potential roadblock for Media Browser is the decision to move to a paid model. I support the developers decision as with the growing popularity of Media Browser the amount of time and effort spent by the developers has grown exponentially. Whether or not users who are accustomed to using the product for free are willing to pay up is yet to be seen. The next release of Media Browser (code name Firestorm) is set to be released on December 20th, 2009 and I would expect at that point the move to the paid model will be made. Until the terms of the paid model are known (will it be a one time fee or recurring, what happens to users using the fee versions of Media Browser, etc…) it is hard to say whether the right decision was made.

Useful Links:





Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 23 comments }

Suresh November 4, 2009 at 11:55 am

Awesome review again Damian…..thanks for the screen shots. I am using the oder version still and waiting to upgrade to Phoenix once I complete my windows 7 upgrade. I am waiting to see what the paid model is going to be and if it is reasonable, I will definitely pay…it is worth the money.

One question I had was the resume function for dvr-ms files. It does not seem to work for me in mediabrowser in the new version when I tested it on a laptop. Have u tried this?

Damian November 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

@ Suresh – hopefully you mean you are using an older version, I would avoid the “oder” version :-)

The resume function worked fine with my mkvs and ts files. I never tested out with DVR-MS. I should have a few of those on my server, so when I get a chance I will test out and report back, hopefully I should have a chance tonight.

Cheers
Damian

Damian November 4, 2009 at 3:46 pm

@ Suresh,

I just tested out a DVR-MS file and teh resume function still does not work. Don’t know if the same applies to wtv.

Cheers
Damian

Suresh November 5, 2009 at 8:23 am

Thanks Damian….

Nephelyn November 5, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Sam is a clever boy, he WILL make the right decision regarding the paid model, dont worry about it! Nice write up, was thinking that you might do a little comparison with MM3, because i have never used it.

Alex Kuretz November 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Thanks for this excellent review and guide, Damian, I’ve got this set up now and working great on my HTPC and my wife really finds it to be an improvement for her ease of use. I’ve had to re-organize my content to get it to work well with metabrowser and MediaBrowser but it’s been well worth the effort.

Damian November 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Glad to hear you got it working Alex. It should be something that once you get the initial setup and the look you want completed you should not really need to touch again. I am hoping to get the watched/unwatched status shared from the network (for multiple HTPCs such as in my house), similar to ImageByName. It appears there is a way to do this (at least in an older version of Media Browser). I am going to test out and will report back if I have success.

Darren December 26, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Hi,

Just started using media browser. Is there any way to get back to the configuration screen that comes up the first time you run media browser in WMC?

Also, how to you get the 1080p or 720p icons to display on your covers? I have 3 blurays I’ve ripped and turned into mkvs, but they don’t show the 1080p in media browser.

And also display the Rating, and DTS (or whatever). Is there a separate program you need to get this and have it display? I am using meta browser. Thanks.

Darren December 26, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Okay, I just noticed in meta browser that I didn’t have the rating or aspect ratio or movie type filled in.

After filling those in, the rating and aspect ratio now display in media browser, but the 1080p still is not there and I don’t see where I can add the audio tracks to get DTS or what have you.

Thanks.

Damian December 27, 2009 at 5:46 am

Hey Darren,

Just commented to you on the Firestorm writeup :-)

Jake January 4, 2010 at 9:14 am

Damian,

Thanks for the review/info. This is good stuff.

One question: How do you change between the views (thumb view to thumb strip view to poster view)? Is this a setting or remote button? I’ve tried and tried to figure this out and have decided I must be missing something simple. Thanks!

Damian January 4, 2010 at 9:27 am

It is weird how it is hidden, depending on what view you are in either try to keep scolling all the way to the left or all the way up, the view menu will then appear

Jake January 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

I found it. Thanks!

Pradeep October 9, 2010 at 2:24 pm

A general question about Mediabrowser. Does it make your whole navigation experience much slower than stock WMC navigation speed. I feel it is much slower and takes several seconds after I click on folder or file, especially on the extender (XBOX 360), but also on my Dell Inspiron 530 with Windows 7×64. Also, I have noticed a couple of strange things. If I try to play a file that is not playable (.mkv) on my extender, then the whole folder vanishes from my media browser screen. Once a file cannot be played, I try to go out of it, but once I come to the initial media browser screen where I have added my media collection, I will not see that folder at all. For instance, I have added 3 different virtual folders, Movies, TV Shows and Recorded TV. If I try to play an unplayable file in one of the sub folders under TV shows, then when I navigate back to my main media browser screen, the entire folder of TV shows is gone from the list and I am only left with the other 2. I will then have to restart my extender or go to my pc and open the configuration file for media browser and close it or do something else for this folder to show up again. Also, my metadata does not seem to be working and so I am missing the whole ‘wow’ factor in this experience. I am wondering if this would be any better (speed, format support and metadata) if I buy one of the media players like Boxee or PCH.

Damian October 10, 2010 at 10:19 am

I have never used my Xbox360 in extender mode so I cannot confirm. However, I would imagine that Media Browser may slow it down because of its reliance on fanart, transitions, etc… that the Xbox360 may not have enough horsepower to display like an HTPC does

Pradeep October 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I just went through your other post where you had detailed the building of the mini HTPC. I am kind of tempted to do the same, even though I have never done something like this. I do realize the flexibility that it provides in playing the various formats. I am just not sure I am ready to spend nearly 500$ for the HTPC at this point of time. I do not want a big box either. I want something that is small enough like a Set top box and something that I can easily put inside a small cabinet and transport if necessary. I already have a XBOX and PS3. I would have liked to use them if this could work out. But since this does not seem to be working out, I am wondering if I should cut down on my expenses and buy one of these media players out there like PCH or Boxee instead of building the HTPC.

Damian October 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Yeah, it is a tough call. These days you can build a small, quiet, and powerful HTPC for relatively cheap. HTPCs are great, they give you the most flexibility. However, they are PCs so you are responsible for the software, decoders, filters, etc… necessary for proper playback. Also, HTPCs scream “Tweak me, Tweak me!!!”. I am a believer in set it and forget it with an HTPC, once you start tweaking and using it as a testing ground that is when you run into trouble

Pradeep October 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I think I am in the same camp as yours. If I can get this to work properly, I will not bother tweaking it. I am also of the philosophy of ‘Do not fix it if it isn’t broke’. Do you still feel that HTPC is a better option than a box like Boxee. At 199, boxee is really tempting. I am just not sure how good it will be at playing these formats and I guess I cannot use Media Browser and stuff like that also.

Damian October 11, 2010 at 9:49 am

@ Pradeep,

Well, I can’t comment on Boxee Box until it is released to the public and we know definitively what it can do. The best thing about an HTPC is that you are not locked in to a specific UI. With Boxee Box, Dune, PCH, etc… you will be very limited in what you can do from a UI standpoint. Then again, for the most part a dedicated player like the Boxee Box, PCH, etc… just works out of the box where an HTPC requires more upfront time

Pradeep October 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Is there an easy way to delete the files (after watching) when using Media Browser?

Damian October 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I don’t think so. This feature has been asked for but I believe the developers were/are hesitant of giving anyone access to just delete content with the click of a button

Pradeep November 2, 2010 at 10:51 pm

When I am playing something using Media Browser and MPC-HC, how do I turn on the subtitles?

Damian November 5, 2010 at 6:46 am

You can either enable the auto load subtitles option in MPC HC (i.e. Options – Playback). You can also enable this in the Options – Players – Keys section

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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