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:
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).
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.
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.
Completed virtual folders for my HTPC (the TV Series image shown below can be found here)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the Media Options section you can choose how you want watched/unwatched media tagged, as well as allow for playlists
In the Themes section you can change the theme being used, as well as make a few other enhancements.
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.
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.
Thumb Strip view
Thumb Strip view (TV episode example)
Movie details page
Details view – TV shows
Movie details page
Movie details page
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.
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)
Stark Covers – One 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
Stark Covers – Added Blu Ray covers to my son’s Blu Ray movie collection
Stark Covers – Added CD Case to my music collection (read Music section further down for more details)
Stark Covers – Added TV screen to TV show episode thumbnails
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:
Actors image view in Diamond theme
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:
<URL>\\SHAWSHANK\Videos\Trailers\Tropic Thunder 1080p Blu Ray-trailer.mov</URL>
Vanilla theme – if a trailer is associated you will see a movie reel icon appear just below the play icon
Diamond theme – if a trailer is associated you will see a movie reel icon with the word Trailer appearing just below the play icon
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
View of all available box sets
View of movies available within box set
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
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
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.
When a song is played the WMC default music library will appear.
Speeding Up Media Browser with a Flash Drive – one 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.
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.