Media Browser, my go to HTPC front end, is making some big moves as it looks to expand its role beyond Windows Media Center. Here are some of things you can expect when Media Browser 3 is released:
Media Browser will become a client-server application beginning with version three, and will be targeting multiple platforms. The server runs on Windows 7/8 and Windows Server 2008/2012. There are currently six client applications in development. Leading the way is Media Browser Theater, powered by VLC, which is the replacement for MB2 and runs as a stand-alone application on Windows 7/8.
I am a big fan of the client-server setup, so this shows a lot of promise. More importantly though, Media Browser will be breaking out of the WMC mold. The biggest drawback of this would be for those people who use WMC for live TV as you will still need to rely on WMC (talking specifically about CableCard setups). If you are using unencrypted live TV, the plan is to have this incorporated into Media Browser. Unfortunately WMC appears to be on its last leg, and my guess we aren’t too far off from seeing MS abandon completely, so becoming a stand alone app is critical IMO to the survival of Media Browser.
The big question with Media Browser as a stand alone app is how video playback would be handled. The developers have decided to go with VLC because in their opinion it is the most stable player around, plays just about everything without any setup, and has an incredibly robust api. It is embedded into the application using libvlc. I honestly have only used VLC briefly as I prefer MPC HC as my video player so I can’t comment on how well it works (I believe right now the main issue for us HD Audio guys is that it does not support bitstreaming HD Audio, although it is something being worked on). Also, many folks who use MPC HC do so because of the ability to go with custom filters (MadVR, LAV, etc…), so I don’t know if this is something that can somehow be incorporated into VLC. You will still have the ability to use 3rd party players, and there is the possibility if MPC HC comes out with a robust API it could be incorporated into Media Browser in the same fashion as VLC.
Then there is the Dashboard, a web-based client, which runs in any HTML5-enabled browser. This houses the server’s configuration interface and will also provide the ability to browse the library and play content. In addition, Media Browser will be coming to Android, Windows RT, Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8.
All you mobile fans will be happy to see Media Browser is coming to several of the mobile platforms such as Android and Windows. The server application will have a transcoding API which will allow for the ability to play your media collection on a variety of platforms without worrying about file compatibility (similar to Plex or Remote Potato)
Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, we now have a public web-based API and are actively seeking developers to create new plugins and help bring Media Browser to even more platforms. iOS, Roku and DLNA remain very high on our wish list. Community members who would like to contribute are encouraged to utilize the API in any manner they wish, even to accomplish smaller goals than building a client application.
I always find that many of these applications live and die by the community, so opening up the API to the public should hopefully attract a lot of developers. This should help to take Media Browser to the next level in terms of custom-ability and feature-rich offerings.
As of now, there is a limited beta planned for March, with a public release hopefully shortly to follow in April. Pricing will work the same as with the current Media Browser platform (the core will be free with a marketplace for the various plugins).
The official Media Browser 3 site should be live in the next hour (9am EST). For now here are some images for your viewing pleasure:
Media Browser Theater: