Life With A Plugin Episode 19: Radiotime

Feb 25 2009

If you remember the days of the initial Windows Media Center with that wonderfully never used Radio button, then you will be pleased to see that there's a plugin created which aims to increase the power of that. Of course, as I hinted, I don't know many people who have or ever use an actual FM tuner inside the Media Center interface so I was curious as to what RadioTime would offer over the built-in application in MCE.

 

Overview

RadioTime is an application which has apparently gone under my radar for quite some time. Based off of HTML (not MCML like the newer MCE add-ons), it leverages the immense database of the designer company Radiotime.com which offers visitors the ability to stream over 100,000 radio stations for free with their web browser. 

 

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Start Page with the Best Of... ESPN Radio (MCE Sports fans rejoice!)

 

RadioTime for MCE does the same, but via a 10' remote control interface from within Windows Media Center. Since it's not based on MCML, the plugin should work for both MCE 2005 and Vista MCE users, and is pretty cool. You can browse by genres, see what's playing and even maintain your presets. And for the few users who actually have an FM tuner and antenna integrated into your MCE systems, it will even support those.

 

Above & Beyond

RadioTime really shines with its quick responsiveness and most importantly, the vast collection of radio stations available to stream. While other plugins may try to scrape together API's for this or that radio station (maybe even the radio stations WMP offers), they're usually crippled by unknown stations, terrible quality or just having streams go dead on them.

 

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Reputable stations at your fingertips
Simple logon for presets

 

Not only was I impressed with the number of stations available, but I was impressed to see many of my own personal favorite stations--Hot 97 (hip-hop), Bone 107.7 (Classic Rock) and ESPN Radio (c'mon Sports fans!). All the stations came through quickly and with great quality (for FM Radio). While it's always great to get any sort of free music on your Media Center, getting well known stations in there simply puts this app in a league of its own.

 

Falling Short

If you have been following the Life With a Plugin series since the beginning, you will remember my review of one of the most popular applications still for MCE, MyMovies. I bring it up here because like MyMovies, the only glaring weakness to RadioTime is that its based on HTML instead of super sexy and more attractive MCML (Media Center Markup Layer). The application does a good job with the limitations of the older Media Center add-in abilities, but comes across as an older application. Not that this would limit its usage for radio fans, but it does not make for nearly as impressive an experience. 

 

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Very 2005 appearance and listings
Continue Not using that tuner in your system :-)

 

One actual issue I had was in regards to World Radio, which was completely empty. I am not sure why this genre would suddenly not exist anymore, but I'm sure some international folks would have appreciated it being there. Hopefully it was just a glitch and will be repaired shortly.

 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

RadioTime is a fantastic plugin that epitomizes what Media Center needs more of--applications which take a task you do on an everyday basis with a computer, and brings it to your living room with the convenience of your remote control. Playing music is a large component of Media Center as it is, and while I wish this type of integration would be adopted by Microsoft themselves (considering they have a dedicated "Radio" button), their shortcomings opens up the opportunity for companies like Radiotime.

 

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Easy to access Presets
Empty World Radio


While I wish the application would get a face lift sooner than later, hopefully some more buzz for itself will help justify the development investment for them. In a world dominated by MP3's, Pandora, Last.FM and satellite radio, it's good to see an application which takes advantage of the oldest form of audio (and still the most popular) with a twist--streaming FM radio.

One feature request I could think of, in the spirit of Media Center (although I'm not sure of any legal ramifications) would be the ability to timeshift radio. Have the ability to schedule recordings of certain programs, since the app does have program listings. Having this ability would more than easily make this a must have for everyone!

 

Product Vitals

Website: RadioTime.com

Creator: RadioTime

Price: Free! 

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