Plugin Reviews

Mar 01 2011

Review - My Movies 4.0

Long time readers of MissingRemote will remember a popular review we did in 2009 where some of the top Windows Media Center movie plugins are pitted against each other, and how My Movies 3.0 emerged as my personal favorite. My Movies has always been a movie management system which unlike some plugins, includes a fully user manageable server with a database backend and a very customizable frontend. My Movies 4 is a full new version number but the changes aren't as comprehensive as its predecessor. Now included is extensive TV episode and series support, as well as a slightly modified database interface which aims to bring My Movies into the forefront of two of the main types of Media Management users--TV and movies.MyMovies 4.0

What is it?

My Movies 4.0 is an all-inclusive movie manager and frontend (interface) for Windows Vista and Windows 7 Media Center users. If you are not a Media Center user you can still leverage the extensive movie database backend to manage your collection as the application will make universally recognizable files for other applications and devices such as XBMC, HDI Dune and Popcorn Hour, to name a few. The application was created by Brian Binnerup back in 2004 due to the lack of a native Windows' default Movie Library  in Media Center. Over the years My Movies has built arguably the largest database of movie information and artwork.

What's Changed

Sep 27 2010

Review - Life with an App Episode 1: TDL Podcast Player for iPhone

TheDigitalLifestyle.com Podcast Player for iPhone and iPad Devices

Please refer to the following video review for all the information on this very affordable iPhone product:


Continue reading the review below.
Nov 06 2009

Review - MCE: Digital Cable Advisor Tool Available Now!

Well, shortly after word hit that the ATI 1.19 copy free firmware has hit Windows Update, now we have the Digital Cable Advisor tool making its appearance on MCE Extras Galleries across the country. This will enable any capable Windows7 Media Center system to be able to use the ATI Digital Cable tuners. Here's the full process in screenshots.

MCEAdvisor1.JPG
 
Click Read more to see all the screenshots!

 

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 Once installed you can find it in your Extras Library as well
 MCEAdvisor2.JPG
 First page of the installer
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 Nice 10' Installation process
 MCEAdvisor4.JPG
 Downloading the app
 MCEAdvisor6.JPG
 Installing - Note, you will need to click OK on the permissions popup, which may work via remote
 MCEAdvisor7.JPG
 The Advisor is automatically launched
 MCEAdvisor8.JPG
 Beautiful terms of service required agreement
 MCEAdvisor9.JPG
 One more button, almost done!
 MCEAdvisor10.JPG
 Analyzing your system...
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 Three phase checklist, if you fail you'll see this screen and no cable card fun for you
 MCEAdvisor10AlreadyConfigured.JPG
 If you try the app on a system already cable-card enabled you'll see this
 MCEAdvisor11.JPG
 If you pass the tests, you are able to click the "Update System Settings" button to complete!
 MCEAdvisor12.JPG
 Need permission to finish this step...
 MCEAdvisor13.JPG
 Once completed, you'll get this lovely message!

And that's all there is to it! Kudos to ATI and Microsoft for finally making the process, and then making it really simple to implement! Now all we need is the ATI Tuners to be sold via Newegg and make everyone's life that much easier (or for Ceton to release theirs)!

Oct 22 2009

Review - My Movies 3.0

Hello MissingRemote.com! I’m CrAzY, a moderator of TheGreenButton.Com and former Media Center MVP. I’ve been using Media Center since its release in 2002 and still using it to this day (now on Windows 7 Media Center, of course), but find my needs vastly different than when I first entrenched myself in the HTPC world. When I first started, my goal was to build a DIY Tivo box because I was not going to pay subscription fees for a service that I knew I could accomplish myself. Now, I host my recorded TV shows on a NAS and watch them from my desktop in my room or the HTPC in the living room when I have time.

Over the years I have ripped my DVD library and compressed them to ISO’s and no longer have a standalone DVD player set up in my home theater--I now use My Movies almost exclusively to watch movies on either Media Center.

I’ve been using My Movies since the original version of Windows Media Center Edition and have never felt like I was missing out on anything until Mike’s review, Battle of the Media Center Movie Managers. It had me thinking it might be time to consider a new solution for managing my DVD library. Mike, however, personally convinced me to stick to My Movies and not sacrifice the simplistic management that I have become accustomed to for the frontend aesthetics of its MCML competitors.

With the release of Windows 7, Brian and the gang of Binnerup Consult present My Movies 3.0 to the Media Center Community!

My Movies 3.0

Click Read More to continue reading the review!

 

I am not going to fluff things up, dumb things down or blow any smoke-- I don’t have time for all of that, my time is valuable to me, and I’m not going to pretend yours isn’t as well, so I’ll give you what I have and spare the speculation of what I don’t know. I’ll share my experience with My Movies 3.0, the user interface changes from 2.x and a few things that I felt were shortcomings for Version 3. And to make things simple, I tested the Standalone version of My Movies 3.0, so I won’t be touching on any of the Server-Client functionality in this review.

Here are the key changes from 2.x:

  • A Single Installer
  • Updated User Interface (MCML)
  • Addition of “Similar Movies”

All I keep hearing the back of my head is, “One ring to rule them all.” And that’s exactly what 3.0 has done here – one installer for them all! A single installer for everything – One file for either OS Version; 32-Bit or 64-Bit, and the same for the installation of your choice; Client, Server-Client or Standalone. All of that in a lean 35MB package – How is that possible!?! It’s pretty simple actually, it no longer includes the SQL Server installer within the package. If you already have SQL Server on your system the installer detects it and proceeds to install everything else. If you don’t have SQL Server on your system, not to worry, it automatically downloads it within the Setup window and then completes the My Movies setup. Including the download of SQL Server, the installation of 3.0 clocked less than 5 minutes. A very simple and quick process for newbies and experts alike.

My Movies 3.0 My Movies 3.0

My Movies Collection Manager appears to have maintained the same look, feel and construction as 2.x and because of that, I didn’t have a problem finding my way through my collection and importing new titles. However, one thing you should note with My Movies 3.0 and the Collection Manager: if you’re running Windows 7 64-Bit and using images, be sure you download SlySoft’s Virtual CloneDrive--if you’re not using it already--as 3.0 does not work with Daemon Tools Lite, even if you were using it with 2.x.

My Movies 3.0

My Movies 3.0 is installed and the Collection Manager is all set up, so let’s see what we’ve been waiting for…

The user interface has finally received a much anticipated face lift while many of the options remain unaffected; sort (By title, By star rating, By production year, By cinema release date, By disc release date, By parental level and By published date) and section (Movies, Movie Genres, Movie Trailers and Cast & Crew) are now accessed through a top panel with search and view.

Ushering in MCML so you can look upon your movies in a whole new way, 3.0 gives you four ways to adore your collection; Covers full screen, Covers and details, Covers centered and List and details.

Collection Views

My Movies 3.0

Covers full screen Covers and details

My Movies 3.0

My Movies 3.0

Covers centered List and details

My Movies 3.0

My Movies 3.0

I’ve taken a liking to “List and details” - staying on one selection long enough takes away the list and gives you a full screen background image with movie description on each one (this is achieved in other views as well).
My Movies 3.0
Select a movie and you’re given a bevy of details and movie options, not to mention the full screen background image of each movie. For movies that did not have a background image, the background remained blank.
My Movies 3.0
I was expecting the UI changes in 3.0 and was completely ecstatic with the eye candy my movie collection now provided me, yet I wasn’t expecting the last thing I discovered…

My Movies 3.0 now brings the Amazon.com and Netflix concept of, “You may also like,” with Similar Movies. If you are in the mood for a comedy, but maybe not the one you were just looking at, you can easily check out what else might tickle your funny bone without having to go back out to your main collection.

My Movies 3.0
Conclusion

I am pleased with 3.0. I plan to move my environment to a Server-Client solution shortly and I’ll give you a more in-depth look at how it performs along with the Collection Manager of My Movies. If you are an existing user of My Movies 2.x, there is no reason you should not already be downloading 3.0 by the time you read this. It is everything you have loved with a new paint job and that new car smell. If you have never used My Movies before, 3.0 is the perfect opportunity and enticement to get started. There is no reason you should not already be downloading 3.0, it brings everything you need in reliability for your collection and the track record of a Camry. Brian has been developing My Movies for more than five years and a number of system integrators and builders leverage this exceptional tool. You can put aside your hesitation if you are worried about maintaining an unsupported library, Binnerup and My Movies will not be leaving the community any time soon. While I’m happy to get an updated user interface to my beloved movie manager, there were a couple of shortcomings. While not deal breakers or showstoppers, they are things I hope to see addressed in the very near future:

  • SQL Server 2005: We’re stuck using a database technology that is nearly 5 years old. SQL Server 2008 offers better performance, especially on 64 Bit systems. From what I understand, it may be possible in the near future for expert users to install SQL Server Express 2008 themselves and utilize it for their collection.
  • More…:  Similar movies is great! It was like an Easter egg when I discovered it – And now I want more! Similar actors, similar producers, similar movie butter popcorn… Okay, the titles could use some work, but you get the idea.

My Movies 3.0 is an excellent addition to the Media Center Community, thanks Binnerup!

Oct 21 2009

Review - Video: InternetTV for Windows 7 In Action

Along with the Netflix icon for Windows 7, users will also see a tile for InternetTV, which is the next version of Microsoft's online video content offering. A short while ago, it was rumored and hoped that Microsoft was in the works with Hulu.com on being able to integrate their amazing library of shows into Media Center...however, it's clear that is not going to happen.

InternetTV brings together a number of online video content sources, some new and some previously present in the InternetTV Beta in Windows Vista. Previously existing was the content from MSNBC and MSN TV, which provides news clips and some older shows such as the Twilight Zone. New to Windows 7 is some content from CBS and a Zune Video Podcast section. CBS' offering is some full episodes and a lot of clips and trailers, while Zune's Podcast section has a large selection of Videos such as HD Nation. Rounding out the offerings is full episodes from PBS, and clips from Showtime and the CW network.

Here's Part 1 of my video recording of InternetTV in action, specifically covering the installation not only of the application itself, but of the Flash plugin (yes, I said Flash) for Media Center.

 

The 2nd Part covers usage of the application itself. As you can see, there's no clear way to find full episodes to watch. You basically have to go to each show and then just hope there's an "Episodes" section instead of "Clips." This is an increasingly frustrating piece, and becomes more so given that a lot of the content is available as full episodes online.

 

My favorite part of the InternetTV app is actually the Zune Video Podcasts, which has a nice selection of content, but not nearly as much or customizable as the now defunct TV Tonic application. Also, the ability to launch Netflix from within this app will allow me to hide the Microsoft Movies row so I can continue to use Media Browser, My Movies or whatever Movie app I prefer. Maybe I'll use Media Center Studio in the future to move the Netflix tile, but honestly I just don't use Netflix enough to justify. 

Oct 21 2009

Review - Video: Netflix for Windows 7 Installation and In Action

I've seen lots of screenshots of the new Netflix inside Windows 7 Media Center, but to get a better sense of the experience I thought I would capture some videos of it. It hasn't had a HUGE facelift since Windows Vista, but I found it to be very responsive and I like the new interface.

I separated this into two parts for a reason. First up is the actual Netflix installation which BLEW me away! I'm actually more impressed with the install process more than the application itself. After years of begging, we finally have a plugin for Media Center which can be installed without having to leave the 10' Interface!! And the entire process took less than 30 seconds!

And then the action of Netflix within Media Center. You can see the slight UI changes as well as the responsiveness of the app. Overall Very pleasant and should make you fans happy it's back.

 

Jul 13 2009

Review - Battle of the Media Center Movie Managers

Movies are the pride of many a home theater PC user. While your friends may have a wall of movies, nobody can argue with the convenience of locally (or network) stored movies, being able to view information, filter and display them all within Media Center, and play them from a single remote without ever having to leave the sofa.

moviemanagers.jpg

It's a good time for movie fans who utilize Media Center, as we have a number of competing developers who are vying for your usage of their applications. But which application is right for you? If you have been using a particular application for a while, is it worth jumping ship to the newest/latest fad program? Will this app be around for a long time or will it disappear?

For this article, I'm going to pit every Movie Manager for Media Center I can find against each other and see who (if any) wins it all. My guess before beginning was that there would not be a sole winner--instead I anticipate each application doing a few things better than competitors, and that for users the answer would be based on the particular feature they see the greatest.

Jul 07 2009

Review - Life With a Plugin Episode 23: mcShoutCast

Music is a natural player in a home theater PC environment, yet the idea of streaming has stayed in the shadows for quite some time. It could be that home theater users crave higher fidelity from their music, or that they already have the music they enjoy in their digital collections. That being said, I have often enjoyed the ability of streaming the latest hits from Pandora, Last.FM or a variety of sites when I have guests over with different listening tastes than mine.

mcShoutCast aims to continue what it's been developing for a while now, by bringing the vast collection of radio stations from the Shoutcast.com directory to the convenience of your remote and Media Center experience. While other players have been content with merely being players, mcShoutCast attempts to go above that and offer some unique things to make it appealing on the big screen.

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 mcShoutCast tile on the Music Strip
 Graphical list of stations available

 

Above & Beyond

It's always refreshing reviewing an application which throws you for a loop as to what to expect with it--in this case, I expected some basic playback and playlist functionality, and found a lot more than meets the eye. Sure, we have the normal application of a streaming radio application, being able to browse and play from a number of sources. Filtering by set categories, letters, genres, etc.

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 List of Genres
 Genre options

 

What impressed me most was with everything else. Click on a radio station, and you have the option of viewing station details, showing similar artists/albums, viewing your photos, viewing slideshow of artists playing, biography, lyrics and the list goes on! If that sounds a lot, it's because it is! Some of them are more useful than others. 

You can browse various albums of the artist, and view the track titles (the service uses Amazon for this), but there's no preview of songs or any option to download/purchase, so that's a curious inclusion. Maybe I'm just not the target. Other features though are surprisingly entertaining. I found myself testing the lyrics portion just to see how it worked, and found myself singing along with the songs!

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 Record a station  View Station Details

 

If you have company over and are ashamed of your own pictures, throwing up the artists slideshow is entertaining as well. The program will play the radio station and then show images it finds in relation to the artist being played. Even cooler when you are listening to an older band and get to see their hairstyles change for every decade.

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 View lyrics to the currently playing song (with autoscroll!)  View artist biography automatically

The last thing I'll mention is a hidden feature snuck into the configuration section--recording! Yes, you read correctly. You can schedule the application to record a specific stream at a set time. Folks new to MCE might think "of course" with this, but back when Media Center launched with FM Radio support, one of the most requested features that never came was the ability to record a station. Good to see it finally came to fruition, albeit unofficially. 

 

Falling Short

Where mcShoutcast hurts itself is exactly in their vast collection of stations available. It makes browsing through 1,000 stations quite difficult, and I did have some difficulty with search hanging up on me. The nature of the beast with streaming radio stations, is they can be taken offline at any moment--while mcShoutCast does continuously try to update itself, I still found a few stations that were unable to stream at all.

mcshout-17-thumb.jpg mcshout-14-thumb.jpg
 LauraFM - User Contributed stations, but not always reliable
 Look at tracks from albums...just the names, no playback.

The other issue I have comes with any application which does so much, and that is the time it takes to get accustomed to it. Initially the time involved is high, as there are so many stations and so many different options to play with. Once I had my set group of favorites and knew the features I would use, the app became much more efficient.

 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

No surprise here on the grade mcShoutCast received. Besides being free of charge, it brings a large collection of streaming music to your fingertips and also throws in some very clever features you never thought would be needed--or that would be possible.

This app throws in extras everywhere it could, with lyrics, slideshows and biographies bringing the Shoutcast music library on par with what Boxee users have been enjoying for a while now. My only wish is that mcShoutCast could tie into my own digital movie collection to leverage the online resources it has to link up artist-album information with a particular song.

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 Photo list of artist
 Slideshow during playback

If I had one request it would be to bring on a bit more of social interaction--something to help rank stations, or help you find more popular stations easier. If my friend listens to 5 stations, and I happen to listen to 1 of them, then it could recommend me the other 4. Something like that would really help educate users on some other stations that they may not have come across otherwise.

That being said, I can't say enough great things about this app, so if you like music at all go download it and give it a go! 

 

Product Vitals

Website: http://en.mcetools.de/mcShoutCast/tabid/83/Default.aspx

Creator: MCETools

Price: Free

May 19 2009

Review - Life With A Plugin Episode 22: Netflix in Media Center

Netflix in Windows Vista Media Center--not a new topic, having reviewed three community-developed applications exactly one year ago (May 2008)--but this time fully supported by Microsoft. This has been a dream of many since Netflix announced the availability of streaming content and dealt with the buginess of the unofficial applications in the aforementioned review. It has finally arrived, for Vista Media Center, fully supported by Netflix and Microsoft. So does it live up to the wait?

I've taken a video of Netflix within Vista Windows Media Center which should give you a good idea of the features of the application. Since internet speed has an impact on this application, this was tested on a Comcast High Speed Cable internet service, with 2mb down...so results may vary for you if you have faster/slower speeds:


Above & Beyond

The Netflix application in Media Center is one word: SLICK! Having used the previous Netflix in Media Center applications, this one from Microsoft is miles ahead of those. The UI is slick, while the colors do not, the interface itself mimics Media Center in general. Scrolling was very responsive and I found the interface to be very fast to access, from the scrolling around to the beginning to stream.

Having the Media Center progress bar that you can scroll through the selected video quickly was fantastic! You can easily jump around a video, and the app also supports resuming of a video you had previously started--ironically something Windows Vista Media Center does not support (but Windows7 does).

 

netflix1-thumb.JPG

 

The color scheme is a complete departure to Media Center's traditional blue gradients, but I found them to be a pleasant style consitant with the familiar Netflix experience.

Falling Short

The only true issues I found with the Netflix application were in the support of the operating systems, having no support for Media Center Extenders is a big miss in my book. This application is going to be quite popular, and completely abandoning the Extenders will definitely frustrate Extender owners (see: Jennyfur). As of right now, this only works in Windows Vista, so if you are running the RC version of Windows 7, you're out of luck. Now, understanding common sense, I can assume once Windows7 gets released officially, that there will be something similar (if not even better!), but until then you will have to roll back to Vista.

Another complaint for the application itself has to do with the installation process. Since most add-ins do not do it much different, I cannot fault them much for the need to exit Media Center and go to a 2 foot installation of silverlight and the application. What is frustrating however is the need to restart the Media Center after install. I am sure this is required due to whatever is being installed, but I just wish Microsoft would have done whatever necessary to prevent this. There is nothing more dissapointing than getting excited, installing the application, and then having to wait for your system to reboot (and if you are recording a show, then you need to wait even longer).

 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

The Netflix for Media Center application brings up an interesting dilemma--with so many movie choices at your fingertips the necessity for having to wait for the actual discs has decreased (this could be why Netflix requires a certain membership level to stream). The benefits are universal for those familiar as you have access to Netflix's growing library of online movies. I consider myself an avid movie watcher, and it's impressive how quickly the Netflix streaming selections have grown. While initially it was a lot of odd or lesser known films, they now have a vast amount of current movies and tv series. Between the TV and Movie offerings, you could cancel your cable and stay occupied for a long, long time.

 

netflix7-thumb.JPG

 

My only real question would be, "What took so long?" Having had the other 3 community-developed Netflix applications since their inception, it's unclear why this needed to wait until a few months before Windows7 launch. That question aside however, good things come to those who wait, and this is a fantastic plugin. It's refined interface, smooth and quick playback, and impressive quality makes it a must-have for any Netflix subscribers.

And it wouldn't surprise me if many of you non-subscribers test this out and convert after experiencing it. The lack of Extender support is dissapointing, but as long as you are just on the PC, this will become one of those apps you will be hard pressed to live without. 

 

Product Vitals

Website: Netflix.com

Creator: Microsoft

Price: Free

 

clubhouse, media center, windows media center, how-to, Tip

Apr 19 2009

Review - Life With A Plugin, Episode 21: SageTV - Auto Aspect Ratio Switcher

Today we have a plugin that is not even close to new...it's actually been around since 2005, which pretty much makes it a classic. Sometimes things lose their relevance over time, but not so when you're talking about a plugin that will help you out by automatically switching aspect ratios to match the material you are watching.

Overview

The Auto Aspect Ratio Switcher is a plugin that allows you to establish different rules under which the plugin will automatically switch between the four aspect ratio settings configurable in SageTV. This plugin is available for both the stock STV and for SageMC. The rules for when to switch aspect ratios can be defined on three characteristics: show title, channel, and capture device or any combination of the three characteristics. For instance, it can switch to my Source AR when Law & Order records in HD on WHDHDT on any tuner, or it can switch to 16x9 AR whenever it records Law & Order in SD on WHDH or USA on any tuner.

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