Friday, 23 September 2011

Ramblings about the excellent Windows Media Center

Today, I was trying to setup a Windows Media Center Extender, to be able to see my movies (stored in my PC) through my XBox in the living room. In theory, it´s easy, but you can get into some troubles I´d like to point, just in case that might help you…

You can get some basic knowledge about Media Center extenders here.

First, try to connect your XBox with the PC, through Settings->Network->Connection to computer. If the connection is established successfully, you probably won´t have any problem configuring the Media Center Extender. But if you have problems, check:

1.- That your router supports Multicast Filtering, as some routers, like the Cisco EPC3825 (the one I was trying first), seem to have problems with that. In fact, in the settings dialogs of that router, you won´t find any option about Multicast Filtering. I can tell you that I tried every single possibility for a couple of hours with that router, and no luck. I switched to a different one (from Linksys), and everything worked like a charm…

2.- If your router is supposed to work with this feature, make sure you have enabled the mentioned “Filter Multicast” option (probably available in the Security settings tab of the router), and also that you have enabled the uPnP (probably in the Management settings tab of the router).

3.- If still have problems, you can check your Firewall settings to search for the needed open ports and so on… You can read more here.

One you have properly linked your PC and XBox 360, you can start the Windows Media Center on your PC, to choose what folders you will be sharing.

Some tips about folder structures, in order to see the covers of the movies, and additional info:

1.- Put each movie in a separate folder, as WMC will look this way for additional info for each movie

2.- If you want to manually download a cover for a movie or video, you just need to put the picture in the movie folder, with the name “folder.jpg”. WMC will load it automatically.

3.- If you want to put additional information, like movie specs, genre, etc, you should add some DVDID XML files with a certain format that will help WMC identifying the movie. You can download those files from http://dvdxml.com or even better, use one of the available metadata managers out there. I have tried YAMMM and works pretty well.

4.- If your XBox is downloading the movie covers and info again and again, each time you enter the Windows Media Center, or if it takes long to recover the covers, etc, that´s probably because you don´t have indexed the shared folders on your PC. Just make sure that the Indexing Service is installed and enabled (Start->Control Panel->Programs and Features->Turn on/off Windows features->Indexing Service), and also make sure that the shared folders for the movies are added to the index (Rightclick->properties->advanced->allow to add this folder to the index).

Some tips about YAMMM

1.- It´s a Windows Service, so don´t expect any User Interface, except for setting up the application. It’s run in background, monitoring the folders you tell it to for changes, and downloading automatically the info and covers.

2.- It expects movies to be in separate folders, and users folder’s name (not file’s name) to identify what movie you are talking about. If it doesn´t identify what movie it is, it won´t download anything. If it does, it can automatically rename the folder and movie files (with a more standard name, if you indicate it to do so), and will start downloading.

3.- YAMMM won´t find the correct movie if you don´t use the original movie name for the folder name. So forget any any translated version.

4.- To help YAMMM finding it, you can include the year of the movie, like this: “American Gangster (2007)”. That will help, a lot…

5.- If your movie is divided into several files (part 1, part 2, etc), YAMMM will automatically create a playlist for them, so WMC will identify them as a single movie. By default, after doing this you will see that WMC adds multiple entries for your movie: one for the playlist, and one for each part your AVI or DVD is divided into. In order to hide the parts, and live only the playlist, you can rename the AVI parts like: “video 1.avi” to “video 1.avi2”. This way, WMC won´t identify that part as a movie, and the reference file (playlist) will still work. (You should make sure that the playlist has modified the reference names too, by simply opening it with the WordPad).