This is the second part of our series on the Windows Media Center. Did you miss the first part?
In this section we’ll take a look at the ways Windows Media Center can organise and present your movie collection.
The “bare-bones” WMC movie component is pretty good, but a bit stark. Fortunately the clever developers out in the world have come up with software packages to add functionality, flexibility, and better looks.
There are several to choose from but my choice for an enhancement to the WMC movie component is “Media Browser“. It sits as a separate icon in your WMC start page and handles your music collection as well, but we’ll focus on the movie parts for now. The front page is below. It’s fairly straightforward, adds a lot of functionality, it looks good – and it’s free.
The weather report at the top left of the screen is an option that presents information from Yahoo — you just need to select your Yahoo region code.
The first set of titles will be the movies you have most recently added to your collection. You can optionally include a logo for this category (the picture of the movie theater marquee at the right). The first collection is “My Movies” which is a simple list of titles in alphabetic order. Using the WMC remote control you can select a movie title from the current 4 on display, or you can scroll left or right through the list of recent additions.
Navigating down to the list of available categories — “My Movies” — as above, is a straight list of all titles in alpha order;
“Movies by Genre” uses the “Genre” field from the metadata and after a bit of work to download and install user-contributed icons representing the various available Genres, (“Action”, “Sci Fi”, “Family”, etc.) clicking on “Movies by Genre” will throw up a page full of icons – one for each genre – and clicking on one of these icons then gives you a page of movies, each of which includes the genre you’ve selected from its attached metadata.
Themes drive the presentation, and within each theme there are many options to vary both content and visual canvas. On top of that, there are several themes (last count was seven) to choose from so lots for the tweaker to play with.
As a friend of mine pointed out – you can spend more time playing with the program than you do watching the movies.
The screen shot of Media Browers configuration page (below) shows the main areas of functionality in the top tabs.
Where Windows Media Center is limited in the range of multi-media inputs, Media Browser fills the gap by providing podcasts, 3rd party (or would that be “4th party”?) plug-ins for different themes, enhanced cover art work, automatic film trailer download, external players to manage file types that WMC doesn’t now support like MP4 and MKV.
Finding a Movie:
Drilling down to “My Movies” the individual titles are presented in different ways. This Media Browser theme shows the titles on a sliding thumbnail scroll with a backdrop image showing a still backdrop from the selected title. There are many “backdrop” files (Media Browser will loop through them like a slide show) but only one cover shot held in the “folder” file in each title’s folder. Most of the popular formats are supported.
In addition to showing the titles alphabetically, the movies can be organized and sorted in various other ways. One very cool feature is the “Box Set” trick that lets you organize your movies into “collections” like those shown below:
Part of what makes all of this work so well is the wealth of “fan art” like the images shown above, without which these collections would be shown as a line of text
If the box-set collection you want isn’t available (perhaps you’ve got a collection of “Jerry Lewis” movies), you can request it from the providers, or make your own.
Watching a movie:
Clicking on a “second tier icon” like “Genres” or “Year” or “Rating” brings up the movie selection page. In the screen shot below you see that the “Blade Collection” has 3 titles.
A couple of cool things to note here are:
1. The clock in the upper right corner, and the time the selected movie will end in the lower left.
2. The “VCR-like” controls at the bottom right – these controls are common to both movie and TV viewing. And
3. The thumbnail images are encased in a special frame – the cases shown above are “DVD” format – these cases add a “sheen” to the image as well as a frame and a logo to show the file format. These frames come from yet another add-on.
Clicking on a movie cover brings up its detail page:
In this sample, showing the “General” tab atop the bottom window, you get a short summary of the movie plot, its star and parent ratings, the name of the director, the run time, and the genre(s). You also get a frame from the movie as a backdrop (if available) from your on-line source (like TMDb), and if there are more than one available, the frames will rotate through like a slide show.
Next to the General tab, the “Actors” tab presents a list of the films main actors:
The movie player in WMC is actually Windows Media Player (other players can be integrated as needed). It includes a progress bar for easy slide control forward and backward through the movie, although some users may miss the frame-by-frame control provided by hardware and some software systems. It took several attempts to capture the frame below showing the bad guy being tossed by the blast.
Another very cool part of the program is its ability to throw up a faded image of whatever is “Now Showing” behind other “working” screens in the program – like this:
In this screen shot might be able to make out the “Bourne” movie playing in the background.
On other menu pages like the music library page below, the window in the bottom left corner runs whatever is “Now Playing” and clicking on that window will return you to its full screen display.
The basic movie management section of Windows Media Center is quite useable. It provides cover and background art as well as the essential metadata. Adding the Media Browser package provides a richer visual environment with added versatility and more control over the data. The selections you make will largely be dictated by the kind of digital entertainment you prefer and ways in which you prefer to view and organize them.
Want to learn even more about Media Browser? Be sure to check out Windows 7 Media Center Customization Manual.