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Microsoft’s powerful home theatre centrepiece, Windows Media Center, is easily one of the best applications that ships for free with Windows. But you can still make it better — and take it into new realms — with these plug-ins, helper apps and tweaks.
Sometimes you just want to turn on the television and, well, actually watch TV, but maybe keep Windows Media Centre handy to record or watch something else. A quick shortcut hack can start your rig up on live television.
Want all your downloads, streaming video and other techie media stuff on your TV? Wondering which media centre works best for you? Here’s a look at the biggies in chart and Venn diagram form, followed by some lengthy breakdowns of each.
If you have a keyboard hooked up to your Windows Media Centre computer, you’ll beat out any remote user with this collection of 42 keyboard shortcuts courtesy of the Simple Help blog. Hopping between live TV, recorded TV, and then jumping to the Guide is as simple as using the following shortcuts: Ctrl+T = Go to Live TV Ctrl+O = Go to Recorded TV Ctrl+G = Go to the Guide Ctrl+R = Record a TV show Ctrl+P = Pause a TV show
While they note the list is for Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate media centre users, the list of shortcuts appears to have few if any variations from the list of XP Media Centre shortcuts. Would you use the keyboard to control your media centre? Share your media centre tips in the comments! 42 Keyboard Shortcuts for controlling Windows Media Center [SimpleHelp]
Windows Vista only: Freeware Windows Media Center plug-in MceFM integrates music recommendation and streaming service Last.fm with your Vista Media Center. The tool actually works in conjunction with the music already in Media Center’s music library, so you can get recommendations based on your music and then listen to it all within Media Center. MceFM is currently in beta and could use some polish, but it’s a great start. If you haven’t already turned your Windows PC into a Media Center powerhouse on the cheap, I’d highly recommend it—Vista Media Center is Vista’s one feature I consider worth the upgrade. MceFM [via One Tip a Day]
Windows Vista only: Freeware Windows Media Centre plug-in Yougle integrates community video from the likes of YouTube and community images from sites like Flickr and ICanHasCheezburger with Windows Media Centre. Once installed, Yougle provides access to all of those wonderful videos, pictures, and even audio from the comfort of your couch. If this looks familiar, the plug-in is a Vista version of a previously mentioned and no-longer-developed Windows MCE plug-in. Yet another great plug-in for making your Media Centre life better. Yougle is freeware, Windows Vista only, requires a registration at the download site.
In pre-Vista versions of Windows Media Center, DVDs you ripped to your hard drive with programs like DVD Rip would show up for playback in the My Videos folder. For whatever reason, Microsoft decided to disable this feature in Vista as a default, requiring a registry edit to get it working, as detailed in the linked Microsoft support page below. To be perfectly honest, though, despite making this registry edit, I’m still having trouble accessing my ripped DVDs with Vista Media Center even after making this registry modification, so if you have any luck, share your experience in the comments. I’m also very curious to know if this will allow you to stream ripped DVDs to your extenders, particularly Xbox 360 extenders, so let’s hear how it’s working for you. Thanks jtimberman! How to enable the DVD Library in Windows Media Center on a Windows Vista-based computer [Microsoft]
Windows only: Manage your Netflix Queue and stream Watch Now videos directly through Windows Media Center with freeware Media Center plug-in MyNetflix. Just install, provide it with your credentials, and voilà—you can tackle all your Netflix management from the comfort of your couch. Probably the most exciting feature of this plug-in is the integration of Watch Now movies with Media Center, meaning you can stream any Watch Now movie on demand directly through Media Center without going through your browser. Unfortunately the Watch Now feature doesn’t yet work with Media Center extenders (like your Xbox 360), but the rest of the features should. MyNetflix is freeware, Vista Media Center only. SageTV users can get similar functionality from this plug-in. New Vista Media Center Plugin – MyNetflix (beta) [Anthony Park via Gizmodo]
You’ve turned your Windows PC into a media center powerhouse on the cheap, and everything’s great while you’re at home. You can watch live and recorded TV, schedule new recordings, or peruse your entire media library from the comfort of your couch. What if I told you that you could do the same thing from any computer, at home or away, and you didn’t have to shell out for new equipment to do it? Forgot to schedule a game you don’t want to miss? Want to catch up on last week’s episode on your laptop or even your cell phone? With the free Media Center add-on WebGuide, you can extend your Windows Media Center to any browser (including mobile browsers), so no matter where you are, you can take the convenience of Media Center with you.