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.
NOTE: I mentioned WebGuide briefly when I turned my PC into a media center powerhouse on the cheap, but today I'll show you in detail how to make your Media Center PC do cartwheels for you from any computer. WebGuide isn't new by any means, but if you weren't aware of it or haven't take the time to set it up, you may be surprised at what you're missing.
What Does WebGuide Do?
In essence, once installed and properly configured, the WebGuide software lets you control your Media Center PC from the comfort of any browser, no matter where you are. By control, I mean schedule recordings, stream live TV, watch your recorded TV and videos, or browse and stream your music and photo libraries. Almost anything you can do in Media Center proper, you can do through your browser with WebGuide. Flip through the gallery below if you want to take a closer look at the WebGuide interface before you dive into installation.
Looks pretty good, doesn't it? Now let's set it up.
Install and Set Up WebGuide
Installing WebGuide is a breeze. Just head over to the WebGuide homepage and download the appropriate version for your PC (WebGuide supports Vista, Media Center 2005, and Windows Home Server). The installation itself is pretty straightforward, so I won't cover that. After you've installed, though, you'll have a lot of options for setting up your WebGuide. That's where we'll start.
First, you'll be confronted with three tabs: the Welcome tab, the Configuration tab, and the Network Address tab. The first thing you need to do is go to the Configuration tab and step through the myriad of setup options for WebGuide. I won't go in-depth for every option, but I will give you an overview of the most commonly used options.
First, the General settings of the Configuration tab determines the layout of your WebGuide and various features of the interface. One very cool feature that you may want to turn on is the "Install Media Center add-in to allow WebGuide to act as a remote control", which does exactly what it says through a cool web interface. (See this screenshot for a closer look.)
The Users tab allows you to set up different user accounts with different permissions, so that, for example, you could create a username for a friend you wanted to let download a show you'd recorded but you don't want that user to accidentally delete any of your recordings.
You can set the default port WebGuide uses for the web interface and video streaming in the Network tab. WebGuide is pretty smart, too, so it'll do its best to create a Windows Firewall exception and to automatically forward the port to the right computer from your router (see below if you have trouble with port forwarding).
The Media Sharing tab is chock full of features and settings you'll want to explore. First, WebGuide can share your recorded TV on your local area network so that videos streamed within your network should be quick and high quality. Then, of course, you can selectively enable music, picture, and video sharing, and select the folders you'd like to WebGuide to share. One of the most interesting featues in this section is the DVD ISO Auto-mount feature, which lets you stream ripped DVDs (like the one's we showed you how to make here) through the WebGuide interface. You just need to show it where to find previously mentioned Daemon Tools on your hard drive.
Finally, when you're all done setting up the Configuration, you'll need to save your settings (which takes a few seconds) and then head to the Network Address tab. From here you'll be given the URL from which you can access WebGuide on your local network along with the URL from which—assuming WebGuide successfully set up port forwarding on your router—you can access WebGuide from outside your home network. If you have trouble, check out our previous guide to port forwarding for help.
Navigating to WebGuide from outside your home network with the external IP address is okay, but if you really want to get something good going, assign a domain name to your computer (something along the lines of mywebguide.selfip.com, perhaps?) with a dynamic DNS service for easy-to-remember access from anywhere.
There are a couple of add-ons you may want to consider grabbing in order to make the most of WebGuide on different setups. Specifically, if you're on a Mac you'll want to download and install the freeware utility Flip4Mac, which enables you to play Windows Media on your Mac.
If you're planning to access your WebGuide schedule and recordings from another Windows Media Center PC, you can also download the MCE Add-in Installer from the WebGuide downloads page, which creates a shortcut in Media Center to run the WebGuide interface.
What Are My Other Options?
If you're not happy with the look and feel of WebGuide, you might want to check out previously mentioned Orb, which handles streaming video and even Media Center integration with aplomb. I gave the Orb tool a good testing when I was writing up WebGuide, but in the end WebGuide was beating Orb hands down in most areas, particularly interface. That said, Orb comes with a pretty snazzy Media Center plug-in that may be worth a look for people who want to extend their main Media Center PC to other Media Center PCs in their home.
If you're a WebGuide user, or you've got your own preferred method of remotely accessing, watching, and scheduling your Media Center recordings, let's hear about it in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who feels that if you can't do it remotely, it's not worth doing. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.