Windows Media Center is a cracking piece of software. It works elegantly if you're sitting at your desk, and equally well if you're reclining on your sofa, waving a remote control and watching a movie.
However, despite its many advantages and undeniable prettiness, Media Center does have its foibles and limitations. He we'll identify and remove its biggest drawbacks.
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1. Play MKV video files in Windows Media Center
Many high definition videos come in MKV file format, which you can play back in VLC Media Player, but not in Windows Media Center. To fix this, download and install ffdshow tryouts.
With 64-bit Windows you'll also need the 64-bit SVN, which you can get from the same place. Also install Gabest's Matroska Splitters.
You need to associate MKV files with Windows Media Center. To do this, simply open Media Center, right-click the top menu and choose 'File > Open'. Select 'Any File' in the 'File Type' box and browse to an MKV file. Open it and, when asked if you want to play this content, check the box marked 'Don't ask me again for this extension' and click 'Yes' to confirm your choice.
2. Increase the number of supported tuners
You can use multiple tuners in Media Center, but there's an upper limit of four. This is more than enough for most users, but if you're a telly addict then you might want more. You can increase the maximum to eight using TunerSalad.
Download and extract the ZIP file and run 'TunerSalad.exe'. Set the region and click 'Increase Tuner Limit'. If you want to go back to the previous limit, simply click 'Reset'.
3. Change audio output devices with a plug-in
Switching audio outputs in Windows is quite fiddly and can be tricky to do from the couch, but there's a plug-in called Audio Render Updater (French language) or translated by Google. There's an English language version of the plug-in, although its installer is in French.
Once installed, open Media Center, select 'Extras Library' and choose 'AudioRenderUpdater'.
4. Pick the optimum refresh rate for your video files
Some movies have different optimum resolutions and screen refresh rates. Refresh Rate Changer is available from the Australian Media Center Community. Once you've installed the plug-in, you need to specify some resolutions and refresh rates.
Browse to 'C:\Program Files (x86)\RRC' and open 'Settings.xml' in Notepad. Scroll to the section marked '<resolutions>' and add values for each resolution you want to use in the form '<string>WidthxHeight@Refreshhz </string>', for example <string> 1920x1080@24hz</string>.
Add as many resolutions and refresh rates as you want and then save the file. In Media Center, you'll find Refresh Rate Changer in the 'Extra programs' section. Select the one you would like to use for the current session.
5. Mount ISO images in Windows Media Library
Save disc swapping by using virtual drives and ISO images. Install Virtual Clone Drive from www.slysoft.com/en/virtual-clone drive.html, which enables you to set up virtual drives and mount ISO images.
To access and mount image files in Media Center directly, install the Mikinho Mount Image plug-in. Once installed, it will detect Virtual Clone Drive. Restart Media Center and browse to the Movie Library. Select the movie you want to play, then choose 'More > Mount Image' and play the selected ISO.
6. Convert MKV files for use with an extender
If you want to use Media Extenders with Media Center, you'll have problems playing back MKV files because most extenders don't support them.
However, if you convert the files to DVR-MS format they'll play back perfectly. Install DVRMSToolbox from www.bit.ly/9UeuaL and launch 'DVRMSto MPEGSetting' from the Start menu. Select 'Convert MKV to DVR-MS – mencoder' and click 'Edit Profile'.
Select 'Read metadata from TvDB and build Sage XML file' and click 'Configure'. Tick the box marked 'Continue on fail' and click 'OK'. Now select 'Move the file specified in Context...' and click 'Configure'.
Uncheck all the boxes and enter your desired conversion destination. Click 'OK' and save the profile, then launch 'DVRMStoMPEGGUI', select the MKV file that you want to convert, specify an output file, choose the profile you want to use and then click 'Run' to convert it.
7. Use SFC to find and repair Media Center system files
Are you worried that your hacking might have damaged some Media Center system files? You can use System File Checker to check that they're OK. Choose 'Start > All Programs > Accessories', then right-click 'Command prompts' and choose 'Run as administrator'.
At the prompt, enter SFC /scannow. Once the scan is complete, you'll be able to see if any damaged system files have been found and fixed.
8. Convert Windows TV files to DVR-MS format
Media Center records TV shows as WTV files. If you want to process these for editing or commercial-skipping, you'll need to convert them to DVR-MS format. You can do this with DVRMSToolbox. You also need to install the WTV to DVRMS profile.
Extract the ZIP file and place 'WTV to DVRMS.dpc' in the following directory: 'C:\Program Files (x86)\DVRMSToolbox'. Omit '(x86)' if you use 32-bit Windows. You can now convert WTV files manually by opening 'DVRMStoMPEGGUI', selecting input and output files and using the 'WTV to DVRMS' profile.
9. Convert WTV files to DVR-MS automatically
You can set DVRMSToolbox to convert recorded TV shows to DVRMS format automatically. Open 'DVRMStoMPEGSettings', select 'wtv to dvrms' and open the 'FileWatcher' tab.
Check that all your recorded TV folders are shown in the 'Watched Directories' field. Also ensure that '.WTV' is shown under 'Watched Ext', and remove '.DVR-MS' as a watched extension if present. Save these settings.
Open 'ProcessingConditionEditor' from the Start menu and choose 'New Condition'. Make the Description 'WTV to DVRMS'. Choose the 'wtv to dvrms' profile from the dropdown list. Click 'Add', then select 'FileExt' from the first dropdown list and 'Equal' from the second list. Enter .wtv and click 'OK'. Click 'Save' twice. Once a show has finished recording, DVRMSToolbox will convert it.
10. Remove commercials from TV programmes
Although it's possible to use DVRMSToolbox to detect and remove commercials from TV programmes, Lifextender makes the job easier.
Install and launch the program, right-click its System Tray icon and choose 'Options'. Ensure that your recorded TV path is correct. Tick 'Automatic library scanning' and set the scan interval you want to use. Opt to recycle the original file so you can rescue it from the bin if there are any problems. Save these settings.
11. Add extra functions to your MCE remote
Customise the way your remote works by installing Intelliremote. There's a free 30-day trial, and the full version costs $24 (around £15). Before you can use the program, you need to disable the Windows service called Human Interface Device Access.
Type services into the Start menu search and press [Enter], then scroll down to 'Human Interface Device Access'. Double-click this and choose 'Disabled' as the startup type. Click 'OK' and close Services. Launch Intelliremote, choose the 'Customise' tab and use this to modify the action of each button.
12. Get the latest codecs and play FLAC files
To detect and play FLAC files in Media Center, you need to install the correct codec and regenerate your Media Library. Get the latest FLAC and other open source codecs.
Once installed, you should be able to play FLAC files, but they still won't be detected properly. Open Media Player and, in the Library, select all your albums. Right-click and choose 'Delete | Delete from library only'.
Close Media Player and browse to 'C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player'. Delete the file 'CurrentDatabase_372.wmdb'. Install the M4a/Flac/Ogg/Ape/Mpc Tag Support plug-in for Windows Media Player and Media Center from www.softpointer.com/WMPTagSupport.htm.
Reopen Media Player and choose 'Tools > Plug-ins > Tag Support plug-in'. Open your music library to rescan it.
13. Add channel logos to your WMC TV guide
You can add channel logos to your Windows Media Center TV guide by downloading My Channel Logos app from www.mychannellogos.com/download.aspx. Extract the ZIP file and then install the plug-in. Launch the program by choosing 'Start > All Programs > My Channel Logos > My Channel Logos'. It will download local logos. Click 'Autopopulate logos' to apply them to Media Center.
14. Add web videos with the Macrotube plug-in
Add popular web video services YouTube, Soapbox and DailyMotion to Media Center using the slickly designed Macrotube plug-in. The plug-in is free, but you can make an optional donation. Download and install it.
You can find Macrotube in the 'Extras' library. Select it and then choose the web video service you want to browse.
15. Stream movie trailers with Trailer Library
Get the latest movie trailers streamed to Media Center by installing the Trailer Library plug-in, which is available to download from www.bit.ly/bmhlDn. You can choose from WMV and MP4 versions of the plug-in. Select the one you want, then download, unzip and install it.
You can find Trailer Library in the Extras library. Once it launches, it will be populated with the latest movie trailers. Select one to view.