More Insider Secrets
Make the most of your Media Center
|In most respects, the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (MCE) interface rocks. It's easy to navigate, easy on the eyes, and easy to tweak. In fact, thanks to a growing collection of homegrown plug-ins, you can modify and augment the interface in ways you never thought possible. We've rounded up four of the coolest and most practical plug-ins; you can find plenty more by clicking here. || |
Watch the video to see Media Center plug-ins that let you configure your program guide manually, listen to radio stations, and receive local weather updates
- EPG updates when you want them
By default, MCE downloads electronic program guide (EPG) updates in the middle of the night. Before it can do that, however, it has to wake up the PC--and possibly you in the process. If your system resides in your bedroom, you've probably discovered just how noisy a computer can be, especially when you're trying to sleep. Fortunately, the good folks at AVSoft have engineered a marriage-saver: a simple utility that lets you choose the time for EPG downloads. Install this before your significant other banishes your PC (and maybe you along with it) to the basement.
- Rain or shine
What's it doing outside? Sure, you could just stick your head out the window, but then you'd have to get off the couch. Christoph Buenger's MCEWeather adds real-time weather data to the MCE interface. Just install the plug-in, navigate to the More Programs screen, and select Weather. After you choose your city and preferences, you'll be able to view the current weather conditions (temperature, humidity, UV index, and so on), the forecast for up to 10 days, and even a satellite image for your country.
- Have TV, will travel
Although MCE makes it possible to download recorded TV shows and movies to a portable device, the process is kludgey and largely undocumented. What's more, you can't do it from within the MCE interface. Proxure's MyTV ToGo takes the hassle out of mobile viewing, enabling you to copy recorded content from your PC to a Pocket PC or Windows Mobile smart phone. You choose one of four available playback-quality settings; it handles all the necessary conversions. It even supports MCE 2004 and Pocket PCs with VGA screens. Just make sure you have storage space to burn. On a VGA Pocket PC, video files consume a little more than 150MB per hour, even at the lowest quality setting. Thus, in addition to the plug-in's $19.95 registration price, you may need to invest in a high-capacity memory card--or two.
- Stream the day away
If there's one area where MCE comes up short, it's streaming media. There's no easy way to access Internet radio and TV from the menu system, especially if you want to venture beyond the handful of handpicked choices in the Online Spotlight section. Enter Web Media, a free plug-in that lets you add your favorite online stations (radio and TV alike) to the MCE interface. The only downsides are that you can stream only Windows Media stations--QuickTime, Winamp, and the like aren't currently supported--and you have to provide the URLs yourself. (Thankfully, the plug-in's author has compiled a list of compatible radio and TV streams.) Once you've entered the URL for a station and given it a name and assigned it to a genre, it will show up within the MCE interface. You'll be able to tune in with a couple clicks of the Media Center remote.
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| ||Rick Broida has written about computers and technology for more than 15 years, for outlets ranging from CNET to Family PC to Wired. In 1997, he founded Handheld Computing and has since authored more than a dozen books, including How to Do Everything with Your GPS and How to Do Everything with Musicmatch. He writes the "Tech Savvy" and "Game Savvy" columns for Michigan's Observer & Eccentric newspapers. |