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Could Boxee replace my Windows Media Center?

I have been a “Windows Media Centre” enthusiast for over 5 years, I love the idea of having one device feed the entire home theatre. I currently have a custom built Home Theatre PC (HTPC) running Windows 7 Media Center and I love it. I have a TV-Tuner for the cable TV and a DVD drive. Its the only thing I have plugged into my TV. I think media centre’s guide is the best out there by far. Anytime I goto someones house that has digital cable or satellite, their menu systems are so ugly and slow. But the media centre experience seems to have been stalling a bit at late, with the move to more online tv content, services like Netflix & hulu, and it wasn’t specificaly designed to handle torrented movies and tv shows. With the use of 3rd party plugins the experience can be greatly improved for these things, but its not perfect.

So thats where Boxee enters, I have heard about boxee for awhile now, but never bothered to really check it out. Last time I tried it was only alpha release for windows, so I didn’t bother. Well I was reminded about boxee today so I downloaded the FREE opensource program to the HTPC to test it out and I am very impressed. It does almost everything I want it to, and several of the core requirements for me it does better than Windows Media Center.

The experience of indexing, browsing and viewing torrented movies and tv shows is better, it scans all the filenames of the movies and tv shows, identifies them and sorts them nicely. It then downloads all the useful metadata for each item, like movie description, poster art and so on. It pretty much works flawless, with virtually no setup. The music playing and picture viewing experiences are about the same as they were on Media Center. The big thing boxee does much better is internet content. Media center in Canada has almost no online content, so we have been using a 3rd party RSS reader plugin to subscribe to video podcasts. The plugin is ugly and buggy though. With Boxee there is SO MUCH free online content in an easy interface.

The HUGE power to Boxee is the “apps”, there are several hundred apps for boxee, no install required, you just browse the app catelog and click one to launch it, or add it to your “My apps” list. There are apps for so many things, like our favorite online tv shows from Revision3, or the CBC National, or NPR podcasts, Netflix, Youtube, a really sweet Picasa albumn viewer, the list is almost endless and more apps are added all the time. The boxee apps I think are the “killer app” that will make me switch my HTPC from running Media Center to Boxee.

The major downside to Boxee is its non-existant tv-tuner support. So you can’t watch cable TV through boxee, which sucks. But with all this online content, I am going to cancel our cable again, the only reason I subscibed to cable again was for the winter Olympics. The one channel I want is CBC, which I can get for free in HD using an ATSC antenna pointed at Mt Seymour. But since Boxee doesn’t have tv-tuner support, I can’t watch it via the boxee interface… Unless a hack I found works, I will report back if it does.

The hack involves using the HDhomerun network TV-tuner and creating a shortcut to it, and adding that shortcut to one of the folders Boxee watches. Something like this “hdhomerun://xxxxxxxx/tuner0?channel=8vsb:23&program=3″

I’m going to buy an HDhomerun anyway, because my old ATSC tuner card doens’t have drivers for WIndows 7 and our HTPC is on the opposide side of the apartment from the window facing Mt Seymour. With the HDhomerun, the tuner streams the video over the network.

The other small downside to Boxee is its lack of customization of the GUI, I like most of the interface, except for the homescreen, but I can live with that.

It also has social media integration with Twitter, Facebook, Digg and so on. You can share what your watching, or recomend shows to your followers on boxee. Which is only really useful if you have friends also using Boxee.

Another really cool feature is a Google Chrome & Firefox extension which adds a “Add to Boxee” button above Youtube & Vimeo videos. This will add the video to your queue on boxee, so later when you sit down at the TV for a relaxing time, you can watch those videos without searching for them.

If you have an HTPC, a laptop with HDMI or something, I highly recommend checking Boxee out, its available for Windows, OSX and Linux. And if you don’t have a computer you can connect to a TV, you can buy the “Boxee Box” which is their own little hardware device running Boxee you connect to your TV. And it just came to Canada, you can get it at Bestbuy for $199, check it out here

A bonus is you can use a Windows Media Center or Logitech harmony remote with boxee flawlessly. The Boxee Box comes with its own remote though. And extra cool is there are apps for iPone and Android that allow your phone to act as a remote.

If you start using boxee, add me as a friend “Canadaka”.

Silly use of Twitter

This is a very silly bad use of twitter and the kinda thing that people mock twitter about. But I wanted to try this media centre plugin that tweets what you’re doing on media centre. So it will tweet what tv show your watching, movie your watching or what music your listening too. Since this is rather useless info, I didn’t want to spam my real twitter account so I made a separate twitter account just for this You can follow it if you really wanna know what tv shows we’re watching, you will see the 50 kagillion wedding shows Angela watches :P

If your crazy like I clearly am and wanna try out this plugin, you can get it here.

Torrented Movie renaming tool

When I download torrented movies I like to rename them so the folder and file names are all neat. I need all my movies in a sub folders because this is the way the “Media Browser” Media center plugin in the post below requires. The AVI file needs to be named the same as the folder as well. This can be rather tedious, so I wrote a PHP script to automate renaming downloaded movies. I then used a tool called “bamcompile” to compile the php script into an executable that can be dropped into any folder and ran.

The script will scan through all the folders in the loation the exe is places, it will rename the folder all nice, format the data in the title and delete anything after the date. It will then rename all the files inside the folder to match, along with deleting any nfo and txt files.

For example a folder named “Tropic.Thunder[2008]DvDrip-aXXo” would be renamed to “Tropic Thunder (2008)“.

Most torrents you download the movie is already in a sub-folder, but if they are not, or if you have a ton of old movies all in one folder, you can use this simple DOS batch script my friend made for me to move each file into a sub-folder. movie_folder_tool

I also see someone recently made a batch file that does the same thing available here.

Media Browser Plugin for Vista Media Center

This is a great plugin for Vista Media Center that i’ve been using for a couple years. I has gone through a couple developers and several names, it is now known as “Media Browser”. Each new release gets better and better, the new version has the cool 3D reflective list mode. It also dynamically fetches attractice backgrounds when viewing a movies info.


Developers Blog:
Download here: (MCE_Media_Browser_2_0_8_0.msi)