Entertaiment PC: Software

meedio_logo.jpgThis is a continuation of a few older posts on the entertaiment PC.

Much of what I’ve done with software on this computer is based loosely on Jon’s system. The core to both of our systems is a little piece of software called Meedio Essentials… that unfortunately is no longer supported. They sold out to Yahoo back in 2006. Yahoo took the software and created Yahoo TV, which at this point in its development is an interior product. The community left over at Meedio have since spun off a new product/community called MeediOS. MeedioOS now houses many of the plugins and forums from the now defunct Meedio Essentials. So given that little history lesson on Meedio, I still use the final version of the software that was released before Yahoo got hold of it. If you really wanted to, you could still probably get your hands on a copy of it (cough p2p cough). The collection of entertainment PC software available now is actually much better than it used to be. There are quite a few options out there to chose from. There might even be something better than Meedio Essentials available now, but what I’ve got just works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

meedio_screen.jpgOK, so what exactly does Meedio Essentials do? It is essentially the control to the entire entertainment pc. It hold the menus that you navigate using your remote and launches you into everything you want to do with the computer. There are serveral built in modules that I use on this system, and a lot of external programs that get launched via a command from Meedio. That’s the beauty of Meedio, it can call up just about anything on the computer and is endlessly customizable (with a little tweaking).

For photos, we use the built-in photo module in Meedio. It works like just about any photo viewer out there. You can browse photo by photo, or by collections. It includes a slideshow option and works with the remote to pull up your entire photo collection on the TV. I have Meedio pointing to a shared drive on our media server with all of our photos on it, but Meedio could just as easily point to a directory on the hard drive full of photos.

As with the photo viewer, we use the built-in music player in Meedio. It is a pretty standard software music player. Also similar to the photos module, it is hooked to the media server where all of the MP3’s are hosted. It reads ID3 tags for file information, and will even take advantage of album art pulled from iTunes. You can sort by just about everything (artist, title, genre). There is also a nice full-screen visualization to throw up on the screen when you want to play a bunch of music and see something a little nicer than a list of songs running by.

DVD Playback
This is one of the areas where I have Meedio pointing to an external program. I’m currently using Zoom Player as the DVD player for the system. Meedio does have its own DVD module, but it isn’t that great. When a DVD is loaded or DVD is selected in the interface, Meedio just launches Zoom Player, and off it goes. The reason I use Zoom Player over the standard DVD module is that it has a lot more control over video settings and video acceleration. I have a video card that can handle much of the processing of playing a DVD, and handing that over to the card saves the CPU for other tasks. Plus when/if I end up getting a drive that can play HD-DVD or Blu-Ray discs, it will most likely need to be tweaked even more to handle the load that those formats put on the computer. It will also most likely take another software player. I believe PowerDVD Ultra is the only software HD/Blu-Ray player out there at the moment, but we’ll cross that bridge when/if we come to it.

btvscreen_home.jpgThe Digital Video Recorder functionality for the entertainment PC isn’t handled by Meedio (even though Meedio does include a DVR module). I used to use SageTV for this function, but have recently switched over to BeyondTV. They both work really well in their core features (recording/playing back tv), but BeyondTV is just a cleaner interface, and has a few more bells and whistles built in where you would have to install a plugin for Sage. You can check out the features of BeyondTV at their site, or see what Jon had to say about it in his description. The things I like about BeyondTV is that it can handle HD (after the recent hardware upgrade). It also automatically creates chapter marks to skip commercials (Sage didn’t do this out of the box). I really like a new feature that was added with the most recent upgrade to version 4.7. You can set it to create an iPod compatible version of a show and it will set up an RSS feed to go with it. This allows you to point iTunes at the entertainment pc and automatically pull down video files for whatever tv series you’re currently watching (it can be all of them or just individual shows). We also have a handy plugin called BTV Podcatcher that pulls down video podcasts we subscribe to and drops them right in with our recorded TV shows. Again, the DVR area is a space where there are a lot of contenders making products, but so far BeyondTV has topped the list of products I’ve tried.

There are a bunch of little odds and ends that Meedio also does well (and some things we do that aren’t part of Meedio). One of them is a weather module that gives quick access to forecasts and weather maps. Another piece of software that we’ve tied to Meedio is the Sling Box software. We use this to get our Iowa Hawkeyes football fix from AZ. Meedio just fires up the SlingPlayer software which launches full-screen and is controllable via remote control. The last “other” thing we do with the entertainment PC isn’t really worked into Meedio at this time. This could be a future project, but I’d like to be able to connect it to the Netflix “Watch Now” movies allowing us to watch streaming movies from Netflix. We do this now by firing up IE (only works with WMP and IE unfortunately) and navigating the Netflix site with our wireless mouse. It would be idea if there were some sort of remote controllable site to get to the watch now movies. I know there is a Meedio browser plugin that uses IE, but haven’t really had a chance to play with it on the Netflix site. We’ll see what happens on that front. Otherwise, that just about covers everything we use Meedio and the entertainment PC for. So far things have been working pretty well.

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