www.assassinhtpcblog.com

©Copyright 2011 by assassin @ assassinHTPCblog. All rights reserved. This guide and its contents are copyrighted by assassin @ assassinHTPCblog.

This may be used for personal use by the purchaser only; users are forbidden to reproduce, republish, redistribute or resell and material from this guide without the permission of assassin @ assassinHTPCblog.

Welcome

Welcome to assassinhtpcblog.com. This is the most comprehensive and most detailed tutorial on the internet in regards to how to setup and use your HTPC.

WMC Appearance Guide

Table of Guides (with quicklinks):

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Changing the Look of Media Browser

Next I will show you how to change how your folders look in Media Browser.

First select one of your folders. Here I chose “HD Movies”.

Now select the “gears” in top top right corner.

Select “View”.

Now you can see the various different ways you can view your folders and artwork. Don’t be afraid to experiment here as you can change these and it should not have any effect on any of your other settings.

Let me show you just a few of the many options:

Coverflow (my personal favorite)

List

Poster (much more impressive once you have enough posters to fill the screen)

Thumb

Strip

Finally the poster sizes can also be made larger or smaller. Here’s how.

Select the “gears”

Select “View”

Select whether you want to make the posters bigger or smaller by selecting the “+ Size” multiple times until you achieve the size that you like.

Here is coverflow before:

And after we changed the size of the folders:

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Changing the Look of WMC

In this tutorial I will show you how to change the boring background and look of the default WMC into somthing much more exciting. Media Center Studio is an external piece of software that allows you to completely customize how WMC looks. I will show you how to get started by downloading a cool theme however the possibilities are endless as to how you can customize WMC for your HTPC.

Please also see my Media Center Themer guide which is a companion guide of sorts to this guide which shows you how to use Media Center Themer to change the look of WMC.

Software needed:

  1. Media Center Studio (free)
  2. Sample Theme “Streaming Light”

[Update: MCS has been abandoned by the developer but I have figured out a way to work around this. First download the installation instructions here. Next download the zipped directory here and use the instructions to install the program. Also since this program has been abandoned I am not sure how much additional support I can offer. I have started a thread at AVS Forums as well discussing this issue that you can check if you like.

Also, there is a new program called MCE Reset Toolbox that you can try. If time allows in my schedule I will test out this software and post a guide for it as well. MCS was an excellent program and I, and many others, are very sad to see it go.]

[Update #2: A member on the Media Browser forums created this installer located here. I would try this first before either of the links above. I am trying my best to keep this program alive as I think its one of the best out there. An alternative download link for this installer here at my server.]

Other great looking sample themes to try:

First let’s remember how WMC looked before this guide. Decent, but not great:

Now let’s download Media Center Studio (#1.) and the sample theme (#2). Go ahead and unzip the theme and get it ready to be used in Media Center Studio.

Install thru the security warning. Click “Install”

After completion of install this is what the main screen looks like.

Next click on the “Themes” tab. Then click on “Import Theme”

Next locate where you unzipped your sample theme and open it.

Next left click on the theme “Streaming Light” to select it. Now click “Apply”

Now you can exit out of Media Center Studio. The sample theme is now being used. The next time you start WMC this is how it will appear:

You can tweak and change you windows media center appearance however you like using this utility including moving or changing some of the buttons. You can even create a theme of your own. The options are endless!

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Creating and Changing a Custom WMC Theme

If you grow tired of the standard theme for Windows Media Center and want to change it to something more personal and exciting this guide will show you how to do so.

Before you begin, you need to have Media Center Studio downloaded to your computer (see AssassinHTPCblog Guide “Changing the Look of WMC”). That is the program we will use to personalize the look of Windows Media Center.

Please note that Media Center Studio will by default search for PNG files, but JPG files can also be used in custom themes.

To start off, you need to keep Windows Media Center CLOSED unless told otherwise; the reason for this is that Media Center Studio is actually an abandoned project so it can be buggy at times.  Because of this during certain steps having Windows Media Center open will make Media Center Studio crash.  This won’t hurt anything but will adding more time and steps to the process.

For this tutorial, you will need:

–          Media Center Studio

–          Wallpaper (or hi-res picture, the larger resolution the better. I recommend a size at least as large as your desktop or HDTV’s resolution). Another thing to keep in mind is that by default, Windows Media Center’s text is WHITE, so darker background work best.

Open Media Center Studio and click New

I usually type the name of the theme at this point, the example theme is named Train Trax (This setting is found under the Biography section):

Next,double click Images:

Then Common:

Double Click Background. In here, you’ll see all of the files that will have to be overwritten with the wallpaper or hi-res image you selected.

The first file that you’ll replace is COMMON.ANIMATED.BACKGROUND.PNG, and when you click that line a new window will appear with the current file (as well as the dimensions and a preview).

Click Browse to pull up a dialog box that will allow you to search for your replacement file:

By default, Media Center Studio will search for PNG files, but JPG files will also work. Search for the replacement file in the newly opened dialog box:

You will now have to repeat steps 7-8 under the COMMON.BACKGROUND.PNG line:

Once your custom file has replaced both lines, Click SAVE. This may take a little bit to process, depending on your computer set up and the size of the custom photo). If you don’t save the theme at this point it won’t carry over to Windows Media Center:

Once you’ve saved the custom theme, you’ll need to run it through Windows Media Center to see how it looks. So, go back up the file tree to the BIOGRAPHY entry:

Once there, you’ll need to click the PLAY button on the right-hand side of the program that looks like a camera:

This will load Windows Media Center and apply the changes you’ve made to the theme (be patient, this could take a bit depending again on computer set up and photo information)…

Voilà! Now you have your custom theme! But we’re not done just yet.

New custom themes do not by default create a thumbnail, so we’ll have to do that now. Close Windows Media Center, and go back to Media Center Studio. In there you’ll see the preview of the Windows Media Center as it looks with the current theme. You’ll have to take a picture to use as the thumbnail in the next few steps.

Click the icon of the camera with a green plus sign to take the screenshot:

Now you’ll have to close Windows Media Center again (don’t know why, it just likes to make Media Center Studio crash if it’s open during this step) and select the lower image, then click the up arrow at that is to the upper left of the screen shot.

This will move the screenshot up to the thumbnail next to the Theme Name.

Now click SAVE again to update the theme. This will finalize the custom theme process. The next few steps are completely optional, but can be used if you want to export your themes to a folder outside of Windows Media Center (for backing up your files, or sharing).

Once the theme has been saved again, click the THEMES tab to the right of the HOME tab:

Click the RED X to close the custom theme:

Now click the THEMES tab to the left of the custom theme:

Once there, select the custom theme you just built:

Then click EXPORT THEME:

Now select your destination for the saved theme, and you’re done!

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Media Center Themer for WMC

This guide is a companion of sorts to the Media Center Studio guide. If you recall MCS was a great program to change the look and feel of WMC. The problem with MCS was that the developer abandoned the project and in doing so made it very difficult to install and use the program. Media Center Themer is another option to change the look of WMC by using MCS Themes. I have a list of over 25 MCS themes hosted on my server that I have listed that you can use with this software.

Let’s get started on how to use this.

First download, unzip and install the MCT program here.

This will unzip and install all the files to this folder — which will automatically open once the program is installed. Alternatively you can directly reach this folder by a shortcut that the program automatically makes in the Start –> Programs menu of Windows

Click “OK” to close the installation and open the folder

This is what the default folder contents look like after opening the folder “Media Center Themer” located in the ProgramData folder. (Make sure you have “Hide Extensions” unchecked in Folder Options in Windows)

Now let’s rename the “MCTDefault” xml file to “MCTDefault.xml.bak” and keep it as a backup

Now download the MCTDefault zip here.

Unzip the downloaded “MCTDefault” zip and copy the “MCTDefault.xml” file to the Media Center Themer folder.

Now download one of the 25+ themes where I showed you at the beginning of this guide and unzip them. I chose “HexBlowBlue” to start. Unzip it using a program like 7-Zip

Once the file is unzipped it will look like this mct file. Let’s now again unzip this .mct file (so in conclusion you have unzipped it twice)

Now the parts of the zip file are showing. Let’s click on “Resources” and then “ehres” until you come to the “Images” folder

Inside the “Images” folder you will find dozens of images. Select and copy them all

Now let’s go back to the original “ProgramData” –> “Media Center Themer” folder and locate the “Theme” folder

Open the “Theme” folder and paste your images inside (notice bkg-demo which was the file that was inside this folder be default. You can leave it as it won’t change anything)

Now let’s open WMC and take a look at our new theme (this theme is cool because the blue part of it actually pulsates)

To change the theme simply delete all the images out of the “Theme” folder and paste a new set of images from one of the other 25+ themes. Here are a few…

The Media Center Themer .xml file is a little cryptic but you can change the font color and other options in there as well. In these examples I used the default colors that were supplied the modified xml file. Feel free to experiment with these options on your own.

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Pearl Theme Appearance Guide

This is one of my 3 free guides that I will keep in the “free guides section” but I will list it here so it doesn’t get missed by those of you paying for this tutorial.

The following is completely optional but will allow you to change the look of your HTPC by adding a theme called “Pearl” and a plug-in called “CoverArt”. Unfortunately these excellent additions cost a few dollars to pay the developer but in my opinion are worth it (however if your HTPC is built and configured by AssassinHTPC all plug-ins are included for free by mediabrowser). Currently Pearl is $6 and CoverArt is $4. Or alternatively you can purchase the “Classic Bundle” for $10 which includes both of these plug-ins and trailers.

One additional download you will need is BAS Skins manager which has dozens of skins that you can use for the Pearl theme. (Free). To install and use BAS Skins manager you will need to also install Microsoft .NET Framework 4 (Free).

1. Install Pearl, CoverArt, BAS Skins manager (run as adminstrator), and .NET Framework 4 and select Pearl as your theme. Choose “cover flow” in the settings inside mediabrowser to display the folders like I have them shown.

2. For BAS Skins I currently use “dnicks Orange clear” although you can experiment around with the different skins and see which one you like the best.

3. There are thousands of other possible setting combinations as you can see. Finally inside mediabrowser configurator select the cover art plug-in and choose “configure”. These are my settings in coverart.

4. Now refresh your media library using the steps that I showed you in the above guides. You also will need to click the box in the media browser service menu (located to the left of the clock in the bottom right hand corner of your desktop) to “Clear Image Cache”. You will need to do this each time you make any changes using cover art for the changes to take effect in mediabrowser. Click “Refresh Now”.

The finished product:

TIP: Want to try a similar program to change the look of your Cover Art? Try StarkCovers which is free. This great program is no longer being supported but still works to change your Cover Art. Give it a try! (As I am afraid that this great program will forever be lost I have also uploaded it to my server and you can download it there as well should the original file disappear. Currently the original download location is gone and only the mirror remains. Download link here. )

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Maelstrom Appearance Guide

This guide has been made due to popular demand to describe how I achieved the look and feel of the way I am using Media Browser currently (seen here):

First, let’s make sure that you have the newest version of media browser installed. This can be found here. Install this like you did before in the setup guide. You can install this over your current version of Media Browser and it will update your library automatically as seen here:

You will be asked to help MB gather information. Choose to decline if you wish.

Now that the new MB is installed all of your settings should be preserved. Its worth going back through the MB setup guide to make sure that nothing was inadvertently changed in the process. Next let’s open the MB Configurator as we have a few new things to install.

The first is an excellent theme called “Maelstrom” whose theme is “more is better”. This is available at the Media Browser store for purchase (see below). Its a fantastic theme, imo:

The second item is CoverArt3. This is a paid item that you can buy from the Mediabrowser Store located here.

When you purchase products at the Media Browser store they will send you a code that you can copy and paste from your email:

Copy this Supporter Registration Key from your email and paste it in the “Supporter Key” area to activate it. Click save when you are done:

Let’s tell Media Browser that we want to use Maelstrom the next time we open the program:

Now let’s go back to the CoverArt3 plug-in and tell it we want to configure it:

In the main CoverArt3 screen choose “CoverArtDiamond3D” if you want to achieve the exact look that I achieved or feel free to choose your own. You will see that you can also designate how each of your file types looks in CoverArt3. Click “Done” when you have achieved the look that you want.

Now let’s go to the Media Browser Service icon (located just to the left of the clock on your desktop) and tell MB that we want to clear the image cache and apply these new pieces of cover art. You will get a warning message if this is your first time doing this. Tell it is okay to proceed. Finally click “Refresh Now”

Now that MB is open let’s go into the menu (located at the top of the mainscreen in Maelstrom) and tell it we want to change the configuration. Once inside configuration let’s tell it to add the Show Config button:

Now let’s use a folder that has a lot of movies inside. As this is my testing rig I have minimal movies on here but you can see from the very first picture in this guide what the end product should look like. I am going to choose my HD Movies folder.

Here you can see Coverflow which I absolutely love for most themes. But for this theme — and especially with large libraries — I actually like a different view much better.

Coverflow:

Let’s go to the top of the screen and pull down the menu and change the view to “Poster”

Here is the result. You can change how many posters are in a column simply by changing the size of the poster from the menu at the top of the screen.

I actually prefer this view without the HD overlay so I am going to go into the configuration (again, accessed at the top of the screen) and turn it off.

Finally let’s clean it up a little more by going back into the configuration and turn off the “Watched Indicator”.

The great thing about this theme is the larger the library the better it looks, imo. Again this is the screenshot from my regular HTPC that I use everyday. Pretty cool.

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snef’s Media Browser Screen Backdrop Trick

This guide has been requested by multiple people and paid subscriber snef was kind enough to provide step by step instructions on how he achieved this cool effect:

First we need to create a backdrop for each genre in our media collection. This website has a lot of good examples of theater backdrop for you to use. Or alternatively you an use something like Google images to find large (1920×1080 pixels or larger) pictures to use instead. When choosing your backdrop pick a screen that is “straight on” so that your image fully fills and doesn’t look distorted on the screen. For this guide snef downloaded this backdrop to use

Now that you have your backdrop let’s open Microsoft Paint (Start –> Accessories –> Paint) and open your backdrop

Next click on “select” and select the picture area of the screen you want to change in each backdrop

Now right click in the area you just choose and click “cut”. The previous screen will disappear and will give you a white screen.

Now in Paint click on new and don’t save the your work. A new paint window will open. We need to minimize the white area

To minimize the white area click on the bottom right corner and drag it will the white area is very small

Now right click in paint and click on paste

You will have only the screen area you selected previously that was removed. Now we need to know the exact pixel size of this screen. Click on resize, and choose “Pixels”

Here you can see that the area size is 625×342 pixels. Your size will vary.

Now, create a backdrop for each media collection. For the first example I will use Action. This is the backdrop from the movie folder of “Gamer (2009)” which was downloaded with MCM into that folder. Just make sure that if you do this you make a copy of the picture and don’t actually delete it from your movie’s folder. You also can use any other image that is large enough to fit.

Now we need to resize this picture to fit our new screen (625×342 pixels). Open your backdrop in Paint and select “edit”.

Click on resize and choose Pixels

Remove the check beside “Maintain Aspect Ratio and Enter 625 x 342 (which is the size of your screen area)

The picture will now be the exact size of your screen

Now save this in a folder where you will remember it and repeat this step for each genre or main folder that you want to create using appropriate artwork for your media collection.

Next let’s insert each of these screen into the main backdrop that we chose at the beginning of this guide. Open the main backdrop and right click on it. Choose edit. Click on the small triangle under Paste

Next and choose “Paste From”and choose one of the 625 x 342 screens that you had made earlier. Click open.

And now you will have this

Now click and hold the area screen and move it over the existing area. (Note: don’t click outside of the screen you paste before you move it to the right place, you will not able to move it)

Now click outside of screen area and save it. Repeat for each genre collection. A few examples:

Now let’s get these great looking backdrops into Mediabrowser. First go to “C:\ProgramData\MediaBrowser\ImagesByName\” (e.g. for Win 7 X64) and create a folder named “General”. Inside this “General” folder create folders with exact same name of your genre collection (for example “Action”)

Example of folder names inside the “General” folder. When you place your new backdrop inside the appropriate folder rename it to “backdrop” so that it can be recognized in Mediabrowser. For example inside the “General” –> “Action” folder you would put your new backdrop and rename it “backdrop”.

If you look my folder you will see music and trailers folders. They are not in my media collection but they are plugins and will work the same way.

Now start media browser and update library. That’s it! You have achieved the custom snef look!

(Tested with mediabrowser 2.3.2 and Jade theme)

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Media Browser Boxed Set Guide

[This guide was make entirely by AVTechMan at AVS. I thank him for his outstanding contribution which an an excellent addition to the guides]

Many of us have many movie titles that either have sequels or have multiple titles in a series. They look great in Mediabrowser but knowing this, would it be nice to just select the movie and then it shows the list of either the related series or sequels?

In this short guide I show you how to do just that, and by doing so you can have a cleaner look to your title list. This requires doing a little extra work in folder structure as we will be doing nested structures for these titles, which MB supports. For this example I will be using the Matrix Trilogy for this guide.

First thing we need to do is get the folder structure in order. This will be the most important thing in order for the titles to display correctly in MB. Note: there are two methods to do this; one is to create shortcuts to the movie folders (I will call method A), the other is to move the movie folders themselves to new locations (method B). I will be doing method B.

Start off by creating the folder of the movie that you want to place together. The structure would be like this:

D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection

Simple enough, now we need to enter the new folder that we have just created and this is where we will add the individual movie folders. In this case all you would have to do is to select the folders of the three movies and move to the Ultimate Collection folder. In the end it would look like this:

D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection

D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Matrix

D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Matrix Reloaded

D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Matrix Revolutions

The ‘Animatrix’ is also included but I have added it to show in its own folder (with the separate mini-films) which I will show later on.

Inside the main movie folders of course will contain the metadata you should already have from whatever metadata scraping tool you use.

Also note in the top-level folder that the ‘folder.jpg’ and ‘backdrop.jpg’ files are also included. You will need this to display the artwork for the collection properly in MB. Mediabrowser.tv has some great fanart you can check out for your particular collection.

The end result once you do the structure above should look like this:

The number that you see in the left corner indicates the number of movies you have inside (changeable in MB settings of course). In this case, 12 would indicate the 3 Matrix movies, and the 9 short films of the Animatrix.

In addition, you also want to make sure that the ‘Allow Nested Movies Folders’ box is checked and the ‘Treat Multiple Files as Single Movie’ box is unchecked. Otherwise MB will play all the movie files within the folder:

Now, the last thing to do is to incorporate the ‘Animatrix’ title to the folder structure above. In addition to adding the Animatrix folder (as the new top-level), inside you would add the additional ‘folder’ and ‘backdrop’ images and then afterward add the additional 9 short movies (in their own folders) to it. Here’s the structure for this:

Folder.jpg
Backdrop.jpg
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Matrix
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Matrix Reloaded
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Matrix Revolutions
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Animatrix

Inside the ‘Animatrix’ folder you would have this:

Folder.jpg
Backdrop.jpg
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Animatrix\ 01 Final Flight of the Osiris\
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Animatrix\ 02 The Second Renaissance Part I \
D:\Movies\Matrix Ultimate Collection\The Animatrix\ 03 The Second Renaissance Part II \

End result should look like this, with the actual movie file and related artwork files inside the movie-specific folders:

With this done MB will see this as nested folders and will display the number of unwatched movies in that folder. End result:

And there you have it, with this level of organization it will be much nicer to see the collection of specific movies in one place and the interface will be much cleaner to boot. As for the metadata, depending on what scraper you use, for example if you are using MCM you will have to let it know that this folder is a boxset, in which MCM will place a ‘boxset.xml’ file in the top-level folder to inform it that it’s a boxset. From there it should be able to fetch the metadata for the set but, some of the info you most likely will have to put in manually. To display movie shorts in a specific order (like the Animatrix in this case) simply number the shorts in the proper order under the sorting title in your scraper. That way MB will display it in the correct order that you specify.

Hope this helps anyone who is interested in organizing your collection on a finer level!

www.assassinhtpcblog.com

©Copyright 2011 by assassin @ assassinHTPCblog. All rights reserved. This guide and its contents are copyrighted by assassin @ assassinHTPCblog.

This may be used for personal use by the purchaser only; users are forbidden to reproduce, republish, redistribute or resell and material from this guide without the permission of assassin @ assassinHTPCblog.

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