TVedia – An amazing networked media frontend!

TVedia is a media center frontend with some extremely interesting networking functionallity and a very nice interface for YouTube, Google Video, Flickr, LastFM and other media related web sites.

I recently gave it a run on my Windows Media Center Edition box. The installation was very easy. The MCE remote worked at once with no configuration.

Excellent media library

You let the software scan your drives for media files and it builds a database that lets you browse your images, videos and music. So far so good. A full screen media browser like all the others out there. And, after my quick test I must say that it is a very good one. The animated user interface is fast and user firendly, but not as smooth and slick as Windows Media Center Edition (MCE). The advantage is the fact that TVedia has modest hardware requirements compared to MCE.

Universal plug and play

But what’s so special about TVedia compared to all the other available options? The network integration. During installation it asked if I wanted access to the media that TVedia found on the other computers on my network. I said Yes, and when installing TVedia on another box on the same network all my media showed up there as well. No questions asked, no configuration. It just worked.

TVedia is a universal plug and play (UPnP) client and server. Meaning that it will communicate with your UPnP enabeled phone or media server. I haven’t tried this yet, so I’ll have to come back to how this works. You can read more here.

Web video in your living room

But the functionallity that impressed me the most is TVedia’s nice integration with sites like YouTube, GoogleVideo and Flickr.

With TVedia these sites are suddenly available from your remote on the big screen in the living room. The experience works very well. You can search for video clips and browse categories. Compared to the YouTube and GoogleVideo plugin for Windows Media Center Edition this experience is way better. Of course, the quality of the videos on these sites doesn’t look very good on your 42 inch LCD, but the playback is done through ffdshow and gives you an experience as good as possible. When trying to predict the future of technology a couple of things are pretty certain. The quality will be better! This is a preview of some of the functionallity that the future of big screen entertainment will give you.

Such a nice interface for these sites can turn out to be very interesting and really emphasize the possibilities of Long Tail Content in your living room. (If you want to know more about the long tail Chris Anderson explains it in The Media Center Show here. Or, of course Wikipedia comes you your rescue with a great article.)

Flickr

For Flickr you can even upload pictures to your account directly from TVedia. You can browse your own sets, your friend’s pictures, search and browse tags.

When running a slide show of photos from Flickr TVedia downloads the largest version available and present them with nice transitions on your TV.

If you add the fact that TVedia plays protected music from both iTunes and MSN Music and has an open interface for plug in development you are close to the perfect media center. And you can’t complain about the price of $35,- either.

So what’s the catch?

Unfortunately, there’s a big one. No TV functionallity yet. You need to run it in cooperation with SnapStream Beyond TV or another proper PVR software. I have years of experience with such solutions. Running one PVR software and another media library software. That is not at all something that I would recommend. The fact that Windows Media Center Edition provides me with both a media library and a proper PVR with an EPG was my main reason to switch to this platform.

The usability, navigation and stability always suffer when running several programs. TVedia version 3.5 had PVR capabilities, so I really hope that 8Dimensions will add a proper PVR with EPG to TVedia version 4 as soon as possible.

But, if you’re in for a tiny bit of tweaking and maintenance, the combination of TVedia and the already mentioned SnapStream Beyond TV will give you a media box with far more functionallity than a plain MCE 2005 box from Microsoft.

So far this is one of the most interesting products I have seen in this space for a long time! The music library, networking and online features are way better than what I am used to in MCE. Please guys, add a proper PVR and you have a winner on your hands.

TVedia – An amazing networked media frontend!

New media center on on its way

Elisa Screenshot

Spanish company Fluendo is currently working on an open source cross platform media center called Elisa.

It looks very promising and if the project gets big enough this could turn into a very interesting platform.

It is a bit early in it’s development for me to try it yet, but I will follow it closely. Have a look at the screenshots and the screencast demo. You also find a Google Video Version of the screencast here.

http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=2655766308298066594&hl=en

New media center on on its way

PlayerPal – Media center control from your PSP

PSP and PlayerPal
PlayerPal will let you control iTunes or Windows Media Player from any device with a browser. Your PDA, laptop, playstation portable etc.

NetRemote and Girder could give you similar control, but PlayerPal looks like a pretty interesting and user friendly solution.

It will work as long as you have a browser on the device you want to use as a remote. No client needed. I haven’t had time to try this one out yet, so I’ll have to get back to it.

PlayerPal – Media center control from your PSP

Controlling your media center from your mobile phone

6630 controlling MCE
Salling Clicker is this fantastic program that lets you control your presentations from your mobile phone. It will show you a preview of your next slide on the phone’s screen and works very well through bluetooth.

Salling Clicker consist of a small program that you install on your Mac or Windows machine and a client software that you install on your mobile phone or PDA. It can communicate through bluetooth or WLAN.

By default it can control a range of players and softwares on your computer. It can also be extended with third party plugins.

It controls Windows Media Player very well. Because WMP is the basis for Windows Media Center Edition it will actually also control the music module of your media center very well.

According to the forum over at Salling.com the developer are working on a special module for Windows Media Center Edition as well.

Currently only one client can be connected at any time. If you connect with a new phone or PDA while another is already connected it will automatically disconnect the other one. I would really like to see a possibility for connecting several clients.

Salling Clicker seems like a very well built program, and connecting the devices was extremely easy.

First I tested it by controlling the music in my media center through WLAN and a Toshiba e805 PDA. No problem.

So I bought a cheap USB based bluetooth device and connected it to my Media Center. It installed immediately without having to add any drivers. One minute later, and I can controll my the music in my media center from my Nokia 6630. Nice.

Looking forward to that native MCE support in Salling Clicker!

…and now I have to start playing around with a connection from Salling Clicker to Girder to give myself complete control of my media center from my Nokia…

Related posts:
HighPad Media Control – PDA Remote for Windows Media Center
Remote control your music collection in MCE

PDA controlling MCE

Controlling your media center from your mobile phone

Pandora plugin for Meedio

Screenshot - Pandora plugin for Meedio
…or should I say “Pandora plugin for Yahoo GO TV”?

Anyway, it looks like an excellent plugin. It gives you the Pandora music recommendation engine directly in your media center. Unlike the Pandora plugin for Windows Media Center Edition this one also gives you a bit of control over the Pandora player from your remote.

When will the Pandora guys allow scaling of their player so it will be possible to make it fit better into the big screen user interface? Or even better, make full support for media centers?

(Thanks, Trond and Maarten)

Pandora plugin for Meedio

Pandora plugin for Windows Media Center

Screenshot
Pandora Playing in MCE
I have written about Pandora before. It is the first music recommendation engine that I actually like and find useful. When I tried it for the first time I instantly wanted a plugin for my Media Center that would let me open Pandora.

I guess I wasn’t the only one. Colin Savage has made a little plugin that not only let you open and start Pandora in your media center, but it let you start Pandora on basis of music from your local collection.

Update:
The links are dead and unfortunately I don’t know where this project is now.

The plugin is a little web application hosted on Colin’s page. It seems like he has some performance issues, so my friend Jahn-Tore has kindly offered a mirror. He has also done some minor changes to the plugin to make it look slightly better in MCE. You find the modified version here.

Screenshot More Music Like This

Then what?

You can go to your artist listing, select an artist and hit the Info-button on your remote. Now select “More…”. That will let you start Pandora playing similar music to the artist or track you have selected.

In other words, I am listening to Tom Waits in my Media Center. Two clicks and Pandora streams similar artists choosen from the very detailed Music Genome Database that is the basis of the recommendation engine in Pandora.

The main problem with the plugin is the fact that the Flash based Pandora player does not scale and is not designed for navigation with a remote.

If now only the Pandora guys get the message, talk to Colin and implements a version that is tailored for MCE. Until then, this solution works fine. The fact that the Pandora interface looks like crap on your 40 inch LCD as long as it doesn’t scale does not destroy the good recommendations and acceptable sound quality from Pandora.

The installation of the plugin from Colin’s page is not 100% straight forward. It includes saving a file to the right directory on your media center and register the plugin. For the people that is afraid of starting that dangerous black command line window and write strange commands in there I have made a simple BAT-script that will register the plugin for you. Just right-click this link and select “Save as”. Save it to a place where you find it and double click it after you have saved the plugin from Colin’s or Jahn-Tore’s page in your eHome directory.

Pandora plugin for Windows Media Center

Yahoo GO TV first take

YahooGO TV main screen
Update:
Regarding the fact that this release of Yahoo! Go for TV is beta. Yes, I know. But then someone needs some help regarding communication and control of expectations. I have some ideas for Yahoo here: The death of beta

Then you should note that the good folks over at the existing Meedio forum has done some tweaks and concluded that the beloved configuration tool and most of the plugins actually works with Yahoo! Go for TV. w00t!

And please also note that Patrick Barry from Yahoo! has commented with some very interesting answers at the end of this article. This is very good news. They take the feedback seriously. They listen. They communicate. My hopes for Yahoo! Go for TV just got better!

So as a little preface, here is a quote from Pablo (the brain behind Meedio) over at the Meedio forum:

As some of you know, most of the Meedio Men were doing this work part time. We’ve never had the full team dedicated to this 100%. Now, since we are all Y! employees and this is our only job, we can really put some effort into this…imagine what we can do. Also, now we have top notch graphic artists, user experience designers, product managers, QA folks, technical writers and additional engineers devoted to the cause. A lot of sharp brains are behind this product now.

Original post:
Okay, so Yahoo has started offering their version of Meedio as a free download. For all the features you need to be connected to the internet with an IP from the US. Still I was able to test all the basic functionallity. And I am not impressed.

First, some history:

A long time ago there was a very popular media center software called myHTPC. It offered a nice TV-friendly frontend for your pictures, movies, video files, music and quite a bit of online content through plugins. I used it for a long time together with BeyondTV to give me a computer that offered a complete media archive and a full DVR in my living room.

The advantages of myHTPC:
1. It was free
2. It had a limited but open interface
3. It was stable
4. It was fast
5. It had a large user base that contributed with plugins

So, myHTPC went commercial and became Meedio. A very difficult transition because one of the main advantages of myHTPC was the user community. How do you keep a user community while going from free to commercial? You spend a lot of time caring for the community, you give them a special price on the commercial product and you keep your system open and make an even better framework for plugins and additions to your software. Helped by the fact that the other free competitors was quite immature at the point of the transition they managed to keep the large and active community. Meedio has been one of the strongest and most flexible media center solutions out there for the last couple of years.

They have had some problems with their addition of a DVR solution (Meedio TV) to their core media archive (Meedio Essentials), and a lot of users have kept using Meedio as the media archive and another commercial product, BeyondTV as their DVR.

So what has been the advantages of Meedio:
1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on also supporting countries outside the US

Now Meedio faces another transition. From commercial to free. Should be easier than going from free to commercial, but I am not sure how smooth this transition will be.

What is important when considering a media center?
1. Stability, stability and stability
2. Ease of use, ease of use and ease of use
3. Visual design
4. Functionallity and flexibility
5. User base
6. Price

So, going from commercial to free gives the last point in the list an advantage.

The 60 minute test

Depending on how you click around this page to get to the download you might spot this disclaimer:

Please note:
Yahoo! Go for TV currently is only available inside the U.S, for Windows®-based systems

95% of the visitors will miss it because they’ll go directly to the download. I live in the small and unsignificant country of Norway and already miss point number six from my list of Meedio advantages: “Focus on also supporting countries outside the US”. Okay, I’ll not let the fact that they release for one of the worlds biggest markets in their initial version count as very negative in this little look at Yahoo! Go for TV. As mentioned, you’ll start the download without even knowing about this.

Installation was very fast and easy. It took me exactly 10 minutes to go through the wizard and tune the channels for all the three Hauppauge cards in my computer.

What I miss at this point:
– No questions about my remote
– No possibility to define several locations for music, photos and videos

For the people that has simply clicked the download link and installed the software this message will be a little disappointing when you start the application for the first time:

Error - Not valid US IP

Okay. Disconnect your network or connect through a US proxy. You’ll get a feeling of the basic functionallity.

The well known default Meedio start up sound will chime in and you are presented with the main menu giving you access to Movies, Music, Photos, TV, Video, Settings and a possibility to exit the application.

Compared to a basic setup of Meedio Essentials there is no doubt about the obvious fact that Yahoo wants to focus on online content. Click on the images to get a closer look at what Yahoo defines as the most important features.

Yahoo GO TV Movies Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Music Screenshot
Yahoo GO TV Photos Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Video Screenshot

To put it short: your local content is far down the list in all categories. Your DVD Player is the last choice in the Movies category. LaunchCast and Music Videos are more important than your local music archive. MyYahoo Photos, Shared Yahoo Photos and Flickr are more important than your own local photos. Featured Videos, Top Web Searches and videos from around the world are more important than videos “on my PC”…

I don’t like that kind of prioritizing. Your most important content will always be your own music, pictures and movies. Yes, we want online content in our media centers, but don’t sacrifice ease of use because you want to push your online content.

After a quick tour of the core functionallity I can conclude that the TV module still has stability issues, the music module is very fast compared to Windows Media Center Edition, the photo module is OK, the video module plays what I want nicely.

The music module did not play WMA with DRM and did not attempt to notify me in any way. The tracks was available but did simply not play. No error messages.

The TV module gave a very low quality picture after the default set up through the wizard.

I started looking for the very powerful configuration tool that I am familiar with from Meedio. But it’s not there. The most important configuration options in the application are missing as well. The theme switcher and the plug in installer that we know from Meedio.

Uh-oh. This is crap. It’s at this point I understand that this version of Yahoo! Go for TV does not deserve more of my valuable time. No possibilities for local content from multiple drives. I did not find any way to set up my remote. No flexibility regarding the theme. Actually I didn’t even find a way to change my music directory after finishing the wizard for the first time. Here is the original list of advantages from Meedio tuned to match Yahoo! Go for TV:

1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on supporting countries outside the US

Screenshot - Flickr module
Yes, yes, yes. I know. I did not really test the important part of Yahoo! Go for TV. The online features. I gave the Flickr module a try, but being connected through a proxy usually gives a very poor network performance, so it will not be fair to base any conclusions on my current possibilities regarding the online features of Yahoo! Go for TV.

But I’ll tell you this. As long as the basic functionallity is so limited the online content can not justify this product in any way. Yahoo has to do something serious. Fast.

This is what’s going to happen

The existing Meedio community will flee to MediaPortal. This free and open source solution will outperform Yahoo! Go for TV in all areas for the advanced user. With some plugins, the Democracy player in the background, TVTonic and some simple tweaks you get loads of online content for that solution.

For the regular user Windows Media Center Edition will give you a solid core functionallity and huge amounts of content from the net through Online Spotlight.

The Mac users will keep waiting for the next major upgrade of Front Row and the Linux community will keep having fun with MythTV.

Maybe Yahoo wants to build a walled garden of online services that will only be available on the TV screen through Yahoo! Go for TV. In that case it has to be extremely attractive services to justify the use of such a limited product. If they manage to offer such interesting content I think people will at best use Yahoo! Go for TV as a second application on their media centers that already run MCE or MediaPortal.

Or maybe not. This is what Windows Media Center gave me in the TV module after I had installed Yahoo! Go for TV on my box:

Screenshot - Tuner Not Installed

I have now uninstalled Yahoo! Go for TV and my MCE is back to normal after a reset of the box. Pablo and the people behind Meedio are really excellent guys with a true understanding of how to build a powerful and flexible media center. I still have hopes for this product so I’ll keep following the development. Now I just have to wait for Dave, Thomas, Michael or Om to test the online features…

And by the way. Here is the complete list of Meedio and Yahoo Go for TV alternatives: The media center software list

Digg this story here.

Update:
As I said, Pablo and the team are excellent guys. Reading through this thread and this thread at the old Meedio forum gives me hope!

Update2:
More people with hands on here and here.

Yahoo GO TV first take

Home Theatre PC Links Roundup

TV Error
I have a lot of visitors looking for information about media centers right now. Here is a quick list of links in this blog that is useful if you want to start experimenting.

You find all the articles in the Home Theatre PC (HTPC) category here:
Eirikso.com – HTPC

And a selection of specially useful articles:
The media center software list
HTPC Frontend roundup
Screen technologies. LCD or Plasma?
Perfect adjustment of your LCD
How to build a cabinet for your HTPC
How to build a completely silent fan for your cabinet
Thumbnails of my old background pictures
How to remote control your music collection from your PDA, laptop, meedio etc…
Silencing an XFX GeForce 6600 GT AGP with a Zalman VF700 Cu
Playing smooth WMV-HD in Windows Media Center Edition
Windows Media Center Edition with 3 tuners
Placeshifting – your media everywhere
HighPad Media Control – PDA Remote for Windows Media Center
Still in list-mode: the Media Center Blogs
Apple Media Center – At last!
Converting DVR-MS files from your media center
How to program the buttons on your MCE Remote
Webcam screensaver for your media center
Recommended HTPC hardware
Some notes on signal quality in a home theatre PC (HTPC)

…or you can take a break and have a look at a lot of other popular articles!

Home Theatre PC Links Roundup

It’s official. Yahoo has bought Meedio.

MeeHoo
As discussed here. It’s not rumors anymore. Meedio is now a part of Yahoo. Welcome MeeHoo, Yahoodeeo or whatever. Meedio is IMHO one of the best media front ends out there. The platform is very solid and flexible. It has a very strong user community and huge amounts of possibilities. Now Yahoo has to play their cards carefully.

This is on the home page of Meedio today:

Important News About Meedio

Today is a big day for the team here at Meedio; we have sold most of our technology to Yahoo!

David Brott, Jeff (beergeek), Kenny (fasttech), Pedro (flea0) and I are joining Yahoo!’s Digital Home team. We’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Yahoo! in the past few months and we love the way they are developing the best, most user-friendly services for the Digital Home.

As I said before, behind Meedio LLC the company, is Meedio the idea and all of us want to see it succeed. The sad truth is that we had recently hit a brick wall and did not have the resources to make it flourish. But, Yahoo! has a great team that is just as dedicated and passionate as we are in this space and, of course, they carry the content and might of an early Internet pioneer. Together, the combination can be nothing but a winner. We are thrilled at the opportunity to put the Meedio idea together with the Yahoo! experience and bring it to millions of people all around the world!

To be perfectly honest with you, before I wrote the first line of Meedio code, I envisioned a day when it could be used as the “new browser”; to bring all the content goodness that Yahoo! can provide to the 10 foot world. It is really exciting seeing it actually happen.

– Let’s hope that Yahoo keeps the platform open
– That they take good care of the strong existing user community
– That they integrate Meedio closely with their existing content
– That they start delivering proper EPG data for more than the US
– That they understand that digital capture cards and HD give them a competetive edge

…and let’s hope that Pablo and the team just got stinkin’ rich!

Now, when will Yahoo buy YouTube and integrate it into Meedio? And what will Google do regarding our living room and the very intense battle that the other big players are having regarding that space?

Video content still feels very comfortable on the big screen in front of the couch. If Google want to compete with Apple and their FrontRow, Microsoft and their Media Center Edition and now Yahoo and their Meedio front end they have to do something with the available fornt ends for Google Video.

It’s official. Yahoo has bought Meedio.