Windows Software: Automatically convert .wtv to .dvr-ms with WtvWatcher

Difficulty: 1.5

WtvWatcherWindows Media Center 7 saves files by default to the .wtv format. This format is capable of storing the highest quality broadcast. The only problem is that it is not compatible with some programs written for previous versions of Windows Media Center (such as Lifextender which only works with the .dvr-ms format). Lifextender allows all my recorded TV to have the commercials completely removed from all my files without pressing a button. I need to use WtvWatcher if I want to use Lifextender to remove commercials. Lifextender is unable to process the default Windows Media Center 7 formatted files, so WtvWatcher converts the file to a format Lifextender can work with.

WtvWatcher SettingsMicrosoft has included a .wtv to .dvr-ms converter with it’s Media Center, but it is only capable of converting one file at a time, and it is a manual process. WtvWatcher uses this utility by finding the files that need converting, and sending them to be processed. WtvWatcher looks after this job very well. It sits in your task tray and converts all your recorded video to the dvr-ms format. I have been using this software for well over a year and found it to be very reliable and stable.

From what I can make out, the two formats are identical, but the .wtv format can handle a broadcast format that is rarely used. This is why I have not noticed any drop in the quality of recorded TV, once the conversion has taken place.

There are very few settings. Simply point WtvWatcher to the folder that contains your recorded TV. It will do the rest. You will want to ensure you create a shortcut to WtvWatcher.exe in your startup folder so that it loads when the computer boots up.

I have used version 1.0.0.21 for this review. I tried the latest updates but had poor results. It is worth trying the newest version and downgrading back to this version if it doesn’t work for you. If you downgrade, you will want to untick the Check for Updates tick box in the preferences.

WtvWatcher is available for free from codeplex.


How-to: Voice control Windows Media Center

Difficulty: 2.5

WSR voice controlI have been interested in the voice control of computers for a long time. My first attempt was around 10 years ago, and I had some success with it. In the right environment, I was able to say commands to my computer and it would respond based on what I said. The problem was that I didn’t have a practical use for it yet. It was clear in this early testing that using a keyboard and mouse was far more convenient, reliable and a quicker option than using voice. It will remain that way for many of the standard interactions (i.e email, facebook) we have with computers, at least in the short term.

The day Microsoft Kinect was launched in Australia, I saw the promotional video showing people waving their arms around to navigate through their media centre. It seemed to me that this would be a fairly unreliable and exhausting way to control anything, apart from games specifically designed for the technology. I was way too lazy to consider using this technology into the future.

I concluded that voice is the simplest way to control anything, and that it always will be. This led me to start playing around with voice control again. I ran through the voice tutorials and was able to get the computer to understand my voice some of the time. It did stuff up on me a whole lot, but it was clearly much more reliable than software I had used in the past.

Now around 6 months on, I have written an AutoHotkey script and a WSR macro that interact with Windows Media Center and Windows Speech Recognition software, allowing my media centre to be controlled completely by voice. This is a practical use for voice control. I can navigate faster with my voice than I can with a remote control. Instead of needing to know which button to press on my remote (or remotes), I simply speak my mind. I no longer use a remote at all. This is something I have wanted for a long time and I am excited about this outcome.

This system far exceeds any other voice control setup on the market today in terms of reliability and practicality. Most of the problems as to why systems haven’t worked in the past has not been because the software was inadequate for the task, (the software has worked fine for many years). Most of the problems are environmental, and my solution tackles these environmental issues. Rather than trying to make technology that works in our environment, my solution changes the environment to enable the technology to work. I believe it is inevitable that all future voice control systems will need to take this approach for the system to work.

This article will give you all the information you need to control your Windows Media Center home theatre PC with your voice. I will provide the easy to edit scripts and show you how to install them on your PC. I will also explain what works and what doesn’t, as well as explaining why previous attempts have not been successful. The more I explain how it all works, the easier it will be for you to set it up and get it working reliably. This will not be as easy as installing the software and having the results you want right away. You will need to train it to recognise your voice, and you will need to learn the correct commands to make. A solution that can understand the whole English language is a long way off. It is much more difficult to synthesize human understanding than it is for a computer to understand dictation. That is why we need to have set commands.

There is a video of my home theatre PC running this system after the jump.

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Windows Software: Windows Media Player

Windows Media PlayerWindows Media Player was a program that I never gave much respect to, until I recently found a new use for it. Windows Media Center relies on Windows Media Player to playback most media files. This means that any changes we make in the Windows Media Player settings will carry through to Windows Media Center. i.e. Windows Media Center does not have cross fading built in, but if we turn on cross fading in Windows Media Player, the music we listen to in Windows Media Center will also have cross-fading. The same goes for setting up visualisations, CD ripping options etc.

There are so many expected and unexpected features in it, and many of them are relatively well hidden within the program. This is great as the hard to find features such as cross-fading or SRS WOW effects won’t need to be changed often. This has allowed the interface to show us the features we want to use all the time. The way the software is laid out lets us use the full screen to organise our media with a very simple drag and drop layout.

CrossfadingWindows Media Player makes it very easy to make playlists that can be used with Windows Media Center. The interface also makes it very easy to add information to files, such as producing your own star ratings. It even makes burning a CD simple. It is a comprehensive package that has now become my tool for managing my media.

This is by no means a review, or an encouragement to use this as your main media player, but it is worth having another look at it to see what it can do. It is a great resource to pull out when it is needed. If there is something you want to do with your media, where your normal media player doesn’t have the facility, it is likely Windows Media Player will. It is very likely to serve your needs. Because it has been tested on every Windows machine, it has become very stable and the chances of it crashing are very low.

After giving it another run, I have found it to be an outstanding media player.

Windows Media Player is available for free from your start menu. 


Windows Software: Media Browser

MovieBrowserWindows Media Center 7 has some nice features when it comes to viewing movie information, but it is somewhat limited. If you are interested in taking it to the next level so you can see even more information, grab a copy of Media Browser.

Media Browser can be customised to show your movie collection in various ways. Whichever way you prefer it, it fits in really well with the default Windows Media Center theme. It goes beyond what the built in Windows Media Center Movie Library shows, by adding in cast information, and a bunch of pretty background pictures taken from the movie.

MovieBrowser2I use Media Center Master to retrieve the information for the movies, but there are likely a few programs that can do this. With all this information on hand, Media Browser shows as much information, if not more than can be found on a DVD cover.

I love the cast and crew section. If I find a movie with an actor I like, I can read a biography of the actor and see what other films I have with them in.

I don’t use this all the time, but when I am struggling to figure out what to watch, having enticing pictures is helpful. I have set this up on my system as an alternative to the built in library. It is easy to put Media Browser next to your Movie Library icon with Media Center Studio.

Media Browser is great if you have a large collection of movies because it loads them up much quicker than the built in Movie Library. It even has built in support for TV series and your music if that is something you are after.

Media browser is available for free from the Media Browser forums.

Hack7mc also has a great rundown of all the features.


Windows Software: Download Metadata automatically with Media Center Master

Media Center MasterWhen a movie has been recorded off the TV using Windows Media Center, all we are given is a single file containing the recording. If we view the file in the movie library, it shows as a blank cover containing the title and nothing more.

Media Center Master is a free program that scans your Movies or Recorded TV directories and downloads a bunch of useful meta data about the show, such as a description of the show/movie, cast list, director, cast biographies and pictures, background artwork for use with Media Browser, as well as the cover artwork.

Media Center Master connects to various internet databases to find the information. If it is unable to find it on the default database, it will progress to the next. I have found it to be highly accurate in identifying movies.

MovielibraryMedia Center Master can be run as needed, but I load it at startup so that it automatically detects new recordings as they are made. The result is that I don’t need to click on anything to make the magic happen.

There are a few tricks to get this software working correctly. You will need to put each movie into it’s own folder, with the same name as the movie, but this can be automated with some scripting. The software does have some of this built in, but because recordings have different names in different countries, my own scripting was required. There is more information on this here.

Once Media Center Master is up and running, it is completely hassle free. What you record one day, will have all it’s data attached shortly after, without needing to lift a finger. This makes browsing the Movie library much simpler and more aesthetically pleasing. Even more so if you choose to use Media Browser as it will make use of all the data downloaded.

Media Center Master v1.29 is available for free from mediacentermaster.com. There is also a premium version that is capable of much more, but I only listed the features I need and all these are in the free version.