How-to: Schedule Windows Media Center to record shows remotely with Remote Potato

Difficulty: 2

Remote Potato MenuOne of the finishing touches to any media centre is the ability to schedule recordings from anywhere. Remote Potato is an excellent tool that will let you do just that. As it has evolved, Remote Potato has added support for streaming your music, videos and pictures to any computer with a web connection.

Remote potato turns your media centre into a media server and a web server. This lets us access our media centre from anywhere. For my own amusement, I scheduled my weeks viewing from Lady Elliot Island. This island is 80km’s off the coast of Australia, and is the most remote place I have ever been. Situated in the Great Barrier Reef, it is only accessible by plane. The mainland is not visible in any direction from the island. The software worked fine. When I returned home, all the shows I had scheduled were on my computer waiting for me to view them.

Remote Potato can be viewed with the stunning Silverlight interface or a very reasonable html interface. This is the first time I have noticeably seen Microsoft’s Silverlight in use and it is a real treat. It will also detect various mobile phone types and deliver an appropriate webpage to your phone. This is excellent if you want to schedule your shows while you are out and about.

Remote Potato GuideRemote Potato has an excellent TV guide which is very quick and easy to navigate through. Simply find the show you want to record and choose if you want to record the single episode/movie, or the series. If you go into the movie section, it will list all the movies currently in the guide. This makes it possible to very quickly select what movies you want to record. Channel logos can be added by using My Channel Logos.

The Recorded TV, Music and Picture sections let you view the media on your computer from anywhere. You will need a very adequate internet connection at both ends to stream video, but it is all built into Remote Potato. This will work very well in years to come as our internet connections improve.

Remote Potato is under very active development now and there are new features being added all the time. The installation is straightforward, though there is plenty of support in the forums if you get into trouble. You will probably need to setup port forwarding and create an account with Dyndns.org so that you can access your media centre using the same address each time.

For more detailed setup instructions on setting up Remote Potato, please visit DeanHatesCoffee.com as he has an excellent write up on it.

Remote Potato is available for free (donations welcomed) from Fatattitude.


Windows Software: Media Center Studio

Media Center StudioThe first time that you open Windows Media Center, you will find a wide variety of menu options that are likely to far exceed what you will ever want to use. Customizing the menus to suit your personal or family needs is an essential part of the configuration process if you don’t want to get lost in the menu options. The only problem is that Windows Media Center has no built in tools to do this. That is where Media Center Studio comes in.

Media Center Studio is a stand alone program that lets you customise your Windows Media Center menu to exactly the way you want it. It allows removal of unused icons and the freedom to move around icons in a way that is more suited to the way you use Windows Media Center i.e. If you watch mostly recorded TV, recorded TV can be highlighted when Windows Media Center starts.

Media Center Studio also offers theme support which will be a very nice feature as more themes are created. It also allows you to make your own menu strips so you could add a strip for games, another for programs, and anything else you could possibly want. I have mostly used it to compact the features I use into a more logical arrangement.

Media Center Studio displays your current default menus. The title of each menu strip can be changed, and the contents of each menu strip can be moved around with its easy to use drag and drop interface. If you want to remove a menu strip or menu item, simply untick it. Windows Media Center has a bunch of hidden promo boxes that can be removed. If you want to add your own programs, there are extensive facilities to do that. You can even give the program or game your own logo making the media centre truly yours.

If you make a mistake, there is a button to restore everything back to default, so there is no risk in trying different configurations of the menu strips. Once you become familiar with this software, any changes are incredibly quick and simple.

Grab your copy of Media Center Studio for free from Advent Media Center.


Windows Software: My Channel Logos

My Channel LogosWindows Media Centre is a fairly complete package out of the box, but what separates it from many other non computer media centres is that it offers the freedom to customise it to suit your wants and needs. While the TV guide looks nicer than many others, the ability to replace channel names with channel logos will really make your media centre stand out.

My Channel Logos is a program that lets you replace channel names in your Windows Media Centre TV guide, with logos of the channels. Not only is it easier to recognise a channel logo from a distance, it makes the guide more appealing and easier to use.

Remote Potato GuideMy Channel Logos has become a must have program for anyone who uses Windows Media Centre. The helpful community are making new logos as new channels become available, so there is very little work for you to do. It is as simple as installing and running it.

My Channel Logos will detect which channels you have in your Windows Media Centre and populate the logos where available. If there are channels that don’t have an available logo, you can easily add your own by clicking on the empty box and selecting a picture from your picture library.

My Channel Logos can also be used by Remote Potato to show the logos in its own TV guide. If you use Windows Media Centre, it is well worth your while to invest the 5 minutes required to install this tool.

I have found My Channel Logos to be flawlessly reliable and easy to use. There is no need to run this program each time Windows starts. Once My Channel Logos has entered the data, Windows Media Centre retains it and the only reason to open the software up again is to make alterations.

My Channel Logos runs on Windows 7 Media Centre and is available for free (donations welcomed) from My Channel Logos.


Windows Software: FTPing made easy with NetDrive

NetdriveMost ISP’s offer a small amount of storage space on their servers that you use to set up a webpage. This space is often included for free as part of their plans. While many people don’t want to create a website, you can still use the space for whatever you would like. You could place your most important files in their as a way of offsite backups, or share files that are too big for email with family and friends.

FTP clients are a great tool for people who spend a lot of time uploading and downloading files from websites or online storage space, but they can be complicated to use if you are not familiar with them. There is an easier way to access this storage space.

Netdrive is a utility that will allow you to show this storage space as a mapped network drive on your computer. This means that you can drag and drop straight into it using the standard Windows File Explorer, bypassing the need for any fancy FTP programs.

Netdrive sits in the system tray, but should only need to be accessed if you would like to add a new site, or change settings.

NetDrive is easy to setup. Once it is installed, create a new site and add in your FTP server settings. You may want to enable load on startup as that will make Netdrive very hands-off in the future. Once the machine is on the storage space will be mapped automatically.

You can then proceed copying and pasting to and from it just like you would with any of your other files or folders.

I have recommended this to a couple of friends, and they have experienced their internet occasionally dropping out while this software is running in the background. Because of this, you may want to load up Netdrive as you require it, rather than loading it at startup.

NetDrive is available from Netdrive.net and is free for home use. Novell also offers a program called Netdrive that does exactly the same thing, with a few less bells and whistles. This is available from Peter’s Useful Crap.


Drive Partitioning made easy with Easeus Partition Manager Home Edition

EaseuspmThere are a number of programs that will allow for easy creation or resizing of drive partitions. Even Windows XP and Vista will let you do this in its disk management utility. However, these free options are not as easy to use as some of the commercial options, and they lack some fairly important features. Until recent times, I did not know of any free programs that would resize a partition and leave the data intact. Vista will do it now, but it is a bit of a challenge.

For many years I have been using Partition Magic as it was the only program that I could find that would resize partitions without losing data. This feature is very important when adding a partition to a computer that is running well. It could save you from needing to resinstall the whole system. Partition Magic is a commercial program which is hard to justify a purchase of, as you may only use it once or twice each year.

EaseUs Partition Manager Home Edition has been labelled a “free replacement for Partition Magic”, and rightly so. The interface is very similar to the popular Partition Magic, and it contains many of the same features.

Features include:

  • Disk resizing without data loss
  • Disk and partition copying
  • Setting partitions active or hidden
  • Disk Labeling
  • Easy to use interface
  • Everything else most people could ever want

This tool is a long saught after tool for those who do a lot of partitioning. Now the job of trying out Linux, or installing XP on a factory installed Vista machine is a lot less daunting, and dare I say it – even enjoyable.

Important Update: Ensure you turn off hibernation and sleep modes before running this program. If it enters these modes while the program is running, you may find your computer is unbootable. Most other tools of this nature run in DOS mode where sleep or hibernate is not a feature, hence not a problem.

Partition Manager has a commercial version available for people who would like a few extra features, but the home version is free and does everything reported in this article. Grab your copy from Partition-Tool.