Installing “My Movies” for multiple zones

Installing “My Movies” for multiple zones
Revision 1.1, November 26’Th 2005.
Getting “My Movies” installed for use on one Media Center is quite simple, but when getting a
multiple zone environment some guidelines shall be followed. This document describes how
to install and setup “My Movies” in multiple rooms, using the same movie database.
The multiple zone environments can be achieved in two ways; either by installing and using
“My Movies” on a single box running Microsoft Media Center Edition 2005, and connecting
one or more Media Center extenders (or Xbox 360 consoles that features a Media Center
extender) or by installing “My Movies” for multiple Media Center boxes, and pointing them to
a shared database.
Which solution to choose is up to the individual user – it depends on which types of movies
you whish to play in secondary zones. In general it can be said that when installing a multiple
zone environment using Media Center Extenders, the playback on the extenders are limited as
it only supports some types of video files. When installing on multiple Media Center boxes you
are not limited in playback – if each box can access the movies trough a network drive, you
can play DVD’s both as VIDEO_TS folders or ISO’s, or you can play offline discs, by inserting
the disc into the correct Media Center box – all of these are options you do not have with
Media Center extenders. The Xbox 360 can play a DVD from it’s local DVD drive, but not from
the Extender session, meaning that although you can browse offline DVD’s on the Xbox 360,
you would have to leave the extender session to play it.
Installing for Media Center extenders
What are Media Center extenders?
Media Center extenders are dvd-like boxes that can be placed in other rooms, and access the
main Media Center box by either LAN or WLAN. These boxes can be acquired for amounts
from $200 to $300, or they can be acquired as an add-on option for the Microsoft Xbox for
about $75, or as part of the Xbox 360 (described on the following page).
Media Center extenders enables fast user switching on you main Media Center box, and allows
the extender to connect to the Media Center box trough terminal services giving access to all
functionalities of the main Media Center box directly on the extenders – almost.
What is the Xbox 360 Media Center extender?
When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 it had a Media Center extender built into it, and not
only was it a full Media Center extender, it also has better features and specifications than the
stand-alone extenders.
In general this means that if you are to purchase a Media Center extender, the Xbox 360 Core
System at $299 along with the universal remote ($30) add-on is the one to go for – it is a bit
more pricy than the stand-alone extenders, but with much more features, and for the small
extra price you get a gaming console included.
What can the Xbox 360 extender do that the stand-alone extenders can’t?
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It can play WMV HD video material in up to 720p.
Its interface is the same intensive rendering one as the Media Center box (features
background and button animations), where the stand-alone extenders has a not as rich
looking interface without animations.
It does not have a 6.5 m/bit limitation on MPEG2 video material.
It can output Dolby Digital 5.1 channel digital audio (AC3)
Limitations
The main problem/limitation with the Media Center extenders is that they will not play DVD’s
in any flavor, nor will it play DIVX, XVID or other movies that uses a third party codec. This
means that you would have to either re-encode your entire movie collection to a movie
format supported by the extenders, and play this on both the main Media Center box, and on
the extenders – otherwise you would have to store the main DVD movie along with a reencoded version supported by the extenders, and “My Movies” will then pick up the correct
movie for the active environment.
Installing
Installing and setting up “My Movies” for use with Media Center extenders is pretty strait
forward – simply download and start the installer on the main Media Center box, and be sure
to check the installation for “Everyone”, and not “Just me” (see screen dump below), as Media
Center extenders connect with an individual user account for each extender, and therefore
does not work when installing for “Just me”. After this installation “My Movies” is automatically
available on both the main Media Center box, and on each connected extender. Connecting
more extenders will also automatically give this extender access to “My Movies”.
Adding movies
Before adding movies to your collection, you need to choose how to store them – as with
general “My Movies” installations, each movie must have its own movie folder, where a
compatible movie file, iso image file* or VIDEO_TS folder must be located.
As Media Center extenders log on to the main Media Center box, the local drives of this box is
also available to the extender, one exception is automatically attached network drives – when
attaching network drives, and setting these to automatically re-connect on startup, this setting
is saved for the current user – and as the Media Center extenders each have their own
individual user account, these drives are not connected for the Media Center extenders. This
means that movies must be located on either local hard drives, or on UNC paths
(\\server\share\folder).
Because of the limited video playback abilities on Media Center extenders, you would have to
decide which types of movies you whish to playback on the main Media Center box, and
which you whish to playback on the extenders – this can either be a single video file encoded
to support the extender, or it can be a local stored DVD as either a VIDEO_TS folder or a iso
image file* for the main Media Center box, and a file encoded for extender for playback on
these extenders. Offline discs are not supported for extenders, as these are real DVD discs
located outside of your computer.
The limitations for files compatible with stand-alone Media Center extenders are:
Windows Media Video 9 Series (WMV files):
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Maximum resolution of 720x480
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Maximum bit rate of 4 Mbps. Variable bit rate (VBR) encoding is supported; however,
high peaks in the video bit rate (higher than 4 Mbps) may cause video glitches
Main profile
Video width and height should equal the aspect ratio specified in the file
Windows Media digital rights management (DRM) support up to Level 2000
MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 (MPG, MPEG or AVI files):
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Standard definition
MPEG-1 layer I and II audio
Maximum bit rate of 6.5Mbps
The limitation for files compatible with the Xbox 360 extender is:
Windows Media Video 7, 8 or 9 (WMV files):
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Maximum resolution of 1280x720 (720p), with 30 frames per second.
MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 (MPG, MPEG or AVI files):
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Maximum resolutions of 1920x1080 (1080i)
MPEG-1 layer I and II audio or AC-3 audio
When adding movies to your movie collection, you use the “Edit collection” program found in
your Windows Start menu in the “My Movies” folder to add these – online movies are added
with a folder for “My Movies” to search on playback. When pressing “Watch” in “My Movies”
on an online stored movie, “My Movies” search the given folder for movies compatible with
the current environment, first it looks for DVD movies stored within a VIDEO_TS folder,
secondly is looks for DVD iso image files*, and third for other movie files. This means that if
you put in both a VIDEO_TS folder and a movie file compatible with the extender into the
folder, “My Movies” will playback the DVD on the main Media Center box, and it the
compatible movie file on the extenders – this way you can watch full quality DVD’s on your
main Media Center box, while you can still watch them in encoded format on the extenders.
If you only store a DVD as a VIDEO_TS folder, or iso image file* in the folder, “My Movies” will
give you a message that no compatible video files were found when you try to playback the
movie on the extender. If you store a file type that could be compatible with the extender,
“My Movies” cannot see if the contents of the file are compatible with the extender, and it will
try to playback the file – if the file is unsupported, your Media Center extender will give you a
video error.
* Iso images files require Daemon Tools to be installed for “My Movies” to mount them.
Installing for multiple Media Center boxes
Installing “My Movies” on multiple Media Center boxes, accessing the same “My Movies”
database basically gives you the same options as the Media Center extender setup, without
the limitations – although the setup and installation on the machines are more demanding,
this goes for not only “My Movies”, but also the general Media Center machine, to make sure
all machines can access the same music library, photo library, recorded tv and so on.
The gain is that all of the boxes will be able to play all types of movies, with no limitations –
you can play both online DVD’s as VIDEO_TS folders or iso image files*, divx files and generally
all videos supported by Microsoft Media Center. Off cause this is also a more expansive
solution, but if you chose a heavy configured machine for your main use, and light configured
machines for secondary use, a solution like this can be achieved for not that much more than
an extender setup.
* Iso images files require Daemon Tools to be installed for “My Movies” to mount them.
Installing
For a multiple Media Center machine setup to work, “My Movies” needs to be installed on all
Media Center boxes that should be able to access “My Movies”, and all of these should be
pointed to the same location for database and image folders. The easiest way to achieve this is
to first install “My Movies” on each Media Center box on a local drive, as the installer will
register the ActiveX object running the “My Movies” interface onto a trusted path – make sure
that the “My Movies” version installed are the same for each box.
After installing, you must choose which of the machines you installed to that should act as
server and which should act as clients – both server and clients will have the same playback
options. The server does not necessarily have to be a Media Center machine; it can simply be a
file server to store the database on.
The machine chosen to run as server much have the database stored on an UNC path
(\\server\share\folder) that all machines has access to – this requires that all boxes can access
this UNC path, without being prompted for username and password – this could be done by
having the same user on all boxes, and giving these accounts the same password, or by simply
removing password protection on the share (be sure that your network is firewall protected).
Remember that the machine itself can also access its own shares with UNC paths, to make sure
that the path is alike for all boxes.
If you open from the Windows control panel open the “Folder Options” entry and press the
“View” pane and uncheck the “Use simple file sharing” entry, an “x$” (where x is the drive
letter) share is automatically created for all your disc drives in “My Computer”.
When you have installed “My Movies” onto to all computers, both clients and server, and you
have made sure that all client machines can access the installation path (and therefore the
database) of the server machine, each of the clients should be pointed to the data on the
server. This is done by opening the “Edit collection” program on each of the client machines
(the program can be found in your Windows Start menu, under “All programs”, and “My
Movies”), click the entry “File”, “Database”, “Open” option from the top menu, and browse to
the database (mymovies.mdb) of your server machine, which is located in the directory you
installed “My Movies” to.
From now on, all “My Movies” installations are pointed to the server path, and use the
database and image directories from this path.
Notice that this way of installing “My Movies” to more machines can also be used to install
“My Movies” on a single Media Center box, and have another machine (that does not have to
be a Media Center machine) for managing your collection from the “Edit collection” program.
Also notice that previous versions of “My Movies” required registry editing to set up a multiple
zone environment, which is no longer needed, and should not be done.
Adding Movies
The importing thing when adding online movies to your collection is that they are added to a
path where all of the Media Center boxes have access to the same exact path – therefore
choosing an UNC path is the easiest. Again, remember that the machine itself can also access
its own shares with UNC paths, to make sure that the path is alike for all boxes. Offline movies
are discs located on discs, instead of online on your computer hard drives, and are therefore
handled alike for all boxes – you will simply be asked to insert the correct disc.
When adding movies to your movie collection, you use the “Edit collection” program found in
your Windows Start menu in the “My Movies” folder to add these – online movies are added
with a folder for “My Movies” to search on playback. When pressing “Watch” in “My Movies”
on an online stored movie, “My Movies” search the given folder for movies compatible with
the current environment, first it looks for DVD movies stored within a VIDEO_TS folder,
secondly is looks for DVD iso image files*, and third for other movie files.