Windows Media Center is one of the best and most underrated products produced by Microsoft. As a cord-cutter, I use it as my TV guide, DVR and a whole lot more. In the last few months, I’ve attempted to find three key plug-ins. Not one exists. It seems developers interests lie elsewhere these days. So is this a nail in WMC’s coffin. I hope not.

Is Windows Media Center Alive?

Mark Anderson - Managing Editor | HomeToys

For those of you who aren’t aware of Windows Media center, it’s an application that is part of Windows 7 Home Premium and above. It’s actually been around since XP. Key features include:

  • Watch Live TV (up to 4 tuners)
  • DVR
  • Recorded TV archive with Windows Home Server
  • Electronic Program Guide (EPG)
  • Music Libraries
  • Video Libraries
  • Plug-in architecture (e.g. Netflix, weather, etc.)
  • Supports extenders (remote viewers)

As a cord cutter (see: A Year Without Cable), I use it with four tuners (SiliconDust’s HOmeRunHD) as my main set-top box and DVR, and it works fantastically: better than any cable DVR I ever had. I use the Netflix plug-in for streaming Netflix content, which (apart from its terrible TV series episode navigation) works extremely well.

 

MIA Plug-ins

Over the last few months, I’ve started using three streaming technologies that seem to be ideal candidates for WMC plug-ins but couldn’t be found anywhere. The three in question are HuluPlus, UltraViolet and Amazon Prime. These are available on many Smart TV’s and DVD’s, so why aren’t they available as WMC plug-ins? I love my Pioneer Kuro plasma, so there’s no way I’m replacing that with an inferior LCD/LED just because it’s not a SmartTV. I have two Blu-ray players that have Netflix and a bunch of other stuff, so I’m not going to throw those away either. Each of these content providers dos provide a way to get this content on the WMC box but none is ideal, especially if you use media extenders.

 

HuluPlus

Hulu has an application called Hulu Desktop. It’s a nice app, but it’s not a plug-in. It uses the WMC remote, so it’s a pretty good 10 foot user experience. There’s is a WMC plug-in on the market that launches Hulu Desktop from within WMC. It has one major flaw though: it quits WMC so it stops my DVR from recording in the background. WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) on that would be zero.  I’ve never tried, but you could conceivably minimize WMC and run Hulu Desktop at the same time, but switching apps and minimizing apps without a keyboard and/or mouse is a real pain and frankly, I don’t want my media center to behave like a PC.

 

Amazon Prime

I’ve been a prime member for years and can’t recommend it highly enough. Getting free streaming of their on-demand content is a great bonus of their membership. Amazon has an unbox app, but that will only play downloaded movies. Most of their HD content needs to be streamed, so that means firing up a browser. Even with a built-for-TV browser such as Kylo, it’s still a real pain.

 

UltraViolet

Being a new kid on the block and trying to become the standard for digital content in the cloud, UltraViolet needs to be ubiquitous. Having to launch a browser and login is not a satisfactory experience. I’m surprised they didn’t commission someone to build a plug-in

 

Content Aggregators to the Rescue

Mark Anderson

There are solutions to be found for some of this content via content aggregators such as SecondRun and PlayOn, but my question is why aren’t these big name content providers building plug-ins for WMC? Is the SmartTV market a bigger market? Are enticements to build plug-ins for consumer equipment manufactures more profitable than the revenue from WMC users?

If there are any former WMC plug-in developers out there, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Mark Anderson is a long-time home theater enthusiast and lives on the bleeding edge of Home Automation. He will be covering everything related to Home Automation and AV. He is also a regular contributor to avystemsmag.com, where he covers commercial AV and automation.Please welcome Mark to the HomeToys team.


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