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Guide: Creating custom launch buttons (for external players) in Vista Media Center

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
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We have all been there: we have our entire movie collection (ISO files) cataloged and wishing we could launch our Blu-Ray players with our remote controls and use it like we use VMC. Or at least get it to the point where non-technical people (girlfriends, wives, children) can use it and not require a thorough orientation.
The dilemma remains, how to integrate HD playback in VMC?
TMT is the only program to have integration in VMC that I know of. PowerDVD can be launched via 'My Movies' or via Windows itself. The simplest way is to use Windows. Click on Start Menu and Choose Default Programs. Go into the list and select your program from the drop-down list for Blu-Ray and/or HD-DVD and Windows will do the work for you.

A few days ago I came across this fantastic program : MC Menu Mender. This allows users to customize the VMC menu as they wish. Here's the link to the original post.
This little gem of a program allows users to modify and create their own buttons and launch external programs. So I played around with it and here's the result.

Goal: To be the consummate couch potato.

Requirements: Windows Vista Media Center, PowerDVD (or any other program), Daemon Tools (or any image mounting program), RC6 USB Remote Control for MC, Media Browser (or My Movies), MC Menu Mender, Music Browser (Optional).
Media Browser is a great program to read meta-data and display it in VMC.
Music Browser allows VMC music to be browsed folder-wise and relieves us of the ‘Album Artist’ tag preferred by MS.

MC Menu Mender: A great program to change and customize Vista Media Center as you wish. It doesn’t work in Windows 7 yet, however I believe the programmer is currently working on something for Win 7.

Remote Control: An RC6 remote control as pictured. The one on the left is by MS (works in Win XP Pro and Vista) and the other one is by Anyware (works only on Vista). An irTrans or Imon system will not work since they do not work with PowerDVD. RC6 remotes are the only ones that work natively with PowerDVD. It may be possible to use AutoHotKey to make others work though.

Assumption: The system is currently in use as a HD HTPC and all the relevant programs are installed; i.e. an image mounter (Daemon Tools/Virtual Clone Drive), BD/HD-DVD player (PowerDVD/TMT/WinDVD) etc. This procedure has only been tested and implemented with PowerDVD but there is no reason why it shouldn’t work with any other program.

The flow of command:
Media Center => Media Browser => Daemon Tools => Mount ISO.
Media Center => PowerDVD => Play

Ok, first thing to do is to create a Restore Point. That way if something goes wrong in Menu Mender, you can come back in time. It did happen to me since I checked a ‘Close’ button on one of the icons and deleted it from MC. I used System Restore to get it back.
Note: You cannot delete any official icons of MC, you can only choose to not display it by clearing a check box next to the icon. This will cause MC to not display the icon. You can only delete an icon added by you. I mistakenly deleted the Media Browser icon and couldn’t get it back. In any case System Restore did the trick.

So here goes:

Install Media Browser and Music Browser (if you wish). Open VMC and navigate to Media Browser and check to see if it works correctly. Run its settings and configure it to mount ‘iso’ files using the program of your choice. My Movies does this automatically.
Install MC Menu Mender and run the program.
At the top left in the window, click on ‘New Custom Strip’ (button encircled).

This creates a Custom Line in the Media Center and is called ‘Custom Menu’ by default.
Move your cursor over the strip and a few options come up. There are arrows on either side to move it up and down, a check box with a Tick Mark, a cross sign (to remove the item) and one button to the right of the item name. Clicking on this button allows you to rename the item to whatever you choose.

Now click on the circled button in the top left corner (second), this button creates a new entry point in the MC.

A window opens up called as Entry Point Properties. It is here where you define and link the external program that you wish to open through MC.

Browse to the program that you wish to launch and give it a custom name in ‘Title’. In my case I wanted to launch ‘PowerDVD 7’ for HD-DVD and ‘PowerDVD 8’ for Blu-Ray. So I created two buttons each linked to the respective programs. Fill the rest as shown. At the bottom, make sure to check the two boxes. This allows you to close the external program by clicking the ‘Back’ button on the MC remote.

After filling the information, click ‘OK’. Clicking ‘OK’ creates the Entry Point and adds it to the list which opens up automatically.

Now, click & drag the new icon to the Custom Menu. As soon as you start to click and drag the Custom Menu will light up with a green ‘+’ sign below it. This indicates that an entry point may be placed there. Create all the entry points you wish to and add them to the custom strip. After which it should look something like this.

Note: I have added ‘Media Browser’ and ‘Music Browser’ points here too and renamed them as ‘MOVIES’ and ‘MUSIC’ respectively. Now save it and close the program.
Start Media Center. If everything went well you should be able to see the new buttons you created.

Using the remote control, test all the buttons. When ‘Blu-Ray’ is clicked, MC minimizes itself and launches PowerDVD 8. Click settings in PowerDVD and check the box ‘Run at full screen’.

Now click on the back button, this should close the program and maximize Media Center. Click on HD-DVD and the same procedure should take place and now PowerDVD 7 should open up. Click settings and check the box ‘Run full screen’.

Click on Movies (Media Browser). I have listed my collection as DVD, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.

Using the remote control’s arrow keys, select Blu-Ray.

Select the movie and click on ‘Play’. If Media Browser encounters a DVD, clicking ‘Play’ will play the DVD (using VMC), however when an ‘iso’ file is encountered, it will simply mount the image according to the settings in Media Browser.

Once the file is mounted, go back to the main screen of MC (press the 'Green' button) and click on ‘Blu-Ray’ to launch PowerDVD 8. VMC minimizes itself and PowerDVD is launched.

Click ‘Play’ on the Remote Control and it will start playing. PowerDVD will open in a normal window but as soon as the movie starts it will maximize itself to run full screen.

Grab a beer, sit back, relax and enjoy the show!
post #2 of 12
God bless you! I just received the bulk of my components for a new HTPC build and you are set up exactly the way I have it planned. I am waiting on my LG-GCL combo drive to arrive, and when you say version "7" for hd-dvd what is the actual software version? Same question on Blu-ray playback with version "8". I love Media Browser but I am still a rookie at how to configure. What are you using for regular dvd?

Thanks for a very helpful step by step tutorial to ensure waf!
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
The GGC-H20L drive comes with a OEM version of PowerDVD 7 which plays both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Somewhere on here there is a thread about this software player. Some people downloaded a patch from Cyberlink's website which upgraded this player to a Full Retail version.
My current setup works fine and so I haven't tried it yet. I just installed Win7 RC and I might try the OEM in there. A single program is definitely more convenient.

Media Browser: It is a read-only program, meaning it can read meta-data if it is present. It works in conjunction with other meta-data grabbers (Salami's Movie Organizer/TV Scout etc.), it will even work with My Movies data if you have it.
I used to have My Movies but after trying Media Browser I stopped using it.
In MB settings you can set different folders to monitor. Since my collection spans multiple drives, I manually added the folders. You can make subdivisions; viz, DVD, Blu-Ray etc. and assign multiple folders to each.

Regular DVDs play in Media Center without any help. Well, your ripped DVDs have to be in 'VIDEO_TS' format, same as on the actual disc itself.
post #4 of 12
why go through all this trouble when mediabrowser can be configured to use external players?
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by mkedda View Post

why go through all this trouble when mediabrowser can be configured to use external players?

[1] The HD movie collection is stored as ISO files, original format, no remux.
[2] PowerDVD or any HD player will not play ISO format.
[3] Media Browser is being used; to mount the image file.

It seems like a lot of trouble because these are detailed instructions. If you take the trouble to go through them, you will see it takes less than 10 mins to implement. And it is a one-time setup. It doesn't have to be done ever again.

Maybe we are in a minority, but there are users out there who don't use MKV (as great as it is) or other formats for HD. This is for their benefit and use.
post #6 of 12
check out the wiki on mediabrowser. you dont need to do all the setup u have listed. all u need to do is setup external players. hd dvd and bluray have seperate options. it is more seamless to use the external player option
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
You still don't get it, do you?
My entire BD & HD-DVD collection is in ISO format.
Tell me, which external player would you use to play an ISO file?
I use MB to launch Daemon Tools (external player) to mount my ISOs. Then what?

Your suggestion (or desperate need for me to do it your way) only makes sense if you have a player that can directly play your collection. Launching an MKV player for a MKV file / playing DVDs within Media Center is possible because the software player supports playback of these files.
But I can't do that with ISO files.

I have it setup already and working just fine the way I want it. I have done it on 3 HTPCs with nary a problem.

Just because it is not right for you, doesn't mean it is wrong. If you can't see how simple this is, I'm not going to waste my time explaining it.
I put it up for the few minority who might be interested. I am certainly not going to shove it down their throats as the only way to do it.
post #8 of 12
i am just trying to help and this will be my last post to your thread.
i am not using a player to launch isos. media browser does that. but, media browser is also smart enough to know what media type you have.

You use media browser correctly. media browser will mount the ISO for you. your elaborate setup can be reduced to just this.

1.) install media browser
2.) install daemon tools
3.) configure external players below.

This feature allows the use of external players for certain types of content instead of using the built in Media Center player. The following XML replaces the section in the file C:\\ProgramData\\MediaBrowser\\MediaBrowserXml.config:



The block is repeated for each type you want to configure.

Valid MediaTypes are

TS (for m2ts and ts files)
PlayList (for multi-part movies)
This will not have any affect when running on extenders.

Retrieved from "http://www.mediabrowser.tv/wiki/index.php/Configuring_External_Players"
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
Ok, since you have been nice (not being sarcastic) and gone through the trouble to write out detailed explanations, I'll try to do the same.

First of all, I should have mentioned that before installing any new thing on my PCs, I read/scan through all documentation that is available. In this case I knew about the external players and I had indeed set it up that way. In fact one of the main reasons I first installed MB was because I saw the list of external players in the Wiki. I was already using My Movies for meta-data; didn't want to mess with anything new, but I did it for the external launch capability.

So here's what happened: Installed it, set it up to launch PDVDs 7 & 8 for BD & HD. Browse to my collection, select a movie and click Play. Only thing that happens is that it mounts the image file.

This is the main difference that you do not seem to grasp.

My collection is backed up as ISO files. MB doesn't care/know what is in the ISO file, it simply uses the appropriate software to open the ISO. And I realized what's going on. Once the ISO is opened, MB is no longer involved in the process.

When you set up MB to play Blu-Ray in the external player settings, it looks for the BD folder structure. If the BD folder structure is not present it will not launch the BD player. When you use MB to browse to any movie in your collection, and you click play, it checks the contents; if it sees DVD folder structure it will play the DVD, if it sees ISO it will mount it, if it sees BD folder structure it will launch BD player (if its set up).

So I tried this (even though I knew its not going to work):

I ripped one BD in its original folder format and not as an ISO. Now when I click play, MB launches PDVD. However, its of no use to me since PDVD doesn't play BD folders from the hard drive.

After doing all this I knew that MB can launch PDVD if it sees the BD folders but it will open up and simply sit there and not play the file.

So I needed a way to launch PDVD after the image has been mounted. And MC Menu Mender fit the bill perfectly. I couldn't believe how easy it was to set it up and to use it. Of course using MB to launch is easier but it only works if the collection is in the right format and have a player capable of playing the format.

I'm guessing that you don't have these formats and are playing MKV or some other format.

And you seem to think, this is time consuming and elaborate and complicated when it is not. It takes less than 10 mins to set up (only once) and a few seconds to operate. I don't think it is elaborate to sit on my couch and use the remote to press 4 extra clicks. But that's just me.

And as I said my friend, what is right for you may not be right for everyone and while this is good for me, it may not be for everyone else.
post #10 of 12
No offense, but like you said, you want a process that requires the least amount of user intervention (for the benefit of non-tech ppl) when you launch a movie from MediaBrowser. Right now your process is.....

Media Center => Media Browser => Daemon Tools => Mount ISO.
Media Center => PowerDVD => Play

So after MediaBrowser mounts the BR/HDDVD iso, can't you just configure AutoPlay to launch PDVD to play the movie automatically? This eliminates the need to press extra buttons to get back to the MCE menu and to start the external player. Also, when you exit PDVD, you will be back at the movie details screeen in MediaBrowser rather than the MCE main menu.

Just a suggestion.

PS - thanx for the link to the mce mender, this is something I've been looking for.
post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by N3W813 View Post

Also, when you exit PDVD, you will be back at the movie details screeen in MediaBrowser rather than the MCE main menu.

Just a suggestion.

PS - thanx for the link to the mce mender, this is something I've been looking for.

I used to do that earlier and then I disabled it. Now it doesn't seem to work. In any case I like this better for now. Also, there would be no way of closing PDVD with a remote after you are done. Would have to create another HotKey code and I am tired of doing that for every minor thing.
The created buttons are in Media Center's main screen; hence the few extra clicks: have to click to go back from movie data to the main screen. Actually don't even have to do that; in VMC clicking the Green (MC) button brings up the main screen anyway.
And then click once to launch PDVD and MC minimizes automatically. After using it, simply click the back button on the remote and it will close PDVD and Media Center main screen comes up.
btw: all the clicks are on the remote.
I'll use it this way until a new method (that works) comes up. I don't want to spend more money on more software.
post #12 of 12

I am just researching for my future HTPC and media server.

I would like to rip DVDs and BDs to a server and then use a HTPC with 7MC, MB, and an external player for playback. My goal is to have the most seamless and transparent playback of the ripped movies without sacrificing video or audio quality. I have not decided if I will maintain the original disc structure or just rip the main movie (along with audio and subtitles). I plan to either use unRaid or Windows Server (WHS or Server 2003) as the media server.

I do want to retain the original video and audio quality, so no compression.

For SD DVDs:
01. Rip as VOB(s) in VIDEO_TS folder. Is this the best method for easiest and most transparent playback in 7MC & MB?
02. Is there any benefits to ripping the VOBs as 1024KB files or just as one large VOB as far as jitter is concerned?

For BDs:
01. Is it recommended I rip as folder structure or MKV?
02. With MKV, can I retain original video and audio quality, especially the HD audio tracks?
03. MakeMKV is mentioned, but I don't think it does HD audio? What should I use if MKV is the recommended rip method?
04. Are there any external players that can be configured to play BD folders?

Hope this was not too many questions. Although ISO is neat (one file), the mounting of a daemon does not sound to seamless and so I think I will stay away from ISOs.
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