Sunday, December 07, 2008

Getting closer to "Media Jukebox" Nirvana

By non-geek/media-phile standards i have alot of... media. In some ways i am a bit of a junkie (i constantly max out my measly little internet connection trying to download podcasts [fuh-get-bout video podcasts]) with lots of music videos, movies, music, and misc videos. The advent of MP3s and DivX was a blessing and media related improvements such as FLAC and x264 along with things like 1.5terabyte hard drives its all quite mind boggling (my *first* foray into this kinda of stuff was a groundbreaking attempt [well for me, hey this was 1995] to record a white zombie song to my hard drive which resulted in a 40mb wav file that took up more than half of my 60mb hard drive).

In some cases i find myself behind the tech curve (i still don't get things like face book) but in other respects i find myself ahead of the tech curve (well ahead of the masses, there are still plenty of media gurus light years ahead of me), a "Media Jukebox" is one of those things I consider myself to be ahead of the masses on but a bit behind the tech-crowd. In my "old" age i have become less interested in tinkering (which is a bit depressing) and just want the stuff to work, my way; a media jukebox is a good example. I am not interested in recording from the TV onto my computer (ah la TiVo) i will rely on bittorrent for that i just want something that i can browse through my collection, or let others browse through my collection easily, i mean really easily. While (IMHO) there is no substitute for winamp for music it is not something that you can operate easily without a mouse not to mention sitting on your couch while looking at the TV. For me the all-most-there solution is a media jukebox that i can control with a RF (ie WiFi) tablet pc like remote. Yes yes there are tablet pc like remotes out there but these setups usually cost thousands of dollars and are totally proprietary, not what i am looking for.

I had been looking over many many different "media jukebox" (commonly called "media center" but i like "media jukebox" better) software packages starting with the one that comes with windows (which will certainly help popularize the concept). Unfortunately most of the reviews etc that i have found focus on PVR/DVR features and not on compatibility etc (i find that usability of most of them is pretty straight forward, but after using in depth features of programs like winamp i guess i would). I have recently re-tried Media Portal, i had tried this once before but for some reason (which i don't remember) it didn't hook me (my guess is stability or too much tinkering since it is still in RC phase). Then there was Xbox Media Center (XBMC) which *looked* great but at the time it was only for, xboxes (and i have to admit that it is an ingenious way to use an old xbox albeit takes more tinkering than i want to bother with plus i am not a game console kinda guy so i don't have an old xbox lying around to hack). Now Media Portal seems more stable and XBMC has been ported to windows (and Linux!). Some of the nice features of these programs is that they can read the album art and ID3 info from the music files (you can embed pictures in music files, called album art) and they can parse file names (like from movies and music videos) and automatically download information about the videos by web scraping places like IMDB and Mtv; all very nice features when you have hundreds (or thousands) of files!

Another note, Opera v10 (alpha) just came house (yeah!!!!!!) and it now has a feature that firefox along with some other programs have had, auto-update, and i don't mean just checking to see if there is a update downloading that file and then making you install-update it, i mean something that just downloads the little updated bits and then updates the program and then lets you keep going (maybe with a program restart in there somewhere). Something like this is really missed in media portal which isn't totally stable yet. Something like an auto-update feature and super efficient (ie can run on minimal hardware) would be about what i need for my folks (hi Mom hi Dad), to be able to put all their music/movies/etc in an easy to use interface that they could control with nothing more than a remote while looking at their TV would be... ideal.