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My Movies - Alternative to Windows Media Center Options · View
binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 10:09:51 AM

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Hi all,

Our post on Windows Media Center being unavailable in Windows 10 where we recommend users of Windows Media Center to continue to use Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 have naturally caused a lot of feedback, and many saw it as a statement from our side that we were not open to looking at alternatives - we can assure you that this is not the case, and therefore we feel that it is time for a more in-dept topic for those interested in discussing alternatives.

In this topic, we would like to initially give our thoughts on alternatives for My Movies users in the long run, and then we would like your inputs.

Be aware that My Movies is much more than our Windows Media Center application - our server solution and mobile applications is used by thousands of users who never heard or even considered Windows Media Center an option for them. This topic however is not a discussion on the future of My Movies, but the future of the offering My Movies have on Windows Media Center - we know that for some of you, My Movies for Windows Media Center IS My Movies, but that is today not the case.

It is our belief that many of our users are not considering the limitations of the alternative requests that have been on the table, and those limitations are quite important.

We are naturally open to bringing alternatives - we just would like a solution where we can provide what we would like to provide.

Overall, many of the users of My Movies are using disc based media, and disc based media is still by far the easiest to handle automated, without the user having to spend several hours copying content in each week. Disc based media is along with lossless MKV files the ONLY playback option where you can retain full playback quality - it is our belief that our users are for the majority users who care about the quality, both about the quality of their meta-data, but just as much the quality of the media played. The solution we would like to provide is based on users having at least one primary zone in the house where you can rely on the full and not compromised quality of both video and audio - there can then be a number of alternative zones that serves content in a lower quality.

There is no doubt that many people see disc based media as a thing of yesterday - fact just is that the quality in relation to bitrates and audio quality that you can get on disc based media is unmatched by any streaming service, and unmatched by media converted to any other format than a lossless MKV. Blu-ray 4K is coming later this year, and while we do not have any knowledge about it, our hope is that it again puts some focus on quality - 4K is not just 4K, just like 1080P is not just 1080P - bitrates and audio tracks Counts a lot. It is naturally also not yet known weather Blu-ray 4K can even be backed up to storage, but this is another story.

This setup we believe that we cover today by letting users use original media, or alternatively, use our video converter to create lossless MKV files. The video converter can then be used to serve content to alternative zones that does not support these types of media - examples of that are ChromeCast devices playing converted MP4 files through our apps for iPhone, iPad or Android.

The above setup is something that we at least for our primary offer is not willing to compromise on.

Below, we would like to cover some considerations of alternative models to Windows Media Center we have had, and which limitations they face.

Windows Modern UI application

It has been considered to put some additional focus on our Windows 8.1 application, and this, or a new Windows Modern application appears to be a request made by many. The limitation here is that you are not free to do what we need in such application - it operates in a "Sandbox" that it cannot break out of.

The first and main concern is that we cannot launch other applications from this sandbox, and we therefore cannot launch external players such as PowerDVD, MPC or similar. This is from what we know still the case, and not something that is likely to change.

Any playback on such application is limited specifically to media that the modern Windows implementation supports - this currently does not even include lossless MKV files. The MKV files is said to be supported in Windows 10, but question is if it includes all stuff, including multiple audio tracks, and especially multiple subtitle tracks and selection of audio and subtitle tracks.

At the time our Windows 8.1 application was developed, we on top of that were not even allowed to access an external share without users manually browsing it through a network browsing dialog - it does not make sense to have to browse the network share on a NAS each time you want to play something. Without having checked in dept, we believe that this limitation likely is no longer there, and have been addressed.

This limits media playback on such application to a streaming model, where a file is served over a HTTP protocol, which our Windows 8.1 application already supports. Potentially, with Windows 10, it may become an option to play lossless MKVs without streaming, but still some unanswered questions on that.

Windows Desktop application

This is without a doubt what can bring us closest to what we have on Windows Media Center, and it is also the strongest topic in our considerations.

The concerns we have currently on this topic is that we have seen ArcSoft deprecate their TotalMedia Theatre product - we are unaware of the cause, but the way it was done indicates something that involved legal concerns or licensing concerns.

Our application on Windows Media Center supports both TMT and PowerDVD (yes, PowerDVD 15 coming soon), but with TMT the integration have been much nicer than it is with PowerDVD. On top of that, we had a good contact at ArcSoft, something we have never been able to get at Cyberlink, who appear to be much more closed in that relation.

If we are to develop a separate Windows Desktop application, it naturally includes a lot of development hours, and therefore a high cost - this we can handle, but it naturally requires that the cost can be earned back in over time, and without knowing the future of PowerDVD, including the unknown if Blu-ray 4K will be able to be backed up to storage, and if Windows based players will even be available for Blu-ray 4K, it adds a lot for us to consider.

Our take on a Windows Desktop application have so far also been that we see My Movies as a part of something bigger - My Movies focuses on movies, and as part of Windows Media Center, it was part of a full solution including tv, dvr, music, pictures and more. If we decide on doing a Windows Desktop application, it would continue to focus on just movies - we are not at all considering more than this - there are good alternatives to Windows Media Center on the market, such as XBMC, Media Portal, JRiver Media Center and others, and we see it much more likely for us to create add-ons to something else rather than starting developing something we for sure do not have resouces for, such as a full Media Center product.

Kodi/XBMC add-on

My Movies already stores NFO files for Kodi, our Android application have a remote control and remote launch option for Kodi, something which is natural to also consider for our iPhone & iPad applications. There are however several limitations to just storing NFO's for Kodi, including keeping track of watched, but also the fact that while we over Kodi's APIs can ask it to add titles added to the library, we cannot ask it to refresh a single title when you make changes in the data.

An actual add-on for application Kodi is something that naturally is in our considerations - we believe that Kodi is a great product, although we also believe that it over complicated for a daily use front-end interface, but that is another topic.

We have two main concerns for a Kodi add-on, the first being that many users run Kodi with another interface (skin) than the default one - we believe that following the look and feel of the environment we are in is of very high importance, and this can be very difficult to accomplish with an add-on for a skin-able interface.

The second concern we have is that these plug-ins are script based, and are likely to restrict us from doing what we need to do - this however is speculation, as we need to investigate this deeper. On Windows Media Center, we have a full .NET programming language behind it, and our limitations are related only to the parts Windows Media Center itself implements, and the user interface restrictions, but not to what we are able to do in the background.

Hardware Media Players

Today, My Movies stores meta-data for several media players, and we have an unreleased interface for Dune players that we are also after Dune firmware changes going to finalize and make available.

However, the Dune players are hardware wise slow, and the interface we have unreleased is based on an HTML model in a slow browser - it is a great functionality for the users of Dune players, but a replacement of My Movies in Windows Media Center, it is not.

There are new players entering the market, one being Zappitis new 4K player, and developing an interface for one of these players are also a consideration.

Fact however is that no media players today have full disc playback and we are left to main movie playback on them.

Xbox One

An application for Xbox One will have the same limitations as a Windows Modern UI application.



Questions

We hope that you guys follow the considerations above, and why we do not feel that the ideal alternative

Question 1

The first question we have to you are in relation to disc based titles. Some users of disc based titles prefer these not only due to the quality, but also due to the extra material on the discs.

Is extra material important to you, or would a lossless main movie MKV file or individual TV Serie episode MKVs be enough for you, if you can be sure that the quality is the exact same as the original disc, including audio tracks, and forced subtitles appear as they should and similar?

Question 2

The second question is weather you use My Movies for Windows Media Center with the purpose of movies alone, or if you use My Movies in Windows Media Center as it is part of the bigger picture with live tv, dvr, music and more.

In other words - would a separate My Movies application for Windows even be interesting for you, if focused entirely on what My Movies brings to Windows Media Center today?

Question 3

The third question is if we are correct when saying that full quality playback is a requirement for our users?

Lossless, as in no loss of quality in both picture and audio means that copying content to MP4/M4V (H.264) files, which are supported by almost all environments is a no-go - no matter the quality settings, there are going to be a degrade of quality.

High quality video can be accomplished in converted video, either pre-converted like we do with our video converter, or on-the-fly converted which several other applications do, and question is if this is enough for you?

Is playback of non-lossless video, in as high quality as it gets an option for you, also in your primary playback zone?


Ending Topic

Hopefully, you find this topic a little more open to the future than the sound of our prior topic on the future of Windows Media Center - the aim of that topic was not to say that we would never move forward - the aim was to inform users of Windows Media Center of their options.

Let the discussions begin.

Best regards,

Brian Binnerup
My Movies

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clowg
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 10:37:54 AM
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One quick point. I'd much rather consider Plex than Kodi as a replacement for WMC. It has a stable client/server architecture with clients for every device known to man.
binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 10:47:24 AM

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clowg wrote:
One quick point. I'd much rather consider Plex than Kodi as a replacement for WMC. It has a stable client/server architecture with clients for every device known to man.


Plex is a great product indeed, and we have for a long time wanted to add Plex to the softwares we could operate as a data management back-end for, but while Kodi is open for reading data from NFO files, Plex is closed land in that area.

Should Plex reconsider that approach, we would certainly open up storing data for Plex, but for now, any such development for Plex would be unofficial directly into a database - something that will break with any change from Plex' side, and therefore not a good solution.

Plex as a product is from our perspective, for the majority of My Movies users not the good alternative - Plex is based mainly on a streaming/transcoding model where you play media that is run through an on-the-fly conversion process unless the media is pre-converted to MP4/H.264.

Plex does not from our knowledge support VIDEO_TS folders, ISO files and BDMV folders, which many My Movies users base their media on.

For the quick playback on secondary zones, Plex is great, but we do not see it as the ideal solution for a primary playback zone where full uncompromized quality is key.

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dynamitleo
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 11:35:51 AM
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Can we expect any love for us Mac mini medie center users?
binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 11:44:03 AM

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dynamitleo wrote:
Can we expect any love for us Mac mini medie center users?


We do not see our Mac application as a Media Center application, and we do not plan any Media Center alike software for Mac.

Our Mac users can store meta-data for Kodi from the Mac application.

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smith_bob
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 11:52:11 AM
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Question 1
I store lossless mkv's and use the new generic movie meta-data, reason: I don't like the descriptions from the back of the Blu-Ray; and I don't particularly like Blu-Ray covers personally prefer the posters (but this is a personal choice).

Question 2
I only use Windows Media Center for My Movies.

Question 3
Full quality playback is a requirement - yes.

Finally, I would like to add that My Movies networking feature is amazing; any change on the "server" is instantly updated to all other computers connected to that server.
Extra devices such as Xbox one would not be of interest to me.
Other features in My Movies I particularly like are: resume movie; local trailers; personal sort of titles; which other movies actors have been in.
stepsideways
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 11:59:04 AM
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Thanks for the great article, it was interesting reading, my answers;

Answer 1
At the moment I hold my library as folders with vobs to maintain the original features, subtitle options etc, but am considering moving over to MKV's

Answer 2
I used to use WMC for everything it had to offer, since I kept having trouble with guide listings for satellite I gave up and now just use it as a launcher for MM

Answer 3
For me absolutely correct, I use the TMT player through an AV system and the player must send the native uncompressed audio etc for the AV system to decode


Having had the pain of just getting a modern UI app just to talk to a database I can see why it would be tricky, I haven't looked at the dev material for windows 10 but I would assume/hope that if they want modern ui to replace desktop they would have improved the developer experience!

gilles2
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 12:14:07 PM

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Question 1
I usually don't use additional features on the discs. Need of course still to manage the option for the various languages and sub-titles available on the disc.

Question 2
I only use WMC for Movies, being discs or Personal Family movies

Question 3
Full quality playback is a requirement
binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 2:19:30 PM

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smith_bob wrote:
Finally, I would like to add that My Movies networking feature is amazing; any change on the "server" is instantly updated to all other computers connected to that server.


This can potentially be accomplished also by changing the Windows software in general to be in real-time sync with the online service, which would have other benefits as well.

However it would mean one would be unable to get changes down if not connected to the internet.

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bairman
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 2:52:18 PM

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Answer 1:
All of my DVDs are ripped and stored on network shares. Extra material is not important to me, and in the extremely rare and unlikely scenario where I might want to watch bonus features, I'd just get out the disc(s) and use my DVD player.

Answer 2:
I use Windows Media Center for music, live TV and DVR in addition to My Movies for movies and TV shows. I would be interested in a standalone My Movies application, but it wouldn't necessarily have to support anything beyond movies and TV shows. The other functions would be "nice to have" but not a dealbreaker.

Answer 3:
Full quality playback is absolutely a requirement. I currently use a combination of full disc VIDEO_TS folders, movie-only VIDEO_TS folders, and lossless MKVs. My goal is to eventually be 100% lossless MKVs.
forest
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 4:34:09 PM
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Question 1: Extra material is not important to me.

Question 2: Prefer to have all of my media in an integrated GUI environment. Previously used MyMovies as part of Microsoft's Media Center because of the media integration. Have since moved on to Kodi (XBMC) for several reasons. MS Media Center has become dated and has obviously been deprecated by Microsoft. I don't think that Microsoft has any commercial interest in providing products or services for this market given their expressed strategy of "cloud services" and their continued interest in the commercial software application market. So I think that a separate application for the Microsoft platform would be limiting for MyMovies long term interests. With Kodi I have a much more contemporary look and feel - still using MyMovies as the back end database manager on Windows 2012 R2. I get all the advantages of MyMovies in a mixed platform environment for devices and platforms with an open system that can be easily adapted to my specific requirements.

Question 3: Full quality playback is only important to me for those movies that were 1) recorded in high definition and 2) can be considered notable for their photographic quality. I convert those to lossless MKV or simple play the original recording using my BlueRay Disk player. Most of my video recordings are converted to H264 files and I find that adequate for most video that is commercially obtainable.

Having spent most of my life in commercial software development including consulting on strategies I can appreciate the magnitude of the decisions that you are faced with - and i wish you well. You have developed and delivered a very fine product. It seems to me that you now have to eliminate your dependency on Microsoft's OS and Media Center. I also know that is easier said than done!
Xonus
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1. Extras are not important. I have all my Bds in title-only ISOs now anyway.

2. Currently I only use WMC for BDs and DVDs. I'm only interested in high quality movies on WMC.

3. Yes. High quality is the reason for using WMC. I already have about 40% of my movies in MP4 as well to play on Apple TV in bedrooms etc. I still have 3 HTPCs in the house for high quality play though. I dont think one high quality zone is enough as I'd want it in both the living room and home theater.
binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 6:00:08 PM

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forest wrote:
With Kodi I have a much more contemporary look and feel - still using MyMovies as the back end database manager on Windows 2012 R2. I get all the advantages of MyMovies in a mixed platform environment for devices and platforms with an open system that can be easily adapted to my specific requirements.


Your situation is certainly one that we already are, and will continue to support - a small consideration in this relation is to work on the two specific limitations there are of this integration - first being that watched tracking is not coming back to My Movies when watching something in Kodi, one solution for that could be a plug-in for Kodi just for keeping track of watches, another is to create two way integration with trackt.tv through our online service.

The second situation is the fact that we over the Kodi API can add a title to the library, but we cannot request a refresh of an existing, despite the feature being in the UI if the user does it manually - we are certainly interested in any help from developers familiar with the Kodi project - for various reasons we do not feel it is ideal that we with our lack of knowledge in the project try to do anything on that.

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binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 6:01:45 PM

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Xonus wrote:
I dont think one high quality zone is enough as I'd want it in both the living room and home theater.


One high quality zone was just an example, naturally, you can have more - our take on it is just that there must be minimum the option of having a full quality zone.

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stepsideways
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It might seem off topic but can the desktop client or server addin be set to work it's way through a folder structure converting video_ts into lossless mkv?

It's just that I'm thinking that maybe (post win 10) a hardware player backed onto a collection managed by MM might be an option, I haven't looked at kodi properly but it looks like it might be overkill as I just need a movie jukebox...
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Thanks for the great read though there are some things I don't agree with. First the questions.

Question 1

Until recently I have kept my My Movies content in full disk copies retaining quality. This was mainly to fallow best practices from My Movies setup docs, but was never a requirement for me. The only time the extra content was of value was the occasion my daughter got stuck on watching a movie that just rolled through all the additional material after the movie. I think that has happened twice. Recently I just went ahead and had My Movies convert everything to Lossless MKV files and I am going to see how well that works for me. As of right now I am not even using Media Center to access those new files though. I either need to upgrade to PowerDVD 14 or higher to get them fully working in Media center, or use Plex home Theater.

Question 2

In the beginning I used Media center as a central point for everything, but have gradually move more to Plex for everything but Live TV and the Highest quality Movie experience

Question 3

I have actually been on both sides of this. For several years after a divorce I was using a 32" 720P TV and for the most part anything lost wasn't really that important. It was nice and was clearly visible, but there was negligible loss for that size screen at lower HD. Now I have a 4k TV and what I felt was insignificant before is well dramatic now. The key is I didn't notice it until actually doing comparisons. This is what is driving me to look more closely at lossless MKV files. I suspect that as we transition to 4k or 8k tv it will be more and more dramatic.

Now about Plex Media Server and Plex Home Theater

I wanted to touch base on a few comments about Plex. I have been using My Movies for probably 7-8 years and Plex for maybe 2-3. I use them together because in many ways they compliment each other. I totally get what you are saying about the concept about plex being to Stream/transcode everything, but that is only part of the picture with it. All of the clients I have use allow for plex allow what they call Direct Play or Direct Stream. Those options allow for full lossless quality of video and audio. Direct Play sends the raw file while Direct Stream simply does remux for player compatibility. Plex also allows what they call local asset information. Plex can be configured to use local file data in the Media storage location for meta data. So in that setup it can read data from My Movies metadata files.

As far as data refreshes I don't think that would be automated, but now runs as a scheduled task periodically. It can be force to refresh though through the web frontend.

You are spot on about the ISO, Video_TS and BMVD folder structures not being supported. But in some cases they aren't needed. The Plex application now provides additional content, A user can also load it as additional content and have it show up with the move in the GUI if they use the proper naming conventions.
I really think My Movies and Plex cold be a great complimentary pair. Unfortunately that is not because of what My Movies really excels at which is the database management, but because of all the extra functionality it provides (ex. Pre movie transcoding, ripping, file management)

Also don't forget about Plex Home theater that can do playback of lossless MKV's with HD Audio. Plex Home Theater can be setup in several flavors and in many cases supports absolutely everything with Direct Play.
binnerup
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stepsideways wrote:
It might seem off topic but can the desktop client or server addin be set to work it's way through a folder structure converting video_ts into lossless mkv?


If you have the titles added to your collection, you can add them to the video converter, yes.

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binnerup
Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 10:16:47 PM

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mavrrick wrote:
I totally get what you are saying about the concept about plex being to Stream/transcode everything, but that is only part of the picture with it. All of the clients I have use allow for plex allow what they call Direct Play or Direct Stream. Those options allow for full lossless quality of video and audio. Direct Play sends the raw file while Direct Stream simply does remux for player compatibility. Plex also allows what they call local asset information.


You are correct about this, but this is only the case when you have media that is already natively supported, such as H.264, which again also means media that have already been converted to a lossy format. This is actually the exact same thing that happens when you use My Movies to play stuff on Chromecast - we just only support the direct play formats, where Plex has the on-the-fly transcoding options also - we believe that it for stability reasons are better to prepare the formats up-front, as it avoids frustrations at play time should there be things that won't convert correct.

mavrrick wrote:
Plex can be configured to use local file data in the Media storage location for meta data. So in that setup it can read data from My Movies metadata files.


That I would love some information on - we have at some point tried checking if Plex would read the data embedded into the MP4 files, but it would not - which data is it that it reads specifically, and how do you configure it to do that?

mavrrick wrote:
I really think My Movies and Plex cold be a great complimentary pair. Unfortunately that is not because of what My Movies really excels at which is the database management, but because of all the extra functionality it provides (ex. Pre movie transcoding, ripping, file management)


We actually believe so too - our server solution software package have a lot of automation feature that many users could benefit from, even when using other front-ends - Plex just have been a place where we have not found a way to support it with the data, which really is a key point - any info you can give on that would be appriciated.

Overall, we believe in freedom of choice - we have no problem supporting our users on the usage of Kodi, Plex or other things, which is also why we try to store data for as many platforms as we can.

mavrrick wrote:
Also don't forget about Plex Home theater that can do playback of lossless MKV's with HD Audio. Plex Home Theater can be setup in several flavors and in many cases supports absolutely everything with Direct Play.


Plex Home Theater as the XBMC front-end copy? Absolutely everything in this relation is from what we know still not disc based media, but MKV's, sure - one of the reasons we specifically as users here on lossless MKV's vs. orginal disc media is that our video converter already copies to lossless MKV's, and, supporting "only" lossless MKV's in relation to disc based media opens up for many more possible platforms.

Rasmus is actually currently working on adding a DNLA server to our server solution, again to service pre-converted content, and not with an on-the-fly transcoding - Oppo media players should support lossless MKV's over that, which we look forward to investigating as well.

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mavrrick
Posted: Friday, May 08, 2015 12:59:45 AM
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binnerup wrote:
You are correct about this, but this is only the case when you have media that is already natively supported, such as H.264, which again also means media that have already been converted to a lossy format. This is actually the exact same thing that happens when you use My Movies to play stuff on Chromecast - we just only support the direct play formats, where Plex has the on-the-fly transcoding options also - we believe that it for stability reasons are better to prepare the formats up-front, as it avoids frustrations at play time should there be things that won't convert correct.


It only has to be the client supports the codec, and that is why I mentioned the Plex Home Theater. It can direct play almost anything. So in a home/local network environment that would work as a replacement to any current MCE system. Heck you can even load PHT now to run from MCE.


binnerup wrote:
That I would love some information on - we have at some point tried checking if Plex would read the data embedded into the MP4 files, but it would not - which data is it that it reads specifically, and how do you configure it to do that?
=

I believe this is all explained in the Scanner Agent section as shown here. That is the configuration for local asset data. I would expect that My movies does some of this already. I believe the catch is that the option to pull local assets is not setup in the agents section to be first to look for. In that case the agent always goes to the internet for data.

binnerup wrote:
We actually believe so too - our server solution software package have a lot of automation feature that many users could benefit from, even when using other front-ends - Plex just have been a place where we have not found a way to support it with the data, which really is a key point - any info you can give on that would be appriciated.

Overall, we believe in freedom of choice - we have no problem supporting our users on the usage of Kodi, Plex or other things, which is also why we try to store data for as many platforms as we can.


Yea, that was exactly my thought and use case. I have suggested My Movies so many times whens someone talks about doing extreme rips and then conversions. I use it on WHS2011 along side plex. I can't tell you how much I absolutely love the features you all did for the Home Server setups over the years.

binnerup wrote:
Plex Home Theater as the XBMC front-end copy? Absolutely everything in this relation is from what we know still not disc based media, but MKV's, sure - one of the reasons we specifically as users here on lossless MKV's vs. orginal disc media is that our video converter already copies to lossless MKV's, and, supporting "only" lossless MKV's in relation to disc based media opens up for many more possible platforms.

Rasmus is actually currently working on adding a DNLA server to our server solution, again to service pre-converted content, and not with an on-the-fly transcoding - Oppo media players should support lossless MKV's over that, which we look forward to investigating as well.


The exact reason for PHT is that it doesn't require transcoding. It allows your HTPC to play any file any format without transcoding. So there is no more on-the-fly transcoding. There are allot of people that use Plex and don't transcode because they use server devices that don't support it. In those scenarios my movies would be a great tool to help prep the media. You are absolutely correct in that the native setup doesn't support ISO, I believe it can do something with them though like index it or something. I need to do more research for that. I always just used Plex for non ISO files. If Plex Home theater was made to support external players. Power DVD could be used for ISO support. Cyberlink PowerDVD15 finally brings ISO support to plex.

mavrrick
Posted: Friday, May 08, 2015 1:38:42 AM
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Joined: 8/2/2009
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Rank based on contribution points and purchased points. Click to see details. (2514)
The more I am thinking about this it isn't like anything special has to be now to implement with what I have stated. My Movies is already completely useable in the manor I have referred to with Plex. It is just a matter of setup after install for both pieces of software.

Another possibility would be to build a Plex plugin/Channel that is a agent to pull from the My Movies local database
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