We created Veronicas Radio as a demo for one of the Windows Media Center Mix 06 talks to show off the flexibility of the new UI framework (Media Center Markup Language) we had in the works for Windows Vista. It was eventually cut from the talk because we created the Q sample application (a podcast client) which was much more feature rich.

Little historical fact: The experience is so named because Veronica Law, a Program Manager at the time with the Windows Media Center team requested we create a way to listen to a couple of internet radio stations -- so it was literally "Veronicas' radio" -- and the name stuck.

We made this application available for a short time to those who wanted to install using a command line interface (in other words, not very user friendly). Basically, it's a mash up of a couple of samples we would later publish in the Windows Media Center SDK -- specifically FunHelix.mcml and ObjectModelMediaCenterEnvironmentPlayMediaAudio.mcml in the Windows 7 version if you want to follow along.

A fan of Windows Media Center recently emailed me…

"I have Vista Media Center [upgraded from XP] and have recently been clearing out programs I no longer use. One I did use [and loved the look and style of] was Veronicas Radio.  However, it no longer works.  I think the website which was hosting the associated files was the The Media Center Sandbox pages but the page displayed in the .xml file no longer exists."

In response I dusted off and modified the markup, updated some of the radio stations (including KIRO FM 97.3 to be able to listen to Seattle Sounders FC soccer games), deployed to my web server and created an installer. This applet works for both Windows Vista and Windows 7 and is a web application – the installer only registers the URL with Windows Media Center.

http://retrosight.com/samples/veronicasradio/windowsvista/Setup-en-us.msi

I also remembered a small applet we thought about shipping within the Extras Library for Windows 7 called Time + Date but ultimately cut due to time constraints. This was inspired by the memory of my parents calling a local telephone number (using a rotary phone no less) to get the current time and temperature.

The screen shot shows it running with the Sanskrit language selected in Windows and is another good example of a simple copy+paste from SDK samples (RulesChanged.mcml, TransformersDateTimeTransformer.mcml and ObjectModelMediaCenterBackgroundModes.mcml) to come up with something fairly useful. This applet works with only Windows 7 and like Veronicas Radio is a web application.

http://retrosight.com/samples/timeanddate/windows7/Setup-en-us.msi

In the process of getting these experiences out there I began to remember some of things we wanted to do like the 5.x releases of the SDK back in 2007. It has been nearly a year since I ended my involvement with Windows Media Center so thought it fitting to celebrate that wonderful product and platform by putting a small package of things together for developers which echoes some of those post shipping plans. It’s a sort of curtain call I’m referring to as the ‘Windows Media Center SDK for Windows 7 Addendum’ although it’s not officially from Microsoft.

http://retrosight.com/samples/windowsmediacentersdk/6/Addendum.zip

Included in the zip file is…

  • A couple of new and updated loose MCML samples (mostly to fix up the URLs to the defunct play.mediacentersandbox.com).
  • Source code for the Sample Explorer application you find in the Extras Library after installing the SDK as well as the desktop browsing tool. This is a good example of one approach for creating a testing / automation framework for your own application.
  • Source code for Animation Explorer and Preview Tool Launcher desktop tools. The Preview Tool actually has a pretty robust automation model itself and this source shows you how to take full advantage for your own authoring tools.
  • Templates and source code for the Visual Studio 2008 templates included with the SDK. Follow the instructions in Readme.txt for use with Visual Studio 2010.
  • Web Application Installer Template used to create the installers for the above applets. They are fully compatible with the InstallApplication Method in Windows 7 and can be used to craft installers for http://madeformediacenter.com/m4mc/.
  • You can dig into the readme for more details on these resources.

Enjoy…!



Categories: Media Center Markup Language | Media Center SDK Code Sample | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Windows Vista | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:24:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I finished up fixing the last few bugs for PowerPlaylist 2 for Windows Media Center in Windows 7 and posted the installer and source to http://www.codeplex.com/powerplaylist. PowerPlaylist adds a start menu strip with up to five tiles to Windows Media Center in Windows 7. Each tile represents an audio, slideshow and / or visualization combination which will start when the tile is selected and is highly customizable by the consumer resulting in a highly personalized Windows Media Center experience.

PowerPlaylist2

Also included is the PowerPlaylist Editor which makes it really easy to modify the start menu strip name and individual tiles.

PowerPlaylist2Editor

Enjoy…!



Categories: Extras | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Thursday, October 15, 2009 6:14:52 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Yes.

Here’s why…

  • Windows Media Center always shipped that way. Even in the Windows XP Media Center Edition days when it was shipped ‘out of band’ every year it was still as a feature of Windows. Changing to a different development model is harder than most people think and brings more risk than might be necessary. Staying on this path allowed the Windows Media Center team to focus on shipping the next great set of features.
  • The distribution model is a big win both for customers (it’s right there) and the Windows Media Center team (it’s right there). There is the hurdle of hardware (think tuners and remote controls) but shipping standalone raises the hurdle higher. Hurdles, generally speaking, are bad for adoption and user friendliness.
  • I think the community would agree there are awareness problems with Windows Media Center – those would be compounded (multiplied) in a standalone application. Once the consumer becomes aware they can immediately begin using.
  • The engineering task to build as a standalone product could very easily double (perhaps even triple). Windows Media Center relies on a lot of technology built by other teams throughout Microsoft and the Windows organization (three that easily come to mind: Windows Media Player, .NET Framework, Home Group). Generally speaking, you naturally get the ‘latest, greatest stuff’ when you ship simultaneously.
  • Windows Media Center isn’t really all that unique when you think about it – more of an alternative user interface on features already present in Windows. Why force consumers to download / acquire something else?
  • The business model works out this way. Standalone would automatically mean much fewer resources which in turns means much fewer features. Some would argue that might be a good thing – feel free to leave a comment with an opinion. I think the key takeaway here is the resources might force you to cut features beyond what most of the market would consider ‘must have’ and make the overall value proposition much less.

I’d be interested in your opinion: Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?



Categories: Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [9] | # | Posted on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 3:58:02 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Edit: I've locked the thread from further comments. The conversation got out of control with such negativity that it ceased to be helpful to those involved or the community.

Niall Ginsbourg posted this the other day…

“…unless you’re after some pretty specific (and less than useful) changes offered in the Win7 incarnation of this SDK – my best advice to developers would be to completely give this SDK a miss – and instead revert back to Vista Media Center SDK /along with Vista Dev platform (if you do plan on persisting with Media Center development).”

Bad advice. I mean really, really bad.

Windows 7 is generally accepted by the industry as a whole to be much better than Windows Vista. By the time all is said and done it will sell loads more copies and be much more prevalent than Windows Vista. The Windows Media Center platform has quite a few improvements for Media Center Markup Language (MCML) and the Managed Code Object Model which gives you the most seamless and elegant chance to have a great experience.



Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [10] | # | Posted on Saturday, August 22, 2009 1:48:39 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

The Windows Media Center team posted the RTM version of the Windows Media Center Software Development Kit 6.0 for Windows 7 to the following location.

http://download.microsoft.com/download/6/C/6/6C6B665D-6240-4958-A028-A944B8BD6860/WindowsMediaCenterSDK6.msi

You can leave feedback here or chat about it over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.

Kudos goes to Niall Ginsbourg for breaking the news.



Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Sunday, August 16, 2009 9:24:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

We just posted the release candidate of the Windows Media Center Software Development Kit 6.0 for Windows 7 – same url as the beta release:

[Hyperlink Removed] The RC release has been superseded by the RTM release. Visit this post for the download location.

You can leave feedback here or chat about it over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.

Note to developers: For all intents and purposes we are done with Windows 7 – if you want to report issues (application compatibility or otherwise) you should immediately grab the Windows 7 Release Candidate and this SDK and test, test, test – last call! :-)



Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Saturday, May 16, 2009 12:24:32 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

As Ed, Adrian, Mary Jo, Steven and countless others have noted the product cycle for Windows 7 has been markedly different from it's predecessors. At some point in the near future* the Windows 7 Release Candidate will be made available. If you are a Windows beta tester, user or fan please take a moment to read on…

  1. When the Windows 7 Release Candidate becomes available immediately download, install, test deeply and quickly provide actionable feedback.
  2. Seriously: As the release candidate is downloading and with tenderness, kiss your spouse on the cheek and tell him or her you'll be back in a week or so. Then lock yourself in the home office and be relentless and unforgiving in your testing of the Windows 7 Release Candidate and provide feedback.
  3. In case there are some of you who still think Windows 7 is on a schedule similar to prior versions and everything you've read to date from Microsoft on the subject is just marketing spin: When have we *ever* been that great at marketing? Now is the time to snap out of the little fantasy world you've created for yourself and recognize the cold hard truth the Windows 7 Release Candidate is almost certainly your last chance to provide feedback on Windows 7.
  4. You should consider the Windows 7 Release Candidate as your first and best opportunity to influence the next version of Windows.

* The term ‘near future’ is not meant to imply any sort of specific date. You will hear about it well in advance and can therefore make plans for testing, which I sincerely hope you will do.



Categories: Windows 7 | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 1:12:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

This has been available for beta testers via Connect for a while now and we *finally* got it posted for everyone else.

[Hyperlink Removed] The RC release has been superseded by the RTM release. Visit this post for the download location.

And for those of you who are interested in working with the WTV format we introduced last year…

Consumption of a WTV file in DirectShow
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc963726.aspx

You can leave feedback here or chat about it over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.



Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Friday, February 13, 2009 6:50:40 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

If you are attending the 2008 Professional Developers Conference you received a pre-beta Windows 7 build today (6801) which contains many features the Windows Media Center team has been developing over the past year. It’s my pleasure to take a few minutes to outline some of these new features for you. If you install this build do keep in mind it’s considered an ‘Alpha’ experience meaning some features may not be polished or work quite as well as they will in the final product AND things may change (mostly for the better we hope) between now and beta and RTM. So let's jump right in...

Start Menu

Start Menu

The Start Menu gets a subtle refresh both in text treatment and iconography size. You can now see more items at any given time without feeling cluttered, and the readability has really improved. The new Start Menu is also designed to always overlay the current playing experience so it stays in one place. Another thing you will notice is it now remembers your last location strip between sessions (prior versions always launched to the TV + Movies strip).

Now Playing

We got a lot of complaints about the postage stamp size of the video thumbnail for Now Playing in Windows Vista. You’ll be pleased to note it has returned to its larger size in Windows 7 -- no more squinting! Another thing you will notice in this screen capture is the tile title has been moved out of the focusable rectangle -- we can now do much longer names as a result (a great usability enhancement for international versions of Windows Media Center where the languages make for really long titles).

Music

The user friendliness and design ethos really moves a notch up, especially for those with large libraries. [Note: Some of the user experience enhancements transcend any singular Windows Media Center area – I’ll introduce them throughout this post and try to note when the feature is shared.]

Music Library With Album Art Alternatives

Do you have obscure albums with no album art available? In prior versions all of these would have a blue background + white text. With Windows 7 we mix it up a bit with random colors for these which makes them ‘blend in’ with your other album art for the Music Library gallery.

Music Details

Details is another shared feature throughout the product. You can think of details as a slide deck which puts much used features closer to your fingertips compared to prior versions. You move left and right to switch between panes and up and down to select items on that pane. This really bubbles up features which have been less than discoverable in the past.

Music Now Playing Animation In

 Music Now Playing Interactive Mode

Music Now Playing received a large makeover and I think you are really going to like it. When you start playback of music you navigate to the Now Playing page as in prior versions. After a while we fade out the action items and animate your album art into a slowly scrolling wall of covers and occasionally switch the currently playing album cover and metadata. When you press a button on the remote or move the mouse we bring back the action items and keep the wall of covers up in the background.

Music Rating Shortcuts

Rating your content has never been easier in Windows Media Center. By enabling Rating Shortcuts you can press the 1 through 5 buttons on the remote or keyboard to rate the music (or picture as this is one of the shared features) in real time.

Music Turbo Scroll

Those folks with large music libraries will *really* like what we call ‘Turbo Scroll’ – another shared feature. When you hold down the left or right remote control buttons for a while we transition into an interface which presents the content in alphabetical chunks. Letting go of the button when you see the letter combination you want will immediately take you to that position in your library.

Music Shared Library

Shared Libraries are built on top of the Home Group features in Windows 7 and is a shared feature across Music, Pictures, Videos and Recorded TV. Folks who have been clamoring for ‘Softsled’ will very much enjoy this feature as it allows you to peruse and enjoy content from multiple computers on your home network. In this screen capture I’m demonstrating how I can select my local music library or that shared by another user on my network named ‘Ethel’ on a computer named ‘Laptop’. Once selected, I can browse Ethels content in Windows Media Center.

Pictures

Photo enthusiasts have much to enjoy in Windows 7 in Windows Media Center – like music, the usability goes up a notch or two.

Ambient Slide Show Start

Ambient Slide Show Zoom

There is a new Ambient Slideshow which will launch as a screen saver as well as when you invoke the new Play Favorites on the Start Menu. This pulls from your pictures rated 3 stars or higher. This slideshow features some nice zoom out (first screenshot) and zoom in animations (second screenshot) as well as slideshows within slideshows (kind of hard to explain -- it makes sense once you watch this new feature in action). If you are a photography fan and want to enjoy your pictures in an unstructured way you are going to really like this feature.

Here is a view of the enhanced Picture Library. I'll draw your attention to the Ratings, Slide Shows and Shared pivots -- all new for Windows 7. Ratings allow you to sort by rating (0-5 stars) like you can with tags we added in Windows Vista. Shared inherits the Shared Library in common with Music, Videos and Recorded TV. On the Slide Shows pivot you can play back slideshows...

...created with the new Slideshow Creator -- one of my favorite features. You can choose pictures or music in the creator and save the results for later playback.

Picture Library Turbo Scroll

Turbo Scroll also puts in an appearance for Pictures for a nice enhancement in large libraries – hold down the left or right buttons on the remote to transition into a user experience which allow you to fast forward through pictures – let go of the button to move to that point in the gallery. I’ll take a moment to note the static screen captures here don’t really do Turbo Scroll justice – the animations are quite nice!

Picture Details

Picture Details bubbles up many of the simple photo editing features in Windows Media Center as well as allows you to rate the picture.

Slideshow in Start Menu Now Playing

In prior versions the slideshow disappeared from view when you pressed the Green Button and the only way to return was to use the back button (if the slideshow was still on the backstack) or go back through the library to start fresh. Now the slideshow is persisted as an experience in Now Playing including picture transitions – you can select to easily return back to the full screen slideshow. [That’s me taking on Ruby Beach taking pictures – shameless self-promotion, sorry.]

Videos

I've elected to not take any screenshots for this section -- not much has changed visually for this feature, so I'll just enumerate what's new from a functionality perspective.

  • The Video Library, like Pictures, Music and Recorded TV gets the Shared Library feature so you can enjoy content from other computers on your network.
  • H.264 playback is now supported out of the box with Windows 7 -- including on Media Center Extenders – both standalone hardware implementations AND on the XBox 360 when in Extender mode. I know a few people on http://www.thegreenbutton.com who will rejoice. ;-)
  • Video Play All allows you to play all of the videos in a specific gallery in a continuous play list – you can now easily excite the neighbors with your vacation and home videos one after the other!
  • Videos now have parity with Recorded TV in the area of bookmarks – you can now resume previously played videos where you left off.

TV

For starters, you get all of the enhancements made available with the TV Pack (including those for United States customers). For more information on the TV Pack check out this post at The Green Button: http://thegreenbutton.com/forums/thread/282555.aspx. If you recall, the TV Pack was designed to enable TV standards in Asia and Europe. There are some nice additions in this area for Windows 7...

 

When you move your mouse you will notice the seek bar looks a little different. It's now 'clickable' which will take you to that relative position in the content. Many folks use the mouse with Windows Media Center and this feature has been wanted by that group for a while. [Note: This also works for content in the Video Library.]

When Recorded TV (or video) is playing and you press the right or left arrow buttons you get the Now Playing experience which bubbles up features and functionality previously buried behind the More Information button (like Zoom) or Settings (Captions) as well as information and details (like related content) from the guide. (Those of you with access to Internet TV in the United States may find this familiar -- an earlier incarnation of this approach was used for that experience.)

Not much has changed in the Recorded TV gallery from a look and feel standpoint, but this screen capture does show the new 'All Content' view available with Shared Libraries. If you have multiple Windows Media Center enabled PCs in the house you can now enjoy that content across the network on those computers without going to great lengths to hack registries and apply folder sharing voodoo.

Selecting a Recorded TV show will bring up the new Details experience -- as with other experiences in this shared feature, go left and right to switch between panes.

Here is the guide in Turbo Scroll mode (hold down the left or right arrow button on your remote control or keyboard). Note the correct high definition channel mapping from the TV Pack as well as the [ HD ] logo embedded in the grid entries.

Selecting an item in the guide also brings up the new details. Note the new [ HD ] logo which helps you identify high definition content. The slide and pane metaphor really begins to shine with TV (and movies) because it does such a great job of putting resources once buried across many screens 'closer' to you.

Movies

You'll notice the Movies experience has now been given a strip of its own with a few enhancements.

The improved Movies Guide has an [ HD ] pivot which makes finding that visual fidelity much easier.

Movie Details again brings many layers of pages into a single location -- it's now much easier to jump around and find related content.

Extras

We've listened to our developers and I'm happy to announce a new feature called 'Extras' which will be replacing Online Media. I'll have a post out in the next couple of days with more information on this 'still in the planning phase' feature. As part of the rethinking of this area of the produce we've greatly simplified the gallery to make it much more user friendly. Gone are the myriad of [seemingly random] pivots (which were really filters). Now this gallery behaves much like the others in the product whereby the pivots are sorts and all of your applications are represented in each view.

I don’t really have a screen capture of this next one but it’s worth noting: Application developers (more for you folks in a separate post) will be happy to know we’ve increased the number of custom Start Menu strips to a maximum of 20 (up from only 2 in Windows Vista).

On Screen Keyboard

Any time you need to perform text entry we've got a new on screen keyboard for your enjoyment. This feature alone will bring much 'Spousal Acceptance Factor' to your Windows Media Center experience. [Bonus: This same exact on screen keyboard is available for developers to invoke from their applications.]

Gadget

This is the gadget in its default configuration allow you to play your favorite music, slideshow (3 stars or better) or both. You can click the green button to launch Windows Media Center.

If you've configured TV and recorded shows they will appear in the order they are recorded. The gadget can also include content from the Internet TV feature.

Here are the gadget settings. Turning off Internet TV and New Recorded TV will return the gadget to it's default, out of box configuration.

Well, that's it for now -- there are other features in the build I've not covered here. If you discover one and want to know more let me know and I'll try to post additional information.

I hope you've enjoyed this walk through of Windows Media Center in the PDC Build of Windows 7. We've been busting at the seams to share what we've been working on these past months and are still hard at work making this the best version to date. We welcome any feedback you'd like to provide or questions you'd like to ask.



Categories: Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [82] | # | Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 4:00:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   
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