Microsoft Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share some tips and tricks.

Be sure to check out my non-technical blog at www.bobsbasement.net.

Month List

Exporting and Importing Windows Media Center Recording Schedules

I ran into an interesting problem the other day which warranted some investigation: I was replacing the computer which my dad uses for Windows Media Center, (which he uses as his DVR and to watch movies), and he had an elaborate recording schedule set up for all of his favorite shows and wish lists. The problem for me - as his IT guy - was to figure out how to migrate his recording schedule from his old computer to his new computer, and as it turns out - there was already a command line solution from Microsoft which was pretty easy to use.

The tool in question is called loadmxf.exe, and you can find out more about that utility in the Windows Media Center Guide Listings Format article on MSDN.

That being said, here are the steps to export your recording schedules from one Windows Media Center computer and import them into a new Windows Media Center computer.

On Your Old WMC Computer:

  1. In Windows Explorer, navigate to the following folder:

    "%ProgramData%\Microsoft\eHome"

  2. Find the most recent "mcepgX-X" folder
  3. Find the "backup\recordings" folder
  4. Copy the latest "yyyymmdd_hhmmss" file to a share or flash drive

Note: The "yyyymmdd_hhmmss" file is an XML file which contains your recording schedule, and you can find detailed information about the data in the file in the Windows Media Center Guide Listings Format article which I mentioned earlier.

On Your New WMC Computer:

  1. Copy "yyyymmdd_hhmmss" file from earlier to the following folder:

    "%ProgramData%\Microsoft\eHome\mcepgX-X\backup\recordings"

  2. Open a command prompt and type:

    "%windir%\ehome\loadmxf.exe" -i "%ProgramData%\Microsoft\eHome\mcepgX-X\backup\recordings\yyyymmdd_hhmmss"

  3. Once completed, the tool will display the import status
  4. Open the Windows Media Center application
  5. All of your scheduled recordings should be displayed in Windows Media Center, however - they will not work until you open each scheduled recording and resave it without making any changes
Posted: Oct 28 2016, 22:12 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Using the Ceton Echo with Windows Media Center

I don't usually post reviews, but I thought that this subject was worth mentioning in case anyone else is having problems with Windows Media Center (WMC) and Linksys Media Center Extenders (MCEs).

Here’s the situation, I used to have a pair of Linksys MCEs that I used with my WMC computer; a DMA2100 and a DMA2200. (Although when I bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago, I configured it as an extender, and I gave the DMA2100 to my dad to use with his WMC computer.)

DMA2100 DMA2200
Linksys DMA2100 Linksys DMA2200

That being said, the Linksys MCEs never worked perfectly for me. They worked fine with DVR-MS, WTV, and WMV files, but for some reason they never worked well with MP4 files – which included my entire library of personal DVDs that I painstakingly ripped and stored in a Media Library on a NAS unit. However, I should mention that MP4 files played just fine on the WMC computer itself, just not on the Linksys MCEs.

I realize that all of the file types which I listed are just wrappers around the underlying media, so I was always perplexed as to why an MP4 file would never work with the fast-forward, skip, rewind, or pause buttons on my Linksys MCEs even though a WMV file would. What’s more, most MP4 files would play for about a minute, then the playback would freeze/skip/etc. for a little bit, and then it would usually stabilize for the rest of the video. (Although sometimes the video would never come back and I had to stop the video or reset the MCE.)

I should point out that all of my devices are hard-wired to gigabit networking hardware, so throughput should never have been a problem. (In fact, running the networking tests from the Linksys MCEs always showed bandwidth off the scale.) I eventually decided that the DMA2200 would have to be limited to just playing back recorded TV, which made it a rather bad return on investment.

For the past few years I had thought that the problem was simply some sort of compatibility issue with Windows Media Center and MP4 files when using an MCE, but I never had any problems with my Xbox 360 when using it as an MCE. In fact, the Xbox works so well that I have disconnected my WMC computer from my TV and now I exclusively use the Xbox to control my WMC.

Xbox-360
Xbox 360

Seeing as how the Xbox was working so well, it finally dawned on me that the problem had to be something internal to the Linksys MCEs. With that in mind, I started shopping around for a second Xbox 360 to replace my remaining Linksys MCE, but first I decided to read some of the Ceton Echo reviews on Amazon.

Several of the reviewers specifically mentioned my exact scenario; they were using Linksys MCEs and they were having problems with the video freezing/skipping, and the Echo resolved the problem. With that in mind, I decided to give the Echo a try.

Ceton-Echo
Ceton Echo

My Ceton Echo arrived a few days ago, and it was a breeze to set up. The footprint is much smaller than either the Linksys DMA2100 or DMA2200, and it's obviously a lot smaller than an Xbox 360. Another nice feature was that the Echo accepted commands from my existing Linksys remote; this was great for me because I had already configured my Linksys remote to control my TV, so I didn't have to change anything else in my setup if I didn't want to.

All of that being said, the most-important benefit after replacing my Linksys MCEs with the Ceton Echo is – no more skipping or freezing when playing MP4 files, and I can use the skip-forward, skip-backward, and pause buttons on the remote when I am viewing MP4 files. One small downside is that the fast-forward and reverse buttons do not seem to work with MP4 files, but I can live with that.

So in closing, if you're using a Linksys Media Center Extender and you're having issues with it, you might want to seriously consider replacing it with a Ceton Echo.

Posted: Apr 09 2015, 12:59 by bob | Comments (0)
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Using ASX Files with Windows Media Center

Like a lot of Windows geeks and fanboys, I use Windows Media Center on a Windows 7 system as my Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and media library. My system consists of a Dell GX270 computer with a ZOTAC NVIDIA GeForce GT610 video card, and it uses an InfiniTV 6 ETH tuner to receive cable signals. This setup has served us faithfully for years, and it is the center piece of our home entertainment system. If you're not familiar with Windows Media Center, that's because it's a rather hideously under-advertised feature of Windows. Just the same, here is an official Microsoft teaser for it:

But I've done a few extra things with my Windows Media Center that are a little beyond the norm, and one of the biggest items that I spent a considerable amount of time and effort digitizing my entire collection of DVD and Blu-ray discs as MP4 files, and I store them on a Thecus NAS that's on my home network which I use for media libraries on my Windows Media Center. This allows me to have all of my movies available at all times, and I can categorize them into folders which show up under the "Videos" link on the Windows Media Center menu.

That being said, there's a cool trick that I've been using to help customize some of my movies. Some of the movies that I have encoded have some material that I'd like to cut out, (like excessive opening credits and lengthy intermissions), but I don't want to edit and re-encode each MP4 file. Fortunately, Windows Media Center supports Advanced Stream Redirector (ASX) files, which allows me to customize what parts of a video are seen without having to edit the actual video.

Here's a perfect example: I recently purchased the 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition of Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray. The film is one of my favorites, and this reissue on Blu-ray is phenomenal. That being said, the movie begins with a little over four minutes of a blank screen while the musical overture plays. In addition, there is an additional eight minutes of a blank screen while the music for intermission is played. This is obviously less than desirable, so I created an ASX file which skips the opening overture and intermission.

By way of explanation, ASX files are XML files which define a playlist for media types, which can be any supported audio or video media. The individual entries can define various metadata about each media file, and thankfully can be used to specify which parts of a media file will be played.

With that in mind, here's what the ASX file that I created for Lawrence of Arabia looks like:

<ASX VERSION="3.0">
  <!-- Define the title for the movie. -->
  <TITLE>Lawrence Of Arabia</TITLE>
  <!-- Specify the movie's author. -->
  <AUTHOR>Columbia Pictures</AUTHOR>
  <!-- List the copyright for the movie. -->
  <COPYRIGHT>1962 Horizon Pictures (GB)</COPYRIGHT>
  <ENTRY>
    <!-- Define the video file for this entry. -->
    <REF HREF="Lawrence Of Arabia.mp4" />
    <!-- Define the start time for this entry. -->
    <STARTTIME VALUE="00:04:17.0"/>
    <!-- Define the duration for this entry. -->
    <DURATION VALUE="02:15:07.0"/>
  </ENTRY>
  <ENTRY>
    <!-- Define the video file for this entry. -->
    <REF HREF="Lawrence Of Arabia.mp4" />
    <!-- Define the start time for this entry. -->
    <STARTTIME VALUE="02:23:38.0"/>
  </ENTRY>
</ASX>

The XML comments explain what each of the lines in the file is configuring, and it should be straight-forward. But I would like to describe a few additional details:

  • Individual media entries are obviously defined in a collection of <ENTRY> elements, and in this example I have defined two entries:
    • The first entry defines a <STARTTIME> and <DURATION> which skip over the overture and play up to the intermission.
    • The second entry defines a <STARTTIME> which starts after the intermission and plays through the end of the movie.
  • The other metadata in the file - like the <AUTHOR> and <COPYRIGHT> - is just for me. That information is optional, but I like to include it.

There are several other pieces of metadata which can be configured, and a list of those are defined in the Windows Media Metafile Elements Reference and ASX Elements Reference.

Posted: Feb 16 2014, 00:30 by Bob | Comments (0)
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