Customizing Windows Media Center look and feel

To make Windows Media Center really stand out and impress I needed to add some pizazz to the standard interface and make navigating easier.  My goal is that someone who has never used Windows Media Center should be able to pickup the remote control and get to whatever they need without my instruction on how to do so.  In a previous blog I wrote about some add-in to get this done.  Here I will add some more details for some of these apps (assuming you have already installed them)…



Step 1 – Setting up Media Browser

First thing we need to do is get organized.  Once everything is setup neatly the rest will fall into place smoothly.  I use Media Browser to manage my saved TV and Movie collection and with it being able to integrate in so many customizable ways I find myself always impressed with this program.  Here is how I have setup my media (in the “media” tab of Configurator)…

HD Movies – M:\Media\HD Movies & M:\Media\Kids HD Movies
All Movies – M:\Media\Movies & M:\Media\Kids Movies & M:\Media\HD Movies & M:\Media\Kids HD Movies
Movies by Genre – M:\Media\Movies & M:\Media\Kids Movies & M:\Media\HD Movies & M:\Media\Kids HD Movies
Television – K:\Media\Television
Kids Movies – M:\Media\Kids HD Movies & M:\Media\Kids Movies
Music Videos – K:\ Media\Music Videos



Step 2 – Download some nice icons

A user by the name of Xzener makes some really cool looking icons.  I use the “Xzener’s Media Browser Icons” for the main Windows Media Center navigation then I use the “V2” ones within Media Browser.  There are many articles on-line for customizing Media Browser so I will not go into too much detail here, however to get simple Genre folders setup here are some steps…

a. From the downloaded Xzener’s V2 icons select the one you like for the specific genre (some have multiple icons) then right click on it and choose “Copy”.
b. Browse to “C:\ProgramData\MediaBrowser\ImagesByName\Genre” on your hard drive (create it if it doesn’t exist) the create a folder here with the name of the genre (ie: Action)
c. Open this new folder, right click then choose “Paste”.  This will put a copy of the icon from step a here.
d. Rename the icon to “folder.png” (note: if the original file doesn’t have “.png” at the end of the name then you don’t have to add it)
e. Next time you launch Media Browser and choose to sort by Genre these new icons should appear (Media Browser will remember what your folder was last sorted by).



Step 3 – Changing the background

I think that this is the most important step.  Everyone should have a background that reflects their personality and makes their home theatre experience unique.  When guest come over and see your Media Center they should say “wow, mine doesn’t look like that“.  With Media Center Studio you can specify with just a new background or an entire theme for Windows Media Center.  The largest collection of pre-made themes I can find has been at the site.   My favourite is Jakewill’s Dark7MC theme.  Here are some basic steps to change the background…

a. In Media Center Studio double click on “New” and it will open a new tab to begin setting up your theme.
b. Change the name to something more memorable.
c. Expand “Images” – “Common” – “Background” on the left then for both “COMMON.ANIMATED.BACKGROUND.PNG and COMMON.BACKGROUND.PNG choose “Browse…” and select the background art you prefer.
d. Choose “Save” at the top
e. On the “Themes” tab at the top, choose the newly created theme as you named in step b. 
f. In the ribbon bar at the top choose “Themes” beside “Home” then select “Apply”



Step 4 – Custom Entry Points

I should have called this the “putting it all together” step.  Now that Windows Media Center looks great, we need to make it easy to use.  When people come over and pickup my remote, I shouldn’t have to tell them that to watch TV you have pass the TV folder and go to Media Browser then go to Television.  If they see TV they should be able to go there.  This requires both Media Browser to be setup properly and Media Center Studio to be customized with “custom entry points”.  Here is how to set it up…

a. Within Media Center Studio, open the “Start Menu” tab.
b. At the very bottom of the window there is a bar that reads “Entry points”, click on it to expand it.
c. If you scroll down you will see all of the media browser groups you created in Step 1 above.  Double click on one of them to change it’s icon (I use the icons from Step 2 but I manually make one Black & White for the “Inactive image”.  For now both images can be in colour.)
d. Click “Save” once you have the icon looking how you want and then return to the “Start Menu” tab.
e. Click and drag your icon from the “Entry points” in the bottom to the preview window above.  When you drag the icon you will need to aim your mouse specifically over the green “+” that appear otherwise it will not place the shortcut there. (There are some headings listed twice, and since I don’t know which is which, I make the same changes in both of them.)
f. Once I have put the entry points where I prefer I usually move some other options around (I move the main “Media Browser” under Extras and add a “Media Browser Config” shortcut to the “Tasks” group.)
g. We can now uncheck (or delete) any groups we no longer need to display
h. The last thing I try and do in this application is to click on a shortcut in each group which makes it the default when scrolling to the group.  Also, the last group selected will be the default when Media Center is launched.
i. Once you are done click the “Save” button to commit all of the changes which will cause Windows Media Center to restart and have all your changes displayed.



3 responses to “Customizing Windows Media Center look and feel”

  1. Very energetic blog, I loved that a lot. Will there be
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