February 24, 2011 9:00 am

All about plug-ins for Windows Media Center

One of the great benefits of the community of enthusiasts that has grown around Windows Media Center is the number of plug-ins developed to enhance the experience in WMC. Plug-ins (also called addins, and lately even apps) bring new information and features to the Windows Media Center environment.

For example, popular plugins give you at-a-glance access to local weather reports (like HeatWave or Big Screen Weather), or provide access to a huge number of online radio stations, or even add a WMC interface to your home automation system. Over the years, plenty of enthusiast websites have written about their top 10 or must-have plugins for WMC.

Weather plug-in for WMC

Plug-ins really let you customize your set-up to your tastes and needs. Many times, we’ll see community members collaborate to put a plug-in together and offer it to the community. Some of my favorite plug-ins are small apps that community members put together for a specific need: like CoreTempMC, which lets you monitor your PC’s internal temperature from within Media Center, or a recent addition from Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP Josh Pollard which presents the status from Ceton InfiniTV TV tuner diagnostic page within Windows Media Center.

I particularly like the plug-ins specific to certain hobbies and interests; for example, when developer Amar Kota noticed that the sports strip in WMC didn’t include tennis scores, he wrote a tennis plug-in. I use it at home, and it’s great.

Tennis plug-in adds tennis scores to WMC

Any discussion of plug-ins invariably asks the question of where one can go to get them. As many plug-ins are developed and hosted by individual developers or small companies, tracking them down across the Internets has been, until recently, a bit of a challenge. That’s where one particular plug-in comes in very handy: Made For Media Center, which was developed by two of our Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVPs, Andrew Cherry and Ian Dixon.

m4mc3

 

“There are a lot of great Media Center addins and we need a way to have them all listed in one place and be able to install them without having to leave Media Center,” Ian writes. “Andrew did a great job developing the Media Center addin, and we are using a lot of Microsoft technologies on the back end to host the web site and handle the Media Center addin communications.”

Using their Made for Media Center allows you to browse available plug-ins within Windows Media Center. To use it, you sign-up for an account at www.madeformediacenter.com, and then you can download the plug-in, entering your account details as part of the set-up. From there, you can browse and install the plugins without leaving WMC.

m4mc1

In our home, where WMC is powering our TV experience, I can sit on the couch and browse available plug-ins with the remote. I can also select and install them with the remote – it’s a very cool experience. I also appreciate the user ratings for each plug-in.

m4mc8

It’s been about a year since the duo launched Made for Media Center. In that time, 46 plugins have been added and can be downloaded and installed from it – everything from (personal favorite) Remind Me, which let’s you set-up date-based reminders to pop-up in Windows Media Center, to the popular My Channel Logos, which adds logos to your electronic programming guide. Ian reports that Made for Media Center has over 7500 users on the system all downloading and rating the plug-ins on the site. Here are the top 5 downloads through this week:

Made For Media Center Top 5 Downloads

1. mcBackup 3.0 for Windows 7: Backup your Windows Media Center scheduled recordings and channel lineup with one easy tool.

2. TunerFreeMCE:  Watch streaming internet TV programs on your PC and Media Center Extender.

3. MyMovies 3.10:  Experience your entire movie collection, and browse through and play your movies, browse cast, play trailers and much more.

4. My Channel Logos for 7MC: Add channel logos to the guide in Windows 7 Media Center….

5. Media Center Master: Meta-data and media organization solution with dozens of features including episode downloading, subtitle and trailer fetching.

Now there are a lot more plugins out there than what is currently on Made For Media Center. The most comprehensive single listing of the world of Media Center plug-ins that I have found to date is the Plugins Index, a database found over at thehtpc.net, an enthusiast website that is chock full of great tips and tweaks for HTPC enthusiasts. Jon, who runs the index, says he has about 109 listings at the moment.

The Plugins Index lists 100+ plug-ins for Windows Media Center

Developers, businesses and other community members can help keep his listings up-to-date with the Plugin/Utility Submission and Correction form.

Finally, keep an eye on communities like TheGreenButton.com, where you can find many developers are working together on plugins, or seeking out beta testers for their own contributions. If you’re developing a plugin for Windows Media Center, you can use TGB to ask questions and find some beta testers, get yourself listed in the Plugins Index, and upload your offerings to Made for Media Center. You’ll be glad for it.

A final note: you’ll notice that a lot of the plug-ins are released free to the community. If you find one you like and use it frequently, do check out the developer’s website and hit the tip jar to show some love.