Ok – no blog entries for a few days?… Yep I’m still here – but I’ve been busy – heads down tails up on a new MCPL addin for Vista Media Center (blogging/forum/email time has been limited – and a good night’s sleep has been elusive these past few days – and all my other addin work has been put on temporary hold).
What is Big Screen TV Series?
This is an addin I’m really excited about – and the best way to maybe explain it is – what My Movies does for DVD libraries – this does for your collection of TV Series videos/recordings.
Basically, this addin works by monitoring all your Past/Future Recorded TV Files (and non dvr-ms content like DivX etc) – and extracting the TV Series related information.
From there – Big Screen TV Series will download (from a massive database hosted the internet) comprehensive Series information – like Episode Guides, Imagery, Overviews + Cast/Crew/Writer information (both at Series and Episode level) – and then mash it up to give you a really easy way to watch, view and manage it all. You can also choose from multiple Banners/Images – or BYO jpeg’s.
Here’s a couple of screenshots (main menu on left – episode guide view on right)
And in these screenshots – on the left is the Cast/Crew view on an episode – and on the right is the recorded files view for this Episode.
I’m 90% happy with the look/feel of the UX – however the I’m planning a big redesign of the Starting Page (Main Menu) – which I don’t think works as well with the standard Column of Buttons/Items layout you see above.
The tab buttons on the side is someting that works really well (although you can’t see the animations in these pictures) – they are similar to the XBox360 dashboard buttons (so they Bend towards you when you select them).
Auto Matching of your Videos to Episodes/Series
The program also has a few smarts – such as the ability to auto match your recorded TV Files (and future scheduled recordings) with episodes from the Episode Guide. This way it makes easy to track/manage what you have and haven’t watched – and ensures you don’t accidently watch episodes out of order – or that the network doesn’t start showing old repeats without warning (and if you are Australian – tv networks like Channel 9 are notorious for doing this). There’s also a wizard for linking Episodes to your local Files – if an auto match isn’t possible (ie there are enough typo’s in the EPG’s data to prevent the matching process from being successful).
The screenshots below show the Recorded and Scheduled file views for a Series. In the Recorded File view on left – the Video icon indicates whether the show has been ‘watched’ as well (which is also used in other pages to help you quickly find new unwatched episodes). Note that the Episode Numbers are matched for most Recorded TV Files – including an upcoming scheduled recording.
Inbuilt Management/Configuration (no external Desktop Tools Required)
One of the hardest parts of this addin has been the configuration/management wizards and screens – a task which I wanted to be accessible from with the MediaCenter addin (and not an external tool). Some of these are multiple step wizards and do background threaded downloading of data etc – which has been a lot more complex to write/debug then the general screens. (and hence these are the main parts I’m still working on for an initial beta release).
The screens below show some of this in action.
(Top Left) the More.. screen for a Season (allows you to manage links, banners etc)
(Top Right) Search results when linking a series (Jericho was searched for)
(Bottom) Search in progress (the green progress bar shows the percentage complete and the wheel spins around)..
As mentioned at the start – this addin is developed for MCPL (Media Center Presentation Layer) – however one thing I’m doing quite differently is that I am using a single core MCML page for the entire program. (which navigates to itself with different Actions/Parameters). This is done almost exclusively by using repeaters/scrollers (with ContentSelectors) – not just the main content list – but also for the tab buttons, headers, details etc. Using this design also tranfers a lot of what would normally be done in MCML (via Rules and custom UI elements etc) into managed .NET code – so the MCML is a lot smaller then usual. Additionally a lot of the command creation/handling is now done within code.
I’m quite happy with this framework – however some of the ModelItem based classes are getting quite large – so I aim to refine the architecture somewhat to make it all manageable.
One thing that has given me a TOG (ton of grief) – has been working with the scroller – and switching between Static and Focusable UI items. The scroller is doing all sorts of strange things at the moment for Static content (focusable items are fine) – such as scrolling in the wrong direction sometimes. (more work required on this – and maybe I will just create a seperate scroller for static content and hide/unhide the appropriate one).. I’m trying to figure out how I can make a real Voodoo doll of the scroller element so I can stick some pins in whenever it causes me grief (ok.. maybe this is getting obsessive…)
What to do with the Big Screen Guy?
If you have been following my addins for Media Center – you’ll noticed that there’s a ‘guy’ being used for all the logos/branding. I’m planning to write a blog post one day about this ‘Big Screen Guy’ (no I don’t yet have a pet name that ends with an ‘eee’ – ie moki, loki)…
Anyhow – my challenge on each addin I write is to somehow dress up the Big Screen Guy icon with something that relates to the addin. (ie. In Big Screen Headlines – the guy is reading a newspaper, in Big Screen Contacts there’s a few of them to indicate your friends etc). I’m no graphic designer so I’m limited to very simple shapes – and also want to keep in line with the iconic type design.
I’m not altogether happy with what I made so far - the general idea being that the guy has ‘Square Eyes’ (from watching to much TV) – and has a TV arial coming out of his head. Anyhow here’s what I came up with so far…
Yep - the guy looks kinda like an alien (not what I was trying to convey at all)… hmm… definitely some more work required there.. (Any Suggestions anyone? – keeping in mind I can’t draw – so it’s gotta be made of simple shapes)…
So when can we play with it?
Ok – I’m hoping to have a private beta out before the end of the week (if I can lock down and finalize the set of functionality I am happy with). As with other addins – this means a few select people will get to have a play days/weeks before its launched – and hopefully help iron out any showstopper bugs – before I unleash it to the general public.
I’ll put out a notice/emails when I’m ready to accept some private beta testers.. so stay tuned for this..
Also – it’s entirely possible I’m going to change the title of this addin to something else… (not sure if Big Screen TV Series really rolls off the toungue)..
Anyhow – hope you’re excited by this addin too.. I think this is something that has been missing and wanted from my own Media Center for a long time – so I can’t wait to finish it and get it out there – and of course use it myself!..