Saturday, March 31, 2007

My Music with your Media Center

Media Center may be savvy when it comes to TV, but as a music manager it needs work. For starters, it's painfully slow at loading large music collections. If your library contains more than a few hundred songs, it can take several minutes before you're able to kick-start the digital jukebox. Unfortunately, there's no easy remedy for that, other than to hope Microsoft fine-tunes the tune system in the next version of Media Center. In the meantime, you can overcome a few other My Music problems and limitations--most notably the lack of a playlist editor and support for Shoutcast streams.

1. Tag your music : Media Center's method for organizing MP3 and other audio files could best be described as unique. Even if you keep meticulous tabs on your ID3 tags--which contain album, artist, song, and other info--it's not uncommon to find a big chunk of songs in the Unknown folder when browsing in Media Center. You can remedy this problem--one album at a time. Start Windows media player, click the Library tab, and find the Unknown folder--it should contain the same batch of songs you noticed in Media Center's My Music. Select an album's worth of songs, right-click any song name, and choose Advanced Tag Editor. Check the Album box, then type in the name of the album. Click the Artist tab, check the Artist box, and type in the name of the artist. Now click OK; that album should disappear from the Unknown folder, both in WMP and Media Center. Lather, rinse, and repeat as necessary for other songs and albums.

2. Create playlists : Right out of the box, Media Center can recognize and play standard playlists, but it doesn't enable you to create or edit them from within the interface. Hence the introduction of Playlist Editor, one of a handful of Media Center 2005 Power toys available from Microsoft. Just download and install the program, and you can edit and create playlists, adding songs by album, artists, title, or genre. The app gets added to the More Programs area of MCE.

3. Listen to Shoutcast streams : As noted in tip number 1, Media Center fairly severely limits the kinds of audio you can stream. Even with the aforementioned Web Media plug-in, you're limited to Internet radio stations that broadcast in Windows Media format. Thankfully, there's a way to trick Media Center into playing almost any Shoutcast stream. Just head to the Shoutcast site, find a station you like, right-click the Tune In button, and select Save Target As. Save the file to your Desktop, then open it in Notepad. Delete everything except the URL, then save the file to your playlist folder (making sure to give it a descriptive name, such as "Shoutcast--Adult Alternative," and an .m3u extension). Fire up Media Center, head to My Music, and select Playlists. You should see the newly created "station"--hit Play, and the stream should do its thing!

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