Software Redux #3 – Part I – Media Player Selection

10 09 2010

Right now there are 4 main content ‘types’ that I use that I want to account for off the bat:

1) DVDs (Actual Disks)
2) CDs
3) Not Site Specific Streaming Video Options
4) Server Based Music Library

DVD’s

My main concern for this one is supported formats. I have a few PAL DVDs that I would like to not have to think about
“which player to use” when playing them.  The UI isn’t terribly important for this category but there are a few UI “niceties” I was looking for in the DVD player — such as if it gets minimized I just want folks to be able to maximize it, a way to close the application, and an obvious place to click to get to other commands.

Winner – VLC + Blissta Skin

From a content playing perspective VLC is always my preference for video playing because it does pratically…play everything.  Or at least anything I’ve tried to throw at it thus far.  The skin choice took a bit more work but I was happy to find the Blissta Skin as shown below.

VLC Blissta Skin (1. = Fullscreen Mode, 2. = Close Application, 3. = Other Commands)

VLC Blissta Skin (1. = Fullscreen Mode, 2. = Close Application, 3. = Other Commands)

The functionality in the Blissta Skin is perfect and the only remote downside is that it looks a little bit like Windows Media Player but honestly that isn’t such a big deal.

CDs

I originally was going to use VLC to play CDs to but when I started playing with the remote control setup I quickly realized it was going to make more sense to have 2 sets of controls (ie – stop on DVD returns to the main menu while CDs its a true stop playing completely).  The easiest way to do that is to use 2 different apps.  My goal at that point was a CD player that would show album art, CDDB the track titles, and be simple to use (CD only not too much music library oriented apps).  Nothing really stand out came up in my Googling so I resorted to…

Winner – Windows Media Player

Ironically WMP meets all my goals and it is already installed.  I don’t really like WMP for any sort of digital music management but for playing a CD it does great.  The album art is on the right hand side with the CDDBed tracks below it and to boot it has a nice visualization in the middle of the player.  So it won this spot for now.

Not Site Specific Streaming

Winner – Clicker.com in a web browser

Clicker.com Website

Clicker.com Website

A simple reality is that I don’t have any one show or station I watch all the time.  When it comes to streaming media for the moment it’s all about what I feel like right now and what I feel like searching. Hulu is great but not everything is on it.  Clicker.com is a great streaming video aggregate website. It tells me how many episodes are available online, how many are free, how many are paid, and where each is located. It’s entirely a click-through site so if I search there a few clicks later I’m on whatever Flash based website is hosting the video and I’ll just click full screen on their browser-based player.

What this gains in flexibility for one stop video streaming window shopping is the ability to do start/stop/play/pause remote control.  I’ll still be able to control Windows volume or the TV’s volume but the rest is lost.  For the amount I use it right now that is an acceptable trade-off. If I find myself wishing I had it I’ll install Hulu’s desktop app and go from there (or something similar when the time comes).  It also means I’m using a 3′ UI for media selection but that falls into my scope of my HTPC project.

Server Based Music

This was by far the hardest one to come up with. This is the category many of the all-in-one media center apps fall short in my experience or at least for my expectations.  Also my favorite media player fell short because I couldn’t find any skins that were even a hybrid 10′ and 3′ UI.  ALL of the ones I found I liked were good 3′ UI’s but still nothing wowed me.  Enter…

Winner – SongBird

For its ‘region’ based skinning mechanism.

SongBird Skinnable Regions (Native Skin)

SongBird Skinnable Regions (Native Skin)

SongBird allows you to apply a Feather (aka – skin) to the player but it also allows you to change the Media View Area.  This let me pick a skin that I like player placement, album art placement, media view location that I liked but also choose a better Media View that is closer to a 10′ view.

SongBird w/Murphy Feather and Ideal Media View -- GridView

SongBird w/Murphy Feather and Ideal Media View -- GridView

For the overall Feather I choose Murphy because I like the location of the Player Controls/Info better. I don’t know if you can see it but on the native skin (1st image) the currently playing info is across the top and quite tiny.  In the Murphy Feather the text is larger and even if the space isn’t as long to accommodate long file names I’d rather have it cut out and/or scroll so I can see it a bit farther away. I also placed the Album art square at the bottom to display the album art of what is currently playing.

For the Media View I had to compromise.  I want to use GridView which is what is paired with Murphy in the image above.  It stacks all the album art from each artist into a stack and presents it in a grid format.  Across the top is an alphabet to jump to that location in the artists.  However, this Media View is not compatible with the most current SongBird v. 1.8. I played with older versions and decided I would stick with the new version and use a different media view for now hoping GridView will be updated. We shall see. For the moment I settled on MediaFlow…

MediaFlow Media View in a Different Feather

MediaFlow Media View in a Different Feather

It shows the album art in  line with the center focus being large. I can click on album art in the distance and it will bring it to the front or I can click on tracks below and it will bring their album art to the center.  If I do a search for say a string ‘The Beatles” it will only list the tracks that fit that search and subsequently only the albums of that search result will be displayed above. This isn’t perfect but it is significantly better than a text only option so I’m rolling with it for now.

I’ll update this as I add more media types and their players but for now this is what I am working with.

[Update] Added Media Players….

SHOUTcast Player

This was a hard category to even find contenders worth looking at.  Ironically after loading Pandora I remembered an internet radio station I listened to in college that I enjoyed because it was super eclectic! I checked it out and sure enough it is still around. What I wanted was a lightweight ShoutCast player that I could basically put favorites into.  I don’t do a lot of searching around for new shoutcast stations so something simple that would just play streams and I could save any ones I come across I wanted to listen to regularly.  This immediately ruled out Winamp AND SongBird because they play so many other media types.  And because those and iTunes play ShoutCast streams and have built-in directories there weren’t a plethora of options in my google searches.  But I did find a few…

Winner — Enhanced ShoutCast Player

ESP Main Player

ESP Main Player

Ironically I actually passed this player up because I couldn’t get it to work the first time because the SHOUTcast website had changed and was no longer compatible…. or so I thought. ESP uses the website as the directory service and grabbing the stream location/information from the directory when you select it.  The NEW SHOUTcast website pops up a flash-based player instead of passing the pls stream file so ESP had nothing to work with and I was bummed. Well it turns out SHOUTcast’s website has “Settings” where you can choose if you want to use the flash player or “Save the pls stream location file.” Once I changed the setting ESP worked like a charm! And with that little heart I can save my favorite stations so it’s now part of my HTPC.

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