When I was doing some research on HTPC software, I was in need of an extensible front end. The Microsoft Media Center OS was out of the question but I did like the look and feel of it. One of the recommendations I read led me to myHTPC
. It was a free application that allowed you to setup menu items for external programs. While it wasn’t simple to setup, it had some great features and many user made plugins that really extended the program. myHTPC
has since gone commercial, changed names, and evolved from where myHTPC
left off. Meedio Essentials
is what it’s called now and we’re going to look at how well it works as an HTPC front end. Meedio Essentials
lets you manage all your multimedia applications with a user friendly interface. Well, you aren’t limited to multimedia applications but that’s what makes Meedio Essentials
so powerful. We’ll get to that in a minute though. If you’ve seen any Windows Media PC with the easy to read display and access to the various applications through a navigational menu system, then you have an idea of what Meedio Essentials
is like. You can easily setup your computer to load up with Meedio Essentials
as the default display and hide your Windows GUI.
First off, installation was a breeze. After you click on the install package and point it to a directory you want to install it to, you are given a menu to select the folders that hold your various multimedia files. Once selected, Meedio Essentials
is ready to use. If you are trying to migrate from the old myHTPC program, Meedio Essentials
will convert your old files to use with the new program.
You are greeted with a very professional looking GUI for controlling your HTPC. The buttons are large with large and easily readable letters. There are some nicely done icons for each menu item that adds a nice look. When you cycle through the menu items, you’ll hear a nice audio cue. Another nice audio cue sounds when you select a menu item. If you don’t like the look and sound of it, you can change it. I’ll detail more about that later in the review. But the display shows up well on a TV, which is key to finding a good front end.
Going through the default modules I was very happy with how the information was displayed. For example, the weather module gives a week’s worth of forecasts in a very easy to read display. The icons specifying the condition are displayed very cleanly. It’s a very handy module that I used every morning to check on the conditions for the day. You can also set a link to a radar picture of your area. A nice update for Meedio
is that you can now use animated radar GIFs.
For playing video, Meedio Essentials
includes an ok media player. If you want to use a third party program for media, that’s no problem as you can configure it to do so. I know a lot of people like to use Zoom Player
so those looking to use Zoom
or something else need not worry. There’s a barebones DVD player included as well that is serviceable if you just want to play movies. Again, you can signify a third party player if you want a more robust DVD program.
If you take plenty of pictures, the photo module can easily display your digital images and also provide a nice slideshow for viewing. If you have your photos in different folders, you can easily navigate to them as well. A large folder icon for each available folder in the directory you initially specified for pictures will be selectable in the GUI. I’ve been taking all my digital photographs and using Meedio Essentials
to run through them as my photo album.
The music module is pretty robust with support for many formats. There are various ways you can display the music and sort them by however you wish. If you want to start at the artist level (Music Library) and go down to the album level, you can. If you would like to start the display at the album level (Jukebox), that’s possible also. And if those don't work, you can set up the sorting levels any way you please through the configuration menu. Once a selection is made and playing, a picture of the album will be shown in the lower left. When playing audio, you can display the album or a visualization. The visualizations are pretty primitive but you can change them for something else that’s more suited to your taste.
What makes Meedio Essentials
such a popular front end is that fact that there’s a great supportive community and the user made plugins that help extended the functionality of the program. Some of the various plugins I’ve used include displaying showtimes for movie theaters near you complete with viewing trailers, a front end plugin for MAME, and display Motherboard Monitor information. Meedio Essentials
offers an easy to view menu of plugins available from the site and you can easily download them to install. The problem though is some of the plugins require more than just double clicking on the install package to use. This might turn off some of the more average users who don’t have the patience to configure Meedio Essentials
after an installation of a plugin. For example, the installation of the movie showtimes importer takes some more effort and I had to read a few forum posts to figure it out. Not all of the plugins are free as well so the initial investment might balloon to more than you want to spend. You don’t have to purchase them though but if there’s a plugin that fits your need and no alternative is available, then biting the bullet and spending a little more cash might be your only choice.
Some of these plugins can download a great deal of data as well. The likes of the movie showtimes module, that can download Quicktime trailers, can really make your viewing experience less than satisfactory. To help alleviate the problem, some of the modules can be put on a schedule so that it will update the information on a time where you are not using the HTPC. So you can schedule the plugin to download trailers at 4 in the morning when your HTPC is not really used. You’ll need to figure out a good schedule to allow Meedio
to update and it’s a good idea to schedule the various updates at different times so you don’t bog down the machine.
Various themes are available for Meedio Essentials
and if there’s one that doesn’t fit your needs, you can create one yourself. There’s a theme designer available so anyone can create there own unique look. Switching themes hosted on the program’s website is very simple however as the program lets you browse through the ones available and you can switch between them with a click of a button. There’s some really nicely done themes already available and even one that mimics Micrsoft’s Media Edition.
The big theme in this review is that you can configure the application as you see fit. Meedio
is not a very user friendly application to configure however. But once you get the hang of it, you can do some very powerful things to customize it. If you have the time and patience, you can really make Meedio
do all that you want and make it look just the way you want it to. It’s a very powerful desktop replacement software that will be updated vigorously by the creator and the community. Although documentation does seem to be weak, you can find a lot of help in the forums. Products like Beyond Media
might be a little easier to use, but you won’t get the power and control in configurability like you would in Meedio Essentials
. Definitely keep this on your list of software when building an HTPC.