MediaCentral 2.1

MediaCentral 2.1
Company: Equinux
Price: €29.95 / $29.95

System Requirement:
Apple Macintosh G4 1GHz or Intel Mac / Mac OS X 10.4 or higher / An active internet connection

In March I did a review of MediaCentral 1.2, just as the new Intel MacMinis were released to the public with FrontRow part of the package. MediaCentral had a lot to offer though and scored a strong 4 out of 5.

Recently Equinux released version 2.0 and shortly thereafter version 2.1 – it is no longer a free download, but pay for software. It no longer is a tiny 1.8MB download, but a 33.4MB download. So it raises the question – what’s new?

What’s new?
The MediaCentral content and development team have spend a lot of time improving the availability and choice of internet content. Not only has the list of available programs and languages grown for IPTV stations, but you can hook up to the top rated clips from Google Video, or YouTube.

Not happy with the selection and desperate to add something? The guys at Equinux added a folder to your home directory. MyMedia Central. Simply download the stream files in .asf, .ram, or .mov and place it in the directory and you can go off and access your own favorite shows. Well done and simple enough even for me to handle and manage.

The Movies section has seen the addition of link through to iTunes, something that Donny Yankellow had posted about in the original review. Movie Trailers have been improved as well, while you wait for the trailer to load, a short bit of information about the movie is being displayed.

The DVD section, so the website has been improved as well, most notably with better playback control (keyboard shortcuts) and the new Stop and Go feature. Somehow that didn’t work for me – but the idea is simple, continue watching a DVD from where you left off, even after having switched off and rebooted your Mac.

The Music section was improved as well with eContent, as has the Pictures section, which now links through to Flickr and iPhoto and displays whatever you put in your My MediaCentral folder. Nice touches, only bit of improvement I’d like to see here, is the ability to chose what tags it searches for on Fllickr and possibly link to your “Flickr contacts” images.

All new and sparkling is the section TV, Games, Radio and Skype.

Games offers you some flash based arcade classics like Snake and Alien Invaders. Nice touch and even so many years after first having played those games, a round of Snake is good fun.

Radio offers you quick access to internet radio station, you chose from a genre, like Country or Jazz and a radio station will show up. There is again local support for German stations (and many others, if you activate them) and of course you can add the stream of your favorite local station. Really, really nicely done.

TV offers support for my Terratec Cinergy T2, you need to tune the stations from within the system preferences pane, but it allows you to resort and rename as you like. It only takes a minute or two to set it all up.

It works nicely, but the well advertised EPG is the more basic “Now and Next” information transmitted with digital terrestrial TV channels and not the more advanced full EPG that gives you a few days worth of schedule data.

What MediaCentral still doesn’t do is incorporate well enough with EyeTV, I cannot access my recordings quickly and I cannot schedule them either. That is a real pity, as I would use my TV’s build in tuner for watching TV most of the time, but the ability to schedule a recording and watch it later would be the real killer feature. Maybe next time.

Maybe MediaCentral will work with Elgato to incorporate their brand new full screen menus, which not only look really nice, but also offer full feature EPG (either DTT data, or from TVTV) with scheduling, access to your recordings and all. I believe that for me as a user this would make it the PERFECT media center.

The last update brought us Skype integration and we could probably argue a day and a half on whether this is useful. I will argue it is, as long as you have a Bluetooth headset. My assumption here is that the mac is near your TV and you are a good few feet away from your computer.

If a call comes through while you watch a DVD or do just about anything on MediaCentral the call will be announced and you can accept the call. Useful as you won’t miss a call again. If you want to initiate a call, you can do so, as long as the name is in your buddy list – but that is fair enough.

MediaCentral now also supports more remote controls, the one you might be interested in is the one that comes with your new Apple and that was meant for use with FrontRow. A bunch of others are supported and I am talking to Tech Support to see whether we can get mine to work (I am trying to use the one that came with my TV tuner). Unfortunately after an initial confirmation of the problem and a promise that they are working on it, I haven’t heard from them again. I am sure they are working hard on it all…

This is an awesome update, making a great product even better. I had hooked up MediaCentral to my TV and it is a pleasure to use (even though I had to make do with my keyboard). The new icons on the left indicating the menu choice are a bit small on my TV, but look fabulous on my computer monitor.

The integration of TV is a big plus, though this is where MediaCentral needs to improve most. Now that it is no longer a free download, but a full “packaged” product a little work needs to be invested and working with the most popular provider (i.e. Elgato) might be a great start and allow the MediaCentral team to focus their development on the further integration of eContent.

Lastly the addition of Skype adds a unique touch to the entire setup and while I sat there and wondered, why I would want that feature, I tested it and realized why: because it is convenient and it makes your MacMini in your living room a reality.

So has my MacMini moved yet? No, not yet – it stays on my desk for the time being. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Recognizing the great strides this product has made and leaving half a point for improvement, when the TV feature works better and better EyeTV integration is achieved.


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