Movie Management and Playback via MediaMonkey + VLC + Apple iPhone Remote App


Article by Ian Sorbello - 11 January 2010.
 

Introduction

Home Theatre on your PC - it's just not easy.
There are so many options and platforms, everyone has a different opinion on what's best, and nothing (yet) really works together well. Or if it does, it takes some serious brain work to make it happen, making HTPC nirvana out of reach for many.
But more specifically, the problem lies I think, in that the definition of what people want from an HTPC differs wildly from person to person. Some people just want to rip a DVD and stash the file on a network drive, to be later played back on a computer using any old player. Others want a nice crisp front end - to be controlled from a dedicated IR remote control - that includes TV, movie files, downloadable content, internet radio streaming. Oh and streamed over Apple TV, XBOX or your PS3 to boot... It's endless.
 
For me - HTPC nirvana is this:
  1. A media management suite that allows me to manage my media library. Note that I say media manager, not song manager. Media. This means music AND video
  2. A player that integrates with said media manager - able to play both music AND video
  3. An iPhone remote control - to control aforementioned player, which will then play aforementioned music AND video
  4. To be wife friendly - it should be easy to get Thomas the Tank Engine episodes playing on a non-preschool day (when i'm not at home) as it is for any blockbuster on a Saturday night.
If this is somewhere close to what you need too - then please read on...

Hardware

I have two apple iPhones - I have one, my wife has another. It's pretty obvious from this fact that running remote software on the iPhone is probably the most viable option. 
 
I also have a windows HTPC (actually, just an old HP 7100 small form factor desktop - plays SD movies perfectly) - thanks, Matt. It sits in my entertainment cabinet - is hooked into my Plasma television, Kenwood Surround system and a 1TB USB external drive. Nothing fancy.

Software - Media Manager

Endless possibilities...
 
OK - so I want to manage music AND video, so what about iTunes? My media is in all sorts of formats, from ripped DVDs in ISO format, to divx and h264 encodings either done by myself or downloaded from the internet. iTunes doesn't like to play non-QuickTime formats... so on a windows box - as of circa January 2010 - there are no options to import MKVs and AVIs etc. into iTunes. Well, you can on a Macintosh (leveraging Perian) - but I don't have a Mac - and I don't enjoy the fact that iTunes can't be modded or extended, so iTunes is out.
 
Enter MediaMonkey. Apparently an iTunes killer. Not sure why the need to kill iTunes, but I must say the goodness in this software is that it supports more formats than the closed system of iTunes (AAC, QT only) and all that.
And MediaMonkey is scriptable - in fact, very scriptable. 
MediaMonkey is in.

Software - Media Player

MediaMonkey plays music just fine - but it doesn't do video.
 
Everyone has their favourite movie player - who knows why someone likes VLC over Media Center - Home Cinema Edition... It's strange how some people will covet their player of choice with religious vigour. But anyway, for me - I'm a VLC fan. I like it because it is very open, plays a huge amount of file types (including ISO files natively without having to mount them) - and it's very programmable, which for a programmer like me is a must have.
 
So, MediaMonkey will play the music, VLC will play the video - what's missing then is the scripts to integrate VLC with MediaMonkey. I just couldn't find anything on the web that could do this kind of thing, so I wrote my own plugin.
 
The plugin is called MM2VLC, and you can download the installer from the attachments section at the bottom of this page.
 
If you like this functionality, be sure to spare a thought about donating if you like :) 

Software - Remote Control

Given that I'm controlling software remotely over the iPhone, it has to be Apple Remote - I've tried plenty of other remote controls - but the controls are about manipulating the GUI - not the media library.
 
So for me - it has to be Apple Remote (you can get this from the App Store) - it looks just like iTunes on your iPhone, but you'll be remotely running your media from your PC. Browsing your media on the phone is precisely what I'm after - the remote is media centric, and when you've find the media you're interested in, click it, and up comes your movie on you television and sound system...
 
Now interestingly, normally Apple Remote will be expecting to connect to an iTunes instance on the network. But you can make it connect to MediaMonkey! A DACP (a proprietry apple protocol) plugin for MediaMonkey will enable you to connect Apple Remote straight to your MM instance. Very neat. Melloware makes the plugin, it it's called MonkeyTunes, and you can get it from their site.


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