Alan Pringle

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Streaming and sharing Windows Media Center content with Plex and Chromecast

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A few years ago, I ditched my cable box/DVR and replaced it with a Windows 7 computer running Windows Media Center and a USB-based external TV tuner. I’ve been very happy with the DVR capability of Windows Media Center with one exception: the Windows Media Center .wtv files won’t play on many other devices without conversion to a more popular file format.

I have solved that inconvenience—and gained some great new capabilities—by installing the Plex Media Server and streaming Windows Media Center content to the Plex apps on my phone and tablet and to my Chromecast device.

Here’s my hardware setup:

Software:

  • Plex Media Server (free!) installed on the Dell desktop
  • Plex app for my Razr Maxx (99 cents at the time I published this post; usually $4.99)
  • Plex app for my iPad ($4.99)

After installing the Plex Media Server, I specified which folders I wanted to share via Plex. For the Windows Media Center files,  I chose the media type Home Movies—apparently, the file naming and metadata for .wtv files are problematic for the Movies media type in Plex—and specified the directory for my Media Center recordings (C:\Users\Public\Recorded TV on my computer). I then installed the Plex apps on my iPad and Razr Maxx and specified my account information; you can set up your Plex account when you install the media server.

With the Media Center files now set up for sharing in Plex, I went upstairs to the TV to which I connected my Chromecast. I made sure my iPad was on the 2.4 GHz wireless band provided my router because the Chromecast works only on the 2.4 GHz frequency— not the 5 GHz band I usually use on the iPad.

With both the iPad and Chromecast on the same wireless band, I fired up the TV and Chromecast. From the Plex app on the iPad, I selected the Home Videos icon in the My Library section, and there were my recordings! I selected a show and specified that it play on the Chromecast by selecting the Chromecast icon in the lower right corner of the app:

Chromecast button in the Plex app

 

Voilà! The file streamed to the Chromecast flawlessly without a stutter. I got the same results using the Plex app on the Razr Maxx, which means I could now stream my Windows Media Center content to my iPad, my phone, and my bedroom TV (via Chromecast)—no more file conversion and loading content onto a device! Plex transcodes the Windows Media Center files on the fly.

Bonus: streaming media on external networks

Plex gives you the ability to share the content beyond your home network, but setting that up can be tricky. I had trouble accessing my Plex server on external networks until I verified that the UPnP setting on my TRENDnet wireless router was actually on. On the TEW-812DRU, that setting is part of the Advanced Network settings:

UPnP setting enabled in router settings

Even though I turned UPnP on and selected the Apply button, I don’t think the setting actually “stuck” until I enabled it again and then rebooted the router. Your results may vary, but I recommend double- (or triple-) checking you have turned on UPnP before you install Plex. Otherwise, setting up the external network connectivity is going to be an exercise in frustration.

After successfully setting up the external connection, I could stream my Windows Media Center recordings, music, and other shared files via the apps on my phone and tablet while away from home. I could also stream content via web browsers on laptop and desktop computers by logging into my Plex account via the plex.tv web site.

I rarely pay for apps, but I think the sum of $6 I paid for the Plex apps on my phone and iPad was a great investment. The time I save not converting .wtv files is worth a lot more than six bucks!

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tip work like a treat

  2. Hi, I was just wondering if you got PLEX to successfully download metadata for your Recorded TV Shows (wtv) files and if so, how did you set it up? I have a Mac mini running PlexServer, and even though I can get it to stream my recorded TV media from WMC (running on a VM machine) onto Plex-running devices (TV’s, IOS, etc), I can’t get it to download metadata because I can’t figure out how to change the Agent setting to TheTVDB.

    While I can stream recorded files with no issues, it’d be nice to see their metadata with show name, episode, etc.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks in advance…

    • Alan

      August 20, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      Hi, the only information I get is from the file name: for example, Extant_WRALDT_2014_8_20_20_58_00. Better than nothing, but I understand why you would want more.

      • Thank you for your reply, Alan…

        I also get the same type of file name… I guess what I’m wondering is if you’ve been able to use the data in these type of files to download metadata from a source like TheTVDB… The issue stems from the fact that if I add a ‘TV Shows’ section in Plex and point the directory to where my .wtv files reside, it allows me to choose TheTVDB as an ‘agent’, BUT the scanner does not actually add any of my .wtv files to the repository. If I use a ‘Movies’ section in Plex, the scanner does add my .wtv files to the repository, BUT the GUI does not allow me to configure TheTVDB as an Agent to download the metadata.

        I guess I can live with a ‘Movies’-type section that contains my recorded TV shows without the proper metatdata, but I figured it would’t hurt to ask if you’ve figured out how to point PLEX to scan TV Shows using the TheTVDB agent and get the correct metadata.

        Thoughts?

  3. Thanks for this. I really wanted Plex to be the solution for my WTV streaming to an Nook HD+ with CM11, but never figured out the “home movies” trick. I’m still trying to decide if I like it better than using Remote Potato in conjunction with Remote Media Center for Android. I notice that if I set my device profile to “external player” for direct play to MX Player, the 1080i recordings are not deinterlaced, and the stream isn’t compatible with my device’s hardware decoder. MX Player does have deinterlacing available with the software decoder, but SW decode with deinterlacing of a high bitrate stream seems like it’s going to be a battery killer. I do prefer MX Player, but I’ll need to see what kind of performance I can get with Plex’s internal player. Extensive testing to come!

    The whole reason I’m trying to get away from Remote Media Center is because I’m sporadically getting choppy video playback, even with my totally adequate HTPC with a i3-2100 and 8GB RAM transcoding it. I do like that RMC displays the WTV metadata, even if it doesn’t go so far as cross-referencing it for episode numbers or cover art. The biggest annoyance, aside from the thus-far mysterious video choppiness, is that it almost always sets my default audio track to spanish, so I have to check it each time before playback.

    Considering the fact that VLC Player for Windows with play a WTV file without transcoding and Yadif 2x deinterlace it with a minimal processor impact, I’m pretty disappointed with the options available for streaming to other devices. I still use an XBOX 360 as a Windows Media Center Extender for my primary viewing platform.

    As an aside, I did notice that there’s a powershell script on codeplex called “WTV-MetaRenamer” that uses the WTV metadata and TheTVDB info to rename the recordings. Just in case anyone wants to get their hands dirty and give it a try.

    • Nothing like replying to your own message! Just to follow up, in case anyone googles this later.

      In Plex, using Device Media Profile > External Player to Direct Stream / Direct Play WTV content to MX Player in Android is a viable solution, just not for my Nook HD+ running CM11 as I had hoped.

      Apparently the HW decoder of the Nook HD+ is compatible with the video stream, but it just overwhelms it. MX Player defaults back to the SW decoder, and whether you set it to deinterlace or not, the 1080i stream only plays back at about 10 frames per second. Using BSPlayer I was able to playback using the HW decoder, but framerate was even worse and much less consistent. Testing with my Motorola Moto G 1st gen, the 1080i plays back great with MX Player’s HW+ decoder setting, so if you have a faster tablet, you should definitely try this option.

      I ended up going with Plex using the transcoding option with my media center. In the end, it was the only option stable enough for me to use.

      Digging through MX Player settings, I did notice that WTV is listed as a supported file extension to look for when scanning video folders, so setting up a local network share location, you may even be able to do this without using Plex. Just as long as your device is fast enough to play the stream without transcode.

      Thanks for letting me ramble! 🙂

  4. Just a quick follow-up. I’ve been using this for a month now, and it’s working well. I wanted to add an extra tip. In Plex settings, set [x]Update my library automatically, and [x]Run partial scan when changes are detected. This might seem counter-intuitive, since the Recorded TV folder you’re monitoring is where all the temporary files are being stored as they’re being recorded. This setting may have just as easily set Plex into a constant library update cycle any time a program is was recorded. In fact, it only updates about once every five minutes, only the files that are being recorded, and taking less than ten seconds to complete.

    In contrast, instead of the above noted settings, I initially tired [x]Update my library periodically, Interval [30 minutes.] Unbeknownst to me, this would do a full library update, scanning each file for changes, and taking around 20 minutes to complete. Though the process never took over 30% CPU, it would slow my media center and extenders user interface to an annoyingly sluggish pace. I suspect this due to disk seeking performance, since I boot from the same 5400RPM 2TB drive my ~350 TV recordings are stored on. Although, I’m not even sure having an SSD boot drive would have completely solved the issue, since Windows needs to query metadata from the wtv recording file in order for the menu interface to respond each command.

    Anyway, whether or not you have lots of media, I find that the periodic update option is not necessary, and has the potential to lag your system by holding up your drives other io processes. If you decide to use it, set it to the maximum time interval (daily.) For me, it caused a week of frustration, followed by about an hour of serious troubleshooting to figure out and correct 🙂

    Other setting tips
    -Disable DLNA server if you don’t use it.
    -Set Transcoder’s default throttle buffer to a higher value to help scrub through commercials faster. I set mine to 300 (5 minutes.)
    -Un-check “Generate media index files during scans (this can take a long time.)”
    I actually don’t know if this is necessary, but after my previous experience 20 minute update scans, I’ve kept it unchecked, and things are working well.

  5. My wtv’s are marked for commercials with comskip, and on the WMC box and Xbox 360 extender, I use DVRMS toolbox to skip as I watch. I don’t want to remove the commercials via transcoding since comskip is not 100% accurate. Can the Plex viewers read the comskip files so I can skip as I watch?

    Also do the Plex viewers pass along the closed captions from the WTV files?

    If those 2 hurdles could be cleared I could dump the Xbox 360 for a Chromecast.

  6. I stumbled on this thread and just wanted to share how I was able to get Plex to download metadata for most TV shows…

    I installed WTV-Metarenamer which is a Powershell script that scans your wtv files, renames them, and organizes them in a manner that Plex will download the metadata for the TV episodes. You can have it move single recordings, such as specials or movies, into a separate folder and deal with that separately.

    I have a .bat file as a scheduled task that runs as needed to organize the recordings. I use Plex is mainly used for watching shows remotely such at at family member houses who have cut the cord and do have have dvr capability. Locally I still use WMC which works well with this setup. Once these files are renamed and organized into subdirectories, WMC automatically picks this up and the shows still show up in the recorded list.

    Some examples:
    My .bat file is this, which is what I have running as a scheduled task:
    E:
    cd \WTV-MetaRenamer
    powershell -file “E:\WTV-MetaRenamer\WTV-MetaRenamer.ps1”

    An example of what this script does – where I have “E:\Recorded TV” setup as the directory where the shows get recorded:
    A file for a particular episode is recordeed and saved with a name such as:
    E:\Recorded TV\Backstrom_S01E04_I Am a Bird Now_2015_02_12_18_58_00_18.wtv

    After the script is run, it is renamed as saved as this:
    E:\Recorded TV\Backstrom\Season 01\Backstrom – S01E04 – I Am a Bird Now.wtv

    Plex will now pick up the metadata for this show.

    It takes a little reading up to get this configured and it sometimes will fail at renaming a file but it’s good enough for me! If it fails it always leave the file alone although be careful how you configure it.

  7. Thanks for this tip! Worked with no fuss!! But, am I the only one having problems getting Plex to stream the HD ‘cable’ shows I recorded? I have The Daily Show (Comedy Central) recorded and a NFL football game (CBS) recorded as well. The Comedy Central show starts to stream but then outputs a gray screen and a high pitched sound. The NFL game streams using Plex just fine.

    I noticed when I looked at these same two recordings from Window Media Center that they have a small “Copy Protection” icon on all my Comedy Central shows, but not my CBS football games. Alan, any tips/tricks to get Plex to decode the DRM on these files? Any help would be much appreciated. =)

  8. Thank you SO much! Just got my chromecast today and was bummed I could use it to play my Windows Media Center files. About to test now.

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