We’ve been using the Windows Vista Media Center as our primary way to record shows for about a year now, and our experience has been really good. It’s a lot like Tivo, but one thing that really makes me love the Vista Media Center is its extensibility. Yes, third-party developers can create awesome apps that leverage off of your Media Center’s capabilities.
A few months back we wrote about the free WebGuide software that also ties into Media Center. With it you could remotely stream, schedule, and manage shows all through your browser. When you combine that with the program we’re about to show you I think you’ll be impressed with what the Media Center computer is capable of doing.
The application is called DVRMSToolbox, and it is a completely free program that is well updated. It’s kind of like the new Lifextender program that has been buzzing around the Internet, except DVRMSToolbox is a well-polished app that has been around for a while. It’s offered for both XP Media Center and Vista Media Center, so anyone can benefit from what DVRMSToolbox has to offer.
DVRMSToolbox is setup to automatically scan for new television shows as they are recorded, and commercials will immediately be “removed” from them. In DVRMSToolbox commercials are never actually removed from the recorded shows, instead the positions of them are tagged. When you’re watching a show the commercial will instantaneously fast forward past the commercial (you’ll be notified) so that it’s like the commercial is never there. This is actually what sets DVRMSToolbox apart from Lifextender, which actually modifies the recorded media and removes the commercials.
Personally I would never like to have a commercial skipping application that modified the media. I’ve come across several instances where the program skips past part of a show’s main content, and with Lifextender you wouldn’t be able to recover what was just skipped. With DVRMSToolbox it’s as simple as hitting the back button.
There are two different commercial detection methods available to use with DVRMSToolbox, both of which are included in the download. The main one that many applications use is called Comskip. It’s completely free, and that’s the reason most people choose to use it.
The other alternative is ShowAnalyzer which costs $19.95 for a license. I purchased a license for this shortly after I started using DVRMSToolbox simply because the commercial detection is way better. With Comskip I would say that it correctly detected about 90% to 95% of the commercials in a show, while ShowAnalyzer is closer to 99%.
If your Media Center computer is hooked up to your primary TV I would recommend splurging on the $20 license for ShowAnalyzer. If you only use Media Center for watching shows here and there I would say to just stick with Comskip.
Note: DVRMSToolbox will automatically detect and use ShowAnalyzer if it is available.
Power users will feel at home with all of the settings available in DVRMSToolbox, half of which I’m still not sure what they do. This setup guide explains some of the different features available, and below you’ll find screenshots of the various items available to configure.
All of the screenshots that I’ve taken are from my DVRMSToolbox setup on my Vista Media Center. I’ve played with most of the settings to see what they do, and have spent a lot of time getting things just right. Here’s an outline of features I’ve changed:
- On the DVRMSToolbox tab I set the default priority to AboveNormal to ensure that commercial skipping is given a high priority than other applications on my computer.
- On the Commercial Skip tab you’ll see an option dedicated to the “Skip Display Type.” This refers to how you want to be notified that Media Center just skipped past a commercial. I prefer the SkipBar because you can see how many minutes were skipped as a result of commercials, and you can also see how long is left in the show.
- On the Commercial Skip tab you can set what key(s) turn the commercial skip on and off. It’s important that you know what keys are used to do this in case there is a particular show that doesn’t play too nice with the app.
And here are screenshots of all my settings, most of which I’ve left at the default configuration:
Generally setting up DVRMSToolbox can be a quick process… that is if you’re not tempted to fool around with the plethora of options available. If you’re using Media Center (Vista or XP) to record your shows I highly recommend installing this!