Windows Media Center is a great, but often overlooked HTPC package. It’s easy to use, with an extensive plug-in system that allows you to easily integrate add-ons Hulu Desktop, TotalMedia Theatre, or PowerDVD, as well as one of the best implementations of Netflix streaming available.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has pretty much abandoned WMC in recent years, but there’s still a dedicated core that absolutely loves it, myself included. The only thing it truly lacks is a robust and affordable control option.
And that’s where the Ceton Companion App for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone comes in. Instead of having to have a dedicated WMC remote control, and having to deal with setting up IR receivers and control on your HTPC, this $5 helper does all that, and a heck of a lot more.
The heart of Companion is scheduling. After installing the Ceton Companion Services program on your computer and loading the app up on your smartphone, with a single tap you can look at what was recently recorded on Media Center’s DVR, and peruse what’s scheduled for tonight. You can click through the grid, choose the shows you want to record, and even tune the channel it’s on to check your signal if you’re on antenna. Every single function of Media Center is at your fingertips, and the best part is that it doesn’t matter if you’re on the couch, or half a world away — it just works.
To be honest, it adds a lot of functionality to WMC beyond mere remote control and remote access. I often let repeats of shows I like pile up, and then the drive gets full and it starts trying to delete the shows that I’m saving for posterity after their horrible murder at the hands of Nielsen last year. Deleting en masse in WMC is a pain in the ass. Each deletion is a three-click process, with very pregnant pauses between each clock. With the Companion, it’s just swipe to kill, making wiping out ten episodes of Touch a faster process than deleting three episodes via the mouse directly in WMC.
If you’ve wired up the house with Media Center Extenders, then not only can you choose to “watch now” to have the show start, no matter what menu you’re on in the computer, but you can even use it to choose where you’re bouncing the signal to. Junior’s Disney DVD stop? You’ve got him covered with your secret stash of Sesame Street. Click, boom.
This works for any and all media you have on your hard drive. If you decide that nothing’s appealing, and round 573 of Lion King is in order, and you can do it blind. A word of warning, though: for some reason the “skip” button instead turns into playback speed control in Power DVD 12, so you’re going to have to get used to that quirk.
The only thing that could make this better would be the ability to stream, SlingBox-style, to the app itself, but I’m sure — given that MS encrypts your recordings — that they also have protections in place to completely prevent that kind of functionality (unless they came out with their own similar app). If you’re a Windows Media Center user, you owe yourself to drop the five bucks, and keep your Windows Media Center DVR trim, tidy, and on schedule.