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Monday, 24 January 2011

Control your Z-WAVE modules in Media Center - Power Controller MCE

I’ve been testing out some Z-Wave kit recently, for those that don’t know Z-Wave is a home automation protocol / standard, think X10 but its much newer and works on RF signals. For more information about Z-Wave see here.

Initially I was thinking about using Martin Millmore’s Power Controller MCE add-in with Byebye standby equipment which is available in the UK. But I really wanted to try Z-Wave rather than Byebye standby. So I contacted Martin and after this a plan formed and thanks to a generous donation from my friend in Hong Kong (Thanks Tom), I was able to purchase enough Z-Wave equipment for myself and for Martin to test and develop with.

We each had an Aeon Labs Z-Stick with is a USB dongle “When attached to a host processor, it becomes a Z-Wave communication device, which exposes the Zensys API (SerialAPI) through integrated USB.” This basically allows the PC to be able to send commands and receive status updates from the Z-wave devices around your home.

If I was to choose again however I would have purchased a Euro version of the ControlThink ThinkStick USB dongle instead, as this is meant to work much better with software such as mControl and the Melloware Z-Wave Commander iPhone / Android apps. As these use the ControlThink SDK.

One important thing to keep in mind is that US Z-Wave and European Z-Wave products work on different RF frequencies so ensure you are buying the right equipment for your locale.

I also purchased a mixture of Z-Wave Lamp dimmer modules and appliance modules and also an in wall dimmer switch. These were purchased from Z-wave-Products a UK website.

Once Martin had received his test equipment he was able to use an Open-Source Z-Wave SDK rather than the ControlThink one and greatly expand and develop the functionality of Power Controller MCE to include control over Z-Wave devices. I did quite allot of testing on the various software versions that he sent to me and came up with a few ideas as well.


Development is still on-going and Martin is working on updating his Android phone application, but you can find a released version and more information of Power Controller MCE with Z-Wave support on the Millisoft website here.

You can turn devices on and off, dim lights and lamps if they are connected to dimmer modules, you can create Zones like Living Room, Master Bedroom and then group the devices in to the correct rooms. You can create scenes for example All Lights On / Off or dim lights for a Movie scene. Set scheduled events.

One of the best things that you can do which was my idea! Is you can assign keyboard key combinations to Z-Wave devices. So for example I can assign Ctrl+Alt+A to my lamp and it will turn off Ctrl+Alt+B to turn it on Ctrl+Alt+C to dim down and Ctrl+Alt+D to brighten etc.

I can then teach my Logitech Harmony IR remote control these key combinations using a standard MCE 2005 IR keyboard. I added a dummy Lighting Controller device in the Harmony software and assigned my newly taught key combinations to this device. I can then control the lamp with the Infra-Red Harmony remote control! Event better I can insert these key combinations in to activities. For example on my Harmony remote I have a My Movies activity, I added in an IR command to dim the lights 50% so now whenever I enter the My Movies activity the lamps in the lounge auto dim down and if I exit the activity and enter another activity they go to full brightness again.

There is also a WHS add-in for Power Controller MCE, this allows you to install the Z-Wave USB dongle into the home server and then on each Windows 7 Media Center PC you can install the MCE add-in and each one of these PC’s will then be able to control your Z-Wave devices via the USB dongle on the WHS box, Sweet!

If your a Media Center user and taking your first steps in to Home Automation with Z-wave or Byebye standby? Power Controller MCE might be a good place to start. I think over time you would probably want to move on to something more sophisticated like mControl or HomeSeer but it you want simple control over a few Z-wave lighting and appliance modules and to be able to link it in with Media Center and your existing universal remote control then I’d definitely recommend taking a look at Power Controller MCE.

I’d like to thank Martin for his hard work so far coding and also to Tom for his generous donation which has made this possible.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

My Movies–Missing metadata whilst playing a movie?

This article applies if you are using My Movies for Windows Home Server. If you are using a standalone My Movies Server / Client on Windows XP / Vista / Seven and you do not have a WHS then this does not apply to you.

Do you have missing metadata on the native Media Center overlay screens whilst playing a movie?

Play a movie once it starts press the info button on your remote control to bring up the Program Info.

This is how it currently looks on my laptop, you can only see part of the UNC Path and a Dolby Logo

Click here for larger image – Program Info

Click here for a larger image – Synopsis

Click here for a larger image – No Synopsis

If you see the same as the above screen shots, then you could be missing the My Movies Media Center MetaData Connector. A rather dated and I thought not a completely clear description of the MetaData Connector can be see here on the My Movies website.

To install the Metadata Connector browse to the following folder on your Windows Home Server

\\servername\Software\My Movies\Media Center MetaData Connector

In here you will find an exe called Media Center MetaData Connector.exe, probably best to close your Media Center program down before running the exe.

Note:- If your Windows client does not have the Windows Home Server Connector software already installed you will get this error:

After clicking the Create button you will see this dialog.

If you are using the My Movies client / MCE add-in then I would go for the first option. If you are using the native My DVD’s (MCE 2005) DVD Library (VMC) or Movies Library (7MC) only I think you would go for option two.

So I select Yes on this dialog as I will be using the My Movies client / MCE add-in on my Windows 7 PC’s.

After clicking the Yes button I was presented with this dialog box.

I then clicked OK on the above dialog and I was simply left with the first dialog box showing on the screen this one:

So at this point I was a little confused as to what was going on? Had the installation finished?

I then opened Media Center and opened My Movies Library and nothing had change I still had no metadata whilst playing a movie.  Looking on the My Movies forum it was suggested that selecting Yes does not work (Thanks Tony). So I tried again and this time selected No. I then saw the following dialog boxes.

Click Yes

Click OK

I then went back in to Media Center and My Movies and started playing the same film again, this time I had the metadata showing as you can see in the screen shots below.

Click here for a larger image

Click here for a larger image

Click here for a larger image

Click here for a larger image

Apparently there is also a problem with Windows Service Pack 1 that breaks this functionality, I do not know why of have any further details on this, perhaps Brian can enlighten us.