Thinking outside the box

Discussion in 'MediaPortal 1 Talk' started by Verbal, October 14, 2005.

  1. Verbal

    Verbal Portal Member

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    This post is going to ramble a bit, so I apologize in advance. And I know it's bad form to write something like this on a first post, but I 've lurked for over a year and am only saying this becuase I think it's really important.

    I'm a user and big fan of mediaportal, and have turned two friends onto it. I'm really looking forward to the new release. So I'm writing to spur some discussion about what MP should be like from a big picture standpoint to make it really cool.

    Think about what the iPod did for mp3 players, and let's rethink the media server/living room pc a little bit in the same way.

    I think there are things that can be done that will not take a lot of technical effort but which will put MP on the map as the one and only living room solution, and leaving other products look like inferior by comaprison, including the commercial ones.

    Menu Design

    For example, why is everything on the menu preceded by "My"? My Programs, My Music, My Pictures, My TV, etc.

    I know why it's like that, because MCE does it that way, and Windows names some user folders that way.

    But that's how people are used to interacting with their computer, because on the computer, most of the files and folders belong to the OS and the software, not the user.

    But that isn't how people to interact with their TV, or their personal property like movies, music and pictures. Of course those pictures, music, and movies are "mine", who else's would they be? But placing MY in front is confusing and disorganized because everything starts with "MY MY MY MY MY", etc.

    Maybe you think its a silly point, but it's also really quick and simple change too. Does putting "My" in front make the system better? I don't think so.

    Some key plugins are missing

    I know people have created these seperately, but there should be a one- or two-click way to rip a CD or DVD to the system and bring in the album art, info, etc. I realize that the DVD solution is lawsuit prone, but there is no question, in the US at least, that ripping a CD you own is completely legal.

    By making it part of the system out-of the-box, though, you make it easier for non-techies (and wives/girlfriends) to use MP and accept it under the tv. Have it execute behind MP so that it returns control to MP immediately while the cd is still ripping.

    skinning

    I realize the skinning engine is going to improve a lot in the next release, but my comment is more about skins in general. I hope to contribute some skins in the future, so I'll put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

    On a standard NTSC tv, there isn't a lot of screen space - 720x480. PAL doesn't have much more than that.

    The skin shouldn't be crowded with drop shadows, reflective transparent buttons on the menu text or the like. The best way to show a selected item is to change the text color and add a big dot or other symbol in the front of it, rather than changing the background color.

    Likewise, we need to make more efficient use of the screen area. For example "My News" Rss fees puts the actual text of the feed in the bottom 40% of the screen, and scrolls it. That makes it hard to read.

    On another topic, and I'm sure there's a good technical explanation, why can web design technologies like CSS and flash be used to make skins for MP? (Aren't the screens just xml files?) It seems like the MP skin engine is almost a separate markup language unto itself? If there was some way to leverage web design experience to make skins more people would skin, and there'd be a greater variety.

    It would also be possible to do context sensitive skinning (like changing to another skin at night, based on the weather or a holiday, etc)

    Pre-built media collections

    One of the really neat things about MP is seeing it filled with stuff- photos, music, etc. So why not preload (or provide as a separate download) pre-made art and music packs of public domain works? Imagine having hundreds of renaissance paintings or Beethoven's symphonies ready when you install. Granted, there may be a limited audience for this, but it's just the kind of "nice touch" that makes people take notice.

    If people are interested, I can provide this now, as I have public domain collections of all of this stuff.

    Thinking out of the box

    In general, I think if we think a little bit about why people would use a media center device, and what would satisfy, surprise, or frustrate them about such a device, we can come up with some new ideas



    What do you think?
     
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  3. Taipan
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    Taipan Retired Team Member

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    I think that your suggestions, and many of the other suggestions already posted, are valid and would be great to see.

    But the limiting factor is the number of developers available to implement all these suggestions. At the moment, there is only a small number of very dedicated developers, with limited free time, doing a damned good job.

    What we really need is some more developers to contribute to MediaPortal - I only wish that I had the appropriate programming skills to enable me to contribute.... :(

    By the way, your suggestion about the use of "My" is easily fixed - just do a Find/Replace on the Strings.xml file for "My " and replace it with null... :)
     
  4. devo
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    devo Retired Team Member

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    I'd like to comment on the my my my topic :)

    I belive this was done to align with microsofts naming scheme in windows xp "My Computer, My Documents" etc. and I think this was fine.

    In windows Vista Microsoft are dropping all the My prefixes from such things so I would imagine MP might align with this.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Vista

    But if you don't want to wait you can visit the strings file for your language and change them to whatever you please. The true benefit of using xml for these types of things.

    Great feedback.
     
  5. chili

    chili Portal Pro

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    I just tried this and all was well except that the My Launch plugin title on the Home screen was still saying My Launch.. is it possible that it was hard coded into the dll ?
     
  6. devo
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    devo Retired Team Member

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    That is most likely the case if it isn't in the strings and doesn't change if it does exist in the strings and has been changed.
     
  7. Verbal

    Verbal Portal Member

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    What a community! People already posting ways to fix things!

    This is exactly my broader point. Why follow Microsoft at all? It's not like MCE is a runaway success that would make sense copying. Frankly I'd like to see MCE copying MP's user interface.

    Frankly, if I were to copy something, I'd copy the ipod before MCE. (And I'm no Mac fanboy).

    If you read the forums, there are so many great coders and designers that if we step back and look at the big picture, we can come up with a really innovative and common sense interface.

    For example, let's rethink the whole top level menu. The way it is is great because everything is right there. Nothing is more than a few clicks of the remote away.


    But the problem is a lot of it doesn't make sense to the non-technical user.

    For example, if we now have "My Radio" and "My Music". Where would Podcasts go? Technically, podcasts are basically MP3 files, like the ones in My Music, so maybe they should go there?

    I don't think that's right. From the listener's standpoint, a podcast is really like a radio broadcast. It's also similar to internet radio. What these things have in common is that the content of the "station" keeps changing, but the name of the station does not.

    Looking at it this way, "My Music" is reserved for your personal collection of music. "My Radio" would be for real time or time shifted audio transmissions. When you go into MY radio, you could be presented with a list like:

    Engadget Podcast 8/25
    94.1 FM WYSP
    101.1 FM WHFS
    billybobhardrock.com Live

    etc.

    From that standpoint, what do you think of this as the top level menu:

    TV
    Radio
    Video
    Music
    Photos
    Games
    News & Weather
    Internet

    That's it. Of course anyone could customize it, but out of the box, it sort of makes sense, doesn't it???

    Again, I realize its a silly change, but anyone whose had to deal with the Wife Approval Factor(TM) understands that simple changes to the way something looks or is written can make a big difference when it comes to acceptance.

    On another topic:

    What do you guys think of integrating a Chess or Go game ino MCE. Could we easily incorporate an opensource java version into a plugin o make it look seamless with MP?

    This has other cool factors, because you could play chess online on your TV from your couch with the remote.

    BTW, if anyone is interested, I've got my MP working with a saitek p3000 wireless gamepad as the remote, and I've got the profile set so MP works perfectly. I also run Celestia and Google Earth through MP using this too, and its no problem.

    MP rocks! Seriously, let's make this software into the killer app of the living room.
     
  8. MrMario64
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    MrMario64 Retired Team Member

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    You got good valid points,
    we should be thinkking outside of the box.
    Thing is, it's easier said then done.

    On the one hand we have users wanting stability
    On the other we the ones wanting new feature
    On the left foot we have the tech users wanting as many buttons as possible
    and on the right foot there r the ones wanting simplicity.

    because of this it is great that MP is open.
    ofcourse a lot is determined by the team, but the skinning engine is very very flexible.
    You can make it as easy or hard as you want.
    You can make more or less options in each screen.

    In short,
    I'm looking forward to your work.
    Seeing your words materialize in some great skins.
     
  9. moullas

    moullas Portal Pro

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    Well, i think this could easilly be handled by an extra add-on pack (since it would increase the file size of the download with some stuff that more or less would never change.
    But i think it's a great idea if we could make a sample folder structure, e.g. Music, Pictures, Movies, with sample media of each category inside along with all extras that people usually request like folder.jpg, jpg files with the same filenames as the movie or music files.
    Imo this would help new people into media portal since they could easily see a way that everything works, and also provide a baseline set of files for developers and users to test MP with each release (let's say if we provide an .avi file encoded with DivX and some subtitles, developers always will have the same file to ask users to test with)

    The download could be handled with a 20-30Mb extra download that includes the following:
    1-2 small MP3 files
    Some pictures
    a sample .avi file
    whatever you people can think of that i haven't right now...

    What do you think about this??
     
  10. Taipan
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    Taipan Retired Team Member

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    I think that this is a brilliant idea - does this mean that you are volunteering to put the package together?.... :D

    I also like the idea of some "pre-made art and music packs of public domain works" to be available as an option for download with a new install.
     
  11. moullas

    moullas Portal Pro

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    Well.. i guess i could whip up a pack with some sample stuff...

    Is there any way for the developers to create a script that loads these defaults afterwards in the database though??

    My idea is have a default directory structure of let's say
    Media->
    -------Music
    -------Pictures
    -------Video

    And have the sample stuff in there
    After installing the addon pack, have a script enter the Video and Music stuff (like artist info etc...) into the default database, so that everything is fully featured as it should be with a full collection, so that people can see everything that is possible with Media Portal.
    Anyone to elaborate in this?
     
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