Add More Fiber
In the quest to get your PC’s media to your TV, we’ve examined three models so far: the extender, direct from a laptop, and a media adapter with a USB drive. Today’s method, the set-top box, puts a new spin on the extender. While a regular extender exists solely to pull media from your PC, the set-top serves a different primary function, usually to tune in channels from your cable or satellite provider. In our case, we used the set-top box for Verizon’s fiber optic FiOS service, which serves up a big dish of digital TV and broadband access with a tasty side order of PC-based media playback. The functionality of this is so simple that it can be easily controlled with the set-top’s remote control.
At the end of 2008, FiOS broadband Internet service reached 10 million homes across 16 states. Of these, 24.9%, or roughly 2.5 million, were subscribers, and many of these opted to also get their TV service from the same fiber feed. Verizon was among the first to figure out that subscribers using both its Internet and TV services could enjoy applications bridging both worlds. If 147,000 channels of programming can’t keep you happy, perhaps sharing photos and music from your PC to the home theater will.
Set Up Media Manager
To make the bridge from PC to TV, you need to subscribe to Verizon’s Internet and TV services as well as have a Home Media DVR set-top box. Next, you need to plant a free application on your media PC called FiOS Media Manager. The software doesn’t care if you’re running a version of Windows with Media Center support, because Media Manager is a media center manger in its own right, helping you organize, play back, and share your audio, video, and photo files.
To get up and running, just follow these steps:
- Download the Media Manager application from Verizon (www36.verizon.com/fiostv/web/unprotected/mediamanager.aspx) and save it to your media PC.
- Launch the downloaded mediamanager.exe file and install Media Manager on your system.
- As soon as you run Media Manager, you’ll be met with a pop-up window warning about potential conflicts with firewalls. If it turns out you have a problem, then deal with it (you may need to disable the firewall). For now, hit the Ignore and Visit Later button.
- Start adding media. By default, Verizon enables scanning of your My Documents folder. This will cover the default music, video, and photo locations in Windows. If you store media in other locations, expand the necessary drives and folders and add check boxes next to the locations you want.
- Hit OK to let Media Manager start its indexing. Don’t worry if you don’t include all of your media at this stage. You can always click the Add Media button to include more locations.
Customize To Your Taste
Creating slideshows and playlists in Media Manager is a snap. When you have the Photo Manager tab selected, click the New Slideshow button. Under the Photo Library tree, click on the newly created New Slideshow item and give it whatever name you like. The easiest way to add photos to this slideshow is simply to drag them from My Computer and drop them onto the slideshow’s title within the Photo Library. Just mind your DRM restrictions—if you try adding a track purchased from iTunes, Media Manager will tell you “there are no music files to add.” DRM-free MP3 tracks purchased from Amazon.com work just fine. Under the Photo Manager tab, playlist creation works the same way. Note that JPEG, GIF, and PNG files drag and drop into Media Manager without a hitch, while EPS and TIFF files do not.
Back To The Big Screen
On the Home Media DVR set-top, go to the main FiOS TV menu. One of the options here is Media Manager. Click on this and the DVR will search the LAN for systems running the Media Manager server application. Each server system offers Photo Manager and Music Manager sections, and within these you can dive into either the slideshow/playlists or individual folders listed in the Media Manager app. For example, you could click on Genres, then Rock, but note that Verizon lists songs by title grouped by album. To see the artist and album name, you have to scan the right half of the screen.
Nothing's Perfect: No Video Playback
We wish there were dozens more pages of functionality to describe to you, but that’s really all there is. Media Manager is simply a dead-simple way to get PC photos and music to your TV. Simple is good for basic tasks like media playback, but it has some drawbacks, too. For example, there is no quick way to shortcut through hundreds of folders. You just have to scroll and scroll and scroll from the top, so playlists/slideshows become essential. We found instances when the displayed album art didn’t match the track being played. (You’ll note in the image that Aerosmith album art from the prior track is displaying on a Bon Jovi song.) Perhaps the biggest annoyance was that, when watching a slideshow, you’re forced to hear whatever channel is playing in the background. There’s no way (yet) to start a song or playlist in Music Manager, then keep it playing when you switch over to Photo Manager.
When we spoke with Verizon’s tech support, two techs seemed surprised that video playback had yet to be integrated into Media Manager and indicated that it “must not have made it into the last update.” So perhaps video playback will be added soon. That would certainly plug a feature hole addressed by practically every other PC-to-TV media product we’ve seen.
Free, If You Can Get It
If you’re already a dual-service subscriber, Media Manager is free, and that makes it a pretty sweet deal compared to some of the other options we’ve reviewed. Playback quality for both photos and music is decent. Compared to tiny digital photo frames or perpetually lame “radio” channels, stepping into a nifty app like Media Manager can’t lose. But, you can't have Verizon FiOS until it gets to your neighborhood. Click here to find out if it already has.