Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is your music collection a mess? Here is how to Fix your MP3 metadata and album art problems within 'Windows 7 Media Center'

Before we get started, let's get the formalities out of the way.

What is Metadata ?
Metadata is data that provides information about a certain item's content. Essentially it is data about data. MP3 files have space in them for information about the song that it contains. This metadata is used by programs like iTunes and Media Center to catalog your music, making it possible to search by artist, song or album name.

What is a Tag ?
A Tag is a field within the meta-data of an MP3 files. The tags describe the contents, including song title, artist, album,year, comment, CD track and genre. Tags are used for searching as well as displaying the title being played. The standard for MP3 Tags is an ID3 Tag.


I have historically ripped my CDs with iTunes. This has been in part due to its ability to produce high quality MP3s and place them in a logical folder/file structure (\artist\album\song). I used to think that it was the best program to grab song data (metadata) and cover art. Now I am not so sure. With that being said, I am sure that every ripping program has its weaknesses when it comes to 'tagging' an MP3 with the appropriate metadata - so for those of you who want a streamlined, great looking music collection in Media Center that is highly organized, you will need to incorporate an MP3 tagging program in your ripping workflow.

I use MP3TAG, found at http://www.mp3tag.de/en/ .

The Problem

I have around 400-500 CDs in my collection, all ripped to 192K MP3s. The problem lies in the fact that they have been ripped over 5 years and with many different versions of iTunes (many changes in the manipulation of metadata have changed over these versions). Additionally, I have found that most metadata is incomplete, or just flat out wrong for much of the media. Here is what I experienced in my Media Center installation which drove me to find a solution:

1. Songs appear to be missing from albums when viewing MP3s in 'Album view' within Media Center (I can sometimes find the songs when I search by artist).
2. Entire albums are missing when viewing MP3s in 'Album Artist' view.

NOTE: 'Album Artist' is by far my favorite view in Media Center for viewing my music collection, as albums are arranged by artist. In Media Center, by pressing the [info button] and [small] while in the [Album Artist] view, a 'waterfall' view of the album art can be seen. You can quickly find an artist by hitting the corresponding letter on the keyboard.

3. iTunes and Media Center only finds about 40% of the cover art.

4. Many of my albums show up under 'Compilations' or 'Various Artists' instead of under the 'artist' name.
5. Genre information is totally messed up - when trying to view all 'jazz' music, I see only a portion of my jazz albums.
6. The directory structure has been messed with - directories have been created with nothing but cover art files in them, songs have been pulled out of the directory. This happened to me when I accidently forgot to configure iTunes to NOT ORGANIZE MY FILES !!

The fix

Spend the time to organize your directory structure. I recommend you use the following structure:

\[artist name]\[album name]\[song name]

NOTE: Be sure to shut down any instances of iTunes running on a computer while you are doing this. Additionally, make sure that you configure iTunes (or any other music software) to NOT ORGANIZE your folders (directories) for you !! If you do not do this, any work you do in this step will be reversed. This step can take some time, so be patient and make sure that you do a thorough job. You will thank yourself later. Once this is done, move on to the next step.

Download the MP3TAG program from http://www.mp3tag.de/en/.

NOTE: I am not going to walk through every step of setting this program up, but I will give you the highlights of what I did to fix my music collection. Once you tell MP3TAG where your music collection is, it will read all of your MP3s and pull display the filenames, paths and associated metadata.

You may immediately notice that much of your collection has '!BAD' metadata. This can be due to another program inserting characters in the 'comment' field of your metadata and causing MP3TAG to invalidate the data. Additionally, some older versions of MP3 rippng software pre-dated or did not conform to the current Metadata container standards, ID3v1 and ID3v2. This is ok, as you do not want any comments or invalid information in your metadata.

The following are the important MP3 metadata fields (there are many more optional fields available) for Windows Media Center 7. Proper information in these fields will ensure that Media Center 7 will accurately index and display your media.

Important MP3 metadata fields:

Title - 'Title' of the track (should be the same as the filename)
Artist - Unless this is a compilation, it will be the same for all songs within an album
Album - This is the album name - this needs to be EXACTLY the same for all songs in a album
Genre - Style of music (Jazz, Rock etc.)
Artist Album - This is field is called 'band' in some parts of the program - I usually set this the same as the 'Artist' unless it is a compilation CD
Disc - This is the disc number - will be 'Disc 1/2' or 'Disc 2/1' (if part of a multi-disc set)

Click on the column above the path & filename. This will sort the collection via directory structure. Now you are ready to change the metadata on a per-album basis. This can take a while, but it is certainly worth it! And you only have to do it once!

Start at the top and click on one of the songs in the first album. If the album art shows in the 'detail window' and the fields in the list above are correct, then move on to the next album. Keep in mind that the Album Artist field is important, so make sure that it is the same for all songs in an album, and make sure that all albums from the same band have the same Album Artist.

When you get to an album with incorrect information or one without a cover do the following to correct it:

Use the mouse and the SHIFT key to highlight the entire album. Click on [Tag Sources] [Amazon.com]
and type the artist and album name in the search window. You may need to search several different ways if nothing comes up on the first search.


You may also notice that by choosing the [tag sources] [freedb] source, it will automatically search based on your filenames. This is a time saver but please note that this method DOES NOT add your album art in the version of MP3TAG that I currently use (using this method, your album art would have to be added in an additional step). So stick with the Amazon source unless Amazon does not find your album. The freedb source does an incredible job of finding your album via the filenames so sometimes I use freedb to get the album name and then Amazon to find the cover art.

Make sure that the song list on the left pane matches, title for title, the song list on the right pane. Under the UTILS button there is an option for MP3TAG to auto detect the correct song order if the order is wrong. You can also use the arrow buttons to change the order of the songs. MAKE SURE THAT THIS IS CORRECT before moving to the next step!

Once the search finds your album, click on the [UTILS] button on the bottom and make sure that both the [save image to tag] and the [save image to disc] options are checked.

NOTE: iPods and many other devices and programs do not use embedded album art and require a folder.jpg file. Windows Media Center will use an embedded image as it's album art before using the folder.jpg file. This is preferred. By creating both types of album art, you are insured that all media devices and programs will find the album art for a given album.


Check again to make sure that the metadata is correct. In MOST cases, it is not. If it is not already present, enter the correct genra information. As Album Artist is not shown in this view, it will be added later.

Click [ok] and the new metadata will be inserted in your MP3 files.

To insert the Album Artist and Disc Number, while the album is still highlighted, type the appropriate information in the fields in the metadata detail window on the left and then hit the [disc icon] in the top menu to save.

NOTE: There is a HUGE shortcut for copying the Artist name over to the Album Artist field. MP3TAG has an Action feature that allows you to easily build a custom script for manipulating fields. To build an action that copies the Artist name to the Album Artist field, click [convert] [actions], [new icon], name your action (I named mine Album Artist), click [new icon], action type [format value], click [ok], field [band], format string [%artist%]. From now on, when you want to update the Album Artist field, highlight the album, right click [convert][actions] and [ok].

If the track number needs to be inserted, use the [Tools][Auto Numbering Wizard] to insert your track numbers. Be sure to check the option, [save total count of tracks] so that the format is 1/5, 2/5 etc..

If your album CANNOT be found in a search, you can copy the Filename to the Title field for all songs in the album. To do this, highlight the album and [right click]. Choose [Convert][Filename - Tag]. Click on the [right arrow] and choose [title].

Once all of your MP3's metadata has been fixed, you may want to change the permissions on the directory that contains your media to 'read only'. This ensures that a program, like iTunes will not destroy all of the work that you have done.

To allow Windows 7 Media Center to see the results of your hard work, go into setup and remove the music folder. You will need to
wait about 15 minutes (based on the number of MP3s in your collection) while media center removes the database entries. Once there are no longer any songs within Media Center, re-add the directory in setup.

NOTE: Many times I have had to exit and re-enter Media Center to remove all of the songs.

I know that this all sounds very complicated, but it is really quite intuitive once you are within the MP3TAG interface.

Good luck and HAPPY TAGGING!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Windows 7 Media Center Online Resources

Here are a few of the sites that I go to for information regarding Windows 7 Media Center


  • sevenforums.com
  • hack7mc.com
  • thegreenbutton.com
  • http://www.theme7mc.com/
  • http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/11232-media-center-setup-movie-library.html - Tutorial on adding cover art to DVDs
  • http://mcezone.com/home.php (Software for MCE)

Windows 7 Media Center Configuration Tweaks

Over the past 4 months I have assembled a list of Windows 7 and Windows 7 MCE configuration changes that have worked to enhance my installation and create a more stable environment. I am currently running Windows 7 64bit, but most if not all of these tweaks will work fine with Windows 7 32 bit.


Disable Autorun DVD/Bluray in Windows Control Panel

Disable Autorun Media in PowerDVD

Add /nostartupanimation to ehshell.exe to bypass startup screen for MCE
  • http://www.missingremote.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3831&Itemid=1
Clear MCE art cache (will only clear movie cache if using default Movies MCE application)
  • C:\Users\USERNAME\local\Microsoft\ehome and there should be a folder named Art Cache
  • Right click this folder and select the delete option.
Movie Artwork - manually adding movie covers when using default MCE Movies application
  • Search for & download a file for the movie you would like as a poster and save it in the movie folder (created by file2folder.zip) and name it folder.jpg
  • Do this for each movie.
To Allow for recorder to sleep when idle and wake and record shows
  • Disable 'password on wake' in power settings (control panel)
  • Clear the password for default logon account
  • Set 'Sleep After 2 hours' in Win7 Power Settings
  • Set MCE to start automatically on system boot (in MCE Setup)
  • Set 'Boot on power - (or equiv) in system bios so when power fails and UPS shuts system down, and power is restored, windows will boot and MCE will load and scheduled recordings will continue
  • Run gpedit from cmd prompt and go to: Computer Config, Windows Settings, Security Settings, Local Policies, Accounts: Limit Local Account use of blank pws (change to disabled) - This allows Remote Desktop to Media Center with no passwords, since the password had to be blanked for un-attanded entrance into Media Center from sleep.
  • Make sure that there is no media playing when you are not around; in order for the computer to sleep in 2 hours

Random wake problem - I wrestled with this problem for a log time until I finally found the secret!
  • Disable WOL in Net driver and in bios due to random startup while in 'Hybrid Sleep'
  • Configured power button to sleep unless pressed for 5 seconds
  • Configured 'sleep button = sleep' in power settings
  • Reference - shown below: http://www.michaelaulia.com/blogs/fix-windows-vista7-sleep-mode-from-waking-up-by-itself.html

What woke up your PC?
To find out what event/device woke up your Windows from its sleep state:
  • Go to command prompt (type cmd on the Run/Search box and press ENTER), then type this: powercfg – lastwake
  • To get the most detailed info (and probably easiest) on the device that wakes your Windows up during the sleep, type: powercfg –devicequery wake_armed

Now fix your waking problem
Open Run command and type in:services.msc click [Ok] - Locate the service for Windows Media Sharing and Disable it - or disable from services utility

Do the following tasks to disable the wake on mcupdate service
  • Control Panel
  • System and Security
  • Scheduled Tasks
  • Expand tasks to Microsoft>Windows>MediaCenter
  • Find mcupdate_scheduled and right click on it
  • Choose Properties
  • Click Conditions Tab
  • Uncheck Wake the computer to run this task

Change the following parameters for your NIC
  • Right click on your “My Computer” then select Properties.
  • Click Device Manager on the left side of the Properties window.
  • Check your Network card on the Network Adapters (Click on the + sign to expand).
  • Right click on your network card and select properties.
  • Go to the Power Management tab and untick the option there to prevent your network card from ever waking up your Windows.
A few other parameters to check
  • Check out your Power Management Options on your Control Panel (Start, Control Panel, Power Settings, Change plan settings, Change advanced power settings).
  • “Multimedia settings” option, “When sharing media.” ->”Allow the computer to sleep.
  • Check other options one by one while you’re at it.
  • Disable WAKE-ON functions in BIOS
  • Device manager - properties on Keyboard and Mouse - turn off 'wake on lan'

To Remote Desktop into Media Center do the following

Make sure the following have been done
  • You must first make sure that the logon password is cleared. Make sure the policy is changed to allow no password for remote desktop - see above
  • Make sure that MCE is set to auto start within the MCE settings screen

Remote Desktop Procedure
  • Remote desktop to the Media Center Computer
  • Restart media center as instructed (current recordings will continue at this point)
  • When done with remote desktop, go to CMD prompt and type shutdown /r (this will reboot machine and start Media Center over - current recordings will be stopped)

Software for Windows 7 Media Center - the Ultimate but Affordable Installation

Here is the software that I have installed on my Media Center PC thus far. I am constantly testing software and I am finding that about 50 percent of all the software that I have tested is too buggy to run. This list of software seems to be very stable and dramatically enhances the look at functionality of Windows 7 Media Center. I will update this list as I test new software.

Windows 7 Ultimate 32 or 64 bit (both tested) - currently using 64 bit (I highly recommend due to its ability to rip and stream at the same time. Windows 7 32bit did not perform as well while doing multiple tasks within MCE)


shark007 codecs: x32 and x64 (free)
  • http://shark007.net
  • (adds support for many audio and video formats within Windows Media and MCE)
  • Install the registry hack to allow MCE 7 to play mkv files (supported by Shark007): http://www.hack7mc.com/2009/01/playing-mkvs-in-media-center.html
  • Must install Windows 7 codecs and then the X64 Components using the website above
PowerDVD Version 9 (Pay)
  • Install this if you wish to play Blu-ray discs or Blu-ray .iso files
  • http://www.cyberlink.com/products/powerdvd/overview_en_US.html
  • This or a similar player is required to play Blu-ray movies within MCE. There is currently no support within MCE for Blu-ray, which uses Windows Media Player
Radiotime plugin (free)
  • A must have. Thousands of radio stations, talk radio and police, fire etc.
  • http://radiotime.com/
  • You must install the plugin for MCE: http://radiotime.com/partners/mediacenter.aspx
Hulu Desktop from hulu.com (free)
  • Thousands of free movies and TV - another must have for MCE
  • http://www.hulu.com/labs/hulu-desktop
  • You must install the plug-in for MCE: http://secondrun.tv/
Anydvd (pay)
  • I purchased a lifetime subscription. Great price for what you get.
  • Integrates with Mymovies, which is another must have for MCE
  • The best solution to rip DVDs and Blu-ray discs (I will discuss my ripping methodology in a later post)
  • http://www.slysoft.com/en/anydvd.html
'Virtual Clone Drive' (free)
  • http://www.slysoft.com/en/virtual-clonedrive.html
  • Mounts DVD/blu-ray as virtual drive
  • If Mymovies is used, this is required to mount .ISO image files for DVD or Blu-ray playback
  • If native Movies is used, will interface with the MountImage plugin

MountImage Plugin (free) (only if using native MCE Movies application. Do not use with MyMovies)
  • Mounts DVDs and bluray within MCE's native Movie application
  • Requires Virtual Clone drive to be installed
  • http://www.mikinho.com/wmc/mountimage/MountImageSetup.msi
  • MountImage Plugin information - http://www.hack7mc.com/2009/09/mounting-isos-in-the-native-movie-library.html (information on MountImage plugin)
YAMMM (free) (only if using native MCE Movies application. Do not use with MyMovies)
  • Adds cover art and metadata to ripped movie images - use with native MCE Movies application
  • http://www.hack7mc.com/2009/06/yet-another-media-meta-manager-from-mikinhosoft.html
  • YAMMM info - http://mikinhosoft.blogspot.com/2009/05/yammm-yet-another-media-meta-manager.html
  • YAMMM info - http://www.mikinho.com/wmc/yammmsetup.msi

file2folder.zip (free)
  • Used to move DVD isos to their own folders to prepare for integration with MCE Movies or MyMovies
  • http://www.sevenforums.com/attachments/tutorials/12135d1243394321-media-center-setup-movie-library-file2folder.zip

Weather Plugin (free)
  • A must have weather plugin
  • http://www.vista4cast.co.uk - (must login to forum to download)

Homeworld theme (free)
  • An awesome theme. Works flawlessly in Win7 MCE 32 and 64bit
  • http://www.theme7mc.com/

MyMovies (free)
  • A must have replacement for the built-in Movies MCE application
  • 'Once installed, use Media Center Studio' to remove the built-in menu strip for Movies and re-arrange your menu strips.
  • http://mymovies.dk

Media Center Studio (free)
  • Customize menu strips
  • http://adventmediacenter.com
  • Media Center Studio Docs - http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au/community/media-center-studio/

deamon tools Pro Standard (pay)
  • mount iso images to be played with powerdvd Worked great but no mounting within MCE!
  • http://disc-soft.com
Heatwave weather plugin (free)
  • Im not even going to give you the URL
  • DOES NOT WORK in Windows 7 MCE at the time of my test
media browser
  • www.mediabrowser.tv
  • Complicated
  • did not work on MCE7

  • VLC Media Player - http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
  • AVG Anti-virus (disable auto scanning) - http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage
  • CCLEANER - http://www.ccleaner.com
  • Firefox - http://www.firefox.com

HW Parts List for The Ultimate (and affordable) Windows 7 Media Center

I have compiled a list of HW that seems to work well with Windows 7 MCE. This is the hardware that currently makes up my MCE installation. I purchased most of these parts from the Micro Center in Marietta, GA.

Gigabyte EP45-UD3P

Memory - 4GB

Video Card:
PNY Nvidia GeForce 9800GT (do not buy an ATI card)
(S/PDIF out header on MB into video card)

Pioneer BDC2202 (BDROM/DVD Writer)

Logitech wireless KB and Mouse

Cyberpower with Windows Vista/7 Client (2 minute shutdown)

Hauppauge! WinTV-HVR 2250 (Dual Tuner)

  • Note: Install Card, Download and install MCE kit and drivers from Hauppauge website (install drivers, then kit). Run MCE Setup, Settings, TV Signal, Set up TV signal (to enable Radio and TV catalog)
  • Note: Comes with IR to control Cable/Sat box. Also comes with MCE remote but I prefer the Mediagate remote

Media Remote Control:
Inland (u-Jam Vista Remote Control) - 'Mediagate' - stock# 881250