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Customize the Windows Media Center Start Menu with Media Center Studio

Do you ever wish you could change the WMC start menu? Maybe move some of the tiles and strips around to different locations, add new ones, or eliminate some altogether? Today we look at how to do it using Media Center Studio.

Download and install Media Center Studio. (Download link below) You’ll also want to make sure you have Windows Media Center closed before running Media Center Studio. Many of the actions cannot be performed with Media Center open.

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Once installed, you can open Media Center Studio from the Windows Start Menu. When you first open Media Center Studio you’ll be on the Themes tab. Click on the Start Menu tab.

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It should be noted that Media Center Studio is a Beta application, and it did crash on us a few times, so it’s a good idea to save your work frequently. You can save your changes by selecting Save on the Home tab, or by clicking the small disk icon at the top left.

We also found that that trying to launch Media Center from the Start Media Center button on the application ribbon typically didn’t work. Opening Windows Media Center from the Windows Start Menu is preferred.

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When you’re on the Start Menu tab you will see the Windows Media Center menu strips and tiles. Click the arrows located at the right, left, top, and bottom of the screen to scroll through the various menu strips.

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Hiding and Removing Tiles and Menu Strips.

If there is an entire menu strip that you never use and would like to remove from Media Center, simply uncheck the box to the left of the the title above that menu strip.

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If you’d like to hide individual tiles, uncheck the box next to the name of the individual tile.

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Renaming Tiles and Strips

To rename a tile or menu strip, click on the small notepad icon next to the title.

Note: If you do not see a small notepad icon next to the title, then the title is not editable. This applies to many of the “Promo” tiles.

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The title will turn into a text input box so that you can edit the name. Click away from the text box when finished. Here we will change the title of the default Movie strip to “Flicks.”

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Change the Default Tile and Menu Strip

The Default menu strip is the strip that is highlighted, or on focus, when you open Media Center.

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To change the default strip, simply click once on another strip to highlight it, and then save your work. In our example, I’m going to make our newly renamed “Flicks” strip the default.

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Each menu strip has a default tile. This is the tile that is active, or on focus, when you select the menu strip. To change the default tile on a strip, click once on the tile. You will see it outlined in light blue. Now just simply save your changes. In our example below, we’ve changed the default tile on the TV strip to “guide.”

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Moving Tiles and Menu Strips

You can move an entire Menu Strip up or down on the screen. When you hover your mouse over the a menu strip, you will see up and down arrows appear to the right and left of the title. Click on the arrows to move the strip up or down.

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You will see the menu strip appear in it’s new position.

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To move a tile to a new menu strip, click and drag the tile you’d like to move. When you begin to drag the tile, green plus (+) signs will appear in between the tiles. Drag and drop the tile onto to any of these green plus signs to move it to that location.

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When you’ve dragged the tile over an acceptable position, you’ll see the  red “Move” label next to your cursor turn to a blue “Move to” label. Now you can drop the tile into position.

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You’ll see the tile located in it’s new position.

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Adding a New Custom Menu Strip

Click on the Start Menu tab and then select the Menu Strip button.

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You will see a new Custom Menu strip appear on your Start Menu with the default name of Custom menu. You can change the name by clicking on the notepad icon just as we did earlier. For our example, we’ll change the name of the new strip to Add-ins.

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To add a new tile, click on Entry Points at the lower left of the application window.

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This will reveal all of your available Entry Points that can be added to the Media Center Menu. You should see the built-in Media Center Games and any Media Center Plug-ins you have added to your system.

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You can then drag and drop any of the Entry Points onto any of the Menu Strips. Below we’ve added Media Browser to our custom Add-ins menu strip.

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You can also add additional applications to launch directly from Media Center. Click on the Application button on the Start Menu tab.

Note: Many applications may not work with your remote, but with keyboard and mouse only. 

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Type in a title which will appear under the tile in Media Center, and then type the path to the application. In our example, we will add Internet Explorer 8.

Note: Be sure to add the actual path to the application and not just a link on the desktop.

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Click any of the check boxes to select any options under Required Capabilities. You can also browse to choose an image if you don’t care for the image that appears automatically.

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Next, you can select keyboard strokes to press to exit the application and return to Media Center. Click the green plus (+) button.

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When prompted, press a key you’ll use to close the program. Repeat the process if you’d also like to select a keystroke to kill the program.

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You’ll see your button programs listed below. When you’re finished, save your work and close out of Media Center Studio.

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Now your new program entry point will appear in the Entry Points section. Drag the icon to the desired position on the Start Menu and save again before exiting Media Center Studio.

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When you open Media Center you will see your new application on the start menu. Click the tile to open the application just as you would any other tile.

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The application will open and minimize Media Center.

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When you press the key you choose to close the program, Windows Media Center will automatically be restored.

Note: You can also exit the application through normal methods by clicking the red “X” or File > Exit.

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Conclusion

Media Center Studio is a Beta application which the developer freely admits still has some bugs. Despite it’s flaws Media Center Studio is a powerful tool, and when it comes to customizing your Media Center start menu, it’s pretty much the only game in town. It works with both Vista and Windows 7, and according to the developer, has not been officially tested with extenders.

Media Center Studio can also be used to add custom themes to Windows 7 Media Center and we’ll be covering that in a future article.

Looking for more ways to customize your Media Center experience? Be sure to check out our earlier posts on Media Browser, as well as how to add Hulu, Boxee, and weather conditions your Windows 7 Media Center.

Download Media Center Studio

Andrew is a media center geek with some serious Windows skills. He's never far from a WiFi connection or a great cup of coffee.

  • Published 05/11/10

Comments (2)

  1. RSVR85

    Thanks for the great article HTG. This has worked fine for my XBOX 360 Extender for some time now. Definitely recommended, though a backup of %windir%\ehome\ehres.dll should be made incase of emergency.

  2. DigitalGeekery

    A recent update to Media Center affected some of the functionality of Media Center Studio. If you lost some customizations after an update, or are unable to make changes with Media Center Studio, check out the fix in this thread:

    http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au/community/media-center-studio/42921-mcs-can-no-longer-customize-menu-after-mce-runs-updates.html

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