Big Screen ‘byRemote’ for Windows Phone 7

In case you haven’t read my Thoughts on Windows Phone 7 post, I’m using a Samsung Omnia 7 which is one of the new Windows Phone “smartphones” running the latest mobile OS from Microsoft; Windows Phone 7 (WP7).  Ian Dixon (Blog | Twitter) also recently posted that the final V1.0 release of Big Screen ‘byRemote’ – for Windows 7 Media Center v1.0 *Final Release* is now available.  Since Sheldon Witney (Blog | Twitter) and I are amongst the first to take delivery of a WP7 device, Ian asked me to post my thoughts on the companion application that was recently released to the Zune Marketplace.  The application is available as either a free app or you can purchase a full licence which allows some additional functionality (I’ll try and remember to highlight differences between the free and paid versions).  As with all applications written for WP7 this can be purchased either using the Zune software on the desktop or through the marketplace on the device.  Installation is quick and simple as with all WP7 applications due to the fact that they have to be certified before being made available.

In order to use the client application you will also need to install the main Big Screen ‘byRemote’ service onto your HTPC since this is a client/server type application.  I won’t go in to detail here but the server side of the software is simple to install, is completely free for the standard version, and will allow you to use a browser on a PC or laptop for similar functionality as the WP7 app.  You will need to configure a network port on your router, which you can specify within the configuration of byRemote, if you want to use either the browser or WP7 application outside of your home network (over the mobile network example).

bsbr-panorama

When you run the application for the first time it will prompt you to enter the details for connecting to the server running on your HTPC.  You can type in your own display name for the host, enter either a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) or IP address, server port (as you configured when installing the software on the HTPC), and authentication details (if you have configured this on the server although version 1.0a will not work without authentication).

Since there isn’t currently a way to take screen captures from WP7 devices I’m unable to provide visual details but hopefully I can cover most of the features.  As you can see from the image above the application uses the standard interface associated with WP7, you simply use touch to move the panorama left and right bringing each “column” into view.  There are three such columns and I’ll cover each separately.

browse

Here you can access the features that are probably going to be used most frequently.  There are 4 main destinations and I will cover each of them individually.  You access the required function by pressing the text label and although these are in a big enough font they could do with maybe a little more space between them for those with big fingers.

browse epg

As the title suggests this is where you can view the current epg (electronic program guide) and is split into two columns (unless I say otherwise please assume these columns are accessed using the normal Metro UI navigation).  There is a column for “now” which lists what is currently showing and these is conveniently split into 5 channel chunks and you can tap the header to bring up the WP7 style jump lists (sorry I can’t include a screen shot but if you read reviews of how contacts are handled in WP7 you’ll get an idea).  There is a small coloured circle to the left of each show which is normally grey but will be coloured red if this entry will be recorded.  Pressing an entry will take you to more information and allow you to schedule a single or series recording for that show.

The second column, “channels”, shows a similar view to “now” but this time includes the next two programs for each channel and in addition you can press the channel heading/programs to view a complete guide for that channel (in the free version the complete guide is only available for the first 3 channels).  This “channels” view also has the same jump lists as the “now” column but when viewing the detailed guide for a channel the jump list changes to a date picker.

scheduled requests

This part of the application has three columns the first of which shows you the “upcoming” recordings which allows you to view scheduled recordings in date order with a jump list to quickly move between days.  You can press each scheduled recording to view more details and also to prevent the recording or cancel the series completely.  The next column “request” shows a similar view but this time the view is sorted alphabetically and you can again access each scheduled recording to cancel it or the entire series.  I’ll apologise now if you’re getting fed up with the phrase “jump lists” but these are also available for jumping between letters of the alphabet.

The third column is for managing “series” and these are grouped by series, manual, keyword, one time requests and unknown and guess what?  Yes, you guessed, there is a jump list that can be accessed for quick navigation between the different groups.

recorded tv

The “recorded tv” section is where you can manage programs that have already been recorded and there are separate columns for “by date” and “by title” although only the first column has a jump list which might just be because we don’t keep many recordings but is a strange omission if not.  As you view the details of each recording you can also delete the recording to free up space.

A final column called “summary” shows you details of the primary recording location including total space, quota, used space, quota remaining and the recording path.  This could be quite useful if you are away for an extended period and realise that a film you’ve recorded is going to prevent Coronation Street from recording (very important for the WAF! Smile) as you could then use this application to delete recorded TV files to free up space.

search epg

The search feature works as you would expect and allows you to give a search phrase but also refine the criteria by channel, match (title only, title/episode, all fields, actors) and search type (contains phrase, starts with, exact match).  Setting up a once-only or series recording can be done by viewing the details of any shows returned by the search.

what’s on

The “what’s on” column is a convenient group of tiles for movies, sports, doco’s (documentary), comedy, and kids with pre-defined search criteria of a specific genre, type, date, and channel with a final “more..” tile which allows you to define a custom “search”.  A nice touch when using a pre-defined tile is that you can then swipe across to the “search” column to customise it.  As with the epg search results you can schedule once-only or series recordings from the program details.

more..

As with the “browse” column there are different text labels which take you to information about the application or allow you to update settings.

server info

This provides information on the host you are currently connected to, the version of the server and client (as seen by the server) together with the time on the HTPC.

manage hosts

Here you can edit an existing host, you use the press-and-hold “right click” here to access a menu with options to edit or remove a host, or add additional hosts (the free version only supports a single host).  You can also select a host to switch to viewing that servers respective epg, scheduled records, etc.

about + credits

This will show you details about the developer, copyright, and also the client version (as viewable using “server info” which is what makes me think that this might have been what the server was seeing connected).

online help

Although this help is displayed within the application it downloads a file first although I can’t see that being a problem.  I did notice that although the help view supports pinch-to-zoom that the text didn’t reformat, something that can be quickly remedied I’m sure.

buy now

You really need me to go into detail on this one? Winking smile

Final Thoughts

This is a great application for Windows Media Center and provides access to all of the epg functions available when using the HTPC directly.  I can imagine a number of useful usage scenarios; you’re away from home and see an advert for a program that you might otherwise forget to schedule or indeed you see a trailer for something and don’t want to interrupt your viewing.  In many cases, thanks to the consistent use of WP7 jump lists, navigation is easier than using the WMC interface directly so could be a quick way to edit scheduled recordings or view guide information for next week.

Although some areas I feel might be improved (the series list could benefit from an alphabetical view, with jump lists, for those with many recording requests) there are also some really nice touches like the details on the scheduled recording also includes information for if it’s a specific or any channel, new/repeat, start/stop overrun, etc.  Another plus for me is that this application avoids a pet WP7 hate of mine which is where applications run “full screen” and hide the status indicators even when there is a problem (no network for example).  The application is quick to load and navigation is easy and natural since the Metro UI design elements have been used consistently throughout.  When viewing the listings I’ve found scrolling to be smooth which hasn’t been the case with all 3rd party apps that I’ve used on WP7.  I also like that the developer has chosen to follow the theme selected from the devices settings (light or dark) instead of enforcing their own.

You can read more details at the Big Screen ‘byRemote’ website where you can register to download the server software (which is free for the basic edition).  The WP7 client can be downloaded from the Zune Marketplace and can be purchased for £3.99 to enable additional features.

By Jason Coombes (Twitter)

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