Replacing Media Center "Shell" with Windows 8

A long time ago, I wrote on these forums how simple it would be for Microsoft to perfect Media Center for Windows 8. The gist of that post is that if you get rid of the Media Center shell, and allow direct pinning of sub-menus to the Windows 8 start screen, you would have the perfect integration of Metro apps and Media Center plugins. Of course, many of the Metro apps aren't designed around a remote, so I still would be using a small wireless mouse to control the app, but it does work so much better than for example opening Slacker in a browser window. And if more video sources (hoping for HBO, Showtime, and Amazon Instant Video, personally) come along, they'll work just as well.

Anyway, Microsoft didn't really take my advice (not that I expected they would), but I have been thinking about this for a while, especially as I consider a new build for my HTPC. Yesterday, I decided to attempt to do a sort of proof of concept using my Windows 8 laptop, to see if it was actually possible in spite of Microsoft not doing it themselves.


I'm happy to say after a lot of experimentation, that it very much is possible. The original solution was actually pretty easy. I just had to use some of Media Center's hidden command line switches to jump to the right page:

Guide: %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /mcesuperbar://guide
Live TV: %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /mcesuperbar://tv?live=true

Recorded TV: %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /directmedia:tv
Pictures: %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /directmedia:pictures
Music: %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /directmedia:music

For Media Browser, I wanted to jump directly to the folders I use- one for TV and one for Movies, so I had to use the Entry Points listed in the registry. Those are different for everyone, and are enumerated at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points . Otherwise, if you just want the main app, it makes the shortcut for you: %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /entrypoint:{CE32C570-4BEC-4aeb-AD1D-CF47B91DE0B2}\{FC9ABCCC-36CB-47ac-8BAB-03E8EF5F6F22}

And then, of course, Steam just has the -bigpicture switch appended to it.

This worked out pretty well:

However, as you can see when watching the video, for the shortcuts that used the /directmedia flag, the taskbar jumps in front of Media Center, meaning that you can't control WMC without first clicking it to bring it into focus. But, after a little bit more experimenting, I realized that this only happens if Media Center is already open in the background. I was going to use batch files to perform taskkill and then open it, but those kept popping up command prompts.

Today, however, I discovered a small program called Hidden Start. So now, my shortcut for music, for example, has changed to:

C:\hstart64.exe /NOCONSOLE /WAIT "taskkill /F /IM ehshell.exe" "%windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe /nostartupanimation /directmedia:music"

While this does mean that the desktop shows for a brief second before displaying the page that I've chosen, it now jumps directly to each page without any issue.