Locking Your Collection from Prying Eyes (Part 1)
Seriously, I won’t judge you if you have content you don’t want me to watch. While our minds immediately wander to some lonely guy trying to hide his extensive adult collection, our focus today is parental control. My sons have reached an age where they’re old enough to use our Harmony remote and select the content they want to watch.
While this presents it’s own problems, such as file deletion, the main concern is making sure my seven year old doesn’t decide he should switch to Aliens and entertain himself and his brother for 2 and a half hours. While this might prepare them for future invasions, it won’t let them sleep for the night and they’ll end up between my wife and I while I fight for six inches of space on the edge of the mattress. Not something I’m looking forward to and other parents will tell you that yes, it does happen.
That said, let’s get right to it. If you use native Media Center sections for TV, movies or DVD and Blu-ray playback, everything you need it built right in.
Parental Control in Media Center
The first thing to understand is that these controls only work with native Media Center applications. Things like My Movies and Media Browser have their own content blocking which we’ll get to in Part 2. Microsoft has done a great job making sure that everything you need is included. Whether it’s TV (recorded and live) or movies (from TV or DVD), you’ll be able to lock out the stuff that you don’t want little ones viewing.
Head straight into settings and select “General”. This is where we’ll find our parental control features:
Select parental controls and you’ll be asked to create a PIN number. This is what’s going to lock down your settings as well as protect the content:
Once you’ve set your PIN number, you’ll be able to start setting your parental controls. There are separate sections for TV and DVDs/Movies:
Since different rating systems are used for this content, you’ll have to set each. Simply choose what level you feel is right for your family:
While DVD and Movie selection is as easy as setting your rating, TV allows for a bit more control. Using the advance section, you can select the type of content you’ll allow at certain levels. There’s a large difference between “fantasy violence” and “sexual content”. The advanced section allows you to fine tune what your family sees when you’re not around. While I don’t mind my sons watching “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” which has that fantasy violence, I might not want them watching “The Big Bang Theory” which, while not violent, uses suggestive dialog. If your content provider has the correct data in the stream, you can set it up so that the TV-14 content is blocked, but will be unlocked if it has a specific type of content that you’re comfortable with:
Once you’ve fine tuned your controls, simply hit save and back out of settings. You’re done. Now, any content rated above the level you’ve set will require the PIN to view.
While it’s always possible that your children might figure out what the PIN is and be able to get around it, this isn’t going to be easy and you can rest at ease knowing that you won’t catch little Johnny in the middle of a “Dexter” marathon the next time you walk into the living room.
Keep in mind that while parental controls will lock that HTPC and any connected extenders, you will have to repeat the process on each HTPC in your home if you use multiple systems.
Overall, the built in parental controls in Media Center are easy to find and use. While they shouldn’t replace proper parenting and actually keeping an eye on your children, they can be a great tool for those of us with kids who are at an age where we want them to be experimenting with technology and using Media Center, but not quite old enough to understand why “The Walking Dead” isn’t something they should be watching.
In Part 2 of this article, we look at parental controls for third-party Media Center plugins and applications, particularly Media Browser and My Movies.
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