Locking Your Collection from Prying Eyes (Part 2)

Nov 6, 2010 by

In part one, we covered how to lock down native Media Center applications so that you you didn’t have to worry about whether or not your family is being sneaking and trying to watch things they shouldn’t.  For many of us however, this is only half the story.  With several third party Media Center plugins available, it takes more than the settings Microsoft has put in place to ensure that anything you don’t want watched doesn’t get watched.  Here we’ll walk through the setup for two of the more popular movie and TV plugins for Media Center: Media Browser and My Movies

Media Browser

Media Browser parental controls are relatively straight forward.  While there are two methods for achieving what you want.  Here we’ll cover the one that is easiest and allows you to maintain your current library structure if you’re already setup.

Head right on in to your Media Browser Configurator.  You’ll need to click the “Advanced” section in order for the parental control tab to appear:

MB-1

Click over to your parental control tab.  This is where the magic happens.  Checking the ticbox that enables parental control will open up the other options:

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The most important thing here is that you need to have proper metadata attached to your files.  No matter what application you use to get this information, rating info is what is going to be used.  Media Browser looks to the XML file to determine whether or not to apply the parental locks, so you’ll want it to be accurate.  Luckily there’s a check box that allows you to block unrated content so that can come in handy.  Below I’ve highlighted the recommended settings which will allow you as an adult to view all of your content, but should keep your younger family members from accessing the content you don’t want them to:

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You’ll notice above that Media Browser also gives you the opportunity to lock entire collections using a rating.  While this is how I initially setup our collection, I decided against it as I was constantly having to enter the PIN every time I wanted to browse through the collection.  It’s much easier to simply set a global rating and allow the application to take it from there.

Below you’ll see how Media Browser changes once parental controls are active.  Each piece of content that is above the set rating (or unrated depending on settings) will show a small “lock” icon on the cover.  With the controls turned on, you’re able to enter the info screen for each item but once you hit play, you’ll be asked for the PIN number before playback will begin:

MBinMC-01

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That’s it!  Setup is a breeze and you now know that little ones won’t be viewing content that you deem inappropriate.  While Media Browser doesn’t have the fine control for TV that Media Center itself does, it’s a more than adequate system that should handle all of your needs.

My Movies

(Note:  I installed My Movies specifically for this article.  As such, the library is not complete and full metadata has not been downloaded.  There is, however, enough data to follow along.)

While My Movies has a different procedure for locking down your more mature content, the concept is basically the same.  Enable controls, set a PIN and pick a rating.  As with Media Browser, you’ll want to ensure you have proper metadata, or at a minimum, give a rating to each piece of content:

MMCM-01

After installing My Movies, creating your library and checking your metadata, you’ll want to click the “Tools” menu to access the options screen:

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Once there, click “Parental Controls” and turn them on by clicking “Enable Parental Controls”.  Here you’ll be asked to enter a PIN.  Though My Movies doesn’t tell you how many digits to enter, I used four and it worked perfectly.  You’ll also be asked to confirm the PIN:

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Once parental controls are enabled and your PIN is entered, you’ll be presented with the settings screen.  As with other applications, you can set rating levels for movies and TV respectively.  You also have the option of including adult titles as well as blocking unrated titles.  Again, this is good in case your metadata isn’t complete:

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With your settings applied, you’re done.  Save and exit.

To check things, head into Media Center and find your My Movies tile.  One thing the application does differently is block the viewing of anything that is above your set rating unless you enter your PIN.  While this does provide total protection, I find that this could become an annoyance:

MMinMC-01

Simply hit that “parental unlock” button up top.  You’ll be asked for you PIN and once entered, you full collection will become visible:

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At this point you’re set.  You can now enjoy your movie collection through a great interface without worry that your kids will find something you don’t want them viewing.

Conclusion

You’re certainly not going to pick a catalog application based on parental controls.  That said, I personally like Media Browser’s implementation a bit better.  There are multiple options as to how to handle parental controls and implementing them doesn’t hide your entire collection; it just prevents playback.  That means you don’t have to enter a code just to browse.  While some might like that, it seems cumbersome to me.  That said, while I am a Media Browser fan, the differences shouldn’t take away from My Movies.  The collection manager is superb and the application looks phenomenal in Media Center.  It’s simply a matter of personal preference.

While other factors will decide which media plugin you use, it’s good to know that the developers (and in some cases, the community behind them) have taken parental control into consideration and provided elegant, easy to use solutions for parents interested in keeping nightmares at bay.

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