Truly Great Software – JRiver Media Center

Anyone that knows me knows that I like my media. Books, music, movies, you name it, and the more that I can get digitally, the better. Years ago, when I was amassing MP3 files at a pretty good clip, it became pretty obvious that I was going to need a good tool to keep them organized. I used a few tools, and then happened upon a product from JRiver called Media Jukebox that completely fit the bill, and I pounced on it. At the time, it was Version 8.

Over the years, my requirements changed,and the product changed along with me,becoming renamed Media Center for its version 11 release. I started using lossless files, and lossless support was added. Digital photos became a big deal, and they offered incredible support for digital pictures. I acquired a portable music player, and of course sync support for that was baked right in, along with excellent support for podcasts, both audio and video.

I originally gravitated to Media Center as a tagging tool. It makes tagging music, images, movies, whatever a breeze, adhering to all published standards while allowing you to extend its schema as you see fit. However, it’s also a full featured player. While some of the other market players are just figuring out a client/server model, I’ve been able to stream content from my collection at home to my JRiver client since 2003, simply by turning on its Media Server feature.

In the current version, it can do not only that, but you can control your player using and browser enabled device, or ever stream music straight to a handheld device using only that devices built in tools to play the stream. It’s also a fully fledged DLNA (the successor to UPnP) device, both as a client and a server.

I recently began a project of getting my photos tagged and organized, and shared out to the web. I of course turned to Media Center, which has not let me down. Not only can I leverage its powerful tagging features, but it also allows sharing out to social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr, or online storage systems like Gallery, and they even host a photo sharing server should you wish to use that. All of the photos posted to my Flickr account get their through Media Center, with all keywords intact.

To underscore all of this, I bought my son an iPod Touch for Christmas. I was a little shocked to learn that I was FORCED to install and use iTunes in order to even turn this thing on. Once done, I was struck with how limited and limiting it was. Surely Apple, the “king” of UI could come up with a decent experience. The device itself is fine, but about half of my collection is rendered useless. Why? Because about half of my collection uses the standard FLAC file format which iTunes doesn’t support.

I have an iPod Classic 160 GB that’s never seen iTunes – it’s the way I like it. JRiver’s iPod support is unparalleled (they can’t support the iPod touch or the iPhone because Apple won’t let them). It syncs both my audio and video, no matter what the format with ease, and gives me a complete set of options for auto conversion, including which encoders to use, and how to do the conversion. My synchronization lists are my playlists so I don’t even need to think about it – it just works.

Finally, I can output to more than one sound card simultaneously. In my case, I have a Russound 6.6 distributed sound system. Which distributes audio through the house. Two of the Russound inputs are fed from Media Center, which has a “his” and “her” zone set up. Another zone is set to play in the main living room. Everyone is happy…..

Support is also fantastic. They use a discussion board for this purpose, and you often get answers to questions within the day, either from JRiver staff, or by other users. It’s also an avenue for feature requests. When the library server was in development I wound up in a fair bit of back and forth with their engineer who ultimately implemented everything that I needed to make it work.

It does all of this for a price tag of $50. I honestly don’t know how they make this viable as a software company, but I’m really glad that they do. It’s really my Swiss Army knife of media tools. I strongly urge you to visit their web site and give it a try. They have a fully functional 30 day try and buy program. If you try it, you’ll but it.

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