Hacking Windows 7 Media Center

How to Use Windows 7 “Play To”

by @ 8:30 am on January 30th, 2009 in extenders, windows 7 with 18 Comments

In this new age of digital distribution our ever growing pile of devices needs to be able to interconnect with one another unlike ever before. The time for proprietary software and voodoo tricks to get all your devices working happily together has come and gone (long gone!).  Windows 7’s new “Play To” feature may just be the first step towards this reality.

This new feature built-in to Windows 7 allows you to control the media being played on any number of enabled devices including other Windows 7 machines and Media Center.  You can find a long list of capable devices over at The Digital Lifestyle, including the capabilities of each device. Getting going with Play To should be simple and is between Windows 7 machines; the abilities of other compatible devices may vary however.

The easiest way to get started with Play To on Windows 7 is to open Windows Media Player 12. Once inside WMP we have to enable the ability to receive media streams from other devices by clicking the “Share” tab in the library view and marking the checkbox labeled “Receive media on your network.”

Recieve Media in Windows Media Player

Once you’ve enabled this feature (or similar features of non-Windows devices) you can choose which devices will have access to your media files across the network.  This will also give us some idea of what devices we might expect to see in our “Play To” list, for instance if you expect to play media to your Xbox 360 you should ensure it’s available on this list.

Select PlayTo Devices

As you can see from the picture above there are three devices listed but later on you will notice that only two are available in the Play To list.  This is due to the fact that one of the devices listed is running Windows Vista which does not currently support Play To and so is excluded.

The next step is finding the media you want to play across machines.  This is where one of the best new features of Play To comes in, if you want to play a media file that isn’t natively supported by the other device Play To will convert the file before streaming it to the other box.  Many compatibility issues will surely be solved by this simple but ever so useful feature.

Once you’ve located the media you want to play on your other Play To capable device right-click to bring up the menu and navigate to the “Play To” menu.  From here you should see a second menu listing your Play To devices.

WMP PlayTo Device Selection

After selecting your device from the list you should get a new window with a list of the files you want to send and a number of other controls.  This is going to be the area which you control the play of the other device, not the native WMP interface. As you can see below this windows has controls to play/pause, next and previous track and volume. Also in this display we can find our playlist and display of the currently playing media, this playlist will also present you with any errors that may have come up during the playback of certain files.

PlayTo Device Controller

From here you’re all set to stream your media to your other Windows PCs, Media Center and extenders through out your entire network.  This feature is one of Microsoft’s main goals with the release of Windows 7 and will surely see further development both before and after release with support for more devices and features to come.  For now, enjoy your transcendent ability to play your media from every corner of your world!

You can also check out a number of more in depth articles on the Play To feature at The Digital Lifestyle: Multiple Devices and Sync, Play To and Media Center and the List of Devices mentioned earlier in this article. 


Comment #328 from Donald [Reply]

Is there a way to change the transcoding settings? far as upping the bitrate. the default bitrate looks terrible on a extender.

Comment left April 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm Permanent Link
@Reply #329 from mhealy [Reply]

I’m not sure, I haven’t found anything on changing the transcoding settings and as it most likely uses Windows Media Foundation I’d doubt there are any. Sort of a win/lose situation.

Comment left April 11, 2009 at 5:11 pm Permanent Link

Comment #919 from Anonymous [Reply]

Is this just uPNP with remote control? Or can it do point to multi-point simulcast? I currently have to use cables if I want to roam the house with the same media on in each room.

Comment left May 10, 2009 at 6:57 am Permanent Link
@Reply #925 from Michael Healy [Reply]

In it’s current form Play To doesn’t do simulcasting from WMP as the DLNA specification doesn’t contain support for it. The DLNA platform is more focused on ensuring device to device media format interoperability than being an actual broadcasting system.

Comment left May 10, 2009 at 8:15 am Permanent Link

Comment #4539 from teohhanhui [Reply]

Windows Media Player has to be running on the target Windows 7 machine for it to show up in the “Play to” devices list. Doesn’t it make more sense to have the digital media renderer functionality implemented as/in a service?

Comment left November 4, 2009 at 7:39 am Permanent Link

Comment #5440 from Duck [Reply]

I’ve recently set this up and when I “play to” it fails, saying “can’t connect”. Needless to say, these two Win7 machines can connect, both ping-wise and folder share-wise, with no issue. WMP is up in the target machine (so it does appear as a valid Play To target in the origin machine).
Any idea where to look next?

Comment left December 7, 2009 at 3:36 am Permanent Link

@Reply #6156 from Tom [Reply]

I am having the same problem with Windows 7 “Playing To” an Xbox – When I click on Play To, it says device is not responding.
Any ideas?

Comment left December 30, 2009 at 6:14 pm Permanent Link

@Reply #9123 from Fletch [Reply]

I think the article is wrong as I ran into the same thing and MS support told me it doesn’t really work with XBOX (even though it is listed) but rather with other Win 7 machines. Maybe a hack or fix will come out in the future..here’s hoping.

Comment left April 8, 2010 at 12:24 am Permanent Link

@Reply #58887 from sajan [Reply]

were you able to resolve this issue? If yes please let me know how you did it..

Comment left January 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm Permanent Link

Kulvir Bhogal
Comment #7896 from Kulvir Bhogal [Reply]

It would be cool to be able to use “Play To” from within Windows Media Center 7. Basically, I’d like to see it integrated with the 10 foot interface. Anyone, know if someone has done this via a plugin or something?

Comment left February 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm Permanent Link

Comment #12830 from colecrew [Reply]

My WMP doesn’t have a Share button, instead it says stream. How do I get it to say share?

Comment left June 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm Permanent Link

Comment #13392 from Hagrinas [Reply]

You don’t need a Share button. The final release of W7 has a Stream button and you need to check “Allow remote control of my player…” and hope it remains checked.

It would be nice if this were integrated into Windows Media Center, but there’s not much need to Play To WMC on another computer when you can share the library instead. Unlike Media Player, you need to give Media Center a while before it realizes that there is content on other computers available at the moment. Just keep waiting, it will show up. Really.

Play To is for a different purpose. Suppose you have a TV in your bedroom and have something like a Western Digital TV Live Plus media player. You don’t want to watch in your family room, but want to stay in your bedroom. With this feature, you merely go to the family room, ask whoever is using WMC to press pause and promise you won’t be more than a few minutes, then you pick what you want to watch by using the Media Player and press Play To. Then go back to the bedroom. You wake your wife back up and tell the kids that they can go back to the family room and stop crying. Then you tell your wife how nice it is to send content to another room that you are not even in rather than being able to select what to watch from the room you are in. If she complains that she can’t control what she is watching, unlike with every other format out there, and if she calls you an idiot because WTV is the only format in the world that other devices can’t play without you leaving the room, keep it a secret that all video cards come with their own recording software that would have avoided this problem altogether.

Seriously, I think Windows Media Center is great and one of the best things Microsoft ever did. I don’t understand why I need to use Media Player at all. I should not have to understand BOTH. Aside from hand held or portable devices, I can’t see how Play To can be considered anything but backwards. The only way to really make things work is to have a Windows 7 computer attached to each TV. Even the XBOX 360 won’t play movies from your Media Center library despite an identical looking interface. You just can’t win.

As things stand, Media Center works great, but you need Media Player for some things. It’s just that you lose so much functionality that you wonder how to even watch what you are watching.

Comment left July 2, 2010 at 4:47 am Permanent Link

@Reply #13393 from Hagrinas [Reply]

By “video cards” I meant tuner cards.

Comment left July 2, 2010 at 4:49 am Permanent Link
Comment #45599 from smithst36 [Reply]

Can anyone advise on this article, Im trying to play to: an led sony bravia TV from a windows 7 pc, i have double checked all settings on p.c. and tv, however when i select a play to file, it lists my tv on the network but fails stating” media not available” .? ( files include, avi,applemac video,etc) can anyone advise where im going wrong, its very frustrating, many thanks.?

Comment left July 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm Permanent Link

Comment #72487 from datdarndot [Reply]

To my amazement, I succeeded in get two Win 7 machines to simultaneously play the same playlist using “Play to” in WMP12. The only catch is, I can’t start them simultaneously (I must click two separate “Play” buttons), and they therefore play out of sync. This wouldn’t be a problem if the two rooms were acoustically isolated, but they are not. Does anyone know how to avoid this by “ganging” both devices to the same button?

Comment left May 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm Permanent Link

@Reply #75261 from BFromT [Reply]

I would also love to see if this is possible. I would love to see if I can “Play to” and also play simultaneously, or “gang” as datdarndot put it, with the machine doing the “play to”.

I currently access my media from a Sony SMP-N100 player via DLNA over a WIFI connection. That player is in my main media room, but is on the other side of the house from the computer. My house is small though, so I can hear the music from any room, albeit softly from the computer room. If I could “play to” from the computer and simultaneously play on the home computer, I could get my music all over the house at a volume that would be awesome.

Anyone, anyone….?

Comment left July 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm Permanent Link

Comment #424950 from Freega [Reply]

need some help or guidence. had a problem on how to play .srt or .sub on WMP, figured it out, but no subtitles when i “play to” on the TV. renamed it muxd it etc. but still no subs. didnt try it with an original movie DVD so I cant say it doesnt work at all but still it doesnt and it bugs me a lot. So is it posible to have subs on a movie (am from croatia so sub are needed) played on the TV thru the “play to” option..? (btw. muxing it and playing it thru USB stick/port it works on the TV, Panasonic plasma XT50 series) thanks in advance….

Comment left February 24, 2014 at 7:22 pm Permanent Link

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