Better Thumbnails for MKV Files in Windows Media Center

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Posted on December 22, 2008 5:38 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

If you're like me and you've got an HTPC running Windows Media Center, you may have downloaded an MKV file or two and noticed that Windows Media Center doesn't do the greatest job of generating thumbnails of those files automatically. Whereas Windows Media Center does a decent job of generating thumbnails for other video file formats like AVI, typically with MKV files you get a thumbnail of the very first frame of the video. A majority of the time, in my experience at least, this results in a black thumbnail since the first frame of the video is often black.

As it turns out, there is a way around this issue in Windows Media Center. For any MKV file (and probably for any other video file as well), you can drop a JPEG file with the same filename as the video (just a different file extension, obviously) in the same folder as the video, and if Windows Media Center hasn't already cached a thumbnail for that video, it will use the image you've included as the thumbnail instead. So if Windows Media Center is generating a thumbnail for a file called Batman Begins (720p).mkv, for example, and finds a file called Batman Begins (720p).jpg in the same folder, it will use the latter as its thumbnail rather than generating one automatically.

Now the point I made about thumbnail caching is important. By the time you've realized that MKV files typically get black thumbnails generated for them, you've allowed Windows Media Center to generate thumbnails on its own, and they've now gone into the cache. So even if you now include some JPEG files in order to see better thumbnails, there's a good chance Windows Media Center is going to keep on using its automatically generated thumbnails. To get around this, you need to delete the cache file from the folder where the video lives.

I'm currently saving all of my downloaded MKV files to a folder at E:\Movies. Because I'm using the Windows Vista version of Media Center, there is a file that gets created in that directory called ehthumbs_vista.db. It contains all of the cached thumbnails for the MKV files in that folder. All I have to do is delete that file (in order to see it before you delete it, you may need to update your folder view settings to show hidden system files and folders) and then open Windows Media Center and browse to that folder to get it to regenerate the thumbnails and recreate that cache. This time around, though, since I've provided custom JPEG files, it loads my files into the cache instead of generating its own, lame, predominantly black thumbnails.

Another key thing to point out is that Windows Media Center seems to stick to a particular proportion for its thumbnails, so if you try to use JPEG files that are taller than they are wide, they'll likely get cut off at the bottom when displayed in the Windows Media Center interface. I've started sticking with images that are about 4:3 in width-to-height ratio (e.g. 120x90 or 400x300) and that seems to give good results. However, even if an image gets chopped off in the interface, it sure beats those black, auto-generated thumbnails that Windows Media Center created before I became aware of this capability.


Supacon on February 07, 2009 at 9:23 AM:

I was curious if you've ever found a utility that can generate handy Vista Compatible thumbnails for a folder tree automatically? That'd save a ton of time!


Avi on March 01, 2009 at 4:30 AM:

Great guide, I´ll use it as my second option.
I´d like to completelly disable thumbnails for videos. I´d like to see the plain video file name instead of the thumbnail.

Do you know how to do it ?


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