Will wifi or widi do?
April 26, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I put together an HDTV DVR that can wifi stream programs and movies to multiple home TV's?

I'd like to use a not yet purchased Windows 7 laptop to stream to multiple home HDTVs some video: both hi def U.S. over the air broadcasts (recorded using Windows 7 Media Center) and some movies stored in .ISO format on a USB hard drive. I assume I'd have to use the N spec for the WIFI. I'd like all this not to be too techie or fiddly since I am an amateur at installing/fine tuning software programs, so MythTV and similar programs are out. Popcorn Hour sounds great for playing stored content but a bit tech oriented and off the beaten path for me. I don't want to invest in an XBOX360, for which I'd have no gamer use. The WIFI range should be big enough to cover a 3,000 sq ft house.

Best Buy sells a $900 USD Toshiba laptop that might be able to do this, reviewed here. I don't know how good it's WIDI range is (it was tested at only ten feet), and it only officially supports 720p video--I'd like to go with 1080. Also I've read that the Wireless Display technology it uses is new and still experiencing some hiccups, including occasional stuttering and DRM hangups.

So what wireless network, receivers, remote controls, USB ATSC tuner and so on do I need to set up streaming 1080p video around the house? As to the laptop specifications, can I successfully use something less powerful and cheaper than an i3 or i5 based system? Does it need a discrete video card for this project? I'm staying with Windows 7 since the Media Center software is said to be vastly improved over what Vista had bundled in.

Also, are there web articles/reviews/links that summarize what I should be doing? Thanks!
posted by paphun123 to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Streaming 1080p over WiFi, even at N speeds, is going to be hit or miss. I'd say you need to rethink the scope of your project. Where is your internet access located? Can you reasonably hardwire any of the TVs? Would you be open to setting up small nettop HTPCs near the televisions? Are they all HDTVs?
posted by Oktober at 1:40 PM on April 26, 2010

1. Internet access: router in living room
2. Hardwire TV's: would this involve running HDMI cable from an HTPC to the TV? Hardwiring would involve drilling into walls, not allowed where I live, or would involve running loose cable from room to room which would be unsightly and might require running such long cables that it would extend beyond the recommended distance for HDMI cable. While it removes the wifi problem, unfortunately it takes away the flexibility in positioning the laptop that I had hoped to achieve, as well as the ability to use one laptop for the whole project, rather than several.
3. The TVs all will be HDTVs.
posted by paphun123 at 2:09 PM on April 26, 2010

Dumb question, are you ever going to want to use more than one TV at a time? Because the bog-simple way of doing this is just setting up your laptop somewhere that has good OTA reception, then just plugging it into the TV you're sitting in front of via HDMI.

Otherwise you're probably better off ignoring WIDI entirely (as far as I know, it's still an immature standard) and picking up a few cheap nettop boxes, and having them stream from a central server.
posted by Oktober at 2:28 PM on April 26, 2010

Good thought, but OTA reception is a bit flaky here (no outside antenna allowed--rabbit ears in use) so moving the laptop to the TV in use would also involved plugging in an antenna for the laptop, or moving it along with the laptop.
posted by paphun123 at 2:50 PM on April 26, 2010

I haven't tried it, but I've seen devices that claim to create a wired network over your power lines. It might be worth trying if WiFi doesn't provide enough bandwidth and you can't or won't run cat5 cables all over the home.

Here's one example:
D-Link PowerLine HD Network Starter Kit

Again, I have no experience with it, but it claims to deliver 200 Mbps, which probably means you're lucky if you get half that, and it looks like a hair dryer may disrupt your TV show.
posted by willnot at 2:54 PM on April 26, 2010

How many TVs do you have? If you have more than 1 Windows 7 computer, each of them can share the Windows Media Center content from the other computers. However, what I think you really need, and what will be the easiest are extenders. Unfortunately, for Windows Media Center, XBOXes are the only extenders being currently manufactured.

To get the HDTV signal into the computer, you'll need some sort of tuner. If you have a laptop (or will be getting one), you will need to get either a HD-PVR or HD HomeRun. The HD PVR is used with a cablebox while the HD HomeRun can be used with an antenna or direct cable connection.

The laptop you found is really interesting. I'd be interested in knowing how long it's transmission range is and if you can buy extra receivers. And if you can buy extra receivers, how do you choose among them on the computer. I suppose you could just move the receiver to whichever TV you feel like using, but that seems like a PITA.

You really should investigate SageTV. It's an extremely versatile software. I've been using it for the past 3.5 years after having had Tivos that I grew unhappy with. One of the many great things about SageTV is that they make and sell their own extenders ($200) which unlike an XBOX are small, quiet, and low power. There's a wifi N USB adapter ($30). The software itself costs $80. They also have a software extender which you can use on other computers.

The forums are really active and helpful. People write many ad-ons and plugins. For example, I have a plugin which let's me access Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, and YouTube, among others. I highly recommend the customer created alternative interface, SageMC.

They offer a 21 day trial of the software. I don't work for the company; I am just a happy customer.

Interestingly, at least to me, I just wrote a blog post, The Beginner's Guide to SageTV. Check it out if you're interested. I'd love some feedback.

posted by reddot at 4:47 PM on April 26, 2010

You know, you say you'd have no use for the gaming functions of an Xbox 360, but between streaming Netflix and the ability to use them as media center extenders, you may want to investigate the Arcade version, they're often available for much less than the $200 asking price. Just last week they were on sale for $100 each.
posted by Oktober at 5:02 PM on April 26, 2010

Interesting post, reddot. I'll check into it. I'm a little surprised that all this hasn't been widely commercialized yet. Seems like in 2010 there should be some grandma friendly usb wifi device that could easily broadcast hdtv all over the house from computers to easily attached dongles on HDTVs. We can put a person on the moon, but....
posted by paphun123 at 6:29 PM on April 26, 2010

Since you want to use Windows MCE, easiest and cheapest way is to buy 360's (or go used) for every TV (w/ 802.11n adapter). A little more than the Intel Wireless display boxes.

Also, I would recommend against getting a laptop for HD streaming.

1. You'll run out of storage very fast (HD recordings are around 6GB / hour)
2. A notebook drive might not be able to stream that much data to multiple devices.

Also, looking at that notebook, it only streams content from hard disk/network or browser (and probably only to a single device). You're not going to be able to stream live TV without some terrible looking live capture/encode.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:31 AM on April 27, 2010

Interesting post, reddot. I'll check into it. I'm a little surprised that all this hasn't been widely commercialized yet. Seems like in 2010 there should be some grandma friendly usb wifi device that could easily broadcast hdtv all over the house from computers to easily attached dongles on HDTVs. We can put a person on the moon, but....

The only good reason you would need to stream out broadcast TV live from a central place is you wanted a multiple tuner DVR system. (which in itself is $$$$). There's no reason for the average person to need this when modern TVs can already pick up broadcast TV.

There are already cheap and easy network devices like the WD live that will stream video files and pre-recorded TV files over the network.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:44 AM on April 27, 2010

Yes, the SageTV HD Theater shares many of the features of the WD Live but has the benefit of being a SageTV extender as well.

I agree though that the benefit of SageTV is the integration of the DVR with the Media Center and online video content. If you don't need the DVR portion, then there may be better solutions for you than Sage.

Also, the OP didn't specify live TV, just over the air, which is why I recommended SageTV. BTW, I use it with only one tuner and find great benefit. We never watch live TV; it's all content that we've recorded via the DVR.

I agree with the feedback about using a laptop as the primary source of video storage and streaming.
posted by reddot at 7:41 PM on April 27, 2010

The Revo thing at Amazon sounds promising and cheap, perhaps soon there will be an Ion2 version of it with a little stronger wifi signal. Good to know about Sage, also. The anticipated Boxee Box might be a partial solution to this too. I could have been clearer about OTA vs real time broadcasts: I just want to be able to retrieve to any home HDTV, recorded and stored TV and movies from a wireless network. Thanks, everyone.
posted by paphun123 at 7:37 AM on April 28, 2010

That is, OTA broadcasts that have been recorded by Sage or Windows Media Center or Tivo.

In an ideal world Tivo would let me back up my movies to it's hard drive and then I could stream all over the house to HDTVs with attached extender Boxee Boxes via 802.11n. Relatively simple system-in-a-box (or two) and nearly grandma friendly.
posted by paphun123 at 7:58 AM on April 28, 2010

Well, TiVo does have it's desktop software, which lets you transfer shows off of the TiVo. There are probably ways to bypass the DRM if you look around hard enough.
posted by reddot at 7:36 AM on May 4, 2010

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