My Dark Twisted Media Fantasy
November 29, 2010 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I have long held a fantastic dream of what I want my home theater setup to be. I've tried several times, in several different ways, to realize this dream - but there is always something. There's always something that doesn't work right - that makes my final implementation lacking in some fundamental way. I'm starting to give up hope. So - I'll tell you what I want and what I've tried - and I want you to tell me if there's another way. I can't be alone here.

What I have to work with:
Several terabytes of music, television and music stored on a Windows
Home Server on my local network.
A HD television
An AV receiver
Bright House cable service with a digital cable box
A Windows 7 HTPC
A Logitech Revue Google TV
A Hauppauge HDPVR

What I want:
I want to listen to music, and access my local media content, and play
and record live TV and access internet-based applications like Netflix
and Hulu and network streaming sites (, etc) all from a single
device/interface/remote. I would also really like it if all this was
searchable, but I'll take what I can get.

I don't want to switch between different devices and different
interfaces and different remotes based on the type of content I want to access. I want everything in one box. Is
that too much to ask?

What I've Tried:

Logitech Revue GoogleTV
It's OK. If it's the best solution, I'll keep it, but presently I've
got a pre-paid shipping label for it and I'm getting ready to send it
back, because there are some real problems.
-The player for local media content (stored on my WHS) is barely
functional. None of my local media content is reliably indexed - none
of it reliably comes back in search results - and the universal
searching is part of the big selling points for GoogleTV. Also, a lot
of my videos don't play properly, because there are certain audio
codecs missing. Apparently this is a work in progress, but there have
been no updates yet.
-Um, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and others have all banned the GoogleTV from
accessing online streaming content, which is in theory one of the neat
functions of the device. I don't want to get on a soapbox but I don't
understand why Google didn't get this straightened out before they
launched the product - and, also, why there seems to be no real
urgency now to get it fixed. This is a huge bad thing.
-It allows me to record and watch live TV, but not in any accessible
way. It just uses my DVR from my Brighthouse cable box, so all the
recordings are locked down and inaccessible. The interface and guide
are all the same ugly crap software from the Brighthouse box, which I
hate and is horrible.
-Apparently in a month or two the "application store" for the GoogleTV
should open up - maybe the platform will continue to mature and grow
and I should hold on to it and hope it gets better?

This is a new solution, after I decided to return my Revue. I'm not
in love with it either.
-OK, so, I read about this thing a bunch and I ran out and I bought
one. It lets me watch and record live TV in the Windows Media Center
interface on my HTPC. I can also do pretty much everything else on my
wish list, because, well, it's a PC.
-The HDPVR from Hauppauge, which is pretty much the only one of its
kind as far as I can tell, only has ONE TUNER. So, if I wanted to be
able to record multiple things at once, or watch and record at the
same time, I would, in theory, have to buy another Hauppauge box and
get another cable box from my provider? Ugh.
-The HDPVR exploits an analog loophole by using component video at
1080i. It then connects to my HTPC via USB. The resulting picture
quality is good - it's passable, really - but it's not great. There's
some artifacting... maybe that would be improved with an upgrade to
my HTPC.
-It takes a long time to change channels. With the included IR
blaster, it took 25 - 30 seconds to change channels. I researched and
switched to a Firewire setup, and this cut it down to 10 - 12 seconds
per channel change.
-It doesn't have the cool universal search of the GoogleTV - but,
since the GoogleTV search results don't work on local media and online
streaming is broken, I guess that's ok.

Other Alternatives:
The only other option I see open to me (and perhaps I'm wrong) is to
investigate getting a cablecard from Brighthouse and then getting one
of those adapter cards for my PC and tuning the cable directly into
the media center. This seems possible, although expensive and
annoying. There only appears to be one card available that does this,
and it's apparently like $400.

So, that's the dilemma. I know. I know this is so hard because what I'm trying to do is entirely against the grain from what apparently every major corporation in the entire known universe wants me to do - but I don't care. I want to make this happen!
posted by kbanas to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, you're about right - you want to control the media you have paid money for, and the creators of that media want to keep that control to themselves. Aside from hiring engineers and programmers to create a custom solution at huge cost that would have almost no commercial viability (You'd effectively be challenging the MPAA and RIAA directly), I currently know of no way of doing this.
posted by frwagon at 7:27 AM on November 29, 2010

Have you looked at Plex on a Mac Mini? This is what I have - and I can do everything except record live TV with it. A quick google suggests that there is EyeTV/Plex integration to record LiveTV, so this should handle everything on your list.
posted by unexpected at 7:31 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm using Hauppauge HD-PVR with MythTV. It works great. The picture quality is nearly equivalent to what I get with the Comcast box--I can only tell the difference if I stand about six inches from the screen and scrutinize the small letters on the screen to see if they look identical to what comes straight out of the cable box. So, if your picture quality is not great, you might want to see if you've got some issues with your PC or its connection to your TV. I can certainly say that I got a better picture by using HDMI from the PC to the TV rather than analog VGA--whether this is the fault of the PC, the TV, or inherent VGA limitations, I don't know.

Channel changes do take a bit of time, in part because HD-PVR has to build up a buffer. You're not watching live TV, you're watching TV delayed by 5 seconds or so. You're watching the recording.

You say HDPVR has only one tuner. That's not quite accurate: in fact, it doesn't have any tuners at all. All the HDPVR does is take component video and encode it to H.264 so you can do whatever you want with it on your PC. Of course you do need something to tune your cable (I presume it's digital cable, as you want HD.)

* you can get boxes from your cable company. Yeah, they charge you something like $7 a month for them, that sucks.

* you can get a TV tuner card that tunes QAM. Chances are your cable company sends broadcast channels over the cable, unencrypted, even in HD. They might send other channels too. Unfortunately it's hard to make this work with schedule data for a variety of reasons. But you don't have to pay extra to cable company.

* where I live, Comcast has little boxes that are intended to work with old analog TVs. I can get two (maybe three?) of them free with my cable. I get a lot of channels on them, but they only put out the old fashioned analog signal. But I can tune this using a cheap TV tuner card for the PC. Again, no extra charge.

Essentially the problem is that, before, all you needed was a "cable ready" TV, and you got cable. Now in the digital age you need a device from the cable company to get the gazillion channels in HD.

Overall I am quite happy with MythTV and HD-PVR, though it has taken a lot of time to set up. If I had it to do over again maybe I would just use the cable company DVR (it's not great, but it is cheap and has no setup time) or maybe just drop the bucks on Tivo.
posted by massysett at 7:33 AM on November 29, 2010

I'm super happy with plex and all it's plugins. I netflix stream and hulu and HDTV and all that jazz (and yes, via one remote (with 6 buttons) and for everything else, there's private trackers. I'll gladly pay a dollar or two an episode for 1080p quality but have no desire to spend serious money on cable TV since I cannot get a la carte programming. Here's to iTunes bringing all the content creators around to this because most people will realize that paying a $1/ep is easier than piracy. Until then, forget it. (I do buy boxed sets if I like the show.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:41 AM on November 29, 2010

You should investigate SageTV. It is a DVR / media center platform that has great support for local media and can work with Playon to support Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon VOD, and others. The community support is great.

One of the best things, in my opinion, is that SageTV supports extenders, akin to the WD Live or Roku, etc, but made for SageTV. The current batch, the HD300 is awesome. I have a few extenders around my house, so I get the same interface to my media no matter where I am. There is now also (beta) support for mobile devices, which is cool. You can also hook up your computer running SageTV directly to the computer if desired. People have found that using the HD300 is better experience though.

If you want to tune multiple channels, and you have a cable system that requires you to use boxes, there's no way around getting multiple boxes / tuners if you want to record more than one thing at a time. We have only 1 tuner and just torrent the media that's missed b/c of conflicts, which happens fairly rarely.
posted by reddot at 7:45 AM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: You say HDPVR has only one tuner. That's not quite accurate: in fact, it doesn't have any tuners at all. All the HDPVR does is take component video and encode it to H.264 so you can do whatever you want with it on your PC. Of course you do need something to tune your cable (I presume it's digital cable, as you want HD.)

* you can get boxes from your cable company. Yeah, they charge you something like $7 a month for them, that sucks.

But the HDPVR only has a single component input... so even if I got another cable box, I'd need another HDPVR too, right? Or, another tuner that I can just hook-up via Clear QAM or something.. but of course the number of channels there will be entirely limited.
posted by kbanas at 7:48 AM on November 29, 2010

Correct. You would have to buy another HDPVR or input source.
posted by reddot at 10:05 AM on November 29, 2010

Get a device that does each thing well:

- Plex/MacMini for downloaded content
- Cable/DirecTV box for live television and recent shows.
- Logitech SqueezeBox/Roku for music
- Network file server for the actual files, along with running SqueezeCenter/Slimserver
- Logitech Harmony One remote to tie it all together

I have yet to see a device do everything well, but each of those devices do their own thing very well. Music is tricky as you can have a lot of it and you probably want to create playlists. SqueezeCenter solves this by serving it all up on a web interface. Plex works well when you're selecting movies and feels like one of those really expensive setups, if you do everything right. Unfortunately cable companies have been doing all they can to keep you with a box, there's really no alternative to this.

The real key here is the Harmony One remote. You can have a hundred devices in your setup and as long as they respond to IR input, Harmony One makes it feel like a unified system. After configuration you simply press, "Watch movies"/"Watch television"/"Listen to music" and it syncs everything on its own. If you're stuck with on a single output somewhere, no big deal, just buy a bus and have the remote deal with figuring out what to do.

Personally, I'd pay for cable and just setup an RSS torrent feed if you really, really want to store your own content for television programming. 90% of what I watch on television is topical/news shows so I don't really have the need for long-term storage on that. When I do, I just download the torrent.
posted by geoff. at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2010

Each of the streaming services is so different that even if you had a master app, you would need different interfaces. There is no real reason why you couldn't just use 2 devices and just switch inputs with your remote.

I would just go for 2 devices.

XBMC on your Win7 HTPC
Tivo with Cablecard
posted by wongcorgi at 12:12 PM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: By the way, after looking into it a little bit today, a promising (but expensive) solution is the Ceton Infinitv4.
posted by kbanas at 7:13 PM on November 29, 2010

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