Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Windows Media Center Setup

My friends know I am a bit of a computer hack. I live to experiment with technologies. For several years I was running a home media center using MythTV. It was really cool to show off but it took some serious time to maintain. Luckily there were lots of people out there doing the same things that I could learn from.

A friend told me about BeyondTV, but I never took the time to get into it. He really loves it.

One of the reasons I didn't invest was that I upgraded my home package to AT&T U-verse. U-verse came with a Hi-Def DVR, which worked pretty well and didn't require me to maintain anything (especially not Linux).

After upgrading some of my home computer systems to Windows 7, I realized that I had Microsoft's Media Center Server at my fingertips. It looks to be able to be a DVR, but I am not really sure how to capture Hi-Dev video off of AT&T U-verse and I didn't really need to be able to.

I have a large collection of DVD's. Entire seasons of 24, for instance, and many movies. The one thing I don't like about DVD's is that they take up space. Yes, you can put them on a spindle and that reduces the space, but they still are physical objects. Also, they go bad. They get scratches and get lost...

I decided to start recording my DVD's into MP4 files and storing them on Media Center, using MyMovies to pull down cover artwork, descriptions, actors, etc...
Now, this is really cool technology, but I dont want to have to watch movies on my computer. I'd really like to watch them on my HDTV. I did some research and found out you can buy technology to act as a Media Center Front End. This is a device that can connect to Media Center Server and bring forward any media and stream it/control it with the front end. The Front End can connect directly to a TV, and voila!

My first front end was a DLINK DSM-750. It had decent reviews and a 'wife-friendly' remote. We hooked it up and it worked great for a while. Eventually we started discovering stange things, like after pausing a movie it would just hang. The bad part of this then was even more apparent when we realized it was nearly impossible to fast forward to the place you were at after rebooting the thing. I went online thinking that I could just upgrade the firmware and that eventually the software would get better. It turns out DLINK decided to stop supporting this model. BTW, they are still selling it. DLINK lost a lot of reputation with me based on this.

Here is a helpful tip:


Enter XBOX 360. XBOX360 can be connected to your network wirelessly (I ended up connecting it wired for better throughput) and can act as a Media Center Front End. It's a little strange using an XBOX controller as a remote, though. It's not so 'wife-friendly'. However, Microsoft is updating the software and making it work well. I bought one used off of eBay and I have been very happy with it. After initial install, it upgraded itself several times and now acts as a great front-end, of course except for the wife-friendly remote.

Next steps...

I now have an older PC out ay my lake house running Win 7. I need to find a way to keep my Media Library synchronized out there. So far I have been carrying a USB drive back and forth with the latest stuff on it. I have also tried to use WEBDAV to share my media and pull it down using file synchronization software across the internet. Thiis has proved to be a hard problem.

If anyone has any good ideas on how to keep a media library in synch across the internet, I am all ears.

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