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View Full Version : Home Media Center - buy or build?



Go West Young Man
04-22-2011, 10:39 AM
In service of the greater cause of saving money for a downpayment, cable TV went dark this week in our home. :cryin:

We're now getting our TV fixes from Netflix and Blockbuster streamed through a blu-ray player. I want to get some kind of box set up to stream other online content, but I don't need anything too fancy - no torrents, no obscure video formats. Basically, Hulu Plus and shows that are only available on network's websites.

It doesn't look that hard to get Hulu going - a Roku box is cheap and looks pretty easy to set up. Where I'm having trouble finding my direction is shows that are only available to view directly on a network's website (SWMBO likes cheesy CW shows, what can I say? :lol: ) I'm guessing you would need a media pc with a proper browser to access these, right? Is there any off-the-shelf option (or hack) that can get to those shows?

Dennis
04-22-2011, 10:48 AM
You could check into XBox Media Center (http://xbmc.org/). I haven't set it up my self but a couple buddies of mine run it.

Deltaboy
04-22-2011, 11:22 AM
Build it !

Excalibur
04-22-2011, 11:46 AM
Build it!

It does take a couple weeks to get dialed in.

Here is my current system

Dell Vostro 200 computer, using HDTV as a monitor, and a Levono Mini Keyboard

Computer Stats:

Pentium Dual Core 1.8GHz CPU

2 Gigs Ram

2 hard drives:

Western Digital Blue 160gig System really a 60 gig would be plenty.

Western Digital Black 1TB Video recording

Factory power supply (300W) works fine, but I would recommend 350W if you are buying one anyway.

Sapphire Radeon video card (Fanless makes a big difference in the noise) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001SJLLTQ

Hauppauge 2250 dual tuner video capture card W/ Remote

Using the built-in sound card to output sound to my Home theater amp with a phono to RCA cord. Looks like: http://www.scan.co.uk/Products/3m-AV-Cable-2TR-303-35mm-Headphone-to-RCA-STEREO-Phono-(Left-Right)

Windows XP pro, SP3

Running SageTV Version 7 http://www.sagetv.com/ (HTPC automation software)



I paid $75 for the vostro computer (used from work) and with the rest of the suff, I have about $400 into it. No subscription fees, and works great. It runs as a dvr, media streamer, etc. etc. The wife and I absolutely love it. Figuring in about $50 a month for cable, it has already paid for itself. One note if you are building - don't go for high performance CPU's. It just doesn't require it, and go fanless whenever possible. You will want this thing running quiet as it will be on 24/7. This also means going for "greener" power supplies, etc to save some $ in the long run.

Go West Young Man
04-22-2011, 12:17 PM
I paid $75 for the vostro computer (used from work) and with the rest of the suff, I have about $400 into it. No subscription fees, and works great. It runs as a dvr, media streamer, etc. etc. The wife and I absolutely love it. Figuring in about $50 a month for cable, it has already paid for itself. One note if you are building - don't go for high performance CPU's. It just doesn't require it, and go fanless whenever possible. You will want this thing running quiet as it will be on 24/7. This also means going for "greener" power supplies, etc to save some $ in the long run.


Can you run everything through a remote on the TV screen, or do you need to be on the computer itself?

hifigeezer
04-22-2011, 12:23 PM
Please see the recent related thread: Streaming Media Player Suggestions in the Barber Shop. If I can figure out how to watch online without enduring commercials I want to cut the cable also!

Excalibur
04-22-2011, 12:24 PM
Everything is run through a remote on the tv screen.

Note in the software I run (SageTV) it allows native playing of Hulu, youtube, and googletv. If you want to go to a network's website, you will need to minimize sage and use a web browser to get there. This is not something I usually mess with, I just use hulu. For using the web browser, the levono remore works well.

I don't even have a monitor for this machine, I just use my LCD flatscreen over HDMI (hence the added video card). The resolution is 1920X1080 with no issues.

As I stated before, the CPU doesn't need to be that powerful with this video card and capture card combo. The video card does most of the rendering work; and the capture card has onboard encoders, lessening the load on the CPU.

I do note that the playback isn't always PERFECT. If I am recording 2 shows on two different channels (both in hd, of course) and playing back another HD show, there can be a skipped frame occassionally due to the hard drive having a hard time keeping up. It is not very noticable, but it can skip a frame every 30 seconds or so when the computer is working very hard.

I do hear upgrading to Win7 can help; as the video codecs are much better than those included in WindowsXP. I haven't tried it yet as I'm hesitant to pay $100 more for a system that already works great.

Excalibur
04-22-2011, 12:27 PM
Please see the recent related thread: Streaming Media Player Suggestions in the Barber Shop. If I can figure out how to watch online without enduring commercials I want to cut the cable also!

FYI SageTV works with a neat utility called comskip which automatically scans recorded files for commercials and marks where they are in the recording. It will then AUTOMATICALLY skip the commercials for you during playback. It is not perfect, but it works flawlessly about 90% of the time.

Cool little utility, and it's free.

Lynchmeister
04-22-2011, 03:23 PM
+1 to building your own and be sure to check out Boxee. Yes, they sell a Boxee Box, but they also give out the software for free!

I came this < > close to going this route, but ultimately decided that I was in a position to pay for the convenience (and I use that term loosely) of a satellite/DVR setup and opted to do so.

dfennewald
04-22-2011, 08:04 PM
I'd check out MythTV, Freevo or another Linux version for the software. There are a number of inexpensive mini computer barebone systems out there that will fit the hardware portion.