How-To Geek

What You Said: What’s Powering Your Media Center

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Earlier this week we asked you to share your media center setups, tips, and tricks. Now we’re back to share of the great comments you left.

The range of techniques you all use for getting access to your media is impressive. Some readers had setups as simple as tamasksz’s setup:

WDTV Live with an external HDD… So simple, but works.

Others started with simple setups, like a WDTV Live, and worked their way up, like Dave:

I started with a Western Digital Live TV and was delighted with this for a few years, but as time went on the lack of new features or online content (still no support for BBC iPlayer for example), having to unplug everything to transfer files to the hard drives and then hook the WD TV Live back up again and getting frustrated with the box not playing certain video formats which played fine on the PC. So I finally bit the bullet and build myself a media centre PC (6 core processor, 16gb ram, decent graphics and Windows 7 Pro) for the lounge and as much as I loved the WD TV Live, I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner!

Having tried XBMC and a few others I’ve ended up with my powerful desktop running Plex Server and Client on the same box and I’m really pleased with how it works. This is plugged in via HDMI to my big TV in the lounge. In addition I’ll use my Windows Laptop with the Plex client to get content to other rooms wirelessly, so either hooking up via HDMI to the bedroom tv or for watching stuff in the kitchen and if I’m feeling a little dangerous then in the bath too, with the laptop on a chair by the door! I can even remotely connect using my laptop or iPhone using MyPlex so stream my content over the web if I’m staying in a hotel etc. I love the skins available for Plex and the accuracy I get with the meta data for my movies and TV shows out of the box, it looks really slick and everyone I’ve had over to watch a film etc is always pretty impressed. The only thing I’m waiting for is a Plex Client / App for the WD TV Live so I can hook this up to the bedroom television full time.

So that takes care of TV Shows, Movies and the occasional dip into YouTube, BBC iPlayer or 4oD (all available as plug-ins apps in Plex) but I don’t really like the way Plex handles music. So for audio I just stick with iTunes, I’ve not found anything that can match it yet. Even the iTunes plug-in for Plex falls short on functionality and usability. The best things about using iTunes directly is that it will hook up to my hi-fi via an AirPort express with no bother at all and then anyone with an iPhone hooked up to my wireless can use iTunes DJ to browse my library and choose songs to add to the playlist. For BBQ’s and dinner parties etc this is ideal, letting my guests choose the music without having to sit in front of the PC all night, which usually ends up with someone hogging the action all night or deleting other peoples choices!

I’ve had a look at other solutions and even installed Twonkey on a friends PC as he wanted to share via DLNA to a Sony BluRay player and Windows 7 natively just wasn’t wanting to work. But in my experience Plex has just been so easy to use, the menus and navigation and well thought-out and the ability to hook up to Windows, Mac or iOS either on the local network or anywhere with a decent internet connection over MyPlex is an absolute winner. Plex was easy to set up, looks slick and I love it!

Other readers have to go to great lengths (literally) to get their media fix. Doug explains:

I am still using SageTV even though it’s kind of a dead end since it was bought out by Google.

My house is about 900′ off the public road and has no cable TV or satellite. I have an old Athlon 64 in my office/shop near the road. I have cableTV and internet connections there for our business. I’ve run Fiber Optic cable to my house (750′) so I have internet at my house. All my TV watching, live and recorded, is through 2 SageTv extenders at my house. This allows a seamless viewing experience on my 2 TV’s. The server also houses all my movies and music. Time warner cable wanted $3500.00 to run cable to my house!

Since the eventual fate of SageTV is unknown, I have been looking for an alternative. So far, nothing currently available seems to fill the bill. I am hoping that the Ceton Q and echo turns out to be as good as they sound. This would fill my needs for a true Server Client solution and allow cablecard support. I hate the thought of giving up SageTV, especially the auto commercial skipping, but I may have no choice.

The entire comment thread is a showcase of the clever ways How-To Geek readers have configured their home setups. Hit up the comment thread here to see how people are streaming, cabling, configuring, and otherwise arranging their setups.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/30/12

Comments (8)

  1. Anonymous

    This whole HTPC movement seems ill-fated. Just consider “Dave’s” setup and you might see what I mean. In his case, he has a mega-money HTPC which is probably some serious overkill for what he uses it for. (“Mega Money” meaning anything more than $200.) But if that’s what he likes then I say, “go for it.” Still, Dave might do a lot better with some simple upgrades/updates on his “server” side of things rather than plug an entire auxiliary PC into the equation. And just in case anyone forgot, PC’s draw (suck) a lot of current that your power company usually want’s you to pay for. So just why Dave or anyone else would want to use more than one PC, particularity when all he probably needs to do is figure out how to “trans-code” content, is a little bewildering.

    For me and anyone else on a budget and looking to get more content to the big screen, all that seems to really be necessary is to have some kind of low-current “box” that will accept and display/play content from wherever it is stored (whether that be the Internet somewhere or your own PC) to wherever you may want to see/hear it. And in my case, “DLNA” enabled devices seem to be the solution. It may be a little more cumbersome to trans-code content on your one PC but at least there’s only one PC doing it – not 2 or more power hungry energy vampires contributing to the worlds energy demand or requiring more money to pay the electric bill!

    Personally, I find only one PC is necessary for one house. Any more than that would seem to be a luxury. But I can certainly understand why a lot of people may want more computers in their home, especially when it comes to education. But “do we really need it?” That should be the question on everyone’s mind. Not “how can I make use of another PC?”.

    Compare almost any HTPC to a set-top box with DLNA abilities and I think you might see where I’m coming from. Add in a graphics card and you might see me cring over the energy demands – particularly when an embedded graphics adapter might be overkill. (Dave, you may want to re-think that one.)

    HTPC’s are a great hobby and fun to play with. But I don’t really see HTPC’s as a serious appliance or getting much beyond the hobbyist market. Not the way set-top boxes (with or without DLNA) seem to be poised.

    Think about it. Most people just want things to work. They don’t want to fiddle with networks and they especially don’t want to troubleshoot connectivity problems. They want to be able to turn their “box” on and maybe answer a question or two before things just work. And that’s what the HTPC movement has working against it. If anything, apps like XBMC will show their prowess when they are embedded to a set-top box – not when they are in control of a power hungry HTPC.

  2. qriocity

    I say run TVersity on a networked computer and buy a PS3.

    Works like a charm and you get to have a gaming console!

  3. Black Knight Rebel

    +1 to Anonymous up top. I never saw the point of a serious HTPC when all you need is a single box that sits under the TV with DLNA.

    Personally, I think a PS3 is best since it’s a single box (that looks stylish) yet handles damn near every function you could want your TV to do.

  4. kevla

    TVersity for me all the way. So simple to use and does the job well.

  5. Huseyin

    Windows Media Center, because nothing else has TV/ATSC/QAM support like it. For everything else, it requires a lot of 3rd party applications, modifications, etc.. I love WMC, and I kept hoping that MS would improve on it, but they have not done much with it.
    I am using HDHomeRun.

  6. Rick

    Anonymous – Not sure why you are so paranoid about PC’s pulling (sucking) so much power? My setup consists of one main gaming computer, one 12TB server (WHS), and two HTPC. The reason for two HTPC is that one is set to record TV using my dual HDHomeRun turner which is programmed to turn on when its going to record and hibernate right after that and the second HTPC is better upgraded to support 3D Bluray which is connected to an LG 3D LED and a 7.1 surround sound using an optical cable. Most of my computers run 24-7 except for the main HTPC which I turn on only when I going to watch a recorded tv show or movie and all for the price of $38 a month on my electric bill. This includes all other items that run on electricity, lights, microwave, washer, etc.

  7. ButtonBash

    My PC runs basically as the home server, with any TV shows, music ect recorded or ripped to it. From there, it’s run via either the wife’s laptop or the 360 hooked up in the lounge. At one stage we had a housemate here, who also happened to have a 360 and could stream media to his too, though it was rare in comparison to my own.

    With the 360 built for media, the only limitation is the wireless network it all runs on. Eventually I’d like to install ethernet ports around the place.

  8. Bob Holloway

    I have a server with a 1TB RAID1 that automatically torrents my shows via rss feed, that box also wifi synchs our iPhones, hosts all my media, and backs up all my production stuff. My jail broken apple TV 2 plays Netflix, PLEX and iTunes content downstairs, and our Roku plays PLEX and Netflix on our bedroom TV. I do like having one machine instead of three, and having one pool of content to manage instead of a DVR for each TV.

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