in Projects, Programming, Technology

The Quest to watch Hulu on TV with an HD DVR

The world needs a comprehensive internet connected set-top box. There is no existing solution that allows you to:

  • Watch Hulu, YouTube, and other streaming internet videos on your TV
  • Record broadcast TV in a portable format (an HD DVR).
  • Download (via Bit torrent or Usenet) and view downloaded videos in portable formats (DivX, Xvid, other MPEG-4 variants)

After a couple days research, it looks like the best way to accomplish this is by using a Mac or PC with a TV tuner as a home video server. In my case, I already have a MediaCenter PC, but it isn’t in the TV room, so I’ve researched the best option for sharing videos over my home network. The result is the system diagrammed below. I haven’t actually set up the UPnP part of the network yet, but I will likely use iPodifier and PlayOn to transmit shows to a PS3 (which, though expensive, is also a blue-ray player). I am willing to hack a little bit, but am hesitant to embark on a major hacking expedition (doing stuff over SSH to an AppleTV, or installing MythTV to see if it supports my video card both sound like too much work).

I prefer to pay for high speed internet rather than cable/satellite TV. For some reason, I can’t stomach a monthly subscription for TV. $50-100/month = $600-1200/yr (although I do have ultra-basic cable because our TV reception is poor). A basic HD TiVo, the leading choice for a stand-alone DVR, is $299 without programming, $700 with lifetime service. This is too expensive, and still only solves 1 of the 3 criteria above.

On demand download services are more palatable, the leaders are:

But with all of these, you pay for a limited selection of old TV shows and movies. Rather than dropping $600 on a year of cable television, that money will go a long way towards a Mac Mini with EyeTV or a MediaCenter PC. Once you have either of those as a hub, it is easier to free up your content for viewing on other devices around the house.

Here is what I’ve found to be the leading software you can install on your Mac/PC DVR to share video around the house:

  • PlayOn (UPnP server for PC)  – launched a beta version recently and their site went down
  • iPodifier (file converter for PC) to automatically convert your Windows MediaCenter format files to iPod or AppleTV friendly format (MPG-4)
  • MediaTomb (UPnP server for Mac/Linux)

These are very promising because they don’t require a lot of hacking (although MediaTomb doesn’t seem have any installation instructions)

UPnP Clients

  • PlayStation3 – should work with PlayOn and has a blue-ray drive.
  • XBox 360 – should work with PlayOn or PC MediaCenter (though I had bad experiences with first gen Xbox)
  • not AppleTV (requires hacking) – but should detect MPG-4 videos encoded by iPodifier

Other Links

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  1. Hi Adam- Interesting and great thoughts here. Some of my friends and I have been pursuing this goal as well – we’d all love to rid our cable bills. Here’s my current setup:
    * Comcast cable “Limited” – something like $15/mo for essentially just the local channels.
    * HDHomerun by SiliconDust – a dual qam (unencrypted signal) tuner. Device connects to home network.
    * Vista Ultimate configured with the following:
    * Networked to HDHomerun.
    * Media Center uses HDHomerun to tune into unencrypted HD QAM channels.
    * MCEBuddy to compress and remove commercials.
    * TVersity – I *think* this is UPnP software as related to some of the tools you mention above. It streams media to my Xbox360 and transcodes as necessary. Handles my music, photos, and videos including movie collection. Also video RSS feeds, podcasts, etc.
    * XBox360 – networked via cat5 to home network and acts as a Media Extender and a UPnP client to play media from TVersity.

    This setup has been working very well. The Xbox handles and plays videos/movies with great fluidity – minimal buffering (wmv files start up immediately and ff and rew, pause, etc very fast.). What sorts of intial issues were you seeing?
    I’ll need to read up on the UPnP sw you mention here and compare with TVersity.

    I’m thinking of purchasing another XBox as another media extender for the family room as right now it is sucking $$ thanks to Comcast. Also Wii doesn’t show our movies very well wireless from the TVersity server. Any reason you can provide to consider PS3 instead of Xbox? I’m not entirely convinced that I need BlueRay and the XBox can be setup as a Media Extender with Media Center.

  2. Thanks for posting your research, I think I’ve been looking for something similar (I don’t have any cable TV service).
    I have a PC with a huge amount of HD/SD video on it.
    I have broadband internet where I watch a lot of HULU and Netfilx.
    I want a piece of hardware that lets me play all that content on my TV (in full screen/full resolution).
    Is there one?

  3. My setup that is highly disjointed yet so far working…

    1. PC with dual tv-tuners to record analog shows like Oprah for my wife.

    2. Shows are streamed to my XBox 360 via wired connection, rocks, fluid, never any buffering issues, just works.

    3. Watch some movies + TV shows via Netflix Instant On on the XBox 360. Works well most of the time, some movies in HD, streams quick.

    4. Purchase movies/shows via the XBox Live Marketplace, quick downloads, good selection.

    5. Purchase via Amazon On Demand, stream via my PC to my XBox 360, again, works great.

    The part I don’t like is having to explain to my wife where a certain episode of something is, recorded, Marketplace, Netflix or Amazon. The quality and streaming rocks, the logistics are another story. I want a one-stop shop.

  4. i only have an internet connection i do all these and i save a lot from cable tv bills. and i don’t even stay at home to watch tv all day. i just watch them whenever i feel so i agree with this kind of tips.

  5. Another possible option would be a Samsung BD-P2500 – it is a Blu-Ray player that now has Netflix & Hulu support. We’re currently looking at it to stream from our Mac to a new TV. Looks like we’ll be able to do it with an Airport Express connected to the 2500 with an ethernet cable, or maybe just a plain USB wifi stick that talks to the network that way.

  6. – I have a Request Media Server which allows me to watch Hulu and Youtube. In the future they will be adding Netflix,,… Additionally I can watch any video or music on my NAS or iTunes.
    – My Samsung Blu Ray also has Netflix.
    – To add assult to injury I have free over the air HD Antenna for all my local channel in case I am in the mood to watch commercials!
    Bye-Bye Cox Cable and DirecTV… I no longer need you.

  7. It would be quite helpful if the diagram you created would display itself – is this an “April Fool’s” joke? Just kidding. The market demands an all-in-one STB and one will be here soon I am sure. It will be PC-based to run browsers & handle Flash, come with a wireless kybd+mouse, have hot swap SATA storage, DVR capability w/ record scheduling, off-air input, media card readers, Wi-Fi + 10/100/1000 and HDMI output. Sign me up, baby.

    A good $600 notebook with HDMI will just about do the job now if you set it up correctly.

  8. Hi Adam, great info…I am part of the way there, but as you mention, there is no single solution yet. It seems the diagram on your original post is missing. I am wondering if you can somehow post that diagram again, a picture being worth a thousand words and all…thanks in advance!


  9. After 40 years in the computer industry and 22 years of trying to convince my husband that I could save money by wirelessly beaming his television shows onto our HD TV from any one of the computers I’ve built over the years; we have wound up with 2 TiVo-1 units, a DVR, and a HD DVR. I also purchased a WDTV Live Plus, which is defective; but it does work when it feels like it. I’m having a hell of a time with warranty support. I suppose my best option is to play around with one of the TiVo’s, and attempt to sell everything else. After 22 years with Direct TV, they raised our monthly bill to $126, and couldn’t explain why. I told them they either itemized the bill and explained the increase, or they’d lose a customer who had never been late with a payment. They chose to lose me.