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

Watching YouTube and Hulu on your TV

NEW YORK - MARCH 23:  Apple's new Apple TV advertisment is displayed  in an Apple store March 23, 2007 in New York City. Apple began shipping the Apple TV set-top device March 21, which wirelessly connects computers to televisions and retails for $299.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I got this question from a friend the other day:

do you know if you can transmit the internet signal in a wireless network to your tv?  now we attach our laptop directly to the tv with a VGA adapter.  I want to avoid doing this and maybe buy and attach  some type of transciever to the television to access  the internet while sitting on the couch in our living room.

I am looking for a good answer to this also  I used to use my Xbox to stream recorded TV from a PC upstairs, but the video was always choppy over the wireless connection, and now it just plain doesn’t work because of some setup issue.

I found a few questionable products. I really doubt the video quality – in home wifi doesn’t have enough bandwidth to transmit HD video in realtime, it has to be cached on the set top box.

The only established products that I know of are AppleTV and Roku Netflix. But both of those lock you in to either Netflix or iTunes. ZeeVee looks promising (but wired and expensive).

Anyone out there know of other alternatives?

UPDATE: looks like there are some new developments with a Google Media Server Desktop Gadget. I’m also interested in the DLNA stuff. Not sure how it all works, still sounds hard to set up.