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)
- 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
- Demo of Hulu on Xbox (using PlayOn)
- Hacking AppleTV for uPNP http://users.telenet.be/bruno.keymolen/hmedia.html (UPNP for AppleTV)
- An Archos DVR with support for UPnP (No Hulu, Pandora or last.fm due to poor support for flash)
- More AppleTV hacking stuff
- Boxee (TV like interface for internet video on Mac based on XBMC)
- Myka, a bit torrent-enabled set top box (that isn’t shipping yet)
- Orb – stream software from your PC over the internet to anywhere
- A USB VCR (as in tape). Want to get one of these to make DVDs of old family videos.
- MythTV – linux DVR/media server software.