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

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