Thursday, December 31, 2009

Home Theater PC Project - Phase 2: Decisions

I've been doing a ton of research and experimentation since my last post on this subject, and I came to a bunch of decisions that are a bit far afield from where I started. Ultimately I think I'll wind up with a very cool setup even if it doesn't meet the original Home Theater PC goals.

Ultimately I want something that works well and is easy to use. If I were the only one watching TV in the house I'd probably tolerate a ton of rough edges with something like MythTV and potentially XBMC, but since I'm not the only one who watches TV, full-time TV tech support wasn't something I wanted to get into. As I looked at everything involved with a MythTV setup and started thinking about things like channel mappings, remote controls, potential noise issues, not to mention the overall cost involved with a multi-room setup, I started thinking it wasn't a wise road to go down.

As a bit of an aside before I get to the punchline, I did get an eyeTV 250 Plus for my Mac Mini, mostly so I could see what if anything I got over FiOS TV without using a Verizon cable box. Surprisingly I get quite a bit! It tuned a total of 86 channels, but about 40 of those are encrypted. I get all the networks in HD as well as WGN and a bunch of other things (still sifting through the odd channel numbers to see what I do and don't get), so that's good to know for future use. The eyeTV is a really nice product if you're looking for a TV tuner and DVR for your Mac. Even on my 3+ year old Mac Mini (I believe it's a Core Solo) it works great.

As for the overall solution, I debated this quite a bit and wound up ordering a Moxi. Specifically I got the three-tuner, three-room bundle since cost-wise that wasn't much more than a new one-room TiVo with service. Moxi looks extremely cool, has no service fees, has the multi-room thing figured out better than TiVo, and has a ton of other very compelling features that tipped me to it over another TiVo. It's still on order but I'll post more about it once I get it. They also have a 30-day money-back guarantee so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Yes, this means I'm not building a home theater PC per se, but in the end I decided I didn't want watching TV to turn into a huge ordeal, so I'll save the DIY impulses for another project. With the Moxi I'll be able to scale back to a single cable card instead of the multiple Verizon boxes I have now, and the Moxi Mate (which are the smaller units that go in other rooms but talk to the main DVR) is getting a software update soon that lets you watch live TV through the main Moxi unit.

The Moxi also hooks into PlayOn, which lets you watch Netflix streaming, Hulu, Amazon VOD, and a ton of other content from the Moxi. Watching Hulu without having to do so on a computer is going to be great. I went the Boxee on Apple TV route and never got it working, but from everything I've read about PlayOn this should be a great solution. This does mean I'll have one Windows machine in the mix (sigh), but PlayOn also lets you watch content from the Wii and Xbox 360, so it's a nice addition to the overall setup.

To get all of this working optimally from a networking perspective Wi-Fi wasn't going to cut it, so I installed a Netgear MoCA adapter in each room where I'll have the Moxi units. If you're not familiar with MoCA, it enables network traffic to travel over the existing coax lines in your house at speeds much faster than Wi-Fi. This is perfect for things like HD streaming that would tax Wi-Fi. I always had pretty poor luck with HD streaming from Netflix on TiVo over Wi-Fi even with a really good signal, so this should be a vast improvement. So far I've only hooked up my new Panasonic Blu-Ray player to MoCA but it's working great, and MoCA setup was dead simple. Plug it in and go.

For those of you who were looking to learn as I built out an elaborate MythTV setup, my apologies, but that path simply didn't make sense for me at this point. I'm very anxious to try out Moxi so at least those of you interested in some TiVo alternatives will get something out of my experience with Moxi.


jamiekrug said...

Good stuff! You had me completely sold until you mentioned "one Windows machine in the mix" -- not sure I'll allow another Windows machine back into my home ;-) But everything else sounds very exciting.I can see how you might shy away from MythTV for a multi-room/TV setup. Even the cheapest little PCs to handle the additional front-ends are going to run you around $300/each.My MythTV configuration was absolutely painless, though I don't have remotes or full displays for front-ends. I have one main MythTV box that runs Mythbuntu 8.04 and has a wide-screen LCD plugged in. With the right hardware, that much is a piece of cake. For me, it was a Hauppauge PVR-500, which is a dual tuner card that comes with a readily supported remote control.As for front-ends, we don't have much of a need, but occasionally watch live and/or recorded TV on a laptop. Both my wife and I run Ubuntu on our laptops, and non-HD LiveTV or recordings work just fine over wireless in the house.Anyway, I love all the legwork you've shared. Keep us posted. Thanks!

hockeypfef said...

I've been wanting to this too. I have looked into MythTV and using the MediaMVP as a frontend, but haven't had a chance to try it. I have also thought about SageTV as an option. I have DishNetwork, so I need to figure out how I can do all of this with the Receivers. Looking forward to following your posts tho!

rlight said...

How do you like the Moxi so far? Are you still with FiOS TV?

Matthew Woodward said...

Moxi is still on backorder so I'll report back when it actually gets here. ;-)

rlight said...

Cool, thanks. Can't wait to hear all about it!