Seeking Recommendations for new Media Center / PVR set-up - Canadian TV, Computing and Home Theatre Forums
 
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-08, 01:22 PM Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Waterdown, ON
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Seeking Recommendations for new Media Center / PVR set-up

I've done quite well with my ganged OTA antennas (in Waterdown, ON), and using Windows Media Centre (Win7) as my front end PVR and TV Guide, as well as using a separate Media Server for Music and Media Storage (HP Media Smart, and various upgrades until Windows Home Server mangled everything)...

... but I am getting tired of having to trick WMC that we are in the US, JUST to get Netflix to show up in WMC. The downside has always been that in order to get everything we want into WMC (OTA and Netflix), we have to trick it into thinking we're in the States (no prob), but then I have to manually re-program the Channel Guide Additions for the Cable channels!!!!

WMC has been (and still is) excellent when it's working - an "integrated" 10ft Media Center solution is the only thing that my family will accept, and despite not being adapted for Canadians, WMC has been the perfect vehicle up until now.

Or maybe I should abandon the HTPC / OTA altogether (my family is pushing to just go with HD Cable and it's PVR, and use the Netflix integration in our TV set, or buy a new DVD player with integrated facilities, or some other "box" to complement our Cable system (Maybe Apple TV?? but then what about OTA PVR).

We currently tie this all together with a Logitech Harmony One (which has it's own set of pros and cons....).

We are a mixed PC and Mac family, and I am looking for software recommendations for both our Media Centre HTPC and our Media Server (also serves as a local back-up). I am open to anything so long as it's solid, easy to set and forget, and won't give the non-techy members of our family grief. And we have access to just about any platform hardware...I've gone through it all.

But as I get older, I am finding I don't have quite the time I used to to engage and research everything... AND I am tired of having to manually reprogram the TV Channel Set-up each time I make a change - so I am hoping that someone in a similar situation has gone down this path and can make a recommendation. Our HTPC collects a lot of dust so I have to constantly dismantle it to clean and blow out dust in order to keep it from overheating..... so part of me wants to reconsider the hardware aspect too, but only if it can handle good quality streaming movies.

I am looking at trying MediaPortal, but again, I need a solid Netflix plugin (don't really mind if it can't access US netflix, but we employ Un-block Us for a few elements like VUDU rentals as well).

Of importance are:

- OTA Tuner integration (currently using a combination of 3 tuners),
- Canadian Cable and OTA Programming Guide
- PVR capability (and in particular simultaneous multiple tuner recording)
- Photo / Music integration (must access remote networked server by DNLA, or iTunes or something... we prefer Lossless WMA, but I can be convinced to convert to iTunes lossless, I suppose).
- Ideally be able to integrate our funky screensaver (paid, name escapes me) with music for parties
- Netflix Canada or US integration
- Bluray DVD integration (currently using Arcsoft Total Media which has an integration with WMC)

So A BIG thank you to anyone contributing to this thread (and my family's peace of mind), or linking me to another discussion on the same subject that will help me to make some conclusions on our NEXT STEP in HTPC land....

Maybe, since I am "fairly" happy with WMC Win 7 - is a way to "preserve" my Cable Channel additions, so that if the system goes down or I have to re-do the signals for some reason, I can avoid the pain of having to manually program all the Cable channels each time.

P.S. I am cognizant that if this is my biggest concern in life, then we must live in a pretty good society and time in history!

Last edited by websherpa; 2013-07-08 at 02:26 PM.
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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-08, 03:39 PM
 
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Wow, I could have written your post. For what it is worth, my background: Long time WMC 7 user, now off it (I hated Win 8) and using Cogeco PVR. PVR simply works. I recently bought a MAC mini, and loaded PLEX on it (similar to Media Portal). I have 3 Apple TV's and 2 Roku's. Personally, I like the Roku since Plex runs on it natively. My Sammy TV also runs Plex as an app.

Netflix works in PLEX as a "channel". I do get US Netflix because I use unblock-us at the router level. Plus with a Roku I can get Netflix and Hulu Plus directly as one of their apps. I have Plex on my iPhone and iPad's, which also allows remote viewing from outside the home. With Plex, you can also share your media library with others (friends or family).

Regarding Bluray, I simply rip them to MP4. Alternately I have a Bluray player attached to the Mac mini, and have a $29 software player that works fine.

I have an Elgato TV tuner on the MAC mini and can record ATSC or clear QAM. I also have a HD Homerun dual network tuner (which can be used to watch live clearQAM/ATSC TV on my iPad).

My bottom line, MS WMC was too much maintenance. Too many viruses, malware. My MS PC was sucking 180 watts an hour versus the Mac Mini at 27 watts. The Mac mini is so quite, it could be my main connection to my TV. The only thing I did was convert all my video files to MP4 so I didn't need to transcode.

The family prefers the Cogeco PVR for recorded TV. I also added a 2TB external drive to my PACE PVR so I can store a huge amount of TV shows.
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-08, 06:16 PM
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I'm not sure there is anything better than WMC, especially when using Xbox 360s as extenders for other TVs. I've looked around and tried practically everything else.

On the main HTPC, the "10ft UI" experience is the WMC interface plus the Windows 8 metro interface for running the Netflix and Hulu apps.

On the Xbox 360 "extender" TVs (3 of them), everyone can also access WMC content (mostly OTA) and they have Netflix and Hulu apps of their own.

My only recommendation is that if you want tip-top reliability for your HTPC, local storage beats remote storage. Also, I think that the Metro UI is really great when scaled appropriately for your viewing distance, especially when you have a "air mouse" style input device. I use "The Loop" by Hillcrest labs (that particular product has been discontinued, but there are others).
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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-08, 08:34 PM Thread Starter
 
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Thanks! Keep the recommendations and experiences coming.

Quote:
My bottom line, MS WMC was too much maintenance. Too many viruses, malware. My MS PC was sucking 180 watts an hour
My experience IN a nutshell, plus having to re-program the Channel Guide manually is why I am looking to "switch."

I managed eventually to put a moratorium on all PC downloads and gaming except mine and, of course, mine craft - but with the eldest new 13 realizing that this is the only PC he can access without the OPENDNS family filter on it, well... you know, I get the occasional "surprise" left in the Browser History between lectures.

I'll bet I'm not alone in wishing there was a well thoughtout complete "Boxee" solution with a great big Family lock on it! - and without a PVR, XBox One isn't going to cut it either I don't think....

PS I never did get a Roku (although I traded my Roku Radio's for a Squeezebox Radio at one point (fantastic abandon ware!)). By the time I stuffed my third Tuner inside the PC (and I have the HD Homerun Dual as well - although it doesn't pick up OTA as well as my other tuners) ... I knew I was pursuing my own personal Idaho.
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-08, 11:39 PM
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I think SageTV is still the best solution with Sage HD-200 or HD-300 extenders at all of your TVs - the only downside is that this isn't a good solution for Netflix. I have three OTA tuners, two HD-cable tuners plus one SD-digital cable tuner plus about 8 extenders at each TV in my house.

SageTV was bought by Google two years ago but you can buy licenses and used hardware on their user forums.
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-09, 08:05 PM
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Nepean, ON
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NextPVR

yes- OTA Tuner integration (currently using a combination of 3 tuners),

yes- Canadian Cable and OTA Programming Guide

yes- PVR capability (and in particular simultaneous multiple tuner recording)

yes- Photo / Music integration (must access remote networked server by DNLA, or iTunes or something... we prefer Lossless WMA, but I can be convinced to convert to iTunes lossless, I suppose).

has a plugin that may achieve that to your liking- Ideally be able to integrate our funky screensaver (paid, name escapes me) with music for parties

yes(plugin)- Netflix Canada or US integration

DVDyes BR~- Bluray DVD integration

You can use any P4 running w2000 or better as a client.
You can connect from any computer anywhere using the New Enhanced Web Administrator to view guide, manage recordings or stream live TV or any media file you got to any computer using only a web browser and VLC.
Picture in Picture feature.
It's free and updates min. 2/yr

Srvr:ASUSF1A75-VPro,RadHD6000,A6-3670K,WD2TB,W7Ult
NPVR,5.1,2xHaup2250MC,ATI650,CM7777,WGHD8800,5clts
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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-10, 08:15 PM
 
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NextPVR

Forgot to say that you can also use an Android device with the NEWA on WLAN and WAN

Srvr:ASUSF1A75-VPro,RadHD6000,A6-3670K,WD2TB,W7Ult
NPVR,5.1,2xHaup2250MC,ATI650,CM7777,WGHD8800,5clts
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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-07-27, 11:38 AM Thread Starter
 
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Follow-up: In the end I did very brief tests of NextPVR and Media Portal and neither could really hold a candle to WMC for ease of set-up so I resigned myself (once again) to manually setting up our Channel Guide in Windows Media Center for WIndows 7 for Canadian Cable channels (OTA is done automatically).

At this stage I wasn't interested in having to learn and set-up an entirely different system - I'm an IT type person but on both systems I looked at the set-ups and blanked. And the 10ft interfaces weren't as pleasing by default either. I was very much looking for a mostly plug and play solution and neither were better in that regard than WMC (even given that it's almost abandon ware). It's no wonder that people simply revert to Cable and a Cable PVR (pay for own laziness).
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-08-05, 01:32 PM
 
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"ease of setup"? oh I thought what you were looking for was what you had specified in your OP. just kidding, while some media centers can be overwhelming at first "briefly" glance given some time and patience and willingness to learn, their benefits can be superior. I myself bailed on Media Portal. I already had NPVR up and running but was still willing to look at MP. But, shortcuts scattered across my desktop and no clear wiki available I decided it wasn't for me. Not a very thorough attempt I'll admit.
I can say that you can have NextPVR installed on a PC that is using WMC and as long as there are no conflicts of the same tuner needed at the same time you can expose yourself gradually to NPVR (this may be true for MP as well) without compromising your viewing and recording routine.
All those criteria you mentioned are possible with NextPVR but you may have to invest some time in getting there. Resources are plentiful in a updated wiki and support forum(which will get you a response within hours).
AND, in development as we speak, a Samsung Smart Hub app that enables a SmartTV or BR Player to act as the extender. No more client PCs or xboxies.
That's one of the things I like about NPVR, the developer and his minions are constantly driving forward in current real time.

Srvr:ASUSF1A75-VPro,RadHD6000,A6-3670K,WD2TB,W7Ult
NPVR,5.1,2xHaup2250MC,ATI650,CM7777,WGHD8800,5clts
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-08-06, 03:42 AM
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Setup isn't going to get much easier than NPVR. I use XBMC with an NPVR backend and even that's easier than MediaPortal (which I used for years.) MCE would be about the same as NPVR if it weren't for the required hacks for Canada. A lot depends on what you are familiar with. New software always seems more complicated than it actually is.
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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-08-06, 11:11 AM Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ExDilbert View Post
A lot depends on what you are familiar with. New software always seems more complicated than it actually is.
I think this is the reality of my experience. Having spent so much time with WMC and the Canadian Hack's that proved easier to "live with" than to learn and configure a new system from the ground up.

Essentially, because of my time, interests, age and the sudden lack of patience from family, I am looking for a nirvanna that has yet to be delivered.

A good cable PVR can come close (at a monthly cost), but nothing that caters specifically to the client (allowing customers to mix and match services, like Cable EPG, PVR, NetFlix, a commercial web movie rental facility, and online gaming) exists in a convenient box yet. WMC (and possibly one of the other software pieces) comes close, but it still has its inherent issues with software updates and hardware conflicts (in my case, for example, I am constantly struggling with W7 / AMD / HDMI audio driver conflicts).

I have been trying to avoid having to "switch" between two devices to achieve what we want, and WMC delivers "almost" everything, and does it well and quickly (save the occasional hardware conflicts). But when you have a family that sits there and curses the darkness until you come along and show them (every time) how to reset the computer.... well you get the picture, I'm about ready to throw in the towel.

OTA Free HD TV is a curse!
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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-08-06, 12:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by websherpa
(in my case, for example, I am constantly struggling with W7 / AMD / HDMI audio driver conflicts)
I had this same issue where the AMD HDMI audio device "goes away" if the TV gets turned off while the HTPC remains on (which is the typical state most of the time). It was using a circa 2008 AMD CPU/mobo (780G with a AMD Phenom). The only quick way of getting it back (without restarting the HTPC) was to unplug and then plug back in the HDMI cable into the TV while the TV was on. That caused the whole plug-and-play thing to happen, and then it worked properly. But, needless to say, that procedure was annoying.

I tried all sorts of things, but couldn't fix the issue with that hardware. If your issue is the same as the one I had, you basically have three solutions: use analog audio from the HTPC to the TV, get a different add-in GPU, or get a new CPU/motherboard.

I eventually opted for the latter option and got a Intel Sandy Bridge based CPU/motherboard, using integrated graphics so I could retain access to the QuickSync tech, and I haven't seen that audio issue since.
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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old 2013-08-06, 01:15 PM Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audacity View Post
I had this same issue where the AMD HDMI audio device "goes away" if the TV gets turned off while the HTPC remains on (which is the typical state most of the time).
I "did" manage to fix this once before through software, but I forget exactly how I handled it. In this case I re-did my set-up and upgraded AMD drivers and it's doing it again... so I'll have to troubleshoot it once again.

I forget whether I have the video coming from mobo or from internal GPU, but essentially video and audio goes to a digital video receiver, and then video alone is sent to TV Monitor. I do remember adding a digital optic audio cable to the TV for some reason, and I wonder now if I did that to trick the system??? (whole shebang was working adequately for a year (other than EGP issues) so now I forget the exact set-up.

Time to plow down that path again to iron out the last kink. But it illustrates my point that the plug n play nirvanna I seek just isn't available unless you either give up something or divide parts of the system to different machines.

i.e. best OTA tuner reception is direct to TV Monitor (but then no integrated PVR), best PVR and Cable OSG/EPG experience is via WMC7 (but then no Netflix UNLESS I configure WMC to think it's in the United States - which makes EPG aspect a work around - but I can handle that), WMC introduces unnecessary levels of hardware and software complexity and HDMI integration issues.
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