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HTPC out of spare parts challenge! Help needed

O wise ones, I need your counsel.
I've decided to ditch cable/satellite and go with OTA HD antenna supplemented by streamed content and some semblance of a DVR. Looking to build an HTPC to make this happen.

Here is the current equipment list:
1 HDTV in living room connected via HDMI to an XBOX 360. The 360 is connected to wireless network via Linksys 54G running ddwrt.

Desktop computer and router located in a separate room from the TV. The computer is hardwired into a Gigabit B/G/N router. Running XP PRO SP3 with Core 2 Duo E8500 and 4GB RAM. Video card is a Radeon HD 4800 (PCI-E). Mobo is Gigabyte ED45-UD3P. Has two PCI-E slots. Computer is also used for office tasks, picture editing, and minor gaming.

Internet service of 30 Gbps.

Two external HDs already loaded with media content. Have another 1TB external that is currently empty.

kindle and 1 smartphone (wife iphone)

Upstairs is an old CRT SDTV that has composite connections.

Capabilities needed:
-Able to view in HD ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS and have access to TNT/TBS/ION channels
-Stream live, recorded, and existing media content (TV/movies, music) from Desktop to TVs. For my current library I use Playon MyMedia (only plays stuff I already have)
-HD recording capability of two shows simultaneously with ability to play back on both TVs (understand limitation with the SD TV)
-Remote control or ability to control via smartphone/device
-Relatively intuitive so the wife can figure it out without complaining.

Limitations:
-Cannot add another "brick sized" device to HDTV area or create wired HTPC-HDTV connection
-Not a fanapple, so would rather not go with apple TV if possible.

Budget = Minimal

Open to ALL options, except sticking with cable/satellite

Thanks so much for reading and any assistance you can provide. I look forward to your great ideas!
19 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about htpc spare parts challenge needed
  1. Can anyone at least give me an idea of which software to use for this endeavor? I've looked at Plex, Playon, XBMC...but don't have enough experience to deduce which one would work best for this setup.
  2. Each viewing device is going to need some sort of extender in place in order to stream content from your PC to the TVs. The XBox 360 can act as an extender, but I'm not sure if it will work with an XP Pro (or non-mediaPC) computer. If you do not have Windows Media Center already installed on your PC (don't think it came with XP Pro and not sure you can download it), you may be able to get it to work with XBMC for Windows. This is a grey area for me so I can't give you anything solid.

    For the TV upstairs, you could probably use something like this Ceton Echo Extender, but I believe this requires a Windows 7/8 machine running Windows Media Center.

    With both cases, you really do want a wired network connection from the router to each device. While the XBox Extender may work over a wireless network, the Ceton Echo will not.

    Finally, just about the gold standard for OTA TV Tuners is the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250.

    -Wolf sends
  3. get a rasberry pi and stream xmbc to it from a PC server
  4. Thanks! With that tuner (or any tuner for that matter), do I need other software to turn one of my externals into a DVR/PVR (not sure of the difference between those)? Do they record into a common video format? can you watch a show from a PVR/DVR while it is still being recorded? Also, is there a menu screen for channel selection and recorded video, etc?

    If it does record in a common video format, For the main TV, with the 360 I can stream via Playon my recorded video files with common extensions (avi, wmv, etc). I can't use xbmc on the 360 though. Also, I don't think I'll be able to watch live TV routed through the 360.


    I checked out the Pi...does it have the ability to easily connect wirelessly to my server/TV card on a Windows XP? From what I read it does, but how complicated is it? I read it was also limited to 720 without stutters. Not a problem for the upstairs TV, but for the HDTV is there another option? Would like to keep the same software for both TVs to minimize confusion if possible.

    lastly, and I am not sure if there is a better forum for this particular follow up question, but is there an HD OTA antenna that works extremely well with TV tuner cards?

    Thanks again in advance
  5. Best answer
    Quote:
    Thanks! With that tuner (or any tuner for that matter), do I need other software to turn one of my externals into a DVR/PVR (not sure of the difference between those)? Do they record into a common video format? can you watch a show from a PVR/DVR while it is still being recorded? Also, is there a menu screen for channel selection and recorded video, etc?


    First, the difference: A DVR is actually a DPVR or Digital Personal Video Recorder. PVR just does not make the distinction between analog and digital.

    The first thing that needs to be determined is if the TV Tuner Card has the ability to assign/network tuners to other devices. For instance, my HTPC has the Ceton InfiniTV4 Quad Tuner card installed. One of those tuners I have networked to this computer. While there is no physical tuner installed in this system, it acts as if there were and I can easily record programs from this PC as well as my HTPC. Viewing content from either is just a matter of setting up media libraries to be available across the network.

    I should also note that I'm currently running Windows 7 Ultimate on both systems (Only Home Premium is required) and the software I use to set up recordings/view recorded content, etc... is Windows Media Center, which as I mentioned, I do not believe is available for your HTPC. Your XBox 360 should have extender capabilities similar to Windows Media Center as does the Ceton Echo, but again, the Live TV part of this only works if the tuners of the TV Tuner Card can be assigned to other systems.

    I have not tried to start watching a program (from the beginning) when only half the program has been recorded.

    This video gives a pretty decent rundown of how Windows Media Center looks and would operate on each device (PC and extenders).

    Quote:
    Can I buy the tuner video card and install that one in addition to my normal video card...and be able to select which one I want to use at a given time?


    Only the now defunct ATI/AMD All-In-Wonder cards were both video cards and TV Tuner cards. The tuner cards available today require a graphics card (or integrated graphics) in order to display.

    Quote:
    If it does record in a common video format, For the main TV, with the 360 I can stream via Playon my recorded video files with common extensions (avi, wmv, etc). I can't use xbmc on the 360 though. Also, I don't think I'll be able to watch live TV routed through the 360.


    The YouTube video I linked above shows that you can, using the Windows Media Center function on your XBox. The only problem is that you I don't believe you have Windows Media Center on your XP Pro system.

    Quote:
    lastly, and I am not sure if there is a better forum for this particular follow up question, but is there an HD OTA antenna that works extremely well with TV tuner cards?


    I'd probably stay away from anything marketed as an "HD OTA Antenna". Depending on where you live, you shouldn't need to spend more than $20 on an antenna, at worst. At best, an old pair of "rabbit ears" will work just fine. To see what would work best for you, go to [url=http://www.antennaweb.org and input your zip code. This will tell you what channels you should receive at your location and provide guidance as to whether you want/need a directional antenna or not.

    Hope this helps.

    -Wolf sends
  6. Wolf,
    Thank you very much! If my XP does not have Media Center and I can't upgrade to Win 7, do I have any other options?
  7. XBMC for Windows should work at your PC, but I don't know if the XBox 360 will connect to it. As for other options, I found this article which explains connecting an XBox 360 to a system running ubuntu (a linux varient). There is a varient of ubuntu that has MythTV (another media center type application) embedded, called Mythbuntu.

    -Wolf sends
  8. This is way more complicated than I thought.

    Unfortunately the 360 does not do xbmc. If I did Ubuntu, can I run that simultaneously with XP so we can use the computer while it records?

    Also, once I decide on the manner of streaming...what about the 2nd TV upstairs? how do I stream the video to that? I would need some sort of device that connects wirelessly, correct?
  9. No... XBMC is a Media Center Application and is to be installed on the PC so the PC has a media center function. The XBox 360 already has a Windows Media Center application. In the video link I provided it shows Windows Media Center running on the PC and how the XBox 360 finds that Media Center PC and is able to connect to it. It also shows being able to play Live TV from that PC.

    The problem here is that you do not have a Media Center PC. That's what XBMC is for. It turns your XP Pro computer into a Media Center Machine that *hopefully* your XBox 360 can see and connect to.

    No, you cannot use Ubuntu and XP simultaneously. You have to run either one or the other.

    Unfortunately, I don't know of anything that would allow your upstairs TV to connect wirelessly to your network and allow you access to your saved content except for maybe some sort of set top box (just glimpsed through this earlier today).

    -Wolf sends
  10. I installed XBMC on my PC, but only able to see it on the 360 through UPnP and not through media center...just a listing of file names similar to what I have with Playon...no interface or anything like that.
  11. Well, it was worth a shot. I guess Windows Media Center on the XBox 360 requires a Windows Media Center PC to connect to.

    -Wolf sends
  12. Yeah. I have Win 7 on my wife's laptop. I may try to run MCE to the 360 from that...and wirelessly link the laptop somehow to the tuner card I will put in the desktop to see if I can make it work somehow. Wonder if MCE can control the tuner card from a networked computer...

    Would the HD homerun dual be a better device than the 2250? Does it stream directly to a 360 console?
  13. From what I've been able to find, the XBox still needs a Windows Media Center PC to connect to the TV Tuner (be it internal or external).

    Source

    -Wolf sends
  14. Well, looks like I will have to bite the bullet and upgrade to Win 7 so that whichever player I ultimately go with will not be immediately obsolete.

    Now that Win 7 will be the OS, I need to pick an antenna and tuner card as well. do certain HTPC programs work better with the 2250 or HD homerun than others?

    I guess MCE will initially work via 360 for the HDTV. Think I might want to eventually move towards XBMC or mediaportal. Is nextPVR a better option? How does simple.TV play in all this?

    From what I understand Roku is not compatible with XBMC...so if did go that route for the upstairs TV my streaming options would be limited to chromecast, pi with wireless dongle, or another 360? Or could I get a cheap DLNA Blu-ray player etc...

    ...Or does a device like a Dune HD TV-303D Universal FullHD Network Media Player eliminate the need for all of that?

    thanks!
  15. I've always been perfectly happy with Windows Media Center; included with Windows 7 Home Premium. I'd try using that first and if it doesn't fit the bill, then go with another program.

    As for the rest of your questions, I have no experience with those and can't say.

    -Wolf sends
  16. If you're just using OTA cable then XBMC can handle it with some work. I'd go with WMC, that way your 360 will act as a "WMC Extender" and is actually probably the best extender you can have with WMC anyway. With WMC and your 360 you will really have a multiroom DVR experience with full control of movies, recording, channel guide etc.... The problem you're going to run into is WIFI, it will work but its not going to be great.

    Something to consider with WMC as well is to run MCE buddy in the background which will convert your tv recordings to .mp4/m4v so you can transfer them to a portable device or watch on a no windows PC. Oh, ya, and it removes the commercials. Commercial removal isn't perfect but it works, if there's something you want to keep 100% of the show then turn of comskip.

    XBMC is a way better solution for local media, and large libraries. Although you won't really have the full functionality or slick look through your 360 but like you already stated the 360 will find it and be able to stream. Your 360 though will be able to browse the movie library via extender mode and WMC. The problem is, even on the local computer, WMC is pretty terrible when your media library gets really large. IT works but it takes a while to index and show covers.

    I've spent a lot of time experimenting with my home media network, currently at 3 HTPCs 2 tuner devices, and a server. I'm happy to respond to questions you have in this thread or PM me.
  17. FYI, if you're considering upgrading XP. WMC extenders will not work with windows 8, so your only option is 7. XP should work fine.
  18. Thanks for the input. My XP is not the MCE version unfortunately.
    Since I won't have MCE access upstairs, my initial inclination is to configure both TVs the same.
    What software/architecture would work best to stream to that TV?
  19. Since the upstairs TV is a CRT grab an inexpensive Linksys WMC extender ~$40 from Ebay. An OTA tuner, preferably capable of 2 simultaneous streams at minimum, and windows 7 which comes with WMC, and you're set.

    Another bit of advice if you really want this setup to be a cable replacement, buy a 12" drill bit and a couple hundred feet of cat5e.

    Something to note though is WMC will not natively play MKV's.
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