Musings on a media player

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Settlement for my place is coming up soon, in two and a bit weeks. My current plan is to move the big items (bed, drawers, corner desk) in on the following Saturday, three weeks from today. Although not high on the list of priorities, I have been spending a fair amount of time researching my options for a media centre. While the television I will have initially is a CRT hand-me-down, I expect to have something more modern with HDMI inputs.

At a high level I have been considering three option types: small dedicated device, XBMC running on a low power PC, or Windows Media Center on a PC.

All three of these options will allow me to play media from the network on the television, while the third option allows addition of a TV tuner so that broadcast TV can be recorded directly on the media centre. Also the PC based options can include a DVD (maybe Blueray?) drive for playback from discs.

The small dedicated device that it at the top of my list is the WD TV Live. I know at least three people with it (they are happy with it) and it could be a nice simple cheap solution. It may be possible to use third party firmware and a USB DVD drive to add on DVD playback.

The low power PC running XBMC would be based on something like the ASRock ION 330HT. This specific unit has the nice advantage of coming with a media centre remote that is fully supported, however the much larger disadvantage is the significantly higher price tag. XMBC does have additional functionality over the WD TV Live in regard to having a library of media instead of just being file based, but I cannot see myself using that enough to justify the extra cost.

The PC running Windows Media Centre would be based on common desktop PC hardware, from what I can tell the cost might be comparable to a ready-made low power PC. With a TV tuner I could directly record broadcast TV, and as it is on top of Windows 7, I could also switch out to a web browser or any other installed application.

Until today I was going to head down the Windows Media Centre path, but I am now considering the WD TV Live again. It will work out of the box and it is very cheap, so cheap that I would have no problem replacing it later with a Windows Media Centre box. It also has a composite video out so I could use it with the hand-me-down CRT television.

After bookmarking it a few weeks ago, today I got around to having a look at DV Scheduler. This is one of many alternatives I found for recording TV in the background of a Windows box. I had begun researching that as my new ‘server’ will be Windows based, so why not have the computer that is on all the time anyway handle the recording?

I know I could have been doing that for a while now under Linux with MythTV, but I am lazy and I wanted something that would install and just work. I had looked at other Windows based recording (eg the TV engine from MediaPortal) but I hadn’t been able to get them working properly. DV Scheduler on the other hand just worked once I installed it. Another option would be to record in the same way I currently record TV, using the software that came with the tuner card, but that doesn’t have a web interface or the ability to schedule recordings based on a search of an electronic program guide.

In the next few weeks I may change my mind again, but a followup post can be expected…

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