Saturday, March 6, 2010

Windows Media Center Setup

I have now been using my Windows Media Center setup without cable television signal for a few weeks now, and I am pretty happy with it.  I am not missing anything not having a cable source.  This is the description of my setup.

Over the Air Content


HDHomeRun


We are using a HDHomeRun Dual for our ATSC source.  The HDHomeRun allows me to keep the antenna in the attic, and the PC downstairs, without having to run a antenna drop down the several floors.  It will also be possible for us to add an additonal HDHomeRun if we want to add extra tuners.  The tuners on the HDHomeRun can also be used on other computers in the house, though I am not currently using that feature.

My recommendation for anyone using an HDHomeRun is to use Gigabit Ethernet for the drop between the main network switch and the Media Center PC.  When recording two 19Mbs ATSC streams, you will want to leave enough network bandwidth, so if anything is happening on you network, the video quality is not affected.  For example, on our Media Center I want to make sure that I can record two shows, while the Media Center is backed up, movie that is stored on the Windows Home Server is being watched one the Media Center, and some recorded content from the Media Center is being watched on one of the Media Center Extenders.

I was seeing some degradation of video quality when using 100 Mb Ethernet, but haven't had a problem since upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet.  I haven't upgrade my whole network to Gigabit, but that isn't a problem as most of the other devices can barely saturate a 100Mbs drop.

Non-Over the Air content


With the ATSC tuners, I was able to most of the OTA content, but obviously it doesn't include the content that is only available on cable channels.  I am using a combination of sources to get this content.

Built-in to Windows Media Center


Windows Meda Center Internet TV


Window Media Center in Windows 7 offers a good selection of content of internet TV.  This content includes CBS content, including both current shows as well as classic ones (Original Star Trek).  The Windows Media Center content also includes news content from MSNBC and podcasts from Zune.

Netflix


Netflix streaming is also built-in to Windows Media Center.  We use this for shows for our kids, as well as movies.  The quality of this content is very good.  The selection is good, especially if you don't want the most recent shows.

Not built-in to Windows Media Center


PlayOn


PlayOn is a UPnP Digital Media Server that will make internet video content available to any UPnP Media Player. PlayOn has some built-in plugins, as well supports third party plugins.  Built-in to PlayOn is support for Hulu, Amazon on Demand, Netflix, YouTube and others.

Some third party plugins that I have installed adds support for SyFy, South Park Studios, and SpikeTV.  The third party plugins can be found on this page.

tubeCore


By default, Windows Media Center doesn't support displaying content from a UPnP media server.  tubeCore is an add-on for Windows Media Center that adds this functionality.  This plugin is the best looking plugin that does this,and it works well with PlayOn.  The best feature of tubeCore is that it works with Media Center Extenders, so I can watch this content on any of the TVs in the house.

Xbox


Where our house is located, and how the antenna is positioned, we don't have a strong signal for our local ABC channel.  This content is available on Hulu, but for some shows the lack of HD quality video signal bothers me.  For those shows, I can purchase the high quality video on the Xbox 360.  It is pretty infrequent that I actually do this, but it is nice to know that the option is available.

Summary


With this setup we are able to watch the content that we want to, without having to pay Comcast their rates for cable, plus all of the extra costs that they tack on

  • extra charge for every CableCard/tuner.  (When you have multiple CableCards, Comcast not only charges you for each card, but also charges you for an jack, for evert tuner past the first one, even if the two cable card are connected to the same jack in the wall

  • charge for HD content (Even if you only want to have access to the over-the-air HD channels, you have to pay to enable HD)


Since it appears that Microsoft will continue to support Windows Media Center, and there is a large developer comminity working on enhancing Windows Media Center, I am sure that when new content becomes available, it will be fairly easy to access it from Windows Media Center.