Author Topic: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?  (Read 5988 times)

cbr shadow

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HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« on: December 05, 2012, 03:21:00 PM »
I want to cut cable but there are a few shows that my wife would still like to watch.  We dont get any premium channels, just basic cable right now.  If we cut cable we'd save $23 / month.  Just a few questions..

1) Are the media boxes like Western Digital, Boxxee, Roku, etc worth it?  Do they have internal memory so you can save movies on there, or is it only streaming?  Is there a monthly fee for this?

2) Right now I download a lot of shows/movies online as torrents.  To watch them I plug the laptop into the TV via HDMI cable, then play it through the laptop.  Is there a device (like the media boxes above, possibly?) that have internal memory that I can save movies to and play them?

What other solutions do people here have for still being able to watch some TV?

new2this

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2012, 04:02:39 PM »
The WD boxes have either internal storage or they area able to wirelessly access what is on your computer's hard drive depending on the model. The roku is only able to stream, but from the reviews I read, it is more reliable than the Western Digital.

We just cancelled our TiVo service last month and bought a Roku box to work with our existing Hulu account. There's no monthly fees with the Roku unlike TiVo so it will pay itself off in 7 months. Plus it works a lot better as far as streaming Hulu goes.


chucklesmcgee

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2012, 04:11:18 PM »
The WD boxes have either internal storage or they area able to wirelessly access what is on your computer's hard drive depending on the model. The roku is only able to stream, but from the reviews I read, it is more reliable than the Western Digital.

We just cancelled our TiVo service last month and bought a Roku box to work with our existing Hulu account. There's no monthly fees with the Roku unlike TiVo so it will pay itself off in 7 months. Plus it works a lot better as far as streaming Hulu goes.

A lot of the Rokus also have USB drives so you could just plug it in.

swiper

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2012, 06:09:04 PM »
I'll soon be running XBMC on a raspberry pi board ($35). I've used XBMC on other hardware and its a great media center, if you aren't afraid of a little upfront tech setup (it runs on a number of different hardware platforms).

In terms of backend media gathering and storage: A server running a nice internet PVR (ie sickbeards & couchpotato with SABnzbd) can use your current torrent sources or usenet to pull content. Just google these names and you can read all about their potential.

Here is a lifehacker demo of xbmc: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T970YM3w1LY
« Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 06:16:40 PM by swiper »

Daley

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2012, 07:15:56 PM »
XBMC has officially been released for Android now, which opens things up a bit on the re-purposing of an older smartphone or tablet with HDMI out or cheap-o units like the Raspberry Pi, $50 Android on a Stick units off Amazon, or the VIA APC. Combine it with the various other media apps for the Android platform and a web browser with Flash support, you get pretty decent media coverage, official and otherwise. Combined with the info Swiper posted, you can now basically build a better Roku box than Roku for the same money.

We just cancelled our TiVo service last month and bought a Roku box to work with our existing Hulu account. There's no monthly fees with the Roku unlike TiVo so it will pay itself off in 7 months. Plus it works a lot better as far as streaming Hulu goes.

You're about to be sorely disappointed. Regular Hulu is not available for Roku, only Hulu+. It costs $8 a month, you still get commercials, and you actually lose quite a bit of current content from streaming. The better option is building your own Android device and using XBMC/web browser+Flash to get access to regular Hulu streaming for free. You won't get HD like with Hulu+, but you don't need to see people's pores to enjoy a good story.

Khao

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2012, 08:27:52 PM »
If you know your way a little around linux or can read a few tutorials on how to set up things properly and do it yourself, a $35 Raspberry Pi with XBMC installed on it could do an incredible job at playing all the videos you get from torrents as well as streaming. I have this setup on my tv and I love it.

But my gf is still not convinced that we can drop cable because she has these dinosaur-old ideas that you have to watch a show when it is aired and you can't just watch it the next day. fml

strider3700

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2012, 09:36:02 PM »
I run XBMC on my main linux machine. It was a non trivial setup but XMBC basically runs in the background using my TV as a second monitor.  I then added a USB IR receiver and matching remote a long HDMI cable and some USB extenders to get everything hooked up with the TV 20' away from my pc which is in my office.  It was a non trivial setup compared to doing a stand alone install but it works great.  All of my media is stored on the linux box so I'd need it running when watching tv anyway.   

If I was starting again from scratch I'd just buy the raspberry pi and a 2tb external USB drive. then make the drive accessible over the network.   same results with probably less config hassle.

Jack

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2012, 10:10:32 PM »
Q1: What's the best solution for generic (non-Netflix/Hulu) Flash streaming (like from thewb.com, cartoonnetwork.com, PBS.org, etc.)? Is there anything that will aggregate TV episodes from these sorts of sources and present them with a nice UI?

Q2: Anybody have hardware recommendations for a lowest-cost (including low power consumption) MythTV backend capable of transcoding to MP4 (or Theora) from a dual-tuner HDHomeRun? When I tried to spec one out, it seemed like it required $300+ for an Intel x86-based solution, but I wonder if there's an AMD APU, or better yet, ARM setup that could do better.

Khao

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2012, 06:08:58 AM »
Q1: What's the best solution for generic (non-Netflix/Hulu) Flash streaming (like from thewb.com, cartoonnetwork.com, PBS.org, etc.)? Is there anything that will aggregate TV episodes from these sorts of sources and present them with a nice UI?

There are already XBMC add-ons for PBS and Cartoon Network. I'm not sure for thewb.com though but there might already be an add-on for it. The community around XBMC is great and a lot of add-ons are developped like this (heck, I can add tou.tv on XBMC and it's a relatively new website that shows only French tv shows from Quebec and it already exists as an add-on)

If it doesn't exist as an add-on that you can easily install, I know that XBMC has a web browser (or has an add-on for a web browser I can't remember) so you can go to the website and watch the episodes there. I don't know if it supports flash though and using an ARM-based cpu is out of the question if you need flash in a browser.

Q2: Anybody have hardware recommendations for a lowest-cost (including low power consumption) MythTV backend capable of transcoding to MP4 (or Theora) from a dual-tuner HDHomeRun? When I tried to spec one out, it seemed like it required $300+ for an Intel x86-based solution, but I wonder if there's an AMD APU, or better yet, ARM setup that could do better.

I have no idea :(

Daley

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2012, 07:45:35 AM »
If it doesn't exist as an add-on that you can easily install, I know that XBMC has a web browser (or has an add-on for a web browser I can't remember) so you can go to the website and watch the episodes there. I don't know if it supports flash though and using an ARM-based cpu is out of the question if you need flash in a browser.

Not true! Although there was never any Flash player released for ARM Linux by Adobe (and projects like Gnash just don't work for the encrypted media content streams), they technically did so in a roundabout manner through Android development, which is actually why I recommend Android on ARM for a media center platform. It can be hit-or-miss with the specific ARM CPU, and Adobe isn't officially providing support or security updates for the platform anymore (much like Linux x86/64), but they used to maintain Flash for Android up until this last summer and certified the packages to run on Android up to 4.0.x. You can still download the APK installers for manual installation from Adobe's archives.

http://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player/kb/archived-flash-player-versions.html
http://www.adobe.com/devnet-apps/flashruntimes/certified-devices.html

Does this mean you open up your shiny Android device to a potential security risk on the general internet? Yeah, it does. But if you're using the device solely as a self-walled garden media center and refraining from using the system to access any sketchy websites for content (or avoiding most web-surfing in general) and sticking with official media channels, the risk is pretty low. This is why XBMC being released as an APK for Android is kind of a big deal now. All the parts are in place now with minimal fuss to make a really solid homebrew media center with a cheap ARM device that handles everything from Netflix to PBS to MLB from official media content provider apps from the Android market, and everything else in-between with XBMC's web browser and Flash support. The need for Windows as a backend to get all this content is no longer an issue.

Q1: What's the best solution for generic (non-Netflix/Hulu) Flash streaming (like from thewb.com, cartoonnetwork.com, PBS.org, etc.)? Is there anything that will aggregate TV episodes from these sorts of sources and present them with a nice UI?

Khao already answered this one, and it's the same solution that keeps being brought up: XBMC.

Q2: Anybody have hardware recommendations for a lowest-cost (including low power consumption) MythTV backend capable of transcoding to MP4 (or Theora) from a dual-tuner HDHomeRun? When I tried to spec one out, it seemed like it required $300+ for an Intel x86-based solution, but I wonder if there's an AMD APU, or better yet, ARM setup that could do better.

Rummage around for a headless Windows laptop (broken LCD screen) that matches your power needs on both wattage and CPU requirements. A fully functioning, refurbished and venerable Lenovo Thinkpad T61 should be plenty on its own, and you can get those for under $200 these days. Here's one on Ebay for $80 that only needs a couple parts and a bit of love. They're not hard to find, and they're incredibly Linux friendly. Between having the screen off and manually throttling CPU performance down, you'll probably get the lower wattage performance you're wanting out of nearly any laptop CPU.

EricR

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Re: HTPC or Media Box instead of Cable..?
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2012, 01:21:14 PM »
2) Right now I download a lot of shows/movies online as torrents.  To watch them I plug the laptop into the TV via HDMI cable, then play it through the laptop.  Is there a device (like the media boxes above, possibly?) that have internal memory that I can save movies to and play them?

The Roku can play files from your laptop if you run a (free) Plex server ( http://www.plexapp.com/ ) on your laptop.