Archive for February 2013

HTPC Fun

February 13, 2013
A couple of years ago, Comcast decided to raise my cable bill to a rate that I wasn’t willing to pay. Long story short, we negotiated and we still have cable. However, ever since I have been looking for a way to position myself so that I could shut cable off and still consume TV shows and movies in a way that I wouldn’t miss cable. At the time, we had a Netflix subscription (both DVD and streaming) as well as quite a collection of movies and TV series on disc. I concluded that this would be enough to get us by without Comcast (if the need ever arose) but it seemed disjointed and difficult to manage. I started looking into an HTPC in order centralize all of our options.
My setup has evolved over the last few months but I now have a single server that serves multiple purposes. This server has several components that would allow us (in my opinion) to successfully leave Comcast if they tick me off enough.
These are the main requirements of my ideal HTPC:
  • Can display my media coherently and cohesively on our TV
  • Can make my media easily accessible to me and all of my devices
  • Can be torn down and rebuilt quickly and easily (from a software standpoint)
  • Must centralize my media experience for ease of use
Here are the components of my current solution:
  • Physical server (or computer) that contains the media and runs the software to make it run
  • Media files organized on the hard drive
  • XBMC for media center functions
  • Plex for media streaming functions
The physical server connects to my main TV through an HDMI cable. This allows me to minimize the total cost of my solution by allowing one computer to serve multiple functions (as opposed to having a separate storage server, media server, media center, etc). On the physical computer, I put all of my media files in uncompressed, mkv files. I make sure that the media files are named properly based on the type of media (TV show or movie). If the files aren’t named properly, you have to put a lot more work into fixing this in later steps. Also on this physical server, I have installed two pieces of software. The first software is called XBMC and is a media center software. It’s basic function is to play my media onto a connected TV effectively. I use XBMC because I find it easy to use and configure and I really like how it organizes my media for searching and perusing. The last component to my HTPC is a piece of software called Plex which makes my media available to any device I want. One example of this in action is that I can install the “Plex Channel” to my Roku box, and stream all of my media to any TV in my house (as long as the Roku is connected). Another example of this in action is watching my media in a hotel room by using the Plex app installed on my android tablet.
I’m going to dive into each of these components in detail in further blog posts if you’re interested.
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