I would say about six months ago or so I decided to move away from Tivo and move to a true HTPC only solution. This was mostly driven by the fact that I finally built out my gigabit network and WHS 2011 computer. I wanted all my movies, recently recorded TV and other misc TV programming in one place, but also as important or if not more important it needed to be reliable and easy enough to receive the very hard to achieve seal of approval from the wife. Through trial and error I think I have finally found a setup that I really like and therefore thought I would share the details in case someone was struggling with something I was or if someone has a recommendation on how to improve upon what I have I would love to hear it.Hardware
– I won’t go into too many of the specifics here, but wanted to point out that I am a huge fan of the Harmony remotes and thus have one controlling everything and then also have a HTPC Keyboard/mouse that hopefully is used as little as possible. Input from the Harmony remote to the HTPC is via a IR USB receiver via Harmony 900 RF. I have your basic HTPC rig hooked up to a 65” TV via HDMI with DTS-HD and True-HD (where available) running through the receiver to a 7.1 setup. I also have a HDHR3-CC that provides 3 tuners to the whole network.Mapping of Harmony buttons
– This is all done via EventGhost http://www.eventghost.org/
This is a great piece of software and has a lot of power built into it. It did take a little bit of time to learn how to get it to do what I wanted, but now I can get it do most anything pretty easily.
– This is done through a Harmony 900. I like the 900 because the only thing the harmony does via IR is turning the TV on and off. The rest is done via RF and thus gives me a much better success ratio. Besides turning on the TV and receiver the harmony is programmed to start LiveTV via MCE. I would also note that I am using the MCE Standby Tool http://slicksolutions.eu/
which seems to work well in waking up and putting the HTPC to sleep.Live TV
– This is pretty straight forward. I use the LiveTV of MCE. It seems to work well, is stable and best of all is included in the price of admission with Windows 7. Also there is no cost for guide data and the data provided seems to be pretty good. To add a little pizazz to the guide I have installed My Channel Logos http://www.mychannellogos.com
which will automatically ad channel logos and almost as important or if not more important allows you to tweak the number of channels you see in the guide. On a 65 inch TV you are able to see a lot of channels at the same time which saves you from paging up and down a lot.
– This has been the most recent change I have made. I started using Recorded TV HD http://www.recordedtvhd.com/
not too long ago and really like it. I like the fanart that it automatically downloads. It groups my recordings much better than the stock MCE RecordedTV and best of all I can integrate both my recently recorded TV (stored on the HTPC) and the TV programming I keep on my WHS 2011 which mostly consists of complete season DVD’s that I have ripped to hard drive. This feature the wife especially seems to like since all her TV programming is in one place.
And naturally I use DVRMSToolBox, DTBadd-in and ShowAnalyzer to skip commercials. A good walk through can be found at http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/22/how-to-automatically-skip-commercials-in-windows-7-media-center/Movies
– This is where Media Portal starts to enter the picture. I really like the look and feel of the latest version. On the Harmony remote I have created two soft buttons. One that automatically closes MCE and opens Media Portal and the other does the opposite. With the help of Event Ghost this seems to work really well and seems to be very stable. In addition to Media Portal I use Moving Pictures plug in for the movies. http://www.team-mediaportal.com/extensions/movies-videos/moving-pictures
With this setup I just rip my movies at my main desktop computer and then move the files to my WHS and Moving Picture automatically adds it along with the corresponding fan art. I might also add that I use Shark Codecs http://shark007.net/
to ensure proper bit streaming.
Back in the day I use to be a loyal fan of My Movies, but have since moved away from that program due to the fact that it costs money to get a lot of features now and for whatever reason back when I was still using the software it seemed to be very slow to load. Also some of the bells and whistles did not seem to work as well as needed to pass the wife test. Moving Pictures has a clean interface that seems to work well.Pictures
– Again this is done through the Media Portal interface. Nothing overly special here. If anyone knows of good plugins for this I would love to hear it, but again while I love all the bells and whistles those can not come at the expense of stability. Nothing worse than sitting down with family and friends to look at some photos and it not being a clean and easy experience.Music
– Again this is done through Media Portal. Same as pictures. Easy access to the music collection is key. Although I have been using Spotify for a while now and I am still looking for a way to integrate that into the work flow.Misc
– I have used a couple of programs (sorry no links) to remove/hide the unused menu items on both MCE and Media Portal which provides a cleaner look. As mentioned above I have also installed the Shark Codecs http://shark007.net/
to ensure proper bit streaming.Summary
– In summary the above allows me and the wife to watch LiveTV, Recorded TV, Ripped TV, Ripped Movies, look at the photo albums and listen to music all in one clean package that is all easily navigable via a harmony remote. The only time the Keyboard is broken out is usually when searching to record a new TV series or doing something outside of the previously mentioned activities.
Things I would like to either improve or add…
Series record – MCE seems to do a horrible job of series recordings. Any suggestions here would be appreciated. Tivo did a really good job of this and I miss this feature of Tivo.
Music – Like I mentioned I am currently using Spotify for my listening and would love someone to create a Spotify plugin. I have been meaning to give this a try https://www.assembla.com/spaces/rockstar/wiki
PS - A special thanks to this forum. Most of the features listed above were found through this forum and therefore would not be possible without it. How did we get our information in the days prior to the internet.
Atomic Clock Sync - Forgot to mention this program. I noticed that if your clock is just a little bit off it can really affect your recording start and stop times. This especially true when your HTPC is a collection of misc computer parts and use an older motherboard which results in your computer clock having a tendency of losing time. This program runs as a service and automatically updates your clock. http://www.worldtimeserver.com/atomic-clock/