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Dirt-simple BD player + media center

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Hi guys,

I consume video in the following formats:
* Renting Blu-Rays from Netflix
* Downloading torrents of TV shows
* Infrequently, on-demand streaming from Netflix and Amazon VOD

My living room:
* Is hard-wired with gigabit ethernet to my upstairs main computer
* Has Epson 8500UB projector, projecting on 110" screen
* Has Outlaw Audio 990 receiver (probably upgrade soon since it doesn't do HDMI)
* Nice 5.1 speakers and amps

Because the projected image is 110" diagonal, I try to use the best-quality video possible.

Now, I've been playing with media solutions for a long time now and have yet to find the perfect solution. Some things I've tried:

Mac Mini as a HTPC
* Front Row had a nice interface, but it ultimately didn't support the media formats I wanted
* Plex - I really wanted to like Plex, but the interface was waaaay too complicated and I was plagued by stuttering issues. SPent more time on the support forums than watching stuff.
* Died because of "click of death" hard drive issue. Now an expensive paperweight.

Playstation 3 + PS3 Media Server
* Works most of the time, but annoying UI. No indication of which episodes I've already watched, etc.
* Seems like every time I want to sit down and watch a movie, I am forced to apply some damned PS3 system update which takes an hour
* Prone to stuttering issues. I spend a lot of time on the support forums.
* I don't play video games so PS3 is wasted on me

Now I've read through these forums and am a little confused with all the offerings. Can someone please point me in the right direction? I think what would be ideal for me is a device that:

* sits in my living room
* Is quiet, looks good, and doesn't have any annoying lights on it
* Has a dirt simple UI that my Mom or houseguests can figure out without calling me (I have a Harmony 900)
* I can put a BluRay disc in it and play it
* I can store bit torrent video files directly on its ~1TB HDD and play them
* (optional and not required) it can stream stuff from Netflix / Amazon VOD
* Outputs video to my projecter via HDMI
* Outputs audio to my receiver via toslink or HDMI
* Connects to my intranet via gigabit ethernet, so I can put my media files on its HDD from my main computer upstairs

Does there exist a stand-alone 'set it and forget it' box that does all of this for me? Or is it a universal truth that I'll have to put together a HTPC and pick viewing software, and expect to spend at least a few hours a month on support forums troubleshooting the usual crap like 'it was working fine and suddenly ...', 'I updated my virus software and it started stuttering', 'it freezes up halfway through LOTR', etc? God I'm so tired of configuring things and trolling through support forums. I'd give anything for set-it-and-forget-it.

Thanks and Happy holidays!
post #2 of 18
Sounds like the world of HTPC is about to get another user!
post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 
Haha. Thanks. I'm still working thru the "Guide to Building a HD HTPC" but some things elude me.

Such as, playing a BD movie. The working examples all seem to assume that people rip BD to HDD and then play the file off of the HDD -- I don't want to do this (if I don't have to). I just want to play the BD directly.

(I've suffered through this already with a BD-reader, AnyDVD HD, and pulling my hair out trying to pick the exact export format that my PS3 can play natively w/o transcoding)

But really I just want to stop having to dive into help forums every few weeks when something is stuttering or skipping or locks up. And something houseguests can use without having to call me.
post #4 of 18
I do not see tune and time shift TV so I assume that is not a requirement and you can find all your shows using the download method mentioned.

I would take another look at plex. You could run the client on a BR player and host the TV shows on your PC. I have seen it in action and was favorably impressed. I observed no stuttering or delays. The FE was a Roku box and the content was hosted on a linux box.

How long ago did you give it a try?

I love my HTPC but have given up on the “one box that will do everything” concept that started me down this path. It all works great but the upgrade path for me to get BR makes no sense…

The BR player could (obviously) play the discs, and most have the netflix/amazon/vudu streaming built in, you would only need to add the plex channel to playback your downloaded TV shows…
post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
Right, no time-shift TV. I only watch stuff I've downloaded, no interest in cable tv. As my needs are quite simple -- I don't want a TV tuner, or to play video games -- I am still hopeful for a "one box that will do everything".

My last experience with Plex about 10 months ago was that the UI was still way, waaay too complicated for anyone in my family to figure out without pestering me: "is the mac turned on? You need to turn the mac on. Ok. Now push the 'Movies' activity on the remote. It didn't do anything? Try again. Nothing? Ok let me remote-connect to the Mac and see what's going on... Ok I killed and restarted the Plex app. Is it working? Oh the projector is not showing anything? Ok that's because the Mac must be powered on only after the projector is powered on otherwise it won't 'see' the right video output. Turn everything off. Oh, the projector is still on? Ok find its remote..."

I am inspired to check out some viewer alternatives like Mediabrowser and XBMC, and even give Plex itself another try. I suspect I can configure the UI of these apps to get rid of options I never use and make the UI a little simpler, so we'll see how that goes.

Up until now, my media has been stored (and therefore transcoded) on my aging Core 2 Duo WinXPSp2 box, and passed over a (gigabit ethernet) network to whatever machine I had in my living room. Originally a Mac Mini, currently a PS3.

I am hopeful that a lot of the issues I've had in the past with stuttering will be mitigated by having a modern CPU and mobo, and that storing the media files LOCALLY on the actual HTPC will be a big improvement; particularly because it eliminates the need to rely on network connectivity and a secondary machine. "Keep it simple". I am also hopeful that by minimizing this system to the bare essentials, the usability will be better for my family and guests; i.e., no need to boot a PS3 and deal with constant required system updates.

Thanks for the input, it's been very useful so far!
post #6 of 18
A HTPC can be a set it and forget it type of device. Once it's setup the way you want, make a backup and leave it alone. Don't update drivers, don't update software, etc. A lot of us here prefer Windows Media Center for the front end... most of it's issues are either well known and have a solution. You can use MediaBrowser for the eyecandy, if you'd like to spice up the fairly plain Windows Media Center front end.
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
"Set it and forget it" sounds promising. I'll be a happy camper if I can get a system put together that guests can figure out, and which doesn't entail me spending a 3-5 hours a month troubleshooting! I'll do more research and post an update when I pull the trigger.
post #8 of 18
Like any PC, an HTPC has its limitations. I took the plunge and built one last month and so far it's about as close to "set and forget" as can be even though I still haven't set up the remote/wireless input, but everything else seems to work flawlessly. Assassin's paid guide is worth every penny. This was my first experience with Win7 and I was amazed at how well the install went. The only thing I can't advise on is BR playback as I'm still using my standalone player, but I am watching TV, listening to music, playing DVD's, and surfing the internet with hardly any tweaking or futzing with it.
post #9 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Taperwood View Post

Like any PC, an HTPC has its limitations. I took the plunge and built one last month and so far it's about as close to "set and forget" as can be even though I still haven't set up the remote/wireless input, but everything else seems to work flawlessly. Assassin's paid guide is worth every penny. This was my first experience with Win7 and I was amazed at how well the install went. The only thing I can't advise on is BR playback as I'm still using my standalone player, but I am watching TV, listening to music, playing DVD's, and surfing the internet with hardly any tweaking or futzing with it.

Thanks for the endorsement.

Let me say this: My wife breaks or screws up every piece of technology she touches --- smartphone, laptop, ipad, portable DVD player, etc. In short she --- and every person in her family --- is extremely technology challenged.

She uses our HTPC multiple times everyday with our 2 small kids. Her parents use the HTPC when they are watching the kids for us. Never (not even once) have I been called that she or they couldn't find a movie for the kids or use the interface. I think the way that I set everything up is about as smooth and simple as you can get.

The reason that I made the guides is because I do truly want everyone and anyone to get into HTPC. As a gadget guy I think that a HTPC is the ultimate gadget. So I want to get everyone I can into using them however possible. So don't let the initial setup learning curve deter you. I have tried to make this as easy as possible for anyone who wants to try out HTPC.
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by jishaq View Post

Such as, playing a BD movie. The working examples all seem to assume that people rip BD to HDD and then play the file off of the HDD -- I don't want to do this (if I don't have to). I just want to play the BD directly.

(I've suffered through this already with a BD-reader, AnyDVD HD, and pulling my hair out trying to pick the exact export format that my PS3 can play natively w/o transcoding)


My first experience with HTPC BR was bumpy. Even with an updated player, some discs would not play. AnyDVD fixed that. After that, ripping is a one button click, and annoying trailers/adverts/warnings are a distant memory.
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by assassin View Post

Thanks for the endorsement.

Let me say this: My wife breaks or screws up every piece of technology she touches --- smartphone, laptop, ipad, portable DVD player, etc. In short she --- and every person in her family --- is extremely technology challenged.

She uses our HTPC multiple times everyday with our 2 small kids. Her parents use the HTPC when they are watching the kids for us. Never (not even once) have I been called that she or they couldn't find a movie for the kids or use the interface. I think the way that I set everything up is about as smooth and simple as you can get.

Sounds eerily familiar! I built my first HTPC for my family several months ago and thanks to Assassin's guides and a decent mce remote, my (also very technologically challenged) wife and extended family use my media center pc with ease daily. In fact, my wife loves it.

Now, to be completely honest, we did experience some growing pains the first couple weeks but those were almost entirely attributed to me trying to simultaneously set up my home network and a Linux based media server with no prior Linux experience (curse you samba!!). Also, had some BSOD issues with my OCZ SSD that were thankfully resolved with a firmware update. As things are right now, I have had zero issues with my HTPC in well over three months.

Regarding Blu Ray disc vs rip playback, with makemkv and LAV splitter I have zero playback problems. If you insist on playback directly from disk, it can certainly be accomplished with relative ease. However, expect to pay a not insignificant amount of money for the software. Even though most retail BD drives include some form of playback software the standard is a version of Power DVD that is missing some major functionality. The full version retails for around $100 .

Anyways, best of luck to you!
post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Josh3693 View Post

Regarding Blu Ray disc vs rip playback ... If you insist on playback directly from disk, it can certainly be accomplished with relative ease. However, expect to pay a not insignificant amount of money for the software

BD playback is a top priority so I guess I'll have to budget for software. I don't want my guests having to "rip" a BD before they can watch it. This is totally and completely nonintuitive.

I don't believe in "keep the movie forever". I just watch it and send it back to Netflix, or return it to the video store. I don't buy movies. Less clutter in the house. The number of movies I've watched more than once in my life is probably less than a dozen. If I really want to see a movie again, I just bump it to the top of my netflix queue -- no having to maintain terabytes of MKVs, deal with ripping software that needs constant updates to handle the latest Harry Potter protection, etc. I realize most people here think I'm crazy, but it's simple, and I like it.

Thanks for the input guys!
post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by assassin View Post

Thanks for the endorsement.

Let me say this: My wife breaks or screws up every piece of technology she touches --- smartphone, laptop, ipad, portable DVD player, etc. In short she --- and every person in her family --- is extremely technology challenged.

She uses our HTPC multiple times everyday with our 2 small kids. Her parents use the HTPC when they are watching the kids for us. Never (not even once) have I been called that she or they couldn't find a movie for the kids or use the interface. I think the way that I set everything up is about as smooth and simple as you can get.

The reason that I made the guides is because I do truly want everyone and anyone to get into HTPC. As a gadget guy I think that a HTPC is the ultimate gadget. So I want to get everyone I can into using them however possible. So don't let the initial setup learning curve deter you. I have tried to make this as easy as possible for anyone who wants to try out HTPC.

Well said Assassin. I know I for one have considered a htpc project for MANY years. After buying the guides I jumped in no questions. I know now there will be limitations, but once I get extenders figured out and purchased all should be good...

Thanks for your hard work Assassin
post #14 of 18
After recently building a new HTPC, I can say that what you are looking for is not as complex as some may tell you. I would recommend a Win7 with TotalMediaTheater 5 and BD Rom drive on any relatively modern hardware will work just fine. I built an i3 with integrated graphics and 4GB RAM, a very cheap system. For simplicity and WAF though, there is one key thing. There are many MCE remotes out there on the market, some require software and/or configuration, and many have complex remotes. Find one of the early MCE remotes like this one:

http://www.tigerdirect.ca/applicatio...4435&CatId=358

They are still floating around on ebay and such. They don't require anything other than plugging the receiver in, that's it.MCE in Win 7 is very capable right out of the box to play most formats, and is a simple enough interface for anyone to figure it out very quickly. There are add ons and extras you could look into, but aren't necessary.
post #15 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by jishaq View Post

I realize most people here think I'm crazy, but it's simple, and I like it.!

If this is a crazy idea, that makes 2 of us. I used to have Netflix streaming and DVD's, but only streaming now.

The movies I do own are mostly gifts from friends and family or they're animated movies that I purchase for my kids so they can watch over and over a million times. For me, it's mostly watched once for movies.

On the other hand, I do own quite a bit of karaoke DVD's that my wife likes to sing over and over by herself or with guests. These are the ones worth ripping into the HD and keep them there, so she doesn't have to search for a disk to load a song she likes.
post #16 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Darkside View Post

If this is a crazy idea, that makes 2 of us. I used to have Netflix streaming and DVD's, but only streaming now.

The movies I do own are mostly gifts from friends and family or they're animated movies that I purchase for my kids so they can watch over and over a million times. For me, it's mostly watched once for movies.

On the other hand, I do own quite a bit of karaoke DVD's that my wife likes to sing over and over by herself or with guests. These are the ones worth ripping into the HD and keep them there, so she doesn't have to search for a disk to load a song she likes.

It will work great for the kid's movies in that regard also.. I have a bunch of old VHS tapes teh kids like that I plan to import and dump to MKV's or whatever format I decide on to work with extenders..
post #17 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Warren_G View Post

... recommend a Win7 with TotalMediaTheater 5 and BD Rom drive on any relatively modern hardware will work just fine ... Find one of the early MCE remotes like this one ...

Thanks guys for the input; the specific hardware and software suggestions are just what I'm looking for. I'm pretty heavily invested in my Harmony 900 so damn you for tempting me with another remote! But at this point, I'm willing to explore anything to simplify my system.
post #18 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by jishaq View Post

Thanks guys for the input; the specific hardware and software suggestions are just what I'm looking for. I'm pretty heavily invested in my Harmony 900 so damn you for tempting me with another remote! But at this point, I'm willing to explore anything to simplify my system.

Program your harmony for the MCE reciever..

Here is what I was told by Assassin for setting it up in Logitech software. Add a device with the following:
Device: Computer -> Media Center PC
Manufacturer: Microsoft
Model: Windows Media Center PC
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