I have been using TiVo for over a decade and I think for what it is it has performed nicely. Overall, I have been happy with its beyond simple interface and rather complex (conflict resolution, etc) DVR features. I'm OTA only so obviously I'm only concerned about such and 99% of my viewing is done in the den. I do have a dedicated screening room (projector and such) that gets some TV use every once in a while... not even monthly. I currently have two Premiere TiVos (paid $60 each). One Premiere via the OTA special at $10 a month and its commitment runs out in a couple of months. According to TiVo I will be billed $10 a month forever... or at least until told other wise. :) The other is a non-subbed TiVo with Trick Play still active (I didn't let it update) which I can use in the dedicated room for live TV only. Of course I can't stream recordings between them however I can convert/transfer files to my NAS and use my NeoTV 550 to play them. Certainly not ideal but at the same time I have next to zero reason to do so.
Up until this last TiVo purchase I have been purchasing Lifetime and simply selling the unit when I wanted to punt (I would upgrade the drive and make a little or break even). With the OTA special I couldn't justify purchasing Lifetime so I went with monthly. As its commitment will be up shortly I see three options for me... of course others may lean towards different options.
- Keep paying $10 a month
- Purchase Lifetime for $400 (online TiVo states I can purchase it at this price for my non-subbed TiVo)
- Switch to Windows Media Center (guide service is free of charge - forever?)
Paying $10 is probably my best bet. As I tend to punt (switch directions) and I would have the least invested. However, I lose the resell value of the service since I can't resell it like I could with Lifetime. If I do decide to forgo the monthly fee I have $400 to play with more or less. Which brings me to Windows Media Center. Would the $400 be better spent going that route? I'm giving it a try and after a couple of days I'm leaning at giving it a shot. So far I have picked up the following:
Windows Media Center Hardware
- PC with i3 processor and HDMI ($255) - Best Buy closeout)
- HDHomeRun ($55 / Fry's) - http://www.amazon.com/SiliconDust-HDHomeRun-Definition-Television-HDHR3-US/dp/B004HO58SO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343682763&sr=8-1&keywords=hdhomerun - I love these guys. They simply hide anywhere on your network and work. With their recent price drop(s) they are a steal.
- Wireless keyboard/Trackpad ($35) - http://www.amazon.com/Wireless-Touch-Touchpad-Keyboard-Smart/dp/B003GU1028/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1343682825&sr=1-1&keywords=gear+head+wireless+keyboard - After several days of use I'd rate this keyboard 3 out of 4 stars. It's the right size where it's small enough to hold and large enough the easily type. The trackpad works great which is a plus. The range is fine however it seems to need a little time to get going when you first use it (the signal is received but it acts sluggish). Could use a few more WMC dedicated keys and a shift key on the right side of the keyboard.
- Remote ($16) - http://www.amazon.com/Windows-Control-Infrared-Receiver-Ultimate/dp/B00224ZDFY/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1343682912&sr=1-1&keywords=wmc+remote - After a few days of use I'd rate this remote a 3.5 out of 4. It just works. Only drawbacks are a few of the key's icons are rather cryptic although there aren't many so you'll learn them quick enough. Also, the IR receiver lights up bright enough to replace Rudolph.
All of the above is slightly less than the $400 cost of Lifetime. I could throw in another HDHomeRun for four tuners. Not that they would be used that often but being OTA only you hate to see a show get bypassed... there aren't that many worth watching! I have used WMC a couple of times in the past and punted more or less up front. Mainly, I found the ease of use lacking although I never really gave it an honest try per se. By this I mean using a dedicated remote. If you aren't familiar with WMC I found this article has a nice comparison. It is outdated and several complaints they had about TiVo have been added and or corrected in the last several releases. It's still a good reference especially if you want to see what WMC offers.
This page gives you a rough idea as to what features the remote can offer as they simply map the buttons to the various keys.
I'm sure there are better references but I found both informative and they inspired me to give WMC a better look than I have in the past and so far I'm much more impressed.
Windows Media Center Installation
To get up and running I first installed the HDHomeRun by connecting it to my antenna feed (it splits the one line into two) and my network. To test it out I installed the configure utility on my Mac and I was watching TV within a couple of minutes. Reception wise it appears to work as good or better than TiVo. As I have zero issues receiving my channels although I don't think they are much of a challenge. I have an outdoor antenna installed in the crawl space above my garage. Watching TV via any of your PCs or Macs is a nice feature and pretty much worth the $55 in and of itself. The tuners are shared so if WMC is using one the other is free and I believe you can have to 16 via WMC.
I gutted the PC by partitioning the drive and doing a clean installation of Windows 7 and removing virtually any program that isn't DVR related. This took much longer than configuring WMC which found my network tuners and I was watching TV in a few minutes after running WMC's Wizards. This past weekend I had it working overtime recording the Olympics and didn't have one issue either recording or viewing. All of the time I was giving the PC a going over tweaking this or that such as modifying the Desktop, Theme, etc. I also gave Hulu a try and watched an episode or two of In Plain Sight. Its low resolution stood up fairly well to the HD set (it's 61 inches) but would never be mistaken as HD. However much better than viewing on my monitor.
So far digging into the DVR abilities I have been impressed. I wouldn't have guessed it has better conflict resolution than TiVo which I think is often an overlooked DVR feature. Living with it for a few days I noticed little features like clicking on the time bar jumps to that spot in the recording. Having TiVo features (or lack of) ingrained into my mind all of these years I find dozens of little things it simply does nicer. At this point in time TiVo's dual pausing of live TV with the ability to bounce back and forth effortlessly is the major feature I would miss. With the exception of the peanut remote. I'm still waiting on my WMC remote and overall I could live with my current keyboard but I'm not sure I would. I'm hoping the remote brings a large degree of TiVo's ease of use to WMC. If it does I think I'm hooked.
In most cases I would recommend TiVo (with Lifetime). It's simpler all around and doesn't lose much because of it. Rather it gains by making the experience more enjoyable. I didn't really cover TiVo as this is more... is WMC a valid alternative for OTA. Such as should cord cutters look its way or stay the DVR route with TiVo or Channel Master. For me WMC has plenty of features, works terrific and if the remote comes even remotely close to TiVo's ease of use I'll give it a try. For me it's more not picking WMC over TiVo rather I'm just ready for a change... a chance to tweak more and I'm almost convinced I won't pay for it by giving up ease of use. If everything goes swimmingly I might throw an Xbox into the dedicated room as use it as an extender which would allow viewing of those recordings I don't have access to now.
I have decided to switch to WMC from TiVo for a variety of reasons listed in later posts. Since my experience with WMC is anything but set in stone and continues to evolve I'll update this post from time to time to reflect my current take on several areas. The why's and how's will be covered in later posts and (hopefully) offer some insight.
After using the remote for a week I found zero reason to use a keyboard for WMC and most everything I do. So I returned the keyboard referenced above and got this one instead. It's a more traditional keyboard and as you can see from Amazon's ratings (five star ratings are ten times the one star ratings) it simply works.
Since I'm still playing around with the PC side a lot I have been using my keyboard which has worked well enough. But I still hate the touchpad tapping enough to wish something else would pop up. Well it did. Fry's had the Lenova N5902 on sale for $20 and I couldn't pass it up. It's more or less a hybrid of a keyboard and remote.
First off the range works for me. Second it features scrolling right underneath the mouse and the third and final winner is you can click the mouse to enter and or left click (you never have to move your finger). And the clicking takes enough effort it doesn't do it without you trying... unlike certain touchpads I won't mention. It feels reasonably well built (especially for $20), the mouse tracks better than anything I have tried and the keyboard well let's just say it does have a backlight if you want to use it. Now don't get me wrong for WMC and XBMC the remote is perfect although using this works but it isn't nearly as slick. I grab this guy when I need to run around Windows (or enter text). I hardly ever enter text so losing the more traditional keyboard is well worth it.
Want to play around with WMC to see if it will work for you? WMC itself requires very little horsepower and as long as you have HDMI via your PC you should be all set. If not, you can always add a graphics card such as the one linked below. Apparently, the NVIDIA GeForce GT430 is the (low-end) card of choice. It's sold by a variety of companies with different amounts of memory. For WMC the best deal you can find should work. You'll get HDMI audio and video and even better should you decide to play HD audio (DTS-HD MA and TrueHD) it will bitstream that as well.
http://www.amazon.com/PNY-GeForce-PCI-Express-Graphics-VCGGT4301XPB/dp/B00466IP5Q/ref=pd_cp_e_2 - found this guy at Fry's for $40 with $20 rebate.
Of course you'll need an OTA tuner or two and to really get a feel of the DVR experience you'll need a remote. You can take one old (useless?) PC and add...
$40 - HDMI video card (linked to in this post)
$55 - One or more OTA tuners (linked to in this post)
$16 - Remote (linked to in this post)
A little over hundred bucks and you should be up and running. Of course you might have to hunt around or wait a while for sells to find as good or better pricing. Taking for granted you have a Windows 7 Home Premium or other license for the PC. If you give it a try be sure to use the remote as if you don't you really aren't.
I picked up a Harmony remote (it supportes the same IR sensor) so I could control my TV and AVR with one remote. The remote linked above needs to be added as a ORTek VRC-1100 not a Media Center PC remote. I added a few buttons and redefined a few others and ended up with every key being mapped without any problem. Since 99.99% of the time I spend in WMC or XBMC I wanted to be able to go back and forth with the remote as well. Searching around I found this...
It adds XBMC to the Extras menu and it closes WMC when loading XBMC and reloads it when you exit. All and all rather cool and pretty much means the lenovo will be collecting even more dust.
To playback MKV files within WMC including HD audio (bitstream) you'll have to add MKV support. It's very easy and works terrific. So much so I now use it instead of my dedicated streamer. It took roughly an hour to install. All of the software was free and pretty much worked first pass. Here's the references I used...
Note: To playback TrueHD (or PCM) you need to run 64bit Settings Application (as admin) and change MKV - Playback from Use Haali... to Use LAV's splitter. I could still stream DTS-HD MA so I didn't switch it back for the other bitstream codecs. To go beyond PCM 2.0 channel playback you need to go to Control Panel - Sound - Configure and set the actual number of speakers you will be using. Once done you need to set this back to Stereo or bitstream won't work. Without making these changes WMC will act like the files are not found, defective or whatnot. (TrueHD or PCM you either get no sound or 2.0).
If you add/run Hulu (Desktop) and XBMC via Extras you might find that when you return to WMC the interface appears frozen. To regain control simply press the Info button on your remote.
When I first looked into commercial skipping I thought the process had to convert recordings into WMC's old file format, process, and then convert to the new format. Well that ain't so! I also (wrongly) guessed the process rewrote/altered the recording which is incorrect too. About the only fact I had right is it isn't free... one of the three apps will cost you $30. However, you get to play with it for free 30-days to decide for it's for you. Finding out the process was much cleaner than I had previously thought I was willing to give it a try. I used this engadget article for installation with success.
I had zero issues during installation and within a few minutes I had it processing my previous recordings and set to process while recording as well as afterwards. You configure how many Workers you want to run concurrently and I selected two. So if I'm recording more than two shows at a time the other shows will be processed when a Worker becomes free. I'll play around with this setting as I'm guessing it's CPU and hard drive dependent. So far two doesn't seem to have any effect on WMC's performance. You can turn commercial skipping on or off while viewing with user-defined keys.
If you are wondering about the actual process it's rather slick. The three apps basically perform the following...
Interface to WMC via Extras - big bother controlling playback (skipping over commercials)
Document commercial locations (stored inside a data file)
The result is the actual recording isn't molested (no image quality hit) and can easily be enabled or disabled. So there isn't any reason not to give it a try. I plan on using my 30-days to see if I have any issues and I'm guessing by that time I'll be more than willing to spend the $30 to keep skipping...
After using this for a few days I'm guessing it works 90% or more of the time. I have only seen two occasions where I would have lost content if I didn't turn it off and skip back. The end of show preview for next week's Survivor and the closing segment on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. I'll have to check to see if it was a one time skip or not. The only other issue been has not bypassing commercials before the show begins. I start recordings one minute early and on a rare occasion it won't skip the end of the previous show (one would expect such) but also won't skip the commercials between the two shows.
Skipping forward and back
If you don't want to mess with commercial skipping you can adjust of the length of time skip forward and back uses. I increased the skip back time as typically I had to hit it two or three times (after skipping forward) or I would miss a few seconds. This link provides the details along with a few other hints.
One of the (big) advantages of a HTPC is the ability to stream video content banned from Google TV and not available on streamers such as Hulu. Hulu offers a desktop app that's designed for a remote and your TV. I have seen where the desktop app won't reflect the same number of videos as the browser version (on rare occasions). One time my queue listed three items and logging in via my browser listed six (all six were available to be played). I guess that's' why it's still in Beta! It's free and you can download it here...
The following link will allow you to add Hulu Desktop to your WMC Extras. This allows you to go back and forth between the two with your remote and it's from the same guys who brought you the XBMC Extra.
Another advantage of a HTPC is (of course) the ability to run other applications. One of the most popular is certainly XBMC. It's a (free) open source software media player and entertainment hub. It's extremely powerful and customizable. I couldn't resist giving it a try by installing the latest release. It now supports HD audio however I didn't have a lot of luck playing back MKV files with HD audio (I resolved this later by changing the rendering options). I would get a lot of video stuttering although the audio was perfect. Haven't played around enough to see if my PC isn't powerful enough or there is another issue. I do know WMC plays the same MKV files with HD audio perfectly so one way or another it's possible on my PC. Well worth giving a tryout!
XBMC - Add-ons
If you have cut the cord one very good reason to install XBMC is Free Cable. It's an XBMC Add-on that indexes free content available at various network sites. As such it's safe to use and you don't have to worry about what you are streaming... which is why I have avoided similar apps in the past.
It searches roughly 20 networks and its interface is slick and easy to navigate. Most of the shows are in SD however HD can be found at times. It probably won't be your main source of viewing but it comes in handy when the wife finds out she can catch a show on HGTV or Lifetime or you want to catch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I know it sounds silly. I have seven OTA channels listed in my guide and going from two to four tuners feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Last year even with TiVo's conflict resolution (such as recording a repeat if the series is set to new only and it was skipped) I ended up (or should I say my wife) missing the last couple episodes of Downton Abbey. I gave up several 2 Broke Girls episodes and missed a lot of The Voice. For some reason Monday was a hot bed and other nights nothing... Now that I have four tuners I feel absolutely rich... the freedom to record whatever I want never worrying if there will be a conflict. No, I won't be watching more TV rather I'll be enjoying the TV I do watch more.
Don't Do It!
I know I was concerned about using a PC let alone WMC as a DVR as for over a decade TiVo has served me very well. I can only remember a few recordings it didn't capture and other issues have been far between. Such as when it would reboot while viewing Netflix, lock up with the (semi) HD interface. Once I had to swap hard drives as it would reboot at times. And many, many years ago I have to send one in for service... back in the day when Sony was manufacturing them.
However almost all of those issues were issues that TiVo themselves had to resolve. Worse case you suffered through it until they released a fixed version of the software. Well with the PC/WMC that's not the case. When an issue pops up it's up to you... solve it or don't watch TV! :) As such I think it's only fair to document them so one can judge how they influence your experience. In my case since I'm still new I have been playing around a lot especially outside of WMC so I'm bound to shoot myself in the foot more often. Below I'll list my WTF moments...
- No video - I woke up the PC and everything was fine. Went into WMC to watch TV and the lovely message pops up... Video drivers not installed or not working... well since everything else displays fine that makes no sense what so ever. Long story short I have found that if you have audio issues WMC will give you such a message and it has nothing to do with your video drivers (indirectly I guess it does since in my case it's HDMI audio which is embedded into the video). In this case somehow my Denon receiver got added as a sound card twice. I'll take blame for it by playing around but it could have just happened. Can't say for sure. At that point your wife is complaining until it's resolved and you can't even watch a movie via XBMC. :) The simple fix was to remove them under Device Manager, reboot and it was automatically added (once) and started working.
- No video/audio - On rare occasions when the PC sleeps while I'm viewing TV (paused) there will be no video and or audio when it wakes up. Closing and reloading WMC typically cures the issue and I think it's unique to the PC and or the power settings. As an example the first PC I used never went to sleep in full screen but would if I had WMC in a window. This one will go to sleep in full screen mode. If you have related issues it's best to play around with your power settings.
- Flickering Image - This is well known and curable. The video will flicker (get lighter and darker) and it's the result of Intel's HD video drivers (i3, i5, etc chips) and rare recordings that have a encoded refresh error. I ran into this with a couple of shows on CBS (2 Broke Girls was one of them) and was going nuts. I couldn't figure out why CBS was having an issue when NBC and other networks using the same resolution did not. I played the episode back on my other WMC installation and it was perfect so I gave HDHomeRun a pass (original theory). After a little googling I found if you disable Adaptive Contrast Enhancement within the video drivers it's gone. While you are in there take the time to calibrate your display and disable a few other image enhancements (such as skin tone) and your image will thank you.
- If you are worrying about the PC being a power hog don't. It will go to sleep when idle and wake itself up for recordings. My PC uses roughly 2 watts asleep and around 30 - 60 watts when awake. It will wake up from hibernation and record however if it's hibernating I can't wake it up with my remote. So I use hybrid sleep (more or less desktop's version of hibernate).
- If touchpad tapping is driving you nuts like it did me the easiest fix I have found (I'm sure there are hacks and various drivers I could have installed) is to simply set the mouse's Double-click speed to the fastest setting. At this setting it doesn't get activated by mistake and I can still use it when I desire.
- With WMC recording fours shows at once my network load is roughly 6% (the 4 tuners and PC are on separate Gigabit switches).
- You can view recordings via WMC (still in process on a remote WMC) although you can only view up until the point it was recorded when you begin. Let's say it's a 2 hour recording and you begin viewing after an hour was recorded. You can only view the first hour. You can then restart the recording and view the remaining hour.
- If you find your PC waking up for seemingly no reason take a look in the Task Scheduler. I disabled various tasks or made sure they couldn't wake up the PC and I haven't spotted it waking itself up in several days outside of for recordings. If you are using hibernate instead of hybrid sleep be sure your network card's Power Management Only allow a Magic Packet to wake the computer is selected. This will prevent unrelated traffic from waking the PC.
- The loudest noise coming from my PC is the hard drive. It has Seagate drives and drive C (of which I record to) was much louder than my 3TB media drive (drive E). Reportedly Seagate no longer supports AAM (Acoustic Automatic Management) and one utility I tried didn't work. However the program below worked like a champ. Often the drive manufacturer will offer such so with a little googling you can quiet the drive.
- http://www.afterdawn.com/software/system_tools/misc_system_tools/winaam.cfm (no longer recommended)
- http://hddscan.com/ - A ton of reporting and tools although setting AAM didn't work - might have been me or my drive...
- Disk drive utility - Once I spent the time configuring my installation I wasn't about to start over to use a larger drive, move to a SSD (Solid State Drive) or make any drive related reconfiguration. With Series recordings set up, Windows tweaked so it sleeps nicely, HD Audio configured, etc there is simply too much time invested. At the same time I wanted the ability to reconfigure the system as well as the ability to create a backup. Looking around I found Partition Wizard. The Home Edition is free and if it's disk drive related more than likely it will handle the job. It runs in Windows and if need be will boot the PC and run the task self-contained so you can even reconfigure your boot (active Windows) drive. I used it to copy (backup) my drive, resize various partitions and create partitions just for starters. When copying a drive you can even copy it to a drive of a smaller size. As an example I copied a 1TB drive to a 240GB SSD. Of course there can't be more than 240GB of files on the 1TB drive. Certainly not a utility needed for WMC however if you are jumping in with both feet it might come in very handy.
- Remote Desktop - Windows Home Premium (typical version installed on PCs) does not include the ability to log in remotely. Well you can enable this feature without upgrading to Pro or Ultimate by running the linked script. You can also enable multiple logins...
- Bypass scaling - to ensure WMC isn't applying overscan to the image set your display to Television - Tasks - settings - TV - Configure Your TV or Monitor
- If you wish to change the filename WMC uses you can customize it to include several variables. See this link for details:
Windows 8 and WMC
Since I have been bored with my WMC installation as it's rock solid. Outside of bouncing to and from Hulu and XBMC where it will lose audio (only when reloading WMC - not during one of the programs) once in a while. I decided to give Windows 8 a try along with its version of WMC. Not much to say about WMC as it's virtually identical. Outside of a couple of features being dropped such as having it auto start when Windows boots. Of course there are other ways to have it auto start. I downloaded the Windows 8 Preview and installed it on a mac mini. It doesn't include WMC but Microsoft has published a free key so you can add it after installation.
I sped through the installation and only had to stop for a minute to update the Homegroup on my working WMC PC. This allows the PC to share all of its WMC data (including TV recordings) with the new WMC PC (via Media Library). Within a couple of minutes I was watching The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Having read WMC is identical in Windows 8 (plus last I heard it's not included (free) with any version) I wasn't let down. Still it's rather disappointing Microsoft hasn't spent any time advancing WMC. I guess they could have dropped it entirely so things could be worse.
At this point Windows Pro 8 would run me $20 (upgrade from recent PC purchase) and I'm guessing $20 - $40 for WMC? Cost wise not enough to move the Earth in any direction. If you are using your PC for WMC (only?) I see zero reason to upgrade to Windows 8... you'll end up right back where you started... that is minus a few options.
- Commercial Skipping apps aren't supported
- There is a different version of HD audio drivers
- Numerous apps/drivers/etc used with third-party apps (such as XBMC) aren't supported
With a 100% plain Jane WMC installation upgrading should be painless. The moment you throw in any amount of customization look out and if you depend on WMC for your daily TV fix I would recommend configuring a replacement PC and swapping them once you have everything under control. As noted above with nothing to gain I would resist the upgrade urge as long as possible.
Media Center Extender
Fry's had the Xbox 360 (with Kinect) refurb on sell for $199 so I decided to give it a shot. Luckily, the Xbox 360 and all of the accessories were/looked brand new although the warranty is only 90 days. I have played around with the Xbox 360 before and it only took a few seconds to connect it to my Denon receiver and unhide the receiver's Game input. The moment I turned it on the WMC PC popped up a message requesting I enter the extender's 8-digit code of which the Xbox 360 was displaying. After a couple of minutes I was viewing a recording from my PC and watching Live TV.
Working my way through the Xbox 360's preferences I set it to go directly to Media Center when booted. Media Center looks identical to the PC's version and I had no problem guessing which buttons to use on the controller. I had already added the Xbox 360 to my Harmony and it worked great. Virtually identical to the PC with the same functions and display (such as which shows will be recorded in the guide) although the IR commands are different so you need to set up each as a device in your Harmony. Now everything isn't identical as I can't use my XBMC and HULU Extras nor HD audio with my MKV files. However MKV files will play (after installing the Optional Media Update from Live) with non HD Audio (DTS HD-MA, TrueHD). Image wise I haven't noticed any difference but it's still (extremely) early.
The Xbox 360 extender will wake the PC which is a good thing. Even though it takes a couple of minutes it will even wake the PC from hibernation. If I end up placing the PC in my dedicated room (closet) this will be real handy as I can let the PC hibernate in there until it's time for a recording or viewing via the Xbox 360 (in the den). Not sure why but it seems rather cool waking the PC (at the other end of the house) and afterwards it going back to hibernating all by itself.
Of course Kinect is useless with Media Center so all you really need is the Xbox 360 which typically can be had for $180. Which if you are only going to use it as an extender is about as high as I would go. I'm guessing for $300 (or less if you retrofit an old PC as covered above) you can get the real thing (a PC). Of course it's a PC and brings some potential headaches. However I have been issue free for basically a couple of months. In a lot of ways the Xbox 360 versus PC comes down to much like TiVo or PC... if you only want the DVR features or any of the Xbox 360 games/apps the Xbox 360 is the way to go. If you want to do anything PC related (as well) adding another PC works.
Three Month Update
Since it has been three months since I switched from TiVo to WMC I figured it was time to post an update. A few points that largely recaps the experience...
- Haven't missed one recording.
- With the start of the new Fall season I have been really using four tuners (at once).
- Virtually zero issues with Windows.
- Only updates have been Microsoft's monthly security update. Painlessly installed within a few minutes.
- With the Harmony remote it's a DVR not a PC.
Am I glad I switched? You bet. Having four tuners alone makes the switch worthwhile. Is there anything I miss about TiVo? Not really. My only complaint is one I had initially. I wish there was (better) support for clients. For a stand alone installation it's hard to beat. Even with a few more TV sets I'll stick with it until hopefully XBMC brings one of its supported DVR backends mainstream (to the degree it can).
Six Month Update
After six months I'm more sold on WMC than ever. Still haven't missed a recording and have had zero issues outside of one night of recordings with a little pixel breakup. Not sure if it was the HDHomeRun's beta software, network traffic or a PC issue but it hasn't occurred since.
I have upgraded to Windows 8 (to take advantage of the upgrade pricing before it expired) and added a Xbox 360 as an extender. Both have painlessly fit in. Even as I tend to fiddle with the installation quite a bit such as installing beta drivers, various video cards, etc the system has remained an appliance... it simply works. With Windows 8 pricing it doesn't offer the same bang for your buck however it still offers features the other solutions don't. Not so much WMC rather the PC environment which enables other applications such as XBMC. In the cases where it's the best solution to a large degree it has increased its advantages.
The latest release of XBMC which supports DVRing has failed to impress and TiVo's Mini (solution) isn't even available to OTA only users so I don't see me leaving WMC anytime soon.
Nine Month Update
WMC has been flawless and I still haven't missed a recording. Having four tuners now is a requirement as on a regular basis (several nights) I'm recording three and four shows at once. I even hit five the other day however WMC was smart enough to pickup the fifth (on PBS) when it repeated. I didn't know WMC was that smart! I know TiVo does such and always thought it was one of its advantages.
A while back I cloned my disk (increasing its size) and the drive proved to be rather noisy. So I ended up switching back to the original drive and this time instead of cloning I did a fresh install of Windows 8 and started from scratch. However since I only have an upgrade Windows 8 Pro license I had to install Windows 7 (via Dell's USB stick) and then run the upgrade process.
It wasn't fun and took a couple of hours but it was painless. The longest (manual) process was changing the priority of my 40 or so scheduled series. Once everything was in place I copied my recordings back and even being a watch and delete person I had quite a few hours waiting on me.
I re-installed Windows for the simply reason I have stopped using various software programs and utilities (all non WMC related) and decided I would clean up the box while I was switching drives. It was working perfectly and it was strictly a tweaking desire or anal retention moment. At this point I am more or less freezing the box as is... XBMC and WMC and treating it like an appliance. No more tweaking around so I thought it was a good time to remove any remnants of other software.
After nine months I appreciate WMC more than ever and it meets my needs to a tee. Only thing of interest on the horizon is Project:Connect of which I don't see a viable DVR aspect anytime soon.
Edited by Charles R - 4/6/13 at 7:21am