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Front-end recommendations

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
We've decided to cancel DirecTV and go OTA only with maybe a Netflix subscription. I have recently bought a Mac Mini and have an Apple TV 2 (and two iPads in the house). I plan to get an HDHomeRun as well.

So I don't know what front end to use. I have been using PLEX for years and LOVE IT, but I need something with decent WAF that will allow me to view and record live TV, watch TV shows and movies I already have archived through PLEX or something like it, and also access iTunes content (and maybe Netflix). I am currently in the process of moving all my existing TV shows and Movies into iTunes (at least the stuff for the kids to easily move things onto the iPads), but the iTunes interface for movies and TV is lousy compared to PLEX (what is up with no FrontRow-like interface?). Is there not a Windows Media Center-like equivalent for the Mac? Would prefer to keep everything on the MAC and not have to build a HTPC.

My jailbroken AppleTV 2 is almost perfect as I can easily access iTunes content and browse for rentals and purchases, watch Netflix, and use PLEX to watch everything not in my iTunes ecosystem. The WAF is excellent, and it compact and doesn't consume a lot of electricity. The problem is that I don't get Live TV or DVR functionality.

Any help is appreciated! I have an AEBS but plan to wire the HDHomerun and everything else that I can (maybe using a powerline adapter). I have a DROBO wired to the Mac Mini only about half-filled (~6TB total storage right now).

EDIT - By the way, I do like using Remote Buddy and easily switching between apps like PLEX and EyeTV, but accessing the iTunes content is still really cumbersome. And you just don't get the same experience as on the AppleTV. Does anybody use the EyeTV parser through XBMC on an jailbroken Apple TV?
post #2 of 8
We did just about the same thing a couple of years ago.

I played with Plex for a few months but the wife and kids never liked it. I ultimately decided on using my Imac as a media server and feed everything into iTunes. The EyeTV/HDHomerun record shows and feed into iTunes. Those EyeTV OTA recordings along with Netflix, viewing OTA on my mac, and some iTunes movie purchases here and there keep us entertained just fine.

We grab that content with Apple TVs velcro'd to the backs of our HDTV sets (3 of them) in the house.

The setup is really simple, has a high WAF and the kids aren't advertised to when they watch kids programs. Added benefit is that it functions like a multi-room DVR too! Stop apple tv playback on the living room tv, and pick up your bookmarked show on the bedroom apple tv...love that.

We tried the first couple of months without OTA - just pure streaming with Netflix and Hulu Plus. I started to feel cut off without local TV news, so I researched OTA and put an attic mounted VHF/UHF antenna in. I played with some powered tabletop models, a couple of Antennas direct models...but settled on a big Winegard setup mounted in the attic. I cancelled Hulu Plus and now use EyeTV with an HDHomerun to pull in regular network shows in OTA high definition, dump them into itunes, tag them with a combination of Hazel and iFlicks and they show up on the AppleTV with cover art ready to play. Just have to fast forward through commercials...not a big deal.

My kids don't know the difference - and they aren't always after the latest crap being peddled to them in commercials. My wife and I save about a grand a year on TV channels we never watched.

We pay for a couple of non-OTA cable programs on iTunes season passes that we really enjoy (Mad Men and Breaking Bad - couldn't live without 'em).

If you're used to Plex and want to stick with it, I believe they have an EyeTV plugin that should allow you to stream live as well as recorded EyeTV programs.

I'd highly recommend hard wiring the HDHomerun. I was having terrible problems with stuttering and frame drops when trying to use the HDHome as advertised on my 5Ghz N wireless, I just about gave up on it. I use a crossover to connect the HDHomerun to my imac via ethernet and ran a coax drop into my office to support the HDHomerun - it works like an absolute champ now.
post #3 of 8
The setup is really simple, has a high WAF and the kids aren't advertised to when they watch kids programs. Added benefit is that it functions like a multi-room DVR too! Stop apple tv playback on the living room tv, and pick up your bookmarked show on the bedroom apple tv...love that.

That's nice.

So Cliff, one potential tradeoff/weakness in your (very nice) setup seems to be handling live sports and watching live tv--do you not let the kids watch it? When your wife is sitting at one of the HDTVs, how is she getting live TV there if she wants it? Are you Airplay streaming to the aTVs from the iMac or iPad or is she OK knowing that if she wants to channel surf "live" she has to do it via the iMac? Do you have one of your HDTVs connected to your iMac as an external display?

Can I assume all your aTVs are wired--mine are and they are great, reliable devices when wired.

Do you allow your iMac to sleep and can all your aTVs wake the iMac when needed for iTunes home sharing?

How does your system handle what I suspect might be a typical evening scenario in your house:

1. You and your wife are at one HDTV, watching a recorded TV show in HD from the night before that EyeTV has already dumped in iTunes;
2. You are also currently recording programs throughout the night at the same time, and when they're finished EyeTV automatically starts to transcode all of them for iTunes...in order to transcode those shows EyeTV grabs all the remaining CPU;
3. One of your kids wants to watch something else from the iTunes library at one of the other aTVs.

So, watching two separate (presumably 720p) video streams, while 1 or 2 shows are being recorded each hour all night with EyeTV automatically kicking in transcoding those shows--how seamlessly does your iMac handle all that? No hiccups? Where is your iTunes library...the iMac internal drive, an external, a network drive? Are you booting from, serving from, writing to and reading from the same drive (or cluster of drives) for all this?

Are you manually deleting all the original EyeTV recordings after they've been transcoded and added to iTunes or have you figured out a way to automate that?
We grab that content with Apple TVs velcro'd to the backs of our HDTV sets (3 of them) in the house.

How are you controlling the aTVs--the little Apple remotes? iOS devices?

Biggest plus of your setup is the WAF and kid accessibility--everything is through the same device, the same video input controlled by the same remote. Kudos to you for making it work and I suspect a lot of people will be attracted to it.

I ask because, while my whole house setup is different from yours and more complicated--we don't have kids, I rely heavily on XBMC because I want to play blurays back at full size, we have Macs and aTVs at every HDTV and I never ask EyeTV to transcode recordings for iTunes--the one aspect that I think we have in common is we rarely if ever watch live TV. I even have a Mac with EyeTV at every HDTV and never watch live TV, except for the odd weekend NFL game or two. Thinking about the OP's query about live TV that's the one thing about Macs and aTVs as HTPC and whole house media devices that I think he'll discover "front ends" like Plex and XBMC still don't integrate with or handle well enough.

The way I've adapted my behavior is to de-value live TV, since I otherwise like XBMC and it does a good job as a front end managing our house full of TV recordings and ripped dvds and blurays I just don't try to leave XBMC in order to go to EyeTV to watch anything live. Back when I last used Plex, which admittedly has been a few years now, switching out of Plex and "into" EyeTV and then back to Plex was always awkward and frequently crashed, iOS remote apps were not seamless, and there were always similar hiccups trying to stream Netflix from "within" a front end, whether it be Front Row or Plex or whatever.
Is there not a Windows Media Center-like equivalent for the Mac?

DAMAC, short answer, no, this is where you're likely going to be a little disappointed. It's probably a fool's errand trying to set up a similar interface on both the aTV and Mini that can each "do" everything, so it is seamless to switch between the two. It might be better to ask each of them to do what they do well...for instance, I find Netflix streaming a much better user experience on the aTV and iPad than it is on the Mini, so we don't do NF via the Mini that often (in our setup we do "American" Netflix streaming via the aTVs and iOS devices but "British" Netflix streaming via the Mini.)
Does anybody use the EyeTV parser through XBMC on an jailbroken Apple TV?

I do, DAMAC, it's adequate enough...so, too, are their Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming plugins. I have a hacked aTV1 in a bedroom with Crystalbuntu and XBMC and I rely on a 2011 Mini in our main living room running XBMC to play back all of our EyeTV recordings as is. I don't play EyeTV live and don't playback any EyeTV recording with EyeTV itself, that's because it is a terribly bloated, inefficient and poorly supported video player. I usually don't transcode any EyeTV recording for iTunes nor do I "prepare" any EyeTV recording for viewing on iOS devices--we just use Air Video live transcoding if we want to watch anything on our iPads.

So, what that boils down to for us is 1) we're in XBMC on a Mini most of the time controlled by the Apple remote, 2) switch to an Apple TV for Netflix streaming or when we might want to Airplay something that's only on our iPads and 3) can do iTunes music and iTunes home sharing via the Mini or aTV, whichever happens to be more convenient at the time, usually controlled by an iPad.
post #4 of 8
Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

--the one aspect that I think we have in common is we rarely if ever watch live TV. I even have a Mac with EyeTV at every HDTV and never watch live TV, except for the odd weekend NFL game or two.

I'm avidly anti-commercials. We're using TiVos & OTA (and Comcast short term, resubscribed for the Olympics). The only live TV we (also a no-kids house) watch is on Public TV, and that's only when they're not doing fund-raising. For sports we are careful to not listen to news and/or friends/associates until after we've watched the recorded game(s). Sometimes (infrequently) we hear the outcome, then we just decide to watch anyway, or not. Worked great for the Olympics and the World Series. Actual watching time is greatly shortened when fast-forwarding through commercials - football has a lot of commercials!
post #5 of 8
Live sports - either OTA to each HDTV with coax coming off a splitter from the antenna in the attic using the ATSC tuner on each TV or streaming through the Apple TVs for MLB/NBA.

MLB streaming through the Apple TV has been *mostly* glitch free this past season. 2011 was a mess, but my understanding is that MLB changed their streaming provider last winter. All academic anyway - if you don't like baseball.

Only 1 of my aTVs is wired, other 2 are 5Ghz wireless N - I have seen no real difference in performance. However - I do have multiple (3) airport devices set up in a WDS arrangement so I have good strong signal throughout the house.

I do not let the mac sleep, but I do sleep the display.

I have a script that runs overnight through ical that deletes the eyetv recordings after they have been dumped into itunes, i'd be happy to share that with you if you want it.

While watching shows, recording and transcoding I see very, very few hiccups in my setup. Very rarely we see a dropped frame or slight pixelation - so rare that we question whether is was the network feed, antenna or transcoding process...it's that rare. A typical scenario - wife watching something on Netflix in the living room, I'm streaming baseball in the basement, EyeTV is recording and transcoding shows. No hiccups. I use an early 2009 24" imac with 8GB of ram. EyeTV transcoding with deinterlacing set to "motion adaptive" and it chews through some CPU cycles, but I rarely see an issue. I paid a few bucks for the Turbo HD 264 stick (I think it was $90 or so on amazon) and it really helps speed up the transcodes.

Itunes library, such as it is, is all on the local Imac drive. I save space by not keeping TV shows - applescript runs every night and deletes any show with a playcount of 1 or more. I store home movies and a few DVD rips locally, the rest is iTunes purchased and streamed from the cloud or downloaded when needed on an ipad/iphone for trips.

Channel surfing can be done using the OTA with the ATSC tuner - but cutting the cord means no channel surfing overall.

My wife has even begun to use her MacBook to airplay hulu (not hulu plus, straight hulu) to the apple tv to watch some of her hulu shows. I didn't expect that - but the setup makes it so easy she doesn't have an issue with it.

I use a Harmony One remote with the main apple TV/Living room setup, a Harmony 880 downstairs and have the upstairs aTV set to use the cheapie remote that came with my little TV. Works like a champ.
Edited by Cliff Davis - 11/14/12 at 8:37am
post #6 of 8
Another note on this - I'm a real stickler about not having physical media. I have no DVD/BluRay players in my home.

It's not for everyone, but it's something I have chosen to do. Just keeps my life a little more clutter free.
post #7 of 8
Our setup: 2011 Mac Mini and 2 HDHomeRuns. Mac Mini runs EyeTV, Plex and RemoteBuddy. I have an EyeTV series scanner in Plex Media Server that automatically adds EyeTV recordings as soon as they're done (no re-encoding). Clients are iPads running Plex's IOS app or a $49 Roku running Plex Client. All A/V equipment (TV, Amp, Roku, MacMini) is controlled via IP Control from the brilliant Roomie Remote app on any available iPhone/iPad. Roomie has made switching from EyeTV (for live TV only) and Plex (for recorded content/movies) seamless for the Wife. iTunes is only used for music and accessed using the Apple Remote app on iPhones/iPads.

I'm intrigued by XBMC's PVR interface, but there doesn't seem to be a Mac PVR backend, so it's a non-starter for now.
post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies. I always like to see what others are doing. I didn't really get the answer I was looking for because it just doesn't exist right now. I'm good except for lives sports I think. Won't be much OTA anyway, but we really like our college and NFL football and college basketball. Probably go Mini with EyeTV and Plex in main room and AppleTV in the bedroom. Thanks for the input.
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