my experience moving from HTPCs running WMC to a TiVo Bolt + Mini setup
Wanted to post my story, along with some thoughts from a guy moving from HTPCs (Windows Media Center + MediaBrowser) to a TiVo setup. I've used WMC for much longer, but my current HTPCs are about 4.5 years old (a few newer), running a mix of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. I had a TiVo decades ago before switching to HTPCs.
My HTPC setup consisted of small form factor i3-based HTPCs in every room (some Habey chassis, a couple NUCs). All ran SSDs with 8GB RAM so performance was very good. All connected to a SiliconDust HD HomeRun (rare 6 tuner version) installed on my rack through ethernet. Technically gigabit, but because of an issue SiliconDust had with my Intel motherboard NICs most were locked down to 100Mbps to avoid pixelization.
My main HTPC in my master bedroom had a larger chassis and Ceton PCIe 4 tuner card all to itself. This HTPC did most of the recordings in the house and had a shared Recorded TV folder. The small HTPCs in other rooms moved any recordings to this main HTPC nightly, so pretty much any HTPC had access to all recordings. I couldn't manage recordings from the small HTPCs but it worked well enough.
Ripped movie playback was done through MediaBrowser which worked very well. I used the old school Microsoft WMC remote controls, which I love, to control my HTPC and TV power on/off/volume/etc. except for my theater room where I have a nice URC remote.
I initially chose not to go with WMC extenders because I did not like the various limitations and overall experience - large/loud/hot Xboxes, limited video format playback, excessive power use or slow bootup (your choice), etc. The lack of development, pending death of WMC and inability to use Netflix and Amazon Prime through a consistent and reliable remote control interface drove me to look elsewhere.
I purchased a few Fire TV Sticks to try out and although I loved the streaming options the performance was pretty poor in the interface, and also intermittently in the Netflix app. Switching between the HTPC and Fire TV Stick was an issue - a couple of TVs experienced HDMI handshaking issues. After hours of troubleshooting I ended up using a HDMI booster I had kicking around which fixed the issue 99% of the time on 1 TV, and I just dealt with the issue on the other. I also purchased a couple inexpensive remote controls to replace my Microsoft remotes so we could easily switch between inputs with 1 remote, etc. I still had a 2 remote experience because of the Fire TV Stick.
After some thought I felt this was not the right road to be on. I was kind of hacking things together with cheap remotes, HDMI boosters, WiFi Fire TV sticks, etc. and was getting no real advantage out of it. I'm a geek at heart so I don't mind going the difficult route as long as there are clear advantages, like I thought there were when initially going with HTPCs, and as long as I can keep things simple and trouble-free for the family. Sure, I could go with $100 Fire TVs and nicer universal remotes to provide a better experience, but with the multiple TVs I have it seemed silly to spend that money and go that route. I decided instead to go with a TiVo setup.
I recently got through replacing most of my HTPCs with a TiVo setup. I went with a TiVo Bolt and upgraded it to 4TB for the master bedroom, and purchased 4 TiVo Minis for other rooms in my house. For the remainder of the TVs I decided to just use the Fire TV Sticks as live TV is not really needed in those rooms. I may also keep a HTPC around for my theater depending on the quality of the TiVo Plex app.
I have to say, I'm loving it so far. The Bolt upgrade to 4TB wasn't bad once I found the right procedure - as far as I know I was the first to do it on a Bolt. This gives me 490 HD hours of storage according to the Bolt, which is way more than I had in my old HTPC. No more HDMI handshake issues, interface is clean and intuitive, and it's nice knowing development is ongoing.
Managing recordings and streaming using the available apps seems great, though I haven't used the streaming much yet (don't have much of a need, but the kids may like it). The Bolt interface is blazing fast, even faster than my WMC setups which I thought were very quick. The Minis do not perform quite as well as the Bolt in the TV interface, but performance is still very good - probably on par with my WMC HTPCs as far as guide browsing, channel changing, etc. Netflix and Amazon Prime apps load blazing fast on the Bolt, and still pretty quick on the TiVo Minis. Even the Minis provide a superior interface to the Fire TV Sticks in those apps. Managing recordings from the Minis is also great - a feature I lacked with my HTPC setup. I love how TiVo organizes the recordings with OnePass, giving me locally stored and streaming options in the same interface.
The included RF remotes are very good, though the quality of the SlidePro remote is better (got one of those for the master bedroom). No more IR blasters off my HTPCs (for the kitchen counter TV, etc.). It controls all my TVs and soundbars except for the Epson projector in my theater room. I have a URC remote there anyway, so that's not a big issue. I could always upgrade that one to a SlidePro as well if I decide I want to keep using the TiVo remote there. I haven't gotten around to programming my URC remote yet. The find remote feature on the Bolt is fantastic, but I don't believe the Mini has that option.
I have not tackled ripped movie playback yet, but I anticipate moving from MediaBrowser to Plex. I hear the Plex experience on the Mini is not fantastic and limited to 720p, but I also hear it's 1080p and great on the Bolt. I will post back once I get that done.
My plan is to replace my Minis next year when TiVo updates them to match their new Bolt. I don't care so much about 4K, but do like the processor/memory/speed improvements on the Bolt allowing for the faster interface and presumably 1080p support in Plex. I also hope they'll add a remote finder feature. At that point I hope to ride the Cable Card wave as long as it will take me, hopefully another 5+ years. By then I'm sure it will be a whole new ballgame.
I'm now paying $150 per year for service, but I don't think that's bad at all - espeically when it includes a partial warranty on the equipment. I would have gladly paid that to Microsoft for continuted Windows Media Center development. I will lose tuners, but for reliability all my PCs were locked down to 1 tuner each on my SiliconDust anyway. The reliable TiVo tuner pooling should be more efficient, give me greater flexibility, though if they had a 6 tuner version of the Bolt I would have definitely gone with that. I'm hoping 4 tuners will be enough, especially as streaming from Netflix & Amazon Prime becomes more and more prevalent. I will save about $10 per month on Cable Card fees.
I plan on re-using 2 of my HTPCs as extra PCs for my younger kids. They like to have buddies come over and play Minecraft and other games together on occasion, so they are really looking forward to having a couple extra PCs to use and share. The rest I can sell, along with my HD HomeRune Prime and Ceton card, Microsoft remotes, etc.. I suspect I will come close to breaking even which made this a no-brainer for me.
My total cost in was under $1000 including the Minis, SlidePro remote and 4TB hard drive upgrade and I feel like I've gotten a much improved experience already - and my wife and kids agree.
Will post back as I get more experience with the TiVo, and also once I get Plex setup.
Hope my info & experience might help others looking to do the same.
Last edited by Mike_Boulanger; 10-07-2015 at 11:07 AM.