This is part 4 of my eternal quest to find the perfect home media rig.
In my last recounting I mentioned that I found bliss in my Patriot Box Office (PBO) media player. That's still true but there's just one small downside to the PBO, your media still has to reside somewhere.
I ended up blowing away the Ubuntu Server installation and put an Ubuntu Desktop installation in it's place. Then I reinstalled MythTV. And reinstalled it. And reinstalled it and reinstalled it and reinstalled it. See, this is one example of the many reasons that Linux will never catch on as a mainstream desktop OS destined for the masses. Windows in it's infinite flavors and Mac OS in it's marginally smaller palette of flavors will always come out ahead of Linux. It's easy to install new packages. The packages come complete and ready to install and it's all quite intuitive.
MythTV is not intuitive to install. Sure, you can download the file through package manager or use apt-get but that's just the beginning.... Then you have to configure it. The GUI will let you modify maybe 80 percent of the settings but in the end, it's that other 20 percent of the settings that are critical to your success.
So after OCDing on the installation piece, I also installed XBMC, as well as a bunch of codecs that were needed for playback of my video and audio files. Then I installed Tangerine and then mt-daapd and then forked-daapd and then I erased everything and started all over. The configuration of each of those installations was onerous, to say the least, and rarely worked well enough for me to listen or watch any of the media I had on the hard drives.
Speaking of hard drives, that was a tough nut to crack in and of itself. Do I format my hard drives as NTFS, ext3, ext4? Why, oh why must I decide these things now? I finally settled on NTFS for one hard drive and ext4 for the other. A nice compromise that paid back in spades later on.
Eventually Ubuntu, the software installations and I achieved an uneasy truce. I never was able to watch much on my LCD TV that was connected to the media center but at least I could watch/listen to the media on almost all the other computers in my house.
The PBO ended up getting moved to my bedroom TV and connected to the home network via WiFi. Believe it or not, the video/audio quality really didn't change.
The setup wasn't suiting my goals. I wanted instant access to all my stuff on the hard drive. From the main TV. In desperation I finally went out and bought a new copy of Windows 7 Home Premium and installed that on the computer. Indeed, in the intervening time, I had built a new computer and replaced the aging HP computer.
Now I have an AMD X2 250 with a Biostar A780L motherboard, 4 Gigs of DDR2 RAM and an ATI HD 5570 video card. All stuffed into a standard black box that sits in the corner. I made a bad choice on the power supply though. Whines like a banshee. All the time. It'll have to be replaced but so far I've spent $220 on all the hardware plus another $109 for an OEM version of Windows 7. Get this: I paid more for the Windows 7 than I did for the motherboard, CPU and RAM! The motherboard sports a 10/100 NIC. Not ideal but it works for the moment. Eventually I'll toss in a Gig NIC. The keyboard is a Logitech Multimedia Bluetooth keyboard that I originally purchased for use with my PS3. It has a trackpad built into it. There is also a Hauppage 1600 TV tuner card and an HP MCE remote and MS IR USB thingie that I re-purposed from a few of my other computers.
Really, it is. After dropping in a few codecs so Media Player (and the MCE package) can play .mkv files natively, I'm sitting very pretty. Everything is controllable via the MCE remote control and I can even record HD programs off the Verizon FIOS cable TV. Just in time for the new season of Top Gear. And this is where my hard drive format choice came in handy. Windows doesn't read ext4, which is the format I used on the hard drive storing all my movies and documents.
A quick trip to the CD bin and I pulled out my live boot CD of Ubuntu Lucid Lynx. Reboot the computer with that and, bingo!, I was able to copy all my files over to the NTFS formatted hard drive. No muss, no fuss. Boot back into Windows, reformat a drive, copy the files back, share out the folders and not one of the computers one my network required reconfiguration to get access to the media.
Who would have thought that Microsoft could come up with such an awesome program? And then never pitch it? The Media Center Edition (MCE) of Windows 7 is a very low key hero in this game. It looks good, makes installation a cinch and setup is accomplished via wizards that do everything for you.
And, to top it all off, after sharing out my folders on the hard drives, I still have complete access to my media from the other computers via the network as well as my PBO in the bedroom.
The one piece that's lacking is auto-integration with iTunes. Not an issue, though. Forked-daapd has a Windows port that will allow me to share out my music library. If I get worked up enough to do it. Or I can always point the iTunes library to the network share. Either way, it's just gravy on the steak because everything else is working smooth as silk.
I love it when a plan comes together....
So, where do I go from here? Because we all know that the journey can't stop just because I've reached the end.... I don't know but I have been eying the latest Apple TV box. And that sleek little Roku 1080p box over there? I just might have to give it a run around the block once or twice.... Not to mention, the WiFi Internet radios....
Maybe this journey isn't quite done just yet.