TV the Smarter Way!
The Media Server
The starting point and the heart of my TV and Movie solution is my Windows Home Server which is based on the now discontinued HP ML115 G5 server. I chose this server as at the time HP were selling these at the rather excellently discounted price of £159.99, a complete bargain for an HP Server I’m sure you will agree!
The server has an AMD Opteron™ 1352 Quad Core Processor 2.10 GHz with 2 x 2GB Crucial ECC RAM and has the following disk configuration (as at 20th May 2011)
I’ve been running this setup for the past 2 years so obviously things will have moved on. Windows Home Server 2011 is about to ship but loses out on the Drive Extender (ability to throw any old hard drive in and have it present as 1 large disk) although there are add-ons available to replicate the version 1 functionality.
The reason I chose Windows Home Server (WHS) was for its ability to handle my PC backups automatically. This means that in the night it wakes each computer and laptop, backs it up and then puts it back to sleep. These are complete disk backups of the PC’s so if a hard drive fails on the PC then WHS can create a DVD to recover the OS and restore the files. The other critical feature was the ability to add a mish mash of drives and for them to show as a single large volume. This makes managing data a none issue for the end user and with the ability to turn on folder duplication I know that my data is mirrored over multiple disks to give resilience against a server hard drive failure. If a disk fails I can just shut down, pull the drive, insert a new one and then boot it back up. No need for matched drives that you need in a RAID configuration which again makes this a great end user solution.
On the server front HP have released the smaller form factor HP Proliant Microserver which they’ve been plugging away with a £100 cash back rebate. This sees this server available for £121 from some retailers once the cash back has been applied.
For my clients I am running the tiny Acer Revo Apire nettop computers. I currently have the R3700 in the lounge and the R3610 in the master bedroom. These Ion and Ion2 nettops are both capable of decoding 1080p content. These are both running 2GB ram, 250GB hard drives with Windows 7 Home Premium on them. The Revo’s came supplied with wireless keyboards and mice and I’ve added a Media Centre remote control to allow for easy arm chair navigation.
The Revo’s come with a v-shaped desk stand or alternatively they can be mounted directly to the rear of your TV. I use the HDMI connectors to rig them to my surround system which then passes through via HDMI to the TV.
Both of my Revo’s have gigabit ethernet connections which connect via Netgear GS605 gigabit switches to the server. Although these boxes have wireless 802.11n I prefer a hard wired connection for stability and bandwidth.
As mentioned the clients are all running Windows 7 Home Premium and this include Windows 7 Media Centre (W7MC). W7MC allows you to view photos, movies and live / recorded TV. You can also listen to your music including music from iTunes.
I am running the following additional bits of software or W7MC add ons:
Nevermiss.tv – Access to BBC iPlayer / ITV Player / 4OD etc as well as the Catch Up TV service
Media Browser – Superb media interface for your TV and Movie archives. Incredibly rich both visually and with the information it can display
Remote Potato – Remote access of your media as well as being able to set recordings when out of the house
vmcMote – Ability to browse my music collection on the iPad and create playlists to play on either the lounge or the bedroom system. Great app for when you’ve got friends around!
Meta<browser> – This handles renaming, image and information retrieval as well as trailer downloads for Movies and TV episodes. This is set to watch certain folders for new content and will then handle the renaming and image and information retrieval automatically.
Watching Live TV
The TV solution that I am using gives me the best flexibility for recording programmes that are available for each of the clients to access. I decided to go for DVB-S2 TV card to be able to receive both Standard Definition as well as High Definition Freesat and Sky channels. I purchased the TechniSat SkyStar USB HD box which is a mere 10cm x 10cm x 2.7cm in size! This box is connected directly to the R3700 in the lounge via USB and this makes it available within media centre as TV source.
I already have a master plan to move the TV cards to the server so instead of configuring the card directly I purchased the TVSource and Network Pack from DVBLogic to allow me to share the tuners between the client PC’s.
Once this was configured I used My Channel Logos to enhance the look of the Electronic Programme Guide.
All recorded TV is captured locally and then the WHS Connector software handles the movement of the files to the server for viewing by both clients.
(The slow down in live TV on the youtube clip is caused by the screen capturing software)
TV Series are stored on my server in the folder structure TV Collection > TV Show Name > Season x > Episodes. Using Meta<browser> I have artwork grabbed for the TV show, Series as well as Episode stills. I also have synopsis information as well as cast listings and duration.
I use Media Browser to browse and select the shows and episodes that I want to watch.
Movies / Films
As with TV series I use Media Browser to browse and select my movies. By this point Meta <Browser> has also hopefully grabbed a trailer for each of the movie files. This means that when looking for a film to watch you can see the cinematic trailer for it and decide whether you want to proceed or not.
All of my music, including iTunes, sits on the media server ready for access via any of the clients. These can either be accessed from the Music section in W7MC or as explained you can use vmcMote with an Apple iPad to browse and create playlists that will play on whichever client you choose.