Home Theater Computers

I want to build a media playing PC. Or Mac. Whatever. The point is, I want to have a media playing system that's flexible. This is an ongoing log of this pursuit.

Before I get into what I need, let me start with what I don't need. I have DirecTiVo. It's the greatest thing in the world. The TiVo is integrated with the DTV-supplied program guide. Furthermore, the box doesn't even have an MPEG encoder--it just grabs the MPEG stream that hits the dish and saves it straight to disk, down to the last zero and one. So when you watch a recorded show, it is the same quality as when it was first broadcast--you can't beat that. (In standard definition, at least.)

Since I'm so happy with that system, what do I want a media player for? FIrst of all, I want something that will play DVDs, especially burned DVDs, which don't always play well in commercial players. I'd like to play ripped DVDs, whether they are copied directly to VIDEO_TS folders or ripped and compressed with DivX or something similar. I'd like to watch whatever videos I find online, like the WWDC keynote, or anything else--trailers from apple.com, videos from archive.org or ifilm.com, whatever. 

I'd also like to build a box to record OTA HDTV broadcasts. I have no need to watch them in real time, I'd just like to record them in HD, remove ads, compress them, and save them. I don't even have an HDTV (though I guess my 20" LCD computer monitor qualifies), I just want to look at other ways to save shows now that I've filled up one 240 GB standard TiVo. (I have a second TiVo that I'm trying to get the network-and-show-transferring hacks working on but that's slow going.) 

So, as far as HD HTPCs go, I should be able to get by with something relatively low-end. Since I don't even have an HDTV, 720p is fine--no need for 1080. (Though I guess it's up to the networks what they send.) It doesn't need to do things like pause and rewind TV. Hell, it doesn't even need to play back, just record. I figure I'll have it in the closet somewhere, schedulable with a web front end, and move the files to a server or player when it's done.
Converting can be scheduled to happen when shows aren't being recorded, or can be done on another box altogether. It'll either be capturing, converting (maybe), or nothing.

Speaking of my standard-def TV, I curently don't have a stereo hooked up, either. When I do, it'll be only 2-channnel, or maaaybe old-school Dolby surround (L, R, L+R center and L-R surround) for a while, so 5.1, 7.1, or whatever they're up to these days won't matter either.

So, long story short (too late), I want a cool box that will do everything my TiVo doesn't, which is basically play any file I throw at it. Recording shows, in general, is already taken care of.

Various URLs:

  • http://www.macdevcenter.com/pub/a/mac/2005/03/29/hdtv.html
  • http://www.penlug.org/twiki/bin/view/Main/DigitalTelevision
  • http://centerstageproject.com/
  • http://www.eff.org/broadcastflag/