Sunday, 1 May 2016

Setting up a media centre PC

I have previously written about internet streaming services such as netflix and presto, but if you don't have a suitable internet plan which allows for streaming services then you are probably limited to TV as a source of entertainment. The free-to-air stations have increased the number of channels available and the content provided so it is worth looking at ways to optimise the access to programs you are interested in. I have been using TiVo for a while but these devices are no longer sold so commercially available personal video recorders (PVRs) are limited by comparison to the features offered by the TiVo service. As a result I decided to build my own PVR, or media centre PC. I wanted to setup a system that would allow me to record shows on a regularly basis and pickup shows that I am interested in. In addition a media centre can gather all the photos and videos on my home network and make it convenient to view these in one place. There are a number of free options available if you have the time and inclination to set them up. Firstly there are some architectural concepts to be familiar with.

Basic requirements are a PC, a DVB-T tuner card (which connects to your TV antenna) and obviously a TV or display for viewing the content. Media centres have a backend or server component, which handles the tv tuner hardware, electronic program guide (EPG) and recording aspects. The front-end or client components are used for displaying the tv content and interacting with the home theatre system (remote controls etc.). It is possible to combine these functions on one computer, or they can be split between two computers, or more if you want multiple front end systems for different rooms. Ideally you want a quiet PC for the client computer otherwise you will have to contend with a noisy fan whilst watching TV. There are systems you can buy which are low powered and quiet, or if you want to make your own then the raspberry Pi is a good option (http://raspberry.piaustralia.com.au/). There is media centre option that includes a remote control and the latest version of raspberry pi for $159 plus shipping. You will also need the media centre software in order to run the front and backend hardware. If you have Windows 7 you may already have Windows Media Centre included with your system. Later versions of Windows do not include this option (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows/products/windows-media-center/get-it). This is not a problem as there are good alternatives available such as Media Portal (http://www.team-mediaportal.com/), Next PVR (http://www.nextpvr.com/) and Kodi (used to be XBMC, https://kodi.tv/). It is worth going through the setup guides provided by these sites as they can be complex, particularly downloading the extended EPG for additional information in your TV guide. One word of caution, I have found the Linux version of the Kodi front-end to have limited functionality when it comes to TV support. It may be better to stick with Windows on the front and backend to ensure compatibility with all features.



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