Thursday, June 16, 2011

DIY PVR 2: The Promise

After being a loyal TiVo user for 10 years- not to mention converting my wife, parents, and sisters- I'm not going to switch to anything unless it's significantly better.  For reference, here is an in-depth comparison of the TiVo Premiere UI and Windows Media Center 7.  It looks like MC7 beats TiVo in all but a couple areas that I care about (most significantly, the ability to undelete shows).  Here are some of the features I'm expecting to get out of this effort.

MC7 has a very stylish UI.  Reflection effects abound, and everything is fast.  It appears to be just as easy to use as TiVo (if not more)- this will greatly help with wife acceptance.

4+ Tuners
TiVo has just announced new Premiere models that will have 4 tuners, but MC7 beat them to the punch.  There are cablecard-capable tuner cards (and network tuners) that can decode 4-6 shows at once, and you can even have multiple cards.  We have occasionally had the need for a 3rd tuner (Thursday nights can get pretty crowded); 4 is just gravy.  Any more would be waste, but who knows- in a few years I might have a different opinion.

TV Shows
I'm not sure exactly what to expect here- MC7 doesn't sort by date recorded when shows are grouped, which is a TiVo feature that we use all the time.  However, Recorded TV HD does hold a lot of promise, such as grouping shows by family member- finally, I don't have to see the kids shows in the list!  Plus, it looks fantastic- automatically downloading show artwork.

Web Video
We'll occasionally miss an episode, want to catch up on a newly discovered show, or see adverts for webisodes- what to do?  All this content on the internet, and TiVo is out of the loop.  Hulu is coming to Premiere, but AFAICT not to the TiVo HD.  Who wants to get up, go to the computer, and play/watch them there?  MC7 has plugins for NetflixYoutubeTED, and others- plus, if worst comes to worst, we can just fire up a browser and watch it on the website.

I have my music collection and Sandy has hers, but playback has been mostly relegated to iPods and at the computer.  MC7 has an awesome UI for playing music along with visualizers, photos, or a collage of cover art.

We love the TiVo UI, so it's always a shame when we have to switch to the Playstation 3 to play DVDs or Blu Rays.  It does a good enough job, but it's missing the 10-second replay button, the on-screen playback position (though the "display info" button does show you the progress).  I also don't care for the ceremony of switching all the inputs over to watch a movie, then again to go back to TV.

I'm not quite sure what the future holds here, since the Blu Ray player is 3rd party software, but I'm sure it will work out ok.  Certainly no worse than what we have now, and even if it is, we can continue to use the PS3.
Movie Library
The built-in movie collection is good, and Media Browser is even better.  I'm excited to browse through my movie collection, all on one machine, in one UI.  Plus, the eye candy is incredible- it automatically downloads and displays artwork for the movie, plus it displays the actors with pictures.  It is my understanding that there is a plugin that will let you see the trailer in the movie's info page.  It's a quantum leap above our current system of going downstairs, looking through the shelf, picking a movie out, bring it back upstairs, putting it in, switching the inputs, etc.

Remote Access
TiVo does let you schedule recordings online- a must-have feature in this day and age.  MC7 ups the ante with Remote Potato, which adds a web server for browsing the listings & scheduling recordings, then turns the dial to 11 by streaming recorded videos to mobile devices!

TiVo is gaining some ground here with their recent announcement of the TiVo Preview, which lets you stream your recorded shows to another TV in your house.  But Media Center has been serving recorded video (and music and more) to extenders for years.  Unfortunately, the well for extenders seems to have dried up, leaving the Xbox 360 as the last one.  We do have an Xbox 360, but it's hooked up to the same TV; if there was ever a compelling need, we could move it downstairs.  Right now there are no plans to use extenders, but it's great knowing that we could.

Video Games
This is where MC7 starts to separate from what one would ever expect from a TiVo (or any DVR).  There are several plugins that will browse rom collections and launch their emulator.  I gave my PS2 to my brother, but I'll be able to play R-Type Final again- not to mention R-Type Delta, all my TurboGrafx-16, NES, SNES, Game Boy, GameCube, etc wirelessly using the PS3 controller!  It looks like the Dolphin emulator can even play Wii games in HD- with the wiimote!

We love the iPhone/iPad, and take most of our pictures/videos with it.  How great will it be when we can seamlessly stream pictures and videos to the TV- seconds after they're taken?  Thank you, AirPlay!

The Mac Mini that I bought to be a media center might just have to retire- setting up the media center computer to be an AirPrint server will let us wirelessly print from our iOS devices without having to turn any (additional) computers on.

Caller ID
This is a project for a future date, but it looks like I can just plug in a USB modem that supports Caller ID, set up some software, and any calls will show up.  If the caller is in Outlook, it'll even show their picture!

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