Sparked from this Article: Missing Remote Article
The article started to make me think, what do I really do with my HTPC? and what are the proportions of those tasks? For me first of for most is PVR/DVR. My HTPC is my primary dvr for my basement home theater setup. Though I do have a comcast HD DVR connected to my setup, I preffer the HTPC running MCE 2005 over the comcast DVR merely because the interface for the comcast box just sucks that bad.
I absolutely hate the comcast interface for their box’s. They are slow, clunky, and oh so not user friendly. Windows MCE interface is refined, and for once is actually a joy to use. It is easy to navigate, easy to set recordings and find recorded shows. All around the MCE interface is years ahead of what comcast does with their box’s. Though rumor has it that cocmast will be implementing the tivo software/interface on to their box’s, we’ll have to wait and see about that.
So #1 is PVR/DVR, yes I’ll agree with that, but one thing they didn’t mention or get into were (#10 does talk about media distribution but doesn’t get into the real advantages of what a media center extender can do) Media Center extenders. The topic of Media Center Extenders is on par with PVRing capabilities, and honestly go hand in hand. As you saw in my previous RANT , I despise paying huge amounts of hardware rental fee’s to Cable/Sat. MSO’s. That is why I love the idea of Media Center Extenders. Being able to have a central repository for recorded TV shows, Movies, Media, Music, Pictures, ect… and being able to share them with Any TV, PC, Laptop through out my home is HUGE!!!!
Sitting down after dinner and catching up on the latest Heroes episode, then starting to watch CSI or Journyman Monday nights, then being able to pause half way through an episode, shut down my equipment in the basement, go up stairs to my bedroom, turn on the tv there and continue were I left off would be the ideal setup. Being able to time shift, as well as place shift my tv shows enables me to not be restricted to sitting down stairs every time I want to watch a tv show I prevously recorded. Granted you need to have a cat5 drop or a 802.11A or N wireless setup to support the higher bandwidth needs for HD video, but in the end it is well worth it.
Later this month Linksys will be releasing their .V2 Media Center Extenders which will fully support Vista MCE. Previously the only MCE Extender that supported vista was the xbox 360. Earlier this month Microsoft released a 6th SKU for the 360, the Xbox 360 Arcade, which also supports the Media Center Extender functionality. So between the Linksys and Dlink Media Center Extenders and the 360 Arcade you basically can extend your PVR viewing to any tv in your home for under $300. Not bad if you ask me, specially the added benefits you get with MCE functions over what you’d see with the comcast DVR.
#2 is DVD Player, for me that is the Second most use feature of MCE in my Home Theater, however I take that one step further. I use a third party plug-in for MCE called My Movies.
With My Movies I am able to catalog ALL of my ripped DVD collection I have backed up on hard drives. I can see visually the entire collection, and on top of that My Movies allows me to load up third party DVD application called TheaterTek. With TheaterTek I take dvd playback further that what MCE can provide. With TheaterTek I can use FFDshow to post process the dvd video to further enhance the upscaling of the DVD, while at the same time getting a really slick, easy to use DVD app.
So far I use my HTPC for my primary DVR, as well as use it as an upscaling DVD juke box. #3 in the list is photo viewer. Though I do use MCE to show off photos of my Daughter when I have friends or family over that haven’t seen my Home Theater setup, I very rarely use that feature, but it is nice to have.
#4 is Media Library, this is another feature I use on a regular basis. I have quite a few tv shows, video podcasts, and other downloaded media content I watch. I love being able to view all of those videos in a nice, clean easy to use interface, and have them all cataloged and stored in a central location. Some of the media comes from Torrents, others Newsgroups, while lastly video podcasts. Since all the video come from different locations, it is definitely nice to store them in a central folder in MCE and know exactly where to go to watch them.
#5 is home automation, #6 is Gaming, #7 is Browse the Web, and #8 is High Def Player.
#5 I don’t do any at this point in time, and If I did I don’t think I’d use MCE to interface to control my home. I’d rather have a stand alone touch screen or tablet PC to do those tasks. #6 is gaming, I do use my HTPC to game, but not as much as I used to. The Missing Remote article shows a mame plugin for MCE, which is an awesome idea, however I just don’t use my setup for MAME games all that much. Maybe for an occasional NES or SNES but not really for MAME games. #7 I just don’t use my HTPC for web viewing other than downloading a driver but not for every day, regular web viewing. #8 even though I did buy the xbox 360 hd dvd addon drive for this intent, in the end I just gave up on it and chose to go with the stand alone HD DVD player.
#9 is place shifting, remote scheduling. With the advent of Webguide being release for free, I’ve taken more and more advantage of the remote scheduling features. Being able to remotely log into your HTPC via a web browser and viewing scheduled recordings and setting new recordings is just huge. Say I hear about a tv show at work and I want to make sure my HTPC records it and I want to schedule a recording before I forget about the name of the show, I can quickly log into my HTPC via my work pc or even better I can log in with my smartphone. Granted the smartphone doesn’t work as well, but in situation where I can’t quickly log into a pc and schedule a show, I can always do it from my phone.
#10 Distributed Video/Audio. Granted I did already talk about the advantages of Media Center Extenders and what they can do for you in a PVR/DVR situation. What I didn’t talk about was the ability to share all of you media files, photos, music, ect… through out your home. I’ve got a pretty extensive music collection, over 120gigs worth of music, being able to share that music, play lists, cover art, ect… through out my home is another huge advantage of media center extenders (aka distributed video/audio). Instead of having a PC at EVERY tv in your home, you can just have a dumbed down xbox 360 or a V2 extender and call it a day.
Lastly is bonus features of a HTPC. Being able to pull up weather reports, Adding plug-ins like My Movies, or other third party utilities like adding Netflix to your MCE interface is just another way of showing you the flexibility of what a HTPC can really do for you. Internet radio, Youtube, Pandora, online video rentals, ect… are all ways of utilizing PC centric content that normally would be used in a desktop environment can now be used and interacted in a home entertainment fashion. Moving away from a keyboard mouse to a remote to me is the holey grail of the HTPC and why I use it almost every day in one way or another.
In the end what you can do with a HTPC is limitless and really just depends on what you want to do with it.