December 16, 2009

Why technology makes me insane...

Okay, this blog post, rather than being informative, although I hope it provides some useful information is a cry for help regarding my attempt to build a home theatre system that does the following:

  • Has a single centralized machine that will be used for receiving the cable input from my Bell TV (ExpressVu) satellite dish (or Cable if I choose to switch to Rogers/Shaw at some later point), including all my premium subscription channels.
  • Streams the live TV input it receives from said cable input to extender boxes around the house so we can watch live TV (in HD as per my subscription) without having set top boxes as well as media extender boxes attached to each TV.
  • Will PVR shows from said cable input for later playback by any of the extender boxes on my network.
  • Streams my family's last.fm selection through the extender boxes and does all the other usual stuff that media centers do.

That all seems like a perfectly reasonable scenario to me. However, I'm coming unstuck. The only way that it seems possible to do this is using a ridiculous concoction of technologies like so:

One HTPC used for your media center - running Windows 7 or Windows Home Server or some operating system that can handle one of the Media Center variants out there: BeyondTV, SageTV, MediaPortal, Windows Media Center or any number of the other lesser known media center applications.

One set top box for every concurrent channel that you want to watch and/or record. Hence if you want to have 3 TVs in your house and you want to be able to watch them all independently of each other and you want to be able to record 2 concurrent shows without interfering with what is being watched on those TVs then you need 5 set top boxes.

One Hauppage HD-PVR box (at $299 a pop) for each concurrent channel you want to be able to record - hence if you want to record two shows at the same time, you need two of these device. It connects to your HTPC via USB to store the shows and you can use your Media Center to control the device which in turn controls the set top box it's connected to to make sure it's on the right channel to record your show. The video file is then stored on your HTPC in H.264 format ready for your media center to play back at your leisure.

Here's where I come unstuck - how do I watch live TV? It seems like I can't. In order to watch live TV through the media center, I'm limited to OTA or ATSC/ClearQAM. OTA is over the air - this means across the radio waves which requires an antenna capable of good enough quality to receive the digital HD signal from over the air waves which isn't an ordeal but it means I'm restricted to a very limited subset of HD channels - and doesn't include most of my subscription channels which is what I pay for and am willing to continue paying for (for the record). ClearQAM is the signal that is broadcast digitally via Satellite (or ATSC via Digital cable) in an unencrypted format - like OTA this is a very limited subset of the crap channels that is the reason you pay your subscription for the good channels in the first place - so this is out too.

<RANT>Why the **** isn't there a technology out there that allows me to set up my home entertainment system the way I want it instead of the way the TV provider wants me to have it?!?! I thought that in a time we call the age of technology we would be able to set simple things up like this without having to jump through a series of bull**** hoops to get it done. I would like to be able to just hook my satellite dish DIRECTLY to my computer and have my media center handle the rest. Instead, I've gotta pay for as many set top boxes as I need TVs and recording devices, recording devices and tuners that don't allow me to watch most of my subscription channels! This is a crock. It doesn't take very much imagination to realise that someone would want to do this - do I really have to rip the set top boxes to pieces and figure out a way to wire them to the available slots in my PC and write drivers that can integrate them into Media Center to make this happen? In order to watch live TV, I have to have a set top box hooked up to each TV I want to watch live TV on, and then I have to have a separate set top box hooked up to each TV to watch media center. WHY ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO ANYONE?!</RANT>

Can someone please (1000 times please) tell me there's a way to do this that I haven't stumbled across yet where I can have:

  • One device (media center extender and no separate set top box) hooked to each TV
  • One media center server that acts as a streaming device for:
    • Streaming Live TV to the extenders (including all my subscription channels).
    • Hosts the PVRs and streams recorded programs to the extenders.
    • Integrates with internet radio and FM radio and streams that to the extenders.
    • Hooks up to some kind of DVD jukebox that I can load up with DVDs and stream them to the extenders. (Optional)

I don't care how many set top boxes I need, nor am I interested in losing my subscription channels. I'm not looking to stop paying my Satellite TV bill or stop paying for my subscription channels. All I'm trying to do is this:

  • Integrate all my home entertainment into a network where all the TVs in the house have the same interface and don't have a stack of boxes of various descriptions next to them.
  • Allow me to playback recorded TV on any TV in the house, rather than being limited to the one the PVR is connected to.
  • Have all required set top boxes hooked up to the media center server so that every TV only has ONE interface to control everything - that of the media center extender.

This shouldn't be so hard...

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