A flexible home entertainment system for the whole family part 2

Standard

Place Shifting

There are gadgets out that there will let you watch TV on other devices, like you computer using a network or even the internet.  After purchasing a new TV with a digital tuner, I have access to more channels that I didn’t have before because the older Sharp 24″ CRT TV’s turner failed.  This brought in more TV channels into the living room.

It also brought another option, we can now was different channels on different TVs because broadcast TV didn’t need to make use of the Now TV cable decoder.  This is useful in a few situations at that occur at home:

  1. Watching the news on a local broadcast while watching a show on another channel or cable and vice versa.
  2. Watching horse races, while watching another show.  My dad does every Wednesday night.
  3. Watching a TV show on a local channel while watching a TV show on a cable channel.

The trend in these situations is that the majority of people are watching cable while and individual needs to watch another channel for a short time. Place shifting the TV is useful in this situation since one of the TV streams can be redirected to another device, like a notebook, computer, or even a mobile phone.

There are three options for place shifting:

  1. SlingBox
  2. Sony Location Free
  3. MythTV
  4. Windows Media Center

SlingBox

Slingbox Pro HD

SlingBox is probably the best place shifting device out there.  It has a competitive starting price of $170 and is easy to use.  It also provides a lot of client options: Computers (PCs and Macs), many mobile phones, and even streams the TV to a mobile phone or another computer over the internet.

It also comes with a remote, and it connects to many different devices including DVDs players, cable decoder boxes, DVRs, PVRs.  The SlingBox Pro HD can handle 3 different video sources, comes with a built in digital tuner and can handle stream in HD too.

The SlingBox Solo will duplicate the stream to another device at another location (hence place shifting), however it will stream to only one device only to avoid copyright infringements

However it is expensive, especially the SlingBox Pro HD, and the digital tuners they come with will not work with Hong Kong DMB/TH’s Digital TV format.  A SlingBox solo costs $170 while a SlingBox Pro HD costs $299!

I believe the SlingBox PRO down converts the video before streaming them to client.

Most place shifting devices come with the option to rewind, pause, and forward TV.  It also allows the user to switch TV channels from the remote location using the SlingPlayer’s onscreen remote.

Sony Location Free

Sony Location Free

Sony Location Free

Sony’s offering is very similar to SlingBox, however there are a few differences.  While the Location Free supports Windows and Mac, it doesn’t support many mobile phones except Windows Mobile and  Sony’s own P990i.  It does however support PSPs over wifi.  Similarly it allows one user to view TV over the internet and change the channels from a remote location using it’s Location Free software.

It is also able to handle HD inputs and can control two video input from separate sources.   Note that it down converts the HD streams before it sends them to the remote client.

CNet has a nice review comparing these two products.

The price for a Sony Location Free base station and software is reasonable at $200.

MythTV

MythTV is probably the most powerful and the most flexible out of the systems.  Stick a Digital TV Tuner card, or two, or three into a computer, load up MythTV on it and you can do amazing things.  Regarding place shifting MythTV can accept and encode TV shows and broadcast them out to any computer in the network.  It isn’t limited to one device like the Slingbox or the Sony Location Free.  A number of frontends support streaming from mythtv like XMBC also it can be configured to change the channels on any other device by using an IR blaster.  It also supports forwarding, rewinding and pausing live TV.

Best of all MythTV is free to download, and install.  It also has a huge community following all over the world so finding support is relatively easy.

However MythTV is the most complicated and the hardest to set up, it uses linux and it’s requires certain brands and models of TV Capture cards.   It is also the most expensive since it requires a computer, and a TV capture cards.  An IR blaster would be complicated too since it has to be found, bought, installed, and configured.  Slingbox’s and Sony’s offerings have IR blasters built into them and work out of the box. Even with the rise of netbooks and net box PCs like the Asus EeeBox, A MythTV solution is the most expensive costing about $300 – $500 and a lot f time.  There’s also the wiring, SlingBox and Sony provide pass through inputs, and outputs letting the wires be daisy chained, MythTV will require wiring to be spliced and split by hand meaning it could be somewhere between messy, and very messy.

Once working though, MythTV is probably the best solution.  It’s got the best quality, flexibility and options.  It even has DVR features, streaming features, music, web, games.  If used properly there is nothing better.

MythTv’s website provides details. Please visit the website for more information.

Windows Media Center

Windows Media Center is a DVR, PVR, and more, just like MythTV.  However it doesn’t really do placeshifting.  It can stream recorded shows to other computers at home but it isn’t what I am looking for.

Also it costs even more than MythTV, requiring a computer of it’s own and a copy of Windows MCE.

There is a reason why it’s in this section, it shows all the features missing from the other two solutions.  Streaming movies from the computers to the TV, support for internet TV channels.  These are features that are very useful on TV these days, it is common to burn media to discs or watch media on the TV using external hard disk.

Decision

The money I have to put into these devices isn’t worth it.  It’s not the magic bullet that will solve my problems, but it is a part of the solution. Place shifting is useful.

In the end I chose MythTV,  I can handle the complexity, I can handle the wiring, I can’t handle the cost and most of all the other two solutions can’t handle the Hong Kong’s broadcast TV spec, DMB/TH, we have.

I have an old TV Capture card lying around which I can use for capturing the Now TV STB’s since, so I don’t have to buy a card for it.  Instead I can use that money to buy a second TV capture card that handles HK’s digital DMB/TH TV.  The Asus My-Cinema USB cards that come with linux drivers.  Two Tuners means I could let two people watch TV and change the channels as they see fit, under the right conditions.  One must be watching Broadcast TV,  while the other watches Now TV.

The other two solutions won’t let place shift everyday television to the computers. The Sony Location Free doesn’t have a TV tuner.  The SlingBox does but it doesn’t support DMB/TH TV that we have here in Hong Kong.

I won’t have to buy a computer either since my linux server in the living room  handle a mythTV backend and broadcast the stream to the laptop.  The laptop and computers can use XMBC to view TV and recordings using a very professional and slick interface.

I don’t have the option to change channels on the Now TV STB like I would using SlingBox or the Location Free at the moment, but I hope to change that using an IR blaster somehow.

Part 1

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