Years ago I opened my cable bill and saw that it had gone from $70.00 when I signed up to $275.00 for the same package. I saw their advertising that they offer my package for $75.00. When I called and asked to be switched to that plan I was told because I was already a customer I couldn’t get a lower rate. It was then that I told them to drop everything except for the Internet and I started hunting around for options I could use to get live TV and what other features there was. The first place I started was just connecting an antenna. Rabbit ears get me about 12 stations. That was not bad but I thought I could do better. I wanted a larger antenna but that nice ones from the stores where pricey and VERY large. I searched online and found someone telling me how I could make one. It was very easy to make and when I connected it I got over 32 stations.
That was a great start, but I missed my ability to record shows to watch later. So the search continued. First thing I tried was already in my Windows 7, Media Center. The problem was I had to get the live TV broadcast into the computer. There is 2 options for doing this. You can get and install a tuner card in the computer. That is a working option but I had a few TVs and I would need to get a card for each one. Another option I found was HDhomeRun. It is a series of boxes that you connect the antenna to and it sends it out over your network where any computer or cell phone can watch the channels. I went with that option. The only other thing I had to get was a remote that connected to the computer. I quick search found a cheap ($11) one that worked great. I was now able to watch live TV channels, pause them so I could run for more snacks, and ever record them automatically so I could watch them later. So except for an extra computer today it would cost $117.00 for the HDhomeRun and remote.
It was time to start looking at what else Windows Media Center had. It let me add all of my music, pictures, and videos from any PC on my network, as well as a section full of plugins that we will look at later.
For a long while I was happy. I had figured out how to “rip” my DVD collection and put them on the computer so no more hunting for a DVD to watch I had them all listed. I expanded to 2 HDhomeRun units so we could watch different show on all 3 TVs we had. Them came 2015 when Microsoft announced they would drop Media Center. It was time to start the search again for a software package to replace it. The requirements I had where;
- Play, pause, record live TV from my HDhomeRun units
- scheduling automatic show recordings
- Play my music collection
- View all my photos
- List and play my ever growing collection of movies and TV series while downloading cover art and monitoring folders for new shows
- On screen weather
- All of those must be in one interface. I did not want to close one program and start another one to play something different
- Play live radio would be nice also
There is a few options for this out there
Plex is a great option. When you add a movie or show it goes out and add images, posters and full descriptions with the list of actors. It allows you view your photos, play your music as well as some online movies and news. It is one of the best programs for organizing Movies and TV series’s. In fact most every option has a plugin to Plex. On every server I have used I have added my Plex server. Another HUGE feature of Plex is that if you setup the server you can share all your files with friends and family. The only reason I did not go with this as my choice is it lacked live TV. They have added that in the past few months but for other reasons that I will talk able later I do not use this as my Media Center/ Home theater. I do keep my server up and running to this day because I do like it and use it fro sharing.
Roku is great for what it is. For my requirements it is just not a starter. I want to have everything integrated not a series of apps to run. I want things integrated in a flowing menu, like the old cable box.
I looked in to MythTV. Back then it was not for the faint of heart to install. It ran on Linux only and although it has more feature they anyone could ever want, like automatically stripping commercials from recorded TV, it was not easy to setup. I have heard it is much better now and does everything I could want. I may go back and try it out again for fun sometime and see just how well they have updated the setup wizards.
I used Mediaportal for a number of years. It is a great option for anyone who will be connecting a Windows computer to each TV. It has hundreds of plugins and skins to make it just right for you. You can watch,pause,record live tv, Play and record streaming music, all of your videos,photos, and music. It has HDMI output of your computer to the TV for smooth HD videos and audio to your TV. The only reason I switch from this is I wanted to try to get something smaller then a full Windows computer to each TV. So I switch to the next option, Kodi running on a Raspberry PI.
Kodi is my option of choice these days. It does everything MediaPortal does but it will run in a $35-$75 Raspberry PI computer that is the size of a credit card and easy to hide behind the TV. The Raspberry Pi 4 is a quad core with 4/8 gig of ram that can play 4K HD videos with easy. One difference from MediaPortal it Kodi does not have a built in TV tuner. This is not as bad as it seems. If you are using HDHomeRun you just click the HDhomeRun PVR to install it and you are running. Don’t have a HDHomeRun? No problem it has many PVR’s for different sources. One interesting one is the Simple IPTV PVR. You can connect it to many streaming services, I now use Sling TV. Now my TV guide lists all of my local channels AND all of the channels from Sling all in one area. I also had USTVNow working at one point. Thre are a few different installers that will setup the Raspberry PI in just a few clicks. The two main ones are OSMC and LibreELEC . I use both of them in our house.
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