Saturday, April 24, 2010

Media Center Development

For months now, I've been researching media centers to find the ideal setup. Here's what I'm looking for:
  • A box that plugs into my TV, with the capability of providing HD 1080p content it gets from the internet (via wifi or ethernet) or a hard drive (networked or internal), using software that is easy to navigate via a remote control (not keyboard/mouse).
  • Content must include at least: Netflix streaming, Hulu (most of which is also available from other sources), and (here's the kicker) golf 24/7. Additional content, like video podcasts and other internet video would be a plus.
  • Under $500, and no monthly fees except the internet bill.
The existing plug&play products like AppleTV and WD TV are extremely limiting in the content they provide. They are most useful to people who buy everything they watch and don't realize that there's a ton of free content available. The Boxee Box is the most enticing candidate, but it's not out yet and I'm wary for other reasons that will become clear.

So the next idea is to build a media center using an inexpensive bare-bones PC and set it to run media center software. It would be fairly easy to do, and once it's set up, I'd just have to turn it on and the software would run. But what software? XBMC, Boxee, and WMC are the most popular programs available, and as far as I know they are the most versatile.
  • XBMC is probably the most powerful, but I can't be sure because I can't figure out how to do much with it besides the basics. It's not so user-friendly.
  • Boxee is based on XBMC, but is easier to use and practically seamlessly integrates Netflix and Hulu content with local and other internet content.
  • WMC requres some hacks, but it will run Boxee and Hulu Desktop and it has the added feature that it can act as a DVR if you add a TV Tuner and a hard drive. It can also run Netflix. The downside is that it has to run on a Windows 7 machine, which is a little more expensive and a lot more annoying. I tried it out at Best Buy the other day and was reminded of all the crap that goes on in Windows. Like IE and packaged software you can't get rid of. PITA.
So Boxee is probably my best software option, except for one thing: Golf 24/7. This is B's requirement. Golf tournaments start on Thursdays and end on Sundays, and they go all day long. Network stations (usually CBS, I think) show the weekend play for about 6 hours, and the Golf Channel shows weekday play, plus recaps. But in addition to this, he has a habit of turning on the Golf Channel at any time of day, any day of the week, and watching whatever is on. It could be an infomercial for all he cares; as long as somebody's swinging a club, he'll watch it.

Since the Golf Channel is cable, and we have to pay for it, it is no longer an option (remember, no monthly fees). Luckily, I have found this Veetle channel, called Golf Nearly 24x7:



Veetle is a way for people to broadcast their own TV channel live over the internet. This channel seems to be some guy who picks his favorite golf event of the moment and broadcasts it. If the PGA tour is on the Golf Channel, that's what he shows. If it's on CBS, he shows that. It includes all the commercials as well, and it's very good quality, so it's just like watching it on TV, which is what B is looking for. (Commercials don't bother him nearly as much as they bother me.)

To view it in a browser, you need a simple plug-in (like Flash or Silverlight, but not). But how do I get it to play in Boxee? That's where I'm lost. Boxee has all these apps, like plug-ins, for viewing various content. (Like, to watch stuff on Netflix, you have to install the Netflix app.) It's easy to do, but there isnt one for Veetle. People have asked for it, but there doesn't seem to be any development going on.

So I suppose I'm still looking for a solution. Any help would be appreciated.

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