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What Happened to Media PCs?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the gone-the-way-of-the-laser-disc dept.


timrichardson writes to tell us that Slate is asking what happened to the promises of a living room PC? The lack of any news at Apple's WWDC prompted the author to look at the promises made at the Consumer Electronics Show a la Viiv and other "uber-consoles" in addition to the launch of Apple's downloadable videos and "couch-surfing remote." While some pundits blame the state of the technology this article claims that the PC and the TV provide two very different roles that aren't going to converge anytime soon.

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Demand (5, Insightful)

jazir1979 (637570) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864034)

I think the demand simply isn't there, I wouldn't blame the technology. The majority of people wouldn't see the point, or understand the possibilities. Many people still struggle with TV remotes...

By and large, people want to spend money on their plasma displays, not "uber-consoles".

Re:cost...cost...cost...cost...cost (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864123)

I completely agree, this is spot on. I think the real reason is cost. Most people do not have HDTV. Very few actually have a LCD or plasma. Most individuals are just beginning to move to flat CRT technology. There really is a fundamental disconnect between most of America (world) and the technologically informed.

If they don't have these technologies, do you think they will have a DVR. Yes, but only if it is provided by their cable company. Tivo is too expensive and Media Center is way out of range. People that do have them are unlikely to use them because of the possibility of lightning damage (its an expensive computer)

Re:Demand (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864165)

Not true. Well, not if my recent experience is anything to go by. Like many of the rest of you I suppose, I get frequent requests to help friends and neighbors buy a PC. More and more I am getting the older generation asking me for the following:

1) A small quiet set-top box type PC
2) Records cable/terrestrial TV to HD like a TIVO/VCR
3) Has a simple kiosk type menu with a remote
4) Low power so it can be always on
5) Does internet radio
6) (*and very tellingly added as a last afterthought) Can browse the web

Since I cannot buy such a device I build and configure them myself. I use P4/celeron mini-itx boards, a good TV/capture card, 300GB SATA drives,
The OS I build (by hand, though I now have an image I burn) is a minimal GNU/Linux based on LFS which is similar to distributions like Dynebolic. It has low latency kernel, carefully tuned disk access using hdparms and carefully tweaked afs for very large file support. I buy the cases from a custom manufacturer in the UK and they are built for very low noise and low temperature operation using a rear external heatsink.

In the last month I have had requests for 5 such devices, not much you may think, but a year ago nobody wanted such a thing. What I think has happened is that the demand is there, it's been planted in peoples minds that that's what a PC should do. All the hype by major corps has led to widespread disappointment because they can't deliver what they promised, and it's left to us independent hackers to come up with the reality.

I'm not complaining though :) I expect to get double the orders next month, and I will rinse out this situation while the going is good. It won't last forever, I expect within a year Sony or somebody will deliver what I am building now at a fraction of the cost in a stylish plastic box. On the other hand maybe it will be so crippled that my customers will keep coming back for more of the real deal.

Re:Demand (1)

jazir1979 (637570) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864337)

I am surprised, but I'll take your word for it - that's very interesting.

Go the independent hacker!

Re:Demand (5, Insightful)

nmb3000 (741169) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864174)

I think the demand simply isn't there, I wouldn't blame the technology.

That's a big part of it I think, though I believe that the demand for what media PCs offer exists; however, instead of buying a PC that's dedicated to the TV, I think consumers are going more for the TiVo-like boxes which offer most functionality for fewer dollars and simpler setup. I can attest that there's less a chance that grandma will bork the TiVo than the Windows Media Center PC.

In addition, I'd bet that most people (except those geeks among us with a few extra computers laying around who know about extras like old video game ROMs, MythTV, weather forecasts, etc.) would just assume leave the PC out of the family/entertainment room. By placing it elsewhere it means that somebody can use the computer without monopolizing the TV and vice-versa. Until it becomes standard to have two new computers in the average home, I think you'll continue to see a separation of PC and TV.

Re:Demand (2, Interesting)

johnnyringo (202714) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864198)

Demand? Aren't the majority of Dell consumer machines set with media center edition? so do most (alright, maybe a little more than half)laptops from all manufacturers? Apple, once they solve movie DRM, will announce something, perhaps at their product event (not the recent developer conference).

I personally own a media center box in addition to my main pc. I love it. looks fantastic, works better than other options out there, and the interface is really top-notch. It's probably the only think I like from Microsoft. And I love it...

Re:Demand (1)

treak007 (985345) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864263)

Aren't the majority of Dell consumer machines set with media center edition
Yes, you are right, almost any computer nowadays bought from any major OEM comes with Xp media center instead of Xp home. However that only provides the capability for people to use their machine as a media center, it does not mean that people will actually use it as one. I doubt that most average people even know that their computer can be used to watch tv and such.

Re:Demand (2, Interesting)

Al Dimond (792444) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864390)

So the demand isn't there but you wouldn't blame the technology? What else could be to blame? You don't blame the market when a product fails, you blame the product for being wrong for the market. It doesn't matter if "media center" PCs are technological marvels (they're not), if they're not well-suited to the task at hand they'll just get in the way of users that want a truly intuitive experience. That would make them bad technology.

Remember the article that was posted here earlier comparing the virtues of an ancient Apple Newton and a brand-new, slightly larger gadget that runs full WinXP? Sure, WinXP gives you a lot more possibilities than the Newton's OS, but for most of the things you actually want to do with a PDA the software written strictly for the purpose lets you be much more efficient. The "standard" media components like DVD/VHS players and television sets give people an intuitive, focused and reliable interface. They may be less fancy, but they're still better technology for most media-consuming people.

Duh! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864035)

Nobody surfs porn in the living room!

Worldwide DEVELOPER Conference (4, Informative)

dduardo (592868) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864038)

It wasn't shown for the same reason new ipods weren't shown: they are consumer products. Wait for Macworld.

Simple (5, Interesting)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864044)

Computer = active entertainment.
TV = Passive.

TV in the home is essentially radio with pictures. When's the last time you made a point to listen to a radio program, and only listen to a radio program in your home? I'd stop everything when I was younger to listen to Royal Canadian Air Farce or my tapes of Eclectic Circus, but other than that.

Computer's can't do that. Even the most banal of websites requires more of your attention than a TV show or radio, and then there's gaming, which is a 100% immersive, active experience.

Don't give Microsoft some ideas! (0, Troll)

jkrise (535370) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864105)

Computer = active entertainment.
TV = Passive.

Soon, Ballmer might introduce the Active TV platform, integrated with Craptive Directrory, and allow TV viewers to download Service Packs! Clippy will make an appearance as well: "It appears you'we watching porn.. Should I do an autobackup? Email it to your MSN a/c? Tell your Daddy? Invite your boyfriend? ...

The last thing MS would like to do is to annoy home users, who haven't heard of them.. yet, in a negative way. Who else will they target with Vista? Corporate don't install until Service Pack 2.

Re:Simple (1)

ichigo 2.0 (900288) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864156)

Huh? Just play a video file or audio file, voilà, passive entertainment. And what does websites and gaming have to do with media PCs (which are PCs that come with Windows Media Center edition, a updated version of WinXP with a UI that has DVD-playerlike simplicity for playing video and audio)?

Oh, you didn't RTFA and didn't even know what a media PC is? Nevermind, carry on.

Re:Simple (2, Informative)

mlush (620447) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864327)

Computer = active entertainment.
TV = Passive.

Are you saying that active entertainment on a TV won't sell? I understand games consoles are quite popular

TV in the home is essentially radio with pictures. When's the last time you made a point to listen to a radio program, and only listen to a radio program in your home? I'd stop everything when I was younger to listen to Royal Canadian Air Farce or my tapes of Eclectic Circus, but other than that.

Now you really have lost me are you now are you saying that people don't want to record TV? Don't want to be able to pause a live TV program while they answer the telephone or see what little Jimmy's crying about?

Computer's can't do that.

I suppose your right computers can't watch the TV for you but they can record it and timeshift it

Even the most banal of websites requires more of your attention than a TV show or radio, and then there's gaming, which is a 100% immersive, active experience.

anything that involves reading text of a screen 10 -15 feet away is going to suck... So browsing websites and email is the least of a Media PC's functions

  • timeshifting TV and Radio
  • Acting as a Media Jukebox for organizing, storing and playing MP3, video, photos and DVD images
  • Play DVDs, CDs etc
  • Streaming sound and video from the web
  • Games console
  • Email would suck but video conferencing would be very nice
  • Surfing .. perhaps

IMHO the problem is that there just a bit too expensive and there not quite as good as a set of dedicated devices..... Hmmm thats not it <Deletes next paragraph justifying that statement> .. in the public mindset (and to be honest I'd rather agree) PCs are horrible complex things that are hard to use and crash all the time. Not like thoes nice consoles are nice and easy you just plug them in and they work. You can play DVDs on them now, wouldn't it be nice if I could timeshift TV and stream webradio and TV....

Thank God! (2)

The Snowman (116231) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864046)

I always hoped this idea would die a horrible death. First, because SDTV offers horrible resolution and the image is so blurry it's useless as a PC. Second, the interface sucks, and even with a wireless keyboard, it just doesn't work for most people in the living room. Even with a HDTV and wireless devices, it's more of a niche role.

I think the console game systems fill this niche, but not in the "living room PC" sense of the word. We have devices that offer living room gaming, DVRs, but not a "computer on the TV." Thank God! Every effort so far has sucked, not just because of its own merits (e.g. WebTV) but because the two ideas just don't mesh well. Maybe they will later on, but it's nothing I'll hold my breath for.

What happened to MP3 phones? (4, Insightful)

Kawahee (901497) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864047)

What happened to the MP3 phones? They lost out to devices that can do the job better and cheaper. The same with media PC's. Given the size restrictions, media PC's performance are heavily watered down and harder to interface with (a remote that gives you little control or a mouse on a couch), so when you expect a full on media experience you instead get a mediocre one. You could buy a decent home theater system that's more powerful for around the same price, sans PC functionality.

Re:What happened to MP3 phones? (4, Interesting)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864062)

Actually, while MP3 phones have flunked the general market, enthusiasts have totally bought into it. I can't count the number of mobile-nut friends I have that drool over their W810's. The early-gen MP3 phones really really sucked, but the W810 has a really slick interface (and an airplane mode... hint hint Motorola) and it's quite nice to have an integrated device done RIGHT.

Re:What happened to MP3 phones? (1)

jroysdon (201893) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864207)

You mean like the Kyocera Slider Remix [] ? Add on stereo headphones [] that let you talk to callers as well (and automatically mute your music when you answer a call), plus 512mb [] of storage for all that music and pictures (1.3megapixel is kinda fun on a phone).

Re:What happened to MP3 phones? (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864266)

The same with media PC's. Given the size restrictions, media PC's performance are heavily watered down and harder to interface with (a remote that gives you little control or a mouse on a couch), so when you expect a full on media experience you instead get a mediocre one.

Mostly true. I've built a few media PCs and tried out the different packages available, including Windows Media Center, MythTV and a couple of the apps that came with the DTV cards. They worked, but not the way an appliance works - there'd be delays responding to the remote, some pictures or videos wouldn't play, there were sound or vision glitches when the OS decided it had more important things to do than let me watch my movie, etc etc. Pretty much what we've all grown to expect from the computing industry, but annoying when you want a seamless experience.

I (and the friends I built the boxes for) put up with their foibles because the advantages were enough to make it worthwhile. We're dumping the Media PCs now though, because we can buy things like these networked DVD players that do the job like an appliance [] for less than A$500. The PCs are all being repurposed back into desktop machines, and movies are being stored on the server.

Re:What happened to MP3 phones? (3, Insightful)

dabadab (126782) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864275)

I do not know in which parallel universe do you live but in this one MP3 phones are here to stay. Most of the newer phones are capable of playing back mp3 and can be expanded with memory cards, SE's Walkman line goes strong, Nokia also have a "musicphone" in their N-series (and (almost?) all the S40 and higher phones are capable of mp3 playback).
So, mp3 phones are quite well, thank you.

Re:What happened to MP3 phones? (2, Informative)

row1 (930208) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864352)

MP3's are just waiting for the west to get decent hardware. In Japan most people don't bother with iPods, most phones have 4GB+ MP3 Storage, and you get them for free/cheap.

Re:What happened to MP3 phones? (2, Informative)

Tim C (15259) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864381)

What happened to the MP3 phones? They lost out to devices that can do the job better and cheaper.

While that may be true of the US, here in the UK mp3-capable phones are pretty common. I commute daily on the (London) Underground, and a fairly large proportion of people listening to music are doing so on their phone.

Hell, I have an iRiver, and am still very tempted by a phone that can play mp3s, although I have a specific reason - I go clubbing most Saturday nights, and listen to music on the way there to get in the mood and on the way home to stay awake (the club kicks out at 7:30am). If I use my iRiver, I have to put it in the cloak room, and while I've not had anything stolen yet, there's always the chance it'll happen. My phone, on the other hand, stays in my pocket. (I could buy a small, solid-state player, but then I'd have more crap in my pockets...)

TV out (4, Interesting)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864049)

While I agree with TFA that people simply aren't ready to turn PCs into TVs and vice versa, maybe they're overly harsh on the Mac. It doesn't have video in/out features, nor do any Macs have integrated TV tuners... The remote is the only media-center-esque feature on the Macs, but that hardly means Apple meant to make it a media center machine.

The problem is really one of cost and usability. An HTPC costs too much. When confronted with the option of the $100 set top box provided by the cableco vs. a $600 HTPC, what is the obvious choice for the average user? Not to mention the set top box is plug and play, and requires no finangling with software (or God forbid, Windows).

I'm sure many home users would love to have the power of MythTV, but until we can build a MythTV box for $300 and make it plug-and-play and config-free, it simply won't take off in the mainstream.

Re:TV out (2, Insightful)

montyzooooma (853414) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864365)

"I'm sure many home users would love to have the power of MythTV, but until we can build a MythTV box for $300 and make it plug-and-play and config-free, it simply won't take off in the mainstream."

And it has to be the same form factor as the rest of our AV gear. Some of the so-called HTPC cases out there are a joke. Traditional sized desktops with a shiny finish and some extra flashing lights. Not what I want to be setting onto my AMP, under my amp, where the hell do I put it??

'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (4, Insightful)

Jarnis (266190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864050)

Dunno about other markets, but in Finland name brand media PCs keeled over and died due to immense suckage of Windows Media Center Edition.

- No official support for DVB-C cards (large chunk of the country gets TV using cable, and DVB-C), cutting down potential market
- No support for DVB subtitling (used by finnish national broadcasting company YLE), decimating the leftover market
- Generally crappy DVB support - and analog transmissions end next year over here
- Horrendously complicated install on selfbuilt systems (whitebox PCs are more common over here than in many other countries) coupled with difficulties in actually obtainining MCE legally without buying an OEM system.

Most 'Media PCs' built over here tend to be selfbuilt, using linux or WinXP with separate software, and it's non-trivial to set one up, so they are still a niche market.

I'm sure the big name OEMs will try again when they get Vista with MCE features, and proper DVB-T/DVB-C and DVB subtitling support.

Re:'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (3, Informative)

lightknight (213164) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864116)

True, there are many issues that you will encounter when setting up a Media PC. Least of all, Windows XP Media Center Edition. I mean, I know MS is trying, in that they are trying to provide both a fully usable computer that runs all of the Windows software, and an easy to use software that seamlessly integrates with your other AV equipment. But putting aside MS's issue, let's explore why Media PCs are not a popular hardware buy.

First of all, you need hardware aside from the PC itself for a media experience. A 27" TV and $50 Wal-Mart speakers are not going to cut it: this setup would be worse than a PC with a real monitor and computer speakers. You need some real hardware, at least a 40" screen (I have a 65" screen), although you can get away with a smaller LCD screen (DLP, Plasma, and Projection need to be larger as their pixel density tends to be lower, although HDTV is helping out here). So, that will run you at least a $1000 (assuming you get a nice screen, not bargain basement). You also need speakers. Hooked up to a receiver. Think at least Dolby 5.1 surround sound, with a decent set. Probably about $500.

So that's $1500 right there, and you're not even up to the PC yet.

But assuming you already have the above (I'd love to see Dell selling big screen TVs and surround sound setups with Media PCs: "Buy now, and get $100 off that 70" Mitsubishi DLP today!" -> right, that'll sell, you come to the PC. And a decent Media PC (running Windows), needs slightly more expensive hardware than a standard budget PC. Basically, you are bulding a pimped out gamer's machine, as no one is going to buy a Media PC to "check their email." They'd get a budget PC.

Start off with the latest and greatest ATI All-in-Wonder. That can cost at least $300, usually more towards $500. Sorry, Nvidia can't compete with ATI in the multimedia realm. Not yet, anyways. People are going to want to play games, and impress their friends. And you need that video input/output functionality. Sure, you could use seperate cards, but this solution is more elegant.

Next, sound card. Whatever Turtlebeach or Soundblaster offer from idrange on upwards (need something nice to drive those 6 speakers, and to provide 3D audio without taxing the processor).

Processor and memory need to be something decent. Thinking dual core, with at least a GB of ram. Hard disk at least 300GB, for all those movies (you've downloaded) you'll want to watch.

Keyboard/Mouse-> Logitech or MS, Wireless (bluetooth, more range), USB.

DVD writer (because).

Case -> something stylish. Common failing here, most Media PC cases are horrible to look at, work with, or upgrade. Something slick, that is easily upgradeable, but easy to work with.

Add all this up, and you have a fairly expensive PC. Sure, you could swap in cheaper components, or argue that you could get by with some of the onboard stuff, but this is a MediaPC, something that is a PC that works well with Media. And multimedia traditionally requires both horsepower and space.


Re:'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (3, Interesting)

PDAToday (661417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864181)

Actually you don't need an uber system for Windows MCE. Intel makes a great 945 chipset Media Edition motherboard index.htm/ [] as do a couple of other vendors. You can get a DVI daughter card for less than $50 for your digital out, but I even skipped that for a better solution.

I have my MCE server set elsewhere in the house and use my XBOX as the head unit that's plugged into my home theater system. It was really easy to do and now I don't have to pay a monthly subscription fee to Replay or Tivo anymore.

The original XBOX 1 worked just OK at this but the XBOX 360 really shines as a MCE extender providing in Microsoft's promise of being a home entertainment I'm not kidding, I was really amazed at how I could play Uno on Live, listen to music from my MP3 collection and them jump out to watch a recorded TV show, all from my remote control.

My MCE server has a dual tuner card and several hard drives set up as RAID5 using the Intel motherboard. I also have two HDTV OTA cards but have not had a chance to get an HD antenna hooked up yet so I use those cards for my security cameras.

The whole thing was easy to build and set up and it integrates into my home theater very nicely.

Re:'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (1)

shawb (16347) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864225)

I'd love to see Dell selling big screen TVs and surround sound setups with Media PCs: "Buy now, and get $100 off that 70" Mitsubishi DLP today!
Why would Dell sell Mitsubishi TVs when they have their own brand? []

Case -> something stylish. Common failing here
I agree, a standard beige case or even fancy brushed aluminum job with standard mods of flashing LED fans etc would be horribly out of place. I'm thinking something along the lines of the Mac Mini form factor would be about right. Different enough looking to distinguish it from other components, but not incredibly garish so as to steal visual focus. Oh, and the computer should be extremely quiet. Granted, you'd really want to step up the hardware inside, and add space for a few more inputs (Cable/sattelite, various video game consoles... Digital Camera/camcorder input would probably be best done through USB, etc.) Would make the most sense to have the audio amplifier as a seperate unit to allow for better heat dissipation, upgrade path and of course budgets and taste... But I still think the form factor and industrial design of the case is appropriate. It could even go a bit wider to mimic other standard components. But overall it really wouldn't make sense to have a media center computer without at the very minimum having the ability to act as a master switch box. Although I suppose an external switch box controlled by the media center PC via USB/Firewire via drivers or a standard interface shouldn't be TOO kludgy.

But the big problem in my mind with a large scale media box is more political than technical. Getting media companies to approve any new format that would be designed to pass through essentially a commodity PC would involve locking the whole thing down with a lot of DRM to prevent unauthorized recording and subsequent sharing They would probably demand some encrypted codec that is only unscrambled by a trusted (by the media companies) device built into the monitor itself (regardless of where you stand on the moral issues, most people should be able to agree that it would be difficult to get the large media companies to agree to just let this happen.)

Sorry if I rambled a bit... it's late and I'm waiting for my laundry to finish.

Re:'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (2, Informative)

labnet (457441) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864298)

You make it sound much more complicated and expensive than it is.

We run the following.
42" Teac plasma ($2500) (prices AUD /2 for usd (I exch rate is .75 but you guys also have higher volume))
Shuttle SB86i SBC with 512MB Ram, 2.8MHz Celeron!, GEForce 6200 (DVI out) ( ($200)
A logitec wireless mouse/keyboard (?? $60)
Win XP Home but not running media centre. We run DNTV live which seems very stable.

So we use it for: free to air digital TV, music, recording, basic net browsing, photos.
The digital tv is stunning (probablly because its a totally digital path).
We can record and watch tv at the same time.. or record two shows at the same time.

Even my wife is able to use it!
So in our experience, it is a winner.

Re:'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (2, Informative)

dabadab (126782) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864322)

Actually, a decent home infrastructure could ease it all and I guess the specs you quote are way off.
So, if you have a server in the basement then the media PC does not have to have a HDD at all that cuts down a lot of the price (not just the HDD itself, but you also do not have to worry about cooling it and reducing its noise).
For sound card, the onboard one or a $10 CMI-8738 based one will do absolutely fine, as you are going to use the SPDIF connection.
Processing power needs are absolutely minimal: an XBOX with its 700 MHz almost-PIII has more than enough power for anything SD. HD requires more, but since newer graphic cards can help with video decoding, you still can get away with an older Pentium M.
Also, playing games on your HTPC is not that wise: we are building a media PC, not a console. I know that you want everything, right now, but one must draw the line somewhere.
So, all in all, building a media PC is not that expensive - or, if you want it really cheap, then pick up an Xbox for under $100, softmod it, install XBMC on it and you are good to go.

Re:'Windows MCE sucked' is what happened (1)

scottnews (237707) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864364)

Here is my "Media PC"
1.13 GHz Pentium 3
256 MB RAM
remote keybaord with a built in pointing device
Windows 2000
The whole system costs less than $300.00

We watch recorded TV shows, downloaded with uTorrent
We also use it as the central repository for our home movies and photos

No web surfing - No email

Video goes out through an ATI Radeon 7000's DVI port to the TV's HDMI port.

What I'm waiting for is a low power motherboard with integrated graphics that can decode h.264 at 720p - the technology is too new for that.

CODECs (3, Insightful)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864054)

Too many of them.

Most video files are problematic.... they uses wrappers (AVI, QT) so most people throw any CODEC they feel like using (DivX 3 for video, VBR MP3 for audio even though the AVI specs don't really allow it AFAIK) and we end up with a mess of incompatible files unless you install 500 different CODECs.

Screw AVI, screw Quicktime. Use MPEG-4/H.264 and AAC. Depending on the video size, bitrate and all, they can play on OS X, Windows, Linux, PSP, GBA (with Play-Yan micro), PDAs, etc.

Thanks in advance.

Re:CODECs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864073)

Channels aren't sent down the wire in QuickTime on channel 37, DivX on channel 55, and H.264 on channel 63. The way Media Center PCs work is they use a TV tuner card to take in a TV signal and display it on the screen. In the case of Windows Media Center Edition the stream is converted to MPEG-2 as it's brought in--you only need one codec, and it will come with the computer if you buy it from an OEM.

If you're bright enough to download movies illegally in a bunch of different formats requiring a bunch of different codecs, then you want your media center PC to play it all, you're bright enough to figure out how to make it work.

Re:CODECs (0)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864138)

Listen, AC, I'm not an idiot. I know that cable/satellite TV doesn't send DivX and QuickTime files to your decoder... But the CODECs mess is still a part of a multimedia computer. Look at MP3 as a standard audio format. These files can be played in about 50K different devices. Now, imagine the same thing for video files... If the computer connected to your TV could spit out (and play back) a video file format as standard as MP3, we'd have those computers everywhere, just like MP3 compatibility today.

Of course, the official DivX standard is now available in a lot of places, but it's still in a crappy AVI wrapper... Hopefully the H.264/AAC usage we see in broadcasting will trickle down to the consumer level soon enough.

Re:CODECs (1)

nmb3000 (741169) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864220)

Most video files are problematic.... they uses wrappers (AVI, QT) so most people throw any CODEC they feel like using (DivX 3 for video, VBR MP3 for audio even though the AVI specs don't really allow it AFAIK) and we end up with a mess of incompatible files unless you install 500 different CODECs.

This used to be true, though I think it's becoming slightly less of a problem. Most content I get/make anymore uses MPEG-4 Part 2 (DivX or XviD in an AVI container--no fault in that). Personally my problem is with the new codecs you speak of. I hate needing to open Quicktime to play a video because Quicktime sucks on Windows. Worse yet is anything that needs something like Nero ShowTime to play because the program's UI blows.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a standard container for video and audio like AVI. In fact, it's very nice because it makes it easy to develop applications to read and write the video. I'd rather have a dozen codecs than a dozen different file formats for video.

I think two of the best video codecs right now are MPEG-4 Part 2 and WMV9 (better of the two IMO) because both are pretty standard and easily available on all platforms. Until MPEG-4 Part 10 becomes more common and the better hardware needed to play it is more common, those two will continue to be choice. CBR MP3 is a good choice for audio because it's good quality, doesn't suffer skew problems, and is cake to decode.

Re:CODECs (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864332)

needing to open Quicktime to play a video ... needs something like Nero ShowTime to play

Ah yes. The good old days. Luckily we have codec packs [] , and all I need anymore is Media Player Classic.

Re:CODECs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864346)

WMV9 is not readily available for anything besides Windows - the support I've found on Linux is shaky at best, and OS X users need to download from a third party (Flip4Mac).

You don't need Quicktime on Windows to decode h.264 - VLC decodes it just fine.

Re:CODECs (1)

aichpvee (631243) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864285)

Why bother with AAC? And you can't even make AAC files on Linux. Go h.264+FLAC in MKV.

Re:CODECs (1)

mochan_s (536939) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864339)

That's the whole point of the media PC; to play whatever format. Otherwise they'd all be in the DVD format and your DVD player could play it.

Re:CODECs (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864369)

It is indeed a problem, but I've rarely had a video file that VLC couldn't handle. Of course, VLC doesn't really solve the problem, it just puts the problem in the hands of the VLC developers rather than the user. But it does make it easier for consumers.

Well the problem is (1)

IlliniECE (970260) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864058)

The crux of the matter is content. This is why the jury's still out on Viiv. Until now, online content has been rather cruddy, in large part due to Hollywood's fears (probably legit) of movie piracy. Until we see some serious revolution in content, the PC will not be the center of your living room. The kind of content that would make systems like Viiv strong contenders would have to be dual PC-movie theater releases... Don't see this happenin' too soon

Re:Well the problem is (1)

Com2Kid (142006) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864110)

For the average consumer, yah, pretty much.

But for the average /. nerd, even if they want to be completely 100% legal about it, with what HD sizes are now days, just copying DVDs straight over to the HD is a good option.

For the record, Microsoft actually has a TON of content deals that you are offered when you buy a MCPC, some of them are rather good too, I never got too far into it, because, you know, they cost money. :-D

With what a good entertainment system cost now days, I think that if movies were prices decently (say $4 to watch a new release), then for anybody who is a serious movie buff, it might become economical to buy a home theater system and pay for new release movies.

The current insane price of movie rentals online pretty much rules this out though. I am not really willing to pay around $20 for two people to see a movie in a theater (especially since many theaters now days have screens that are so small that I know I could do better at home!), and even more if I want to eat during said movie.

2 movies a month, at $30 per movie (food and such), $60 per month (not counting any other expenses associated with going to the movies, babysitter if couple has a child and such), that is 720 per year. Assuming a good theater system lasts at LEAST three years, that would give you around 2100 to make a home theater system. Hmm, not quite there yet, if TV prices drop a bit more or movie ticket prices go up, heh.

Any body who builds their own LCD projector and loud speakers need not apply, you already have a kick'in theater setup. :)

Living Room PCs Don't Do HDTV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864060)

Living room PCs with the media software (this includes the ATI All-in-wonder line of products) don't deal with HDTV. I can't get a DVD-rom drive that upconverts DVDs to the HDTV. I can't get a HDrom for the computer, and unless I go with a brand name build even if I got my hands on a HDrom it wouldn't work on the PC. Not to mention the HDrom software would keep trying to phone home to mother.

Now a bedroom media PC, that I have.

Re:Living Room PCs Don't Do HDTV (1)

Com2Kid (142006) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864084)

Many modern HDTVs can accept either RGB or DVI inputs. Some even support Firewire!

Don't look for your video card to connect to our TV, look for your TV to support your video card!

Recording sucks, but that has been covered on /. before.

Re:Living Room PCs Don't Do HDTV (1)

loraksus (171574) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864147)

DVI to hdmi cables/adapters can be bought for pretty cheap off monoprice and a couple other online stores, virtually every new tv has a hdmi port.
Pretty much everything on the computer end ships with dvi nowadays (heck, i got a motherboard with onboard dvi).
Nice and easy now...

Re:Living Room PCs Don't Do HDTV (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864112)

Living rooms don't do HD, period. Marketshare of HD-TV is still way too low to use that as your argument.

Re:Living Room PCs Don't Do HDTV (2, Interesting)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864209)

A good many computer programs seem to be designed around a minimum resolution of 1024*768-- a coarser resolution can mess up the layout, or crowd user elements together. 1024*768 is far beyond what a standard definition TV can deliver, and the SVideo interface doesn't help. A modern HDTV offers (typically) 1366*768 resolution and HDMI (which can be converted from DVI with a simple dongle). It's a natural fit. And if the screen is large enough, you may not have to use a bigger font.

The HDTV market share is larger than you might think. Some (perhaps naively) predict 25% market penetration.

Re:Living Room PCs Don't Do HDTV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864271)

The DVD drive on my computer doesn't upconvert my DVD titles to HDTV resolution because it doesn't do any of the decoding. The CPU and the graphic card, on the other hand, work together to decode and upconvert my movies to HDTV format if I set my PC's resolution to match the screen's own resolution. As a bonus, I get more control on the decoding and upconversion process. I can also add postprocessing.

Until Corporates "get" oss it will never happen (3, Interesting)

DNAtsol (678504) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864065)

Content. Content. Content. Just like in real estate (location location location) these are the three things media corps care about the most. Until they make it easy (i.e., open standardized protocols) for information to be moved around, any media center is going to be locked in to proprietary difficult to use formats and only /. esque users will really be able to take advantage of these possibilities. The average user will never pay for something they need to spend more than 5 min trying to get to work. Trying new approaches to media delivery and exchange is veerrryy scary for corps that think their livelihood depends on "owning" the rights of Green Acres and Two's Company.

Already doing it with a normal PC? (2, Funny)

X-Bahamut (623007) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864067)

Ehh. I have an LCD monitor setup where a TV would be in my living room. It's used as a computer when I'm alone, generally. And as a TV when guests are over. Or when I want to watch something from the couch. Just move the damn desk chair. :P You don't need a remote to have a TV, you couch potatos. :P And in any case, you can buy them for PC.

I'd rather have a laptop (5, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864069)

For computing in the den, give me a laptop.

For my entertainment-center, give me a DVR or something similar.

Sure, they are both computers on the inside, but for most "computing" tasks like email, office work, etc. I'd rather use a laptop or desktop, not stare at a screen several meters away.

I can think of one major exception: anything that involves two people sharing a single physical display, such as videoconferencing or playing a multi-player game.

Apple didn't announce it at this particular WWDC.. (1)

fredistheking (464407) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864074)

so it not going to happen? Seriously, this is going to happen one way or another. Just because the PC might not be used for browsing the web doesn't mean we won't see in in some form. Its already here if you consider a Tivo.

Wait a year (1)

azav (469988) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864081)

Wait a year.

Apple is poised to make the Mini an on demand movie replacement for your TV.

Re:Wait a year (1)

dfghjk (711126) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864284)

Right, with the mini's copious high-performance disk capacity and expandability.

Nothing like trumpeting the mini's superiority based on its size only to have to add two or more external boxes to enable media pc functionality.

How's OS X gonna play WM10 drm'ed files? It's not, but MCE can play the QT ones. Sorry, but the mini just ain't it for a media pc. Until the mac can play all available content AND offer a machine with suitable capacity / capability that is quiet and appropriate for the living room, Apple is out of the game.

$100 computer for your television (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864086)

Nothing new [] to see here. Move right along.

Re:$100 computer for your television (1)

grolschie (610666) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864378)

Hey, I've got one of these! With the 16kB expansion pack too! It just doesn't do HDTV, or video, or colour even, for that matter. :-)

Old Idea (1)

Cadallin (863437) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864088)

The Media Computer, "Convergence," and computers in the living room have been around forever. I can remember reading about them and how they would "change everything" in articles about CES and Computex in 1992. Same with FMV, remember that? While arguable the technology to make it viable arrived in about 2004 or so (See MythTV) the consumer demand really isn't there. I mean it really isn't there. When's the last time anyone used any of the "Special Features" on a DVD, I don't mean the scene selections and what not, I mean the interactive stuff that touted years back.

Its just a matter of the average buyer not being technologically literate enough to drive demand. It's the blinking 12 problem. Turn on, Tune in, Drop out. If you want one, there's nothing stopping you from rolling your own. Or if you have the cash, you can pay thousands more and get pre-assembled and set-up. But don't expect any of the this stuff to ever go mainstream, hell TiVo is a hard enough sell already, and the advantages there ought to be blindingly obvious (It's a VCR that'll automatically record your favorite shows!)

Re:Old Idea (1)

vision864 (712184) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864130)

No Its a Fuckin VCR that i have to pay a monthly sub on, Give me a Hard disk and a monday - friday timer. and Get out of my wallet.

Re:Old Idea (1)

hpavc (129350) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864197)

That timer a very limited scope of what tivo does.

It's quite simple... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864096)

Absolutely nobody wants to give up enough control to make the media-center PC practical (therefore possible).

Media companies are scared that you can edit out commercials, make copies, etc. Tech companies are scared to death of being sued by the media companies, and also trying their hardest to get the kind of propritary lock-in with media files that Microsoft has with Windows.

The open source projects are actually doing alright, but it's a lot of work to set-up. Get a good source for XMLTV, and start distributing user-friendly Linux distros with every possible Freevo/MythTV feature enabled (one-click DVD-mastering, etc.) in a package with a TV-tuner and remote (and possibly a videocard with TV-out) which can be plugged into any PC, and you might finally have something easy enough for more people to use. Though I think Freevo and MythTV could use a lot of design and polishing.

WWDC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864104)

The reason apple doesnt update its media center apps or computers is because WWDC is for developers as it says in the title. They announce updates that are relevant to developers, OS, Pro computers, Servers, etc. Wait for MacWorld for consumer updates.

utorrent (1)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864107)

My 2.8 GHz Windows MCE 2005 laptop runs utorrent or Azureus like a champ. Video looks fantastic on the widescreen and is easy to control with VLC. I've used the MCE functionality to record only a handful of shows directly from cable. It's easier to download than have to worry about being plugged into a cable connection. Plus there are no commercials.

Re:utorrent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864300)

Your sig is strangely appropriate to this post...

One word why media PCs don't work well (1)

SensitiveMale (155605) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864108)


not needed any more (1)

man_ls (248470) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864109)

The living room PC was an ideal in a very short period of time when PCs were powerful enough for mass-multimedia, but networking wasn't quite up to the task of delivering it remotely.

Thusly, a component formfactor PC for your entertainment rack, to rip movies onto, download music onto, etc. For one reason or another, protocols and speeds hadn't standardized to allow this to be done over a network. (Windows MCE 2004 era)

Very shortly thereafter, Windows MCE 2005 was released, and the need for a Living Room PC went away. Suddenly, there was a standardized protocol (Media Center Extender) to follow, that X-Box products as well as other standalones could implement to deliver media content remotely. You didn't need your PC to be under your television any more, you could have a smaller, quieter box down there, and whatever type of computer you wanted somewhere else.

Computers will move more and more into the television segment of things, but it won't be through direct attachment. It will be through a Linksys Set-Top Box or an X-Box 360 pulling content over a network and pushing it to the television. As the network gets more powerful, each device attached to it doesn't need to be quite as much. You only need 1 big MCE box to support a handful of Extenders, after all.

I don't agree (1)

BungeBash (971979) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864113)

"While some pundits blame the state of the technology this article claims that the PC and the TV provide two very different roles that aren't going to converge anytime soon." ; and for those that do want media from their pc to their tv, they get an xbox and mod it for far cheaper and much more reliability.

2 things : (1)

NoMaster (142776) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864115)

Firstly, they're a solution looking for a problem. Dedicated hardware works much better in this instance, even if the hardware is effectively a PC in disguise.

Secondly, current implementations suck. Apart from the initial install and extremely basic functionality, getting MCE running properly with multiple file types and codecs is almost as hard as installing and grooming MythTV - even on blessed hardware!

And why feck around with either, when I can go and buy a twin-tuner SD digital PVR for under AU$800, a twin-tuner HD digital PVR for under AU$2000, or lease a twin-tuner Pay-TV digital PVR for AU$10/mo?

Re:2 things : (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864366)

Why would you pay "a twin-tuner HD digital PVR for under AU$2000"????

Sounds STUPID to me! For half the price you could set up a PC with twin-tuner HD, that ALSO alows you to play games, watch downloaded programs, watch DVD's, AND actualy archive/store your recorded TV programs!

What do you do when you $2000 set top box fills up with recorded TV? Get out the screw driver, remove the HDD and put it in a PC so that you can burn your recorded shows??? Umm, I'd prefer the PC any day! Even with the setup/maintenance costs!

Quite simply... (2, Insightful)

loraksus (171574) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864120)

The software out there blows. Closed / open source, free, bundled or pay, none of it is very good. The tv based interfaces are clumsy at best and I have not set up a single media box where everything worked right of the box (and I've set up about 12 of them in the last few years). Always a fucking problem.
Heck, some apps STILL have issues with A/V sync and somew store the video in a retarded format like raw avi or some weird "nothing else can play this because we are twats" custom format. Don't even get me started on the joy that is setting up HD.
DVRs are much, much more attractive and people will cough up the extra few bucks to get one.

I use a hauppague card with their shitty software (and it is shitty, clumsy to use unless you have a keyboard and monitor, sucks cpu cycles when it captures to mpeg (the other formats except for raw avi never worked properly, hitting control alt delete will kill your recording, but it does record when I tell it, which is a lot more than I can say for the many other apps I've tried)

The "software" bundled with nero 7 was the last thing I tried, didn't even make it past channel detection before dying.

If you know of a good program, please post it. Showshifter was decent for a while and had promise until some company bought it and fucked it up.

Re:Quite simply... (2, Insightful)

cyberspittle (519754) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864129)

Been there, done that. That is what happened to the media PC. I think people who wnated to do it, did it. The rest never liked the idea in the 1st place. Next subject Slashdot!

Gotta consider (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864124)

First of all WWDC stands for World Wide DEVELOPER Conference. People keep asking about iPods and updated Mac minis, but they're missing the point that this isn't the place to intro new consumer goods.

Secondly, everybody is being stalled by the media companies as they try to avoid the situation the music industry is in right now. Those deals are still being worked out as we speak. The technology is ready, it's just the legal stuff holding it back.

Re:Gotta consider (1)

hpavc (129350) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864211)

Yes, a MacWorld is where we would expect a consumer item like a mac-mini+tuner device. But the marketplace wants apple to provide a solution or a rebuttle. So they present these things. For example all the "What about a Apple Tablet PC, boy I am sure they would have a creative 'done right' solution" ideas.

Nothing happened to them? (1)

bunbuntheminilop (935594) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864139)

If my distribution message boards (multimedia section) are anything to go by. There seems to be lots of people with MythTV problems, so therefore there are lots of people using it.

I'm stretching a bit and assuming that many problems means many people using it, but its more than I thought there were.

Software issues (2, Informative)

identity0 (77976) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864142)

I've tried making a 'media center' for the living room with stock PC and components, and here's where I had problems:

Controls. I still had a mouse and keyboard attached to it, and while I could have gotten a wireless set, it still would have been clunky. Someone needs to make a remote with a trackpoint and a treo- or sidekick-sized keyboard, and the regular remote features. Everthing should be controllable through a remote, without a separate KB/mouse.

Interface. Sure, I had a bunch of videos on the compuer, but it was a PITA going through explorer to find and organize things. Something like iTunes for video would have helped. This was on Windows, and I have heard good things about MythTV, though. Oh, and the resolution difference between TV and PC monitors meant everything looked unreadable or ugly on the TV.

Recording Quality. The video recording from either my Hauppage card or my ATI card were really not that impressive. I could have cranked up the resolution to DVD levels, but the motion compression still kinda sucked.

Aeshetics. Okay, this is my fault, but I had a really big beige box that was really loud next to my TV. That's wat happens when you use an old P4 tower to be your 'Media PC'. If I were to do it today, I would use the lowest-power proc I could find and one of those mini ATX cases. Most of the PC market just isn't designed to be in your living room.

On a brighter note, this is what I wish I could afford: Sony Type X Living [] - 1.5TB HDD, wireless and wired file server, 2 video tuners, DVD-RW, TV web browsing, scheduling software, HDTV compatible... If only Sony would just dump their 'media' division and have the hardware guys take over again, we could see a really good competitor to Apple in digital integration :(

I have a Media PC. (3, Interesting)

SURsys (993861) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864152)

I use my MPC for my personal music collection, radio, movies, as well as TV. It plays DVD's as would be expected and after installing the codecs also plays xvid, divx, etc. The remote I use interacts with it like a normal TV remote. Also works on the DVD menu's and such.

Realize, they're called MEDIA PC's, not TV PC's. Of course, for the average TV watcher, the cable company's set top box will work quite well, but, for those that understand the potential and have a use for it, the MPC is a big step above.

This is more of a niche than people thought it was going to be, it's not turned out so much to be for the average user. In regards to price, setup, maintenance, etc, it's just not worth it for most people.

I've got one (1)

apathyruiner (222745) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864157)

I traded a nice but old motherboard and cpu for an xbox with a broken drive. $20 modchip, $12 wireless controller, one spare hard drive, and 5 minutes of soldering later I have a great media PC. It plays back every format i've thrown at it, be it music, movie, or photo. XBMC is positively marvellous software and it's integration into my home network allows me to keep content on my PC and stream it on to my TV. The only feature I want that it lacks is a PVR.

Re:I've got one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864201)

It's somewhat ironic that the very best media PC was made by microsoft.
It's also sad that noone's copied the idea, and have even actively discouraged it.

Re:I've got one (1)

hpavc (129350) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864229)

Its not only not a PVR, but its not even a tuner right? Its just a media player and a service widgets.

Appliance (1)

robbiedo (553308) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864171)

I would hazard to guess that the Average Joe wants appliance like reliability in any PVR, and a general purpose just doesn't cut it. I have been playing with this for years. I bought the first Tivo years ago, and loved it, but it had its constraints. I have been very happy with the reliability of Beyond TV from Snapstream. I have 2 TB of drive space, and 2 Hauppauge Dual Tuners for a total of 4 tuners. Yes, it is overkill, and I will never watch all the TV I record, but I have quite the archive. Beyond TV Link is the client software which I installed on my other computers, and stream TV all over the house. The nice thing about the four tuners and Beyond TV client is the ability to independently control the server in any fashion that adds up to 4 tuners plus recorded shows. In theory four different computer can control the tuners each independently. It's very cool, and centralizes all the gear. This isn't cheap, but very cool.

what do you mean ? (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864180)

*my* computer is in the living room ...

Re:what do you mean ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864315)

yeah, and so is your kitchen and your bedroom.

-Homo (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864189)

fro8 now on or

We are indeed building them ourselves, with MythTV (5, Interesting)

Yeechang Lee (3429) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864227)

From the Slate article:
Very savvy consumers will hack together ["PC-TV hybrid"] setups themselves.

Yes, we are indeed building them ourselves. However, we are doing so primarily because we can't find what we want on sale anywhere for any price. The below is an adapted version of a recent Usenet post of mine describing what I have come to daily take for granted with my high-definition MythTV setup:
. . . MythTV works, and works well, for those who are interested in a "HD TiVo" without any of TiVo's limitations. I must admit to chuckling whenever I see a question in or elsewhere asking how to record from a HD video source with a computer in terms that make it clear the poster and the respondents view the task as something akin to cavemen discovering fire.

I work long, long hours and, when I get home, often don't have any more energy left to do more than want to just relax in front of the tube. When I do so, I want to have as much choice in what to watch as possible. Let me tell one and all of what I with 100% reliability do with my MythTV setup every day:
  • Push a button on the remote[1] to wake the 47" 1080p[2] LCD panel[3] from its DPMS slumber.
  • Pick from a gigantic library[4] of high-definition programs that MythTV constantly adds to[5] based on my choices.[6]
  • While playing the program, rewind, fast-forward, and jump to arbitrary points as desired. I can also adjust the playback speed anywhere from 0.5X to 2X without affecting audio pitch.[7]
  • I can push a button to instantly and accurately skip over commercials.[8] If I've gone too far, another button will skip me back to the previous spot.
  • If I exit a recording, the next time I watch it the playback will continue where I left off.[9]
  • If I ever need to restart MythTV, pushing a button on my remote twice within three seconds will cause it to do so.[10]
  • If I want, I can run MythTV on my MacBook and watch the exact same programs[11] with the exact same elegant and attractive user interface.[12]
  • All this time, MythTV is silently recording yet more for me to watch.[13]

If any of this intrigues you, I recommend visiting:
  • The MythTV Wiki [] and the mythtv-users mailing list archive [] , the two largest repositories of MythTV knowledge.
  • The terrific Fedora Core-based installation guide [] I used.
  • A well-regarded MythTV reference design [] for those who want to either buy it off the shelf from the vendor or build it themselves. I'm neither a customer nor an employee; all I did for my own setup was buy a Sony Pentium 4 [] system on sale at Fry's then add the video card, ATSC capture card, gigabit Ethernet card, remote, and NAS. However, in retrospect, there's something to be said [] for buying at once all the parts except the NAS in one convenient, already-integrated form.

[1] Home Theater Master MX-500 [] universal remote. I programmed it using a $30 infrared keyboard/mouse combo [] .

[2] MythTV does an *excellent* job of deinterlacing 1080i recordings into 1080p for those displays that can handle it. Any Nvidia video card from the FX5200 to the present will work.

[3] Westinghouse LVM-47W1 [] . Under $2500 from Crutchfield [] for 1080p LCD goodness.

[4] MythTV tells me that I have "242 programs, using 1.7 TB (427 hrs 33 mins) out of 1.8 TB (54 GB free)." For storage I use an Infrant ReadyNAS 600 [] with four 500GB drives.

[5] In addition to an ATSC capture card and an indoor antenna, my MythTV box has two high-definition Motorola cable boxes [] connected to it. My cable provider is one of the few that permits access to all subscribed channels, unencrypted or not, through FireWire (and, thus, why it's won my busines); unfortunately, most people have to live with only getting the FCC-mandated over-the-air channels over FireWire and the rest in lower-quality, downscaled form with the analog outputs.

[6] Thanks to the good graces of Zap2It [] , North American MythTV users have free access to the same high-quality, two-week programming data from Tribune Media that TiVo subscribers get. All Zap2It asks is filling out a brief online demographics survey every three months. Outside North America and the UK, there are screen scrapers available for generating equivalent (or so I'm told) data from online TV Websites and such.

[7] A very, very neat feature. Great for zipping through late-night talk shows.

[8] After MythTV records a program from a channel marked as having commercials, it goes through (and does a surprisingly-accurate job of) marking up commercials. Two buttons on my remote are dedicated to jumping to the next and previous commercial marks.

[9] Although I don't know why anyone would ever want different behavior, this can be customized, just as pretty much everything within MythTV can.

[10] This is more for safety's sake than anything else; in practice MythTV has proven itself to be very, very stable during the eight months I've run it, thanks in no small part to its Linux underpinnings.

[11] This is possible because MythTV uses a decoupled frontend/backend architecture; one, or multiple, backends can serve one, or multiple, frontends. My MythTV box runs both the mythfrontend and mythbackend applications and is what I normally use, while my MacBook runs mythfrontend. Recently, while awaiting my new TV (and thus leaving my main MythTV system headless), I substituted my MacBook with surprisingly-nice results, even over wireless Ethernet.

[12] There are many MythTV user-interface themes, but I think most of them are eye-meltingly revolting or, failing that, merely stupendously ugly. Two I very much like are MythCenter [] and Retro [] .

[13] My MythTV box can record from all three program sources simultaneously while also running background jobs such as scanning recordings for commercials, or converting MPEG-2 HD recordings to MPEG-4 to save space. I can also simultaneously view recordings, but for best results (i.e., avoid skips in the playback) it's best to do so when only one or two simultaneously recordings are occurring.
Now, two caveats. Many people who fail in their efforts to build a MythTV box do so because they try to use whatever parts they have left over in the closet. While this may work for standard-definition video, HD is a quantum leap ahead in terms of both video quality and necessary horsepower. You get what you pay for [] .

Yes, MythTV takes times to set up right. That said, the resources I mentioned earlier go a long way in answering whatever questions may arise. In my experience 90% of peoples' questions on the mythtv-users list have already been answered sometime in the past. Conversely, while many people swear by KnoppMyth [] , its inherent inflexibility (When I tried it it didn't support USB keyboards and mice or SATA drives!) didn't impress me.

Let me close with another quote from the article:
My tech-savvy friends who can afford anything they want set up a huge HDTV with TiVo, cable, and DVD players--then sit in front of it with a laptop on their knees. They use Google and AIM while watching TV, but they keep their 2-foot and 10-foot gadgets separate.

That's exactly what I'm doing right now, down to the laptop on the knees. Even with the wireless keyboard/mouse, trying to use the MythTV box as a computer is a pain at best; were man meant to browse the Web across a living room, God would have given him telescopic vision. With a good remote, however, and used solely as the high-definition wonder box it's meant to be, there's nothing else that comes close.

"Couch-Surfing Remote"? (1)

blake213 (575924) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864230)

I thought Couch-Surfing was sleeping on random people's couches when you don't have a place to stay.

Mine's working just fine... (1)

htnprm (176191) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864236)

Thanks for asking.

Convergence Harms the Economy (1)

cyberbian (897119) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864260)

Basic economics will hamper the convergence market:
  1. Consumer demand does not drive companies, the bottom line does. If Sony can make money selling you a 50" HDTV, they sure as hell wouldn't undermine their ability to also sell you a 21" LCD monitor to plug your VAIO into...
  2. Convergence would also hurt the sales tax grab, which supports big fathead government...
  3. Convergence hurts government in that if the companies make fewer products, there are whole sectors of the economy that would necessarily scale (read job losses, closures) to allow the corporations to remain profitable, this hurts the income tax base...

And so on... there are many factors behind the manufacturers 'inability' to properly converge these devices... really and truly they are 'protecting you', maybe not the environment, but really they are 'protecting you' from the nasty effects convergence would have...
There once was a time when mankind invented things to improve 'quality of life' but you can't tax quality of life, so there was a paradigm shift... ask Nicola Tesla... or better yet, a living innovator like Doug Engelbart. I for one am using my 'intelligence augmentor' to actually augment my intelligence. Not unlike many of my fellow /.ers.

Re:Convergence Harms the Economy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15864347)

You're seriously deranged, dude!

I'm interested (1)

grappler (14976) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864283)

I definitely want something along these lines. I have a small condo, without enough room for a nice computer setup and a separate entertainment setup. I am being won over by apple's new stuff, and while I haven't bought anything yet I think I'd really like something along the lines of their 30" cinema display (which just today got bumped from $2500 down to $2000) and a macbook pro to drive it.

I figure a display like that is great for both a computer and a tv, especially in a small place like mine. And doing double duty this way might even justify the price tag. So I come home with the laptop and connect it to the display to make a nice big home computer, life is good. Now I want to watch tv... what do I do? I can download shows on iTunes, yes. I can even connect a usb tv tuner. Apple even has a media center type application (front row) and a remote to drive it with, but it doesn't do tv channels and can't control the tuner.

We're almost there but apparently the big players are not interested enough to make it all mesh. Most people have a separate room for the tv, and aren't sufficiently interested in the possibilities of integrating it with the home pc.

Re:I'm interested (1)

tecnopa (931480) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864335)

Well from what I understand Apple is going to be releasing a version of their Airport Express (I think thats the name) wireless hub with both video and audio outputs soon. Am I the only one who thinks this would be a great product? My only concern is, would there be enough bandwidth to run HDTV along with 5.1 channel sound over 802.11g?

Wirelessly connect a laptop to the TV? (1)

Mr2001 (90979) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864286)

From TFA:
My tech-savvy friends who can afford anything they want set up a huge HDTV with TiVo, cable, and DVD players--then sit in front of it with a laptop on their knees. They use Google and AIM while watching TV, but they keep their 2-foot and 10-foot gadgets separate.

That's exactly what I do. I'd love to be able to bring some of my computer media over to the TV, but I don't want to keep a noisy PC running all the time, I don't want to string a keyboard and mouse over to my coffee table, and I don't want to string cables from my stereo to the couch and have to plug in the laptop to use it on the big screen.

Actually, it'd be great if I could just use my TV and stereo as alternate display and sound devices for the laptop... wirelessly. Plug a little box into my entertainment center, then just use some control panel on the laptop to turn the TV into a secondary desktop, and drag a media player over to it.

Even if I could just do that with audio, it'd be a step forward. (I think Bluetooth could handle the audio, but (1) Bluetooth's range is kinda small, and (2) WiFi interferes with it, and my wireless router is right next to the TV.)

Why isn't this possible yet? Or is it, and I've just overlooked it?

Depends on What You Consider a PC (1)

edward.virtually@pob (6854) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864309)

The "Media PC" may not have arrived, but set-top boxes that allow you to access digital content in your living room are slowly making progress. I bought and abandoned the ViewSonic WMA100 [] after one too many crashes of its internal operating system, wtf that is, and reading on their website faq that no, they weren't planning on any updates -- way to kiss off future business, ViewSonic -- and replaced it with the D-Link DSM-520 [] . Its internal software is also not perfect, but D-Link has been releasing updates. The vendor supplied server software may or may not be the most useful to you. ;-)

Re:Depends on What You Consider a PC (1)

medge_42 (173874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864388)

A number of UPnP PC out there.
Best? in my view it's Zensonic's z500 series. []

It died because (1)

kahrytan (913147) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864310)

  Media PCs died before they didn't come bundled with MythTV

It's somehow common in France (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864312)

Not as a computer, but several major ISP provide ADSL routers that also work as a media center (you can record ADSL TV or transfer files from your PC). It comes free with the ADSL subscription and is much more convinient than an media PC.
And yes, mine runs linux.

Maybe in the US... (1)

brucmack (572780) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864320)

I'm surprised to read that the market is struggling in the US, because it's clearly booming here. I know two guys at the office who have just bought media center boxes, and they're advertised all over the place. Maybe it's a cultural issue, not a technical one?

Copyright is the problem...the technology is there (1)

IvanTheNotSoBad (977004) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864348)

Imagine if you could just pop in a DVD, and have it automatically rip and encode so you can watch it on any TV in the house, or on your video iPod, your PSP, or your car. How about we forget about the content media altogether, and just download the movie from the internet. Well, media companies are not going to let us do this. Copyright not only prevents us from doing this, it's illegal to do so here in the U.S. (DMCA).

Have you tried Xbox Media Center? This is probably the coolest thing I have in my entertainment center. If you could add a tuner card and PVR functionality, it would be close to perfect. It's easy, any media format works, the interface is awesome, and it's not trying to control how or when I can view my videos (or pictures, or music). Oh, and it also plays games.

Have you tried WIndow MCE? Well, it leaves a lot to be desired. I can just picture myself on the phone with my mom; "You need to decrypt and rip the movie to your hard drive. Now you have to encode it to MPG4. How big do you want that file?" Yeah, that's not going to happen.

I have one... but it's a toy. (1, Informative)

SilentDissonance (516202) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864356)

I have a PC in my living room, but it's more a 'toy' than anything useful.

First off, my setup is a little 'unique'. I live in the boonies of Wisconsin, and have had a C-Band satellite dish for years. I'm not interested in getting a little dish, as it just doesn't offer the same stuff I already have access to. Add in that I have 4DTV (basically an MPEG decoder for a C-Band dish), I get more channels free and clear than any little dish could ever offer me.

I don't watch much TV, and therefore don't subscribe to much. I keep around the discovery channels and such, as I do enjoy those. My subscription prices, per year, are around $100. Way way cheaper than any small dish or cable service could offer me.

So, I really doubt there's much way to make the pc in there to actually control or record the descrambler in any meaningful way. Basically, I use it to pause live tv, or record a show that I'm watching.

Outside that, I do rip DVDs and CDs to a 'media store' on my network, so all my PCs (including the one in the living room) can get to it. That's about the best use of that PC.

What I'd LIKE to see out of it would be more along the lines of TiVO with scheduled recording and such, as well as the 'predictive' saving of shows (I watched this, I might like this, drop it on the drive, and I know to get rid of it if I'm running low on space), but my other hardware kinda prevents that.

Also, another nice feature would be more along the lines of data services from the TV station itself. For example, a football game is on. I'd like to have the picture of the game come through free and clear, and have the ability to format and display the score and other data as I wish: either on a seperate PC monitor or some such, or at least de-cluter what the TV station sends me. Make that real time data sync with basic text commentary (like the World Cup website and such), and I'd be much more apt to want a PC on my TV. Even advertising could be 'extended', with the various advertisers pushing data to a 'sponser' file. Would be much more likely to visit their site myself should it be 'all easy to get to'.

All this is a pipe dream, of course. But maybe, someday... *sigh*

Expecting consumer announcements at WWDC (1)

kiwioddBall (646813) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864363)

Why would Apple announce consumer products at the WWDC???

Thwarted by Greed and DMCA. (2, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864377)

Slate gives us:

If people actually wanted Viiv-like products, there'd be a lot more do-it-yourself versions while we're waiting for Intel. If the problem were a lack of software, there'd be plenty of open-source projects by impatient hackersthat's how we got Napster and BitTorrent. But the geeks seem uninterested. Where are the obsessive bloggers? The forum feuds? The amateur meetups? Show me any truly hot technology, and I'll show you 100,000 guys who can't wait to tell you about it. Has anyone bored you to death talking about their Media Center PC lately?

This is a joke, right?

People are talking, but you can't do it with free software. Just telling people how will get you tossed in jail, thanks to the DMCA and greedy big media. Rather than buy a big screen TV, I'd love to have a projector and stereo hooked up to computer. I've already got my music collection digitized. The access and convenience of Amarok are awesome. It would be great to do the same thing with movies. The cost of a projector is about the same as a big TV, but it's much more portable and gives better quality. The problem is CSS. I can't watch or archive DVD movies with my software. It's against the law to distribute software that would let me in the US or even tell people what sites in countries with sane laws have it.

Did they name the article "Myth" [] for kicks or what? So many people talk about Mythtv, it's hard to believe a Slate Editor has not heard of it. It even made it into the EFF's "Corruptables" video.

You can do it with non free software, sort of. The author mentions the miserable death of ViiV. Paul Boutin did not receive his promissed test model and wonders why. He must have missed this Washington Post review [] where the damn thing did not work at all because of all the DRM nonsense. You might be able to watch current DVDs if you fall all the way back to Windoze 98SE and have a stash of the now illegal Xcopy and other software required. The network and file system restrictions of such a computer would make most people cry, but it's the easiest route for honest people. People unafraid of the law have been swapping movies almost forever, but the effort and risks are way to great for "normal" people who will just rent a video. Yes, you can even find software that works with your free software, it's just a huge pain all around and you will again be stuck with a static system because upgrades will break it. Contraband is not free, it's not convenient and it's hard to trust.

Big Media is the root cause. They do not want their media on computers they don't have complete control over. They want it to act like a cable box, to shove adds down your throat, tell you what you can watch and when and how much you will pay for it all. Given that most media buffs already have a cable box and all the gear, the computer version that does not work looks really lame and big media is happy. There will be no video Napster, they think.The customer is not happy, too bad.

This represents a tremendous opportunity for independent media and it's why Net Neutrality is such a big deal. Already, artists can get great viewings on youtube, google video and other sites. These are just the beginning because they rely on flash and other crappy software. The quality sucks and you can't save them without a lot of effort that's liable to lace your computer with malware. The potential of the media are better seen with stuff like Star Wreck [] , a free, full length movie. It's a big file and independent productions are going to stay that way due to patents on video streaming and more advanced compression routines. "So what", you might ask, "I've got broadband." That's where Net Neutrality comes in and independent media gets the shaft. Warner Brothers, which so badly mangled AOL and squandered their chance to move into the digital world, would like nothing better than to make sure you never get anything on their network but big media product, double secret encrypted, triple the cost, best played on the screen of your iPod Nano. The threat is so great, I'd be amazed if many people invested much money in production, except for the vast rewards waiting for those who think they can topple big media. They can start making that money off youtube and google video and then move onto better things without the big studios, but they will be left up a creek if Net Neutrality is abolished. The cable company might break the law and absorb fines to wipe the competition like the Bells wiped DSL, so the next few years will be interesting and difficult.

As usual, all the rotten players are forcing you to chose between freedom and popular culture. Not just enjoying it, but being able to participate, change and profit from it. Government likes this because they don't want a real free press. You are locked out by a bunch of greedy control freaks. Welcome to the continuation of the Media Empires founded on broadcast 100 years ago. If you give up your freedom, you don't really get back popular culture. What you get in return is the pale, government approved echo big media gives you now. Fight the madness and take back your culture. Boycot big media and patronize the independents.

One more thing. Computer makers don't like free media either. You can play Star Wreck on a 233 MHz PII with 200 MB of RAM. Without DRM eating up processor, normal media plays just fine. Who needs a noisy dual processor monster, when a used laptop will do the job? Save it for gaming.

Media Xbox? (1)

olman (127310) | more than 8 years ago | (#15864386)

I thought media "PC" is called XBOX + mod + XBMC.

Microsoft STILL cannot figure out why it's great. They crippled xbox 360 media streaming effectively making it a non-feature.
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