Building a Vista Media Center, The Sequel

Scream Read about how a fire destroyed my beloved Vista Media Center and the saga and expense of rebuilding it the last few weeks.

If I had hair I would have pulled it all out.

Not cool.

Building a Home Theater PC to Replace our TiVo

I just published a write-up I have been working on for a few weeks about my experience building a top-of-the-line Vista Media Center (VMC) home theater PC (HTPC) to replace our TiVo Series3. Only true PC geeks and gadget nerds are allowed unless you are just curious to see a real-world example of how much premium retail electronics get marked up. Here is an actual shot of our Sony flat panel displaying the new machine in action.

Keith's Vista Media Center in action

TB is still on the fence so it’s not clear whether the HTPC meets the WAF. She loves TiVo so the VMC interface has to be demonstrably better and the HTPC hardware very reliable to meet her bar. I’ve already removed the safety net by disconnecting the TiVo from the main TV. We’ll put it in the bedroom at least until our one-year prepaid service expires in July. My mother-in-law will be here in a couple weeks which will be a good “guest test” as well. The only potential problem is she loves TiVo too.

TiVo Series3 + Amazon Unbox + Rhapsody + SlingBox = Digital Media Nirvana

TB and I have been NetFlix subscribers since the service debuted. We have not been watching as many DVDs lately due to our work & travel schedules but there also haven’t been many good movies out, in my opinion. We have a bunch of C- movies in our possession on average so we end up waiting a few days to receive a new movie we are interested when it is finally released on DVD. Well, no more.

We saddled up with TiVo again, finally trading in our Comcast DVR for a TiVo Series3. We were TiVo subscribers in our previous homes via DirecTV and missed the simple, easy-to-use and it-just-works interface of the boxes since switching to Comcast a couple years back. I’m glad we rediscovered TiVo as the Series3 boxes and their various services are simply amazing.

With our Series3 box we can:TiVo Unbox Rhapsody Slingbox

  1. Watch all our favorite high-definition broadcast (football!) and premium programs in all their 720p and 1080i glory.  
  2. Rent new movies and TV shows using Amazon Unbox directly from the TiVo—or any computer connected to the Internet. (more)
  3. Listen to the latest music via RealNetworks Rhapsody directly from the TiVo. (more)
  4. View our TiVo recordings in other rooms in our home among multiple TiVo Series2, TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD boxes. (Multi-Room Viewing)
  5. Copy any (unprotected) recorded programs from the TiVo to any computer on our home network—enables us to burn the program to DVD or take on-the-road on a laptop. This feature isn’t well advertised by TiVo…probably to keep Hollywood off their back. Requires the free TiVo Desktop 2.5 (or later) software. (TiVoToGo)
  6. Copy any video saved on any computer on our home network to the TiVo—enables us to watch things like YouTube programs and home movies on the big screen. This feature isn’t well advertised by TiVo either. Requires purchase of TiVo Desktop 2.5 Plus software for $25.
  7. Take any of those programs from #5 and copy them to portable digital media players like an iPod or our Zunes—great for the gym and airplane. Requires purchase of TiVo Desktop 2.5 Plus.
  8. Access our entire digital music collection and play our music on the big system with song information displayed on the big TV. Requires free TiVo Desktop 2.5 software. (more)
  9. Access our entire digital photo collection and view them on the big TV for sharing with family and friends. Requires free TiVo Desktop 2.5 software. (more)
  10. Check local weather, traffic, etc. using Yahoo! services. (more)

That’s quite a list of features that make the new TiVo boxes and monthly subscription fees worth it to us. Once you factor in our Slingbox AV—which gives us access to all our TiVo content from anywhere in the world—it’s clear we have truly reached Digital Media Nirvana.