And so it begins - my Windows Media Center build-out

TiVo has failed to innovate according to a demanding customer who has used TiVo Series 2 units for over two years, with only a DVD recording feature added.

I’ve had two TiVo Series 2 units for over two years now. Both are networked and are full of content, but my patience has been paper thin with TiVo . I’m a very demanding customer. You can’t just build a product, charge me a monthly subscription, and not innovate on top of it. In the last year, the only thing I’ve seen TiVo do is add the ability to record shows onto a DVD from your desktop… provided you drop another $50 on Sonic. That’s not enough…

Another thing that’s been bugging me like all-get-out is that the TiVo box is a black box. Sure, the warranty is out on both my TiVo ’s, but please… I can’t add software, hardware, or anything else to my boxes? I should be able to do more with them! Sure, there are some Linux hacks out there, but the main TiVo boards fight it, or at least keep you from talking about it.

Now… I’ve always been interested in Windows Media Center (WMC). I love the UI (much more than TiVo ’s), I like how I can put my own videos onto the box to watch. I like how I can put my pictures and home movies right onto my main entertainment center and not shuffle my parents into my office to see videos of my son (sure, TiVo can show my pictures… I’ll give it that).

But, as a developer, I also want to have the ability to write my own programs to stick up on the box. Some people have written cool caller ID apps, others apps that suck in info from your Outlook, others have RSS readers. The fact that there’s an SDK and I can write .NET apps appeals to me.

I’m close to making the move to HDTV. My current TiVo ’s can’t handle HD, and I’m not willing to pour in a bunch of cash to get an HD TiVo when I could build a Media Center for almost the same cost (so I figure). I have a little play money from a project I’m working on, so I figure, here’s the time to start moving away from TiVo . Sure, Media Center can’t do HD via my DirecTV, it can only do OTA HD, but that’s fine for now. If all the sudden it can, then I can go buy a HD tuner and slap it in. That’s a $300 (max?) upgrade to my WMCE box, instead of a whole new box ala TiVo .

So… here I go. I am going to take my time doing this. There is a lot of research to do and things to consider. At this point I have a handful of questions, and a bunch of decisions I’ve already made, such as:

  • Storage: I have a 300GB drive in one of my existing PC’s that’s very new, and a 100GB in another machine that currently holds all my MP3’s. I can easily repurpose those, saving a bundle. Also, my XBOX just went belly up. If the drive is still good in there, I may pull it out for the OS drive… thoughts?
  • Memory: Think I’ll go with 1GB of total RAM for starts (2x512MB modules). From what I read, 256MB is fine unless you get into the extender world. Maybe down the road, but for now, let’s go with just 512MB (but look for a board with 3–4 slots so I have room to expand and not replace!
  • Remote: No question, Logitech Harmony 880 .
  • CPU: Likely Intel P4 with HyperThreading and no less than 2Ghz. Thought about jumping to AMD, but I just don’t know much about them and I’ve seen some AMD post isses on TheGreenButton .
  • CPU Fan: Zalman all the way… upgraded my desktop and it’s NOTICEABLY quiet. In fact, need to order 2 this time, one for my server which is still in the office.
  • DVD: Got a NEC DVD+-RW and dual layer +R recently for $50… so far, works like a champ. Considered moving it to the Media Center, but I think I’ll just order another one

A good start… but, where to go from here. Easy… there are a bunch of things I need to settle on:

  • Case: I want something that looks like it belongs in my entertainment center next to my Onkyo 5.1 surround sound system. I’m thinking black with the ability to hold 4x3.5” HDD internal and at least 1 DVD drive (not sure if I need two, but I sort of like the idea if I want to make copies. I think I’d like for it to have VHD with some music controls on the front… really liked this one , but it’s a bit pricy and doesn’t have a spot for a media panel (for things like CF memory cards, hidden USB2, or hidden FireWire). Suggestions anyone?
  • Power Supply: I’m going quiet on this one… no idea what’s available.
  • TV tuner & Video Card: No idea… everyone I see has the Hauppauge 150.
  • Motherboard: Go with a nice
  • Audio: Must have digital I/O. Again, I have a surround system and will eventually have an HDTV (already picked out a slick Samsung 46”).

There’s other stuff I’m not considering, I know. That’s a start. I’d love to get some input. For now, I’m going to focus on researching a case. Input is welcome… also resource sites would be great if anyone has a list of sites to share! I’ve started a Media Center category on my link blog that I’ll post what I come across.

Andrew Connell
Developer & Chief Course Artisan, Voitanos LLC. | Microsoft MVP
Written by Andrew Connell

Andrew Connell is a web & cloud developer with a focus on Microsoft Azure & Microsoft 365. He’s received Microsoft’s MVP award every year since 2005 and has helped thousands of developers through the various courses he’s authored & taught. Andrew’s the founder of Voitanos and is dedicated to helping you be the best Microsoft 365 web & cloud developer. He lives with his wife & two kids in Florida.

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