Sony SMP-N100 media player

I have been thinking about getting a DLNA media receiver for a long time and I finally broke down and picked one up. I have a bunch of movies and TV shows archived on my media server and it is great when watching them through WMC, but not every TV in the house is connected to a computer. It is easy enough to connect an XB0x360 to Serviio DLNA server or connect the Wii to a Windows Share, but my XBox360 finally RRoD’d and we only have one Wii. Having kids we do not have a lot of “extra” money so I was looking for an inexpensive DLNA receiver that would easily work with Serviio and I came across the Sony SMP-N100.

There were three things that sold me on the SMP-N100. First it is made by Sony, I have never had a bad experience with a Sony product. Second, at $49 dollars it is affordable. Finally  it has built in WiFi that will connect to any  band out there and that was the major selling point. The unit does come with a wired network port however I will probably never use it  because Miranda frowns on me punching holes in the walls to run Cat-5 everywhere.

Setting up the unit was pretty simple; select your language, which video output you will be using and finally selecting the aspect ratio on your TV. If you are using a wireless connection you can browse for your wireless SSID and configure that and you are up and running. If you have a DLNA server running you can add that to the video servers. It has built in access to a lot of services such as Amazon Video, YouTube, NetFlix, Hulu Plus and Pandora just to name a few so you are not limited to what you can connect to.

Sony has a newer model out, the SMP-N200 but I got this model because it was a little bit cheaper and I just wanted to test the waters to see how it would perform. My experience has been good so far so I will probably be purchasing the newer model in the near future.



Serviio DLNA media server

The last few weeks I have been working on ironing out a few issues I have been having streaming media to my consoles.  MythTV does offer a UPnP media server, but for one reason or another my luck with it has been hit and miss at best.  The hardware on my MythTV machine is  a little dated and I have no plans of updating it any time soon.  With that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to offload the streaming to my work machine because it has enough processor and memory to handle it.

With that in mind I set out to find a good media server and came across Serviio DLNA media server.  One of the key features to me was the fact that it was written in Java so it will work on multiple platforms including Linux, Mac and Windows as well.  Any device that supports DLNA 1.5 should work just fine as well as the Playstation 3 and Xbox360 (I only have the XBox360 and that works a treat).

Installation on Linux is straight forward; I downloaded the application and extracted it into my home folder.  I believe the Windows and Mac version has a pre-compiled version of ffmpeg and LameMP3 encoder  included with it (the server also supports transcoding on the fly although I have not tested it).  Linux users will need to install ffmepg through their distributions package manager or by compiling it manually.  I already have the lastest ffmpeg compiled on my machine so I was ready to go.

The next step was to start up the service and get it configured.  On linux this is accomplished by running the script file.  Once that is up and running you just need to run the console ( on linux) and get things set up the way you like.

After getting the service configured everything just works.  Serviio has some nice metadata options and can identify ID3 tags, WMA tags and EXIF tags in images.  Also when you connect to the server it gives you a nice breakdown of your media including recently added, recently watched, a breakdown by actor, etc.

I have not had a lot of time to play with it really in depth, but if you are looking for a home media server it is definitely worth checking out.  I plan on playing around with it a little more in depth this weekend when I have a little free time.  If you have some experience with it please let me know what you think.

MythTV installed

This weekend I spent quite a bit of time replacing my ailing Windows Media Center PC with MythTV (using the Mythbuntu installation).  I am sure it would have been easy enough to start with a clean distribution and install all the needed parts, however, Mythbuntu already has everything rolled in so it was a no-brainer.  Overall I would have to say it was a pleasant experience.  I did lose about a terrabyte of previously recorded TV since it was stored in Microsofts video format, but sometimes you just have to deal with the collateral damage.

Installation of MythTV is fairly straight forward, but it was a huge change from setting up WMC where it would just automatically detect the tuners and just work.  Setting up capture cards in MythTV is not much harder than it is in Windows.  The one extra step you have to take is setting the default input for the capture card which in my case was setting the tuner to the default input.  Another big difference was setting the channel guide listings.  In WMC you just enter your zip code, select your cable provider and it just worked, with MythTV that is not exactly the case, in the States at any rate.  The listing provider here will give you a 7 day free trial and after that it is $5 a month or $20 a year.  When you compare that cost to the cost of a Windows license just to run your home theatre I know which I would rather pay.

After getting the base system configured is where the real fun begins.  I have a 1TB drive installed in the HTPC machine where I keep all of my recorded media that needed to be setup.  In Windows, this is a matter of setting the storage to the drive, in Linux the process is a little more convoluted.  First I reformatted my drive to an ext3 filesystem and then mounted that to my Linux file system at /var/lib/mythtv (the default location where MythTV stores all its data) and created an entry for it in fstab so it would automatically be mounted at boot. Then I recreated the directory structure on my mounted partition.  I also have a 500GB external drives I mounted and set in fstab to use for videos and created a symlink to it from the mythtv data directory. All things considered, these are just basic tasks you need to perform in linux on a day to day basis, but when you are used to working on the desktop these are things you may or may not be comfortable with so you might not be in your comfort zone.

Once everything was up and running it was just a matter of playing around with it.  I have used WMC for about 5 years or so, so I was interested to see how I would like it and I was not disappointed.  It did take a little getting used to (if you don’t have everything configured just right it has a habit of crashing MythTV front end and you need to restart it), but once you have everything working smoothly it really is a dream.  There are a lot of options for setting up your scheduled recordings that I have not really played with in depth, but it is definitely functional and WMC could really take some notes on how to accomplish this better.

However, where this really shines is in the video management.  My kids love to destroy DVDs.  No matter how many times I tell them how to handle them, always put them in their case, etc, etc, invariably then end up on the floor or playing frisby with them.  So to save my investment I started using Handbrake to make a backup of my purchased DVDs and then safely put the discs away so they would not get ruined.  When the kids wanted to watch a movie they could go to Movies in Media Center or connect to Media Center through the XBox 360 to watch their movies.  I was pleasantly surprised that with UPnP, the Xbox 360 will easily pick up MythTV and allow streaming the videos.

Mythweb manager
Mythweb makes managing your shows painless

Another huge feature that MythTV has over WMC is the Mythweb plugin.  One of the greatest features in my opinion are the TV functions, the ability  to view TV guide listings from any computer on your home network.  If you want to record a show just find it in the guide, click on the program then schedule your recording.  You can also manage  your recording schedules and view upcoming programs that are scheduled to record.  This is a feature Windows Media Center should have added ages ago.  I cannot tell you how many times we have run into the living room to check the channel guide or just to make sure a show was recording.  Now we can check from any room with a computer.

Not only can you manage your shows through the Mythweb interface, you can also watch your recorded shows through the web browser as well either as an ASX stream or you can do a direct download if you are not at the house to watch it.

The same applies to your stored videos as well, you can easily watch any of your movies stored on any web browser.  If your browser does not support that file type, you can easily copy the url into an application (such as VLC media player) that can play a video from a web stream.

Overall I would have to say I am happy with the transition from Windows Media Center to MythTV.  I will not say there were not obstacles that had to be overcome and there are still plenty of tweaks that I need to make to have everything running smoothly.  Since I am no longer running Media Center, the buttons on the remote do not always function as they did before, however, after using WMC for years I am sure that there will be a little bit of a learning curve.  On the bright side, you can easily edit the configuration of the remote control through an XML file so it is just a matter of spending time to really RTFM and get things working.

MythTV vs Windows MediaCenter

I have been using Windows Media Center as my HTPC of choice for years now.  Recently Media Center has started crashing several times a day so I thought it might be time to mix things up a bit.  I have looked at a few other solutions, some running Windows and others running on Linux.  I could easily reload my HTPC machine with Windows, but ideally I would like to move on to something open-sourced and preferably on Linux; all my other machines run on various Linux distros. The main reason why I have not switched before is because I have about 2 TB of recorded video in Microsoft format that I did not want to lose, but now that I am having problems with the machine the collateral damage is not really an issue.

Currently I am looking at installing Mythbuntu to handle the HTPC role.  Basically I am just looking to see if anyone has made this switch and has any helpful hints on making the transition.  The biggest thing for me is the Media Center remote which looks like it will work well with MythTV.  I plan on transitioning over the weekend and I would love to hear about your experiences.