Home Media Server – Introduction

I have recently embarked on a project to build my own home media server, a PVR which would be accessible to any computer or television in my house, that not only makes live and recorded television easily accessible, but that also hopefully serves up other content (such as music, photos, games), and hopefully something which could be accessed remotely (e.g. from my laptop with an internet connection outside the house).

The irony is that I hate television. With a passion.

However, the project has still somehow captured my interest. It’s a way to put some of my technical knowledge to practical use. Also, part of the project’s purpose is to come up with a relatively simple and inexpensive setup that a computer hobbyist (ie. not an expert, but an enthusiast) could adopt on their own, something that some of my friends and family may be able to set up by themselves, or with a little bit of assistance. At the very least, it promises to be a learning experience regardless of whether or not I succeed.

I’m going to attempt to document my experience and blog a few tutorial-like recaps of what I have done along the way. Though I don’t kid myself into thinking that I’m writing for a wide audience, I am writing for an audience with a wide ranger of skill levels, so I will try to make the tutorials as understandable as I can, yet detailed enough to contain the necessary technical details so that a more experienced computer user can get something out of it as well. Since there will definitely be many steps in the project, I will try and break down my blogging into appropriate segments. Some may be more technically demanding than others (e.g. installing the TV Tuner card + drivers will require more technical knowledge than configuring software settings).

I’ll start by defining some goals for the system I will attempt to build:

  1. to be inexpensive and affordable;
  2. to be comparable to commercial alternatives;
  3. to be configurable by a hobbyist (ie. complete geekdom should not be a requirement);
  4. to be flexible and free [as in freedom] (ie. offer the user choice);
  5. to be truly cross-platform (ie. compatible with Windows/Mac/Linux/TV );
  6. to be extensible (ie. to work on a single machine, or across several).

Many of these goals can be summed up in the phrase “better than the alternatives.” The system I am building must have some clear advantages over its commercial alternatives, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the effort. These advantages may be in price or in flexibility, but ultimately the setup must still incorporate the types of features one would expect in a commercial offering, at least to a reasonable extent. Goal #4 is also integral to the initiative because one of the major advantages of building something on your own is that you own it yourself. You won’t lose everything once you stop paying the monthly fee, you won’t be forbidden by contract/license to tinker with your hardware to try something new and exciting, you won’t be locked in to a company’s specific setup or offering, etc… at least that is the ideal I’m striving for.

There are many consumer electronics companies now scrambling to effectively commercialize and market this kind of entertainment system, and their solutions might work quite well for many people, however, I’m interested in investigating the alternatives with the hope that I might end up with something a bit different than what you can just get off the shelf.

More to come soon… stay tuned! (pun fully intended)

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