When it comes to watching television shows, a lot has changed over the years. For the most part, we’ve had a way of recording shows and watching them later. For a long time, a VCR was our best bet. Now we have PVRs, on demand channels, digital distribution services, and more manual avenues like downloading via BitTorrent or Usenet. Personally, I’ve tried all of the above and settled on the latter – Usenet. While it involves the most effort on my part, the end result is exactly what I’m after. But after mentioning my desire for the ability to add codecs to my Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, I started wondering if there might be a better/easier means of watching the shows I download.

Ruling Out Options

BitTorrent

BitTorrent seems like the obvious choice, given that there’s no additional cost. Unfortunately, my ISP (Rogers) throttles BitTorrent traffic something awful, which renders it almost entirely useless. I’ve found grabbing music via BitTorrent is acceptable, but still takes longer than it should. Downloading a 1GB+ TV show episode would take a couple days, at best. The season premiere episode of Battlestar Galactica had over 3000 people seeding it, and I managed to connect to 2 of them, which resulted in an embarrassing 6kbps transfer.

PVR

When I bought my first HDTV, the first thing I did after setting it up was trade in my old cable box for an HD PVR. This seemed like a great option, not only for myself, but for Hannah as well. She’s always missing shows she likes while she’s doing homework, or eating dinner, etc. This gave her a chance to schedule some shows to record and watch at a later date. Unfortunately, the hardware was less than stellar and proved to be more of a source of frustration than anything else. Scheduled recordings were regularly missed, the last couple minutes of certain shows chopped off, and managing recorded shows couldn’t have been more tedious. I’m not sure if I lasted the month before trading the PVR in for a standard HD cable box.

On Demand Cable Services

Our cable TV provider (Rogers) offers their own On Demand channel, as well as The Movie Network On Demand, and a few other specialty channels. Aside having a horrible out-dated and terribly slow interface, the service is completely unreliable. At peak times, it will crash, stall, or be unavailable all together. On rare occasions where I’ve been able to get a show or movie to actually play, I’ve experienced problems such as audio cutting out momentarily or all together, or not being able to resume after pausing. Not to mention, there is still a great deal of content that’s not available in HD, despite it airing in HD initially.

iTunes via Apple TV

When Apple announced TV shows finally coming to iTunes Canada, I couldn’t have been more excited. That was, until I saw the line-up of supported channels and shows. Even now, a year after its introduction, there isn’t a single show I would pay to watch. The iTunes movie service is much better, but with rentals only being made available a month after their release, there isn’t much of a reason to consider it. To be able to watch content downloaded via iTunes, I would need to pick up an Apple TV, or buy the necessary cables to hook Deanna’s MacBook up to the entertainment system.

Xbox Live Marketplace

Xbox Live Marketplace now offers movies in Canada, but no TV shows. I already own the hardware and the service is fantastic – very fast downloads, you can start watching after only a few minutes of downloading, and the quality is great. Problem being – it’s the most expensive of the bunch. With HD movie rentals coming in at over $9, I would much rather drive out to the video store and pay under $6 for the same movie on Blu-ray. But again, there are no TV shows here, which is the main concern.

Why not just watch TV shows when the air like normal people?

  • Commercial breaks are out of hand in some shows (LOST, I’m looking at you), and completely dampen the experience.
  • Some shows run over their time slot (LOST, you son of a bitch!) which means you miss the beginning of another show if it happens to air directly after.
  • With having children in the house (and a baby to boot), it’s really hard to plan times for Deanna and I to both sit down and watch. Normally, we’re not able to until after 9pm and some shows air earlier.
  • Still no way of obtaining episodes if we happen to miss them, for whatever reason.
  • Being in Canada, we’re behind in the times on many levels. There are still a number of shows that don’t air in HD here. Battlestar Galactica is a good example. Since it airs in HD on other channels in the US, we get a letter-boxed version within the 4:3 frame of our 16:9 TV = gross.

Current Process

I don’t really have any major beefs with the steps I take to bring TV episodes to my living room television. While there are quite a few of them, the end result is exactly what I’m after – HD quality episodes that I can watch at my leisure. What I’m doing now, is this…

  1. Download recent episodes via Usenet. I subscribe to Giganews, which costs me $12.95 per month which allows up to 35GB worth of downloads. Given that most episodes at 720p weigh in between 1.1GB and 1.6GB, that allows for a fair amount of downloading each month. Best of all, download speeds are maintained at 1mbps to 1.4mbps, so it really doesn’t take long to download a single episode.
  2. Unpacking and repairing files. A single-click process which takes a couple minutes, at most.
  3. Rename and move unpacked file.
  4. Re-encode file via Visual Hub. MKV seems to be the codec of choice for high definition video, which looks fantastic, but is limited as far as where you can play the files. Obviously, my desktop iMac has no problems, but my Xbox 360 and PS3 don’t support MKV, and as such, I’m left with having to re-encode. Cooking an AVI from the MKV takes about half an hour and is a very CPU intensive process.
  5. Transfer file to USB thumbdrive. Streaming HD files over a wireless network just isn’t feasible. Even from my N compatible iMac to my wired Xbox 360 – the result is a choppy file that ends up stopping to buffer every few minutes. Moving files via USB thumbdrive has proved to be the easiest and quickest way to get files from my iMac to the consoles in the living room.
  6. Watch file on console via USB thumbdrive. For a while, I was moving and copying several files to the PS3’s harddrive, but that just proved to be an extra unnecessary step. Watching the files straight from the thumbdrive works just fine.

What Are My Options?

I’m looking for suggestions here. I know there are many devices similar to Apple TV, that allow you to stream video files of many formats over a wireless network, or transfer files directly to the device. I would love something like this where I didn’t have to convert the MKV files and could transfer files to the HDD over the network. I would like more than anything to make use of the hardware I already have, but I realize that’s likely not an option if I’m looking to cut down on steps without sacrificing quality or flexibility. Here are a few requirements I have if I were to get a new device, and some that need to be met for my current setup.

  • I have an Intel iMac and MacBook in the house, both running Leopard. No Windows machines.
  • Wireless N compatible network. The router is actually in the living room very close the entertainment system, so wired connection is do-able.
  • New device should have on-board harddrive of 160GB or more. Preferably very large (500GB+) or ability to upgrade.
  • Supports MKV file format, or allows for installation of new codecs.
  • Network connectivity which allows transferring files directly to the device.

So, what do you think? What are you doing to get TV shows from your download queue to your television?

85 Comments

I’ve been using TVersity for a couple of months now and I’m loving it.

You can just play (almost) anything on you PC and if needed, it will transcode if so the Xbox360 or PS3 can play it.

It’s really a piece of cake now:

1. download

2. unzip/fix if needed

3. put it in a certain folder

4. turn on your console and voila

5. watch time!

And it’s just using my network. My Xbox360 is hooked up to the same router as my PC, so the PC (TVersity service) is broadcasting and my Xbox360 is receiving.

Works really swell…

Correct me if I’m mistaken, but doesn’t TVersity only run on Windows and need a LOT of power (quad-core?) to transcode HD MKVs?

I use a Mac Mini running Boxee as my HTPC. I have a 1TB external HDD connected via firewire. I download most of my video content via torrent, since I’m not well-versed in the usenet world (but after looking into it I might be).

When I download a .mkv file, I watch it with VLC media player. The playback is seamless, with no audio or video lag, even at 1080p.

Having a standalone HTPC would definitely be ideal. Considering you can do all of your downloading directly on it, then no need to re-encode or transfer. Kills many birds with one stone. That’s quite the investment, though. *looks over at wife’s MacBook*

A HTPC should not necessarily set you back that much. The following (using Norway prices) would cost about 400-450 U$D (I am sorry if that is considered an investment).

– AMD 4850e CPU

– microATX motherboard with 780G chipset

– 2GB RAM

– 1 TB hard drive

– case

– DVD/Bluray (optional)

– Wireless adpater (optional)

– Almost any Linux distribution with VLC

This should give you a lot of space, enable you to download and watch tv shows in HD quality (1920*1080). The Popcorn box someone else mentioned is also a good and cheaper option according to a friend of mine.

Ps! My first post here. I enjoy reading your blog 🙂

Without wanting to delve to far into illegal territory, I would suggest a Rapidshare premium account over Usenet.

Unlimited simultaneous downloads mean I get a fairly healthy 15Mbps download rate at about £6/month, so perhaps around $10?

Still, HD rips come in mkv format which although as you say, is the preferred codec, is also pretty useless for console playback.

You could take a look at Connect360 which is supposed to be able to stream most things on your Mac to the 360. I never had much fun with it myself but I didn’t have much time to spend with it, maybe you’ll have more luck!

I hadn’t thought of a premium account for download services like Rapidshare, so thanks for bringing it up. What is the turn-around on new episodes making their way online? I would assume the teams that deliver them likely upload to those services as well. Might be worth looking into to cut the monthly expense down a bit.

I have Connect360 and the PS3 equivalent and neither have been very solid with any sort of wireless connectivity. When everything is wired, they both work great, however.

I have been doing the whole Rapidshare account for a good year now. There are a few sites out there that list next to everything (I was even watching Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling, mind you) just a few hours after they are aired. The money you are paying a month for Giga, is around the same amount you will be paying for Rapidshare.

I used Torrents for years, but now Vuze never runs unless the aforementioned sites have been checked.

1) warez-bb.org, the best place to get files (it’s not working at the moment, but i swear this is rare. you just have bad timing haha)

2) Rapidshare, 50GB downloads every 5 days i think

3) iGetter, just rip it off, it’s a download accelerator/manager

4) FlashGot, plugin for Firefox which let’s you highlight a bunch of rapidshare links and press a shortcut key to send them all to iGetter

5) Connect360, you already have it so you know it’s golden

the downside? that whole mkv business. connect360 doesn’t support it so you can get rips that come from HD sources that look pretty damn good.

you can get the TV shows about 20-40 minutes after they air (depending on how popular the show is)

…. all i need is a way to watch mkv through connect360 so i can watch 720p rips. but the rest works pretty fuckin’ solid.

Why not plug the MacBook into the TV?

Not the ideal solution by any means but it’d work and cut down on the steps.

If you do fancy buying a new machine purely for the TV then pick up a Mac Mini… however it is well overdue for an update so I would hold off or buy one second hand… you do however need a Core 2 Duo machine, I have a Core Solo hooked up to the downstairs TV and it wont do 720p AVIs… mp4 is okay but AIV/MKV doesn’t work.

Exactly. I should’ve clarified: my Mini is a C2D @ 1.83GHz with 1GB RAM. The Mac Mini refresh should happen soon (hopefully), and if the rumors are true (nVidia Ion + Intel Atom) the new models will blow the current models out of the water.

Indeed, that’s a good idea – using the wife’s MacBook. Would kill a few birds with one stone as I could do all of the downloading and file management right there. Obviously, playing files wouldn’t be any issue. It’s just a matter of picking up a couple cables.

I’m in the UK so I can’t offer any solution for you in Canada. I also use Windows and take advantage of 4OD and BBC iPlayer mainly. There is also a Sky service but they require payment on top of monthly subscription for anything decent.

I use Connect360 to stream from my mac mini to my 360 or MediaLink to stream from my Mac Mini to my PS3. Both are from Nullriver. Out of the box it streams a great majority of files, but not mkv files.

To watch mkv files on the 360 I downloaded the Perian codec bundle and once you install it you can watch literally any type of file through Quicktime. Just open the mkv in QT and then save it. It took only about a minute to convert it. I haven’t noticed a loss in quality at all and best of all if you have a movie with subtitles it’ll embed them into the .mov file.

Really? It only takes a minute or so to save the MKV as a different format via Quicktime? For some reason, I assumed it would take just as long and never even tried it. That might ease the pain while I figure out the route I’m going to take. Thanks for the tip!

MKV, AVI, and MP4 are all different containers that can house several video and audio formats. If you are getting your video in an MKV container but it is encoded using any of the formats that the Xbox 360 or PS3 can decode, you should be able to just re-wrap the file and stream from your iMac.

For Windows users that want to do the same thing, there is the MKVBoxer tool available from the doom9 forums. Streaming MP4 files to a Xbox360 with Windows Media Player is possible, but it requires a couple of extra tools and registry tweaks. This is already less of a hassle in the version of Windows Media Player in the new Windows 7 beta.

Hey Brett;

Fellow Canadian, so I feel your pain. I actually spent about $600.00 on a build-yourself HTPC with Windows Vista, and a dual Hauppage TV tuner for exactly these reasons. It does all my PVRing (and upconverts an HD signal pretty well), plus I’ve got it plugged directly into my Home Theatre setup via HDMI so anything that lives on it can be seen in my living room. If you download the All In One Codec Pack, you can view any file format no problem.

The Media Center interface is probably the best 10 foot experience out there right now. Plus you can still install iTunes and all that Jazz too.

I’m also on Rogers, and I find my bittorrents are pretty speedy lately, but I used to have the same problems you did until I switched from my Linksys router to a Belkin one.

Thanks for sharing, Brian. I had thought of doing a full blown HTPC with PVR capabilities, but I figure it’s just easier to download files that are already prepared with the commercial breaks removed and everything.

I haven’t seen the Media Center interface on Vista, but I was pretty blown away by Plex when I checked it out earlier today.

Hello Matt,

I’ve had an iStar HD for a few months now, and I love it, I have yet to come across something it won’t play.

It is perfect for watching CSI in lovely 720p HD, without the need to convert the MKV

istarhd.com

Ben

I recently read a round-up of these little HTPC boxes and iStar HD did pretty well. Glad to hear you’re enjoying yours.

I use MediaLink from Nullriver to stream video content from my iMac over to my PS3.

Sadly it does not play MKV files – apparently this is due to those files having 5.1 audio. Read a few forums that say if you re-encode the MKV with a lower audio – they will then work on PS3.

Matt, what settings do you use to encode the MKV into AVI using VisualHub? I’m never sure if the settings I use are getting the best quality out of the file.

I’ve actually just been using the default settings for "High" lately. I used to use "Go Nuts", but decided to drop it down and didn’t really notice much of a difference. I’m not terribly concerned with the quality of TV shows, as it’s not exactly top notch to begin with. If I were dealing with HD movies, that would be a different story.

I still use a VCR for recording missing shows I miss, because I can’t really afford to get a PVR at the moment. I don’t need to use it much though, because I have satellite which means that whatever show is on at 9PM, will be on between 11PM and 12PM on a different channel.

The only time that feature doesn’t work is if the show doesn’t start until 2AM, then I just record it.

More of a comment than a suggestion, but really I couldn’t give you a better option than the first comment haha.

My current setup is:

Mac mini (connected to TV and wired to router

Xbox 360

PS3

AppleTV

ReadyNAS (to archive seasons I like or just when I need space and haven’t watched shows in a while)

The Mac mini runs TVShows (on sourceforge) that I use to subscribe to whatever shows I want. It’s set to check for new torrents daily at noon-ish. Those automatically get thrown into Transmission and start downloading. Then I watch using Sapphire (plugin for Front Row). Sapphire doesn’t like .mkv files though, even with the Perian plugin, so those shows are watched using Front Row.

Definitely going to have to look into Usenet groups though.

I just found out there’s feeds for Usenet, so I’m going to look into doing something similar for the shows I watch. Would save me the trouble of remembering to looking them up and trying to keep track of programming schedules. I’m sure it’s a nice little treat when a new episode is there waiting for you.

Now I really need to have a look at Usenet. A few friends are on it an have raved about it for a while. Must. Follow. Advice.

Would you just pop the feed into a reader and download manually then or do the feeds mean there are apps that would download automatically for you?

Yeah, it’s a great treat when you fire up Front Row and just see a week’s worth of shows waiting to be watched, all at the highest quality that could be found. If only Sapphire would auto add new files to it’s listing. :/

Plex, and you’re done. Just get a Mac Mini to run it, and you’ve got the smoothest and best media center in the world. Boxee ain’t bad, but I personally prefer Plex.

I’m a usenet fan myself, and there’s something to be said for downloading an HD episode of something and then immediately watching it, without having to worry about unrar’ing anything.

I’ve been using XBMC and after that Plex, which is built on XBMC for 6-7 years now, and it’s the only way to go IMHO.

When I clicked on this post I went straight ahead searched for the word PLEX… that Matt Brett is your answer, as this guy has already mentioned, I would advise waiting a month or so for the rumoured Mac Mini update, it’ll be worth the wait I tell you!

This is the new Aeon skin which is in development. Looks beautiful doesn’t it!

Faaantastic! I still have a modded Xbox with XBMC installed, which I was using up until about a year ago when we started watching everything in HD. The only reason I ditched it was due to the hardware not being capable of churning out the HD goodness. Plex, is awesome! Very familiar, yet completely new and refreshing. Just love the UI, and it’s absolutely loaded with every feature and option you could think of, but it doesn’t feel bloated or overkill.

I think this is the direction I’m going to go. Use Deanna’s MacBook for all things TV. Do all my downloading and file management on it, then hook it up to the entertainment system and use Plex to broadcast.

@Raphael: Indeed, the new Aeon skin is looking super nice! I really like the default skin of Plex, though.

Matt,

You’ve got 2 problems here:

(1) You’re manually downloading TV shows, which should be automated.

(2) You need something to play your MKV files.

For (1), the solution is easy — use alt.binz (altbinz.net). Since you only have Macs now, run it under Crossover and it’s good to go. Alt.binz will

-download a file

-automatically check it for consistency

-download only as many as PAR2 files as necessary

-automatically repair it, if needed

-automatically un-rar the file

And that’s not even the best feature of alt.binz — it has support for NZB rss feeds! Basically, use a site like TVNZB.com and import their RSS feed into alt.binz and setup a set of filters to only download the shows you want in the quality you want (ie. *heroes*720p*x264*). Once you setup your filters, everything will happen automatically and you just get the resulting video files, ready to play — consider it your PVR for Usenet ;-).

As for your other problem (2), that’s a bit more difficult. Basically, to get flawless playback with no re-encoding, you have to decide how much you want to pay. You’ve got 3 options:

– FREE: Connect your MacBook to your TV and run Boxee/Plex/XBMC/Front Row — you get a "lean-back, 10 foot interface" to watch your videos with minimal effort other than constantly connecting to your TV.

– $200: Buy a Popcorn Hour. I’ve never used one, but I’ve only heard good things about the video formats it’ll play. It’s wired and doesn’t include a HDD, but you can add to it as necessary. However, once you’ve used an XBMC variant (Boxee/Plex/etc), you may not be able to live with its limited feature set.

– $600: Buy a Mac Mini. This is easily the best solution and I would do it in a heartbeat if it included a Blu-Ray drive (I don’t have a PS3). Run Boxee and alt.binz on there, and you’ve got the best of all worlds — automated downloading, easy playback, dedicated box.

For what it’s worth, I’ve got a 360 and an Apple TV and neither will play the files I want (360 has enough horsepower, but no support for MKV; Apple TV w/ Boxee can play anything, but limited horsepower). My current setup is a home-made 4TB Windows Home Server box to download and store my files, which I stream to my MacBook connected to a 24" monitor. Hopefully the upcoming AppleTV revision will have enough power to better play HD files though, as that’d be the perfect solution for me (as my WHS box stores everything).

Hope this helps, thanks!

Great feedback, Bobby. Thanks! This topic is obviously something your passionate about and well versed in. I appreciate you taking the time to spell it all out for me.

I had someone email me with a lengthy comment similar to yours, but they suggested this little gem, which is similar to Alt.binz. I subscribe to Newzbin already, so Sabnzbd will be a perfect fit. Automating downloads and file management sounds absolutely amazing! Will really ease the process.

I thought about using SABnzbd, but the attention to detail in alt.binz keeps me from switching. The program author is really good about responding to requests for features and small things like setting specific download locations per RSS filter or natively searching newzleech.com and importing NZBs directly have kept me using it on all of my computers thus far.

Whatever you end up deciding to use for your workflow, I hope you post a new blog post about it — the comments section on this post alone has been a veritable goldmine of information!

We had given up on watching TV shows all together, not being big television watchers to begin with, combined with all the things mentioned in your post (Rogers, grrrr). However, I got an Apple TV for Christmas, which I have tied to a US iTunes account (very easy to do) and now I purchase my shows through the US iTunes store. The Apple TV is awesome, the quality is better than hooking up the iPod via connector cable (which is how we watched podcasts previously) and the pricing and selection for TV and movies is reasonable, even counting the exchange. We can also stream all our media across the network and have been slowly ripping our DVDs to an external hdd for our own ‘on demand’ library. Add to that the ability to play music and view our pictures (the kids favourite feature) with an easy to use interface… you can’t loose. The investment wasn’t too great, compared to how much we were paying for cable and PVR rental in the past and the Apple TV has much more functionality. I LOVE it.

Glad to hear you’re enjoying your Apple TV. It’s something I’ve been considering for a long time, but with so many options and each having drastically different capabilities, it’s been a lengthy decision that I’m just now starting to sort out.

I’d love to hear how you setup a US iTunes account. Perhaps this isn’t the best platform for that discussion, though. 😉

If you still want to pay for your shows, I can’t recommend this method enough. We had completely stopped watching TV before doing this. A quick Google search will show you how we figured it out. The nice thing is that the Apple TV will sync content purchased from both HotelQueen’s US account and my Canadian account so we can get all our content in one place.

I don’t know, either I’m too simple or don’t know much about technology used these days, but you’re process of watching a video sounds really complicated.

It sounded that complex, that I decided to do some research for you – even though I don’t own a PS3 nor a Mac.

Have you heard about PS3 Media Server? They released a version for Mac just recently. I’m not familiar with all the details, but apparently with that you play content on your PS3 wirelessly from your Mac. If I’m not totally mistaken you can play MKV files too as the software transcodes them on the go, but requires a high speed inner network between the devices. Hope this helps.

I don’t know how these things run in Canada as I live in Finland, but I just:

1. Download the TV show or movie via torrent

2. Burn it to DVD

3. Watch it with flatscreen TV via home theater setup

The average download time for a movie is 1.5 hours and burning the DVD takes about 5 – 10 minutes. And I don’t even have a high speed internet, comparing what others have here.

Hope you can find a simple, functional solution.

I haven’t looked into the PS3 media server recently and didn’t know there was a Mac client released, so thanks for the tip! I’ll definitely look into that. Using pre-existing hardware is definitely preferred.

I had thought of burning discs before, and actually tried that once. But I still had to convert the MKV before being able to burn it to DVD, so not much point there.

The PS3 Media Server has potential, but it’s still not nearly as good as Plex on its own, as it still (AFAIK) requires manually unrar’ing. Also, I had serious trouble streaming 720p content, but that might just be my local setup (though there ought to be bandwidth enough).

I’m with Michael (sorta). Check out Boxee.tv. Still in Alpha, but works great for everything I use it for: Music, HD Video, etc.

I think I’m going to skip Boxee and go with Plex. I’ve seen lots of people complaining about Boxee (on Twitter) being unstable, and with Plex being built on XBMC, you can’t go wrong there in my books.

Well Boxee is built on XBMC as well; but I personally prefer the interface of Plex. Boxee has too many bells and whistles for my taste; and besides, I don’t really want to social aspect of it (read: I don’t necessarily want everyone to know what I’m watching).

I signed up for a Boxee account, downloaded the client, but haven’t installed yet. I didn’t know it was built on XBMC as well, so I’ll likely end up giving it a shot.

Saw the social aspects, which look alright. There was an option to disable sharing, which I assume is what you’re worried about? I wouldn’t want everyone to know what I’m watching either.

Plex is beautiful, absolutely stunning. But, I love Boxee – if only for their web-based RSS feed management.

Getting Shows…

Up until October or so, I kept a small VPS server that I used to grab torrents at blazing speeds. Then I’d download the completed files over FTP at my leisure, no throttling or interruptions that way. Only cost about $25 a month at vpslink. Pretty simple, but a two step process.

In October I switched to using RapidShare to fetch my files, and it’s quite nice. I’ve always found what I’m looking for with it, and there is no two step process, just click and go (I have a premium account, like $7 a month). The downside to this is the sites linking rapidshare files tend to be infested with JS popups and redirects, but it’s not a problem if you turn off JS.

File Storage…

To serve the files up, I have a machine stashed in a closet, nothing special, 2 gigs of ram, core2duo, pretty mid range. Files are served up both via shared folders (great for boxee) and TVersity (works with the PS3/Wii/Xboxes we have, but boxee too) so that just about anything can access the files.

Watching…

On each of the main TVs we have a small footprint computer (such as laptop) with Boxee installed. Lower power, quite, and a wonderful interface. The main selling point of boxee for me though, is the one button access to Hulu and such (not sure if you can use Hulu in Canada though), but combine that with it’s -killer- interface and it just rocks.

On the less important/less watched tvs we have at least one game console, which is where TVersity comes in.

Notes…

I hate wireless in general, so pretty much everything in my house is wired.

EEEbox won’t have the power to play a 1080p file, but 720p is fine. I could never store 1080p files at any rate, too much space.

OS on all the machines except the storage server is Ubuntu, with Boxee on top.

Machines use MCE remotes.

If you build a closet server with TVersity on windows, the PS3/360 will eliminate your need for a set top box, unless you want the extra features of XBMC/Boxee etc.

Finally…

I’m having a hard time keeping my train of thought in this little comment box, so hopefully I made sense.

Thanks for this, Topher. Definitely some good suggestions, there. Picking up a low-end, but capable PC was an idea I kicked around for a bit. Didn’t think of installing Ubuntu on it, though. Figured I would have to go with Windows, and I’m just not okay with bringing a Windows machine into my house at this point. 😉

Ah, in that case ubuntu is the way to go for the file server. You can set it (or any other linux distro) up to transcode as well, it just isn’t as simple as it is on Windows with TVersity.

Sounds like it would be easier to just get a baseline NAS of some sort. I have a WD Myworldbook 1TB NAS, which works alright as a generic media storage (just don’t push it, cuz it’s close to the… eeedge). No, seriously, it’s good as long as you just need to use it for a media library.

I’m getting me a Drobo next though.

The new Drobo looks super nice, and up to 16TB of storage – wow! I hadn’t really thought of doing a network media server, which is another great possibility. I believe I have an old HDD enclosure kicking around here somewhere, I should give that a shot and see if it’s do-able.

I considered a Drobo, but for $500 without any HDDs, it was just too expensive.

Instead, I built a Windows Home Server box. I bought a cheap (but powerful and roomy on the inside) PC off Craigslist for $60 and 4x1TB HDDs for $110 each — same $500 cost, but includes tons of storage space as well.

Also, it’s a full-fledged PC (running Windows Server 2003 under WHS) so I can add programs and additional features pretty easily (ie. alt.binz, as referenced above).

Best of all, I can expand easily in the future with any size HDD with any type of connector (IDE, SATA, eSATA, FireWire, USB, etc.).

Just something to think about…

NAS is great, but the reason I went with a full server set up was even if I had a NAS I’d still need some sort of transcoding at some point, for something. UPNP NAS is nice, but plenty of my files aren’t fit for X device, so having the ability to transcode is a must. Using anything but a dedicated machine to transcode isn’t really an option when you’ve a family and never know who will be watching what, when.

I’m not a big fan of torrents; they’re way too slow unless the download is something extremely popular. And I’m a bit behind times, so I tend to download old tv shows that nobody downloads anymore.

I usually use iTunes or use my premium megaupload and rapidshare links to download my shows.

Yes…downloading around 20-30 links for HD quality sucks, which is the time when I say, "I’ll just buy the damn thing."

Get JDownloader. You can just copy/paste all the links into it at once, and press go. It’ll grab the files, and unzip them when it’s done.

You should check out newsgroups. Hit me up with a DM on Twitter if you want more information. It’s far faster and more secure than BitTorrent.

Hey Matt…before giving up on torrents , you should try Deluge or Halite (they’re both BitTorrent clients) .

I have the same problems with my ISP : if I’m using anything else than Deluge , the traffic is really , really awful . I don’t know why , but Deluge seems to bypass my ISP bittorent restrictions .

Give it a try.

I looked into Deluge, and it’s not fully supported on OS X. You have to manually compile and all that nonsense, which is not something I want to get into. That’s too "Windows hacky" for me. I traded in my PC for a Mac that "just works", and that’s how I’d like to keep things. 😉

With PlayOn or TVersity, you’ve got most TV shows via Netflix and Hulu.

Sounds like Plex is your answer though, let me know how you like it. I’ve never tried it.

Both PlayOn and TVersity are Windows only, and Netflix and Hulu aren’t available in Canada. 4x fail! 😛

Yeah, been using Newzbin for a couple years now = awesome! Definitely worth the few bucks a month. The best feature is bookmarks, which are essentially saved filtered searches. I have bookmarks for each show I’m watching, so it’s a single click to see if there are any new episodes available.

I use a similar process to you on my home PC, except that I use Rapidshare and don’t downlaod the HD versions.

My dad has his media server set up with MediaPortal (Open Source Windows App).

I used to have this as well where using Bittorrent and TVRSS.net it would all work auto. The naming conventions weren’t always pretty though.

I can’t really remember why I ditched this method, but I think it was an ISP problem like yours.

This is something I have wanted to change in a while so looking forward to hear other responses.

Maybe have a look at the Western Digital TV I brought one a month back and I love the thing, it plays pretty much any DRM free file that you chuck at it. I mostly use it for .mkv files and it plays, fast forwards without ever missing a frame. It’s also tiny so you can move it round the house or chuck it in a bag and take it to a mates, if need be.

The only problem is that it has no ethernet or wireless connection so you do have to stick your programs on a USB stick in order to play them but at $100 what do you expect.

http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.asp?drive

There is also something called popcorn hour with does have WiFi ethernet but it seems expensive for what it is, plus is Microsoft ever adds the ability to play .mkv files these machines become obsolete.

I heard good things about this; but the lack of a net connection of any kind is kind of a bummer, as it requires a lot of back and forth-ing. If they added that, it could be pretty cool. Though I have nothing good to say about the OS on my WD Myworldbook, so…

WD TV does have USB 2.0, though. So if your router supports network drives, (which my Airport Extreme does) there’s your answer to networking.

Great, another possible solution! I must admit, it’s nice to have options, though.

Actually, I think I misunderstood how this thing works – it appears you use the USB port for an external storage drive. There’s no on-board harddrive. So much for that.

Yer no on-board harddrive you just pop in any USB Hardrive and it will play whatever’s on it. The best option for a media player seems to be a mac mini but the price tag is just to high at the moment if you want to play mkv or HD films.

@Michael Heilemann – The OS is pretty nice it’s nothing to look at but simple enough and does what it needs to.

Would be great if 360 or the PS3 would just let you play .mkv files that would everyone super happy.

If anything, your article shows that content providers have a lot of catching up to do before watching a downloaded video on your TV becomes "granny-proof".

Right now I’m streaming from my Mac to my XBox360 using connect 360 and, for my needs, that works just fine.

Still haven’t found the ideal solution though, as I just ripped my entire 2000+ CD collection to Apple Lossless and I’m looking for the best-sounding solution (without breaking the bank, of course). Currently looking into Sonos or Logitech as a solution.

Great post again and some very useful comments 🙂

Hey Matt, nice Post, interesting topic!

I recently asked myself how to watch .mkv files on my ps3 too and found this little tool:

http://forum.doom9.org/showthread.php?t=131782

Its very fast and the quality is really good. It just took me less than 30s(!) to encode an episode of Two and a half Man from .mkv into .avi (xvid). When you use it, don’t forget to do some configuration stuff.

After you’ve encoded it you can watch the file on your ps3 via the media server function.

Regards from Germany, Holger

That’s a pretty sweet little app, but unfortunately it’s Windows only. Doesn’t help me out, but should be useful to those Windows users that have a PS3.

I tried the wd hd, it was blah. The interface was nice, remote felt a bit cheap. I did not like the fact that it does not have on-board hard drive. I thought it would have been ideal to at least have an expansion slot on it, so that you could install your own internal. It only allows for external usb attached drive, so you have to walk back and forth to your pc, transferring all your downloaded files to your drive. However it is cheap and gets the job done.

I will warn you though, I downloaded wmvhd files, and the unit did not play any audio, so some codecs are missing, even though I updated the firmware on it.

Recommended Setup:

I purchased an original xbox for about $75 at my local gamestop, performed a soft-mod on it (Tutorials are all over google), the process was simple and took about 10 minutes. I replaced the xbox dashboard with Xbox Media Center, and I love it. It plays all my videos, and has a sick interface. Connect the xbox to my network via ethernet, connected to all my shared video folder and I’m rockin.

But that’s only SD (though I know that using some insane hacks, it can be made to work with HD as well, but I doubt it’s worth the hassle). And also, despite XBMC’s fan-monitor (which is much much superior to the Xbox’s native fan control), the Xbox is somewhat more noisy than for instance a Mac mini.

But for pure SD media center, it’s definitely a no-brainer.

I’ve actually got a modded Xbox with XBMC installed, which is what I was using exclusively for a couple years. It was only recently when I wanted to start watching everything in HD that it no longer fit the bill. I know there’s hardware mods you can do to beef it up yourself, but I’m not so much into that sort of thing these days.

Check out http://www.tvtorrents.com, I download 720p avi files there. The site is based on share/seed ratio, unless you donate via paypal for some credits. The site has a calendar of shows, and lets you compile a "favorite shows" rss feed. Once you have your favorite show feed setup, the site informs you when a now episode has been aired. If you pair that up with Miro, you can automatically download the episodes and watch on Miro as they are posted on the site. They also offer full season downloads.

I know you mentioned throttling, which is total fail sauce, but with the amount of people seeding, the download speed is pretty nice. What really attracts me is the way the site allows users to maintain favorite shows feeds, which automates the process for me. I download directly to a shared folder and life just became easier. If you’re worried about file size, they do also offer divx episodes which range between 150mb-220mb average for a one hour show.

I live in miami, fl, our cable internet provider is offering cable tv via ethernet to a small set top box, with HD content. Can you imagine, televisions with ethernet port? Maybe even an internal hard drive for dvr action? Woa, sick.

I feel your pain about wanting HD content to play on Xbox XBMC. Personally, I have a media server and am going to buy a Mac Mini to install XBMC on it. XBMC is just awesome.

Personally, I just like to buy DVDs and watch them. I spend less time at the tube, and I only watch/buy what I really want.

I vote for XBMC running on whatever you have. I have it on an XP laptop and an Apple TV pulling over a G wireless network from ripped DVD VIDEO_TS folders. I have just been lazy in converting the VIDEO_TS to single MP4 or AVI and I havent decided on what format either.

The G network is fast enough to keep up with 4-6 GB streamed movies. The Apple TV is well worth 229$ with the XBMC Boxee hack. The picture quality is amazing and it plays every format I have thrown at it. I have used Front Row, Media Portal and others and my Apple TV with a skinned XBMC is by far the best. The XP laptop is great if you want to sit outside, drink a beer and watch a movie.

I have not used MKV files yet, so still need to explore that. I hope the Apple TV can handle that…

@ chad – Whilst you can playback mkv files I’ve heard that it’s not all that stable a solution. Most use handbrake (or someother app) to convert to apple tv (and retain 5.1 audio) but that can take some time.

I’ve found Plex and Sabnzb works great with a C2D macmini and a 5.1 system. For mkv playback on a mac you’ll want to kit it out with ram.

If you write a few bash scripts for Sab it can then organise and/or convert your files and update the plex library giving you a fully automated service.

I’ve been happy with my PopcornHour (http://popcornhour.com) Network Media Tank. It doesn’t come with a hard drive, but you can put any size drive you want into it, and after that, you can do torrent and Usenet downloads directly to the device, and it plays just about every format under the sun.

The price wasn’t completely horrible ($240ish after shipping to Winnipeg) for the A-100 model, but if you want to use SATA hard drives, you’d need to bump up to the A-110. Both models have internal wired ethernet, and the company also offers an 802.11n USB adapter. I can’t speak for the wireless performance, but wired is more than enough for 1080p content.

This write and all the comments inspired me to change the way I watch TV and I recently ditched the cable company.

I just did a write up about our current setup which consists of a Mac Mini running Plex, Hulu, and SABnzbd+ for Usenet downloads. The whole thing is pretty seamless and far cheaper than cable.

Check out the full details here:
http://chriserwin.com/blog/post/cutting_the_cable

[…] few months ago I wrote about downloading TV shows, and the steps I take that allow me to watch them in the living room on the main TV. I was taken […]

Comments are automatically closed on articles over 5 years old.