I’m going to be moving out of my parent’s Croydon house in to Melissa’s Eaglemont unit pretty soon. I’ll miss Mum & Dad but I’m definitely looking forward to having my own space again! I’m trying to get the move done before I go back to work on January 4th since there is six weeks of work scheduled on my rail line that will make an already lengthy trip unbearably long1. Moving to Eaglemont will shorten my journey from about an hour to 45 mins.
So Melissa and I have been shopping for homewares stuff in the post-Christmas sales.
We’ve bought a couch (nice brown leather – three seater, two seater and single recliner). We’re now proud owners of plates and bowls and by tomorrow’s end we’ll have paid for the glasses and cutlery we chose today. A fridge has been carefully selected and we’ve narrowed down the washing machine selection to just a couple of units (a Miele front-loader is the current front-runner). I gotta admit buying this stuff has been a lot more fun than I expected!
However, I’ve really enjoyed shopping for audio-visual gear. I’m sure you’re surprised. 😉
I came up with a plan a long time ago to implement a media PC and hook it up with decent AV gear. I thought some of you may be interested in the details. Many of you may find this quite techie so I’m sorry! – but if you can waddle through the technical guff you’ll find information about an entertainment system that ought to be easy to use, powerful and impressive.
I decided to base the media PC on the open-source MythTV system, using my current (aging) desktop PC after updating it with a couple of digital tuner cards and a beefier hard disk. MythTV runs under Linux and I’ve chosen to use the Ubuntu distro. This PC will form the back-end server, to be hidden in a closet somewhere. I’m going to purchase a Mac Mini to be used as the front-end. The (small, unobtrusive, pretty) mini will be in the living room, networked to the server and connected to the TV (DVI to HDMI) and amplifier (TOS to optical). The basic idea is that TV will be collected on the server and streamed, as desired, to the mini in the living room where it’ll be displayed on a largish TV and played through a decent amplifier and speakers.
That all sounds a bit complicated just to watch TV though, right? Well, yes, but there are advantages. You can time-shift your TV. Pause live television. Rewind. Fast forward (if you’ve had it paused for awhile). And the quality2 is (generally) far better that typical analogue TV. Further, the server can be set to schedule recordings of your favourite shows, just like a video recorder. Except this system presents you with a list of all the upcoming shows on each channel – just select the show you’re interested in. If the show repeats weekly you can tell the system to store all of them as they are played. No more going nuts trying to program VCR’s.
Oh, and if you want to watch a DVD or listen to a CD you can just pop it in to the mini’s drive. It’ll start playing automatically.
The server also stores any audio and video that you want. That DVD or CD that you popped in can be ripped to the server’s hard drive. I intend to store all of my music on the server and some of my favourite movies. (And the music will be synchronised to my iPod.)
The system also stores and manages photos. All of my photos will live on the server and can be displayed through the TV.
This will all, of course, be connected to the Internet. Why? Well, for starters, I can configure what to record through a website that is hosted on the server. Imagine you arrive at work and are reminded that tonight there is a super-duper special of Australian Idol and you forgot to set it to record! Just browse to the website and set it. Disaster averted!
The server will make photos that I choose visible through a website (I’m probably going to synchronise my photos with Flickr).
All of the podcasts I’m interested in (video and audio) will be downloaded automatically and stored, waiting for me to watch or listen to them.
Here’s a kicker; TV shows that I can’t easily get in Australia can be automatically downloaded. TvRSS is a wonderful service that provides a feed with bittorrent enclosures to video recordings of TV shows. That’s a mouthful. In English: Automatically download any TV show you desire, from anywhere in the world, soon after it airs (if someone is kind enough to provide a digital copy). The legalities are – ahem – somewhat sketchy but there are two reasons where you may consider this reasonable: 1) When a series isn’t aired here (or is shown many months behind the rest of the world), 2) When the local networks deserve it – like when they pull a show mid-season or play them out of order. Be fair though; if you enjoyed the show buy the DVD when it comes out…
Finally, all of the data on the server can be backed up to an online storage service. My current favourite is Amazon’s S3 service using JungleDisk but I may yet change my mind. It’s not free but is very
reasonably priced and losing all of my photos, music and data is not a happy thought.
So, that’s the system I plan on setting up. It may take me awhile but it should be worth it!
Now, my hard disk has just finished formatting so I’d best get back to installing the software!
 The journey would become: train from Croydon to Blackburn, bus to Box Hill, train to Southern Cross, change to a train to Kensington or Macauley – phew! I’m guessing that’d take about an hour and a half.
 Of the picture – this ain’t going to improve the quality of the programming!