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Thread: Can you afford a digital home?

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    Can you afford a digital home?

    Browsing the BBC's news site today I spotted a story on the public opinion towards the cost of digital homes.
    The high price of gadgets to create homes where TV, computer, hi-fi, phone and net connect is a big barrier, found the Accenture report.

    Consumers were also daunted by the potential problems posed by getting all the gadgets talking to each other.
    So, I put this question to you: What would you want from your digital home and why don't you have it yet? If you do have a digital home and you're happy with it, then let us know.

    What about me? Well, I envisage a central media library, accessible around my home. So that could entail a nice large NAS box for storing data, but I think I can do one better than that. I'd like a media box, storing audio, video and capturing TV. Then I'd get VLC streaming TV across my network through multicast, so that any device on the network could "tune in". Controlling the channels, time shifting, etc, could get interesting, but I don't think it's infeasible. Other video and audio could be on-demand, served from the media box as required.

    What problems does such a vision create? First there's bandwidth. Most devices are going to need wiring in to the network because wireless just isn't up to it, even 802.11g is flaky at handling reasonable res video streams in the tests I've done. That introduces the hassle and costs of cabling. Combine that with the cost of having player units in various locations around the house (mini/nano-ITX systems for places like the living room), then start thinking about the audio/video systems and costs really start to rack up.

    Let's not even start on the hassle of putting the family's masses of CDs and other media onto the media server.

    The bottom line: This is something I'd really like to do, but it's not going to happen over night.

    That's me, but what about you?
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    Ah, Mrs. Peel! mike_w's Avatar
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    I'm quite happy with the way things are in most houses right now. Making everything digital and connected to each other would be far too much hassle, and take time and money. I just want my TV to pick up four channels, the VCR and the DVD player, with my stereo playing the radio and my computer... well, being a computer!

    Not only do the benefits of a digital home not appeal to me particularly, I wouldn't want to be in the situation where it goes wrong - the more technology you put in, the more likely it is to go wrong.
    "Well, there was your Uncle Tiberius who died wrapped in cabbage leaves but we assumed that was a freak accident."

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    Will work for beer... nichomach's Avatar
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    What I'd like? Before I'd even consider building say an HTPC (which I have thought about), I'd want a capture card with a cable tuner and a slot for the smartcard that my cable provider uses. Simple really. And is there one? Nope. You can get DVB-T cards with CAM slots for digital pay channels, why is it so impossible to get one for cable? I'd like to lose the crappy one-piece audio system, lose the crappy Telewest set-top box (the service is fine, but damn does that box overheat at the drop of a hat), lose the VCR, lose the DVD player/recorder, just bung the whole lot into a single box. Then I'd consider it, but not until. I don't think a NAS device'd be necessary, just a reasonable size well ventilated ATX case - an Antec Overture'd look at least as good under the TV as some of the crap that's there now. Whack a couple of honking big HDs in there (maybe three, if I get some mounting rails for one of the 5.25" slots) and a DVD burner. Maybe get some pre-N wireless kit, which ought to give 108Mbps, so bandwidth'd be less of a problem, and even less if I were using a proper MIMO wireless router/access point. But it all falls down on that bloody card. Which doesn't exist. Bah.

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    Audio

    For me it's mainly audio that I want all over the house. For video I'm happy to have it all in one place, so a PVR and DVD player under a giant telly is all I need.

    I'm not looking to actually have audio playing all over the house, I'd just like a device that I can move around the house that will stream music from the music collection on my server.

    I've been looking for:

    . something small
    . with a reasonable screen
    . preferably a touch screen
    . with wifi
    . not necessarily battery-powered
    . that can display a web site (so I can build the necessary UIs)
    . and that can deliver streamed music to line out
    . costs less than about 150 quid

    This would replace two portable CD players around the house and my stereo's CD player. I wouldn't mind having one and moving it around the flat, or buying more than one to park in various places.

    If PSP were hackable I'd look into that.

    I suppose an iPod might be the answer but I have an aversion to replicating data and having to keep stuff in sync.

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    Senior Member ajbrun's Avatar
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    It's be nice to have all audio and recorded video in a central place. Then all TV's/stereos would be connected to it, and could access it.

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    It's kind of funny this subject coming up today, I had intended to ask a question along similar lines. I own a relatively well specced PC which I use for gaming, but I intend to watercool it and make it quiet, then reinstall Windows XP MCE 05 on it. This would serve the majority of my needs (gaming, DVDs, music etc.) but I am led to wonder about the other services that a HTPC can perform when outfitted with MCE.

    I've been looking at the details for the MCE remote kit (yucky USB-cabled up independent IR sensor) and wondered if that can be picked up by any other IR kit I happened to install (something integrated into the case, preferably; I already have an Audigy 2 Platinum which has an IR sensor on the front bay, as yet never used) with full functionality.

    The second question I have concerns just what input technology can be used for TV signals. I have a really old Hauppauge WinTV PCI card in the box at the moment which I'd like to replace with something more modern. Until now I've used this instead of a TV for playing console games (via my PC monitor) but suffer the obvious terrible fuzziness that comes with upsampling a low resolution input to fit nicely on a 1600x1200 display. But then this is via a composite cable, which obviously doesn't do the best job of displaying stuff. So what if I wanted to input stuff in HD resolutions? What hardware would be up to that task? And are there any cards that do this with digital/analog TV tuning also? Which MCE sings happily along with?

    I guess these are questions more than statements (in the original vein of the thread) for which I apologise, but it would at least give me the foundation for what I consider the true home entertainment experience; a machine for playing games from various different platforms (natively or via high-quality TV input), music, TV and movies, all in a central hub.

    Suggestions/thoughts/ideas...?

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    daft ideas inc. scottyman's Avatar
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    I'm looking at this for a friend of mine - however, he's been told he's not allowed anything other than the plasma in the living room - everything else must be in the server room.
    So restriction is RF for all controls except for the plasma, multiple audio channels broadcast to different rooms, and DVD playback to three different rooms (different DVDs)
    Either NTL cable or Sky must be supported

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    For all those interested in multi-room video, take a look at this page. I saw it at the CEDIA Expo a couple of weeks ago, and was blown away by it!
    Basically, it's a hugh f**k-off RAID array (up to 4Tb, enough for 600+ DVDs) plus a box in each room to access the server. Each room can watch a different film at the same time, and you can pause in one room, walk to another, and pick up the film from where you left off.
    Now, unfortunately, it doesn't stream TV or music (but I don't think it'll be too long before they add audio-only capability) and the starting price is seriously high (think £15k+ starting price) - but this has got to be the ultimate in multi-room video

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    I did some coverage on Kaleidescape a couple of weeks ago Flibblebot. It is alarmingly expensive, which is why I personally would rather go for a DIY effort.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kez
    I did some coverage on Kaleidescape a couple of weeks ago Flibblebot. It is alarmingly expensive, which is why I personally would rather go for a DIY effort.
    It is alarmingly expensive, you're right, but it is also alarmingly sexy too
    This kind of kit isn't targetted at people like us, but mainly at those with more money than they know what to do with.

    Aside from noise, the main problem with a DIY solution is one of interface and WAF (wife acceptance factor) - I'm not aware of any system that allows you to browse through your DVD collection and just choose one to watch (and I'm talking about real DVD copies here, with all the menus and extras, not just a DiVX rip) - something that's as easy to use as the Kaleidescape interface. The problem with all HTPC interfaces so far is that they've all been designed as extensions of PC interfaces, not from the ground up as a standalone TV interface. And don't even get me started on stability...

    Now, if I'm wrong, and such a program exists, I'm happy to be corrected, and I'll even push my way to the front of the queue - but I think it'll be a while before HTPCs get close to dedicated boxes for ease of use and stability.

    As always, this is well and truly IMHO

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flibblebot
    Aside from noise, the main problem with a DIY solution is one of interface and WAF (wife acceptance factor)
    You sir, are a king among men!

    I agree with your points. I think if I was creating a digital home I'd have to write myself a half decent front end - mostly just scripted stuff to call the necessary programs (VLC for example) with the necessary parameters and list media, etc.
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    I could not agree more - I have been thinking this and stating this to Intel, Microsoft and every other company who talks to me about it.

    I have seen the setup that these companies show as an ideal setup -and it is not cheap, far from it.

    I have an AE700 in my lounge, and I will have a media centre when I have the board booting (2.13G Dothan, 1GB Ram, 6200AGP (passive), 160GB hdd, DVD) in a Hiper Chassis.

    Anyway - this cost me nothing - however, for the consumer that would be nearly 2000 quid of kit.

    It is crazy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kez
    You sir, are a king among men!
    Why, thank you sir
    Quote Originally Posted by Kez
    ...the necessary programs (VLC for example)...
    Hmmm, now you've started me thinking - this is something to look into. I wonder whether it's possible to passively cool one of the VIA boards...run Linux on them...with VLC on top...getting streams from a server...is it possible to get VLC to read DVD images...hmmm

    Damn you and your good ideas, sir!

    David, I agree with your comment about cost - but it isn't just about cost. If Microsoft truly want to see people using Media Center more, they're going to have to either make it stand-alone or improve the security and stability of Windows. The main advantage of a dedicated, custom-built box like the Kaleidescape is that it's designed for one thing, and one thing only. It does that one thing very well, and doesn't try to be all things to all people (which is what Windows is) - and as a result, is far more secure, and far more stable than Windows can ever hope to be. The downside to Media Center (and others like ShowShifter, Beyond TV etc.) is always going to be that they run on Windows.

    It's interesting - out of all the companies and stands at the CEDIA Expo, only one of them was running Media Centre - which just goes to show what the custom design/install industry thinks of it

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    I think i know what i would want if i was going to have a digital home, and that *everything* - im not just saying that in a big headed way, but whats the point in having a tv that can receive 4000 channels on sky access terrabytes of stored video on a server somewhere else in the house, if you still have to get out of your chair to turn it on. A little snippet of my spec would have to include.

    1) x-10 controllers for all electronic devices, including lights, x-10 controller connected to network.
    2) custom front end, accessible through tv, wall mounted screens and any computer,
    3) integrated alarm system and camera network - you would want to protect all these new toys.
    4) voice recognition, would be very impressive to have your mates round and be able to say . "Computer, turn the lights in the living room off."
    5) Programability. Looking on www.letsautomate.co.uk there are a lot of programmable x-10 relays and similar devices, set your coffee maker to make a fresh pot at 7am, and set your bath to run whilst you are on your way home from work
    6) ease. Everything would need to be one design, if theres nothing i hate more, its having to use 10 different User interfaces for 10 different applications to do one small task.
    7) cool factor. Your house texting your phone, and then calling the police when there is a break in would be handy and very cool.
    8) Remote monitoring and control - easy with a web server and no-ip service running at home. Turn the lights off when your on holiday, or even open the curtains (curtain openers available on www.letsautomate.com(.co.uk?) last time i checked.

    Just my 2 pennies worth

    Sam

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    HEXUS webmaster Steve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stargaze
    4) voice recognition, would be very impressive to have your mates round and be able to say . "Computer, turn the lights in the living room off."
    You see, I'd prefer to skip the mates bit, and get it do detect the word "luuurve" and take the appropriate light dimming, music playing action.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kez
    get it do detect the word "luuurve"
    ...and all you'd need is a girlfriend who didn't either walk out or collapse in fits of giggles at the word "luuurve"

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