A few months ago, I bought a nice little Sony Vaio desktop computer from a co-worker for a really good price. I saw that it had TV out capabilities, as well as two TV tuners, so I thought it’d be fun to get something plugged into the TV. So I got it all set up and played around, but the Giga Pocket software that came with it was really quite pathetic. I ended up just using Explorer for a while to view my videos, but that required either having a keyboard and mouse hooked up, or using VNC. I would have put Linux on it, except the TV tuner was incompatible with Linux, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the rest of the hardware was as well.
Then a story ran on Slashdot about a wonderful little project called Media Portal, which is essentially like Freevo or MythTV, but for Winodws. It’s open source, written in C#, and works well. Although still a very early beta (0.1.0.5.1 is the current release), it lets me do almost everything I want to do. I can play videos, music, view pictures, check the weather, and all the other standard stuff.
Unfortunately, the little remote control and receiver that came with this Vaio was incompatible with everything but their Giga Pocket software. I ended up going with a SnapStream Firefly remote and receiver, which I must say works quite well and is comfortable to hold.
The setup was starting to work well enough, but the video quality sucked. I was using standard composite cables, and as I also use a TiVo, I didn’t want to give up my TV’s S-Video port. My DVD player was using my component ports on the TV, but I figured I could experiment a bit in that area, and purchased a DVI-to-component adapter for my Radeon 9600 Pro. I plugged it in and was amazed at the sharpness I got in comparison to the composite and even S-Video cables. I could actually read small text, even though some of it was still flickery. Ah well, it’s not like it’s a monitor.
The last major piece of the puzzle was a good case. A big silver Vaio tower next to my TV just wasn’t all that appealing. So I shopped around and saw the SilverStone LC03V case. It was love at first sight. I found a vendor selling it for a cheap price and purchased it, along with a new black DVD-RW and a black In-Win CR-I530 (USB/Firewire/Audio/Compact Flash/Secure Digital/MMC/Smart Media/MiniDisk) expansion bay. Unfortunately, the audio and firewire ports don’t work on my crappy Vaio motherboard, but I’ll replace that someday.
Everything arrived and I put it all together. It’s very sexy. I put the case in front of the TV and noticed that I could actually read the text on the TV in the case’s reflection. Oh yeah, while I was at it, I bought a new stick of RAM for my main desktop, bringing it up to 1GB.
Despite the suckiness of Windows, the media box generally runs well. The only times I have problems are when Windows decides it’s time to interrupt what I’m doing to tell me that I should upgrade to Service Pack 2, or when the virus scanner pops up, or when I start up Windows and it tells me that I’m not smart enough to decide the resolution I want, and that it wants me to bump it up from my custom resolution for my TV to 800×600. But it’s Windows, nobody really expects to be treated intelligently anyway. As long as I don’t have to reboot often, it works well enough.
I’m in the process of working on a plugin for Media Portal to allow me to see and update my NetFlix queue from my remote, as well as browsing other movies and seeing their video clips. It’s starting to work pretty well, but it’ll be a while before it’s ready for normal use.
I need to resist the temptation to put any more money into this for a while 🙂