Friday, December 31, 2010

The Dream Media Center - Google TV Brings Us One Step Closer

Happy early new year!  In preparation for a fresh start to the new year, I was doing some gmail inbox clean-up, when I stumbled across an old thread with a friend about HD capture devices for media centers.  I decided to pick up that thread, and here's what I found.

I ended up spending most of my time researching Google TV.  Specifically, the Logitech Revue, a piece of hardware with the customized Android OS known as Google TV running on it.  It now sells for $180 through the Dish network.  Honestly, I could care less whether I have Dish or DirecTV, as long as I get three things: The ability to play and record 1080i resolution live sports, the ability to play DVD rips in a variety of formats from my media server, and the ability to view websites and consume online videos.  So far, the only solution I had found that did these was Windows 7 Media Center with the Hauppauge HD-PVR external HD TV Tuner.  This is a very unstable, extremely complicated setup that I don't recommend for anyone.  Although it satisfies those three needs, it still leaves a great deal to be desired.

At first, Google TV didn't seem well-suited to meet those three requirements.  Google TV didn't have native support for TV Tuners, or have the ability to browse network attached storage.  However, it is able to communicate with Dish Network DVRs, instructing them to record, and much like boxee, can then show those recorded items inline with available online video when searching for say, Californication (the best show on television in my humble opinion).  Upon further reflection, this Dish DVR integration is actually a pretty elegant solution.  Rather than solving the incredibly complex problem of how to tune an external tv signal, the device merely instructs another device to do it instead.  I was very intrigued.  This was compelling enough for me to move on to the other tricky issue of local video playback.

The Logitech Revue supports the DLNA media sharing format.  That means you could get the incredibly sexy Synology DS1511+ NAS (which is DLNA certified), put it on your local network, and your Google TV will be able to find it and index its contents.  From what I've read, it can index and playback .avi files (including divx and xvid), .mp4 files, and some mkv files, but not .vob files, although that is likely to change.

I have yet to determine how Google TV presents the videos it finds.  The obvious ideal would be to do as Boxee does and show a list of every episode available for a show in the form of a grid, where hulu offerings are present along side local files, ones already recorded on your DVR, and ones that are playing live right now on your TV service.

This grid does exist, although I haven't managed to get confirmation on whether video on local file servers are able to be played from it.

Anywho... enough for now.  Enjoy your New Years festivities!

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