My Home Media Strategy is Evolving

Music Library

Well my new Dell XPS 420 Arrived on Monday and I’ve begun to assemble my new home media strategy.

I’m going to be blogging more about this in the near future, but at present I’ve got the new Dell set up in my home office in my attic. It’s a fast, well running, quiet machine. All of my media is held on two drobos connected to this Dell with 4 750GB internal drives each. Effectively,(after accommodating for the storage space needed for file replication), I’ve got 2TB of primary storage on each of my drobos. One is used for my RAW photo files and the other holds my music and finished JPG photo files.

I was able to import all of my digital media (about 100,000 mp3s and 70,000 JPG photo files) into Windows Media Player 11. This took over 24 hours, but is well worth it as Windows Media Player 11 handles my super large digital media library flawlessly — much more than I can say for iTunes. It’s fun to finally begin rating my music again. I’ve got about 7,000 of my 100,000 mp3s rated from one star to five star.

I’ve got three XBox 360s which will be responsible for streaming media to the rest of my house. One in my living room with a 58″ Panasonic Plasma HDTV. One in my kitchen connected to a smaller Samsung HDTV. And one in my bedroom connected to a 43 inch Phillips plasma.

Each of these three XBox 360s act as Media Center extenders and will stream my media to these rooms in my home. I’m going to add a 4th XBox 360 for the guest bedroom at some point, but I’ll probably wait to see if a Blu-ray XBox 360 might be making its way to market here in the future before buying my next one.

My next step is to connect all three XBox 360 extenders to my Dell. It can take about a day for each Dell to import my large library (my living room XBox 360 is importing digital media as I type this).

I’m also in the process of installing an HD Home Run dual HDTV digital network tuner. This tuner will work with an HDTV OTA antenea and will pull television into my Media Center PC with its built in DVR. Once I get this set up I will probably cancel my DirecTV. DirecTV is dropping support for my DirecTV TiVo and I don’t want their crappy non TiVo DVR and plus I’m tired of paying them $85 a month. Between the free network OTA programming that I can get and record (and skip commercials with Media Center) and my Netflix account I honestly don’t think I’ll be hurting for content.

Once I get all of this finished and set up I’m going to start getting back into Media Center much more seriously than I’ve been for the past few years. There are so many great plug ins and programs for Media Center that I’ve neglected over the past few years because my old Media Center PC (the very first Media Center PC ever released, the HP 873N) didn’t have the horsepower to handle my large library.

I’m excited about how well my home media strategy is working and look forward to blogging lots more about it in the future.

My home media set up is a work in progress of course and I’d be remiss without thanking once again bloggers Ed Bott and Charlie Owen for the advice and support along the way as I’ve set this up. Ed is one of the top Microsoft Windows bloggers out there today and Charlie works on the Media Center team at Microsoft.

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7 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    Sounds like a good setup, but don’t forget the DirecTV tuner for media center is expected this year.

    http://www.engadgethd.com/2008/01/08/directvs-pc-tuner-is-real/

  2. I’m quite pleased to see that you have Yes’s 90125 in your media library. As if I didn’t hold you in high enough esteem already.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Ben, the DirecTV tuner sounds interesting but actually I’m thinking of moving in another direction and dumping DirecTV entirely.

    I’ll be posting on this shortly when I actually dump them.

    The main reason for dumping DirecTV is that I’m tired of paying them $85 a month.

    I think that the majority of people out there are watching Network Prime Time TV. With my HomeRun dual HDTV tuner I can pull all of this programming off of the air for *free*. The cost of the tuner is less than 3 months of DirecTV and it works very well.

    Now when I supplement this free content with stuff that I can get from Netflix (i.e. all of the great premium TV that I watch like Weeds and Big Love and Dexter and the what not) I pretty much have more than enough content to consume.

    In addition to my free network OTA HDTV and my Netflix, there is also plenty of other content available for purchase online through Media Center.

    While it’s true that Netflix and Microsoft don’t have *everything* and while I’m not necessarily *suggesting* to anyone that Bittorrent is an alternative to fill in the gaps that you might want to watch, a 3 disc Netflix plan for $17.99 a month sure does seem to make a lot more sense to me than continuing to support DirecTV’s outrageous $85 a month charge when 95% of the programming that they are giving me I could care less about. I won’t miss the Soap Opera Network or VH1 or the Sci Fi Channel when there is so much other great content that I already have access to.

  4. DWAnderson says:

    I’ll be interested to hear how you make out using Extenders with a large music library. I too have a Media Center PC (which I keep in a basement server room) that I use with foru Xbox 360 extenders. My initial experience was the same as yours, but I ran into problems when new music (in my case podcasts which download regularly) was added to watched folders. Because each extender is a different user on the media center PC they each have their own libraries which need to be updated. I found that this seldom happened in a timely fashion and there was no way to force a manual update. MS has indicated they are aware of the issue. On the plus side, the TV experience with dual Cablecard tuners is beyond compare.

  5. Matt says:

    Thomas, nice to see you finally upgraded that old Media Center! It’s great to hear that a new computer with Vista is handling your large libraries well.

  6. Robert P says:

    Dear Thomas:

    Lat night I was thinking about your posts as my wife and I listened to music during dinner and long into the night. While the MCE and Apple TV strategies are great for visual media such as photos and videos, I don’t think they do as well for music. For the last year, I have been using Sonos. The “killer app” that Sonos supplies is the handheld controller. As my wife and I sat at the dining room table, then moved to the couch, I didn’t have to turn on the TV to select the music.( I know that you are on a quest to fetch album art, but let’s face it, who wants to stare at an album cover for the legnth of an entire song?).

    Why is the handheld controller critical? I typically don’t listen through an entire album and instead let the music and mood flow. So while I may be listening to one tune, I can cue up another without distracting everyone in the room by running over to the CD rack or scrolling through a massive list on a TV screen.

    The second critical element is Sonos’ ability to integrate media that I “own” through CD rips and MP3 downloads with online streaming services such a Rhapsody. My on the fly playlist last night included Love Tractor, The Connells, Swimming Pool Qs, Magnetic Fields, Cat Power and Beirut– half were from “owned” content and half were from Rhapsody. They flowed seamlessly and the sonic difference between Rhapsody and a .wav file was not that great.

    Final point,the handheld controller begs to be passed around the room, so that during a party you can really develop a collaborative playlist.

    I have enjoyed your site for many months. My wife and I will be in san Francissco in April and I would love to hook up with a Photowalk. Is there a weekly group?

  7. Allen says:

    Not sure if you get notified of comments on older posts but I’ll try this out. If all else fails, I’ll try email. I searched out this post because I remembered you discussing your music collection consisting of 100,000+ MP3’s and I find that staggering. I have more than a few songs in my collection but I was wondering if you’d dedicate a post (or shoot me an email) to discuss your collection. For example, I have about 10,000 songs which include complete albums (about 700 of them) and then a selection of other songs. Out of all this music I probably “like” about 50% of it, the rest I keep on the off chance that I might want to listen to some of the songs or someone I know might want some of the music. However, I have music spanning from the 30’s and 40’s through independent bands putting out new music today and I was wondering what a man with 100,000 songs in his collection would have!! You must have a pretty complete collection and there is really no way you could listen to all (or probably even half) of it.

    Thanks for listening and hopefully responding!!