The Ultimate Networked TV - ResidentialSystems.com

The Ultimate Networked TV

I am writing this column on my PC in my home office, just as I have done for Residential Systems for each of the last 10 years.
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Leveraging a Client’s Network to Maximize the Value of Their TV

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Gordon van Zuiden (gordon@cybermanor.com) is president of cyberManor in Los Gatos, California.

I am writing this column on my PC in my home office, just as I have done for Residential Systems for each of the last 10 years. What is different now than a few years ago is that the NCAA basketball finals are going on, and I am multi-tasking by watching a live HD video stream of the game in the Media Center Windows frame in the upper right corner of my desktop display. Having a TV signal on my Windows computer is not the revolutionary feature. What is significantly different now is how this live TV signal is sent to my computer, the quality of the video, and the enhanced usability of the TV interface.

In a column that I wrote last year on Microsoft Media Center-based TV, I described the advent of the CableCard tuner farm. Specifically I described the ability to decouple the CableCARD tuner from a computer or TV and place them at the head end, where they could be allocated to any TV or computer that wanted to watch live TV. The Ceton CableCard tuner that was released a year and half ago accomplished this same task, but it had significant limitations.

But these limitations have been addressed by the new Silicon Dust HD HomeRunPrime CableCARD tuner (www.silicondust.com). I have had this product installed in my home for the last three months, and it has worked flawlessly. No larger than my cable modem, it is connected to the Ethernet switch and my incoming cable TV signal.

The beauty of this network architecture is that my tuner farm can now sit anywhere on my network where I have a live switch port and cable signal. The HDHomeRun Prime tuner dynamically assigns the HD tuners to a computer or laptop only when a tuner is needed. These live TV streams can be delivered not only to computers connected to my wired network, but also to any laptop, because the bandwidth of an 802.11n wireless connection is sufficient to have an excellent wireless HD streaming experience.

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HD HomeRun Prime’s network architecture is a powerful and flexible approach to distributing HDTV throughout the home.

If you need more than three simultaneous live TV streams, you could purchase another three tuner HDHomeRun Primes (for $249) and lease one more CableCARD to scale up to six TV streams. There is also rack-mountable, six-tuner HDHomeRun Prime for $499. By scaling the number of HDHomeRun Prime tuners, you could have up to 12 simultaneous TV streams. This is enough tuner capacity for even the largest installation.

Distributing Movies, Music, and Photos

While I have focused on this HD HomeRun Prime’s network architecture as a powerful and flexible approach to distributing HDTV throughout the home, Windows Media Center also allows you to distribute DVD/ Blu-ray movies, music, and photos over the computer network. With a multi-terabyte Media Center server connected to the computer network, one can store hundreds of hours of HDTV, hundreds of DVD/Blu-ray movies, thousands of music albums, and tens of thousands of photos that can be streamed to any Windows 7 device on the wired network.

HD HomeRun Prime’s live TV network distribution also works with the Xbox 360, which also supports Media Center and can be used to enjoy the TV Media Center experience. Xbox 360 does not, however, support internet browsing and DVD/Blu-ray movie streaming. To provide the full Media Center experience, a company called Epicenter (www.epicentersytems.com) has a small, yet powerful, Windows 7 computer that one can mount to the back of a flat-screen TV. Microsoft’s new Metro interface for Windows 8 (which includes Media Center) should make the Media Center TV experience more engaging and faster than ever before.

While Apple has dominated the news in the custom electronics channel with its iOS touchscreen control products and the iTunes platform, it does not have a whole-house personal video recorder HDTV platform that allows one to view and record all of the premium HD content available on cable TV. Unless Apple truly does “break the code” and comes out with an Apple TV front end to its iTunes store that would allow you to purchase a-la-carte premium TV shows, then Microsoft still has the most powerful solution for whole-house, HDTV viewing and recording in the home.

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