Digital media center

This is really a project inspired by my long-time friend Wu. I want to build an inexpensive media center around legal media components. In essence, I want to be able to pipe digital content from my PC to my television or any other media device. I also want to be able to watch and record Television (for home viewing only – DVR style) using my extremely powerful PC.

Mercury News have a good write-up on where the concept of a media hub stands today.

Quote: Many of these entertainment hubs are still too expensive, such as the $1,000-plus Media Center PCs sold by many companies. But they’re getting cheaper, simpler, more versatile, and better connected. They still suffer from ease-of-use problems, incompatibilities and a lack of cheap services, said Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates proudly noted that more than 1.4 million Media Center PCs, equipped with Microsoft software and aimed at living-room use, have been sold since 2002. But that’s a tiny slice of overall PC sales.

“This has been a great year moving to the digital lifestyle,” Gates said in his keynote speech. “The PC has a central role to play where it all comes together.”

But the PC still gets blasted by rivals, such as Samsung Senior Vice President Peter Weedfald, as too complicated to use. “It’s just going to sit in a corner somewhere,” he said. “We think the cell phone is the true digital convergence device.”

Yet other sectors of the electronics industry are convinced that their own products will become the must-have entertainment hub for consumers:

� Levy Gerzberg, chief executive of chip maker Zoran in Sunnyvale, says networked DVD players have been selling well since 2003 and will be simpler to use than other hubs. Yet he acknowledges some problems. While consumers can take high-resolution photos on their digital cameras, they can’t display the images in high-quality form on their older analog TV sets.

� Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina unveiled a “digital entertainment center” Friday that uses the Linux operating system instead of Microsoft software. The Media Hub will act as a digital cable recorder, with a removable hard drive, where owners can store music and photos, and a simple menu to let consumers organize all their digital content.

� Jim Billmaier, CEO of cable set-top-box maker Digeo, believes that its Moxi cable set-top-box systems will be easier to use than complicated PCs.

� Philips Electronics holds out hope that sophisticated remote controls will command a big role in the living room, while Intel and Microsoft hope to get rid of the remote control clutter altogether.

� Digital TV makers such as Panasonic, Sony and Samsung are building so much smarts into TV sets that they believe that the TVs themselves will serve as hubs for digital homes.

Vinod Kulkarni adds:

Well, I was more interested in other blog on media center. Trying to
implement one, and here is list of problems faced:

– Be able to get a nice media-center-like box for the assembled linux
box. Most are big PCs. I could find one in Pune but it is still big in
– Make this box control TV, Music system – Home theater etc. Typically
you want to send controls to media center via single remote, and from
this media center, send IR signals (with IR transciever cards) that will
send device-specific codes for each device at home. For e.g. use single
button to power off all the devices. Check out this IR based project: (We started
implementing this, but realized that the guy hasn’t provided the actual
circuit diagram. So now trying to find a person with electronics
knowledge. )
– Make this box take all kinds of USB storage devices: Hard disks, cards
etc. This is easy.
– Use WiFi so you can sync between your main PC and media center.
Easy, but you require some simple UI. It seems there are devices that
can stream audio from PC using WiFi (with special WiFi-to-audio device
that connects to home theater). Not sure if we can build this or get
this one cheaply. It might use some RTP protocol over WiFi.
– Also beam the output of media center via FM radio, so any FM device in
house can pick it up. You actually get these devices, but remote-based
controlling is difficult. (They also require battery power, and
replacing batteries continuously is pain.) There was one slashdot post
on this recently.

Let me know your views!!