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Moving Your Family to a Media Center Whole Home Solution – Part 2

In my first follow-up to my post on moving your family to a whole home Media Center solution I wanted to give a better idea on what I have in my setup and how it’s all connected.  We have four rooms in the house where we can use and enjoy Media Center.  The following diagram explains what equipment is where and how everything is connected:

Media Center Network

Office:  The home office is where I centered the Media Center and all the supporting components.  I have dual monitors connected to the Dell XPS 420 so I can use one as normal PC monitor and the second to watch Media Center at the same time (actually doing that as I write this post).   Audio is just stereo via computer speakers.

Master Bedroom:  In the master bedroom we are using a Linksys DMA2100 extender that is directly wired into the network.  It is connected to the TV via a single HDMI.  This is a nice clean setup with the least amount of cables (4): two power plugs, one network cable and the HDMI cable.  The DMA2100 looks great on this TV and fits the master bedroom scenario perfectly.  Audio is stereo via the TV speakers.

Living Room: The main TV is located in the living room.  Because of this I am using an Xbox 360.  It gives the closest experience to actually having the PC connected to the TV.  It also looks great over a VGA connection on this TV.  Audio is full 5.1 surround sound.

Guest Bedroom:  The TV in the guest bedroom is rarely used so it is the only TV that is still standard definition.  The great thing about Media Center is that I can still watch all of my HD content on this SD set and it looks like an amazing DVD. Audio is stereo via the TV speakers.  This is also the only wireless scenario I have.  The guest bedroom is right underneath the office so the wireless signal is fairly strong.  I have had experienced a few disconnects over extended viewing sessions but overall it worked great and streamed HD content just fine.

I’ll keep on digging deeper into other aspects in future posts.  Hopefully this helps answers some questions for those considering Media Center.

JBOD++

The 5-Bay SATA drive enclosure is up and running with a new 1.5TB hard drive.  The storage pool (aka JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks)) now looks like this:

homeserver2

The setup was very much plug and play except for one small snag.  The eSATA port on the back of my HP Media Smart WHS only supports 4-Bay SATA drive enclosures and not 5-Bays.  So the top bay on this puppy is going to go to waste in the near term.  I decided to keep it because the restocking fee and shipping cost would really offset the savings of buying a new 4-bay.  Also I am impatient and don’t want to wait for that whole return/replace process to play out.

My WHS has a new friend

I have an HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server that has become the cornerstone of my family’s home network and my Windows Media Center setup.  The home server has four drive bays which I have filled with the following drives: 500GB (included/system), 500GB (taken from Media Center PC), 1TB, 1.5TB for a total of 3.5TB’s.  Just an FYI, just because a drive is listed as 500GB or 1TB you do not actually get that amount of space in reality.  So my 3.5TB’s is actually realized as 3.18 TB’s.

Amazingly 3.5TB’s of space is quickly being used up.  My home server is reporting that I have 442.65 GB worth of space left. 

homeserver

So based on the dwindling amount of space and the lack of hard drive bays in my home server I just bought a 5-Bay SATA drive enclosure to expand my WHS by five drives.  Meet Metroplex’s new friend:

IMG_1864

So over the next few months the plan is to keep an eye on Newegg for drive deals and fill this bad boy up with at least 5 more TB’s.  I just have the case right now and the first drive shipped separate and will arrive tomorrow.  I’ll post on the setup and how that experience goes tomorrow.

UPDATE:  I had my drive capacity reported incorrectly.  Thanks to Matt for pointing that out in the comments.  I thought my WHS was wrong at first and then I remembered the “Great Drive Swap” of ‘08.  That was fun when my main system drive was reporting as G: instead of C: but Google helped me fix that.

Storage: Best/Worst Thing About Media Center

One of the best things about Media Center and really any HTPC is that you have total control over the amount of storage at your disposal. Once you realize this and start increasing your storage it can also be one of the worst things you can do (but of course not bad enough to go back or really regret it).

A driving factor in moving to a Media Center solution for my household entertainment was the limited recording space that was available to me on my Time Warner Scientific Atlanta HD DVR. According to Scientific Atlanta the DVR can record up 20 hours of HD content on a 160GB hard drive. I recorded everything in HD so 20 hours sounds about right.

In my current Media Center setup I have 1.75 TB worth of hard drive space dedicated to recorded TV. I have a 1TB drive that is my main recording drive and a 750GB drive to allow me to keep shows a little bit longer but not for archiving. Any shows I want to archive go on the Windows Home Server which has 3.5TB worth of space for TV, movies, music, photos and more.

So in moving from the Time Warner supplied DVR to a Media Center solution I was able to realize an almost 11 times increase in storage capacity. As far as hours, doing the math, that’s about 220 hours worth of HD content. So that means that if all I did was watch TV 24/7 I could watch for nine straight days. Nine days!

The increased storage has been a huge change in how we watch television. We can now truly watch television on our schedule. With the Time Warner DVR we constantly found ourselves racing against a clock to make sure we watched our recorded content before we ran out of space and it was automatically deleted. It felt like living through an episode of 24 where at any moment someone you cared about could be “erased”.

Now that is no longer the case for us. Now we can actually let full seasons record and do viewing marathons. I’m to big of a fan to do this, but if I wanted to I could let the full current season of 24 record (in HD) and then watch all the entire season over a few days without interfering with my other shows.

Another positive is that we get to try out and experiment with new shows without endangering the recordings of our regular shows. Leverage on TNT looks really interested so I decided to give it a shot. I just set the season to record and when I get a chance I will watch it and see if I like it. Very nice option to have.

The downside of all this is that I end up with content overload. You almost become a TV pack rat. I personally like to go into my recorded TV section/list and only see shows that I have not yet seen and that I really want to watch. My wife on the other hand could care less about cleaning it up. She is definitely someone who would just as soon let the DVR manage the space.

To further illustrate my good/bad scenario, I have created tables that shows all the recorded TV we have as of January 9th. I have broken it down into a few categories:
* 1 Offs (TV Movies, Specials, single episodes of non-regular series)
* Regular Series (shows we watch regularly and then delete)
* Daily’s (shows we record almost every day and keep a limited number)
* Kid’s (gotta have a few shows ready to go for the little one)
* Archive (shows I may want to archive)
* Piled Up (shows that have been on my Media Center way to long)

So now with that context, here is what is on my Media Center (with about 900GB of space to spare)

1 Offs
TitleHD/SD# EpisodesHrs
20/20HD11
Barbara Walters SpecialHD11
Extreme Home MakeoverSD21
Popi (movie)HD12
Rendition (movie)HD12
Blacklist Vol 1 (movie)HD12
Legend of Bagger VanceHD12
TOTAL811

Regular Series
TitleHD/SD# EpisodesHrs
Brothers & SistersHD11
Desperate HousewivesHD11
HouseHD33
LeverageHD22
Prison BreakHD11
Pushing DaisesHD22
The OfficeHD1.5
True BeautySD11
Ugly BettyHD11
TOTAL1312.5

Daily’s
TitleHD/SD# EpisodesHrs
Good Morning AmericaHD12
OprahHD55
The Daily ShowSD52.5
The Colbert ReportSD52.5
TOTAL1612

Kids
TitleHD/SD# EpisodesHrs
Max & RubySD52.5
SupermanSD42
TOTAL94.5

1 Offs
TitleHD/SD# EpisodesHrs
Batman – Brave & the BoldSD42
24:RedemptionHD12
HeroesHD22
Chris Rock SpecialHD12
TOTAL88

Piled Up
TitleHD/SD# EpisodesHrs
90210HD55
ANTMSD1111
Don’t Forget the LyricsHD1010
ERHD88
FringeHD99
Generation KillHD77
HopkinsHD66
Kimora SimmonsSD42
Life on MarsHD55
Private PracticeHD88
PrivilegedHD99
Life and Times of TimHD63
TOTAL8883

So as you can see, just in the Piled Up table there is 83 hours worth of television to watch. That is 3 ½ days worth of TV to watch. With some of these shows there is an obvious reason that they are piled up and they will go straight to the trash.

Others shows like Fringe I just have not made or found the time for it. I’m just glad Media Center allows me to decided how to watch versus my previous alternative.

More Home Server Storage

The large drive is a 5.25

Image via Wikipedia

About two weeks ago I added another hard drive to my Windows Home Server (WHS).  I bought a Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB drive.  So now my WHS has 3 drives: the 500GB main drive that came preinstalled, a 1TB Western Digital drive and the new 1.5TB Seagate drive for a total of 3TB (or 2.73TB realized storage).

The HP Media Smart WHS that I have makes it so easy to add a drive it’s ridiculous.  I was up and running with my new storage space in about 10 minutes, if that.  If you are looking at adding a WHS to your setup take a long hard look at the HP Media Smart servers.  Great value and easy to use.  I probably could have built a home server from a spare PC but at the end of the day my time was more valuable and I got a better WHS for buying a pre-built system.

The extra space allowed me to really clean up and organize my drives.  This is what things look like now:  (VectorSigma is my Media Center PC and Metroplex is my WHS)

VectorSigma – 3 Drives

  • 500 GB (OS, Program Files and temp download location)
  • 750 GB (Overflow recorded TV drive)
  • 1 TB (recorded TV only drive)

Metroplex – 3 Drives (WHS creates 1 pooled storage space out of the 3 drives)

  • Movies
  • Archived TV
  • Music
  • Photos
  • Personal Folders (me and my wife)
  • Public Folder (misc dump and share folder)
  • Software Folder (all my media center utilities, plugins and regular software installs live here)
  • Videos (family home videos, viral videos, etc)

I have one more open slot in my WHS and I would like to get another 1.5TB Seagate drive.  Maybe Santa will leave one under the tree for me.

Thank You Windows Home Server!!

Windows Home Server Console

Image via Wikipedia

So last night after panic and pulling my hair out I remembered what I now consider to be the best tech purchase I have ever made: my Windows Home Server!

Turns out that my problem actually was virus related which then in turn corrupted a section of my hard drive.  After fighting with a number of failed attempts to bring the system back I came across my home server cd’s and documentation.

I have an HP Media Smart Server and it comes with a PC Restore boot disk.  All I had to do was boot with the CD, provide the drivers to my NIC card via USB thumbstick, and then choose which back up I needed to restore.

Luckily I actually took the time to setup a backup for my C: Drive.  Due to space I only did the most important folders.  Upon restore the home server basically wiped out the drive and restored only the data that I had backed up.  I ended up losing some movie files that I had yet to move from my C: Drive but it was nothing that I could not get back from my actual DVD’s.

So I am back up and running and all is good.  I only missed one recording at the end of the day.  Thanks also to Tim who posted a comment reminding me about my home server.  If I had not remembered myself, Tim would have shaken me out of my panic induced stupor.

Breath….

3 days with Windows Home Server

My Windows Home Server arrived on Friday. I didn’t get a chance to set it up until that night so I didn’t do too much. The setup itself was soooo easy. I was up and running in no time. It very much is a plug and play device.

The one thing I noticed though it that it can do so much more then what you see on the surface. I really need to buy a book so that I can tap it’s full potential and not just use it as a glorified network storage device. If you have a Media Center and a Windows Home Server let me in the comments if you have any tips or resources that I can leverage. Also if anyone has any WHS book recommendations I would love to hear those too.