King of the Media Center Hill? Maybe Soon.

I want to watch anything I want to watch on my big screen (instantly) or iPhone (easily).  Believe it or not, I am almost there.  Today I’ll focus on the big screen.  After building a Windows 7 HTPC with HDMI networked to 1TB NAS drive via LAN, I am nearly there.  While waiting for the tuner manufacturers to sort out their CableCard or alternate means of replacing the set top box (slated for this year), I have scaled back my cable subscription so that no box is required.  I then subscribed to Netflix, which I use to watch movies seamlessly from Windows Media Center (WMC).  All that I am missing is live ESPN sports in HD.

How so?  I get network TV (HD over clear QAM and analog SD) with a Hauppauge 950Q hybrid tuner.  I watch or record shows using this through Windows 7.  The WMC wizard detected the tuner and walked me through setting it up.  Works great.

I get cable channels through various sources including Hulu and as well as the cable networks themselves.  I do this through which is to my TV viewing what Google Reader is to my internet surfing.  When Boxee gets its browser in order, it may replace Clicker, because I love the Boxee TV interface.  Sadly, whether or not the show will ever appear once it is chosen in Boxee is hit and miss.  I bat about .500.  I do use Boxee and its remarkable, astounding, boy-do-I-love-it bookmarklet to add internet videos to my video queue for later viewing.  (You know, like when I’m not at work.)  Somehow it seems less cumbersome than adding, viewing, and subtracting something from my favorites.  I did add the HeatWave weather, Hulu desktop, RadioTime, and Media Browser plug-ins to my WMC.

Windows Media Center’s internet television is terrible.  The flashy cover flow interface is much more likely to lead you into a sea of clips when what you are looking for is a full episode.  (The lackluster search function has a full episode filter.)  There is no means of subscribing to full episodes of a show like you have in Hulu, Clicker and Boxee.  There is no native weather menu.  The movie library seems to scrape metadata with a low success rate.  Internet radio is provided through which has music but not broadcast radio stations.  To me the only reason to have something besides the Pandora,, Slacker-type music is to have actual broadcast radio.

XBMC is the most awesome means of viewing local media and does a nice job with the weather.  Its lack of interface with TV, IPTV, Internet Protocol Radio, and internet videos has caused me to retire it from my HTPC.

Boxee is the champion of the queueing up the internet (mostly YouTube) videos I want to watch.  If it straightens out the issue with getting a cable television episode started in its browser consistently, it will play a much more significant role in my daily media perusal.  (Potentially replacing Clicker.)  This is in spite of, not because of, its narcissistic assumption that I want to be told what Avner (or even a real friend) is watching or what Boxee has chosen to feature.  If I want Boxee’s opinion, I’d rather ask for it than have it jammed in my face.

In summary, if WMC can address its shortcomings, it is in a position to become king of the HTPC hill.  Neither MediaPortal or GB-PVR is comparable.  (Ask your Mom to set up the EPG in either of those and tell me how it goes!)  For now, I’ll use a handful of plug-ins with WMC to access local media for videos, movies, recorded TV, music,and photographs as well as live TV, radio, and Netflix movies.  I’ll use Clicker to access streaming TV and Boxee to catch up on my internet videos.  But I don’t know what I’m going to do when World Cup Soccer starts and I can’t see it in HD.  Anyone want to meet me at the pub?  It’s about time I got out of the house, anyway.

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