Monday, July 29, 2013

Repurposing the HTPC

Several month ago, I built a slim form factor Windows 8 PC to act as a media streaming frontend. Notes here:

Total overkill as an HTPC for everything but games, yet I hadn't found a better solution to stream MythTV recordings, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, etc. to single frontend. Android solutions were flakey or slow. Netflix uses Microsoft Silverlight, so good luck getting that on Linux. After a while, I added Aereo and Plex to my streaming requirements. Windows 8 on a small PC can do all of this, but it can't do it like an appliance with a unified UI. I bought a Roku 3 and the PC sat for a bit.

Having torn down my big MythTV backend when the summer TV doldrums went into effect, I'd been starting to feel the pressure to put MythTV recording back into service. Aereo's cloud DVR has mostly worked for me, but not 100%. Fundamentally, their service is a legal and technological hack; I'll enjoy it for now, but can't totally trust it.

So the now unused PC frontend has become the new DVR backend. The SDD got replaced with a 500GB 2.5" 7200rpm drive for video storage and Windows 8 got wiped in favor of Mythbuntu. My goal this time around is low power recording. When I lose electric service (as I often do), I want my DVR to keep recording on UPS and/or generator. There's also just the cool factor of the low power x86 and ARM trend. Everyone is starting to care at least a little about heat and power.

All said and done, the new DVR backend idles at 16W. That's insanely good! And this is Ivy Bridge, so who needs Haswell? And especially, who needs Atom? My old Atom 330 always idled at about 35W. The later Mini-ITX Atom boards were better, but never great. ARM isn't quite there as a DVR backend; disks over USB, 10/100 Ethernet on most boards, weak transcoding speed and support. I was planning this elaborate sleep/wake configuration for the Myth backend, but I might not bother. Always-on is just easier.

I'm planning my next blog post about separating the DVR recording backend from transcoding, archival storage, and streaming. The slim form factor Mini-ITX Sandy, Ivy, and Haswell get a huge thumbs up from me as a near ideal solution for DVR recording. And at 16W idle, you may want to run some other always-on services from this system as well. Power tuning is still in progress. How low can we go?