November 12, 2008 spout + uTorrent + FiOS + WHS + 360 = DVR Bliss

So, the other day, Windows XP SP2 destroyed my Windows Media Center Edition install that I’ve been using for years and absolutely loved. It let me record all my favorite shows on two separate tuners and I could watch them on the TV attached to my MCE box, from all the PCs in my house and from my XBOX 360. Losing it was a huge blow, especially since it was clear I’d need to repave and I was swamped with PDC and post-PDC work (damn those MSDN Magazine deadlines!).

A little research revealed the following facts:

  • provides RSS feeds of every TV show I’ve ever heard of, whether it’s on normal TV, cable or a premium channel like HBO and Showtime. The shows are available in HD with the commercials pre-edited out, so I wouldn’t even have to do the 30-second fast-forward, 5-second rewind dance that MCE enables to skip them.
  • uTorrent provides automatic downloads from RSS feeds, including fancy features like only downloading each new episode once, even if it’s provided from multiple sources.
  • My Verison FiOS pipe provides 20MBps downloads, so a 22 minute TV program (30 minutes - 8 minutes of commercials) even at HD would only take about 20 minutes to download, on average.
  • My $500 Windows Home Server machine has 1.4TB of storage, so your average 22-minute sitcom, at 180MB, is only a tiny fraction of the storage. Put another way, I could store about 4000 hours of TV.
  • My XBOX 360 supports the same format (XVID) that TV shows available from seem to be provided in. Further, my 360 has direct support from playing videos from shares on my home network (which is wired for 1GB Ethernet, but only run by a 100MB Ethernet router right now).
  • The XVID codec is available, along with a ton of other useful codecs, from (I’m partial to the K-Lite Codec Pack myself), which means that any videos that I download in XVID format can be played back on any PC in my house. Those PCs running Vista Ultimate that have a Media Center remote control on them can surf to videos on the network and pick them with an experience just like that of my XBOX 360.
  • It’s my understanding that the XBOX 360 menuing system will be updated this month to support Netflix streaming, so for the minimum subscription fee (1 DVD at a time, $8/month), I’ll be able to get live, streaming movies directly from my XBOX 360 and all my PCs for the movies I don’t yet own.

All of this means is that if I were to schedule episodes of say, Burn Notice, to be recorded by uTorrent and dropped into the Videos\TV\Burn Notice folder of my WHS box, I’d be able to access those and play them back on my XBOX 360 even more simply then I could access video from my MCE box, because I don’t have to start up the Media Center software first — access to shared folders is built right into the XBOX 360 menuing system. And I could have all of this in HD (no CableCard required) without commercials and without regard for how many tuners I have. This is all free and, if I don’t want to watch live TV (the Superbowl was the last time I did), then I don’t even need to spend $55/month on cable.

Plus, when combined with my photos, music and ripped DVDs, all of which are also stored on my WHS box, and streaming movies I don’t yet own, I could access all of my digital media from my XBOX 360 (attached to my 46″ LCD panel) and from all of my PCs simply and quickly.

Of course, I would never record my favorite TV programs like this, because it’s very much a copyright violation and therefore highly illegal.

But if I did, wow, it would rock…

Why do I need cable again?