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htpc and home network setup for parents

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
Hey guys, I have been browsing the forums here for a couple weeks but I am still very unfamiliar with htpc software and capabilities. So, I've got some questions...

I would like to get my parents set up with some new technology. The project goals are to make all their video and audio files accessible from different rooms and to use services such as Hulu and Netflix. Convenience is the #1 priority because if it doesn't work they probably won't use it anyway, and I don't want the nightly phone calls

Budget isn't really an issue, though I don't see spending over $2k.

And the questions are:
Are htpcs user friendly for people with basic computer knowledge?
Should the files be housed on a server or can they just be on a home network, i.e. on a desktop in the network?

Thanks for the help!
post #2 of 19
Hey mate and welcome to the forums.

Before getting in the HTPC specifics imho you should decide what kind of network you want. For example if you have a collection of files on a HDD in your folks' house you might begin by setting up a file server based (for example) on Windows Home Server that would take care of file serving and duplication - then you should just setup some clients that use a soft like XBMC to access server-based videos/photos/music and web Netflix, Hulu, etc. XBMC is compatible with many media center remotes so it's even more useful. As a file server you could use any PC as long as it has a decent amount of storage and as clients you should tailor your requirements based on what you plan to use: if it's HD video for example you spend a bit more in order not to get limited by the CPU.

D.
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post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the quick response! That sounds like the ticket.
I've spent the last couple hours playing with xbmc and it's excellent.

A few more questions:
-Should the client htpcs be wired to the network switch or will response times be just a quick wireless?
-Can video cards output all audio formats through hdmi or is there reason for a sound card?
post #4 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by BloodRooted View Post
Thanks for the quick response! That sounds like the ticket.
I've spent the last couple hours playing with xbmc and it's excellent.

A few more questions:
-Should the client htpcs be wired to the network switch or will response times be just a quick wireless?
-Can video cards output all audio formats through hdmi or is there reason for a sound card?
Wireless shouldn't be an issue, but some household appliances throw off enough EM radiation to cause interference with wireless signals [things like electric motors or microwaves], so I prefer wired connections.

AFAIK the OS converts the audio file to something the soundcard can play, so I can't see why the video card couldn't handle it.

EDIT:

Also, since you'll be using XBMC, you might consider skipping Windows and using Linux as the server and client OSs.
Edited by Bluescreen_Of_Death - 6/6/11 at 2:18am
post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
Linux is an interesting option. Would they get along with the rest of the windows systems on the network?
I'm hesitant to confuse them with a new os, they have enough trouble with windows.
Thanks for the info though.

I think I'm ready to start playing with builds. Any current recommendations?
post #6 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by BloodRooted View Post
Linux is an interesting option. Would they get along with the rest of the windows systems on the network?
I'm hesitant to confuse them with a new os, they have enough trouble with windows.
Thanks for the info though.

I think I'm ready to start playing with builds. Any current recommendations?
You can use a program called Samba to fool the Windows machines into thinking the Linux box is a Windows box =]
post #7 of 19
If you choose a Linux distro keep in mind that there is no silverlight for Linux so that means no Netflix, at least not until they decide to start their support for Chrome Os and switch over to HTML5.

Also on a side note , the Netflix app for XBMC does not use XBMC as a wrapper, it uses IE or whatever browser you tell it too. So if you choose XBMC I recommended that you read through this thread first.

http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?t=87552


Boxee on the other hand has a Netflix app that is actually supported and coded by the Netflix team, though it was kinda sorta broken for season viewing that last time I took a look at it. But boxee is not nearly as customizable as XBMC.

and then there is Windows Media Center, In short GREEEAAT Netflix app, rest of it sucks.
Edited by Macnemarion - 6/6/11 at 5:24am
post #8 of 19
As someone who's worked with HTPCs a lot over the past few years I have to say there is no really easy setup.

Sure anyone here at OCN can probably setup a decent one that will work fine but to build one for the PC illiterate is a challenge - and no I don't mean your girlfriend who has an ipod, a cellphone, a laptop, and a computer at home but "doesn't know how to use them". I mean grandparents, babies and the mentally challenged (not kidding here). Through my experience there is no "user friendly" option that's completely fool proof. Even XBMC has menus to cycle through at it's most stripped down skin. I find some challenged people have enough trouble navigating the local cable companies "basic" equipment, let alone a PC with even more menus.

-You need to consider control. A "basic" remote is essential and you can't give the PC challenged a wireless kb/mouse. It's very intimidating to them.

-You need to setup a "wake on lan" so power down turns off the PC and the remote can turn the PC on.

-Menus. As stated this needs to be as basic as sin. XBMC does a good job but to some the idea of selecting a show and then using an enqueue turns into a hassle and adds confusion. Be prepared for nightly calls asking:
"Did I just add that show?"
"Did I just add that folder?"
"What is a folder?"
"Do I even want to watch 10 episodes of Antiques Roadshow?"
"Oh dear I've been watching 10 episodes of Antiques Roadshow, what did I do wrong?"...

-Multi-room streaming. A lot of people want to be able to select music and have it play on different sets of speakers through the house... LOL... Can be done, but have fun (To people beside OP reading this, please don't criticize my view because you've read an online guide and it "looks simple enough").

-Media. Where and what forums of media are you using? Again, to many menus and too much media can really confuse people.

-Voice control. On it's way which will help things along.
---------
Anyways, I'm not calling anyone dumb, especially your grandparents. I'm just following an assumption that most grandparents (god love'em) never grew up with PC's and therefor have more trouble using them.
The HTPC is a pretty easy concept to us but for people who are challenged in the ways of computers you almost need a full blown "PC in home integration" system which hasn't quite hit the mainstream. I know your just thinkin "HTPC for the grandparents" but that's a pretty complicated procedure by what your describing as needing the "layman's configuration".

And lastly, if your new to linux and decide to put it on every system then dedicate twice as much time to set up and configuration. Linux guys are gonna ding me for that one but take it from personal experience. XBMC as a standalone (built off ubuntu) is good but not perfect. For the server I suggest leaving it as windows if that's what's setup now.
    
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post #9 of 19
You MUST use windows media center. This is for your parents, it needs to be as simple as possible. WMC7 is the only way to go for netflix. With XBMC they will have to open WMC just to use netflix which will lead to them not using the systems. I have done this for my mother and my in-laws.
Windows 7 - using Windows Media Center
Media Browser plugin for all local content,
Use the follw.it plugin for media browser so that it will sync all of their HTPC's watched status around the house. www.follw.it
They are using their desktop as the file server, all they do is browse the web and pictures they will never tax it enough to affect streaming. I just disable all sleep functions except monitor shutoff.
Get them a MCE remote.
Get a cheap wireless keyboard and mouse Just in case.
Install logmein free so that you can log into their systems remotely without having to mess with port forwarding/static ip/dynamic DDNS.
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post #10 of 19
If they are not good with technology do not build them a HTPC. I have done this for people in their 50's and they ended up having a $600 paperweight because they would not take the time to learn it.

For someone in this situation who is looking for streaming from netflix / hulu / etc.. i'd go with a bluray player that features those apps. It's very simple to use and basically no upkeep.
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