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October 2004

Home Media Server Requirements
by Brian Dunning

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For the good of society at large, I'm making public my business requirements for a home media server. I'd like to say the "Ultimate" home media server, but it really shouldn't be. Everything I list here is obvious, and given the state of technology, there's no good reason why such a product isn't already commoditized.

There are only 6 basic requirements. No doubt there are other bells and whistles that such a home media server would have (such as the ability to browse photo and music libraries), but these are what would really float my boat:

1. Multiple tuners.
Whether the home's source is satellite, cable, or broadcast, multiple tuners allow the recording of one channel while watching another, or recording of multiple shows at once. Two is the minimum, three would be great.

2. DVD library.
I should be able to rip all of my DVD's onto the hard disk so I have online access to all of them. This is the only major feature missing from Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition, and they are crying about digital rights management (DRM) and have stated that MCE will never include this feature. Well, other vendors do include it, so there undoubtedly is a solution that Microsoft probably just finds unpalatable.

3. TiVo functionality.
DVR's are great and increasingly ubiquitious, but nothing beats the full features that TiVo provides. As a proud DirecTiVo owner, I can tell you right now that this system is a must. Wish Lists, Season Passes, and Showcases are key features that nobody should be without. Having it all integrated with the satellite tuner, or in this case with the media center interface, is just the best thing in the world.

4. A central server.
TiVo drops the ball big time with their "Home Media Option," which requires copying a show from one machine to another before you can watch it on a different TV, and you usually have to give it a head start because it takes so long to copy. This is just plain stupid. I want everything on a single central server and I'm happy to wire my whole house with gigbit ethernet so that all media is available at all stations at all times, asynchronously.

5. Remotes and set-top boxes for every TV.
The other half of a central server is the need for a set-top box with a single universal remote for every TV in the house. The set-top box should have 6.1 audio outputs, component and S-Video outputs, and also lame coax outputs for that 13-inch TV in the garage.

6. Single integrated interface.
TiVo and MCE both do a great job at offering a single interface where all available media is accessible, whether you're watching live TV, recorded TV, listening to music, or whatever. The single interface, with a single remote, is key. From one interface, you should be able to access live TV, recorded TV, and your DVD collection.

Here's a chart of these features showing support by some of the currently available options I've found. If you know of another device or software solution that addresses these requirements, please email me and I'll add it to the list:

  Multiple tuners DVD library TiVo functionality Central server Remotes and set-top boxes Single interface
TiVo Yes No Yes No Yes No
Windows XP MCE Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Apple Front Row No No No No No No
Kaleidescape No Yes No Yes Yes No
EyeHome No No No Yes Yes No
XBox Media Center No Yes No Yes Yes No
Akimbo No No Yes No Yes No

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye