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My TVersity/PS3 Centric Solution

4946 Views 2 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  firecrow911

46” Sony Bravia $1499
Sony PS3 80GB with 2 Duoshock Wireless Controllers and Wireless TV Controller $447
Sony 1000watt Home Theatre Audio Solution $449
Western Digital 2TB MyBook World Edition $349
D-Link 10/100/1000 5 Port Switch $60
Use Pentium 4 2GB/Windows XP Dell GX620 $200
Misc. Cables $100
Bearcat BCT15 Scanner $300

Total: $3404

IMAGE Of system design disallowed due to new poster.

I’ve sat back for the last three or four years watching home theatre solutions evolve. I’ve desired to create my own, but instead of being an early adopter, I’ve waited for certain technologies and format wars to mature and conclude. This Christmas I decided that two key technologies had reached a point where the average consumer can safely build a relatively future proof home theatre solution. HDTV technology has matured so that a high quality LCD screen (40” or greater) can be bought for under $2000. As important the as the display screen is, without high definition delivery, its an expensive doorstop. Hence why I also waited for a winner to emerge in the format war: enter Blu-Ray. Mid-2008 Toshiba threw in the towel on it’s HD format and Sony’s Blu-Ray won. The “winner” of this war was more of a game of last-man-standing, with Sony selling Blu-Ray Disc playback units at cost and in the base of the PS3, at times, below cost, just to get the format into consumer livingrooms. That strategy appears to have borne fruit and Blu-Ray titles are now expanding at a furious pace. So with all that in mind I purchased a Sony Bravia 46” HD LCD with 120Mhz refresh, a Sony PS3 80GB (primary for the Blu-Ray player and the media extensions its supports) and the Sony Home Theatre solution with “Bravia Sync” which makes hookup of all three of these devices simple through HDMI cables.

And while I haven’t delayed my purchase for this next reason, it has influenced my timing – digital storage. HD content of any type in its current highest consumer resolution (1080p) can eat a lot of storage media. I do admit it, I am a downloader of content on the net and a packrat of television shows and other commonly underground-available content. My friends with PVRs routinely dump me entire seasons of shows they want to share. I wanted a reasonably priced storage unit with enough space for all my media; photos, videos and my audio collection. I’ve currently filled a 300GB NAS (network appliance storage) so my next NAS unit had to be a significant upgrade to that. I also wanted to take a ‘cloud’ approach to storage, being able to add new storage as prices drop and my demand for space grows. As luck would have it, my local Costco started liquidating 2TB MyBookWorld NAS appliance devices for $350, so I grabbed one of those. And to connect all this up together at the highest speed possible, high quality HDMI cables and a D-Link 1 Gigabyte Switch.

When I got all of this home and installed, I discovered through my own ignorance that I misunderstood how the PS3 works, and this is a common misconception that anyone doing a project like this should understand. You can’t just directly connect a NAS storage device into the network and ‘find’ a NAS device’s shares (and thus read your media files for playback). In order for a PS3 to ‘consume’ content from a storage device, that device needs to be interpreted through what is commonly referred to as a ‘media server’. What the hell is that? Both Apple and Microsoft have ‘media servers’ available, and because I’m a PC guy, I’ll just talk about the Microsoft options. Windows Media Player 11 has media server functions. Windows Vista comes with ‘Media Center’ which is bundled with the OS but can fit the bill. So I have some options. More about media servers in general.

Media Servers take Video, Photo and Audio content and serve them using a protocol called DLNA. DLNA is a ‘streaming’ protocol that allows a device like the PS3 to see and create a menu of your content and let you play it. The PS3 does not talk to Windows using SMB shares as is what you might commonly think if you’re passingly familiar with how Windows based PCs share data off hard disks. What the PS3 does do is read and talk to DLNA sources. This is of key importance and not too many pundits on the net talk about this because the knowledge amongst the geeks is a given – guess I am not as geeky as I thought.

Now, I didn’t have an old Vista box lying around and I wasn’t about to run out and buy a new one, so I picked up a used off-lease Dell GX620 with 1GB of RAMand a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, 80GB hard disk running Windows XP Professional for under $200 – this will serve as my media server. I first tried Windows Media Player 11 and while it worked for audio and photos, streaming 1080p was choppy and codec support (codecs are file interpreters you need to have to decode and play video and there are hundreds of them). Generally Windows Media Player 11 on this platform sucked. So I started looking for free alternatives. After trying a number of them I found the best and easiest one to set up that streams 1080p and handles codecs the best for the PS3 is TVersity. This is an open-source media server based on OpenLaszlo and Java. I could run this on linux if I wanted to. So I added this PC to my Gigabit Ethernet switch and used TVersity to read the shares from my old Maxtor 300GB NAS and my new 2TB MyBookWorld NAS and streamed my first 1080p content – a Batman Dark Knight trailer. It played without chop, brilliantly, making me fall in love with 1080p all over again.

The important take-away from this is to understand that the DLNA protocol while presenting some inconvenience, also has some major benefits. Internet video content is all over the place but it's typically available in a mirad of codecs. When TVersity reads a video file, it uses the codec to “transcode” at the PC to interpret and create the video stream. DLNA protocol is the tower of Babel – as long as the PC and TVersity has the codec, the PS3 can read the transcoded DLNA stream – a far better solution than loading video directly onto the PS3 hard disk and running it from there. PS3 codec support isn’t too bad, but, about half of what I had downloaded wasn’t directly readable by the PS3 – with DLNA and a media server, it all reads and renders cleanly and properly.

IMAGE Of system design disallowed due to new poster.

My final step was to plug my FTA satellite receiver into the system. The Sony Bravia supports composite and RCA based video feeds and the Sony Home Theatre is smart enough to know that when you switch inputs on the TV to the satellite box to take the audio from the satellite box, turn off the internal speakers on the Bravia, and put the sound out through the home theatre system – without any configuration on my part. For this I was thankful to have stayed in the Sony family of components to get this level of integration. I am not normally a brand pundit, but Sony really did its homework on features and integration of all these devices – they work together flawlessly and reduce installation complexity immensely.

Having connected all these devices through HDMI, 1 Gigabyte Ethernet and video connections, I have everything I need to start viewing my content, no matter the type or location in my network. Using TVersity I connected to the shares containing my content and then used the PS3 to search for media servers. It found the PC right away and when I choose audio, video or photo on the PS3, I can browse the folder structure of the devices and find my content and play it. I can also view indexes of my content based on metadata properties of my photos, audio or video, such as going by date and time, artist, genre, title, group, etc. I knew the PS3 was a powerful convergence device, but until I used it with my own content, I had no idea how powerful it truly was. In fact, I didn’t buy the PS3 as a gaming console at all - my kids play games, but I bought it for me, primarily as a Blu-Ray player. And this is where the Sony PS3 has been either a brilliant or an accidental success.

When I see the PS3 advertised, its primarily as a gaming console, with no attention drawn to its other desirable attributes for those who might not be interested in a gaming console. I am not sure why Sony isn’t marketing the PS3’s media consolidation features more, or even crafting ads that focus on the PS3 as a media device as opposed to a gaming console. People who are buying discrete componentized sound or home theatre devices (such as Blu-Ray players, audio components, etc) are doing themselves a disservice by not recognizing how quickly digital delivery and digital format is supplanting traditional physical media delivery methods and are building systems that miss a real opportunity for a technological refresh.

An additional little gizmo I’ve added to this mix is the PS3 Eye. The PS3 Eye gives some games interactivity, but again, like other aspects of the PS3, its non-game use is as compelling, if not moreso. It’s only $40 and amongst its cute but useless EyeCreate software, its real utility is in its ability to be used with the online chat feature. The PS3 enables up to six people to video conference at once, and the image quality is excellent, even compared to systems and hardware I’ve seen dedicated to this purpose. Given that it’s a plug-and-ready appliance style setup requiring no real technical capability to set up, and the device so inexpensive, I can see this quietly being used in place of a phone call. Like many other features of the PS3, this is yet another ‘sleeper’ that Sony has thrown out there that I predict will gain popularity and drive some people to the platform who might otherwise not get this console.

Another hallmark of the PS3 is Sony’s continued efforts to update the firmware and core free programs to give the console more features and to utilize its unique hardware platform. While this isn’t meant to be a technical article, if one researches the subject, you’ll find Sony has packed a lot into this console – so much so that they were losing money on the first generation of units they were retailing. Sony’s really gambled on being able to shrink the cell chip dies and renovate the technology in each successive revision of the console so that down the road so the console itself becomes a profit center - eventually. But what Sony’s really wanted to do is capture the high-def market, which it essentially did, and wanted to be the dominant choice, not just for gamers, but for those building home entertainment systems. This is a dicey path – Gates tried to do it and I think Microsoft’s efforts to date have been exploratory at best, hobbled by bloatware, slow code, and a self-defeating irrational dedication to DRM and its own formats – much to their own detriment. Apple isn’t a much better choice, and like Microsoft has made choices out of an attempt to brand a monopoly and control formats, embedding proprietary, exclusionary formats into their devices. I bought an iPod and while it’s a nice device, the lack of freedom of the iTunes Store and the oppressive interpretation of ‘fair use’ made me feel abused and I won’t ever be a customer of theirs again until that changes. Now, Sony isn’t by any means some kind of white knight – the Blu-Ray format firmly trounced all other HD comers, primarily because of Sony’s willingness to almost give away the reader technology in favour of being able to sell titles. To me, if I am going to be forced into an arranged marriage, at least Sony’s given me the assurance that the girl will continue to blow me after the wedding day, whereas Microsoft and Apple are all very upfront about demanding monogamy and THEN forcing me to pay for sex after the marriage – where is the loyalty in that? Anyways, that’s all a sidebar. Moving on.

So, I now have about 180GB of movies and TV shows on my 2TB unit, and another 300GB of mixed audio, photos and home video on the old Maxtor. The PS3 easily browses all of this through the DLNA network. When we are not using the system for movies or games, I am playing ambient background music from my 80GB collection of music. What I have noticed is about 50% of my media consumption has been disc based (Blu-Ray, DVD or CD) and the other 50% from digital formats found on the internet. Another interesting thing I’ve found is the ability to stream my YouTube playlists through TVersity through my system – this has turned into an unexpected treasure trove of free music titles and videos. And of course, I do admit to using uTorrent to grab a few things here and there but I’ve primarily used ***** to get high-def titles, save them to the 2TB unit and play them through the PS3.
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It sounds liek a great setup... I perosnally find tversity to be a bit slow and clunky and a resource hog on my machine.. however if it works for you thats great. you should continue iwth your story as you make new changes and add new things. I d love to hear how things work out for you as your drives fill up and time goes on.

thank you for reading my post.
Well, an update.

I am up to about 100 movies (600GB) and about 100GB of music, everything is still going well. Yesterday I added another PS3 with a 24" Dell and a Sony home theatre-in-a-box that was on sale for $250. So with cables, additional switch (1GB) and wiring and mounting I spent about $1300CAD to create a "remote" in the basement where the gym is. I ran two hi-def movies off the TVersity media server on both the main and remote screens via the PS3s and there was not one hiccup and the TVersity machine didn't even break a sweat. I found buying another PS3 was cheaper and more functional than buying a PC to act as a remote 'media player' and its very crisp on the 24" Dell which has an HDMI input on it, and so the movies have excellent fidelity.

Re: disk space

I will eventually buy the WD MyBookWorld 8GB edition when I fill the 2GB unit up, but I am nowhere close yet. I'm also going to put another remote package into my bedroom when I get the money together. This is by far the easiest and most flexible solution I've come up with for delivering home theatre throughout the house. The PS3's rock as a media convergence device and are very competitive with a PC for that purpose. I got a 80GB PS3 brand new with BD controller and one game controller for $399 at futureshop. Even an e-machine without monitor would have been $385, and I consider the PS3 to be a superior HDMI Hi-Def playback device with less to go wrong with it.
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