Sunday, October 02, 2005

Remote recording with Media Center

I've had an HP z552 Media Center PC for about four months. I'm mostly happy with it though there are some small things that I would like to fix or find workarounds for. I bought it because I'd never had any kind of DVR before and because we watch a lot of shows and movies that let's just say come from the internet instead of through the cable system.

In the past I'd hook up my wife's PC which is at her desk in our living room to the TV via an S-video cable, switch the TV and computer to S-video mode, launch the program in WMP, press Alt-Enter to make it full-screen, and then we were good to go. Of course, we'd have to reverse the process afterwards. And we were unable to do much from our couch to change volume or pause the program, until we got one of those Streamzap remotes. It worked pretty well though the sensor added to the mass of cables sprouting near my wife's desk. I mentioned that her desk was in our living room, right? That's not the best place to fly your nerd flag with a bunch of cables.

So one thing I wanted to get out of MCE which I am totally satisfied with is a considerable smoothing out of this process. The z552 is hooked up to the TV at all times and movies and TV shows that I copy to it are easily playable through My Videos. And of course the MCE remote is far more functional than the Streamzap one.

Another thing I wanted to get out of MCE was an easier way to play my music when I was in the living room or the kitchen. I definitely have this as well, though it's been a real struggle to get my music collection to the point where it is properly tagged to be usable in Media Center. I am still not done and I started the project more than 12 weeks ago.

One of the main reasons I got a Media Center PC (and was able to convince my wife to OK the expenditure) was MSN Remote Record. She is a writer at a national magazine who appears on TV regularly and often with little advance warning, so we wanted to be able to schedule recordings from outside the home. So far, we haven't had any luck. MSN Remote Record does not work on our z552. It has never worked through many reinstallations and subsequent tests. Further, leaving it on was a primary cause of our z552 being on all the time when we thought we had turned it off or it had gone to sleep. I don't think my network at home is so wacky -- I do have a Linux box with iptables rather than a hardware firewall -- but all various IM programs work, as does Vonage phone service and certain peer-to-peer services that require forwarded ports. However, the MSN Remote Record fails in operation, and even fails its test. I have left it uninstalled for now.

However, I recently discovered WebGuide3 and it is an awesome, full-featured replacement for MSN Remote Record. That's almost an unfair comparison -- WebGuide3 is more like a full Media Center 10' interface implemented as a web page. Schedule, delete, download recordings all through the browser. It's awesome, and the interface is really professionally done and slick. There's one drawback, though, and it's not WebGuide3's fault: if the Media Center isn't on, it doesn't work. See, that's what would be nice about Remote Record if it worked -- you could schedule a recording via wherever you were, and then at some point the Media Center PC would wake up, check in with MSN, schedule the new recording, and then go back to sleep until it was time to record. WebGuide3 has a different philosophy which is cool, but it doesn't meet the remote scheduling need if you want your Media Center PC to be off most of the time to save some power and keep the noise down in your living room.

Thus I have determined that what I really need is to find out if such a thing as "Wake-on-WLAN" exists. I'd like to be able to SSH into my home firewall, execute some kind of command to wake up the Media Center PC, and then access WebGuide3 via a firewall rule or whatever. Better yet, write a little web page to run on the firewall which can execute the script and then open up the WebGuide3 page -- this would allow for wife-friendly remote recording scheduling. (My wife is an intelligent, wonderful woman with many skills, but it is safe to say that using SSH and executing Linux commands will not ever be one of them.)

Ultimately I know I need to run Ethernet cabling from my office in the back of the apartment through the ceiling of two rooms to the living room. This will give me gigabit connectivity to the Media Center PC from my PC, so I can stream recorded TV to my PC while my wife watches her own shows, but will also let me use Wake-on-LAN to start the Media Center PC from anywhere. But, as an 11-year resident of New York City, I dread opening up my ceiling and messing around in there -- that's what we have supers for! But I am too ashamed to pay my super to run Ethernet cable for me. So until I muster the wherewithal to put holes in my ceiling and run some cable and then patch the holes back up (and can convince my wife that it won't look like a disaster area) I am stuck with 5Mbit WLAN speeds and the hope that there is a Wake-on-WLAN spec being cooked up that will be available on my home setup.


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I have the same problem with MSN remote record service. I have a support call logged with Microsoft. So far all their suggestions have not not worked.

If I get the solution I'll let you know.
Thanks for the notice. I am surprised that they actually support MSN Remote Record as I thought it was a beta, but I would love to hear anything you come up with that works.
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