Tuesday 1 December 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness

It’s been a long and winding road but I’m finally getting to a point where I have a software and hardware infrastructure that’s robust flexible and meets my main requirements.

Principally, I’m after a whole-house a/v solution that facilitates multi-room viewing and listening with a simple interface that supports the following;
  • Live TV viewing with PVR capabilities
  • Centralised media storage & database (maintain one library centrally)
  • Multi-device & OS client support – mixed Windows & OSX environment

Not too difficult, surely? Well, I’ve been through a bunch of front ends and back ends and middleware and have ended up with what’s for me a fine and usable system, albeit with a few minor niggles.

KODI – The Heart of It All

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Kodi over the years. Until recently, the main factor preventing me using it was the inferior video quality – especially noticeable on LiveTV showing sports. For this reason, I’ve been using MediaPortal which had an infinitely better video image.

Somewhere in recent releases, however, this has been fixed and video quality is now on a par with anything else I’ve tried.

Plus it’s just great software. Very configurable, a bunch of skins and UI variants, constant updates and a great support community. Plus it runs on Windows, OSX, Linux and pretty much anything you want and has LiveTV and Optical Disc support. It ticks a lot of boxes for me.

The one issue I have with it though is the local database infrastructure. Each client needs to configure it’s own library and there’s no sharing of watched status etc. (it is possible to set up a shared central database bit it’s messy, poorly documented and not fully supported).

Step Up Emby

Emby is a super centralised media management server with DLNA serving, a multitude of clients and, critically, a great Kodi plug-in.

I use the central Emby server to manage my media and install the plug-in on Kodi clients. There’s a bit of configuring with paths and settings to get it all working but once up and running, it’s pretty transparent in that it just integrates right into the Kodi media libraries.

Streaming Services?
Support for Spotify is provided in Kodi via the Spotlight plug-in. It’s limited in features (very little management, but does the job of providing access to pre-configured playlists and allows Spotify music to be streamed through the Kodi UI.

But what about TV?

So Kodi clients all around and centralised, easily managed media management. But what about PVR? I haven’t quite cut the cord fully yet and we watch a good deal of TV in our house, both digital terrestrial and satellite.

For tuning and management, I’ve set up ArgusTV on a server and use the PVR capabilities in Kodi to provide a front end meaning I’ve got access to all my local music, movies and Live TV in a single unified interface with great image quality and configurable UI.

And Control?

Well, most of my clients support IR control and a standard MCE profile on a Logitech remote provides basic functionality. I also run the official Kodi remote app on iOS and that provides a nice UI to all of the above.

There’s got to be a catch, right?

Well, yes, a few things are sub-optimal;

The main bugbear is that while ArgusTV supports series recording, access to this is not officially supported in Koid front-end. It’s possible to set up a timer to record an individual show but to configure ArgusTV to record the full show, this must be done through it’s own Web UI or on the server. A bit of an inconvenience.

There’s also an issue with music album cover art in the Emby Plugin. All my tracks are tagged with art and a lot of albums show up with art in the Emby plugin, though some don’t and I can’t figure out why, even though all the tracks on the album show covers when I drill down. A puzzle for sure.

Netflix is a pain in that it doesn’t integrate well with kodi and the windows App doesn’t support remot controls so either keyboard control is required r use of the embedded version in TVs or players is required.

Apart from that, there’s not a lot I have to complain about. Just this week my 11 year old – used to the ‘TV’ changing on a regular basis, came to me and said ‘this one works well’. Success, of a sort!

A note on Hardware

This system is enabled by a beefy unRAID server which looks after all the media storage and runs a few Virtual Machines;

Windows 7 ‘TVServer’ VM
A headless Windiws 7 VM that runs ArgusTV and Emby servers. There’s 6x Digital Devices tuners passed through that provide all the TV inputs.

Widows 8 HTPCs
Two Win 8.1 VMs run Kodi and have GPUs passed through. These connect via HDMI to two of my TVs

Additionally, I have a couple of Gigabyte Brix system that are hooked up to TVs in places where I can’t run cHDMI able from the server. These are also configured with Kodi clients.

I also have an OPPO 103 Blu-Ray player that can access all the media on the network and a couple of Macs with Kodi.