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back to article Reg reader seeks living room Myth advice - can you help?

We received the following plea for assistance from Reg Hardware reader Ian Bonham this morning: Dear Reg Hardware, As Chrimbo closes on us, I'm looking at a new family TV and Blu-ray to keep the ankle-biters quiet while I enjoy a bit of much deserved downtime. I am in a bit of a quandary though. As a dedicated Penguin, I have …

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Linux

Keep the PC!

Why does the good lady not want a PC in the lounge? Is it looks? Fan noise? Having a PC outputting to your TV is by far the most flexible option.

If looks are the problem, there are a plethora of non-PC looking cases around, ranging from cases that look like DVD players to ones that look like Daleks. As for noise, by using good quality large diameter fans you can get this so low as to be barely audible.

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Anonymous Coward

Exactly!

Plenty of choices, you just need to steer clear of the usual names and dig a little deeper when sizing up custom tech kit.

One reason I love my Missus to bits, she never moans about tech kit, to the point she'll moan if she doesn't get a new tech toy when I get something new to play with! She doesn't care where tech kit lives so long as it's quiet, doesn't look like GCSE science project gone wrong and doesn't get in the way of people moving around the house.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC

Ditto with my missus, they must be related. Last time we went big tech shopping to get her a new latptop she convinced me to buy an Asus Tablet as well (I was holding off until the Jan sales), as you can imagine it took a lot of persuassive talking on her behalf :)

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Linux

I think you're SOL

I don't think there's anything (other than a computer) that can do this...

This is the wiki page for frontend hardware: http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/Choosing_Frontend_Hardware

If you follow the page, it will start explaining the UPnP side of things http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/Choosing_Frontend_Hardware#UPnP_Playback

http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/UPnP_Client_Info

There are some *serious* limitations to using this implementation - pre-recordings only, no live ability.

You're going to need something like the Trimslice or an nVidia based VDPAU GPU...

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You can't (practically speaking) play blu-rays on Linux, so you need at least a blu-ray player. Myth supports UPnP/DLNA to a certain extent, so it may be that you could at least watch existing recordings with a suitably high-tech blu-ray player. However, do check first whether someone else has that particular player working - Myth's implementation of UPnP is a little flaky and might not play along.

As has been suggested above, I'd recommend building a living-room-friendly PC. If you build it in a nice case and get the remote control working properly then it's just another black box under the telly. That's been my approach. I'm particularly pleased with this gadget I bought to let the remote actually switch the PC on and off - http://www.simerec.com/PCS-2.html - no affiliation, just a happy customer.

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Lian-Li C39

A bit bigger than a sky+ box but much better looking.

Running a GBPVR setup on Vista it's really quiet - just keep the dust down on the fan intakes every few weeks.

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Anonymous Coward

x86 mini-ITX frontend

First off - kudos on the setup, very nice :)

As for your question, I am not aware of any blueray set top box that is 'open', forgive the wording, enough to let you use it as a Myth TV front end.

So basically, yes, you are looking at a small headless front end box to get a mythTV frontend on the telly.

You might have issues with sound, depending on your audio setup. Basically it's a bit of a b**ch to get HDMI audio output on linux. If you have an external receiver I recommend connecting to that via SPDIF out on your audio card/motherboard from the linux front end box and connecting the bluray player to the external receiver separately via HDMI.

Otherwise, if you have no external receiver and want to connect speakers directly to the linux front end box, the easiest way would be to get a good analog soundcard like the Asus Xonar D2X or similar (make sure it supports HDCP..) and connect bluray box to soundcard via HDMI with analog speaker outputs from the soundcard to speakers.

I wouldn't use an ARM based box personally, getting audio/video drivers to work properly on ARM is a nightmare/will not work at all. Maybe an ION2 based mini-itx board that has a built in nvidia graphics chip, for proper video output.

Can verify the ION2 works well for this purpose, am using it myself. Can even do accelerated flash decoding.

The front end box can be very very small, I used a Jetway JC200 case and it's just about the smallest case you can fit a slim DVD drive and a 2.5" SSD in. You can mount it on the back of the TV, or the back of some furniture near the TV. With an ION2 motherboard it's completely silent.

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Not available yet, AFAIK, but...

what would be awesome is a MythTV client built right into a smart TV. The latest TVs from the likes of Samsung run Linux anyway. Samsung are developing a remote client for the RVU protocol (remote user interface that sits on top of DLNA/UPnP) built right in to the TV (initially working with DIRECTV in the US) so I guess in theory there's nothing stopping either Samsung or another manufacturer developing a MythTV client to run on their TVs, or MythTV developing a RVU interface once such things become much more widespread.

In the meantime the TrimSlice looks pretty cool, though I can't find anyone that's got a Myth frontend running on one yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm...

Sorry to do this, because I realise that you specifically said no PC in the living room, but:

My partner and I have a no PC in the living room rule, but also use MythTV, the box that I've got mounts onto the VESA mount on the back of the telly, it's fanless and boots Mythbuntu from a USB memory stick and I use some random remote control (I can't remember where it's from). The machine is a frontend, with the backend running on a VM in my office, telly is obtained by el-cheapo USB thingy. To all intents and purposes, noone knows there is a computer there.

The case is this one:

http://www.mini-itx.com/store/?c=54#m350-vesa-screws

The PSU is this one:

http://www.mini-itx.com/store/?c=10#dcdc

You can use pretty much any suitable mini-itx motherboard, I use an atom based fanless board.

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So don't call it a PC

Get one of these: http://www.mini-itx.com/store/basket.asp?action=add&product=4059&qty=1&c=65 and put it in one of these: http://www.mini-itx.com/store/basket.asp?action=add&product=3839&qty=1&c=3

Together with an SSD, HDMI cable, USB MCE remote and gig ethernet you get a completely silent MythTV frontend with no moving parts. It will do 1080p in most formats very nicely but you may have to google "nvidia 50Hz" if your TV is 50Hz. You can even bolt it on the back of the TV as there are VESA mounting holes in the case and VESA mounting adaptors are on ebay.

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Silver badge
Pirate

Depends on your budget, as ever.

I solved the "no PC in the living room" edict by buying an Antec Fusion case, building the PC into it, and using a Gyration remote control. To all outward appearances, you end up with a piece of AV kit that does all your TV and media playing tasks, without looking or sounding like a TV. That's about £200 of kit, plus whatever you spend on the PC itself.

GJC

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Anonymous Coward

HTPC FTW...

Build a HTPC that looks like a blue ray and tell the other half it's a blue ray player that streams.

Skin it properly and she'll never know the difference...

AC for obvious reasons

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Anonymous Coward

My take...

... Just get a dedicated Blu-Ray player if your budget strapped ... or ... read on ...

My experience with playing standard DVD's through mythtv, erm, it's not really that good :)

Other people's milage may differ, but I've always found the interface lacking and buggy - often it just stalls, which is no fun when your watching a movie ... so ...

You can install Boxee on the same media centre PC, which is what I've done, and launch Boxee from your mythtv menu - nice and seamless. Boxee has a *much* better interface for DVD playing, in fact, it has a better interface for pretty much everything. We tend to watch any downloaded stuff through Boxee.

Also, get yourself a low profile VCR style case for your mythtv, although it sounds like you'll need a whole bunch of new hardware if your currently running myth on a standard desktop PC.

What you need is a mini-itx form factor - motherboard with processor on-board that doesn't require a fan for cooling.

This is what I setup a few years back, still going strong:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bb_matt/4200031846/

My missus loves it, sits neatly out of sight in the TV cabinet and is *very* quiet - hooked up via HDMI to the telly, ethernet cable to router (found wifi problematical and slow when copying files over)

Things are bound to have moved on a LOT since I got the budget rig above, so you can probably pick up everything relatively cheap on scan.co.uk or your favourite online hardware retailer.

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Thumb Up

Aspire Revo or eMachines net top

I had a similar quandry. I had a slimline but noisy PC in the front room for a while running Windows Media Center which died and I was looking at alternatives. At first I tried the XBOX 360 which wasn't that great due to the media I had, then I got a PS3 which worked reasonablly well but I found that to be too noisy.

In the end I picked up an eMachines ER1401 from eBuyer for about £130. Although it's a PC, it was so small I managed to wall mount it behind our TV (our TV is a 32" LCD wall mounted on an adjustable arm so the TV is about a foot off the wall and can be swiveled around.

At the moment my setup is a little bit messy cable wise, it has an SPDIF cable going from the eMachines box to a surround sound decoder and ethernet and power cables going to it too. I've managed to get a short HDMI cable to go to the TV which is cable tied to the arm so it isn't seen. The box is so quiet that I can't hear it when it's turned on and it plays back HD media perfectly well with VDPAU enabled (it's only got a 1.3GHz dual core CPU and 2GB Ram, so it's not a power house but ideal for web browsing, lower spec emulators and media playback via MythTV or XBMC).

I'm sure with some decent extension cables and some DIY it would be possible to hide one of these boxes out of the way somewhere (or maybe to the back of the TV if it's on a stand and has free vesa mounts) and with a wireless keyboard and mouse and media centre remote it should integrate reasonably well and at a reasonable cost.

If you can't find one of the eMachines boxes, I gather the Aspire Revo is reasonably similar (with an Atom rather than Athlon Neo CPU that the eMachines box has).

Failing that, could you loate the PC somewhere else and get a HDMI over CAT5 extender and wireless keyboard/mouse and remote?

Rob

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Acer Revo

I have an Acer Revo as my MythTV server and Front end in the living room, sits quite happily and quietly in a cabinet with a power, network and HDMI plug. Sadly I have not got the on-board tuner working with Linux yet but I solved that by plugging in an old Hauppapge USB tuner. The wireless keyboard/mouse that came with the version I bought works well enough as a remote for me.

If you cannot get something like that reasonably cheaply then any old laptop will probably cut the mustered.

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ooh

Acer R3700. It's practically a hand-held and does full-res 1080p HD. XBMC loaded on and full steam ahead.

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WDLive or other Upnp client

Mythtv has a nice uPNP server built in and you could use a upnp media player such as WDLive, or one of the el cheapo medion ones out of Aldi. A networkable bluray player with a upnp client may also be an option.

That would get around the PC under the telly issue. you can get nice cases and quiet fans etc, but they do cost more and can be a bugger to work with - I know mine is!

My Mythtv server is audible with the Tv and everything off, but if the TV is on then you cannot hear it, and the system leds are hidden behind doors.

Mythtv is awesome though and deserves a thumbs up!!

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Sony BDP-S470/S480

DLNA is a good option if you don't mind losing live tv.

I use a Sony BDP-S470 but by default the mime types are broken in the mythtv DLNA server. This is apparently fixed in 0.25 but until that is released I use twonky and mythlink.pl http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/Mythlink.pl to workaround the problem. Mythlink runs every 30 mins are so and twonky picks up the new file structure. It then streams fine. My setup is still just SD but there's no reason HD shouldn't be ok too (ymmv).

Another foible is that you have to use a browser to schedule and clean up old recordings. I've an android phone so it's actually quite convenient to update schedules while still watching telly.

I picked up the sony for under £100 ex-demo. It's slim with a decent WAF - i.e. a normal remote.

Avoid the S380 which doesn't have DLNA. The S370 does I believe.

Oh yeah, it plays blurays and supports LoveFilm streaming.

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Linux

I’m no MythTV expert, but I am a Penguin lover.

I think MythTV supports DNLA (uPNP) streaming, if so you have a massive range of alternatives - any DNLA compatible hardware should meet your needs.

2 ways of going about this:

Get a DNLA certified gadget and plug it into your telly. This could be anything from an Android tablet with the MediaFire app to a Blu Ray DNLA compatible device – there are plenty to choose from.

Or get a DNLA certified telly (I can personally vouch for Sony Bravia KDE series) and stream straight across your network to your connected DNLA telly. You can do this from the TV but the interfaces are a bit clunky, or use an Android app to access your MythTV server and output it to your TV :)

If Myth TV doesn’t do this, you could probably add a DNLA server to your MythTV box – something like MediaTomb.

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Don't ditch everything but do consider a PS3

I have a similar Myth setup. The front-end, in the living room, is based on a Zotac ION board and is silent. I use an external USB DVD drive.

However, it doesn't support Blu-Ray (as mentioned by other posters).

My children use their PS3 as a front end on 'their' TV and it works very well. They can play back any recorded programmes and use the Myth web interface to schedule recordings. It plays Blu-Ray discs and also has a native client for watching streaming films - full screen - from Love Film (which are included 'free' with certain rental subscriptions).

It also has 5.1 surround sound output.

The latest model is quite slim and un-obtrusive although there is some fan noise.

The only thing is doesn't support is live TV playback - but does anyone watch things live anymore?

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Nearly Live

>The only thing is doesn't support is live TV playback - but does anyone watch things live anymore?

The other day I think I found that you can playback a recording as it is happening so if the TV is scheduled to record you can watch it almost live, even on a PS3. I have not tried it out though, I just found it interesting when I noticed it.

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Thumb Up

Now this is a thread!

Useful, sensible, topical (except for one congratulatory comment of course) -- every Reg Hardware thread should be like this!

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Bronze badge
Go

HDMI extension...

Extend HDMI over cat5 or cat6.

Then you can leave the PC elsewhere, but reap the benefits of a "proper" system.

For control you can either just go wireless, or use smartphones etc. At a push then you could use another run of cat5 to extend USB to the room and use a cheap wireless keyboard/track(pad/ball) combination.

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Anonymous Coward

MakeMKV

This is the one you want: http://www.makemkv.com. Rips DVD or BluRay to MKV, and although definitely not obvious from the website it does have a Linux version - see http://www.makemkv.com/forum2/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=224

It's in two parts, a closed-source binary that does the work and an open source GUI. Works a treat. I've not tried it with live streaming (although I think it's possible) - I use it to dump my BluRays to an MKV, then convert those to MP4 with Handbrake.

As for no PC in the front room, perhaps you're not selling this right. We have a fanless Shuttle XS35 (with SSD, so it's completely silent) running XBMC on Linux - the media is on a NAS in the office and it's completely controllable with a Logitech Harmony One remote, so no keyboard or mouse either - I also hate computers in the living room, but this neither looks nor functions like one. Unless I ssh in from the laptop...

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Un-universal Plug n Pray

FWIW 'HTPC' cases are almost without exception FUGLY (cheap looking front-mounted tatty ports, anyone?) - or those that aren't are ludicrously expensive or are badly designed to the detriment of sane airflow. In the case of smaller Nvidia-powered SFF bricks they can (rightly so) be hidden behind the TV, mounted VESA style.

The concept of UPnP / DLNA is very nice & all but server software like that in MythTV needs to have a shedload of workarounds hard-coded into it to cope with many different clients. Apparently the 'universal' part of the acronym seems to mean "here's the standard, do whatever you want".

Besides, with a dumb streaming client you'll miss out on being able to schedule recordings but most importantly seek within streamed content (some clients can't even do that!) & do funky stuff like time-compress during playback. My wife *really* loves MythTV's ability to play her recordings back faster than real time & wouldn't be without her one button 4 minute skip feature.

Unless you really *must* have an optical drive in the livingroom you can still adhere to the 'no PC in the lounge' by using the existing backend machine as your frontend too. HDMI can be comfortably run for 10+ metres without an extender & extenders to put HDMI over 30 metres of cat6 cable are under £50 nowadays. Your remote control can be RF, or a local USB IR receiver (again, USB extenders don't cost the Earth) - or even just the one which comes with most TV tuners these days (obviously extended long enough to sit near your telly). I'll be doing this when (if?) we upgrade our TV - what's the point having 2 boxes when one can do the job just fine (I'd already have done it were it not for the fact you can't easily buy a PCI-E graphics card with s-video out).

Of course now with MythTV's APIs (http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/Services_API) on the cards it'll likely be possible to write a native mythtv frontend app for network connected TVs and possible to sideload apps the set manufacturers see fit not to approve for their walled garden. I'm pretty excited by the prospect - no more having to de-fuddle the virtually undocumented protocol, no messing about with MySQL... It'll be wonderful.

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Anonymous Coward

UPnP, not DLNA

Get a good UPnP client like a Patriot Box Office, and use that.

Most Blu-Ray players will be DLNA - while DLNA is theoretically based on UPnP, the reality is that DLNA should stand for "Doesn't Like Nearly Anything", as most DLNA boxes have a very limited set of codecs/containers/bit rates/resolutions/frame rates they support, and locating those small points in that parametric hyperspace is neigh impossible. Moreover, most DLNA boxes require all sorts of proprietary extra headers to be sent to make them happy.

However, a simple UPnP client like the Patriot will play more formats, on more servers.

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Silver badge

An Asus EeeBox PC

Is that considered too computery?

If so, you could stick it behind the telly and nobody would know.

As for a remote control, if the USB TV stick doesn't come with one then a Bluetooth dongle, a Wiimote, and something which talks to the Wiimote (Xwii?) would do the drink.

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Silver badge
Pint

Curse you T9

I mean't trick. How did 'drink' get there?

Must have been beer o'clock.

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PS3

I use my PlayStation 3 to view a lot of the stuff from my Myth box thanks to the UPNP hookup. If you want an excuse to buy one you can add that to it's tricks ontop of it being an OK BlueRay player.

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As already suggested probably by far the best solution at the moment is to use a media centre PC with a remote. I've got decent Sony TV which can use DLNA which is a nice idea but in reality its slow to browse and the quality is not that great.

Connected to my main TV I've got a tiny ACER Revo PC which is small, silent and uses very little power running Boxee with an Emprex media centre remote to navigate. The menu system for Boxee is really excellent and it's much nicer to use than Myth TV. For streaming and watching your own content it's by far the best out there right now. The only issue is that Boxee won't record live TV so for that the best solution is still a Windows Media Centre or MythTV or a dedicated PVR.

For the various other computers in the house again I just Boxee and I share my Satellite TV using the excellent Echostar Slingbox PVR.

I don't bother using DVDs or BlueRay anymore as my ankle bitter would just get his sticky fingers all over the discs and getting up, finding the right box then inserting a disc seems a little antiquated in these days of cheap multi terabyte hard drives.

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GBE

Mac Mini makes nice frontend

A Mac Mini makes a pretty decent front-end. To you and me its still a "PC in the lounge", but I bet the WAF factor is high enough. I set one up to boot minimyth from a USB thumb drive a couple years back. I never got HDMI output working quite right (couldn't see boot up messages, which was annoying). The next step I didn't get around to was spinning down the hard-drive after minimyth booted. I was still using a bootloader on the hard-drive, because the only way to boot directly from the USB involved waiting 30-seconds for the "normal" boot to fail and then using a mouse to select the USB boot device. I eventually switched to SageTV, which worked with really nice little low-power (7W when playing HD), silent (no moving parts) set-top box "front-ends". But, alas, Google bought them and shut them down.

I'm still using my SageTV backend and two set-top boxes, and I don't know what I'm going to do when/if they stop working.

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Paris Hilton

or you could.....

buy a PS3, problem solved??

Its what I did (well didn't actually 'buy' it, it came free with my mobile contract :) ).

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Ive only ever had nightmares of broken mythbuntu installs and never detecting my tv tuners.. so I switched to using TVheadend with the xbmc-pvr build as a front end. all my front ends are old laptops with the screen removed and stashed away out of sight.

my remote control is either my galaxy s2 or an ipad (the android app is awesome).

the only things I can grumble about is the poor quality epg in xbmc and the lack of timeshifting in tvheadend, smoothed over by the tvcatchup add-on that lets me stream a live tv channel over the net should all my tuners be in use :D

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Bronze badge
Happy

Use a better case and mobo.

If you're looking for a silent cheap and low-power motherboard w/ CPU, which is perfect for HTPC and NAS, may I suggest an ASUS E35 M1-M PRO. I use one with FreeNAS 8.0.2, it is very reliable and much better than joke Intel Atom motherboard including ION and ION2 based boards.

If you pay a little more money, you can get very attractive and silent HTPC cases, even my Fractal Design Midi tower case looks attractive and silent using an XFX 450W PSU.

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Mac Mini would keep her Indoors happy.

Love the issue as I have had the same issue here and this is how I solved it.

First I did not bother with the BR Player as I use MKV maker to Archive my collection of DVD/BR and store them on a Netgear Stora NAS Box with 4tb of hard drive space (2x2TB HDD) on board (copyright might be an issue). Or if you need the BR Player just pop one into your pc and apple will see it and you can play your films to your TV via your mac mini.

The NAS is kept where my PC is setup out of the way, my friend has converted the cupboard under the stairs to do the same thing but thats another story.

Pop the mac mini under the TV as she wont know what it is and besides it looks as it was meant to be by the TV. Network is wireless for streaming & Myth TV runs on it too. Best of all you can control the unit with your smart phone. It could also be your music player too just plug into your hifi system.

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Bronze badge

Non-PC solution

I personally use a WDTV Live running the WDLXTV homebrew firmware. It is not capable of doing the "Live TV" bit of your requirements, but a bit of setting up with the "xmount" setting on the WDTV and I can access my MythTV box (which is also my video fileserver) as either a UPnP device or straight to the NFS shares.

Only problem: WDTV do not handle the new Hi10P compression codecs.

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Go

Samsung TV will do what you want

If you want a serious 'one box' solution just look at the new TV's. I have played around wth various bits of kit in the lounge for ages (Boxee / XBox / Acer Revo / ITX / Myth) but eventually settled on....a TV. The new Samsungs play pretty much any format. You can hook up USB Hard Drives and they become a PVR. They have dual freesat and terrestrial inputs. USB sticks can be used as well. The have DNLA so you can access you movies / photos etc over the lan.

I am seriously impressed with mine (UE46D7000). For once I have bought a piece of kit that just works and works well. Better still, it looks stunning and has a fantastic picture.

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