PC + MythTV beats them all and has done for years
I've been running MythTV on my PC for about 5 years now. I think it's crashed twice, and it offers:
- Multiple tuners (I can record up to six programs at once depending on what multiplex they're on)
- Multiroom by default (all you need is another laptop or PC and it's one click to install the client software, which works on Windows, Mac and Linux)
- also plays DVDs, and any videos it can find on your hard drive
- remote access. If someone's chatting about a show at work, I can log in to the web interface from my desk and set series record instantly. If you've got good upload on your broadband, you can even stream stuff you've already recorded onto your remote machine.
- all the usual programme guide, series record, search for programs stuff. You can choose from a number of nice themes, create your own or enhance an existing one.
- you can make it work with iPlayer, youtube and so on with a bit of effort. Or just fire them up in the browser instead.
- don't need expensive hardware. I'm using a 10-year-old 2Ghz single-core Pentium 4 with an ancient NVidia graphics card. Admittedly it won't play HD but that's only an upgrade away.
- extendable with various silly widgets which will show you the weather and so on.
Dual TV tuners (Freeview/DVB-T) : £30. Came with remote control.
PC: £50 second hand
Graphics card: £20 second hand
Large-ish HDD (320GB): £20 second hand. Gets you hundreds of hours of recording time.
Nice shiny case and quiet power supply: £50. Fits under the telly where the DVD player used to be.
MythTV software and Ubuntu operating system - £0, it's all open-source.
A few hours of my time (across 5 years) to set up and tweak to my liking.
Total cost £170 - less than most decent DVRs.
It's a PC, so you can run VLC or something similar and play pretty much any video you put on it. You can probably integrate vlc into mythtv. You can browse the web, etc etc if you connect a wireless keyboard & mouse.
Because I'm a geek, the same PC also functions as a file server, print server, web server and so on, just adding to the value for money.
It'll need an upgrade to get HD channels - a dual core mobo with integrated graphics would probably be sufficient, and obviously a new tuner. Probably another £150 or so, but in total it's still no more expensive than several of the models here, which don't have half the features.
Yes it's a custom solution and not everything works out-of-the-box, but if you use a pre-built distribution like MythBuntu and follow an online guide then it's actually fairly simple to set up these days, and not time-consuming. Anyone who is even slightly more than a mindless consumer drone should consider doing it, or getting a geeky friend to do it.
I guess you can do something similar with Windows Media Centre but you probably need better hardware.