I’m not the biggest fan of Sky TV even though I’ve been a customer of theirs for about eight years now. The way that you are locked into their eco-system and how you watch media the way they want you and not what is most applicable to you to doesn’t appeal to me. Sky Go and other new features have helped the situation for a number of people but it doesn’t help me using a Windows Phone or Windows 8 devices as none of their apps are available on these platforms (for clarification, by Windows 8, I mean impressive UI native Windows 8 apps and not desktop apps). I’ve long wanted to break into the IPTV and streaming TV markets, originally with SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun product and now Elgato’s EyeTV Netstream and now is the time to strike.
Me and @NickyCGreen got an email from Sky at the weekend to tell us that our bill was going from a promotional rate to the standard rate, almost doubling to £40 a month. I was happy enough to pay for Sky at £20 a month and actually, I didn’t even consider this was a promotional rate. Just because something is easy though isn’t justification for buying it, certainly when it’s £40 a month. All we really watch on TV these days is FTA (Free to Air) content like BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4 and the kids watch a little bit of kids TV too like Pop and CBeebies. We don’t have sports or movies add-ons and we don’t have any other services like Sky Go, broadband or phone from them, this is just for basic TV with HD.I was pretty staggered that Sky will expect me to pay £40 for this basic service so I decided that now was the time to strike the IPTV drum.
I’ve long courted SiliconDust and their HDHomeRun product line but they have let the European products stagnate and not updated them to meet the x2 standards such as DVB-T2 (Freeview HD) or DVB-S2 (FreeSat HD) which means that you can only get the SD (Standard Definition) variants of Freeview or FreeSat on the HDHomeRun. On my search for other products, I came across Elgato and their EyeTV product line. On first inspection, it looks quite Apple focused with a lot of detail on Mac OS X software, AirPlay support along with mobile device support for iOS iPhone and iPad devices but they do support Windows and Windows Media Center also which is enough for me to be happy.
I decided to dip my toes into the line-up today by ordering an Elgato EyeTV Netstream Sat, a single tuner DVB-S2 FreeSat network tuner. For those of you who don’t know what any of that means, it basically means that I can connect one of the satellite feeds from my Sky MiniDish into the box of tricks from Elgato and it will output those FreeSat HD pictures onto my home network to be consumed by any device I choose.
I’ve gone with a single tuner to start with as a proof of concept to the wife and kids, I’m going to be configuring this single feed on the Windows Media Center PC in the living room to test out the Media Center Live TV interface, that basics like live TV and channel switcing all work as planned and also that none of the codec changes I’ve made to support .mkv playback effect the TV experience. Once I can get this working and other basics like the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide), I can start to experiment a bit more like. Tricks like the MCL (My Channel Logos) plugin to add the UK channel icons to the EPG are nice additions and make the experience much sweeter.
Aside from watching live TV and optimising that experience, the next thing I’m going to be playing with is the Windows Server 2012 Essentials integration with Media Center. A feature has existed since the days of the first Windows Home Server which allowed the server to move TV recordings to a share on the server and replace that recording with a stub on the Media Center. For me, this is the best feature of Windows Media Center and Windows Server 2012 Essentials coming together. The HTPC (Home Theatre PC) records a programme from the network tuner as normal and once the recording completes, the server moves the recording to the backend Recorded TV share. The result is that the recording then is available anywhere I can access the server from. For me, this means any other Windows PC in the house, my Windows Phone using the My Server app or any internet enabled device which supports Silverlight. Windows Server 2012 Essentials (and notably R2 with it’s tablet and touch device improvements) allow you to use Silverlight Adaptive Streaming to deliver video and audio content from the server to any device you can think of (so long as it supports Silverlight).
Isn’t that a much better way to be able to consume your media? Exactly how you want, wherever you want on whatever device you want and not paying a penny for a subscription service in the process?
I tried, as I always do with product purchases to o a tonne of research before laying down the money but nearly all of the videos I can find on YouTube for Elgato EyeTV Netstream are in German which doesn’t really help me. I’ll be sure to post up a nice review of how setting up the EyeTV Netstream and getting it to play with Windows Media Center goes. If the test goes well, I’ll be sending some more of my money Elgato’s way to beef that single tuner into a dual tuner with their EyeTV Sat Free extender for the Netstream and I’ll then be doubling down to give me four network tuners throughout the house so that I don’t have to worry about recording conflicts or scheduling problems.
If the excitement of unboxing the product doesn’t overwhelm me (these things normally do) then I may even try and get a video on YouTube to get some English language demo’s of the product out there.