Help with HTPC S/W choice

I'm stuck trying to determine my options. I've been setting up a network of PCs at home to accomplish the things shown in my diagram.

The server will be used to store video (recorded shows and saved DVDs), audio files and other stuff. The theater PCs will access stored media from the server as well as being able to play from the local DVD drive. The MH PC will be running MisterHouse for automation and security. I've already got MH setup for lights and HVAC control.

I've got a Shuttle Zen that's running Windows MCE. Right now it's running as my personal PC. I'm trying to set it up so I can turn it into an HTPC. Once I get this done I'll move it to the family room or theater. My wife and I both have laptops with wireless. I'd like to setup the theater PCs so we can control them via the laptops, perhaps through a web interface. So far I haven't been able to find such an interface within MCE. My question is what are the choices for such remote control of an HTPC? Is this even possible with the Win Media Center, or do I need to choose something else?
 

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DavidL

Senior Member
One way:

Purchase MainLobby 3 / MLServer 3 combo

Put MLServer 3 on the "MH". This is the PC that most hardware will plug into.

Share Theater / Fam Room storage drives to rest of network.

Put MainLobby Client on Theater / Fam Room / PC / MH / all Laptops and connect them to Server.

Put TheaterTek 2.4 on Theater and Fam Room PCs

Add the brand new MainLobby Server TheaterTek plugin (still not released but will very soon) on MH. This will allow all Laptops and other PCs control over TheaterTek user interface while movie is playing on theater and Fam room HTPCs.

Put DVDLobby plugin on Server and DVDLobby client on all MainLobby Client PCs. This will allow for movie selection for play on all PCs running TheaterTek. Oh, if you are still hooked on MediaCenter after all this, the DVDLobby MCE Edition will launch right after the MainLobby 3 launch. This allows for DVDLobby to replace "My Movies" or other MCE movie apps. At this point, thought, you will be using MainLobby completely and only using MCE for TV PVR functions (coming later in the year within MainLobby).

If you are using an ELK M1 as a security panel, then you can put the MLELKM1 plugin in MainLobby server running on MH PC to control security there.

If "Server" is just a large RAID, just share "Server"s drives on the LAN so it's content is exposed to all other PCs.

Put River MediaCenter 11.1 on "Server" and use that as your music server. Add a few sound cards for many zones of controllable whole house audio. Also install MusicLobby J River plugin on Server and connect that to MLServer now running on MH. Put MusicLobby client software on all control PCs (Laptops / Theater / FamRoom PCs) and now you can control whole house audio system from everywhere. As MusicLobby can control multiple zones on a PC (paired sound card outputs) AND multiple PC music servers, you can put J river on all pcs and control their sound output from ALL other PCs (or PocketPCs).

You definately have all the hardware to do a great job here. Just need the right software (see above :) )
Pic attached for more detail
 

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electron

Administrator
Staff member
I use WebGuide v3, and LogMeIn.com to remotely control the HTPC's (MCE 2004 and MCE 2005), works great, and doesn't cost anything. There is also a tcp/ip plugin which lets you simulate the MCE remote over IP, so you might want to check into that as well.
 

IVB

Senior Member
I see two more options for you, but not sure which one is better suited for you.

1) Spend $200-$315 on CQC [charmed quark]. See this thread for all my screenshots to see what's possible. CQC can handle all your front-end stuff, you can have my skins if you want. It can also handle the back-end control of your devices. As you can see from those screenshots, I use it for whole-house a/v (cd, dvd, xm), plus a ton of HA stuff such as automation, security, HVAC, irrigation, soon i'll do lighting. Finally, it's fully network distributable and it's a whole-house license for the s/w, so that one purchase will get you what you want. There's a webserver component, but since you can install it on every machine of your choice [at least the viewer module], you'll quickly want to do that as the richness of controls is infinitely better than what IE has to offer. In theory, you could even ditch MisterHouse [based on which lighting protocol you use], do it all within CQC. The power of using a single package is huge, as you could paint the screens in a custom fashion. Again, see those screenshots for my security/HVAC/irrigation stuff.

2) xLobby, which is freeware. If all you want is control over some A/V apps and a webserver, this does that. I've heard of some minor issues with stability here/there, not sure what your desire is there. There are a few plugins to control some devices [ie Sony777 megachanger].

So before diving into much more detail, how much or how little are you looking to control? How much or how little do you want to spend? How much random "instability" can you handle?
 
Thanks David. It's going to take a while to absorb all this.

All these systems will be networked together via ethernet. I've already got a router and a few switches to give me extra ports where needed.

The security system is a Caddx NX-8E. I chose it about 3.5 years ago. It's monitored, but I did the install, so I'm free to add to it and change the programming. I think there are some samples in MH, but I don't know if they are ready for prime time. The same was true for the HAI thermostats I chose. I used the code that was out there to start with now I can control all the basic functions (temp, mode, fan) from a page in MH. If there's no plugin for Caddx I'll probably have to do the same for the security panel. But anyway, that's more of an automation issue than HTPC...

I was thinking of using a low powered pc for the the MH machine and want to keep it limited to security and automation only. I haven't bought it yet, but I have a couple in mind that are in the $200-300 range. I may choose Linux for this machine. MH is actually running on the server right now, but I'd like to isolate it to a dedicated machine. Part of my reason for doing this is eventually I want to be able to access MH from the internet and I'd prefer to not open up my server to the world.

The server is a larger machine that I already have. It's already got a bunch of HD space (I've lost track of how much, but I know I have 2 unused 300 gig Seagate SATA drives). It's also got an ATI AIW 8500DV card that I can use for audio and video. It's also got on board audio. I built it about 4 years ago. Right now it's in my office and I use the AIW card to watch TV while I'm doing things like paying bills or reading forums. Once I get it turned into a true server, I'll move it to my wiring closet.

I also have a Hauppauge PVR150 that I can use for PVR. The family room has an HD DVR from the cable company. I chose this to be able to record any show from cable. Eventually I need to find a convenient way to copy shows from the DVR box to the server.

Given the desire to keep the MH machine limited to automation and security, would I be able to put MLServer on the server machine? I envision this as the system with most of the "entertainment" connections. I could always put a second copy of MH , without the security and automation enabled, on it.
 
electron said:
I use WebGuide v3, and LogMeIn.com to remotely control the HTPC's (MCE 2004 and MCE 2005), works great, and doesn't cost anything. There is also a tcp/ip plugin which lets you simulate the MCE remote over IP, so you might want to check into that as well.
Thanks, I found WebGuide, from some posts here, and downloaded a copy last night. I haven't tried it yet and couldn't tell if it was more of a recording or playback interface. A simulated remote would be a good way for my wife to operate it, I'll go look for the IP plugin. Is LogMeIn.com required for connecting when all the machines are at home?
 

BraveSirRobbin

Moderator
I didn't read this entire thread, but noticed that you have a Caddx NX-8e and wanted to interface it with your HA system.

I have the exact same security system (did the install about the same time you did :) ). It is the backbone of my HA system!

I use HomeSeer (older version 1.7.43) with Nitrox's (David Crawford's) HomeSeer plugin for the Caddx (via serial interface) to interface all the zones and arming control/status. Then I use MainLobby to "view" and control those HomeSeer devices via Krumpy's MLHSPlugin (HomeSeer's plugin to MainLobby).

I love the versatility this combination brings. Examples of what I do with this combination are shown HERE.

Good luck and if you need more details, let me know! :)
 
IVB said:
So before diving into much more detail, how much or how little are you looking to control? How much or how little do you want to spend? How much random "instability" can you handle?
Still deciding how much I want to control. Things I'm considering include
Security:
1) Home and remote viewing of status. Should be possible within MH, but will require some coding to talk with the panel.
2) Remote arm in case I forget when I leave home. Again, possible in MH.
3) Possibly add some security cameras and be able to watch from home and remote.
4) Possibly add phone notification of alarm event.

Automation:
1) Lighting control (already begun with X-10 several years ago). I already have this working via MH.
2) HVAC, already have with MH.
3) Remote control of HVAC in case I forget to turn down heat when away. Since I already have HVAC control, this will be free when I open up MH to outside access. All I need to do is ensure the screen is id/password controlled.
4) Setback HVAC when house is in "vacation" mode. I don't have this yet, but it'll be fairly easy to do in MH. I've already programmed a somewhat random light schedule that works well.
5) Maybe some other stuff later.

Audio/video:
1) Able to watched/listen to stored media from family room or theater using web control.
2) Maybe whole house audio. (not a high priority at this time)
3) Move files from HD DVR to server.
4) Record non-scrambled cable shows on the server PVR.

All these things don't necessarily have to be integrated into one package, as long as they all can be (somewhat) integrated into one (web browser?) interface. I don't want to have to start 10 different programs to accomplish something.

The phases that I'm working on are:
A. Basic control of HVAC and lights (done)
B. Setting up an HTPC and server to be able to watch saved movies/shows.
C. Move security and automation to separate PC.
D. Enable security monitoring & control via PC.
E. Remote access for security and automation.
F. too far out to think about...

As far as spending goes, I tend to be "frugal". If I knew there was a really good package out there that could do everything I wanted, and work with a minimum amount of setup, I might be tempted. OTOH, if I can find things that accomplish what I want, can be made to get along with each other, and are inexpensive, or free, I may go that route. Before I spent $200+ on something I'd have to be certain it would do nearly everything I wanted, and that it wouldn't be obsolete in a year or two...
 

HoustonFirefox

Active Member
"2) Remote arm in case I forget when I leave home. Again, possible in MH."

I'm not sure if you can do this with your current security system but i have my Elk M1G panel set up to automatically arm if it does not detect motion in the house after 30 minutes.
 

IVB

Senior Member
Before I spent $200+ on something I'd have to be certain it would do nearly everything I wanted, and that it wouldn't be obsolete in a year or two...
Wife dragged me to brunch, and has now informed me that we will be getting out of the house within minutes, so I'll have to respond in detail later. And, this isn't meant to sound like a CQC commercial - i'm just an end-user with no ties to it, just a fan of what they've accomplished and continue to accomplish.

The big thing to keep in mind with CQC is that while it's "DIY-friendly", it's core target is the professional market and is meant to compete with AMX/Crestron. What that means is that there's zero chance you'll outgrow it as it's clearly the fastest growing product in this space, and fellow users are helping that growth through rapid contribution of materials and drivers for more and more equipment. It's architecture is second to none, and is as bulletproof and stable as they come. Most CI's that I know think that it's capabilities far exceed that of AMX & Crestron. I'm basing my $15K system around it [not counting receivers or TV equipment. With that, it's a heckuva lot more], and I know I can't outgrow it.

Also, as all development tools are freely distributed with CQC, I know of at least 6 folks writing 8-10 drivers right now. Once they go through the CQC certification process all those will be part of the package free of charge. Supported devices range from HomeTheater->HomeTheaterAutomation->HomeAutomation. What this means is that you should feel confident that everything you'd ever want to do is possible there.

I'll look over your list later and respond with the support in either xLobby or CQC.
 

IVB

Senior Member
ok, looking over your list, the biggest issue will be with TV. There's a SageTV driver for CQC in the works, but right now the best you can hope for with any package is what I call "quilt-making" - need to handoff front-end control from one system to another. Once that driver is done [probably 2-3 months away], there'll be something better for you there.

Other than that, with the exception of security&automation, xLobby can do much of what you want, at a price you can handle. However, there will be some stability issues, not sure if you can handle that.

If you want to pay the $200-$315 for CQC, you can get solid stability & tackle the automation. I have an Elk for security which has a driver for CQC. I don't actually know if the CADDX works with it, that's a question for Dean (CTO of CQC).

I know a few xLobby guys if you want help there.
 
HoustonFirefox said:
"2) Remote arm in case I forget when I leave home. Again, possible in MH."

I'm not sure if you can do this with your current security system but i have my Elk M1G panel set up to automatically arm if it does not detect motion in the house after 30 minutes.
Sorry, I should have been more precise. You're right, I don't think MH currently has the function. I know I've seen some MH code that interfaces with the panel, but I don't think it will arm it. Since I was able to get the thermostats talking to MH, I'm pretty sure I can do the same for the security panel.
 
IVB said:
If you want to pay the $200-$315 for CQC, you can get solid stability & tackle the automation. I have an Elk for security which has a driver for CQC. I don't actually know if the CADDX works with it, that's a question for Dean (CTO of CQC).
I looked in the forums and found that the Caddx panel isn't supported. Dean said he didn't have a copy of the protocol. I do. :) When my registration email finally arrives I'll update the thread. It also appears that CQC doesn't support my thermostats. That means I'd be taking a step backward, unless I wanted to write my own CQC driver for it. Since I've already invested the time in the MH interface, that's not something I'm particularly enthused about doing right now. I'll look at the CQC features a bit more, but right now it's not looking like it will work well for my automation and security goals.
 

IVB

Senior Member
I understand. You may want to check out xLobby, that could work for a low-cost way of accomplishing your HT goals.
 
Thanks to all the suggestions, I'm making progress. I got WebGuide running, but haven't figured out how to make it do anything yet. I also tried out xLobby and already have it setup to play music. I'll try a movie when it finishes the import, which seems to take a really long time!

I still want to take a more detailed look at MainLobby and CQC before I decide what to go with.
 
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