What do you see?

I've posted the overview video of the Mini Harmony on several sites namely avsforum (USA)  and  avforums (UK) looking for comments, questions and learn other ways to improve the system.

These are great sites for anyone planning to build an HTPC since lot of experienced people contribute.

The reception to this solution has been nevertheless a bit cold. The feed back is not been that positive with people comparing what they see with Windows Media Center stating that their systems does precisely the same thing.

Well, because I feel that most of them miss the point entirely I decided to post a description of the core features shown and why it is different from a MC7, Boxee or Plex only approach.

So what do you see?

On most systems and on MCE in particular the common usage scenario is people knowing what to do, switch on the HTPC, change TV inputs, pick up the remote and press the green button to call the main menu. Then browse along the menus and select the option that leads to the media they want.

That may be fine for us (the interested ones), but most people don't even know what an HTPC is and how to switch between TV inputs, let alone know how to navigate through the menus of these softwares.

There is a learning curve associated with a traditional HTPC based entertainment system and it is steep enough to be left alone by most people when compared standard TV services or gaming consoles.

This is where as solution like the Mini Harmony may come to rescue. The objective to give any user access whatever feature you have in your entertainment system with a simple touch of a button.

To this the remote works as a bookmark list to anything in your Home Entertainment System, as such without looking at the TV the user has immediate contact with all the features. Even if all the system switch off, any user can start leveraging the features provided not only by Windows Media Center, Boxee or Plex but also any other app you have in your system.

Ideally the user can jump from feature to feature irrespective of its host with a touch of a button. They may be watching cable, then jump to Pandora hosted by Boxee to listen to music, then go to the console to play a game and come back to watch a Hulu subscription.

So indeed this is another level of abstraction on top of what you may have.

Why the Mac mini?

I've done this with both the Mac and a WM7, but with the PC things look a lot clumsier due to the way the system work and its scripting facilities. Most software do not providing for instance vbscript APIs etc.

Albeit Intelliremote on Windows is ok is not as easy to use as Remote Buddy in the Mac.

The way the OSX implements the transitions between applications combined with Remote Buddy makes   gives the user the illusion of using only one app, one appliance for everything.

Concluding it is enirely possible to make a similar thing with WM7 and Linux, it just takes more work and in my attempts did not look as good at all.




June 4, 2010 at 9:31 AM sjhu said...

Too bad you got such a bad feedback from the forums. They don't see what they need seeing in your video. They just don't know how hard it is to achieve what you have accomplished. Switching programs, going to the right places, activating VPN etc. It isn't what most of the WM7 users do, they do everything within WM7, thus don't need any advanced scripting.

Your solution is much better and flexible. You can use the best/preferred program for the activity you want to do with the push of a button. For example I use Plex for watching my TV Shows because Plex presents them the best, Boxee for watching movies because it plays all my 20-40gb .m2ts movies without any problems (Plex has problems with some of them) and use Hulu Desktop for Hulu. I have to use a lot more buttons to switch programs and setup a VPN connection for Hulu since I also live in Europe.
Now it isn't that a big problem for me but my wife in the other hand she can't do it. That's also the reason why I bought a Logitech Harmony. She had a hard time to switch on the TV, AV Receiver, audio switch, Dreambox or starting Plex. Now she can easily switch from the Dreambox to Plex with a push on one button. But she always stays within Plex even when 1 tv show of hers plays better in Boxee because of a weird codec used. I bet this will change if she can switch easily with a single button.

I'm looking forward for your tutorial.

June 7, 2010 at 1:42 AM Nuno Lopes said...

Hi. Thank you for your kind comments.

My free time is back to 0, but I'll write some tutorials while commuting.

I'm basically cleaning up some of the scripts so they can be used bothe with VPNs and without VPNs the same way.

What I'm doing other people may have done it before. But I'm glad that the info may help some that have not done it yet.



June 18, 2010 at 6:16 PM Andrew Guzman said...

I look forward to seeing the rest of the tutorials. I'm looking into getting a Mac Mini now that they have been updated and plan to use it as a media center - and this looks like any easy way for anyone using the system to be able to control it.


August 12, 2010 at 8:10 PM Nigel Tufnel said...

Hi Nuno,

I first saw your post on avsforum, and followed the link here. I'm not too new to this stuff; I've had a Mac mini (core duo I think) hooked up to a 720p projector in my basement for quite a few months now..115" screen (thanks to help from all the wise gents at avs), it's awesome! I too use Remote Buddy and predominately Plex, with some eyeTV thrown in (which continually gives me grief). All in all, I've been pretty happy with it; but when I read your post and watched the video, I was very impressed with the integration you have going there. You've really achieved a nice level of..well, the illusion of one system, as you said above. Please don't be put off by the lack of enthusiasm from some at that forum. Luckily they seem to be a minority, but there are those people that come off a bit jaded, I guess I would describe it that way. I don't think I'm alone when I say I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest of your tutorials, and it will be an honor to attempt to follow in your footsteps and recreate what you've accomplished. Thanks for taking the time (I work in technical communication so I have some idea how much time), and having the spirit to share this with all of us!

December 29, 2010 at 11:49 AM shunil said...

Thanks for the great tutorial! I'm in the process of setting up a similar set-up. Of course a fair amount of time has passed and I know that the Boxee Box has been introduced. From the reviews, it seems like it still needs some time to mature but I was wondering if you had maybe just switched over to it as your main media player?


December 29, 2010 at 4:56 PM Nuno Lopes said...

No I haven't. My setup is complete I would love to get into the details, but worked pilled on other things making it extremely difficult to persue this. This is closed project yet and I'll come back and update.

Boxee Box is no alternative for me as I can do all sorts of things really cool that go beyond what I explained yet. For instance atm I can start remotely a download and using my iPad or iPhone and when I get home I already have everything filed on the catalog. Both on BOXEE and PLEX.

I'm using the HTPC not only to entertain but as my family cloud environment so to speak.

The frustration at the moment is that there are very few apps for the Mac prepared to be presented on a TV. Yes we can hack into PLEX and BOXEE with scripts and key maps as I did to start internal apps but it is a cumbersome process.

I would rather prefer that each app on BOXEE or PLEX was actually independent. Just "exec Pandora.app" that would be it. But it can't be done at the moment.


PS: Having said, the HTPC here is smooth as it can get,

On Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 7:49 PM, shunil wrote:
shunil has left a new comment on your post "What do you see?":

Thanks for the great tutorial! I'm in the process of setting up a similar set-up. Of course a fair amount of time has passed and I know that the Boxee Box has been introduced. From the reviews, it seems like it still needs some time to mature but I was wondering if you had maybe just switched over to it as your main media player?


Posted by shunil to Mini Harmony at December 29, 2010 11:49 AM

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