A Simple Home Media Center Setup

Before I begin I would like to state a disclaimer. I’m not suggesting going out and buying all the things that I have mentioned below. This is more of a very basic guide of different components that you can use if you are thinking of centralizing your media and have some old hardware lying around or you plan to make some purchases in the near future.

Media Server

If you have an old PC that you are not using because it is too slow or just doesn’t function the way it used to, you can reformat the hard drive and install Xubuntu.

logo-lightbg-largeXubuntu is an officially recognized flavour of the popular Ubuntu operating system. Since it is a Linux based operating system it is very secure.  It is very easy to use compared to some of the other Linux distributions and can run very smoothly even on old hardware. I’m using a 9 year old PC that has seen better days. 

So we have the Operating System that our server is going to use, as for the actual media server software we are going to be using Plex. Plex is awesome because it is very simple to install, has a very clean user interface, keeps track of where you stopped watching a movie on multiple devices, it provides movie trailers and extras, and a whole lot more. You will need to get the premium service if you want to watch your movies on Xbox or Playstation. At little under $5 a month, it is a worthwhile investment.

Xbox

Xbox-one-logo-2

If you missed it, here are some reasons to pick Xbox as your gaming console. You can control your Xbox with the Xbox One SmartGlass app (Android, IOS, Windows, Windows Phone). You can also download apps on your Xbox which will make it easier to consume media: Youtube, Netflix, TED etc… Then you can pair the Youtube app on your  phone/laptop/tablet with your Xbox One, you can cast all the above apps and others from your phone/table to your Xbox. Leave a comment below if you need a detailed step by step guide and I’ll write up another post for you.

Set-top Box[optional]

If you want you can add a set-top box like Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV to the mix, but that really just makes it redundant.I chose not to add any of these because Xbox One meets all my requirements.

If you really need to have cable TV you can add that to the mix too. Bell Fibe TV is pretty amazing. It has a very clean and fluid user interface and I have grown accustomed to the “Restart” feature which lets you restart a program if you tune in late. The only thing that bugs me is that you cannot fast forward a program that you have “restarted”. Bell Fibe TV has a very useful mobile app which you can use to control the box.

Sound Bar

513I1ZA2L7L._SL1200_Sound bars are great because they are mostly compact and a lot of them can act as a style statement. Of course they won’t sound as great as a full fledged home theatre system with a receiver and surround sound speakers but with recent improvements in technology sound bars have come a long way. I personally wanted something that was compact, had a decent sound output, fitted well under my TV, blended well with all my other devices and took in multiple HDMI inputs. The Sony HT-CT370 2.1 Channel 300W Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer, Bluetooth, and NFC is just the sound bar that I was looking for. I plug my Bell FIbe TV set-top box, Xbox One and sometimes my laptop to it. It has 3 HDMI inputs, something which is not too common in sound bars. I don’t have to go to the back of the cabinet to fiddle with wires. And everything gets neatly tucked behind the sound bar. Another thing that I later came to appreciate about the sound bar is its NFC capability. A lot of the times I simply place my Android phone on top of the sound bar and connection is established automatically.

Apps

These are some of the must have apps to make your home entertainment experience even better:

  • Xbox Smart Glass remote
  • Fibe Remote for Bell Fibe TV subscribers
  • Rogers Anyplace TV – for Rogers subscribers
  • Samsung Link – for Samsung devices
  • SongPal from Sony
  • SoundCloud
  • Crackle
  • Youtube
  • Netflix

Songza

Songza-logo-and-monster_660x660Songza deserves a spot of its own because this app is simply amazing. You can listen to this on your phone, on the web, cast it on your chrome device or simply stream it to your bluetooth speakers which is something that I usually do. Songza is a free music streaming and recommendation service for Internet users in the United States and Canada. Stating that its playlists are made by music experts, the service recommends various playlists based on time of day and mood or activity.(Source: Wikipedia) It’s best feature is concierge mode. Just chilling with friends at home on a Friday night, relaxing at home on a Saturday afternoon, need to recover from last night – no problem just make those selections on the concierge mode and let Songza provide a playlist and do its thing.

Extras

Wireless Keyboard 

If you decide to hookup your PC or if you have an Xbox without Kinect  a wireless keyboard certainly comes in handy. The Logitech K400 Wireless Touch Keyboard with TouchPad is the best wireless keyboard under $50.

TV Cabinet

It’s important to choose a cabinet which hides all the wires and is functions. Ikea usually has pretty sleek looking, compact and functional cabinets.

20150427_221216Take for example the cabinet above. It contains the following devices:

  • Xbox One with two controllers
  • Bell Fibe TV set-top box
  • Nintendo Wii
  • A wireless keyboard
  • TV
  • Sound bar
  • Subwoofer
  • DVD player
  • Bluray player

It is a simple design, there are a lot of wires behind the cabinet but they’re all very neatly tucked away. Of course you don’t have to go out there and buy a new cabinet, but if you’re in the market for a new one, these are some of the things that you might want to think about. There are also many ways you can organize your wires to keep look neat.

That’s my take on a simple home media center setup. If you have suggestions please leave a comment below.