HTPC – Windows 2008 Server Edition

Windows 2008 Server Edition turned out to be a great OS to use to run my MediaPortal installation. I can’t take credit for getting it working. The thread I used explained in very good detail how to get a working installation here.

Why use Windows 2008 Server? I’m cheap. I tried getting Ubuntu working but I had significant problems with getting the appropriate codecs and video tearing issues (more on that later). In the end, I just felt like I was spending too much time trying to learn Ubuntu for a result other than what I wanted. I wanted tv scrapers getting me fanart from thetvdb.com and I wanted something that would easily allow me to install plugins. There were too many issues with setting permissions in Ubuntu and a significantly hampered wireless signal from the ndiswrapper drivers for my wireless card that made Boxee’s internet services useless and the downloading of plugins very frustrating.

So how was Windows 2008 Server edition cheap? It’s free for college students, and it’s apparently free for alumni of Stony Brook University. Microsoft has a program called Dreamspark which makes a few of its developer platforms free. All you have to do is confirm that you’re a student at one of the listed institutions, and I have heard that if your institution isn’t listed you can request that it is by email. Dreamspark let me download the software and provided me with a unique product key that I entered after the entire installation was complete.

Windows Server 2008 isn’t exactly perfect. The video tearing issue I had with Ubuntu didn’t go away. I later learned that this probably had more to do with the refresh rate I was choosing for my video settings than it did for the OS or the codecs available for that OS. However, WS2008 was able to immediately pick up digital audio through the HDMI port instead of the analog solution I was using otherwise.

If you want more information on getting free and legal Microsoft software, check out this Slickdeals post. You can see a basic video of what MediaPortal is like here.

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HTPC – Trials and Tribulations

After spending a good fifty minutes at Best Buy this morning, I realized that there’s more to my indecision about a front-end HTPC than just whether or not I should spend the money.

It was easy enough to not even consider Dell’s Studio Hybrid before because the price range, even at the Outlet with the refurbished ones and the recent 20% off coupon, were still too expensive for my taste.

I love how that DVD gets loaded.

I love how that DVD gets loaded.

However, Best Buy is selling this at 399 recently and considering its pricetag otherwise, this sale makes it a lot harder to resist. I took a look at it. It is quiet enough, very small footprint, and it seems like it can handle Vista.

In the end I just couldn’t buy it. There’s something in me that is repulsed by the idea of spending extra money on less powerful components just for its size. I’m not even positive I’m going to have the front-end HTPC in a visible space.

I’ll update in a bit though, also not crazy spending $100 for an OS on my own if I build my own system again.