Technology upgrades and how they snowball, home video edition

Last week we used some Amazon rewards points and a couple of gifts and upgraded our bedroom TV and bought a Roku. Our old solution, using a monitor and a Mac Mini, was OK,but was getting more and more inconvenient – Plex was great for watching recorded TV, but the Netflix plugin is broken and had to be watched through a browser, Amazon video was even harder to watch, etc, etc.

So now the Roku is awesome for streaming video, and the Plex app for Roku talks to our Plex Media Server (running on our HTPC) fine, but it chokes pretty hard when trying to playback the HD video files recorded off of OTA TV channels. (Basically, the HTPC doesn’t have a high-powered CPU, and when I try to stream 6-GB/hour MPEG-encoded files to the Roku, the HTPC has to transcode the video first, and it’s barely up to the task.

Next attempt: setup some transcoding software. Enter MCEBuddy. It’s convenient enough to use, and there’s a free version, but with a wimpy CPU transcoding from HD MPEG to H264 takes on the order of 2x realtime, meaning that it takes just over 2 hours to transcode a 1-hour show. that’s sort of manageable here in the summer when we don’t record too many shows, but once September hits the HTPC will be transcoding all the live-long day just to try to keep up. There’s a paid version of MCEBuddy that I dropped $15 on with the possibility that it’d speed things up, but my video card is old and slow enough that there’s no hardware acceleration to help out.

So now what? Upgrade the video card so I can do faster transcoding? Might be a possibility, but the better solution looks like to be updating from our current HDHomeRun tuner (a 5-year-old original model) to the HDHomeRun Plus, which has H264 encoding hardware built in. Now I just need to find a spare $100 somewhere. Anybody wanna buy an (aging) Mac Mini?

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