The sun-setting of Windows Media Center with Windows 8/10 left many long time users with a decision to make:
- Continue using Windows 7 / WMC and miss out on the free Windows 10 Upgrade, or
- Upgrade to Windows 10, and switch to an alternative PVR solution
Despite the numerous different PVR solutions available for Windows machines (eg: MediaPortal, NextPVR, Kodi), few are as easy to set up and maintain as good old WMC.
Not willing to miss out on the Win10 upgrade, and the guarantee of no future upgrades to WMC, I decided it was time to switch to one of the alternatives. My solution here needed to meet the following criteria:
- Media housed on a NAS
- Media served to HTPC (TV), Computer(s), Mobile Devices
- Record and watch Live TV with Timeshift
- Metadata Scraping
- Family friendly interface for watching Media, TV and Movies
- HTPC driven by a remote
After looking into the three applications listed above my choice was to go with a hybrid solution, leveraging the best app for each individual job.
Media Server – Emby
My media server is Emby, running on a dedicated HTPC. I have been using Emby since the early MediaBrowser days, along with the WMC plugin. Emby does an excellent job of fetching metadata for new content, as well as streaming it to any number of different devices. However, whilst Emby does have some Live TV plugins, it does not have one that supports my particular TV tuner (DNTV Dual Hybrid). Fortunately, Emby does have a number of plugins to bring in live tv via another app. In my case, that will be NextPVR.
PVR Software – NextPVR
NextPVR is a freeware app for Windows that allows you to capture and record digital TV via a terrestrial antenna. NextPVR can be run standalone but more importantly, it plugs into both Emby and Kodi. This means I can both watch and record Live TV within Kodi, as well as stream it to other devices via Emby. This is great for accessing recordings, or watching different TV shows on different devices at the same time (think upstairs and downstairs at home). This means that NextPVR is sending a live TV stream to both Emby and Kodi at the same time. This means that one person can be watching TV via Kodi, whilst another person can watch live TV on a computer or phone via Emby. Note that my Emby server is running on fairly decent hardware, including 8GB RAM, Core i5 2500, and an SSD. I doubt that a server running on a NAS for example, would be able to handle both streams at once.
Media Front End – Kodi
I tried XBMC in the early days but found it far more difficult to use than MediaBrowser+WMC. However since the re-brand to Kodi it has a much improved user experience, whilst maintaining the extensive library of plugins and user generated apps. I am using Kodi on my HTPC which is driven by a remote, whilst using the Emby app/website on other devices and computers. For me Kodi is just a front end, since I prefer to use Emby as my server. Therefore I have it configured with the Emby plugin, which updates the Kodi library each time the app is started. I also find Kodi a more polished and flexible front end solution than Emby’s own Emby Theatre. And of course there is the real strength of Kodi, which is the 1000s of plugins for Kodi that add internet based content.
This solution is working well for me for the most part, but I am finding Timeshift within Kodi a bit unreliable. Making large skips of 30 minutes or more often causes the stream to hang, requiring the user to stop playback and start it again. This of course means that you lose your live TV buffer, and will start watching the channel from the present time. Kodi can timeshift through media files quite reliably so this is almost definately a NextPVR issue. I have resolved to only make small skips via timeshift and not leave it paused for too long.
Apart from the above the solution works well. Having the NextPVR stream going into both Emby and Kodi means that Live TV is available in multiple locations, as are the recordings. Perhaps most importantly all three platforms are still being developed. And with time small bugs like the one above should be resolved, making this a superior solution to WMC in all regards.