A number of people use traditional "media extenders" such as Xbox 360 or Ceton Echo to view live or recorded cable TV on multiple TVs as part of whole home PVR solution based around a Windows Media Center HTPC. This allows cost savings relative to leasing equipment from a cable provider. Of course, Microsoft is no longer actively supporting WMC and media extenders as well as the companies that make them are on the wane. However, it seems that recent developments have enabled an alternative form of media extender with enhanced capabilities and much broader support.
With recent live TV enhancements to Kodi (formerly XBMC), it is now possible to view live or recorded cable TV on a wide range of PVR client devices when connecting to a central server running a PVR backend such as ServerWMC. This has a number of advantages and a few disadvantages relative to the traditional media extender.
- Supports a wide range of client OSes including Windows, Android, Linux, iOS, and OSX
- Supports a wide range of client devices such as Amazon Fire TV/Stick, Google Nexus Player, misc. Android boxes, Intel NUCs, smartphones, tablets, and Raspberry Pi
- Supports a wide range of apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, etc.
- Supports a wide range of addons, skins, and media scrapers
- Client devices are less expensive or already used within many households
- Active development community
- Sideloading Kodi can be complex, especially for non-technical types (a standard app store version would be strongly preferred)
- Only supports viewing of content marked Copy Freely (no premium channels or pay-per-view)
- Performance can be sluggish, depending upon client hardware specs
I have personally tested 2 client device types running Kodi 14 "Helix" with the PVR WMC client addon and a mid-range Win7-64 HTPC running ServerWMC:
- Amazon Fire TV (using wired Ethernet connection)
- Samsung Galaxy Note 3 running Android 4.4.4 (using WiFi connection)
The Fire TV is a more practical settop box replacement because it supports a wired Ethernet connection and it has a great selection of streaming apps. Sideloading Kodi onto it and setting up a home screen launcher app was probably too complex for an average user. Performance was generally good, although EPG load times were pretty slow. This might be improved with further optimization or future software releases.
Sideloading onto the Note 3 was easy and no special launcher app was required. UI performance and touch screen support was excellent although EPG load times were also pretty slow. Streaming HD video over WiFi is often problematic, but my experience was a lot better than with DLNA.
Overall, I think this is a promising direction which opens up a lot of new possibilities.
I am wondering:
- how many people out there are aware that this is possible?
- how many people see the benefit in keeping their cable service and owning their own settop boxes / media extenders to cut the monthly bill?
- for any who have tried it, how was your experience?