Sunday, January 8, 2012

TV Anywhere - This is cool

I need to set the scene for this post......It is the Wednesday night after Christmas. We just hosted my in-laws for the holiday. We have a 7:30am flight the next morning to Denver of which I need to pack.  I am driven by  my father-in-law's Sling Box/remote streaming app and some complaints about the complexity of my cherished Windows Media Center.  I decide it's time to do something cool to defend the amazingness that is Windows Media Center.


A little more back story.
We use Windows Media Center for all our TV watching needs.  I built a little, fairly attractive computer with Blu-Ray, HD, and all the features needed for a great entertainment experience.  The computer has four tuners with Cable Card to access the digital content from our Cable provider.  The computer is our DVR and 90% of the time you wouldn't notice any difference from having a normal HD DVR from your cable company.  Occasionally things get complicated, it is a computer, and I am my own tech support.

So, back to my story.  It is 8pm Wednesday night and I decide to add the Remote Potato server to my Window Media Center (WMC) computer.  I had seen this previously in my research about different features on WMC, but never made the commitment to add this to our lives. I was jealous of some of the apps from TiVo and other cable providers to access your program guide or watch shows remotely.  I have this cool setup, but I couldn't do that.  Not acceptable.  Remote Potato is a service that runs on the computer that allows remote access to Windows Media Center.  You can access the program guide, recorded tv shows, music, pictures, or whatever is on the WMC.  I need this and I decided, that day, I need to install it before we go to Denver.


I start the process of setting up this awesome addition to our lives.  About 8:30pm I have installed the service and had it running on our computer.  The web browser interface shown above was accessible from any computer on our local network in the house.  Being able to operate the guide and stream shows on a web browser was cool, but not cool enough.  This needs to be accessible from anywhere in the world (well our country at least), so I started working on setting this up for the internet.  Disclaimer: I am not an IT professional.  I somewhat understand how all this stuff works, but I am mostly trying things to see what works and doesn't work.  This is where the wheels started falling off the wagon.


I was able to go to www.no-ip.com and register a host name for our computer.  Most people do not pay for a static IP address for your home internet connection.  Your Internet Service Provider changes your IP address regularly.  By registering a host name with this site, you can enter in a name like "www.fixitscomputer.com" to a web-browser and it will redirect the browser to the appropriate IP address.  There is a little service I added to the computer that determines this IP address and updates the site regularly. While the IP addy changes, the URL will always stay the same.  After this step, my frustration is slightly elevated because I really had no idea what I was doing and fumbled through this.  It is now just after 9pm, still no packing done.  

The next step is to setup Port Forwarding on my router so that when the external IP address and port is accessed, the "request" gets forwarded to my computer inside my network where the Remote Potato service is running.  I set this up in the router, but it wasn't working.  I started tracing the issues through my network and saw the issue with our VoIP device.  To keep this short, I made some changes not having a clue what I was doing and totally crashed our entire home network.  Now nothing worked! Not even the basic TV function inside our own living room.  My wife and mother-in-law were hiding in our bedroom....they were going to watch tv, but shortly realized I broke that too.  It is now 9:30pm, frustration levels have peaked, I have nothing to show for my efforts, and have successfully disrupted everything in the house.  Oh yeah, need to pack still.  In the interest of getting to the fun stuff, an hour of trying everything and sharing some select words with the various electronic devices in the house, I was able to piece everything back together.  It was not a pretty sight.  At 10:30pm, after an hour of fumbling, I grabbed my wife's iPad which was tethered to my cellphone internet and showed her the fruits of my labor.  I streamed an episode of "Candice Tells All" from HGTV onto her iPad.  I think she said "That's pretty cool" and they realized it was "safe" to come out from hiding.  I smiled, and thought it was totally worth it.



So the Remote Potato developer created apps for both the iPhone and iPad.  They are $7 each.  These apps getconfigured with the server information I created in the steps above and will remotely access my Windows Media Center from anywhere with an internet connection.  Mrs. Fix-It will have access to all the content on the Home PC through her Apple devices.  




Did you hear about a show you want to watch?  No problem, hop on the phone app and select the show to be recorded from the Program Guide.  It also works from any Web Browser as well.  We can just type in the url that I created and get to the program guide or even stream shows.  Is work slow?  I can watch some TV. 


I tested it on the way to the airport Thursday morning.  On her iPhone, I logged in and had it record a rerun of Home Improvement.  When we got through security I went back on the phone and we were able to watch the episode.  It doesn't stream live TV, but you can start a recording and then 2 minutes later start watching it.  The quality can be selected based on your internet connection.  The High Quality streams have great picture quality and will work on a descent hotel wireless connection.  I am still fairly proud of my accomplishment and try to show it to anyone who will take minute to see my demo.  I should probably find something other than Candice Olsen to demonstrate shows with.

I was not left out either.  The Remote Potato developer has not created an Android app yet, but there is one that works with this service.  It is not as polished as the iPhone/iPad app, but it gets the job done.

Oh yeah, I got started packing around 11pm after playing around with the iPad app for a bit.  I was a little delirious, but I amazingly did not forget to pack anything.  We got to Denver, celebrated the New Year at an amazing wedding, and I may have shown my cool new toy to one of the bartenders.  Hopefully I will be this proud with my kids.

Coming up?  Someone got a Nest thermostat and Vera Z-Wave controller for Christmas.  Mrs. Fix-It will be a walking Apple commercial soon.

Happy New Year!  Congrats to the Rampleys!

16 comments:

  1. that is so cool! i am not going to even think about going through the steps that you did, but it would be great to have that kind of service.

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  2. Thanks for providing us this great knowledge, i think i need this. Keep it up.
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