The Connected Home Media System

As Jen and I are preparing to move into our new house, I have a project in mind that I have been dreaming of doing for quite some time, and I plan to use my blog to record my progress.

The Project

My project is to build a connected home entertainment system and household server.


The Server

  1. To have a central family file server acting as a central storage location for the family’s electronic media and other files—databases, documents, addressbooks, etc will all be stored on this server exposed to the Internet so that any authorized computer can access family content from anywhere in the house (and the rest of the world).
  2. To have the central server also act as a house-wide media server delivering audio and video to connected computers—this media will include all our family’s shared music (including ripped CDs), movies (including ripped DVDs), and photos.
  3. To have the central server be capable of easily ripping DVDs, CDs, and recording/encoding live TV content.
  4. To have the central server be controlled by any number of “client” machines located throughout the house by network connection.
  5. OPTIONAL: The media server should be able to process HDTV streams.

The Media Clients

  1. Aside from the fact that every computer in the house will be able to access the files on the server, there will be two dedicated “media clients” operating as set-top boxes.
  2. Live TV and pre-recorded TV should be accessible from each media client.
  3. The media clients should be controllable by a simple remote control.
  4. The media clients should be able to connect to a standard TV.
  5. OPTIONAL: The media clients should be able to display to an HDTV.
  6. OPTIONAL: The media clients should be able to play CDs and DVDs and rip them to the central server for later reencoding.


Those are my goals for this project. Now, I’m going to get into the details.

The Network

I have contracted with a fellow to wire the house with standard CAT-5 networking cable to be terminated in simple RJ-45 (ethernet) connectors under the stairs. There will be a network port in the office, the game room, and the living room.

Under the stairs, there will also be a cable line for TV and broadband, a phone line, the network cables, and, of course, electricity.

I plan to use a NETGEAR 108 bps wireless access point/router as the network hub and gateway to the Internet.

The Server

My plans for the server currently are…

  • AMD Athlon or Pentium IV class processor. For this, I need to find a balance of performance and wattage. It has to be powerful enough to encode video in a reasonable period of time, but I don’t want it to be a power hog or a major source of heat.
  • 512 MB — 1 GB RAM
  • 2 or 3 disk RAID setup hosting at least 200GB of space initially.
  • 2 Tuner TV card with hardware MPEG-2 encoding.
  • (OPT: HDTV tuner card)
  • DVD-ROM drive.
  • Linux (gentoo most likely).
  • Apache + MySQL + PHP
  • MythTV running in only backend mode.
  • (OPT: IMAP email server with 2GB per user)

The Media Clients

  • mini-itx, microATX, or other small form factor motherboard & case.
  • Hardware MPEG-2 & MPEG-4 decoding
  • SVideo out (DVI/HDMI out preferred)
  • IR Remote control + LIRC
  • Linux (gentoo most likely)
  • MythTV running in frontend mode.


I’ll be tracking my progress on this site as well as the decisions that I make. I don’t think this is going to happen quickly, though, so don’t get too impatient with me.

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