Media Center for the RV

Joan and I haven’t made the transition to the full time RV life style…..yet. We’ve found video entertainment to be one of the major challenges for the budget conscious. This became even more relevant during our recent Thanksgiving trip to North Georgia. We stayed at the highest point of one of our favorite areas between Blairsville and Young Harris at Trackrock Campground. Although we were on top of a large hill, we were limited to WXIA channel 11, an NBC affiliate and occasional reception for the GPB public broadcast channel. Of course, there was little interest in any of the programming with the exception of a Saturday morning documentary about Muscle Shoals Recording Studio. But, I digress.

What to do? DVDs are the option, but we all know space is limited in the rolling home. We have hundreds of DVD, but with the limited space, carrying the video library just isn’t an options. Well tech to the rescue.

There’s a great feature in Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system called Media Center. As the name implies, it provides a rather elegant solution for managing multiple forms of media from pictures to music and for our application, video. Being a bit of a geek, I blew the dust off of a small form factor PC that I built a few years ago to permanently locate in the 5’ver. In the picture, I located it in book case above the TV using trimmed double stick hook and loop (aka, Velcro) to hold the unit in place.

This is not the most powerful PC ever built, but specs are reasonable: Intel i3 processor, 8Gb of memory, 120Gb SSD drive, on-board HDMI video graphics and a 450 watt power supply. As an option and for less than $20 with Amazon Prime shipping, I also added a Media Center remote (Model: Ortek Windows 7 Media Center MCE PC Remote Control and Infrared Receiver) designed specifically to navigate media options to make the overall user experience near perfect. If the build was new, I estimate around $400 total in the build, but any PC, new or used will work. Also, HDMI is not a must. Most modern flat panel TVs have an RGB computer connection and viewing quality between this interface and HDMI is virtually negligible. Last item on the inventory list was a portable harddrive. A 1Tb portable harddrive can be purchased for less than $100 and is capable of holding hundreds of movies.

We’ve now come to the point of video management. My process is extremely simple and costs are minimal assuming your “ripping” from your personal DVD library. I tried several solutions with the simplest and most effective software tool being DVDFab DVD Ripper. This downloaded software can be purchased for less than $60 for a 2 year licence and works flawlessly. Load the DVD in the PC, open the software, tell the software the file directory to place the ripped file and voila!, the DVD is ripped in 15- 20 minutes depending on the speed of the PC CPU used. And the quality, perfect. The image is an exact duplicate of the DVD, now placed on the portable harddrive. Now we have hundreds of movies on a harddrive that fits in your hand, offering hours and hours of entertainment without the need for an TV station or satellite.

For debate, I’ll agree, there are other solutions such as ripping for iTunes, AppleTV, Linux and XBMC or MediaPlex. Some require servers, some not. For me, this was out of the box, simple to set up and most of all, easy to feed.

One note, there are a few simple configuration settings in Windows Media center for TV resolution, sound and the location of your media. Just follow the set up wizard. Simple and straight forward.

Try this one out. Take a couple of Saturdays and rip your DVD library. What better way to take all 9 seasons of Little House on the Prairie on your next trip.

I love RV life. Jerry

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