Media Center and FiOS TV

Two words: Awesome.

Well, that wasn’t two, so I’ll compensate by adding a few more.

Today, we ditched Cox cable for Verizon FiOS TV. Cox, the regular local cable provider, is actually not bad. They have great [for a cable company] customer service, but I’ve been disappointed with the service itself. The signals are low and I absolutely deplore the DVR. If you’ve been reading the blog [here, here, and here], you know that I have finally put together a media center PC.

What’s not listed there is that it’s all new. Over the past several months, in order to “make it right” I’ve been working on the computer to make it behave like it’s supposed to.

The old PC just wasn’t up to the task. I had been thinking about upgrading it when an opportunity fell into my lap. I mistakenly ordered the wrong CPU for my server and was unable to return it. So – I “repurposed” it. With the addition of a new motherboard, matching 4GB of RAM and a case, I was all set to build a media center out of a Quad-Core Xeon server processor. That’s total overkill for those not geeky out there.

The first problem, though, was that I ordered the wrong motherboard – it wouldn’t fit in the case. I returned it and ordered another one only to find out that I actually had the wrong case. I replaced the case and found out that I had the wrong power supply. I quick stop by the local computer store solved that problem. I assembled all the parts and it was working. Performance-wise, it’s the fastest “desktop” I’ve ever owned. Only, it’s not a desktop: it’s a server with a server case… which sounds like a jet engine.

So: to solve that problem, I replaced the power supply and it got a smidge quieter. Hmm… the case has 3 fans. I replaced those with whisper-quiet 120mm case fans and wow… Except: it was still very loud. All that was left was the CPU fan. This tiny little thing must have been making the most noise. It was spinning at 6000 RPM and so I replaced it with a large heatsink and fan combination that is now virtually silent.

Media Center “Server”: Awesome!

It’s VERY fast, responds very quickly, and I have about 1.2TB of storage. I think I can record several weeks of TV in HD without stopping. It all works just like it’s supposed to.


All the problems didn’t go away. We used to get digital artifacting [little random squares on the screen] and noise which I thought was due to performance of the machine. It was still there. Come to find out, our signal with Cox was so bad, that some channels were just plain unwatchable. I couldn’t even eliminate the cable box like I wanted to. So much for saving money.

Now, along comes my friend Jack who tells me of his experience with Media Center, CableCARD and FiOS. Now, I was hooked. See, Cox requires a “tuning resolver” to allow you to change channels on their less-watched shows. That way, they can save bandwidth by not showing stations to a neighborhood that no one is watching. Only it doesn’t work all that well. There were many times that our shows wouldn’t record because of some switching error.

No more! I called and scheduled my FiOS appointment and I’m now free from the Cox prison [except for Internet]. The media center is working as it’s supposed to and the signal is strong and clear. Life is great!

The only thing left is to get an additional tuner. I have a Ceton tuner on order which has 4 tuners in it. That will solve the recording conflict problems and should be the final upgrade of the machine for some time to come.

I took the Cox equipment in to the store today. That alone should save us $20/month or more on our cable bill.

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