Much of my site is dedicated to home theater computers because it is one of those hobbies that never seems to get old. Even though HTPCs are very niche, I can’t help but love having one and love the freedom it brings to my TV.
Despite the great things they can do, I always find features that are missing no matter what the software. Thanks to plugin support, most HTPC software can easily be extended beyond what features “come out of the box”. Here are a few plugin ideas I have for anyone willing to code them.
- Movie Watcher – I don’t aimlessly watch TV very often, but when I do I usually end up on either A) a movie I have never seen before and don’t care to pay attention to, or B) a movie I own and have seen a million times. The thing is, I have all of my movies ripped onto my HTPC. So why can’t my HTPC software know that I am watching The Rock and offer to switch me to the copy I have in higher quality without commercials? It would be even better if it offered to either start me at the beginning of the movie or try to sync the time so I start watching from my rip in roughly the same place.
- Automatic Login – I know not many people have webcams plugged into their HTPCs. I believe that is only because there is no compelling reason to. But what if when you sat down in front of the TV your experience was customized to you favorite channels and shows? Facial recognition is fairly common on personal laptops so why can’t my HTPC know who I am and customize the TV just for what I like? Only a few HTPC software applications even allow individual logins (XBMC and Boxee come to mind), but I think it is time we start using it to it’s fullest.
- Pandora TV – If the software knows who we are, cause we logged in by sitting down, we should be able to just push a “comedy station” or “drama station” and the software already knows what shows we like and can recommend shows we might like based on our tastes. Of course there would be a way to “thumb-up” or “thumb-down” a show and the software can fine tune its results for us. Sometimes it would just be nice to have my TV pick something for me.
- Universal Video Chat – Yet another reason to have a webcam plugged into our HTPC. I don’t want to buy a Google TV, Cisco Umi, or PS3 just so I can video chat with people that have the same box. Why is there no good video chat client for HTPC software that incorporates Skype, Google chat, and Facetime all in one interface? If software like pidgin can incorporate every chat protocol known to man, I wouldn’t think 3 video chat clients would be so hard.
- Multi-room Simulcast Viewing – Some software can sorta do this with a funky hack. But really, why can’t I just tell the TV to broadcast what I am watching to all TVs (in case of a big game) or why can’t I tell the TV I am going to the garage so continue my show out there in 30 seconds? If all of the systems are communicating, the only limitation would be if your network is fast enough.
- PIPIPIPIP – I don’t really want 5 nested picture in pictures, but I think I should at least have the option of displaying a picture for each tuner I have (or up to 4 recordings at once). Why would you want to do this, sports. Windows Media Center has a pretty neat sports center and things like the NFL Red Zone drive customers to spend money every month. I know you would have to have a pretty beefy computer to display 4 HD videos at once. But I don’t think that has ever stopped people in the past from trying. Sure beats dragging out 4 TVs, especially if you can easily select one to view in full screen mode. Think expose or multiple workspaces but with multiple channels.
- Live Buffers – I have 2 channels and I keep switching between the two. I also have 2 tuners that aren’t doing anything and 2 terabytes of storage. Why is it so hard to keep 2 buffers so that I don’t miss anything while I am watching the other channel? I could understand 3-4 buffers needing some serious disk throughput, but 2 buffers seems absolutely reasonable.
- Search and Browser – These are two ideas taken straight from Google TV but they were the best two ideas Google TV had. All HTPC software should have an easy way to search for shows/music/movies/actors/whatever. I don’t care if it is a button on the remote or just type like webOS, in any case, the remote should be the first thing we go for when trying to look up information while watching TV, not our laptops, tablets, or phones. Oh and the browser can’t suck.
- More appliances – I know this isn’t a plugin per se but I think a lot of HTPC software can’t truly shine because the average person doesn’t know how or want to know how to set it up. Boxee has a great idea with building a box based on their software and focusing on that box for compatibility and features. Sure it isn’t the best seller out there, but it is a good start for them. XBMC, MythTV, MediaPortal, etc. all need to have some sort of all in one TiVo-killer box that is an appliance and not a computer. Just look at the AppleTV and Roku, and their software sucks in comparison to XBMC and MythTV.