Plex and DVR

I’ve been an enthusiastic user and supporter of Windows Media Centre over the years, spending a lot of money for an optimum set up that is able to command WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). Of course, it being a standout solution that “just works”, Microsoft decided to kill it – much like other awesome tech like Kinect, Windows Phone/Mobile, Silverlight, etc. So we needed an alternative that could provide media streaming of music and films we have on our home network and schedule recording of FreeSat content – all that across the house. Until recently, that was a big ask, requiring technical know how and patience which I simply do not have.

I’ve been using Plex as a media server for a while, not altogether impressed but it has seemed to be a consumer friendly (if sometimes tempremental with connections) solution that was rich and intuitive enough to be able to possible achieve WAF. When I heard that they started supporting DVR (the missing piece) for OTA (over-the-air) television, I thought I’d give it another go on the same machine previously used to run Windows Media Centre. Officially, Plex doesn’t appear to support FreeSat, but on the off chance I thought I’d try adding a LIVE TV / DVR configuration. Imagine my surprise when my device was recognised! (Note that you need a Plex Pass to enable LIVE TV / DVR support.)

The key was that my FreeSat card (a TBS 6981) appeared as a Hauppauge WinTV-quad, which Plex is compatible with. All I had to do was set it up. By selecting options in these three entirely anonymous drop down lists – a frustrating and disappointing user experience.

After trying a few obvious combinations, it became clear that with a channel scan that takes a minute or so before failing, I’d be there for the duration. After confirming that I was actually getting a signal through my FreeSat cable by patching it into an old Humax receiver, I downloaded DVBViewer and used that as a means of quickly identifying the settings. Or rather, trying to figure out what the drop down lists meant.

Using some very basic FreeSat knowledge, I knew that we use an Astra satellite at 28.2 degrees. That was easy. But what about the other fields? One related to the LNB type and one to the what I can assume is the selection of the individual LNB within the quad-LNB I have.

Mapping these settings into Plex resulted in a grand total of 4 channels. None of which I could get. Odd. Tried it again, worked fine. Go figure.

Next came mapping guide data to the channels. This is an incredibly onerous task and immensely dull and can be particularly frustrating if the user interface isn’t optimised to the task, which Plex isn’t. You can’t sort or filter, it’s difficult to see what’s what within a small window and the similar design of the buttons can make it easy to accidentally re-scan the channels – as I did – and lose everything – as I did.

Everything seemed to work after stepping through the process. Firing up a Plex client on my mobile phone and web browser showed “LIVE TV” and I could tune into channels.

There are some limitations, though.

  • You can’t time-slip, so watch whilst a recording is in progress. I used to use this all the time to watch the news slightly late.
  • Not every client has a guide, which makes it excruciating to find programmes.
  • Not all apps have LIVE TV and DVR functionality. My Panasonic TV doesn’t, for example. (yeah, I know. My FreeSat is patched into my PC because the set is only FreeView)

It’s definitely got promise, however. Plex is pretty polished and things do mostly “just work”, which ticks my box.