Scott's Column
Home Theater PC & eBook Exchange

January 1, 2011
By Scott Lewis

This month I want to talk about a new business idea I have. No, I am not going to quit my job and do it. But it could be done. It is an idea wrapped around the lending of electronic books... for Amazon's Kindle. I also want to continue the topic of the possibility of building a Home Theater PC.

Current Topics:

Home Theater PC (HTPC)

I have a bunch of spare parts that could be used to build a computer. I don't have everything and I recently built a very nice gaming rig. So I am trying to decide what to do with all these parts.

The parts include a CPU, an ATX Form Factor motherboard (ATX is the size, which will dictate the size of the case), a hard drive, memory and a power supply.

At the minimum to make this a functional PC it needs a video card and a case. Optionally it will need an optical drive. I do have an old DVD/CD ROM drive. This would be used to load the operating system on the computer once it is built. However, I am thinking about Blu-Ray (more later).

The point is... what would I do with another computer. I live in an apartment and have a powerful gaming PC. My sons come over frequently, but rarely do we need more than one computer (they bring laptops over or share my PC). Building another gaming PC would be pointless... unless it could be used with my 46" plasma TV screen.

Unfortunately as a gaming PC it would need a powerful graphics card, and those are not cheap. If I put these parts into use I want to do so as cheap as possible. I am toying with the idea of taking the video card out of my gaming rig and buying a cheap video card for my desktop PC. This means I will be MOVING my gaming from the bedroom where I keep my desktop to the living room where the TV is mounted to the wall.

This would make my desktop less of a gaming machine. I could also put the old CD/DVD drive into my desktop computer and MOVE the Blu-Ray Reader/DVD Writer from the desktop computer to this new gaming rig that would go in the living room.

With a computer in the living room it makes sense to let it be a Home Theater PC (HTPC). I am not well informed on what it would take to build an HTPC. Right off the top of my head I would be concerned about audio. I always connect the audio jacks on a computer to speakers. If I use the HDMI port on my video card to send video to a TV will it also pickup the audio from games and Blu-Ray movies?

Obviously I will need a computer case that looks like an A/V component rather than a tower style computer case. I will also need a wireless keyboard and mouse... plus some kind of remote. Maybe not everything at once, but eventually all of this will be necessary. Of course, I love the Need For Speed games... and am currently playing Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. I might want to eventually get a steering wheel controller.

The biggest question is... should this PC replace my DVR... and if it does... should I ditch my cable TV service altogether and use a HTPC for all my video consumption? Ditching my DVR means I would have to get a TV Tuner card that would be compatible with my cable companies system and it allowed me to record the HD channels I get. If that is not possible than I might as well ditch cable TV and get all of my video from the Internet. In which case my HTPC would be the center of my entire entertainment world.

If I go for an HTPC here are my requirements:

1) Play video stored on the computer (Duh!).
2) Play video stored on my network (file server).
3) Play Blu-Ray movies.
4) Play games (Starcraft II, FarCry II, NFS Hot Pursuit, etc.).
5) Play uncompressed Blu-Ray rips from local storage or from my network.
6) Record video from my cable provider DVR style.
           If this is not possible where can I legally get that content?
7) Have a clean user interface for all this media playing.

The storing and playing of Blu-ray movies in an uncompressed format is important. My current Blu-Ray player cannot play uncompressed RIPs across my network. I did the math and I would require a MINIMUM of 40 mbps SUSAINED bandwidth across my 100 m/bit connection to my Blu-Ray player. We all know that the 100 mbps is a theoretical limit, plus there is two way traffic for overhead, and anything else on the network that could impact a steady delivery of bits from my server to my Blu-Ray player. Playing Star Trek (2009) was very good looking, but also very choppy. Having the content local would make that a non-issue.

If I had an HTPC with a Gigabit Ethernet connection (I already have a router with Gigabit Ethernet) I would surely have more than enough bandwidth to stream uncompressed Blu-Ray movies from my network as well.

I did not have a good experience when I tried using a TV tuner card in a previous PC. It was clumsy and unreliable. Both of which goes against my 7th requirement of wanting a clean user interface for all of this.

I guess it boils down to this... do I want to invest in an HTPC at the expense of playing games at my desk? Once I answer this question I should be able to start learning what is and is not possible with an HTPC, and then start getting the parts to make it happen. I could just put in a graphics card good enough to handle all the 1080p video and leave my gaming in the bedroom on my lowly 22" monitor with an equally low 1680x1050 resolution.

Where's the fun in that.


eBook Exchange

I have an idea for a new business. Unfortunately, I will not pursue it. However, I did want to put it here so that in five years I can say I thought of it first.

The business would be a web site that handles the transfer of DRM (Digital Rights Management) for electronic books (eBooks).

The hook for the web site is that it would allow people to create and account (for free of course) and then list the eBooks that have purchased. They can then specify to whom they are willing to lend a book. The site would handle copying the eBook to the appropriate person and transfer the DRM temporarily to that person that is reading the book.

This would allow the web site to work exactly like a real book. If you purchased a physical book you can lend it to a friend to read. This site (The eBook Exchange) would facilitate that happening for electronic book. And this would be done all for free.

The control of the book would lie with the person that purchased it. They could request that the book be returned... and this would be done through the software of the site. It would delete the book from the borrower, and return the DRM to the original owner of the book.

So... how does a site like this make money? By also facilitating the selling of used eBooks. This would would work just like a used book store, but with a little more control for the seller. You submit a book you want to sell to the site. The site removes the ability for you to read the book. It then offers the book up for sale. The seller can set the price of the book, and when the purchase is made the DRM is permanently transferred to the new owner. The site would take a 10% cut of the sale.

So if you buy a book for $10, and decide to sell it for $5, the site will get 50 cents.

We could take this to another level and facilitate renting books. You put you book into the system to rent. We remove the ability for you to read the book. Then we offer to rent it on the site. In this case we would split the rental fee. So you could rent a book for a dollar or two to read for a couple of weeks. The original purchaser would get half of that rental.

The key to this business is obviously the controlling of the DRM to the eBook files. Our goal would be to make this work exactly as it would with a real book. If you loan the book only the borrower can read it. If you sell the book only the buyer can read it. If you offer the book up for rent... only one person can rent and read it at a time.

By making sure that the DRM software remains intact... and we only transfer the rights to the person that is currently allowed to read the book, we should not have any trouble with copyright violations.

In the long run we would hope to be bought up by Amazon, sine we would target the Kindle and its eBook. I have heard that Amazon is looking for a way to allow people to lend a book. I believe this is something like lending it to a friend for a couple of weeks. This is too limiting, and I believe it will be done by Amazon with the intent of try to drive more sales.

If we do it my way we will drive more sales buy people that will be able to sell old eBooks, and they will be more likely to buy new eBooks. I know family members that pass books around. If they new this up front with eBooks, they would be more likely to buy books knowing they can easily pass it around the family as each person reads it.

Just like with real books.

We hook people with the free loaning of books, and they make money of the handling of selling used eBooks... and maybe get into the rental business as well.



This is where I wrap up for the month.