I decided a couple weeks ago to try out Channels DVR after cutting the cord a couple months ago. BUT I first wanted to validate that Channels worked as advertised before I invested any real money in hardware like a NAS or PC Setup. I already had a HDHR Quattro tuner running with a HDHR Servio and as most know the HDHR DVR interface is just plain awful! I had an old Dell XPS 13 sitting around doing nothing but collect dust and I decided this would be a good starting point. It has a Core i5 2476M 1.6Ghz(turbo to 2.3ghz) Windows 10, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, a USB to Ethernet adapter and a 4GB Seagate portable USB drive for storage. Channels installed easy and fired right up. Live playback was good, but as soon as it had to transcode (software only), it worked but not great frame rates, but still worked. However, it did not want to be visible from outside the home network, even with the proper routing setup on my Linksys Velop router. And as I travel a lot for work, having out of home streaming is one of main draws of Channels for me. So, I decide to blow away Windows and I installed Ubuntu Linux 19.04. The machine is now super speedy and now I had hardware transcoding available with Channels! It worked like a champ streaming in network and out of the house. I only tested it with 2 out of network streams going at once and it worked good enough but the frame rates weren't super high and it took a little bit for playback to start. It worked good enough to prove to me that Channels was worth the $80 a year and was the solution I wanted to use.
Now that was ready to spend some money I wanted a mini server I could tuck away and let it do it's thing. I was looking at getting a Intel NUC or a Gigabyte Brix, first with 8th Gen Core -I3, i5 or i7 processors but ultimately the prices pushed me towards ones with Intel J5005 or a J4105 as the prices to go up to an I3 or I5 just didn't seem work the extra cost for this box to just run Channels. (Plex already runs on my iMac without issues so no need to mess with that) I had a spare 256GB SDD sitting here and 8GB of memory is cheap at $40, so I was spending about $180 for the Gigabyte with a J4105 or $240 for the NUC with the J5005. Then I came across the Lenovo thinkcentre M73 with a Core i3-4130T (Haswell Architecture running at 2.9ghz) with 8GB of RAM and a 500GB drive for $70 shipped on eBay. Turns out the place selling them is a 10 minute drive my house. I realize the Brix and NUC are new architecture with new implementations of Quick Sync, however for $70 I was willing to take a chance on this box.
I ordered it and had it in my hands an hour later. I swapped out the 500GB Drive for my SSD, backed up my server on the Dell Laptop and uninstalled Channels from the Dell. I installed Ubuntu Linux 19.04, which honestly takes almost no time at all. I swapped over the Seagate USB Drive and installed Channels with a restore of my setup and was up and running in about 15 minutes. Seriously, if you're messing around with Windows, just install Ubuntu you'll be glad you did.
Immediately, I noticed significantly better channels performance. Everything is faster. I tested it on a mix of Fire 4K sticks, Fire 4K Cube, AppleTV 4k, Mac, PC, Android and Windows devices. The guide loads instantly and I had them all going at once (either live tv or playing back recorded shows) and streams start almost instantly and now streaming with transcoding feels effortless with frame rates of 125fps transcoding 1080p 9mbps which recording 3 shows and watching on 3 seperate TVs. Looking at the logs, commercial detection for a 30 minute program takes about 3 minutes. Commercial skip while watching a program is virtually instant.
Performance is fantastic and I think I would have gotten similar or slightly better performance out of the NUC and Brix but with an additional cost. Still, I am impressed with the performance for $70 and how easy it was to setup and run. I will say, I could have easily gotten a used small form factor PC for similar money with better processor and performance but at a penalty of higher energy usage and possibly noise from fans. However, where I have this running is in my bedroom and I have it tucked away on top of my armoire in the bedroom so being super quite is key. Additionally, I do believe that my next purchase will be a video specific drive in a USB enclosure to replace the Seagate portable usb drive. Performance appears fine on the Seagate but I question the longevity of the portable drive.
The short version of this post is that I'm happy with the $70 server and it's doing everything I had hoped it would! I would recommend getting one or one of it's many similar mini PC cousins (HP, Dell, etc) and you'll be happy with the performance and the money you saved.