A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

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A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:03 pm

DISCLAIMER: I am a long time Mac and Linux user. Yes, yes, I hear your jeers and jests, but I do not believe in the one true Ballmer. I am familiar with W7, but I only use it because Office is the standard where I work, so my experience is limited to removing viruses for friends and family, and Office '03 - '10, among other trouble-shooting duties I get. I realize that some of the answers to my questions may involve Media Center. Media Center is completely foreign to me but it seems easy enough to pick up. I only say this because I realize that if a Windows option is my only choice, I may have some newbie questions.

Hey all, I've been a long-time lurker of the TR forums (and an even longer TR reader), but I seem to have run into a bit of a roadblock. I'm building a new HTPC on a budget that will also serve as a DVR. I hope to defer to your judgement and pick your brains for some help. I already have quite a bit done, just a last few questions. Here are my goals for this build:

* Light And Casual Gaming
* Watching, Recording, and Streaming HDTV (720p or 1080i, either will do)
* Day to day internet surfing, checking email (because sometimes I can't be bothered to get off the couch), and various other bits of computing.
* I would like to have a linux-based solution, but I am prepared to remit myself to W7 if needed.

Here's where I stand so far:

* Silverstone ML03B
* Silverstone Strider 400W PSU
* ASRock Z68M/USB3
* Intel i3 2100-T
* G.SKILL 8 GB DDR3 1333MHz RAM
* HIS Radeon HD 6670 Low Profile GPU
* Scythe SCSK-1100
* CoolerMaster SAF-B82-E1 80mm Case Fans x4
* Panasonic Viera TC-P50S30

I need some way to capture video from our cable provider (Time Warner Cable). I think I need a CableCard, and a dedicated tuner card. It seems that the only DVR solutions I can find are the Ceton InfiniTV4, Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650, and the HDHomeRun PRIME. I also believe that I will need to call TWC and have them connect to the the CableCard or activate it or something of that nature. I'm a bit unclear about that process, if anyone has any experience, any insight would be greatly appreciated!

Okay, so the background stuff is out of the way, here are the couple of questions I have.
* As far as recording TV, what is my best bet? I'd rather not use my cable box as it stands because the only recording features that I could use from third-party hardware recorders require component cables, and when I connect a component cable from the cable box I get some interesting purple lines running horizontally up and down the screen. I believe it is the cable box because it happens on both my Panasonic Viera TC-P50S30 and an older 26" Dynex that we have.
* Would I be able to use any of the TV capture hardware I listed above to record and play back video outside of Windows?

This last one is just pure curiosity, but if I am able to store video on my HDD for later viewing with Windows Media Center, what format would everything be stored in (ie, what container and what video and audio codecs will be used) and would I have the ability to pick my own settings? I would like to avoid a platform dependent solution (WMV screams to the forefront of my mind). My hope is to use either .mp4 or .mkv containers, h.264 video compression, and either AAC or AC3 audio.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to listen to my babble... I appreciate the help, and I feel I am very close to a solution!
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:10 pm

You'll need the Ceton card and then the Cable Card comes through TWC. That Cable Card will fit inside the Ceton card in the back of the pc. From there, I would use WMC on W7. I use it for OTA for the last few months and its been mostly perfect. One thing: don't expect Blu-Ray integration. It just doesn't work well. Other then that, you've got a very good build going there. If you are very picky with your video, be wary of the intel video bug at 1080p at 29.97 fps being converted to 30 fps. You'll get a dropped frame every now and again. If it isn't something you obsess about, don't sweat it. I hardly notice at all.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:34 pm

I'd say if you're a Linux person then it couldn't hurt at least trying out the HomeRun Prime with Mythtv and XBMC. My current setup uses both Myth and XBMC. Together they are a powerful pair. HomePrime works just as well in Windows too. So if that setup doesn't work for you, you can always purchase the OS later if need be. In terms of video card, if you are even considering Linux then Nvidia is your friend.

Right now I use the Hauppage HD PVR paired with firewire for changing channels. However my next stop is the HomeRun Prime.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Tue Dec 20, 2011 9:28 pm

JKABOO4 wrote:* Light And Casual Gaming
* Watching, Recording, and Streaming HDTV (720p and 1080i, both)
* Day to day internet surfing, checking email (because sometimes I can't be bothered to get off the couch), and various other bits of computing.
Here's where I stand so far:
* Intel i3 2100-T
I might consider the Core i3-2105 (better integrated graphics that you're not going to use) or Core i3-2120 (faster) for the same price. Although the Core i3-2100T is a low-voltage model for power saving under heavy loads, your DVR is going to spend most of its time sleeping and the difference in power draw of those three Sandy Bridge processors during light-CPU DVR/HTPC activities is small. I went the route of Llano and skipped the graphics card for my HTPC/DVR.

Those fans are going to be too noisy for your family room. Consider a case with 92mm or 120mm fans, instead.

JKABOO4 wrote: I need some way to capture video from our cable provider (Time Warner Cable). I think I need a CableCard, and a dedicated tuner card: Ceton InfiniTV4.
You'll install the Ceton card in your PC. Pick up the CableCard at the local Time Warner office, take it home, plug it into the tuner card, then call Time Warner to activate it. You should be watching HDTV in 15 minutes or less.

I recommend Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit with the included Windows Media Center. It does a good job as a DVR. You'll also want as large a hard-drive as your budget can stand. Unfortunately, hard-drive prices have been elevated since the flood in Thailand, so 3 TB drives aren't very affordable.

The other thing that you're going to want is a Windows Media Center remote.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:04 pm

Thanks for the input! I appreciate it.
JustAnEngineer wrote:You'll also want as large a hard-drive as your budget can stand. Unfortunately, hard-drive prices have been elevated since the flood in Thailand, so 3 TB drives aren't very affordable.

Luckily I already have a pair of 2TB and a pair of 1TB drives! I'm a bit of a digital pack rat. It's full of old TV shows and movies
JustAnEngineer wrote:
Those fans are going to be too noisy for your family room. Consider a case with 92mm or 120mm fans, instead.

I may just look into some other 80mm fans. I picked the Silverstone case because it looks the most like it belongs in an entertainment center and it was fairly cheap compared to many Home Theater PC cases I've seen in the past, and it only fits 80mm spinners. I'll do a bit more research and see if I can't find something better. My thought is that with 4 of them, they shouldn't need to spin too high, and even if they do, they'll only reach 2500 RPM.
JustAnEngineer wrote:
JKABOO4 wrote: I need some way to capture video from our cable provider (Time Warner Cable). I think I need a CableCard, and a dedicated tuner card: Ceton InfiniTV4.
You'll install the Ceton card in your PC. Pick up the CableCard at the local Time Warner office, take it home, plug it into the tuner card, then call Time Warner to activate it. You should be watching HDTV in 15 minutes or less.

I recommend Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit with the included Windows Media Center. It does a good job as a DVR.
-----
The other thing that you're going to want is a Windows Media Center remote.

Didn't even think of the remote thing. Currently I have an older Mac Mini hooked up to my TV and I'm just using it with a BlueTooth keyboard and trackpad. I have thoughts to move it back into my office and use it as a small, personal webserver.
kc77 wrote:I'd say if you're a Linux person then it couldn't hurt at least trying out the HomeRun Prime with Mythtv and XBMC. My current setup uses both Myth and XBMC. Together they are a powerful pair. HomePrime works just as well in Windows too. So if that setup doesn't work for you, you can always purchase the OS later if need be. In terms of video card, if you are even considering Linux then Nvidia is your friend.

Right now I use the Hauppage HD PVR paired with firewire for changing channels. However my next stop is the HomeRun Prime.

What options do you have with the Hauppauge HD PVR as far as video formats? Reading through the information on both the HD PVR and the HomeRun HD PRIME I keep seeing the average file size for an hour long HD show between 4 and 8 GB. This seems like a full 1080i recording. Would I have the option to change the recorded resolution and control over the saved formats and codecs used?
JustAnEngineer wrote:
JKABOO4 wrote: Intel i3 2100-T
I might consider the Core i3-2105 (better integrated graphics that you're not going to use) or Core i3-2120 (faster) for the same price. Although the Core i3-2100T is a low-voltage model for power saving under heavy loads, your DVR is going to spend most of its time sleeping and the difference in power draw of those three Sandy Bridge processors during light-CPU DVR/HTPC activities is small. I went the route of Llano and skipped the graphics card for my HTPC/DVR.

I forget Intel recently introduced SB updates in their processor line. Yeah, the 2120-T would be the better bet. I'm pretty conscious about how much electricity we use, so the difference in the TDP of a standard 65W SB chip and the T series is a sticking point to me. I'm not any kind of environmentalist or anything, I just can't afford a crazy electric bill, and this guy will get a bit of a workout. Currently we're rocking an old 1.8GHz notebook Core2Duo in the Mac Mini, and the system that it's in idles between 15 and 20W and maxes out around 115W. I'd like to keep as close to those figures as I can since I will be using this guy quite a bit. I have considered Llano, but I would go for the 3850, which will draw up to 100W all on it's own... I like that the 3850 has the equivalent of a 6550 though.
By now you're thinking, "if you're so worried about power draw, why are you using a discrete card?" Well, that's a good question, and frankly, I'm open to low-profile cards that will offer reasonably good quality as well. Most games will be played on medium settings @ 1280x720 which is well within reach of most 6-Series GPUs. I simply opted for the 6670 as it was the best I could find for under $100. I realize the discrete card will push my idle wattage up around 100W, but it also shouldn't break 200W either. I may even drop the discrete GPU for the time being, it just depends on finances, especially considering I'll likely drop $200 on just a TV Tuner.

Again, thanks for your help TR community!
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:45 pm

I posted my measurements of DVR/HTPC (whole system) power consumption (AC draw from the wall) here:
viewtopic.php?f=29&t=77619&p=1096863&hilit=#p1096863

We also had some discussion of this in the comments to the latest System Guide:
http://techreport.com/discussions.x/22104#metal

My point is that the DVR/HTPC tasks are not very CPU intensive, so your processor is not going to pull anywhere near its TDP rating while performing these functions.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Wed Dec 21, 2011 5:00 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:I posted my measurements of DVR/HTPC (whole system) power consumption (AC draw from the wall) here:
viewtopic.php?f=29&t=77619&p=1096863&hilit=#p1096863

We also had some discussion of this in the comments to the latest System Guide:
http://techreport.com/discussions.x/22104#metal

My point is that the DVR/HTPC tasks are not very CPU intensive, so your processor is not going to pull anywhere near its TDP rating while performing these functions.


The one point I'd like to make regarding this is that I use my HTPC to encode/transcode video files. I went with the 2120T so I could take advantage of Quicksync. I also use it for video output, which really keeps my power down. I'll see if I can pull some power numbers for you later. We are in the midst of painting and floor refinishing, but I should be hooking it all back up tomorrow.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Thu Dec 22, 2011 5:45 pm

JKABOO4 wrote:I need some way to capture video from our cable provider (Time Warner Cable)


If you go the CableCard route, in virtually all markets TWC sets the "Copy Once" flag on everything but the local OTA channels, so your non-local channel recordings are going to be usable only on the PC they were recorded on - unless you use an WMC extender (like an Xbox) to view them on other TVs not hooked up to the PC.

A fact that's kept me away from going CableCard, as I'm on TWC, and would prefer recordings not be to locked down to the one PC.

Something like the previously mentioned Hauppauge HD PVR (or the Colossus, the internal PCI-E version) records from a cable box, rather than CableCard, so that's one potential workaround. It's not nearly as elegant as a CableCard solution, and costs more per tuner, but does have fewer restrictions.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Fri Dec 23, 2011 12:41 pm

insulin_junkie72 wrote:If you go the CableCard route, in virtually all markets TWC sets the "Copy Once" flag on everything but the local OTA channels, so your non-local channel recordings are going to be usable only on the PC they were recorded on - unless you use an WMC extender (like an Xbox) to view them on other TVs not hooked up to the PC.

Maybe I'm a bit too persistent, but would I still have the ability to transcode the files (likely compressed with h.264) and store them away to play or stream to another computer?
insulin_junkie72 wrote:Something like the previously mentioned Hauppauge HD PVR (or the Colossus, the internal PCI-E version) records from a cable box, rather than CableCard, so that's one potential workaround. It's not nearly as elegant as a CableCard solution, and costs more per tuner, but does have fewer restrictions.

I like the idea of the Hauppauge Colossus, especially that HDMI input, but since it doesn't decrypt the HDMI signal, I'd have to run it through the component cables huh? I'm not sure if the cable box is bad at outputting through component, or if it's the cable itself that I have, but no matter which TV I hook the component cables to, I get faint purple lines running horizontally up the screen. I guess I'll pick up another component cable to test it out, because if it isn't the component cable, it's likely the receiver, and I don't know how kind TWC will be in replacing it for me, or if that will even do any good. The gentleman who installed it said that he sees the lines from time to time and that he thought it was just Samsung TVs. Well, neither of my TVs are Samsungs, so I'm starting to think it may be the receiver. Everything works fine through HDMI though... So that makes me think it could be the cable... I haven't really messed with it because I don't have the problem through HDMI or RCA. Maybe I'll have to revisit this little problem. If I can get everything running properly with the component cable though, I would be more than happy with the Colossus. Thanks for the recommendation. My only other fear with it is how tall is it? I can't find anything on Hauppauge's website, but it looks like it may be too tall for the Silverstone case. I believe low-profile cards have around a 3.5" high bracket, but I can't find anything about it. Does anyone here know if this is a low-profile card or if it comes with low-profile brackets? I've looked at reviews and specs on Amazon, NewEgg, and Buy.com and I can't find anything about size. I guess I should assume it isn't and go with the HDPVR, but I'd like to save a little cash as often as I can...
Once again, thank you for the stellar help guys, I am greatly appreciative. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Fri Dec 23, 2011 1:01 pm

The Windows Media Center files are compressed with H.264 and they can be played on other computers or devices on your home network (e.g.: PlayStation 3). They still take up 4+ GiB per 30-minute program.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Fri Dec 23, 2011 1:57 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:The Windows Media Center files are compressed with H.264 and they can be played on other computers or devices on your home network (e.g.: PlayStation 3). They still take up 4+ GiB per 30-minute program.


This is my favorite feature. I do have to repackage my recordings, but I convert them to h.264 in mp4 and can play them in my Touchpad in a snap. Very handy when traveling.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Fri Dec 23, 2011 7:45 pm

JKABOO4 wrote:Maybe I'm a bit too persistent, but would I still have the ability to transcode the files (likely compressed with h.264) and store them away to play or stream to another computer?

No, only streams flagged with "COPY FREELY" will let you do that. With TWC, that generally means the local channels only.

The Hauppages use the "analog hole" through the component cables to get around the DRM, take the MPEG-2 signal from the cable box and recompress the signal to a H.264 file on the fly.

JKABOO4 wrote:Does anyone here know if this is a low-profile card or if it comes with low-profile brackets?

Alas, it's a full-height card.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Fri Dec 23, 2011 10:10 pm

JKABOO4 wrote:What options do you have with the Hauppauge HD PVR as far as video formats? Reading through the information on both the HD PVR and the HomeRun HD PRIME I keep seeing the average file size for an hour long HD show between 4 and 8 GB. This seems like a full 1080i recording. Would I have the option to change the recorded resolution and control over the saved formats and codecs used?

An hour long show is about 4GB, but with the HD PVR you can control the compression. I left it at the default as I have two 2TB drives in RAID 1 for my recordings which is MORE than enough. Better than any TIVO or DVR unit you would get from the provider to be sure. To give you perspective I have about 100 movies and 147 saved recordings at 1080 with about 200 GB free. However, you can transcode any file in Myth as a side job / cronjob to start when you aren't recording.
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Re: A Little Help Setting Up A New HTPC/DVR

Postposted on Tue Dec 27, 2011 5:53 pm

insulin_junkie72 wrote:
JKABOO4 wrote:Does anyone here know if this is a low-profile card or if it comes with low-profile brackets?

Alas, it's a full-height card.

That's unfortunate, but I appreciate the help! Now I know! I try to do as much research as I can before I buy a product, especially if I am not going to be able to test it out first, that way, when I get it. I know exactly what to expect when I get it and (hopefully) there aren't any surprises.

Thanks for all of the input guys! I think I'm going to go with either the Colossus or the HD-PVR and just use the analog hole. First things first though, I need to check to see whether I've been given a bad component cable from TWC, or if its the receiver that's causing the purple bands that run horizontally up my TV while using the component output on the cable box. I plan to order another component cable today to test for this. If it goes well, I'll probably get the HD-PVR. If not, I'll still grab the HD-PVR, but I'll also have to grab this guy from Amazon so I can use the HDMI output on the cable box and convert it to component for the HD-PVR.

I think I only have one last question. Since I'll be using analog and won't be talking back and forth with the cable box, do I need to leave the cable box on and tuned to the proper station to record a show? It doesn't seem possible otherwise, but I thought I would ask.

I also plan to convert everything to 720p for archival purposes since it should only take about a gig or less after removing commercials (likely using Handbrake, unless there is a better option, especially for removing commercials). I have probably close to 50 shows already archived and ripped from VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and iTunes. I have around 100 or so movies too in the same formats. TV shows vary from 150MB for 30 minute shows to 1.5GB for a full hour long TV show(minus commercials of course) and movies are between 350MB and 8GB depending on source, length, and format. The TV Shows take up around 2 TB and the Movies around 1 TB.

Thanks for everything! I have learned quite a bit, and reaffirmed a lot more!
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