3rd party DVR w/o "service"

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3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:00 pm

My apologies if this has been addressed before; feel free to smack me upside the head and refer me to the correct post. I'm also not very familiar with the technology or terminology, so forgive my ignorance.

Here's my situation: I have essentially "expanded basic" cable provided by my landlord (there's no "trap" on my cable line), but I have no cable box. I instead have a 32" LCD TV and a DVD recorder that each have a QAM tuner. I currently get all "expanded basic" channels plus a handful of the HD versions of certain channels (such as ESPN) but no HBO, Showtime, etc. While I've been quite happy with my DVD recorder, dealing with the media has become irritating, and I love the "click once to record" features of my friends' Tivo services. I'm wondering if I could buy a 3rd party DVR without having to pay either my cable company (Charter) or anyone else (such as Tivo) a subscription fee.

And if I did that, would the DVR be able to provide me with a guide so I can easily browse future programming and choose what to record? This seems like it would be impossible if I'm not officially getting a "service," but a friend told me otherwise. Is he right, or is that too good to be true? And if a guide isn't available, can anyone tell me what sort of interface I would have for setting up recordings? Finally, how can I tell if a DVR will work without the "service?"
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:05 pm

Windows Media Center does an excellent job for exactly the situation that you describe.
viewtopic.php?f=33&t=73714
viewtopic.php?f=33&t=73674
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:40 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:Windows Media Center does an excellent job for exactly the situation that you describe.
http://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=73714
http://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=73674


I considered that, and I may have to go that route. My biggest hesitations are: 1) I have a splitter on my cable line (for internet/TV), and techs have remarked that splitting the signal is already degrading my internet somehow. Granted, it's entirely possible that they're just using that as an excuse for shaky service... 2) How user friendly would this be when using a remote? I already watch a fair amount of video from the web by running an HDMI cable from my video card to my TV, but I hate having to get out of bed to pause, etc.

EDIT: 3) I do a fair amount of gaming, and I don't really like the idea of having to schedule my gaming around the TV I'm recording. And building a dedicated PC for this is just not an option for a variety of reasons (space, cost, hassle, room aesthetics).
Last edited by MidnightFrost1701 on Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:54 pm

The Windows Media Center remote that came with my TV tuner card works great. The kit that I linked in that other message included a remote. The only drawback with my current socket-AM3 785G system compared to my previous socket-AM2+ HTPC is that my new Caviar Green drive doesn't reliably wake up from hibernation, so I don't let this system sleep like I did with my previous HTPC system.
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:59 pm

What kind of computer resources does it use? I can only assume quite a bit--enough to make gaming at the same time impractical, surely? (See edit in my previous post.)
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:07 pm

Simultaneously recording two HD programs while watching a previously recorded program doesn't bump my Phenom II X4 above its lowest 800 MHz speed, but it does push CPU usage up to 16-23%. With just the two recordings going and Firefox open to post this message, the gadget is showing that CPU usage is hovering at 6-8% and Cool 'n Quiet still has the CPU running at its 800 MHz minimum.
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:16 pm

Hmm. It would be rare for me to record two things at once (I can't do that now anyway). Here's my current build (nothing OC'd b/c I don't know what I'm doing well enough to be comfortable with it):

Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
OCZ GameXStream 700W
Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L
Patriot Extreme Performance (4 x 1GB) DDR2 800
Intel Xeon E3110
HIS Radeon HD 4870 512MB
160GB Western Digital 7200RPM EIDE
640GB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM SATA
Antec Nine Hundred case

I know this probably a ridiculous question because it requires wild speculation, but any idea how disruptive it might be on my system to record one program while gaming?
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:23 pm

Windows Media Center has light resource requirements, unless you've got an analog tuner that doesn't accelerate the encoding.
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:33 pm

Thanks for all the info, JAE. I guess the only other thing I have to worry about is signal degradation by adding another splitter. And I might just have to try it to see if it's going to be a problem. Maybe I'll look for a used tuner that I can easily resell if it doesn't work out...
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:44 pm

I've got a high-quality splitter (provided by Comcast) that splits the signal to my cable modem and to a video amplifier (that I bought) that boosts and splits the signal to the PC, DVR, VCR and TV.
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:52 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:I've got a high-quality splitter (provided by Comcast) that splits the signal to my cable modem and to a video amplifier (that I bought) that boosts and splits the signal to the PC, DVR, VCR and TV.


Interesting, I had no idea video amplifiers existed. Various cable techs over the years have blamed splitters for problems, and I'm confused as to why none recommended one of these. As for my current splitter, I don't know if it's high quality or not. It was provided by a cable guy a while back when he said my cheap Walmart-bought splitter was crap. So I guess I can assume it's alright.

Looks like the prices on these amplifiers varies quite a bit, so I'll have to do some research. How much was yours, and would you recommend it?
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Sat Oct 02, 2010 8:59 pm

Splitters are specified by the frequency range that they pass and for the dB of signal loss. Here's a two-way splitter that passes 5-2400 MHz and loses 4.5 to 7 dB of signal strength.
http://www.monoprice.com/products/subde ... id=1042206
The four-way version has the same 5-2400 MHz range, but it loses 10.5 to 12.5 dB.
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:18 am

MidnightFrost1701 wrote:As for my current splitter, I don't know if it's high quality or not. It was provided by a cable guy a while back when he said my cheap Walmart-bought splitter was crap. So I guess I can assume it's alright.


Unless your signal strengths are borderline there shouldn't be too much practical difference between a store-bought splitter and the better stuff.

However, for piece of mind, the brands the cable companies use (which are the better stuff; it makes financial sense for them to pay a few pennies extra per splitter, since even one truck roll to your house for one of their splitters failing could pay for tons of splitters) are easily available cheaply on E-bay or the speciality stores (SolidSignal, SummitSource). Antronix, PCT/ChannelMaster, Regal are examples of the higher-grade stuff.

You don't need a splitter that goes all the way up to 2400 MHz for cable (but you would for sat.)
Figure how many splits you need and buy a splitter with exactly that many. An unused port still is weakening your signal by its very existence (for example, a four-way splitter is still splitting the signal equally in four, even if you only have three connections hooked up to it)

For distribution amps, I'd avoid the Radio Shack-type or Home Improvement store amps - their Noise Factors are outrageously high (like 8). I think Amazon (and some Best Buys) sell the Motorola ones (2.2 NF off the top of my head). SolidSignal and SummitSource carry the PCT/ChannelMaster ones (which are 3 or under, IIRC).

You can find amps with a single input and a single output (cheaper, but less convenient - to split, you would need to attach a short piece of coax cable to a splitter), and with multiple outputs (which are amps with built-in splitters - you can find 2 port amps, 4 port amps, 8 port...)
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Thu Oct 07, 2010 1:05 pm

I picked up a Hauppauge card at Best Buy (so it would be easy to return if I didn't like it or wanted a better model). I didn't bother with the WinTV thing and instead followed the website's instructions for using WMC only, which turned out to be very easy to set up. I have only three annoyances so far: 1) The QAM tuner isn't picking up all of the same HD channels that my TV and DVD recorder pick up. This isn't a huge deal since the same channels are available on analog, but it's still irritating. 2) I didn't do enough research to realize that I'd need 2 separate cables for analog and digital unless I want to move the cable back and forth (which I don't). 3) The remote that comes with it doesn't work with WMC, which I should have noticed before buying. I would get a better model of card, but the cost of buying the next card up with the WMC remote will be more expensive than just buying a cheap WMC remote on eBay.

Turns out, Antronix is the brand of splitter the cable guy gave me. I've found an Antronix 4-way splitter on eBay for cheap (5-1000MHz, -7dB), a couple of coax cables on monoprice, and the aforementioned cheap WMC remote. So far I'm very happy with how easy WMC is to use, but I'm reserving final judgment on the whole process for when I get the remote. Video quality seems a little hit or miss depending on the channel, but it all looks better on my TV than on my monitor anyway. And considering that I was usually recording at the lowest quality on my DVD recorder to save space, this is really no worse. Now I suppose I'm going to see what kind of free video editing software is out there (to crop out ads and such). Thanks for all the advice!
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Re: 3rd party DVR w/o "service"

Postposted on Thu Oct 07, 2010 1:12 pm

Not sure if anyone mentioned it, but you can get Moxi boxes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moxi

Guy I worked with at Comcast SWORE by them. Says the hardware is actually fast enough to use everything the box can do at once without slowing down, unlike the Motorola and Pace boxes that if you have 2 programs recording seem to slow to a crawl.
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