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[Replacing My Cable Box] Suggestions For Building an HTPC

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  • Home Theatre
  • Cable
Last response: in Home Theatre
April 14, 2014 9:10:02 PM

Background/Overview

I am looking for a practical replacement to my cable TV box. I have been a customer of verizon for about four years and I have been on Verizon Fios for a little over two years now. I currently have a two-year contract for TV, Internet, and Home phone. When my last contract expired eight months ago, I chose to keep the television service because it actually costs more to only have internet+phone (we all know why). However, when they increased the prices of hardware rental, I began looking for methods to drop the box. They currently charge $17/month for the HD DVR box and $8/month for a standard box. I have experience with computer hardware and I have built my own system before.

What I'm Looking For

I am looking for something that will either allow me to downgrade to a HD box or eliminate the box all together. The replacement has to have:


    Friendly UI (non-tech savvy people will be using this)
    Remote compatibility (For changing channels, volume, pausing, rewinding, etc)
    DVR/Recording Capability (Pausing, Rewinding,etc)
    Recording one show while watching another
    HD Content (1080i via component input)
    Any other basics that a STB has and I'm forgetting.


What I Know
After doing a lot of research, I realized that I'm pretty much building a HTPC. I will need a cable card tv tuner to decrypt the non-basic channels. My family mostly watches the public channels but they do watch occasional movie or show on the encrypted channels. I know that I will not be able to receive on demand services or pay-per-view without a cable box but no one ever uses those here anyway. I will need an OS, front-end, and a back-end. I was thinking of using a linux distro, XBMC, or Mythbuntu. For the tuner, I was considering either the HDHomeRun Prime or the Ceton InfiniTV 4. As of right now, I have no specific hardware in mind for the HTPC. I am hoping that someone can give me some recommendations based on what I'm looking for.

Final Notes

Even though I have experience with computer hardware, I know very little about tuner cards/pvrs and software. I am capable and willing to learn but I'm hoping that someone with experience in this area can advise me as to what I should go for. Ideally, I would want to spend less than $400 in total. I have an Intel G530 lying around that I bought last year to upgrade the bios on a motherboard. I would like to thank everyone in advance for reading my post and assisting me.

More about : replacing cable box suggestions building htpc

Best solution

April 15, 2014 4:05:12 PM

First thing you need to do is verify that Verizon will even offer you a cablecard. I know with Comcast, at the beginning, it was a regional thing and I just lucked out. I'm fairly certain you can get one, but it's not a bad idea to make sure.

The Intel G530 may be a little on the low-end for handling both recording AND graphic duties, so I'd probably be prepared to get a graphics card to install as well. You're not going to need much here. A Geforce GT640/Radeon R7-240 should be more than enough. If you have an older card lying around, the key here is to make sure it's HDCP compliant.

The G530 should not have any problems recording multiple shows while viewing another. It ranks higher than my AMD Athlon X2-240 on Tom's Hardware - Best Gaming CPUs for the Money Hierarchy Chart.

For a build, I'd probably look at something like this. Note: This build does NOT include a cablecard solution.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-B75M-HD3 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($64.99 @ Micro Center)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($39.99 @ NCIX US)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($54.98 @ OutletPC)
Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 6570 2GB Video Card ($59.99 @ Newegg)
Case: Silverstone ML03B HTPC Case ($61.30 @ NCIX US)
Power Supply: Corsair Builder 430W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($19.99 @ Micro Center)
Optical Drive: LG GH24NSB0 DVD/CD Writer ($15.98 @ OutletPC)
Other: Intel Celeron G530 (Purchased For $0.00)
Other: Hauppauge Media Center Remote Control ($29.99)
Total: $347.21
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2014-04-15 18:56 EDT-0400)

For a friendly UI, most are very similar to Windows Media Center. If you have a Windows 7 Home Premium system, you can check out what the UI is like. The remote control makes it very easy to navigate (though entering text to search the guide may be tiresome).

DVR capabilities as well as recording one show while watching another are handled by the TV Tuner Card. Instructions for self-installs are pretty straight-forward (at least they were for the Ceton card). If you can install a graphics card, you can install a TV Tuner Card.

HD Content is going to depend on your cable subscription. If you subscribe to HD content, the build I listed will handle it.

Building an HTPC with a TV Tuner installed is really no different that building any other system. The only extra is scanning for channels and configuring your TV Guide (about an extra 15 minutes of mostly waiting). I wouldn't stress too much over it.

-Wolf sends
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April 15, 2014 5:41:37 PM

I looked at their website and checked their equipment page and I made sure that they do rent the Cablecards.

That was one thing that had me hesitant on using the G530. I was probably going to aim for a discrete gpu anyway. I read that integrated gpu on the weaker Intel processors can get choppy in HD. This leads me to one of the questions that I have. Is there a way to connect an old analog TV via component? I've seen GPUs with TV out ports but those are usually S-video or composite. I'm not even sure if those kind of GPUs are made anymore. If there isn't any other way to do this, that's fine. There is an HDMI capable TV that I can switch with.

Thank you for the parts list. I have struggled to put one together myself because I never tried to build an HTPC before so I know very little about what is strong enough.

That was poorly worded on my part. Most of the channels have HD available, I meant to say that the HTPC has to handle that.

In terms of software and functionality, I have some questions.

Can the channels be changed using the number buttons or do you have to scroll through a menu?

Is it a smooth transition when changing channels or is it slow?

I realize that this varies by software but I'm aiming to build something is stable and simple to use for the family.
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April 15, 2014 7:04:38 PM

Quote:
Is there a way to connect an old analog TV via component? I've seen GPUs with TV out ports but those are usually S-video or composite. I'm not even sure if those kind of GPUs are made anymore. If there isn't any other way to do this, that's fine. There is an HDMI capable TV that I can switch with.

Without a (what I would consider a questionable) converter box, I would say not. You'd be much better off switching to an HDMI compatible display.

Quote:
Can the channels be changed using the number buttons or do you have to scroll through a menu?

Yes. You can change channels by either using the up/down button, scrolling through the menu, or directly keying in the channel number.

Quote:
Is it a smooth transition when changing channels or is it slow?

Normally, it's smooth (within a second or two). There are times, however, and I don't know why, it will take several seconds to change channels and sometimes, when it has changed, I will not get an image. Usually, if I go to another channel, wait for an image to appear on that channel, and then go back to the channel I want, it comes it, but this might happen 5% of the time at it's worst.

Quote:
I realize that this varies by software but I'm aiming to build something is stable and simple to use for the family.

I leave mine on 24/7. It records without issue. Playback or live TV is normally without issue. I might reboot my HTPC up to six times a year. I wouldn't expect much more stability than that. With a remote control and media center software, it's really not that different that using a cable company supplied remote control and DVR. Just google XBMC or MythTV demos on YouTube.

-Wolf sends
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April 15, 2014 7:45:55 PM

Alright, that information has me feeling better about the software side of this.

Quote:

I leave mine on 24/7. It records without issue. Playback or live TV is normally without issue. I might reboot my HTPC up to six times a year. I wouldn't expect much more stability than that. With a remote control and media center software, it's really not that different that using a cable company supplied remote control and DVR. Just google XBMC or MythTV demos on YouTube


That's exactly what I was hoping to hear and achieve.

Now to the hardware side of things. I looked around and for the motherboard I'm going with the GIGABYTE GA-B75M-D3H which is nearly identical to the one you suggested (same chipset) except it includes two PCI-e slots and two PCI slots. It also has four memory slots but that's negligible for my usage. The difference is less than $10.

This setup is only for one TV but I was wondering if it's possible to access it on another computer on the same network as long as a tuner is available?
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April 16, 2014 3:22:39 AM

As long as it's a wired network connection, it should be fine. With my Ceton InfiniTV4 card installed in my HTPC, I have one tuner assigned to my all-purpose PC (this one). Both PCs are in the same room (small apartment) and on some days, I'll have the HTPC viewing one channel and the all-purpose PC viewing another channel.

-Wolf sends
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April 21, 2014 12:06:25 PM

Nice, I rarely watch TV but I know that if I can tune in from another room on my desktop, I'll probably watch a bit. I've been working on getting the hardware for the HTPC. I'm trying as best as I can to minimize the costs so I sort of set up a challenge for myself.

So far, I have the Ceton Infinitv 4 PCI card which I got used in its original packaging, including all of the parts that it comes with for $115 and I just bought the Silverstone case for $48.

What I'm currently stuck on is the power supply. I'm having trouble deciding as to whether or not I should purchase a higher efficiency PSU. I've read that those ratings aren't really dependable because the manufacturer's choose which unit they run the efficiency tests on. I've also read that the higher efficiency only pays itself off in a timely manner if you have the system on 24/7 or if you pay high prices for electricity. Being that I live in NYC, I do pay a much higher amount per kWH than most of the US. After all fees per kWH are added, the total costs goes to 20.7768 cents/kWh. That doesn't include the "basic service charges" either, just the fees that are per kWH.

Anyway, all this info leads me to ask is there anyway that the PC can be turned off/on via the remote and if so, can the software be setup so that it automatically boots up and is ready for use?
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April 21, 2014 4:26:07 PM

You can certainly turn it off via the remote, but once it's off, it's going to stay off until you physically power it back up. What you're looking for is stand-by/hibernation/sleep mode. These are normally automatic if the system is completely idle for some period of time. One of these modes will put the HTPC into a low power consumption mode until software or a network request signals it to return to full power.

This is something I should probably look deeper into myself, but I've just been too lazy.

-Wolf sends
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May 17, 2014 6:15:08 PM

Right. For a moment, I completely forgot that the HTPC needs to be kept on to record. I started the build and its pretty much done. I just need the HDD and RAM. I decided to leave the optical drive out because I got the Rosewill Fortress-750 PSU which takes up too much room to fit the optical drive. I should have gone with something smaller but I was stuck with the idea of having a very efficient PSU. I got it for $62 so I can't complain. I used the disc drive area to stuff the extra cables in which took some time. It was a compromise but I rarely have a movie on a disc and I could always buy an external optical drive.

After some research on software, I have decided to go with Openelec as the OS since I will be using XBMC and I won't be using the machine for any thing else. As the remote, I'm probably going to get the HP MCE PC Remote mostly because of its shape and buttons.

I also decided to take a risk and try running the system on the integrated graphics.It will probably be too much for the igpu to handle but I'm going to give it a shot and see what happens. Hopefully the software side of things won't give me too much trouble but I'm prepared for any challenges.

In relation to the InfiniTV4 Tuner, have you run into any problems with it during setup or regular use? I've read a few reviews online that mentioned weak signal strength and problems with the coaxial adapter disconnecting from the card if moved. Finally, how did the cable card side of things go?
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May 18, 2014 7:24:12 AM

For the most part, I haven't had any problems with the card. On occasion, I'll have trouble tuning in a specific channel, but after a couple of minutes, those problems disappear.

-Wolf sends
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May 24, 2014 10:38:11 AM

That sounds good. Hopefully I won't run into many issues. I got the HDD yesterday and after installing it and finalizing the cable management, I installed OpenELEC. It boots up fast and I thought it would be smooth sailing but nothing is ever that easy. I can't seem to figure out how to pair the Cablecard to the InfiniTV 4 on Openelec. I'm guessing that it probably doesn't include the drivers which means Openelec isn't going to work with the InfiniTV 4.

I couldn't find much information on the two being used together except for one post from over a year ago that says Ceton products are incompatible with Openelec. Their wiki wasn't very helpful and it didn't even mention Ceton in neither the compatible or incompatible hardware lists. Back to the drawing board in terms of software I guess. I'm going to try XBMCbuntu and see how that goes.
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May 24, 2014 11:10:34 AM

To my knowledge. XBMC and MythBuntu are both excellent options for OSes and the Ceton InfiniTV4 card.

-Wolf sends
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May 24, 2014 12:44:52 PM

I've also heard that they work well but I haven't been able to get anywhere today. Xbmcbuntu has the same problem as openelec. I was hoping that I could somehow access the Ubuntu desktop and from there install the drivers but it seems that it isn't made for that purpose. I made a thread on the XBMC forum to see if anyone has any ideas but at this point, I think I'm just going to use Mythbuntu. Their wiki has a page dedicated to the InfiniTV 4 so I can only hope that it's compatible.

EDIT: Mythbuntu is the right road but nonetheless very problematic. Setting this up has been tedious and after eight hours of this, I've gotten as far as getting the drivers installed. What has me stuck is that I can't access the browser interface for the InfiniTV device. The IP that is set to it leads me to MythTV's settings. I'm going to stop here and hopefully by tomorrow, someone will reply to my posts over at MythTv with some guidance. For what its worth, I also e-mailed Ceton but I've heard that they can take as long as a week to reply and being that it's Memorial Day weekend, I probably won't hear from them until at least Tuesday.
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May 26, 2014 3:52:50 PM

After two days of struggling with Linux, I decided to move to Windows 7. I was avoiding Windows because I knew that it would consume more resources. However using the InfiniTv 4 card on Linux is too problematic. The diagnostic tool on Windows works wonders with finding the source of a particular problem. At the moment, I'm dealing with an issue of the Cablecard needing verification. I have been working with a Verizon tech over at the dslreports forum who is trying to resolve the issue. Other than that, setting everything up on Windows has been very smooth.

I'm going to search The Green Button forum and see if anyone has experienced the same issue. I'm guessing that its an issue with the cablecard which is apparently common.
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June 15, 2014 2:23:06 PM

After sending in the Infinitv 4 for repair, the cablecard is receiving validation. It sucked to spend $35 more but I couldn't return the used card because it had been over thirty days and the card was out of warranty. Still, it was at a lower cost than buying it new.

For anyone who might have to contact Ceton support in the future, just know that they know when the product was manufactured from the serial number. Also, the warranty is only valid if you purchase it new and from an authorized vendor. The list can be found at http://cetoncorp.com/buy-now/ .

I decided to use Windows Media Center, for now. While XBMC, has a lot more customization, it takes time to setup and many of the superior features that it has such as its Movie Library, dozens of themes, and the add on community, are all things that I won't use or need. Media Center surprised me in how ready it is for Live TV and the little setup that it takes. I also save $25/year from not having to pay for the program guide from Schedules Direct. Another problem was that XBMC does not have the channels properly numbered. I searched but all I found was something about XBMC sorting by name and Media Portal sorting by numbers and I read that some people had to manually renumber the channels.

Speaking of, in WMC, you don't have to set up a backend + frontend.

Now, onto the hardware and its performance. I am amazed by the way that the integrated processor has worked. When I first started this, I thought that a discrete GPU would be a must but the igpu has handled the workload flawlessly. I already tested its performance for an hour, simultaneously recording four shows and also three shows while channel surfing on the other tuner. I'm glad that I was able to save money in that sense. However, if anyone is considering to process video content(i.e. compress it, change format) while also using all four tuners, I would advise that you use a processor with a stronger igpu or a discrete gpu. I should also add that the television's resolution is 1366x768. A higher resolution could be too much for the igpu to handle while also recording multiple TV shows.

Wolfshadw, I would like to thank you very much for your assistance and recommendations. Your input assured me that I could achieve what I was trying to do. I would have struggled for a much longer time if I didn't have your help.

Looking ahead, I have to figure out if I can fix an issue in which I only receive the basic channels. The rest claim that I'm not subscribed and Verizon says that it isn't a problem on their end. We mostly watch the basic channels here so it isn't a big deal. From what I've read online, I'm betting that it's either the cablecard, or something else on Verizon's end. I will edit this if I get it resolved. Other than that, I might one day use XBMC if I build a large library of movies and TV shows or if WMC presesnts an issue but right now WMC works and it offers a simple interface for the non tech-savvy members of the family.
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