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Analog or Digital Cable for HTPC? Which Is Better??

Last response: in Graphics & Displays
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May 17, 2006 1:23:15 PM

OK, i have been searching around for the past day or so and haven't really gotten the answer i was looking for. as you've probably allready guessed, i'm new to the board. i stumbled upon it while searching for information to build a new HTPC for myself.

this is my dilemma: i recently built a new house for myself and with that new house comes a new TV. i decided to build an HTPC for myself to complement it. i currently am running an ATI AIW on my own PC for use as a DVR in my current residence.

when i signed up for my cable service i chose digital cable not having researched available PVR cards yet. now that i know what my limitations are i've come up with the following scenarios:

1) Keep Digital Cable service, buy an analog PVR and use a single IR blaster for my STB

2) Keep Digital Cable, lease two boxes and jerry rig two IR blasters for use with an analog Dual Tuner card (ie - Hauppauge 500 series).

3) Go back to Analog cable and buy a dual-tuner without the need for 2 cable boxes and 2 IR blasters.

What do you guys think of the quality difference? Will i really notice it on my recordings? I know that not *all* the channels i get on my STB are digital, only some of them, and the rest are analog transmission, so if i went back to analog i suppose it wouldn't matter for some channels.

i've never had digital cable or a very good tv so i can't say what my own opinion is. i plan on buying the Sony Grand Wega 42" LCD projection tv for my living room so i know that it's a quality picture.

here's the price break down:

Existing Digital Cable with 2 STB (one in bedroom, one in living room): $50.38

Digital Cable with 3 STB (one in bedroom, two for living room): $55.38

Analog Cable with 2STB One in bedroom, one in living room): $59.20

so the pricing for dual tuner digital vs. dual tuner analog really isn't any different. since it only comes out to $48 a year extra i am willing to dismiss it. obviously i'm not including equipment costs such as the IR blasters.

my only concern is quality really. i could live with two STBs with IR blasters if i had assurance the quality was worth it. otherwise i'll just go back to analog and wait for digital cable cards to go mainstream here in the US.

as it is my ATI recordings seem ok. they look a little odd when i watch them on a computer monitor but i would imagine it's because i don't have the settings right or i'm not using the native resolution i should be. but that's another issue alltogether for a different topic...

any thoughts? thanks!

Bob (Remmy)
May 17, 2006 4:25:22 PM

I am using the TV Wonder Elite with digital cable, I route the cable box to the PC with SVideo connector tho. It works fine for me.
I have 3Mbit/sec cable internet, with 2 digital boxes, one for living room, one for PC, and I get the basic cable service plus starz pack add on for $89.95 a month.

btw, it is jury rig, (like to rig a jury for a corrupt verdict) not jerry rig, fyi.
May 17, 2006 4:34:54 PM

Quote:
I am using the TV Wonder Elite with digital cable, I route the cable box to the PC with SVideo connector tho. It works fine for me.
I have 3Mbit/sec cable internet, with 2 digital boxes, one for living room, one for PC, and I get the basic cable service plus starz pack add on for $89.95 a month.

btw, it is jury rig, (like to rig a jury for a corrupt verdict) not jerry rig, fyi.


Rich, thanks for the reply. unfortunately this doesn't really help me decide. i'm really trying to gauge a comparison between the PVR quality of digital cable vs. analog cable and which is more worth using.

3Mbit per second ethernet sounds awesome! unfortunately up here they charge about $45 a month for cable-based internet at lower speeds than that, so i'm forced to stick with $15 DSL until the price edges down.

yeah, you're 100% correct about the origins of jury rig, but up here in the NE "jerry rig" is the more heard colloquialism. i think it's because people talk fast and made "jury" sound like "jerry" over the years. thanks anyway for the help!

Bob
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May 18, 2006 12:01:08 AM

i like analogue cable. if you have multipe tuner capability (eg Hauppauge mce 500) then you can record multiple tv shows at once, without having all the recievers.

Also, Viewing the digital signal through Tv tuners cannot provide as good image quality as connecting the digital reciever directly to the TV, so you might as well just go analogue.


Perhaps in the future when PC capture cards can output the exact same image quality that they recieve....then it might be worth it. Furthermore, digital cable is a waste of time unless you have a 40' or larger TV.

Finally, with analogue cable, you can change channels no problem with the tuner card. With a settop box for digital signal, you have to have a usb device that will control the tuner (so the PC can change the channel automatically for scheduled recordings).


Thats my 2 cents...
May 18, 2006 10:53:36 AM

hey smelly, thanks for the reply. you drive a hard point home there. i actually will be going with a 42" tv for my house so i bet the digital cable would have looked pretty sweet.

but.....the sheer convenience of being able to let my computer switch channels unattended to make recordings is definitely something to be reckoned with.

and i guess the truth is that video cards simply can't reproduce the level of quality of an incoming signal. i'm going to do my own independent test on this. i'm going to bring my computer to my new house and leave it there to record a tv show this weekend off my digital cable box using the tv out of the receiver. then i will record the same show during a repeat airing at my existing residence over the analog cable. i'll just have to compare and decide.
May 18, 2006 11:15:00 PM

I think video cards can output no problem. The loss of quality is from the capture card. I think that there are capture cards that can capture at the same quality that goes into them,... but they are very expensive.


I'm very interested to see how your experiment turns out.

cheers
May 19, 2006 12:05:52 AM

I actually have encountered your dilemma recently. I have digital cable, a HTPC (running Linux/MythTV) and a nice LCD tv. From what I've seen on my own setup, any analog channel will look better coming from your HTPC than it will coming from the tuner in your TV. This is because computer video cards/software are much much better at scaling TV signals to fit the newer digital TVs than the scaler in your TV is. They even look better than the analog shows I've watched on my LCD TV as output from my digital cable box. It may differ from TV to TV but I still think overall the PC scaling is better, it definately is on mine.

Now, I don't know how to make the digital box -> HTPC -> TV setup to work yet, because the cards that you buy for your HTPC are tuner cards, not receiver cards. I don't know if it is easier in windows MCE than it is in linux, but I haven't really tried all that hard in linux. I think it is doable, it just requires some extra work. The Hauppauge card I have (PVR-150) came with an IR blaster built in, so the capability is there. Do you live in the US? As far as I know, there is no way to use a digital TV tuner in the US for anything other than over the air digital TV (broadcast). You have to take it through the cable box and to your HTPC, then out to your TV.

Also, I don't know how OS-savvy you are, but MythTV has functionality to have a central recording server and many "front ends" that can acess it over ethernet, so you could watch your recordings in any room you wanted. You'd just need a few small, cheap PCs with remotes. The cost would be higher, of course, and that might be more work than you're really looking for.

The other option would be to just get the digital DVR from your cable provider and use that. I think most providers have them, or if nothing else, a tivo.
May 19, 2006 1:00:27 AM

I would suggest option 1 or 2. I'm a cable guy. Even if you can get a tuner card with a digital QAM tuner, there is no guarantee that the digital signal won't be scrambled by your cable operator. The company I work for currently doesn't scramble their digital channels, but it has been brought uprecently. Some HD tvs can decode our digital for free, and as more come on the market it is inevitable that they will scramble them. Technically, it is theft of service. That's my 2 cents.
May 19, 2006 6:10:44 PM

smelly, axe, Gherkin, thanks for the replys. i think i have to agree with all of you. i'm pretty OS savvy, but setting up back ends with IR blasters just wasn't what i wanted to do. and we all know the simple fact is that i can't use any QAM enabled digital cable card with windows MCE.

i think i'm just going to step back to analog and wait until HTPC cards come out that are enabled to use a tuner card from your cable company. since there are only a few set top PVRs that do this i'm sure i will have to wait some time.

and of course the other encouraging factor is that the cable still should look good through an analog signal. i don't know anything better anyway since i've only had analog since i first got cable in 1992 (i had antenna where i grew up until then).

i will still try and perform my experiment this weekend though and record a program in both digtal/analog and analog. i'll let you know what happens.

Bob
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