Hey guys, I'm considering replacing my DVR with an HTPC type solution - Im sick of paying monthly for the crappy boxes Time Warner sends me, but I have a few questions.
I have a living room type setup with a fairly nice computer (with its own monitor) I built about a year ago and a nice 30" LCD TV like 15 feet away. So, instead of spending the cash to build a whole HTPC to hookup to the TV, I was wondering if it would be possible to spiff up my computer and use the TV as a second monitor, acting as though it was connected to a separate HTPC/DVR solution.
My overall goal is to get rid of the DVR/monthly payments, and use my existing computer to serve as both a DVR solution for the TV (as a 2nd monitor), and a regular computer like what I have now - with keeping the two as "separate" as possible. I want all the functionality I currently have (more is ok but not needed) and I want to think that I have a new DVR/HTPC without knowing it is really just leeching off of my computer. HD capability is an absolute must.
So, where I'm at right now, I think it can be done, but I have some questions about hardware, and practicality.
First of all, will the software even allow me to create such a setup??
1. I'm leaning towards a card like the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250, or something a little cheaper (is dual tuner necessary for recording multiple shows at once? - I've got one coax in for the current DVR and it's doing fine)
2. Can I add dedicated HDD(s) for just the TV storage? - If so, would one 1TB drive be good, or would 2 500GB drives (in sofware raid, probably 0 or JBOD) be better for recording multiple things simultaneously?
3. Can I still use the Time Warner service to provide the TV signal/will I need to buy a program for the program guide and recording managing?
4. If so, what is best (money is somewhat of an issue) - Sagetv, Beyondtv, GBPVR, others?
5. Will I need to add more memory (meaning moving to x64) - enough for both the computer processes + the DVR stuff?
6. Will I need an expensive remote?
My computer specs are:
Vista Home Premium x32
Q6600 @ 3.3
4GB DDR2 800
Antec 430 PSU
Antec 300 Case
Your computer is more than enough for a dual purpose computer.
1. Yes, you need a dual tuner to record multiple shows at once. I highly recommend the HVR-2250 you suggested above. It has an internal splitter and dual tuners so you only need one cable run to it to be able to record 2 things at once or watch one while recording another.
2. I would just get a single 1TB HD. I have a HVR-1600 and HVR-2250 in my HTPC. I don't run any RAID and can record 4 things at the same time (3 HD and 1 SD), so I would say you don't need RAID.
3. The only thing I'm a little worried about is the Time Warner service. Most TV tuner cards will only tune in-the-clear QAM channels. You'll have to do a little research on that yourself. I just use a roof-top antenna for my OTA HD content and a basic cable (not digital) for SD.
4. You can use the built-in Vista Media Center, that's all I use. You can dedicate a HD for recorded TV only if you like.
5. No, you don't need more than 4GB for your intended use.
6. I just use the remote that came with my HVR-1600.
1) I've heard a lot of good things about the Hauppauge 2250. I believe the specs state you can record two shows at once.
2) Yes. When you configure your recording software, you can tell it where to store your recordings. Personally, I'd go with a single 1TB hard drive.
3) Yes with a caveat. The cable box is both your tuner and your signal decryption device; something that a TV Tuner card can't do. Any channel TWC sends scrambled, like ESPN, MTV and a lot of others, your TV Tuner will not pick up by itself. You already have the software you need for recording in Windows Vista Home Premium.
4) No. See #3
5) No. 4 GB is plenty
6) No. The Hauppauge 2250 comes with a remote control (this one does anyway).
You can get the TV Tuner Card, but you'll still need a cable box to get the encrypted channels. What I do is connect the TV Tuner card to the cable box output. This essentially turns the TV Tuner card into a glorified video capture card, but now I can record any channel I pay for.
In your case, I'd see if a non-DVR capable box is available from TWC. If so, swap out your current box with one of those. Pick up the TV Tuner Card and connect it to the output of the cable box. Use the TV Tuner's remote control receiver and IR Blaster to change channels on the cable box. Use a USB extender cable if necessary to get the remote receiver the 15 feet from your computer to the cable box.
Set up your PC to use Clone Mode when you have the LCD TV connected. Whatever displays on your regular monitor will display on your LCD TV (though you may have in issue with different resolutions).
I think the best route would be what Wolfshadw suggested (but to be clear, I wouldn't want to run the dual monitors in clone, since I'd want to be able to use the computer at the same time as when someone else is watching TV). I'd get rid of the DVR from Time Warner and get a regular HD box (which would shave off 7 bucks a month per box), then basically use a capture card type method and use either an external HDD or connect it to my PC for the DVR functionality (for free).
For capturing the video, is the HVR-2250 even HD-capable? It doesn't look like it to me, but I'd be happy to be wrong.
In that case, I've been looking at the HD-PVR from Hauppauge to serve as the "capture" part of the rig so the setup would be:
TWC HD box > HD PVR in > PC/HDD via USB > HD PVR out > TV set.
That way, I'd have all the channels I'm used to and hopefully a free DVR type solution.
One worry I have though is that apparently cable companies are starting to disable the component out on their STBs, only allowing HDMI (and therefore HDCP) connectivity for some programs. This would render my whole setup useless since the HD-PVR is all analog. Then the best option I see would be buying an HDFury2 which is another 200 bucks and questionably legal and I don't want to have to deal with that mess.
Aside from that, would this setup let me use the HD-PVR just how I've been using my Time Warner DVR? It seems like I'd only be able to record what I'm watching, and therefore not be able to record a program at the same time that I'm watching something else.
I'm starting to think this whole thing may not be worth the time and money
Yes, the HVR-2250 has dual tuners that are capable of capturing up to 1080i. I use my HVR-2250 for OTA 1080i and the picture is very good. I don't have any experience trying to get it to capture HD from a cable box, though.
I am keeping Time Warner for my cable provider for sure. Right now, my goal is nothing more than trying to create a setup where I don't have to pay monthly for the DVR they provide for me, when I know I could build one myself.
If someone more educated than me would tell me this whole thing will not save me money in the end, I'd be happy to save myself the hassle.
Did a little bit of googling on Time Warner and it seems (in some locations anyway) that there would be no need to trade-in your STB. Seems if you don't want the DVR service, they simply disable it on your current box (and stop charging you $7/month).
At $7 per month, it would take three years to recoup the cost of the Hauppauge HD-PVR box you're looking at ($210 at Newegg) and I expect it will die (or be crippled in someway by Time Warner) long before then. Additionally, it doesn't come with a Media Center Remote Control (I don't know if that matters).
Add in the frustration of getting the proper configuration on your graphics card, moving all the necessary icons over to the secondary display and getting them to display there, I'm rapidly beginning to think it's too much hassle.
If it's because you specifically want to record the HD channels, then I'd probably toss the idea out the window. While I can record HD channels with my setup, the quality is degraded due to the analog output from the cable box that I have to use for my TV Tuner card. With the HD-PVR box you're looking at, you should be able to record with no quality loss, but the cost becomes prohibitive.
If you're just looking to record the non-HD channels (ESPN vs ESPN-HD), then there's no need for such an expensive tuner/capture device and the Hauppauge 2250 or the AverMedia AVerTV that I have become attractive (and cost a lot less).