HTPC as a DVR - Several Questions

Hello all,

I have a few questions regarding using an HTPC as a DVR. I've built two desktop systems before, so I'm pretty confident I can put most of it together, but am wondering how to use it as a DVR (one of its main purposes will be to record HDTV programs.) So, here it goes:

1. What type of hardware/cables will I need to connect the HTPC to my satellite reviver?

2. What type of software will I need to record HD shows to my hard disk(s)? I've heard you can use Windows Media Center - is this correct and is it a decent program to use?

3. I am also planning on putting a blu-ray player in it - again will I need special software to play blu-ray disks?

4. Will I need a dedicated soundcard to get 5.1 audio from blu-ray disks?

5a. What specs do you look at to determine a good video card for HD capabilities? (One with an HDMI port will be necessary, but is that the only thing you need to look at? i.e. if it has an HDMI port will it do anything you could want related to HD?)

5b. I've been looking at GT 240 video cards - would that do it?

Thanks in advance for all your help, I know these are newbie questions :)
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  1. 1.) I don't really know here. I've been looking into doing the same thing. From what I've gathered, it is currently not possible to record HD from premium channels. You can only record over the air or unencrypted channels. You could use a PVR (usually about $100) to accomplish this as an intermediary, but I'm not positive if it works. Supposedly, there is going to be a card coming out soon that will do all of this, but I think it's going to cost around $500-600.

    2.) I've heard the same thing, but don't know for sure (see #1).

    3.) No special software is needed. It's just like playing a DVD.

    4.) No. Most motherboard's onboard sound will handle up to 7.1. There may be a little quality loss, but I'd definitely try it out before dropping $100-150 on a sound card.

    5a.) You want something that is quiet, cool running and handles movies.

    5b.) Yes and no. It would do the job, but it'd suck at it. Take a look at the HD 5450, 5670 or any of the 5xxx series cards. The lower ones were basically built to be HTPC cards.
  2. Thanks MadAdmiral!

    Quote:
    1.) From what I've gathered, it is currently not possible to record HD from premium channels. You can only record over the air or unencrypted channels. You could use a PVR (usually about $100) to accomplish this as an intermediary, but I'm not positive if it works. Supposedly, there is going to be a card coming out soon that will do all of this, but I think it's going to cost around $500-600.


    Well that stinks. The primary purpose was going to be a dvr :( (okay, another newbie question - what's a PVR?) Do you know when the new card will be coming out or who makes it?

    Quote:
    3.) No special software is needed. It's just like playing a DVD.


    That's a relief. I read tons of newegg reviews where people were like "My blu-ray player won't play blu-rays!" and then others were like "You need software like PowerDVD to decode blu-rays." What were they talking about? Maybe just software to rip a blu-ray to a hard disk?

    Quote:
    5a.) You want something that is quiet, cool running and handles movies.


    What specs should I look at to determine if the card is good for running movies? Memory? GPU series? Stream processors? Memory interface? I once hooked up my gaming computer to the TV (it has a GTX 280), and it did HD tasks beautifully, but I feel like a card like that might be overkill for just movies.

    Quote:
    5b.) Yes and no. It would do the job, but it'd suck at it. Take a look at the HD 5450, 5670 or any of the 5xxx series cards. The lower ones were basically built to be HTPC cards.


    I was afraid you might say that. I would like to go with an NVIDIA card if possible - what would your recommendation for team green be? Maybe something like a GTS 250? (or do you think a Radeon card would perform better?)

    Thanks again for all of your help!
  3. Unfortunately, I've only seen the link once, so I don't know who's making it. I thought it'd be out at the end of the month. As for a PVR, it's basically a DVR without a HDD. Just search PVR on Newegg and you'll see at least one.

    I believe those are for ripping BRs. I could be wrong, but I don't see why you would need anything special to play them. If you do, I'm sure there are many, many free programs to do it, so I still wouldn't worry about that.

    Basically, every card out there right now is going to be fine at running full HD movies. So you really want something that's quiet and cool, which doesn't show up in the technical details.

    ATI's cards would be better and cheaper. Frankly, right now buying nVidia is not a good idea. They're losing in pretty much every price range.
  4. Actually a correction for MadAdmiral. You do in fact need software to play Bluray discs in Windows. Windows Vista/7 do not natively support blurays.

    I learned this after reading reviews for neweggs OEM drives. If you can find retail versions of those drives, they do come with the software to play blue rays.

    OEM drives are about 60 bucks, retail are about 120-150. Cheap software that functions is 60 bucks, good software is 100.

    Sorry I don't have more specifics.

    Also, Windows Media Center works great for me TV card. It's certainly alot better than my Cox DVR as far as funtionality and options.

    Also if you don't intend to game, look at getting an i3 or a cheap Athlon IIx3 on a motherboard with integrated graphics (4200+)

    integrated graphics works perfect for an HTPC for multiple reasons. Less power draw, less heat. Also saves an expansion slot for a tuner card, or maybe 2 tuner cards.
  5. Thanks for clearing up the BluRay software issue cmcghee358. I was just going to post that. I'm glad I hit the "refresh" button first. :)
  6. Im gleeful that I actually corrected MadAdmiral. No offense MadAdmiral, I just consider you to be my personal benchmark for advice on these forums :)
  7. I believe you were referring to the Ceton cable card above in your "1)". Right now their website says it will be released by 5/31....we shall see...

    http://www.cetoncorp.com/
  8. I am asking all the same questions here, and by no means am finished with my research, but more than willing to share what I have found.

    PVR is personal video recorder, and DVR is digital video recorder. According to PCmag encyclopedia, they are the same thing: http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0%2C2542%2Ct%3DPVR&i%3D49990%2C00.asp

    In addition to Ceton there are soon to be released Silicon Dust http://www.silicondust.com/press and ATI TV Wonder http://www.amd.com/us/products/pctv/tv-wonder-tuners/Pages/digital-cable-tuner.aspx products that utilize a CableCard the Cable companies were forced to issue. All three of these offerings only work with cable connections, and I believe you are out of luck with your satellite dish. Anybody out there that knows better, please correct me.

    Speaking of people that know more, I found this incredible thread on the AVS forum authored by renethx: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=940972 For his latest recommended builds, see page 437 (that is not a typo, he actually has 459 pages in this thread).

    But back on topic, you might have better luck with Hauppauge http://www.hauppauge.com/site/products/data_hdpvr.html They have a product that connects to your cable box, and it has an IR Blaster that changes the channel on the box. It is the cheapest of all the solutions - I have seen it as low as $173, where Ceton will cost $400 (when released at the end of the month), and the otheres are $200 plus.

    Whew, long post here. Now for software. Look at MythTV: http://www.bing.com/search?q=myth+tv&src=IE-SearchBox&FORM=IE8SRC this stuff is free, but you are pretty much stuck with LINUX to do it. The good news is that the OS is free too, so you actually don't have to spend $100 plus on Windows. It is a big learning curve though. There are specific drivers for the Hauppage product line and an avid user group waiting to convert us hapless Windows users, so you should be able to connect without too much trouble.

    Video cards? Well, looks like the cheaper you go and still get the job done the better. I have been looking at Integrated Graphics Processors (IGPs) to save cash, and the Intel GMA 950 seems to be up to the task. You could always go with a discrete card such as the GeForce 9500 or the low end ATI 4350 or similar. There has to be a comprehensive comparison out there, but I can't put my finger on it. Don't go for anything expensive unless you want to game, but then you would not be building an HTPC, and gaming rigs defeat the purpose of slow, quiet unobtrusive home theater PC's

    Sound is integrated with HDMI, so a separate card does not appear to be needed. Maybe if you are an audiophile and want surround sound then there may be a need.
    There are several Windows based Blu Ray compatible software programs out there - from makers like Adobe and such. Looks like the cost $50 to $100. I have not found out too much about them yet, so feel free to share anything you find.

    Sorry I have been running on here for so long. Hope there is something in it that helps.

    good luck :)
  9. That card's the one I was referring to. Not sure if it's worth $400 though...

    I am interested to find out that BR isn't native to Windows 7 though. A friend had just thrown one into his computer, and didn't mention having to install any different software. Good to know.
  10. He most likely purchased a retail BluRay drive Admiral, which came with an installation CD of drivers and BluRay software. Just my guess.
  11. The Ceton card will record 4 channels simultaneously. Compare that to TIVO, which will record 2. You are still paying a huge premium for the right to view your own content that you pay the cable compay for. Comcast and their cronies have played politics and won that round.

    The FCC, however, has admitted defeat and is in the process of revamping their rules: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/04/fcc-to-improve-cablecard-rules-this-month.ars So who knows what the game will be like next year.

    Personally, I have purchased a $30 ATI TV Wonder USB stick just to play with and throw away. It gets 78 channels out of 444 on my Comcast account, including the OTA (Over the Air) stuff plus a bunch of useless shopping channels.
  12. Ah, Thanks everybody!

    Well, that just stinks. Are you saying I can't record HD channels, via any card (even the Ceton) because I'm using satellite and not cable? What about that Hauppauge HD PVR capture device? Could I hook one end of that to the receiver and the other in to the HTPC via usb?

    And thank you very much eloric, your post helped me quite a bit!

    For the software, unfortunately I'd have to go the Windows route and get a specific program (probably powerdvd 10), which means more $, so I'll just have to include the price of software in the total budget.

    Well, on the video cards, I was hoping to do a little light gaming but the overall purpose is for quiet HTPC. And reason for going NVIDIA is I'm not really familiar with the Radeon cards, and I like the Physx and CUDA support on the NVIDIA. But I'm open to checking out Radeon if you think they perform better? This is the card I've been looking at:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814500138

    Well, I'm no audiophile but I would like surround sound; will probably try the onboard first and see what happens.

    Thanks again!
  13. yw, FireEagle.

    The Hauppage connects to your satellite dish converter box. It is satellite service compatible! The only problem is that it has to change the channel on your converter box with an IR Blaster. That could get a bit kludgy, if you ask me. I have not tried it so you might want to confirm otherwise.

    I found the comparison chart! http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/gf-210-gt220_7.html

    ....and drat, of course it does not have the card you are looking at. You should be OK, though, since the GT 220 did very well. Who knows for sure?

    I have experience with both nvidia and radeon. Personally, I am pulling for the Fermi architecture of nvidia, becase it has so much promise if they can just get it to work. A lot of people are passionate about their video vendor, but they both seem to have equivilant performance in this price range, IMHO.
  14. honestly, for an HTPC, an IGP will work fine (check the xbitlabs eloric posted, the HD 3300 is an IGP and it did wonderfully, which is the 790GX chipset)
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