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HTPC as Comcast DVR

2.71828183

Junior Member
Nov 22, 2012
19
0
0
I've recently been looking into building an HTPC (as a Christmas present for my parents). Desired functions would be:
-DVR functionality for cable service (2 TVs with HDMI, the third can stay with a cable DAC for now and be unconnected to the DVR)
-Playback of DVDs and maybe Blu-Rays
-NAS/remote backup/media server functionality for the rest of the computers in the house
-As a general-use "living room" computer for web browsing-type stuff
-Playback of Internet videos on the TV/playback of movies and live TV on the other computers would be nice, but isn't necessary

I'm pretty familiar with the "PC" side of that--I have an Athlon X2 240 and associated hardware that I can use. My questions are in hooking cable up to it:

-I've been looking at this Ceton tuner, which seems to be the piece I need to receive and decode cable. I assume it also comes with software to view and/or record the cable channels? Or do I need third-party software to browse and set recordings?

-That page mentions a "media center extender", which I'm not quite sure what it does. I don't own an XBOX, and their Ceton Echo was rather expensive. What I don't see is: Why can't I just run a long HDMI cable to the other TV and run something akin to a dual-monitor setup? Is there some advantage to the "media center extender" that I'm not seeing?

-How do I (or can I?) get channel listings? Comcast says it doesn't provide listings for users of cable cards, but is there another service (preferably one without an expensive monthly fee) that I can get listings from? If there's no way to get listings with a homebuilt HTPC, I may be better off with a TiVo and a separate NAS/media server.

My budget is ~$300, which needs to include about 2TB of storage, the cable tuner, optical drive, and anything else I need for a HTPC. I have processor, case, mobo, RAM, and PSU.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.
 

Plugers

Senior member
Mar 22, 2002
547
0
0
I've recently been looking into building an HTPC (as a Christmas present for my parents). Desired functions would be:
-DVR functionality for cable service (2 TVs with HDMI, the third can stay with a cable DAC for now and be unconnected to the DVR)
-Playback of DVDs and maybe Blu-Rays
-NAS/remote backup/media server functionality for the rest of the computers in the house
-As a general-use "living room" computer for web browsing-type stuff
-Playback of Internet videos on the TV/playback of movies and live TV on the other computers would be nice, but isn't necessary

I'm pretty familiar with the "PC" side of that--I have an Athlon X2 240 and associated hardware that I can use. My questions are in hooking cable up to it:

-I've been looking at this Ceton tuner, which seems to be the piece I need to receive and decode cable. I assume it also comes with software to view and/or record the cable channels? Or do I need third-party software to browse and set recordings?
Windows MC7 will handle the tuning and recording

-That page mentions a "media center extender", which I'm not quite sure what it does. I don't own an XBOX, and their Ceton Echo was rather expensive. What I don't see is: Why can't I just run a long HDMI cable to the other TV and run something akin to a dual-monitor setup? Is there some advantage to the "media center extender" that I'm not seeing?
you could get a HDMI splitter from Monoprice, or search DMA2100 on ebay for a cheaper extender(I use one)
-How do I (or can I?) get channel listings? Comcast says it doesn't provide listings for users of cable cards, but is there another service (preferably one without an expensive monthly fee) that I can get listings from? If there's no way to get listings with a homebuilt HTPC, I may be better off with a TiVo and a separate NAS/media server.
Windows MC7 handles this too

My budget is ~$300, which needs to include about 2TB of storage, the cable tuner, optical drive, and anything else I need for a HTPC. I have processor, case, mobo, RAM, and PSU.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.
A quick video I threw together of just what you are wanting to do.
 

Plugers

Senior member
Mar 22, 2002
547
0
0
I have a x4 640 with on-board video and a Blue-ray Rom. It works fine, I used a dual core before that and it worked fine also.

Arcsoft TotalMedia Theater will play blue-rays...I use PowerDVD and I do not recommend it.
 

2.71828183

Junior Member
Nov 22, 2012
19
0
0
Awesome, thanks. It looks like this is going to be a lot easier than I thought.

you could get a HDMI splitter from Monoprice, or search DMA2100 on ebay for a cheaper extender(I use one)
I'm still not entirely clear on what an extender *does*. I mean, a splitter would duplicate the same image on both TVs, but if I plug two HDMI cables into the computer and send one to each TV, there's no reason I can think of that I can't, say, watch a different show on each TV. From what I can tell, an extender just does this over wireless instead of running a cable for video. I guess I don't see what the advantage is. Maybe if my other TV was 600 feet away or something, but it's just in the next room, and a 50' HDMI cable isn't nearly as expensive as the extender is. I'd be inclined to think that a wired connection would be more reliable anyway.
 

Plugers

Senior member
Mar 22, 2002
547
0
0
Awesome, thanks. It looks like this is going to be a lot easier than I thought.


I'm still not entirely clear on what an extender *does*. I mean, a splitter would duplicate the same image on both TVs, but if I plug two HDMI cables into the computer and send one to each TV, there's no reason I can think of that I can't, say, watch a different show on each TV. From what I can tell, an extender just does this over wireless instead of running a cable for video. I guess I don't see what the advantage is. Maybe if my other TV was 600 feet away or something, but it's just in the next room, and a 50' HDMI cable isn't nearly as expensive as the extender is. I'd be inclined to think that a wired connection would be more reliable anyway.
The extender will let you watch a different channel/video/music. It is like having a second "cable box" with access to all the DVR recordings.
 

notposting

Diamond Member
Jul 22, 2005
3,482
9
81
The extender will let you watch a different channel/video/music. It is like having a second "cable box" with access to all the DVR recordings.
Yep, Windows 7 Media Center won't do the dual playback with the single user--the extender ends up as another user logged in basically, and it can then watch another channel, view a recording, play music, etc.

It is definitely limited* compared to the "real" HTPC experience, and unfortunately MS seems to have abandoned MC for the most part. Which is a shame as it is pretty amazing.

I use a Windows Home Server + HDHR + HTPC in living room with MS remote + MCX in bedroom setup. Works nicely.

* For example, I have Netflix and Hulu integrated within MC on the HTPC, but no go on the MCX. Another example is MyMovies is hamstrung a bit on the MCX, it has to transcode on the HTPC and then pipe to the MCX and you don't get disc menu access, which bites the big on TV show DVD's.
 

2.71828183

Junior Member
Nov 22, 2012
19
0
0
Okay, I think I get it.

What happens if you start two copies of WMC? Does it just crash, or can you run two independent live shows that way?

It seems like a silly software problem that you have to have a funny box (media center extender) to make one computer serve two TVs. I know I can, for example, play a movie file on the second TV (if they're hooked up like dual monitors) by opening it in whatever media player (Windows Media Player, DivX, iTunes, etc.) independently of what's happening on the first TV. I assume I'd be able to do that with recorded shows the same way, even if I can't do live shows or have the media center-type menu to navigate them.

Here's a question: Can I use an arbitrary computer (say, my desktop) as a media center extender? Wikipedia says it basically works like a remote desktop connection, which isn't all that hard to set up.

Heck, for that matter, here's a crazy idea: Can I start up a VM and remote desktop from the VM into the main computer to get two "users" on WMC? I'm aware there would be a pretty nasty performance penalty this way, but would it work?
 

notposting

Diamond Member
Jul 22, 2005
3,482
9
81
As for the PC as an extender, not really. Mostly in the area of DRM issues with recorded programs, which may or may not be a problem depending on what you record.

Also...you said this is for your parents? You want them having to get out a keyboard and mouse and open this program and send it to that screen and this screen, etc etc??

My whole goal with our setup is so that anyone can walk in, sit down, and just use it. Even my wife's mom can figure it out. What you are describing sounds like a pain in the rear even for me to use :p

And yes, the limitations and handicaps, both on WMC or any of the alternatives, are just frustrating to no end. In my opinion, there is yet to be the perfect solution.
 

dagamer34

Platinum Member
Aug 15, 2005
2,592
0
71
Windows Media Center is great for geeks but not friendly enough for the average person to use with no direction. There's good reason why it never took off (because you still have the problems associated with using a PC that will never go away).
 

notposting

Diamond Member
Jul 22, 2005
3,482
9
81
Windows Media Center is great for geeks but not friendly enough for the average person to use with no direction. There's good reason why it never took off (because you still have the problems associated with using a PC that will never go away).
It works great here for me in that respect, BUT it takes some careful setup and planning to make sure everything is flawless ahead of time.

Our is somewhat modded up with custom menu strips, the MyMovies plugin for the DVD collection, the logos for TV stations, Netflix and Hulu added to the Videos menu strip, Shark007 codec pack to enable playback of everything, it is set to auto login to Windows and auto start MC if the PC reboots (like for Windows updates). Plus I'm pretty good at the metadata/tagging for music/videos so that helps.

Like I said, I haven't seen a single person come in and not be able to grab the ONE remote (this one), turn on the TV and immediately start using it. Most people don't even know there is a computer involved at all...

But as time goes on, I am definitely keeping an eye on the various little streaming boxes to see if anything better comes along. MS really should have put MC into CE boxes and actually pushed them to the cable/satellite co's.

Barring that, I wish they would just open source it and let the community take a crack at standardizing it as a base platform with options for skinning/plugins, etc.
 

Fallen Kell

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
5,318
72
91
My whole goal with our setup is so that anyone can walk in, sit down, and just use it. Even my wife's mom can figure it out. What you are describing sounds like a pain in the rear even for me to use :p

And yes, the limitations and handicaps, both on WMC or any of the alternatives, are just frustrating to no end. In my opinion, there is yet to be the perfect solution.
SageTV was pretty close to solving those headaches. The real problem/culprit of all this non-sense is really DRM. SageTV understood that fact, and specifically stated that they would not record to any format using any form of DRM. The end result was a more open product which produced files which were easily usable on many platforms (i.e. no need to transcode on the fly because it used standard video formats such as mpeg2/4/h264). SageTV had client software which could be run on other PC's/HTPC's to connect to the main system, as well as media extenders which could be used as well. The interface was alright (got a little dated, but was perfectly functional, and then they released the ability to use plugin's to make your own interface/skins/add-on features which solved that problem).

Unfortunately, Google bought them and have essentially shut them down. You can no longer buy it, and there have been no official updates except for a few things to allow customers to upgrade to the latest version for free if you owned a version 5 or newer license (since Google took over shortly after version 6 came out and before a lot of people thought about upgrading).

Also unfortunate is the state of HD cablecard recording devices due to the mandates on the technology which effectively only allow them to be used with Microsoft Media Center, as that is the only "approved" recording software. This is self imposed by the media industry that are fearful of high quality home recording without DRM restrictions (as well as restrictions which state that you can't record this show, or can only record it once and not copy it somewhere else, etc.).
 

piasabird

Lifer
Feb 6, 2002
17,183
59
91
Makes you wonder how a tv can do PIP so easily. So how does it work when you have a dual tuner? I guess the idea is to record in the background and view the other tuner from TV/Cable/Satelite. I wonder what kind of fit you would have if you wanted to view 9 or 6 screens at once like they do on satelite sometimes. They divide up several satelite channels and feed it all into one channel. I think they do that at the transmission end.

I think it could be quite possible to decode several channels at once. If tuners were smarter. Video is only like 28 frames per second.
 

2.71828183

Junior Member
Nov 22, 2012
19
0
0
notposting said:
As for the PC as an extender, not really. Mostly in the area of DRM issues with recorded programs, which may or may not be a problem depending on what you record.

Also...you said this is for your parents? You want them having to get out a keyboard and mouse and open this program and send it to that screen and this screen, etc etc??

My whole goal with our setup is so that anyone can walk in, sit down, and just use it. Even my wife's mom can figure it out. What you are describing sounds like a pain in the rear even for me to use :p

And yes, the limitations and handicaps, both on WMC or any of the alternatives, are just frustrating to no end. In my opinion, there is yet to be the perfect solution.
Ahh, DRM, of course. Does your average recorded TV show (say, an episode of Mythbusters, or a NBA basketball game) come prepackaged with DRM, or does it vary by network? I'm aware (at least if I understand correctly) that I couldn't stream Blu-Rays to a remote computer because of HDCP, but I could play them to a TV with an HDMI hookup.

My parents are reasonably computer-literate, and I was going to provide a wireless keyboard and mouse for internet-browsing anyway, so that wouldn't be a huge deal. I can see where the dual-monitor thing would get annoying if they weren't both always on, so that may not work out. The second TV may have to stay with the basic ADC cable functionality for now--a $150 media center extender isn't in the cards for this Christmas.

At any rate, I was going to set it up with a very computery paradigm, because if I can tell them, "This works exactly like any other computer", I think that will be easier than trying to teach them a brand-new system. If you think this is a bad idea, I'm open to suggestions. Or, maybe there's only one way to set it up and I have no idea what I'm talking about--I haven't started to tinker with it yet.

DRM restrictions are frustrating. My chosen tuner card has 4 tuners, so in theory, I should be able to watch 4 live shows at once, and there shouldn't be any difference between watching them all on the same screen or punting them to 4 other screens in the house. It sounds like the hurdle is software, and that it's put there on purpose...
 

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