HTPC update, need advice

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HTPC update, need advice

I've got a rather old machine that has been serving as my HTPC for about 3 years and is starting to show it's age.  I'm running SageTV on winXP to do all of my recording with video coming in through a pair of cable STB's via svideo.  My wife has grown very comfortable with our current setup and want to get a feel for what the current state of hardware is before I make any decisions.  The uncertain future of SageTV has me thinking of switching over to windows 7 media center but I don't have a lot of experience on that end.

How is functionality in windows media center comparable to SageTV?  My primary concern is with external control of STB's.  My SageTV setup does channel switching on the STB's via firewire.  Is this possible in win7 media center?  Are there drivers available for the STB's that will work in win7?  I have heard there are issues with 64 bit.

On the hardware side, my tuners are pretty ancient (nvidia dualTV tuner) and could use an update as well.  I've seen alot of talk about the ceton cable card tuners, but I am hestitant to go cablecard because of all the potential DRM issues.  If I went cable card, would i able to grab recorded files off of my HTPC and watch them on another machine?  We tend to grab a bunch of recorded TV and throw it on a netbook when we travel.  What are some options other than the ceton cablecard tuners?  I think my preference would be internal tuners, but an external tuner isn't out of the question.

I haven't had much time to think about hardware but I'd likely be grabbing some middle of the road components because the machine is really only used for viewing/recording TV an occasional DvD and light web browsing.  My current setup is using a DVI connection to get video to the TV but I've been considering adding bluray capability so I'd have to switch over to HDMI and verify HDCP compatibility.  Any suggestions on graphics?  Are onboard graphics to the point where i wouldnt have to worry about a discrete card?

 

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Chroner wrote:

How is functionality in windows media center comparable to SageTV?

IMHO Media Center is easier to use, easier to setup, and better looking, but again that is my opinion. 

Functionally it is the same, its a UI that does media content and DVRing.

Quote:

 My primary concern is with external control of STB's.  My SageTV setup does channel switching on the STB's via firewire.  Is this possible in win7 media center?  Are there drivers available for the STB's that will work in win7?  I have heard there are issues with 64 bit.

If you are doing cable tv, why not ditch the cable STB's and go for a cable card tuner? Media Center w/ cable card will get your more tuners including HD channels, and all you'd need is a cable card from your cable company. 

You can still do STB's with Media Center but only with IR blaster and Svideo input, which honestly looks like garbage and shouldn't be ever done any more. 

Cable card is honestly the way to go if you have Cable TV and thinking about going to Media Center.

Quote:

On the hardware side, my tuners are pretty ancient (nvidia dualTV tuner) and could use an update as well.  I've seen alot of talk about the ceton cable card tuners, but I am hestitant to go cablecard because of all the potential DRM issues.

Why do you need to worry about DRM? the only reason to worry about DRM is if you plan on offloading the content elsewhere, if you only watch it on your HTPC (and extenders) then you'll never have an issue. I can honestly tell you though (I have comcast in Minneapolis) that I have yet to record anything with DRM copy once flag. It is only things like HBO that has the copy once flag.

 

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If I went cable card, would i able to grab recorded files off of my HTPC and watch them on another machine?

IF and only if the copy once flag is set, then no. Otherwise yes you can. But again get a few 360's (or the new Ceton Echo extender when it comes out) around your house, ditch a full blown PC, and you'll never have that issue.

Quote:
We tend to grab a bunch of recorded TV and throw it on a netbook when we travel

Should have read all of your post before starting, but as already stated as long as you don't have the copy once flag set (which is easily identifiable on the recording) you will never have an issue copying off recorded content.

Quote:
What are some options other than the ceton cablecard tuners?

Ceton Infinitv4 PCI-e and USB

Silicon Dust HD Homerun Prime (3 tuners, Network based)

Hauppage WinTV HR-2650 (2 tuners USB based)

Quote:

I haven't had much time to think about hardware but I'd likely be grabbing some middle of the road components because the machine is really only used for viewing/recording TV an occasional DvD and light web browsing.  My current setup is using a DVI connection to get video to the TV but I've been considering adding bluray capability so I'd have to switch over to HDMI and verify HDCP compatibility.  Any suggestions on graphics?  Are onboard graphics to the point where i wouldnt have to worry about a discrete card?

Cheap Intel Core I3 or core I5 running the Sandy Bridge chipset. The Intel Onboard video card will support full HD 1080p playback, even bluray. 

4 Gigs of ram min, I always recommend 8gigs ($40 for 8gigs these days). 

Then whatever the fastest hard drive you can find for recording storage and OS. 

The one thing if you go with Media Center is it is not like SageTV where you can add HDD's to a recording "pool". Media Center you can only dedicate a single drive at a time for recording to, you can't increase that "pool" to multiple drives at the same time. 

I have a 2TB drive and then offload recordings to my Windows Home Sever box and I never run out of storage space for TV recordings. 

Hope this helps you,

Josh

Editor | Twitter: @UMDivX |

 

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To build off of Josh's response:

I moved from BeyondTV to WMC specifically to get rid of cable boxes and the pains of IR Blasters/Serial Tuning. Could not be happier (and the wife likes that we don't miss recordings any more).

Storage Pool: You can use a windows service called WMC Recording Storage Pooler (http://exdeus.home.comcast.net/~exdeus/WMCRecordingStoragePooler/) to build a pool of drives to record to.  I use this and it works seamlessly.

DRM and Moving Files: I use a Ceton card with my FIOS tv service and have only run into DRM problems with the occasional  Jeopardy episode.  For some reason it gets set to Copy Once on average once every 3-4 weeks.  Otherwise I can move my recordings to any computer in the house.  This works great for my 3-year old when we travel.  I just throw a bunch of episodes on the laptop and go.

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thanks for the responses.  i am starting to lean more towards a WMC setup.  I have a couple of questions though:

if i do not go with a cablecard tuner, are IR blasters the only option for controlling an external STB with WMC or is there a firewire type solution similar to what I have working in SageTV?

Does WMC allow other PC's to act as extenders?  If I want to access media files on the recording PC from another PC on my network does WMC act as the GUI or do I have to use a typical file manager (like windows explorer) to access the content?

Does WMC allow for integration with streamed content, like netflix?

Is there a way that I can check if my recordings would be flagged copy-once without actually getting everything up and running?  Would there be evidence of that flag in the STB diagnostics menus?

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Chroner wrote:
if i do not go with a cablecard tuner, are IR blasters the only option for controlling an external STB with WMC or is there a firewire type solution similar to what I have working in SageTV?

There hasn't been Firewire support for Media Center since version MCE 2005 http://home.comcast.net/~timmmoore/firewire/readme.htm

So essentially with 7MC the answer is no.

 

Quote:
Does WMC allow other PC's to act as extenders?

Again No. This has been one of the reasons many went to SageTV and elsewhere, but extenders are honestly just as good.

 

Quote:
If I want to access media files on the recording PC from another PC on my network does WMC act as the GUI or do I have to use a typical file manager (like windows explorer) to access the content?

You can share your recorded tv folder and load it up on another PC, using the Media Center UI, you just can't share tuners, and the guide data from the "main" Media Center PC. There are apps out there that will share your guide data but they still will not share your tuners.

 

Quote:
Does WMC allow for integration with streamed content, like netflix?

Media Center has a built in Netflix app, but that's it. Everything else is separate IE outseid of Media Center UI. 

Quote:
Is there a way that I can check if my recordings would be flagged copy-once without actually getting everything up and running?  Would there be evidence of that flag in the STB diagnostics menus

Only way to know is after it has been recorded. 

We have started a Master List showing Providers, locations, and copy protection, but it is still pretty small but might help you if you can find your area and provider. 

-Josh

Editor | Twitter: @UMDivX |

 

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umdivx wrote:

Functionally it is the same, its a UI that does media content and DVRing.

....

Again No. This has been one of the reasons many went to SageTV and elsewhere, but extenders are honestly just as good.

If TV, music and photos are the only use cases requiring consideration then this is true, otherwise there are huge functional gaps b/w SageTV and 7MC. The most glaring is proper support for non-TV content; for e.g. 7MC extenders don't support DVDs, HBR audio, BD quality video and the even the PCs are difficult to configure for BD-Lite, M2TS and MP4 playback.

Senior Editor | @babgvant

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babgvant wrote:
If TV, music and photos are the only use cases requiring consideration then this is true, otherwise there are huge functional gaps b/w SageTV and 7MC. The most glaring is proper support for non-TV content; for e.g. 7MC extenders don't support DVDs, HBR audio, BD quality video and the even the PCs are difficult to configure for BD-Lite, M2TS and MP4 playback.

My #1 thing for my HTPC is DVRing, that is it. Because PC's suck at getting high quality video out properly for movies and such I still use a dedicated BD player, in my case the Oppo BDP-93.

 

However extenders will infact play back M2TS, I "backup" all my kids movies to mkv, then convert them to M2TS for native playback on extenders. 360's also support DVD playback and doesn't detract from Extender mode, pop in a dvd, starts playing dvd, stop, goes back to extender mode, you never see the dashboard. While this solution doesn't work for everyone, it does for my family.

While there are constraints you have to work within, I still find it a better solution in the end. And has me spending less time supporting the systems vs. actually using the system.

-Josh

Editor | Twitter: @UMDivX |

 

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umdivx wrote:

My #1 thing for my HTPC is DVRing, that is it.

In that context I can understand your position, but you should disclose the context because for many the HTPC provides a complete home theater solution. Outside of your limited use there is a large set of use cases where they are not the same; I just pointed this out.

umdivx wrote:

Because PC's suck at getting high quality video out properly for movies and such I still use a dedicated BD player, in my case the Oppo BDP-93.

I disagree with this statement. It can take some effort to get a PC to produce high quality output (especially on AMD GPUs where they like to process the heck out of everything) though.

umdivx wrote:

However extenders will infact play back M2TS

I didn't say that extenders won't play M2TS. I said it can be a pain to get M2TS to play on the PC (which is true).

umdivx wrote:

I "backup" all my kids movies to mkv, then convert them to M2TS for native playback on extenders.

This is a clear e.g. of a functional gap b/w the two products. Using a SageTV PC client or extender you don't have to do anything but put the bits on a disc somewhere. No converting, transcoding, track stripping, downresing - it just plays.

umdivx wrote:

360's also support DVD playback and doesn't detract from Extender mode, pop in a dvd, starts playing dvd, stop, goes back to extender mode, you never see the dashboard. While this solution doesn't work for everyone, it does for my family.

Sorry, I meant ripped DVD (i.e. VIDEO_TS) support.

 

 

umdivx wrote:

While there are constraints you have to work within, I still find it a better solution in the end. And has me spending less time supporting the systems vs. actually using the system.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I can see why, in a very limited context, the comments you made are correct. The thing is that in the broader context, to someone who has a more demanding set of requirements and is unwilling to live within the constraints of a 7MC PC + extender relationship, your statements don't convey the total experience. It is important to look beyond your use cases when giving advice, or at the very least, disclose the pillars so those consuming the outputs will have the ability to properly access the validity for how they intend to use it.

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thanks again for the great responses.  i want to make sure I have all the info before I talk to the wife about changing our current setup, hah.

umdivx wrote:

Quote:

Does WMC allow other PC's to act as extenders?

Again No. This has been one of the reasons many went to SageTV and elsewhere, but extenders are honestly just as good.

 

Quote:

If I want to access media files on the recording PC from another PC on my network does WMC act as the GUI or do I have to use a typical file manager (like windows explorer) to access the content?

You can share your recorded tv folder and load it up on another PC, using the Media Center UI, you just can't share tuners, and the guide data from the "main" Media Center PC. There are apps out there that will share your guide data but they still will not share your tuners.

 

I have extra PC's, I don't have any extenders like an xbox.

just a few more specific questions:

1)Assume I have PC1 with a cablecard tuner and PC2 is a laptop on my network, both running win7.  If PC1 records a show that is set to be DRM flagged can I then use WMC to watch that recorded show on PC2 at a later time or is it only accessible using PC1?

2)Can I use PC2 to initiate a recording using the tuners in PC1?

from your response it sounds like 1) would be possible, but i wanted to verify if DRM flag would prevent it.  I wasn't sure what you meant by share the guide but not the tuner (what good is a guide if you cant tune anything).

 

3)Can existing recordings I have from Sage be easily imported into WMC (probably ~400 recordings)?

4)If I were to use something like "WMC Recording Storage Pooler" would all recordings be accessible or only the ones on the currently 'active' recording drive?

 

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Chroner wrote:

1)Assume I have PC1 with a cablecard tuner and PC2 is a laptop on my network, both running win7.  If PC1 records a show that is set to be DRM flagged can I then use WMC to watch that recorded show on PC2 at a later time or is it only accessible using PC1?

No, it is only accessible on the PC that recorded it or an extender connected to the PC that recorded it.

Chroner wrote:

2)Can I use PC2 to initiate a recording using the tuners in PC1?

Not really. You could use something like Recording Broker though.

Chroner wrote:

3)Can existing recordings I have from Sage be easily imported into WMC (probably ~400 recordings)?

Depends what the desired output is. 7MC will be able to play them, and you can import them into the Video experience, but without an alternate video browser you will not get metadata or useful pivots.

Senior Editor | @babgvant

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A Quote from the OP:

Quote:
I haven't had much time to think about hardware but I'd likely be grabbing some middle of the road components because the machine is really only used for viewing/recording TV an occasional DvD and light web browsing.  

Based on this statement in his last paragraph I read it as he was more focused on the TV/DVR aspect than he was of other features.

-Josh

Editor | Twitter: @UMDivX |

 

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umdivx wrote:

A Quote from the OP:

Quote:
I haven't had much time to think about hardware but I'd likely be grabbing some middle of the road components because the machine is really only used for viewing/recording TV an occasional DvD and light web browsing.  

Based on this statement in his last paragraph I read it as he was more focused on the TV/DVR aspect than he was of other features.

-Josh

You should have kept reading...

Chroner wrote:

... I've been considering adding bluray capability so I'd have to switch over to HDMI and verify HDCP compatibility.  

Senior Editor | @babgvant

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Andy covered most of it but wanted to address this.

Chroner wrote:
I wasn't sure what you meant by share the guide but not the tuner (what good is a guide if you cant tune anything).

PC2 in MCE world is like a dumb extender you can run MCE UI, access non-copy protected content, but say you wanted to set a new recording on PC2 instead of getting up to access PC1. You can share the guide data, set recordings, and mange recordings from PC2 with plugins. 

 -Josh

Editor | Twitter: @UMDivX |

 

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Chroner wrote:

Any suggestions on graphics?  Are onboard graphics to the point where i wouldnt have to worry about a discrete card?

Yes, if you're starting fresh onboard graphics is more than enough unless you are planning to play a lot of games. Both AMD's Llano and Intel's Sandy Bridge (SNB) IPGs are excellent choices. Personally I prefer SNB because it's easier to configure and the drivers tend to be more stable. That said, because of the timing I'd say wait for Ivy Bridge (IVB); it will be better in every way compared to SNB (lower power, faster GPU, faster CPU, etc).

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umdivx wrote:

Andy covered most of it but wanted to address this.

Chroner wrote:

I wasn't sure what you meant by share the guide but not the tuner (what good is a guide if you cant tune anything).

PC2 in MCE world is like a dumb extender you can run MCE UI, access non-copy protected content, but say you wanted to set a new recording on PC2 instead of getting up to access PC1. You can share the guide data, set recordings, and mange recordings from PC2 with plugins. 

 -Josh

it is my understanding that the ceton card has multiple tuners that can be 'allocated' to different machines since they act as network tuners.  would i be able to allocate 1 of the tuners to PC2 (with the remaining allocated to PC1) and then record or view live content on PC2?  So for example, i could be watching live content using PC1 (or content that was recorded on PC1) in 1 room, while my wife could be using PC2 to watch live content (or content recorded on PC 2). 

Is that correct?

 

babgvant wrote:

Chroner wrote:

Any suggestions on graphics? Are onboard graphics to the point where i wouldnt have to worry about a discrete card?

Yes, if you're starting fresh onboard graphics is more than enough unless you are planning to play a lot of games. Both AMD's Llano and Intel's Sandy Bridge (SNB) IPGs are excellent choices. Personally I prefer SNB because it's easier to configure and the drivers tend to be more stable. That said, because of the timing I'd say wait for Ivy Bridge (IVB); it will be better in every way compared to SNB (lower power, faster GPU, faster CPU, etc).

is there an expected timeframe on IVB?  I'm not in a particular rush to swap hardware at this point, but i was thinking of doing it prior to summer.  I'd probably try to keep the budget for the upgrade around $700 including the tuners.  I figure around $250-300 for tuners, $150-200 for cpu, $100-150 for mobo, $40-50 for memory.  I plan to use my existing HDD's and case, but I'll have to take a look at the PSU to see if it will be sufficient.

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I forgot to ask about commercial detection/skipping.  Are there WMC addons that allow use of tools like commercialskip?  Are there any problems implementing it with potentially DRM flagged content?

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Chroner wrote:

it is my understanding that the ceton card has multiple tuners that can be 'allocated' to different machines since they act as network tuners.  would i be able to allocate 1 of the tuners to PC2 (with the remaining allocated to PC1) and then record or view live content on PC2?  So for example, i could be watching live content using PC1 (or content that was recorded on PC1) in 1 room, while my wife could be using PC2 to watch live content (or content recorded on PC 2). 

Is that correct?

Yes

Chroner wrote:

is there an expected timeframe on IVB?  I'm not in a particular rush to swap hardware at this point, but i was thinking of doing it prior to summer.  I'd probably try to keep the budget for the upgrade around $700 including the tuners.  I figure around $250-300 for tuners, $150-200 for cpu, $100-150 for mobo, $40-50 for memory.  I plan to use my existing HDD's and case, but I'll have to take a look at the PSU to see if it will be sufficient.

April or May.

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Chroner wrote:

I forgot to ask about commercial detection/skipping.  Are there WMC addons that allow use of tools like commercialskip?  Are there any problems implementing it with potentially DRM flagged content?

Yes to both questions. It isn't possible to scan files with DRM currently.

Senior Editor | @babgvant

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I'm ready to start putting together a hardware list and figured Id post here for suggestions.

I'm planning to grab an ivy bridge chip but haven't figured if I'll be using the built in graphics yet.  If I go with the built in graphics I'd probably grab a 3570K for the 4000 graphics.  My other option is to go with a less expensive chip and use a nvidia gts 450 i've got on the shelf.  The primary use of the machine will be TV record/watch, DVD/Bluray, and web browsing so I'm not anticipating a need for powerful graphics.  Any thoughts?

I'm also looking for sugestions on boards.  If I go with the 3570K and 4000 graphics, I'll probably look for a microATX board since I won't have to worry about any full height cards.  Perhaps something like GIGABYTE GA-Z77M-DH3.  If I use the gts 450, I'd probably go with a full size ATX build and grab something like GA-Z77-DH3.

The only cards I anticipate having are a ceton infiniTV 4 and potentially a graphics card.  I'll use the mobo onboard sound and NIC.

Anything I am missing?

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If you're looking at IVB, wait a few weeks. There will be more suitable HTPC IPG w/ HD4000.

I generally recommend Intel Media Series motherboards because they have Intel NICs (instead of the Realteks found on most other OEMs) and are usually very stable.

Senior Editor | @babgvant

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I was under the impression there was only a single HD4000 Core i3 and it may not be released retail.

Mikinho | Missing Remote | Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP

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It won't be cheap, but the i7-3770T is only 45W TDP w/HD4000 and there's also the i7-3770S which is 65W TDP. Pretty amazing parts for TDP considering they match i3 SNB and beat i3 Clarkdale though they are more expensive.

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Aaron Ledger wrote:

It won't be cheap, but the i7-3770T is only 45W TDP w/HD4000 and there's also the i7-3770S which is 65W TDP. Pretty amazing parts for TDP considering they match i3 SNB and beat i3 Clarkdale though they are more expensive.

i3-2100T SNB is 35W TDP.  So not quite a "match" at 45W.

But still amazing. 

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Right. Sorry for the misinformation. I was thinking of the non-T i3 variants. I should have brought that up considering I have two i3-2100t myself!

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mikinho wrote:

I was under the impression there was only a single HD4000 Core i3 and it may not be released retail.

AFAIK, IVB i3s won't be out until Q3 '12. You probably have better insight into the specifics; I haven't seen much beyond rumor.

There will be a 65W i5 w/ HD4000 mid-June - probably going to pick one up Smile

Senior Editor | @babgvant

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I ended up going with a 3570K for the HD4000 and an intel DH77EB.  I couldn't wait on the next round of chips to hit retail.  Parts should be coming in this week and Im hoping to assemble this weekend.  I took advantage of the ceton deal at amazon over the weekend and grabbed an infiniTV4.

Thanks everyone for the tips.  It should be interesting getting used to windows media center, as I've been using sageTV for so long now heh.

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