How an HTPC and Video Redo have improved my television viewing experience

While I have dabbled with Over-the-Air (OTA) television for years I never really spent much time exploring it because I was either subscribing to Rogers Cable or Bell ExpressVu (now called Bell Satellite TV) for my television service.

As one of Canada’s first personal video recorder (PVR ) users, I was content for many years to simple call up the cable or satellite company’s Electronic Program guide and press record and watch my shows at a later date.

This was great in the pre-Smartphone and pre-tablet days but after several crashes of my Bell Satellite external hard drive led me to losing over 150 hours of mostly unwatched television programming, I got fed up and decided to begin recording many of my favourite shows OTA.

My experiment began in earnest several months ago after I built a Windows 7 Home theatre personal computer (HTPC) and equipped it with a Hauppauge ATSC Internal Digital TV tuner. Since then I have been recording about ten television shows a week on my HTPC.

For the last decade, having a PVR from Rogers or Bell was great for recording shows and playing them back on your TV, but in today’s high definition, smartphone era, a cable or satellite company PVR has some serious drawbacks including:

  • Expense – Rogers and Bell charge around $500 for a PVR plus several hundred dollars for add-on storage. For that price I built a fully equipped HTPC that acts as a PVR, Blu-ray player, iTunes music server, web browser, video editor and more.
  • Energy Hogs – Current PVR’s from Canada’s cable companies draw ridiculous amounts of electricity (some over 30 watts in standby!) which is expensive to operate and harmful for the environment.
  • Limited Storage – a Rogers or Bell PVR only has even storage for about 25 or 30 hours of HD storage. Yes you can buy external drives but they are a hassle, cost more money and, as I learned with Bell, can be unreliable.
  • Recordings can’t be backed up – if your PVR or external hard drive crashes then say goodbye to all your recordings.
  • Can’t transfer to a portable device – In the smartphone/tablet era, who watches all their video on the TV anymore. I like to watch programs while I work out via my WDTV live hub or on my iPad when I’m waiting for my son at hockey practice. Rogers and Bell won’t let me transfer recordings to media extenders or my iPad.
  • Significant HD compression – Bell and Rogers typically stream their HD shows at 8 to 12 Mbps versus over 16 Mbps for Canadian OTA signals. OTA HD signals simply look better.

OTA Recording

After a month of recording OTA broadcasts using Windows Media Center on my HTPC, I was confident that I possessed a super solution to recording shows with a cable or satellite PVR but, as a consumers electronics and computer junkie, I knew I could do better.

Rather than fast forwarding through commercials, I wanted the ads gone. In addition, and I wanted the ability to transcode all of the shows into a format that I could use with my WDTV Live Hub Media Streamer or my iPad2.

In consultation with my Digital Forum members and after a considerable number of Google searches, I decided to try out a program called VideoReDo TVSuite H.264.

VideoReDo User Interface

VideoRedo is commercial software which allows users to trim the .wtv files created by Windows Media Center, remove unnecessary commercials and resave the shortened files as .wtv files for use in Media Center. In addition, the software can be used to convert your .wtv recordings into other file formats such as .mp4 for viewing on a portable media player or tablet.

At $95.99 USD, VideoReDo is not cheap therefore the company offers a 15 day trial so you can try out the software and see for yourself if you think it’s worth the money.

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Comments

11 Responses to “How an HTPC and Video Redo have improved my television viewing experience”
  1. 57 says:

    Thank you for an informative article. I take exception to a couple of the comments below:

    You say: “…Rogers typically stream their HD shows at 8 to 12 Mbps”. This is simply untrue. Although Rogers compress some channels to 12-13 Mbps, their OTA channels, which you are recording on your HTPC, are totally uncompressed. There is a Rogers thread in the forum on this topic. Your numbers are roughly correct for Bell. Also Bell changes the format of their channels to 720P which can make the channels look doubly soft. Rogers passes the original broadcast format (1080i or 720P) to the customer.

    You do not mention how much energy your HTPC uses….

    • You Know says:

      “their OTA channels, which you are recording on your HTPC, are totally uncompressed.”

      That is simply impossible. Uncompressed 1080i signal is
      1080i video True Color (24bpp) = (1920*540)*(24)*60 fields per sec=1,492,992,000 bps = 1.493 Gbps

      By definition, HD video is compressed.

      • 57 says:

        Thank you for picking that nit. Of course everyone understands that what was meant by Hugh and by me is further compression by the service provider.

  2. Danno100 says:

    Great article! I gave up on my HD cable because I could not easily record it using my computer. My cable company HD boxes are turned off. I cancelled my cable company HD service. We have no cards to install in computers that work with my cable signal. Now, thanks to you, I can record OTA HD using my Hauppauge ATSC card using Media Centre, and even watch it on my iPad. My cable company can’t give me technology to buy that my family uses on a daily basis and lets me play recorded TV throughout my house. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll pay for technology if it is available. Thanks to OTA HD, it has opened a new freedom of sharing TV, and I can’t wait to dump my TV cable service and stream more content like Netflix. Oh yea, I also use Videoredo, great product!

  3. Philip Stiff says:

    I have a similar setup, and use VideoREDO extensively to edit out commercials that I record using my MythTV Linux HTPC.

    However, I DO record from SHAW Cable. Shaw doesn’t encrypt the firewire port so MythTV is able to record the direct MPEG-2 stream from any Shaw Cable channel. Then I use VideoREDO like you do, to edit out the ads.

    After I do that I typically run the resultant new files through Handbrake to compress them and then place them on my file server. I run XBMC media centre on both my HTPC to browse my content, plus I also have XBMC Media Player installed on 2 Jailbroken AppleTV2′s in two of my bedrooms that are able to access the file server.

    VideoREDO is the ONLY MPEG-2 splicer/editor I’ve found that PROPERLY edits MPEG2 transport streams without any glitches and keeps the audio/video perfectly in sync.

  4. mbeard says:

    I also must disagree with 57… just look at two identical signals from the same broadcaster ie. CTV . The picture quality of OTA for CTV – CFTO in Toronto is significantly sharper and depth of colour is better than the same CTV – picture on Rogers cable. We have both at our house. I can flip between the OTA antenna input and the HDMI input on our VIZIO @1080. Even untrained eyes can see the difference (both inputs correctly adjusted by the way).

    • 57 says:

      I was discussing the bitrate, not what the picture looks like. Here are two threads on the forum confirming what I stated about bitrate: The bitrate for OTA stations in Toronto and Buffalo are the same as the bitrate on Rogers – Rogers does no further compression of these OTA channels.

      http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=104501

      http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=144084

      There are many reasons that the picture can look different on OTA vs a Provider:

      - STB used
      - Input on TV used
      - Type of connection used (HDMI, CV, etc)
      - Calibration (or lack of) on the particular input (picture mode, optimization)
      - Settings on the STB (passthrough?), etc

      So, even when doing an A-B comparison, there are a lot of variables that need to be taken into account. During my optimization travels I’ve had the opportunity to witness myself the differences between OTA and Rogers Ontario. When both are optimized, there is little or no difference between the two.

      This is not an OTA vs Cable discussion; I was simply trying to point out an inaccuracy in the original article regarding bitrate that should not be perpetuated.

  5. Farside says:

    Much of what was said was is true but comes from the big city point of view.

    The vast majority of the Canadian land mass does not have access to HD OTA TV. We still have to depend on other means to receive our programming.

  6. mbeard says:

    Farside nails the “Canadian problem”… the large size of the country compared to the amount of the population clustered close to the border.

    What is the percentage of Canadians who have access to HD OTA, both Canadian originating and US originating ? I think that would be an interesting statistic for the purposes of discussion.

  7. ian says:

    Switched to OTA back in April. I uses a MythTV box as my PVR and yes, editing the commercials out and having backups is a great thing indeed.

  8. timmytee says:

    About VideoRedo, does it run completely unattended, perhaps as an add-on to WMC? The reason I ask is that I used BeyondTV for a long time, before Shaw Direct had a PVR for sale. It was great to have the recording done for you ALL THE TIME, compressed into a .wmv, and commercials marked and/or removed. Unfortunately there is no further development of BeyondTV, I’m looking at xbmc as an alternative.