: Help with Total Entertainment Package


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hackzaw
2009-11-27, 02:31 PM
Okay - so I'm you're typical family with cable tv (Cogeco) with HD PVR, internet, a nice Samsung 52" 750 LCD, a Sony PS3, wireless connectivity, etc, but I've never taken the next step to stream anything from any of my older PC's, or tried to build (or buy) an HTPC system.

I'm in desperate need of replacing my existing PC simply for photo editing purposes, but I thought while I'm at it, I may as consider at this time if I can (or should) incorporate a different method for PVR'ing my television, plus make some advances in home networking so that I can easily view photo's, home movies, from any PC to my TV.

I've attempted to research to gain some preliminary research about the process in general, but now I'm ready to make a move. What do ye pro's suggest?

My computer will be located within 30-40 feet of the TV. I want a dedicated computer monitor to do all my normal computing (like surfing, photo editing, video editing, etc), but I also want to be able to share to my TV. How do you propose I attack this problem?

(sorry such a noobie question, but reading quite a few threads, I'm a little more educated by still need more info)

Next question would be what hardware is required? And can you help me spec out my computer system.

Is it advisable to use one computer for HD PVR'ing activity, and simultaneously be able to use the computer for other activities, or do I need to dedicate one to the HTPC?

As far as my TV goes, I'd like to reduce costs that I pay for the rental of my dual tuner HD PVR, but perhaps get rid of cogeco cable tv altogether if it's feasible to watch the content we like alternatively (OTA, stream off the internet?? - never done it as my computers are all antiquated).

Would I use the PS3 for anything? Is the answer to have the HTPC located within close proximity to the TV, and access that computer somehow to another monitor in the same room?

Thanks very much for your help.

Wayne
2009-11-27, 02:51 PM
First off - add your location to your profile so we know where you live. That makes a BIG difference when it comes to stuff like OTA. I am guessing that you live in Burlington, Oakville or Hamilton since you use Cogeco.

Assuming that you can get OTA from Toronto and the US then you can get a decent selection of content. But that means no specialty channels i.e. no TSN, RSN, Treehouse, YTV, CBC NewsNet, CNN, TMN, etc. If you are happy with that then you have a few options, including a lightly hacked Windows 7 based PC.

Streaming online TV content is not really an option, especially in Canada, and is rarely in HD. Even if it was you would likely hit your download caps which could cause your internet bill to rise.

If you want to get cable HD channels into your PC then you are more limited as the only device that can record HD cable channels is called a HD-PVR ($200) and it will still require a HD cable box, but not a PVR cable box. But then you can only record one channel at a time (unless you get two HD-PVRs connected to two HD cable boxes).

You could use your PS3 to playback recorded content, ripped DVDs, music, photos, etc. but you could not use it to stream live TV. For that I would recommend using SageTV as your PVR software and buying a SageTV extender (US$180) to use at your TV as a playback device. If you had an Xbox360 rather than a PS3 you could use that for playing back all your content, including live TV, as the Xbox360 can act as a Win7 Media Center Extender.

If you are going to use your PC as a PVR I would recommend that you dedicate it to this task and not use your PC for other stuff. The reason for this is that you want a PVR to be available with very little downtime. If you are using the PC for other purposes this PC may be bogged down doing other tasks, it may have to be rebooted occasionally while you are recording a TV show, and you may inadvertently install some software that screws up your PVR software.

As you can likely tell by now this is not cheap and is not going to save you money vs. your current setup. You could reduce the cost by making certain shortcuts, such as sharing your PC as a workstation and PVR box, but that will lead to other problems. But going this route would give you the most flexible solution that allows you to distribute video throughout your house and potentially allow you to transfer your media to other places (laptops, DVD, etc.).

hackzaw
2009-11-27, 03:50 PM
Thanks for the prompt reply Wayne. I've update my profile to indicate I live in Waterdown.

Quite informative, but it leads me to think... why bother with any of this? (aside from cost if you can get away with OTA and save by not paying for a TV subscription).

There seems to be some sacrifice in every regard. For instance....
1) if not paying for a cable service, only limited OTA channels (but may be sufficient for some).
2) if paying for cable, then to achieve a two tuner HD setup, it's quite costly and sort of rediculous (2 HD-PVR's and 2 HD cable boxes) all to save the rental of equipment from cable provider or purchase of cable HD PVR.
3) if trying to playback recorded content from PC to TV, I need something like a Sage Tv Extender
4) need multiple computers for dedicated HTPC and computing needs

Really, why does anybody bother, unless you needed the ultimate in sharing content from one PC to any other PC or tv? Are people really satisfied and able to cut out paying for a cable/satellite subscription and just get OTA?

Is HTPC for people that are satisfied with limited OTA signals, and getting content from who-knows-where on the internet. Friends of mine say they just get thier favourite episodes of "Whatever" off the internet and watch it that way (not sure if they're going legally or otherwise)

I gotta say after reading Wayne's reply, going with a cable/satellite provided doesn't sound like a real bad way to go, aside from expense. I was getting excited to ditch my monthly rental fee for my HD 2-tuner PVR and do it all by PC, but I'm not so sure now.

Wayne
2009-11-27, 04:07 PM
If you download a lot of content from the internet or you want to have a movie jukebox than an HTPC makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense if you have a lot of TVs and want to be able to share recorded content throughout your house.

My HTPC server has two HD-PVRs (with two HD cable boxes), an OTA tuner and an older analog tuner connected to an SD digital box. So I can record or stream four channels at once. This would mean that I can get digital TV throughout my house without having to have digital boxes at all TVs and I can start watching a TV show in my Home Theater in my basement and finish it up in my bedroom. And my wife could be watching another show in the kitchen. (I have four SageTV extenders and one PC client).

It is certainly not cheap but it is a far, far better solution than the cable/sat PVRs. You likely have an SA8300HD from Cogeco - I have one of these from Rogers. The software on those boxes is horrible - soviet-like is the term I like to use! Plus you can't stream from one room to another, you can't download content to other devices like DVDs or laptops, you can't Placeshift without having a Slingbox, you can't set your PVR to record remotely via your cell phone or the internet, you can't use it to stream DVDs ripped to your hard drive, etc, etc.

Why drive a Lexus when a Toyota Yaris will do the job? I consider my setup to be the Lexus and the SA8300HD to be a Yaris. But if you are happy with the Yaris then why change?

pvrfan
2009-11-30, 04:03 PM
Hackzaw:

One possibility...consider OTA for your HD content and Cogeco for standard def. I've got an HDHomeRun (dual tuner) with one side connected to an antenna. This receives all the major Canadian and US networks in HD and spectacular quality. The other side is connected to Cogeco and I subscribe to the basic analog package. But the digital equivalents of the analogs are also on the cable, unencrypted--about 30 channels that I'm interested in.

Commercial skipping is the hands-down killer feature for me (using MythTV). The automatic detection and skipping works very well in most circumstances. I have a tough time watching live TV now...there are just too many commercial breaks that go on too long. (Most 1 hour shows have 42 minutes of content.) MythTV also has a very flexible and intelligent scheduler built-in to minimize recording conflicts. Plus I can watch the recordings from any other computers in the house since I've got a wired network throughout.

You may find that the savings over, say, 3 years by cutting back to basic cable would pay for the amount you'll have to invest in a HTPC PVR system.

john_ertw
2009-12-01, 09:20 AM
One possibility...consider OTA for your HD content and Cogeco for standard def.

You may find that the savings over, say, 3 years by cutting back to basic cable would pay for the amount you'll have to invest in a HTPC PVR system.

I'm confused as to why one would subscribe to basic cable when they have a decent OTA setup in the GTA which will pickup the vast majority of basic cable channels. I am in a similar situation to the OP (I am considering if I can setup a network style media centre and cancel cable altogether and use OTA)
and have just setup an OTA antenna. If I keep cable it is to get the premium channels not available OTA. Otherwise I will cancel cable altogether.

hackzaw
2009-12-01, 12:41 PM
I would certainly consider just an OTA solution, in which case building an HTPC sounds like the ticket. For the majority of our viewing, we're watching the big networks. But the sacrifice would be (and I'm totally guessing here) channels such as TSN HD, Golf Channel HD, Sportsnet HD. I don't watch any SD content as it simply looks like crap on my 52" Samsung.

So, in reality, an OTA solution covers my basic needs probably representing 90% of our familiy viewing. So you could argue my monthly cable bill is strictly speaking paying for those extra 4-5 channels that aren't on OTA.

I may be able to cut out cable all together, or if I really can't live without my specialty channels, I could subscribe to basic analog and watch in SD.

I'm definitely intrigued by people with loads of content stored on their PC's, but my question is, where do you get all your content from?

(bit of off topic question - but have I read it correctly that you can install your OTA antenna indoors in your attic?)

TorontoColin
2009-12-01, 03:57 PM
You might want to consider buying one HD-PVR/HD cable box combo and supplementing it with HD OTA. This reduces the cost but still lets you watch HD sports. One of the brilliant things about an HTPC is that it allows you to mix your sources together into one program guide and automatically records on the right channels.

If you're going with the Hauppauge HD-PVR I'd recommend Sage as it's more reliable for those (although the HD-PVR will work in Windows 7). If you're not I'd recommend Windows 7 MC as the UI is nicer and you don't have to buy an additional license (on top of Windows). Either way you should use an extender, the 10-foot experience is much nicer through an extender than directly on the PC.

Something important to note, while hard drive size is an issue, the rest of the PC doesn't have to be top of the line. A low-end dual core system with 2GB of RAM should easily support a couple of OTA tuners and an HD-PVR.

While you can put an antenna in your attic you will get much better reception outside. Check the awesome OTA forum out for more on that.

Wayne
2009-12-02, 03:04 PM
I'm confused as to why one would subscribe to basic cable when they have a decent OTA setup in the GTA which will pickup the vast majority of basic cable channels. I am in a similar situation to the OP (I am considering if I can setup a network style media centre and cancel cable altogether and use OTA)
and have just setup an OTA antenna. If I keep cable it is to get the premium channels not available OTA. Otherwise I will cancel cable altogether.Because a lot of even fairly "basic" cable channels that are still on analog, such as TSN, RSN, Treehouse, YTV, CNN, Newswold are considered essential in many households. And you can't "unsubscribe" to the channels that you already get OTA, which is a shame if they make us pay for them with this new Local TV Tax (but that is getting OT).

Wayne
2009-12-02, 03:07 PM
You might want to consider buying one HD-PVR/HD cable box combo and supplementing it with HD OTA. This reduces the cost but still lets you watch HD sports. One of the brilliant things about an HTPC is that it allows you to mix your sources together into one program guide and automatically records on the right channels.
This is what I do except that I have 2 HD-PVR/HD cable box combos + an OTA tuner + SD digital cable box/s-video tuner. And Colin is right - it is great to be able to combine these all into one coherent guide and never have conflicts. If both the Leafs and Raps play on a Thursday night my system can be concurrently recording the Leafs game in HD on my HD-PVR, the Raps in HD from my other HD-PVR, 30Rock via my OTA tuner and a Dora the Explorer on Treehouse on my SD cable box/tuner.

john_ertw
2009-12-02, 03:45 PM
Because a lot of even fairly "basic" cable channels that are still on analog, such as TSN, RSN, Treehouse, YTV, CNN, Newswold are considered essential in many households.

Although I agree these channels are fairly "basic", they are not included in a basic cable package and I believe the monthly cost is fairly high for a package including these channels.

In my opinion, from a cost perspective, if you are paying cable for the analog channels, you would be better off purchasing a HD PVR box instead of setting up a HTPC (this would be a one time cost that is probably less than cost of HTPC). If you can totally cut out cable by going OTA, then I agree that a HTPC and OTA setup may be the best choice cost wise. I understand that a HTPC offers more features than what the cable companies offer with their boxes but I believe the OP was concerned with reducing monthly costs along with improving his "total entertainment pacakage".

Wayne
2009-12-02, 03:55 PM
I understand that a HTPC offers more features than what the cable companies offer with their boxes but I believe the OP was concerned with reducing I agree monthly costs along with improving his "total entertainment pacakage".I agree which is why I responded in post 2 with a rather discouraging reply. Using an HTPC is not a money saving venture. I went with an HTPC solution because I wanted the best possible solution to capture multiple sources at once, offering whole house delivery, and be able to access other digital content. The thousands of dollars that I have spent show that it is not the cheapest solution!

hackzaw
2009-12-03, 09:06 AM
Thanks to all for informative replies. Indeed, my objective is twofold

1) Since I'm buying a computer no matter what, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to get current and be able to watch media off my new PC, but having never done it, and knowing about using a computer as an HTPC PVR, I wasn't sure how practical it is.

and 2) I signed up with Cogeco 1 year ago with promotions for both my digital package and rental of my PVR. Now that the 12 month promotion period is over, my cable bill literally jumped $30/month! (I knew this was coming, obviously). So, yes, I'm also looking at some method to reduce my costs. In fact, until I started reading this great website, I didn't know anything about OTA.

I'm not really sure what to do next. I'm getting my new PC very soon (possibly tonight!), and I certainly want to be able to play media from my PC to my TV, so I'll pursue that route automatically. I've been reading the OTA forum, and I think I'm going to build a cheap OTA system, just to see what I can make of OTA. If results are satisfactory, I MAY look at cutting out cable TV cost altogether. My cable cost is approx $80/mo right now. YIKES! If I were to downgrade my cable tv package to the lowest of the low, I don't know what I'd get and what I'd pay, and would it be worth it anyways. I haven't watched an SD channel since I got HD.

In my current situation in my house, I really only have 1 tv, so I don't currently need the flexibility to broadcast everything to a variety of different sources. But that could change in the future as well.

Here goes at building a GH antenna!

john_ertw
2009-12-03, 11:22 AM
If I were to downgrade my cable tv package to the lowest of the low, I don't know what I'd get and what I'd pay, and would it be worth it anyways.

If you are able to receive all of the OTA channels available in the southern ontario, I'm not sure how many extra channels the most basic cable packages gets you. I took a quick look and figured I either cut cable althogether or keep the premium channels in SD and use OTA for HD. However, after factoring the cost of getting a good OTA setup you may be better off purchasing your cable provider's HD box. Of course this is all from a cost perspective. If you are looking for the features as Wayne was there is no doubt that cable's offerings don't match the possiblities of a HTPC.

hackzaw
2009-12-03, 12:36 PM
I'd like to try something simple for testing OTA first, meaning spend the least to see how many channels are available OTA and if that would meet my needs. For this, my Samsung LN52A750 tv has a built in ASTC tuner (I've read some aren't too happy with Samsung's implementation of it though).

So, could I for starters, simply make a cheap GH antenna, and wire it to my tv? I'm just getting into reading what I need for the install i.e. pre-amp, etc. Is there a quick answer as to what else I need for a simple setup? I'm in Waterdown (Hamilton area) if that's required information as to what channels and the type of antenna I'll be building.

Wayne
2009-12-03, 01:01 PM
Unless your time is free and you a real DIYer wouldn't you be better off buying an antenna?

Given your location and assuming you have an unobstructed view then you should have no problem tuning in Buffalo stations. You may also be able to get Erie stations - I grew up in Ancaster and we received Erie stations (analog of course - this is the 70s&80s) as well as Buffalo stations. But there isn't generally a difference in the programming so receiving more than one of each network affiliate has marginal utility unless they have different subchannels.

TorontoColin
2009-12-03, 09:37 PM
To begin all you need is an antenna and a TV with a tuner. You're probably better off buying a cheap tuner like a silver sensor knock-off. This stuff belongs on the OTA boards though.

Wayne
2009-12-06, 01:21 AM
You're probably better off buying a cheap tuner like a silver sensor knock-off.I think you meant antenna rather than tuner

stego
2009-12-08, 01:49 PM
@Wayne


My HTPC server has two HD-PVRs (with two HD cable boxes), an OTA tuner and an older analog tuner connected to an SD digital box. So I can record or stream four channels at once. This would mean that I can get digital TV throughout my house without having to have digital boxes at all TVs and I can start watching a TV show in my Home Theater in my basement and finish it up in my bedroom. And my wife could be watching another show in the kitchen. (I have four SageTV extenders and one PC client).

It is certainly not cheap but it is a far, far better solution than the cable/sat PVRs. You likely have an SA8300HD from Cogeco - I have one of these from Rogers. The software on those boxes is horrible - soviet-like is the term I like to use! Plus you can't stream from one room to another, you can't download content to other devices like DVDs or laptops, you can't Placeshift without having a Slingbox, you can't set your PVR to record remotely via your cell phone or the internet, you can't use it to stream DVDs ripped to your hard drive, etc, etc.


Nice set-up... as you say, not cheap. If I consider 2xHD-PVRs and 2x4250HD Rogers STBs... I'm already looking at $500 US for the HD-PVRs and $400 CDN for the Rogers boxes (on sale @ $199) This would allow for recording of 2 channels simultaneously...

I then need to buy/build an HTPC to capture and store the HD-PVR content... then 2 additional front-end PCs or extenders to feed the two televisions in the home.

The HTPC cost I guesstimate to be between $500-$1000... the front-end PCs or extenders, could be either PCs, or SAGETV extenders...

In total, looking at around $2000-$3000 investment...

This is all pretty new to me so far, but this is what I've come to expect to pay for a decent system, that passes the wife test.

I may have to drive the "Yaris" for awhile... my wife would never approve the "Lexus"... ;-)

Wayne
2009-12-09, 12:21 PM
Last year on boxing day sales the Rogers HD cable boxes were on for $99 - I bought 3 of them. The HD-PVRs were also on sale for $199 and that is when I bought my second one. The HD-PVRs have come down somewhat in price so here's hoping that we may see a sale price of something like $175. That would bring the costs down somewhat to about $550-$600 for cable boxes +HD-PVR but still very expensive.

I would totally recommend the Sage extenders for playback - they will be around $225 each (delivered to Canada). I am thinking you could do it for around $1500 depending on what CPU and how much storage you want. That would be for two clients.