: The Ultimate HTPC??


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ClgShaft
2011-06-16, 09:11 PM
Hello all HTPC enthusiasts.

About eight months ago I decided to build a HTPC, and I chose mythtv. I struggled quiet a bit at first and required some assistance with the huge learning curve of having known nothing about Linux. Today I have a backend running 1 hauppauge 250, 1 hauppauge 1600, and 1 hauppauge 2250. I am using the tuners for HD OTA and one s-video satellite receiver to share with all the other frontends. I currently am running one zotact zbox as a frontend, which works surprisingly very well. Thus far I am very satisfied with my project, but...

At the start of my project I had certain criteria I was looking for so that I could one day cancel the satellite and/or cable all together. My requirements, or wants were:
Blu Ray
HD OTA
HD satellite capture
Hulu
Netflix
NFLST, should be available for online this year, similar to NHL Game Center and MLB
NHL Game Center

Mythtv does not have blu ray support, HD OTA is working great, have not purchased a HD PVR for component, waiting for the new hauppauge cared, no Netflix support on linux, Internet streaming in mythtv is not stable and crashes the backend quiet often, NHL Game Center I did not try this year.

I am reaching out to the community to see if there is one true MYTHICAL or Ultimate HTPC that exists, and if so what are you using?

Should I be trying Windows Media Center? I know windows will have gamecenter, hulu, and netflix, but how does the rest match up compared to MythTV?

One system is preferred, and content sharing on other PC's is a must.

Please share your ideas.

Thanks

audacity
2011-06-16, 10:09 PM
I've done the HTPC thing for a very long time. I'm currently doing everything in your "wish list" (minus the Satellite capture and NFLST) and I'm using SageTV on Windows. Sure, it's written in Java (boo!), but it seems to be more than competitive with MythTV, and Windows + AnyDVD HD should provide you with all the Blu-ray support you need. You can also have a Blu-ray disc in the "server" machine and play it from a client machine if you have a wired network.

For most video content now, I'm using streaming video services. Most of the streaming video services have one thing in common: they are accessible from the web. When you are using a particular platform, you want to play to its strengths. For this reason I decided to have a HTPC that primarily focuses on "doing the web well" since the web seems to be the default platform for all these services. The key ingredient that is too often ignored is input devices. Standard remote controls won't do here. You need to have excellent mouse cursor control. I've purchased many input devices (Logitech diNovo Mini, many MCE remotes, etc) and the one that works the best so far (and by a long shot) is The Loop (http://www.hillcrestlabs.com/loop/htpc.php). I used for a while with the Kylo HTPC browser, but once Google Chrome added a default zoom setting I switched to Chrome, which is a much faster browser than Kylo.

So I have a "server" HTPC (which also serves as a "client" and is connected to a TV), and two other "client" HTPCs. When I'm not using SageTV to watch recorded content - which is most of the time now - I'm running a tweaked-out Chrome browser using The Loop and a small nmedia HTPC keyboard on the coffee table for when I have to type a lot.

Windows 7 allows you to quickly connect and disconnect from VPN networks from the network icon in your system tray which is important for when you want to look like your in the US or the UK. This is nice when you want to bounce between hulu.com and netflix.ca on a per-machine basis.

ClgShaft
2011-06-16, 10:47 PM
thanks for the feedback Danceswithlysol, looks interesting. I had looked at windows and sage tv during my research, but at the time tried to cut the costs of the operating system and additional cost for sage tv.

website does not mention as to how many licenses I need or get with the placeshifter. I understand the main app would be installed on the main PC, or server and then you connect to the main via the placeshifter. I currently have three PC's and one laptop, so would need all to connect.

I forgot to mention that I am also looking at support for iphone and ipad, either by watching via the placeshifter, or encoding vids to work on the iphone, which i see is supported. Being java based I doubt the first would work.

Are all tuners supported? I currently have two hvr 1600's, two hvr 2250's, one pvr 250, and two 950Q, all hauppauge.

Thanks

ClgShaft
2011-06-16, 11:06 PM
I see the hauppauge colussus's would be supported since using windows, which would be better than svideo on my satellite receiver.

audacity
2011-06-17, 01:00 AM
Let me tally it up the SageTV costs for you.

PC #1 (with tuners): SageTV Media Center for Windows Version 7 @ $79.95
PC #2, #3, Laptop: SageTV Clientfor Windows Version 7 @ $29.95 x 3

SageTV total: $169.80.

If you want the best Blu-ray support available, I'd recommend AnyDVD HD with 2 years of updates @ $79 EUR ($110.04 CAD). Alternatively, you can use other less expensive software to rip your Blu-ray discs prior to watching them on your HTPC.

The difference between the "client" and "placeshifter" is that placeshifter sends the video at a reduced bitrate and is optimized for low bandwidth and high latency connections. Specifically, for when you're away from home, on your laptop in a hotel, and want to watch some TV that you have recorded on your SageTV setup at home. That sort of scenario.

Because I'm always connected via a LAN I went for the SageTV client x3 and I don't have any placeshifter licenses.

You are correct that the SageTV placeshifter requires a JRE to run, so no iOS devices will run it.

All your tuners are supported. I'm not aware of any PVR software that has as comprehensive support for tuners as SageTV. Well, with the exception of CableCard tuners, they don't support CableCard (yet?). That's not really a relevant issue for Canadians though because our cable companies are... whoops, I almost said something mean!

So, all this software certainly isn't free, but at the end of the day running this software on Windows gives me a reliable system that is better in ways that are important to me than any MythTV setup for any amount of money.

banff2010
2011-06-17, 03:14 PM
I looked at SageTV once. What kind of Antena and what kind of Tuners you have? Do you have very good OTA reception? Any opinion on USB tuners?

audacity
2011-06-17, 03:31 PM
I live in Spruce Grove (just outside of Edmonton). I'm using a RCA ANT751 antenna mounted on my roof and a SiliconDust HDHomeRun v3 (dual tuner). The reception of CBC and CityTV DTV channels is excellent. I expect when CTV and Global "go live" in a couple months those will have a great signal too, since the CBC signal is great and is being broadcast from a similar distance.

banff2010
2011-06-17, 06:58 PM
Thanks. Did you connect Antena's co-axial cable to the one that provided by shaw? (Or may be you build new house with wiring). I am by no means a handy man, how much would be the labour cost for installing the antena and joining the cable to shaw cables (don't want to run additional cables). Also, do you get only 3 channels?

Thank you for answering my questions.

PS: last year around this time, I played with mythTV and then almost bought the Homerun and SageTV (apple) did some research. I gave up after realising that I can't connect the shaw co-axial cable.

audacity
2011-06-17, 08:18 PM
The coax comes into the house via the attic and then I connect it to one of the coax cables that is run in an interior wall, and ground it to the electrical ground.

Then, at the other end of the coax cable (in the basement), I connect the HDHR to the coax cable that was run when the house was built (2008) and then plug the HDHR into the central 24-port switch.

So, in the basement Shaw's cable comes in to a 3-way splitter. Obviously the coax cable that I'm using for the antenna was disconnected from Shaw's splitter before plugging it into the HDHR.

I guess it would be easier if I did a diagram, but I imagine you get the idea. Of the 3 coax runs in the house, I usurped one of them from Shaw since all I'm using Shaw for is getting their signal to a cable modem.

Right now I get 2 DTV channels and a bunch of analog channels that I don't use. Soon I should get 4 DTV channels, but they are the major ones (CTV, CBC, Global, CityTV).

ClgShaft
2011-06-17, 10:29 PM
Thanks for the input.

A little off topic now, as I am looking for the ultimate pvr.

Another issue with Linux is no iTunes.

I have a home made gh antenna and receive all the digitals from calgary.

Why not just run your coax cable to a capture card?

audacity
2011-06-17, 10:50 PM
Mainly positioning reasons. I wanted the HTPC in a different room.

ClgShaft
2011-06-18, 12:49 AM
Giving sage a try with the trial version, installed at setup in under 15 minutes.

Using a old xp pc, issues with audio and trying to play a m4v, everything else works.

audacity
2011-06-18, 01:29 AM
I imagine you can get the m4v working properly by adjusting the codec that are being used by SageTV for h.264 (or whatever is in the m4v file).

But for that sort of troubleshooting, the SageTV forums is where you want to be.

Wayne
2011-06-18, 11:01 AM
I am also a SageTV user. I have a server in my basement that is not used for watching content but it serves up content to six SageTV extender clients throughout my house. The SageTV extenders are very good - they cost $150 and they are silent, small and trouble-free. I also have a couple of Placeshifter clients so I can also access Sage from the TVs in my house,

I have two HD-PVR tuners hooked up to Rogers HD cable boxes, one SD Rogers box hooked up to a tuner via S-video and three OTA tuners. Note that I live in Toronto and can get lots of OTA from Toronto and Buffalo.

The only thing not ideal with this setup is with the online content. You can access Netflix, Hulu and other online content from Sage extenders using PlayOn but that costs a bit of money, doesn't work for HD and is a little but klugey. But it can be integrated into your SageTV system - for example you can have a wall of movie posters - some of the can be BluRay/DVD rips, some can be recorded from TV and some can be Netflix. Same thing with TV series from Hulu/Netflix.

Using SageTV clients you could get full HD from Netflix, as you can set up menu items in Sage to take you to other apps such as Netflix.

The other thing is that SageTV has clients on several platforms including Linux and Windows.

Windows MC is good for the online content but it has other drawbacks such as no PC clients, lack of support for mulitple HD-PVRs(I think).

audacity
2011-06-18, 01:26 PM
CglShaft,

If you're not interested in Netflix/Hulu/NFLST/etc, and are primarily concerned with OTA broadcast TV (in Canada), then I'd say that SageTV + extender devices are a pretty elegant solution. The problem is that when you add BDU STBs with a Hauppauge HD-PVR it becomes a lot less elegant, and when you finally add the streaming video services it starts to feel like a horrible hack.

Keep SageTV for what it's good at (recording broadcast TV), and use a web browser for what it's good at (streaming video) and use a multi-tasking operating system to switch between these two applications.

If you live in Canada and use VPNs to access content that is GeoIP blocked, then you also want a platform that lets you quickly turn on/off VPN connections (on a "per client" basis). I haven't found anything aside from a PC that provides this functionality.

I don't think you're going to be able to meet your content requirements list without using a browser. That means building a HTPC that is optimized for web browsing. When you're done, what you've built will be fairly future proof. Most (if not all) streaming video services support the web as a platform, and I see no reason why that will change for the foreseeable future. Depending on crazy hacks (like PlayOn) that, in my experience don't work very well even when it's "working" - it's sketchy at best.

Wayne
2011-06-18, 01:34 PM
If you live in Canada and use VPNs to access content that is GeoIP blocked, then you also want a platform that lets you quickly turn on/off VPN connections (on a "per client" basis). I haven't found anything aside from a PC that provides this functionality.I don't know that this is required if you use a service like unblock-us[dot]org as this service only spoofs your IP for specific video streaming sites.

I don't really think that it is inelegant using Sage with STBs. I have been using PVRs (TiVo, XP MCE, BeyondTV, SageTV) for about 9 years, always with STBs. Sure you have the IR blasting (or firewire) requirement for channel change but if you don't wathc live TV, and why should you, then there really isn't much downside to this.

audacity
2011-06-18, 03:02 PM
I don't really think that it is inelegant using Sage with STBs. I have been using PVRs (TiVo, XP MCE, BeyondTV, SageTV) for about 9 years, always with STBs. Sure you have the IR blasting (or firewire) requirement for channel change but if you don't wathc live TV, and why should you, then there really isn't much downside to this.

What about the well (http://forums.sagetv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=48167) documented (http://forums.sagetv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=49446) reliability (http://forums.sagetv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=41074) problems (http://forums.sagetv.com/forums/showthread.php?p=467431&postcount=58) with the Hauppauge HD-PVR? I used one for about a year and can attest to the issues related to the device itself, and how it will lock up due to high tide or a full moon.

The issues I had were:

- The HD-PVR would lock up every couple weeks for no explicable reason, and I tried to fix this using all sort of configuration tweaks to no avail.

- Excessive power use when compared to just using a HDHR or "normal" tuner device.

- Rats nest of cables for each tuner you add.

- The expense of buying all those STBs

- Sometimes the Shaw STBs would get some sort of update that would screw up the interface in some way for the channel changing requiring manual intervention.

- Using electrical tape to connect IR blasters to the IR receiver of the corresponding STB and make sure other STBs don't catch a "stray" signal.

To be fair, you must be using a different setup to capture your HD video, because no sane person would describe this sort of configuration as elegant. A HDHomeRun plugged into your network switch is elegant. That was a disaster, especially compared to what I was using previously - a pair of Hauppauge PVR-500 cards. Two coax cables, four tuners, no "IR blaster" or anything like that. Ugh.

So, Wayne, my question is: how do you capture multiple tuners worth of HD content in a elegant way, because it must be completely different from what I did.

Wayne
2011-06-18, 03:28 PM
Not everyone has problems - I have used two HD-PVRs for 2.5 years with very few problems at all. It is as elegant as it can be given the lack of options for HD cable channels - there is no other way to get HD cable into a PC in Canada with the possible exception of the R5000 mod.

I use firewire for channel change on my two HD STBs and I use an IR blaster for by SD STB. It may be kind of ugly but it is all hidden away in my basement and my TVs just have a Sage extender.

audacity
2011-06-18, 04:23 PM
Wayne,

So, for each STB tuner setup you have:

1. Power cable for the STB
2. Coax cable for the STB
3. Component cables (x5) from the STB to the Hauppauge HD-PVR
4. Firewire cable from PC to STB
5. Power adapter (wall-wart style) from wall to Hauppauge HD-PVR
6. USB cable from Hauppauge HD-PVR to PC

For this configuration you'll also be looking at 28 watts of power (http://newenergyhorizons.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/thanks-a-lot-motorola-dct-3416-dvr-phantom-electricity-menace-the-kill-a-watt-chronicles-part-1/) per STB (I was using a Motorola DCT-3416), and 7-8 watts of power per Hauppauge HD-PVR.

So, for two tuners you're using ~70 watts of power and have 12 cables if we feel charitable and count the component "ribbon-style" cable as one instead of five.

As a point of comparison, for two ATSC/ClearQAM tuners in a HDHR3 you use 5 watts while turning, 3 watts when idle.

The point of this post is just to underscore that the words "elegant" and "Hauppauge HD-PVR" should not be this close together for any reason.

As a HTPC user I decided to cancel cable TV and only use signals that are HTPC friendly (streaming video, ATSC). You're paying your cableco money to provide a signal that is difficult to use. And if you continue to pay them they have no incentive to change their ways. Because of the rich selection of content available via streaming video (and it's growing rapidly) I strongly encourage people to optimize their HTPC for it. It's much better than the awkwardness that you get when dealing with encrypted-QAM.

Wayne
2011-06-18, 05:46 PM
You are obviously not a sports fan as the only way to get a lot of sports content is from cable.

I am not a fan of the cable companies either but there really isn't an option today if you want to get channels only available on cable. I have cancelled TMN as I find that Netflix and other sources give me enough movies, but there is no substitute for channels like TSN, RSN, The Golf Network, Setanta Sports, etc.