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HTPC as control for TV

1459 Views 11 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Wayne
My search-fu is lacking as I am sure this has been answered on here somewhere. Alas, I am wondering if I can use a HTPC to control all my TV functions. I know I will need a STB to handle the incoming connection, but I was wondering if I could somehow hook in my HTPC to control live and recorded TV, music, etc?

I live in the Alberta area so it would be either via Shaw or Telus.
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You need an IR blaster. That's a device controlled by HTPC media software to control external devices. There are a number available from independent makers and also DIY kits/instructions. Some versions of the MCE remote have them built in. Some TV tuners (Hauppauge) and capture devices have them as well. Many are made to control a single device, the cable/satellite tuner, but some can control several devices by using the appropriate software. I use an IR blaster to control the satellite receiver and a Harmony remote to handle TV and other device functions.
Thanks for the info, but I guess I should have been more specific :)

I have a working HTPC setup on a basic cable package with the line going into it running XBMC (and a working IR receiver). I am moving in a few months into a new place and will be getting an HD package along with my new TV. From my readings, the HD stuff is encrypted or such and you must use the companies provided STB.

What I was wondering is, can I still use my HTPC with XBMC (somehow via the STB) to control everything including live TV (and handle recordins) or must I use the provided STB+software to do stuff making the HTPC kind of useless?

Hope that's a bit more clear!
Most people use a Hauppauge HD PVR to record HDTV. It doesn't work as well as a built in tuner or BDU HD PVR though. You might want to use a cable company HD PVR for programming watched on a daily basis and the Hauppauge unit if that does not work out for longer term archival. Another option is to attach an external drive, if the PVR allows it. There is a thread on the Hauppauge HD PVR here. I thought there was a FAQ on recording HDTV but don't see it now.

I use a satellite company (Bell TV) HD PVR with external drive for most programming. Occasionally, there is something I want to put on the HTPC with the Hauppauge HD PVR. The HTPC is still useful as a DVD/BD player replacement and to play archived material. If I had a choice between the two, I would choose the Bell TV unit for TV.
Most people use a Hauppauge HD PVR to record HDTV. It doesn't work as well as a built in tuner or BDU HD PVR though. You might want to use a cable company HD PVR for programming watched on a daily basis and the Hauppauge unit if that does not work out for longer term archival.
I have a somewhat different point of view. I would recommend using an HD-PVR with software like SageTV, Windows Media Center, etc as your main PVR since this software is so much better than what you get in a PVR from your BDU. It is more expensive and more work to maintain but is a far superior solution if you are up to it. You can also use it for music, photos, videos and OTT video services like Netflix, Youtube, etc.

There is the additional option of buying extenders (like the SageTV HD-300 or an Xbox360) to allow you to view the content from other rooms of your house.
Wayne, this is what I am trying to figure out how to do. So, excuse my ignorance with this question.

If I put a HD Hauppage unit in my PC, will I be able to use my PC to control everything like the PC is acting as the STB? (with some work, of course). Or will I still need to use the STB interface to do stuff and flip inputs (or such) to control the HTPC?

Like you said, it gives you access to so much more stuff (like my music) and puts other stuff into a nice TV format. Then I could watch TV, listen to music and so forth on every PC in the house and other TV's with something like the Sage HD300.
Kind of - you still need STBs if you want to watch cable channels. If you are in an area with lots of OTA channel and you are happy with OTA only you can get rid of cable but you are in Alberta so that is unlikely to be an option.

The only way to get digital cable (or satellite) into your PC in Canada is via an HD-PVR as it has Component inputs (red, green, blue cable). In the US there is something called a CableCard but Canadian cable companies will not give one of these to you - if they did then we would have more options.

The way it works is that you connect your cable box to the HD-PVR using component cables and you connect your HD-PVR to your PC using a USB connection. You also need a way to change channels on your STB. This can be done with an IR blaster (one comes with the HD-PVR but if you want to use more than one HD-PVR with your system then you have to use a different type of IR blaster for the second device) or with firewire if your cable box has a firewire connection that is active and you can get drivers for it - this requires running a 32 bit version of Windows.

Here is the way I do it - I have a server connected to two HD-PVRs that are connected to HD cable boxes, one SD tuner card connected to a SD digital cable box (via S-video) and a couple of OTA tuners. This all sits in a room in my basement. I have five Sage HD200 extenders at each TV in my house. This lets me record TV on one system and play it back anywhere in my house. It also lets me store DVD (or BluRay) rips on my server and play them back through the Sage extenders.

You can also do most of this with Windows Media Center but it does not work as well with the HD-PVR.

This is obviously not cheap but it is the best solution IMHO for whole house video distriubtion of TV, video files, music, photos, etc and you can also convert and transfer files to laptops, iPads, etc.
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Wow, ok. This may be a bit more complicated than I thought!

First off, I plan to only have the one HD connection coming into the house connected to one TV to start (probably will add a 2nd later). Obviously I will need one HD STB for each connection I have, yes?

Secondly, once I set it up, will I be using the PC software to control live TV or the STB? Just a little confused here still. ie. If I hit 'guide' on the remote, will the STB guide come up, or say the Sage one on the PC?

Third, I don't understand the need for 5 extenders per TV? Why would I need 2 extenders if I got a 2nd HD PVR? Could I not just install one, small PC (like an Atom) and that could handle it?
You will need one HD cable box for each show that you want to record or watch as live TV simultaneously. I never, ever, watch live TV, and I am a huge sports fan. Why watch live TV when you can watch it recorded and zip through commercials, etc? This way a hockey game only takes 60 minutes to watch, not 2+ hours.

The simplest setup is hooking your cable box to your HD-PVR (which then hooks up to the PC via USB) and there is also a "pass-through" connection for the HD-PVR that you can hook up to your TV (or your AVR if you are using one). On your TV you could then select the setup for Sage (say HDMI-1) or the direct connection to your cable box (say HDMI-2).

The problem is if Sage decides to start recording a show while you are watching a different show on live TV directly from the cable box it will change the channel on you. If you are watching live TV via Sage it will ask you if you want to switch channels to do the recording - you can then decline but the show won't be recorded. So the problem with this setup is that you can watch live TV or record, you can't do both at once. But you can watch RecordedTV and record a show at the same time.

On question two, it all depends on how you want to use the system and how you set up your remotes. I use Harmony remote controls that can control multiple devices simultaneously. When you press the guide button the Sage guide comes up - by the way the Sage guide is tons more useful than the guide on my Rogers cable box. But if you were just watching live TV you could skip the Sage connection and just watch from the cable box directly. When you adjust the volume it will either change the TV volume or the AVR volume depending on what speakers are in use.

On three - sorry - that was a typo I meant to say - "5 extenders, one at each TV in my house", rather than "5 extenders, at each TV in my house". You could use Atom PCs but the Sage extenders are only $150 and they do almost everything that a PC can, are totally silent and much less maintenance than a PC. You sure can't buy a PC with a Windows license for $150.
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Ah yes, I did plan on grabbing a 2nd HD PVR to be able to record and watch at the same time. I was trying to keep my questions simple and left that out, my bad :)

Obviously one extender is cheaper, whew. I was basing buying a PC on the fact that I would need 2 or 3 extenders per TV as compared to 1 PC :D

Final clarification I hope then regarding the different guides thing. Basically, can I use the Sage guide to control live TV? I don't see how it can handle channel changing and such since (I assume) the STB needs to change channel and with only a component connection going to it, I don't see how the HD PVR can pass the channel change on to it.
The channel change is accomplished by the IR blaster or a firewire connection to your PC. This is the weakest link in the situation as channel changes take approximately 5 seconds, not an issue if you don't watch live TV but quite bad if you want to use it to channel surf.
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