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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey everyone,

I'm wondering if anyone can give me some advice. I am looking to convert my house over to Windows Media Center (thought Vista Ultimate). I purchased a couple of Linksys Media Extenders that I will be hooking up to a couple of TVs around the house. The only thing I need now is a TV Tuner card and I'm unsure of what one to buy.

Presently, I have Starchoice, but I'm willing to start from scratch and go back to digital cable (or whatever is recommended for what I'm trying to do).

Here's what I'm trying to do:

I LOVE the way that in the Media Center demo you can change the channels in a really cool digital format (that is says it knows up to 2 weeks in advance). Now, from what I've heard, I can't do that with Starchoice because I would need an IR blaster, and we'll, it's just messy (unless someone tells me otherwise).

So my question is this:

To get the best configuration possible,

a) What card should I but for my computer (Windows Vista Ultimate 32bit)?

b) What television provider should I go with?

I am located just north on London, ON. If we were to go cable, we would go with a company called Execulink... here is their digital cable service offering:

http://www.execulink.ca/residential/television/basic.php

Regarding whether or not I want HD, I don't have any HD TV's right now, but I'm thinking of getting one. Therefore, I would like this configuration to be compatible with HD.

Sorry, one final question:

c) If you respond and say that digital cable is the way to go, then do I need the box from Execulink? (I'm assuming YES, since I know some digital channels are encrypted).

I also have a Slingbox Pro hooked up on my network if that makes a difference. (Probably not.)

Looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts.

Much appreciated!

Sincerely,
Ray
 

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Starchoice and digital cable will behave the same for media center, so unless you can get a good deal from execulink I wouldn't bother. What you may have been reading about is digital cable in the USA, which has some provisions that will allow it to work natively in Media Center leveraging a technology called CableCard. No such luck in Canada.

The only way to get HDTV into media center in Canada at this point is to use an antenna, and I don't think that the reception is very good in the London area. (But check this forum to be sure http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=81123&page=22).

So I would boil down your options to this:
- Do you intend to watch channels that are only available on the digital package from your cable provider? If no, the easiest option would be to get analog cable and two analog tuner cards.
- If you do require access to digital-only channels, then I'd recoomend that you get an IR blaster and remote from Microsoft like this (http://ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=26950&vpn=GP-IR02BK&manufacture=Others). Use the included IR blasters to control your satellite or digital cable box, MCE will walk you through the setup. Again, I'd recommend two set top boxes paired with two analog tuner cards
- In the future (ie Windows 7) I expect you'll be able to use something like the Hauppauge HD-PVR tuner to record high definition signals from digital cable or satellite but for now it's both expensive and not compatible with Media Center.

As to which tuner cards are recommended, there's another thread in this forum with lots of discussion on that topic (although skip to the end of the thread, since recommendations from 2005 might be a bit out of date now). http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=42094

And one final note - if the slingbox is also controlling one of the satellite boxes, you'll want to remove it so that the slingbox and MCE aren't both trying to take control of the tuner. Once you switch to MCE, I think you'll find that http://www.orb.com/ does the same thing as slingbox for free.

Hope this helps!
Pete
 

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The following is just my experience.

I have Vista Ultimate and four DMA2100 extenders. I have cable, and three digital boxes. However, with good spliters and a coax amplifier, the whole family find the TV easier (the remote control issue) to use with analog channels on cable.

We don't have PPV or subscibe to Movie Channels.

I installed two Hauppauge PVR-1800's so that I can record multiple shows at the same time using analog recording. Quality is very good, no jaggies that you will see in compressed digital but some ghosting. On a 24" TV using an extender, it is impossible to tell the difference between live TV and recorded TV using VMC. I also use free software to remove commercials, so the family is doing more timeshifting with less wasted time (I use a 1 TB drive dedicated to TV recordings).

In my opinion, and as Peter Near states, recording cable HD in VMC in Canada is very limited. I gave up on cable HD totally, until such time as I can record it in Windows (out-of-the box) with hacks.
 

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You said in the original post you didn't have HD yet. I wouldn't worry about it yet then. If your not doing HD you can save allot of $$. You can get a Hauppauge card for $40, a MCE remote/receiver+blaster for $30 that has emitters than will control your starchoice STB. With Vista home premium you will be up and running in no time. Also, I don't think ultimate is worth the extra $$. Spend the extra money on storage.

You can always change the tuner/capture card later on if HD comes into the picture.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks to everyone for your replies... it's GREATLY appreciated.

OK, so here are a few more questions/clarifications....

1. I already own an old WinTV box. Is this sufficient for what I need or do I need to buy something else?

2. I have seen a few "dual tuners". Is that the same as getting 2 tuner cards? Is it better to get USB or a PCIe card?

3. I have 3 Starchoice receivers that I can use.

4. To Pete - the reason I would like to keep Slingbox is because it's about to work on my Blackberry (as of December 30, 2008), which at this point, Orb does not do. Perhaps I could use one of my receivers for Slingbox, and the other 2 for the tuner card(s)?

5. Does Windows Media Center sync well with Starchoice? If I'm on a TV that is configured with WMC (using my Linkysys), what does "channel changing" look like? Is it in the WMC format, or does it just tap into my Starchoice box and look exactly the same?

6. I have seen regular TV Tuner Cards and I have also seen TV Tuner Cards w/ PVR. What is the difference, since it's all connecting to a computer anyways? Can all TV Tuner cards not be used as a PVR? i.e. Is it not WMC that does the actual scheduling and recording of shows onto my computer (i.e. if I want to tell it to record channel 400 at 7:00pm).

7. I know this sounds like a really dumb question, but do the IR blasters hook up to my Linksys 2100, or do the hook up to my computer (in another room)?

8. To dajota, I actually already have Vista Ultimate, so no need to go out and buy it.

Thanks again!

Ray
 

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The WinTV PVR USB2 is one of the first encoding tuners out there. It'll work, but the picture quality might not look as good as newer cards would. You need a tuner card that does hardware MPEG2 encoding in order to have a good experience with media center. See the forum I mentioned earlier for suggestions.

Yes, dual tuners is the same as getting two tuner cards. Make sure they're both NTSC analog tuners though, there are many out there now that are one ATSC (digital antenna) and one NTSC which won't help you.

Channel changing will be transparent to you. All you'll see is the MCE guide, you'll flip channels with MCE, etc. The computer will send a signal to your starchoice box to change the channel. If it has a readout on the front, you may see it flip channels to record. If you have two boxes (which you do) it will take care of selecting which box is needed for recording. The experience is seamless from the extenders as well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Pete - thank you!!!!!!!!!! This is a HUGE help.

One final question:

In your *personal* experience, what card(s) should I buy for my setup, keeping in mind that one day, I may also like to add an HD antenna to the mix.

Thanks again!

Sincerely,
Ray
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Oh sorry, and one more thing. The card(s) that you (personally) recommend, please let me know if they come with IR blasters, or if I will need to purchase those separately.

Thanks!

Ray
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Pete - I'm going to order 2 WinTV-HVR1600 Dual TV Tuners (as I'd like to get them before Christmas). Let me know if you disagree (that this is the right choice).

Thanks again to everyone for your help!

I'm off to build a media center. :)

Ray
 

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You can't go wrong with the latest offering from Hauppauge, they seem to be the most popular, best supported, and generally good quality tuners. That said, I haven't use a Hauppauge for several years.

I personally use dual ATI Theater 550 cards. That generation of card was the first one where I said "aha, the recorded picture looks as good as/better than the live tuner on my TV". I haven't seen any need to update since then. ATI now offers Theater 650, which I assume would be as good. I've also tested the latest Avermedia cards and am happy with them.

My personal suggestion:
- pick a name you (or others) recognize. I've found that the #1 requirement for a tuner is that it has good driver support.
- make sure it's a current generation card

I don't honestly think you'll ever get usable ATSC in London, so I wouldn't waste the money/space/power on having an ATSC tuner in your machine (the cards you've suggested give you basically four tuners - 2 ATSC and 2 NTSC).

Personally, I'd look at a single Hauppauge HVR-2250. You're still going to need the Microsoft remote/IR blaster kit (because even if the tuner you get has a remote, it won't likely have the IR blaster needed to control your STB). I haven't tested the card, but I'd trust it based on the Hauppauge reputation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks Pete! I bought the 2 1600's (as I got them at a very reasonable price). I'll let you know how everything goes. Now I've got a project for over the holidays!

Ray
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
So far so good (sort of)... once I figured out that I needed to turn User Control off in Vista.... sigh.

Any idea where to get a Microsoft remote/IR blaster kit? I've looked on the Future Shop, Circuit City and Staples sites... they don't seem to carry them.

Ray
 

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And one final note - if the slingbox is also controlling one of the satellite boxes, you'll want to remove it so that the slingbox and MCE aren't both trying to take control of the tuner. Once you switch to MCE, I think you'll find that http://www.orb.com/ does the same thing as slingbox for free.
There is an add-in for MCE called Webguide that I think is even better than Orb as it integrates nicely into MCE and even allows you to schedule recordings. It is no longer under development but that shouldn't matter too much as it is quite stable and has everything you will need.

On a broader issue, although this is too late for you since you have already bought some extenders, I would recommend SageTV and Sage extenders rather than MCE as Sage supports the HD-PVR now, has no DRM and Sage is much more responsive to the needs of the market than MS is. I am not as optimistic as Peter that Win7 will support the HD-PVR, at least not with a hack. Over the last 6 months MS has gone backwards with support for HD in MCE as they broke Peter's hack to allow OTA-HD in Canada with their TV Pack release and apparently the DirecTV tuner add-in for MCE is now dead (although that is DirecTV's fault apparently and not MS's).
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Moving to HD

Well, it's been about 9 months since I last posted in this particular thread but I wanted to give you a quick update and ask a couple of questions.

The update: Everything has been running very smoothly on my HTPC. It's running Windows XP, 2 x Hauppauge WinTV 1600 MCE cards and 2 regular StarChoice (now ShawDirect) receivers.

I just picked up a 52" Sharp flat screen (1080p) and I think it's time to move into the HD world.

So now the questions: Since the last time I went through this, HD was not able to be recorded through StarChoice (or any other network for that matter in Canada) besides OTA. Has that changed at all? If I pick up an HD StarChoice dish/receiver, am I going to have any luck setting it up?

I recognize that Windows 7 brings new features... Does it help solve this HD in Canada problem?

I'm also running to Linksys Media Extenders which I hear have been terrible with Windows 7... that may play a factor as well.

Anyways, if someone could give me an update on these questions, it would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Ray
 

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Hauppauge does make an HD PVR that accepts component input. I'm not aware of any other solution for enabling this at the moment.
 

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With Bell (unsure about ShawDirect) there is also the R5000 which uses modified STBs. They're expensive though. With Rogers boxes you can use the Firewire to record directly off the box but there are numerous issues with that.

The best solution is probably the mentioned Hauppauge HD PVR which uses component input. It connects to your PC using USB and requires a third party app to work with Media Center (DVBLink). It works with Xbox 360 extenders but not the Linksys ones.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
So am I to understand then that if I replace my Hauppage WinTV 1600 MCE cards with 2 Hauppage HD PVR's, that this will give me full HD viewing/recording?

Additionally, am I to understand that my 3 Linksys Media Extenders will not work with these PVRs? If that is the case, is going out and purchasing 3 XBox 360s my only option?

Thanks in advance.

Ray
 

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Ray:

That is correct. Additionally, you'll need to purchase DVBSBridge for the HDPVR to get Media Center to recognize it.

The XBox 360 is the only extender I know of that can play back the MPEG4 recordings that come from the HDPVR.

Pete
 
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