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post #1 of 10 Old 01-12-2012, 02:21 PM - Thread Starter
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Several years ago I used to troll around on the AVSforum as I was learning about plasma displays, scalers, DVRs, etc. But what I've always really wanted was an HTPC that did the things I needed in one box. A week ago I ran across a link to the SiliconDust site and then I found information about the FCC requiring over the counter access to CableCards. So now it's on!

I've tried to come up to speed on Ceton, SiliconDust, Media Extenders, etc. Mostly by reading some of the longer information laden threads here on the AVSforum.

I've reached a point where I need some direction. I've got four displays in my house, 3 driven by BrightHouse DVRs (Cisco) and one with a Tivo Series3 (Lifetime) and an Xbox360 for games. The Tivo and Xbox are local to that display (70" DLP) while the other displays are all driven from a central closet using Knoll baluns ... two HDMI and one Component.

When I had my house built, I went a little over the edge and I had two cable bundles run to each room. Each bundle has 2 CAT5e and 2 RG-6QS in it and they all come back to a central room where I keep my servers, router, DOCSIS modem, switchs, AP, etc, all in a 19" rack.

In most cases, my displays are flat on a wall with little space behind them so that's why the cable DVRs are all remotely located in the media closet. The Knoll baluns backhaul the IR signals so I'm good there.

But as I noted above, I have BrightHouse and I hate them. I hate paying $21/month for each DVR that doesn't talk to any of the others. I hated that they would roll a truck just to install a CableCard in a Tivo and charge you for the fact that it took the tech days to get it done. I could go on, but I suspect many of you know what I mean.

So I'm quite positive that I want to put together an HTPC running MCE under Win7 64-bit. And I know that I'll either use the Ceton PCIe card or the SiliconDust HDHRPrime. I would lean toward the HDHRPrime because there are a couple of iPads in the house that could benefit from being able to allocate a tuner over the wireless network now and then.

So here's what I don't fully understand. Why do I have to use a Media Extender to drive displays other than the one hooked to the main HTPC? Why can't I install a couple of dual port video cards in the HTPC with HDMI on them and drive my four displays ... 3 over baluns? I'm sitting in front of a Win7 64-bit system at work with 4 19" displays driven by a pair of NVidia cards in the machine and it works well.

If I can drive all 4 displays from the HTPC, can I enable 4 incoming IR ports where each controls a specific display?

With the announcement of the Ceton extender (versus getting an old Xbox) I see this as less of a problem. I can put the HTPC and 2 extenders in my media closet and direct the backhauled IR to each of them. I would just drive the fourth display using the Xbox that's already sitting next to it. But I'm curious as to why a multi-display setup isn't done on MCE under Win7. There must be some issue with MCE itself that won't handle the multiple displays and multiple inbound IR control signals.

I don't do 1080p, 5.1 or 7.1 audio, or anything else particularly demanding. Maybe there's something I'm not seeing, like perhaps there are no video cards with dual HDMI on them ... only dual DVI.

What say you, is a 4 HDMI out / 4 IR in HTPC possible or am I better off going with the flow using one HTPC and 3 media extenders?
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post #2 of 10 Old 01-12-2012, 02:54 PM
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I don't think MCE will multi-instance that way. Also, it's remote logic is pretty primitive. I use a dual-screen PC for HT, but at any one time only use one screen for output (24" monitor or projector). Using an extender effectively turns the PC into a server - it gets the file to the extender rather than getting the screen output signal there.
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post #3 of 10 Old 01-12-2012, 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by BillBragg View Post

I would lean toward the HDHRPrime because there are a couple of iPads in the house that could benefit from being able to allocate a tuner over the wireless network now and then.

Couple words of caution, I don't know, don't think that an iPad can directly access an HD Homerun, and even if it can, don't expect it to work in all cases. If your provider (Brighthouse) had the programming flagged Copy Once, then DRM will prevent anything but a Windows Media Center machine from viewing those programs from the HD Homerun Prime (or Ceton).

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So here's what I don't fully understand. Why do I have to use a Media Extender to drive displays other than the one hooked to the main HTPC? Why can't I install a couple of dual port video cards in the HTPC with HDMI on them and drive my four displays ... 3 over baluns? I'm sitting in front of a Win7 64-bit system at work with 4 19" displays driven by a pair of NVidia cards in the machine and it works well.

But you've got only one input device on your work machine. Driving multiple displays is easy, but there are a couple problems. One being that AFAIK you can only run one instance of Windows Media Center at a time. And second being that Windows is only set up to support one input at a time, it's not set up to support multiple simultaneous user sessions with unique input.

It's more than just MCE, it's Windows, and really all computer OS's that I've seen in general. They're really only set up to support one user at a time. What I mean is, try hooking two mice up to a computer. What happens is they "fight" over the cursor, both mice control the same cursor. Same thing happens with Keyboards, keypresses from both keyboards go to whatever app is in "focus", and you can't have more than one app in focus at the same time.

About the only exception is with something like Windows Server, where multiple people can be logged in simultaneously, but even then that only works if they're logged in remotely from another PC.

See what an anamorphoscopic lens can do, see movies the way they were meant to be seen
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post #4 of 10 Old 01-12-2012, 03:57 PM
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Typically, once you enable cloning your display(s) are no longer HDCP compliant and anything marked copy protected will not play back. You'll get a message indicating your display is not HDCP capable even tho it is.

However, I have read on these very same forums that certain video cards and even the onboard Intel HD3000 graphics of the latest generation Sandy Bridge processors allow this? I haven't tried so I will leave that up to others on the forum to chime in on that. If that's possible it will help simplify my own setup.

I have a similar situation as you. I wasn't lucky enough to be able to build my house from the ground up with wiring I wanted in place (2nd owner), but I did spend 3 months punching holes in walls and crawling around the attic running my cabling throughout the house before painting the place. I also have a central rack for all the A/V equipment with just flat panels hanging on the walls in each room with no wires or equipment in sight. I did this in 2006 so HDMI distribution technology was virtually non existant at the time. I'm using component video for the distribution and HDMI for the local displays in the home theater (a plasma and a projector) where the rack is.

If you cannot use clone mode on your video cards because of the copy protection issue, you can instead use an HDMI splitter or matrix switch to send the A/V to your remote displays. Some of the better ones have CAT5e outputs and can route IR as well. The problem here is that you will have to watch the same content on all the displays. If you're ok with that, then an investment of a couple of hundred will get you a basic HDMI splitter (HDMI in and HDMI out only) that you can hook up to your existing infrastructure and you're done.

If you want to be able to watch different Media Center content on each display then you can either build a full blown Media Center PC for as many independent sources as you want or one Media Center PC and as many extenders as you wish. Both solutions have their pluses and minuses.

The extenders solution will give you 80% of the Media Center experience. Unfortunately, one big drawback is that you cannot stream anything in your Movies library easily (meaning your DVD library, whether that is a DVD ripped to a hard drive or network share or a DVD disc loaded into the Media Center's local drive). It's just not supported by Media Center. There are hacks to get this working using some creative software but it doesn't always work because DVDs need to be ripped or recompressed in a certain format. Forget about blu-rays. If you decide to use transcoding, then you will have to use an Xbox 360 as your extender. Speaking of, the Xbox is the only extender on the market right now anyway. Linksys and D-Link used to make extenders but they have been discontinued for at least a couple of years now. Other applets may not work either such as Netflix streaming. The Xboxes have their own Netflix applet however but you would have to exit out of the media center extender interface and go into Netflix. Some other applets may not work on the extenders. Also, if your Media Center PC dies for whatever reason, your extenders become useless as extenders. Advantages to using the extender approach is that it will cost less in equipment to buy Xboxes than build individual Media Centers, Recorded TV will automatically be consolidated across the Media Center and the extenders, there are no issues playing back copy protected TV shows (copy protected shows can only be played back on the device that recorded it; think of the extender as just a terminal. The PC is the device actually doing the playback), there is only one TV recording schedule to maintain. Basically, the extender approach is ideal if TV content is more important to you.

Individual media centers let you work around the Movies library issue. You can rip your DVDs/Blu-rays to one location and point all your media centers to that location. You'll be able to play back the entire library on any of the machines. Unfortunately, sharing TV recordings becomes a problem. You can share the TV library but anything marked copy protected will only play back on the machine that made the recording. For example, just about everything on National Geographic on Cablevision is marked copy protected so I could not play back those shows on other machines. Or, even if I reinstalled Windows 7 on the same machine, I would not be able to play it back off the bat. OTOH, nothing is marked copy protected on FiOS. You could play back anything recorded off FiOS on any Windows machine (maybe even Macs), Media Center is not even necessary. Another issue is maintained the Recorded TV schedule. Dedicate one machine to the task? What if you're at another machine and want to record something?

There are a lot of other pluses and minuses to both scenarios but I'm just trying to highlight the bigger ones. What I'm doing is this:

I have one Media Center PC with one Ceton cablecard tuner (4 tuners) and two Hauppauge HVR-2250 ATSC (over the air) dual tuners (4 tuners). That gives me 4 tuners for cable recordings and 4 tuners for OTA. I use the OTA tuners for any broadcast shows I want to record because none are marked copy protected and the FCC regulates the bitrate whereas the cable companies can recompress the broadcast channels and even mark these shows as copy protected. At one point, the ATSC broadcast was clearly sharper than Cablevision's broadcast of the same show but lately it looks like they're not recompressing the signal as much so I would say it's comparable. Besides, Media Center has logic built into it to know that 7.1 ABC OTA is the same as 707 ABC Cable and will consolidate it. It will use 7.1 to record but if for whatever reason the antenna isn't working it will use the cable channel to record. Also, recording broadcast shows OTA frees up the cable tuners to record cable shows. The Media Center PC is hooked up via HDMI to my plasma and projector in the home theater as well as a 7.1 audio system for movies using HDMI splitters.

I have an Xbox and two Linksys DMA-2100 extenders in the rack as well. They are hooked up via component video (as well as a PS3, a Wii and a standard HD cable box) to my matrix switch which distributes to the 4 other displays throughout the house and the home theater plasma and projector thru their component video inputs over a pair of CAT5 cables. I don't use the Xbox as an extender very much (although it is set up to be one) because of the power draw. It pulls around 100 watts compared to about 12 watts for each Linksys. My family just turns off the displays when they're done, leaving the Linksys extenders on. If I was using an Xboxes as an extender, it would eat up a lot of power when nobody is using it (~200W compared to ~24W).

Using this setup means that I can watch TV, live or recorded on any display with up to 3 different shows on almost any display (almost because the 3rd show must be viewed via the Media Center PC on a display in the home theater). I cannot watch movies on the remote displays but that is comprimise we were able to make. If someone wants to watch a movie, they will have to watch in the home theater. Besides, its the only room set up for 7.1. Everywhere else is just stereo using the built in speakers on the TV. As a side note, since I keep my Movie library on a network server the more tech savvy individuals in my family know how to pull up those movies on their computers and watch that way if they really wanted to without going into the home theater room. They could run a cable from their bedroom computers (they already have Windows 7 w/Media Center) to another input on their TVs and watch that way. Hmm... something to try in the future...

I'm starting to look into HDbaseT/HDMI matrix switches to replace my component video matrix switch. This will allow a higher resolution to the displays and make the Media Center PC available to all displays as well. Something you may want to look into is Ceton's new Q and extender. It was announced at CES and it is basically a Windows Media Center PC (running Win7 embedded) plus their own software to enhance the Media Center experience. Some speculate it may do Movie sharing to their extenders which would complete the experience.
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post #5 of 10 Old 01-13-2012, 09:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by stanger89 View Post

Couple words of caution, I don't know, don't think that an iPad can directly access an HD Homerun, and even if it can, don't expect it to work in all cases. If your provider (Brighthouse) had the programming flagged Copy Once, then DRM will prevent anything but a Windows Media Center machine from viewing those programs from the HD Homerun Prime (or Ceton).

I hadn't investigated the Elgato app for the iPad completely enough. Apparently, there has to be a MAC somewhere on the network to do that translation from the HDHRPrime before it can be used by the iPad. It looks like the software for the MAC is actually somewhat like MCE in that is records and plays live TV as well. In that case, it looks like the iPads are then wireless Media Extenders. Thanks for your callout on that one. It made me take a closer look.

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But you've got only one input device on your work machine. Driving multiple displays is easy, but there are a couple problems. One being that AFAIK you can only run one instance of Windows Media Center at a time. And second being that Windows is only set up to support one input at a time, it's not set up to support multiple simultaneous user sessions with unique input.

It's more than just MCE, it's Windows, and really all computer OS's that I've seen in general. They're really only set up to support one user at a time.

I was reflecting back on my Xwindows/UNIX experience of old I suppose. Today, Windows supports multiple input / user sessions via the RDP. But as you've noted, that doesn't get me driving multiple local displays. I guess what I was asking was if anyone has written software to allow for multiple IR inputs and allowing multiple local MCE sessions to display to separate directly attached displays. Apparently not.

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Originally Posted by seang86s View Post

The extenders solution will give you 80% of the Media Center experience. Unfortunately, one big drawback is that you cannot stream anything in your Movies library easily (meaning your DVD library, whether that is a DVD ripped to a hard drive or network share or a DVD disc loaded into the Media Center's local drive). It's just not supported by Media Center. There are hacks to get this working using some creative software but it doesn't always work because DVDs need to be ripped or recompressed in a certain format. Forget about blu-rays.

Bummer. But if it's just the extenders that can't play the ripped DVDs, I can live with it. Like you noted, I can always put in an HDMI switch and dedicated player if I need to.

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If you decide to use transcoding, then you will have to use an Xbox 360 as your extender. Speaking of, the Xbox is the only extender on the market right now anyway.

Yeah, I'm encouraged by the new Ceton extender though. I'd love to see it at $99 a pop.

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...Basically, the extender approach is ideal if TV content is more important to you.

I would say that TV content is by far the most important across the familiy. If I can still rip DVD's to the main HTPC and view them in the family room, that would be fine.

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There are a lot of other pluses and minuses to both scenarios but I'm just trying to highlight the bigger ones. What I'm doing is this: ....

Having reviewed your setup, I think for my purposes one main HTPC on the main display where we all watch movies and then Media Extenders driving signals to the remote displays for TV/DVR use is where I want to be. And yes, I'm keen on that new Ceton extender for this. Even if they're just stacked up in the rack in the media closet. It appears from the marketing blurb that it brings a better MCE experience to the remote display at the expense of no gaming.

I like your OTA setup as well. I'm pretty sure my MSO marks everything they can legally mark as harshly as is possible and they are probably even marking some content that they should not be ... but it's the BrightHouse way.

I appreciate all of your input. And since it's clear that I can't drive multiple displays out of MCE, then I can probably stick to an i5 level HTPC solution with three extenders and save some money there. Had the 4 display option been viable, I'm sure I would have been deep into an expensive CPU/GPU solution.

Thanks to all.
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post #6 of 10 Old 01-13-2012, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by BillBragg View Post

I hadn't investigated the Elgato app for the iPad completely enough. Apparently, there has to be a MAC somewhere on the network to do that translation from the HDHRPrime before it can be used by the iPad. It looks like the software for the MAC is actually somewhat like MCE in that is records and plays live TV as well. In that case, it looks like the iPads are then wireless Media Extenders. Thanks for your callout on that one. It made me take a closer look.

Well actually it looks like the app runs on your iPad so you don't need a Mac anywhere, but I would look through the FAQ before you jump in:
http://www.elgato.com/elgato/na/main...me-app.en.html

Quote:


At this time, Elgato's HDHomeRun app cannot play CableCard channels that are tagged as Copy Once. These channels are subject to a much more stringent digital rights management (DRM) system than Copy Freely channels. DRM systems restrict what you can do with TV programming once it is in your device, such as recording for later viewing, or copying, or exporting.

The only approved DRM system at the moment is Windows Media DRM, which is not available on Mac OS X or iOS.

Channels that are tagged Copy Never such as Pay-Per-View and Video-On-Demand are not supported at all by current CableCard technology.


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post #7 of 10 Old 01-13-2012, 10:55 AM - Thread Starter
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Well actually it looks like the app runs on your iPad so you don't need a Mac anywhere, but I would look through the FAQ before you jump in:
http://www.elgato.com/elgato/na/main...me-app.en.html

You'd think as media savvy as Apple is that they'd have the whole DRM stuff down and qualified with CableLabs by now. Honestly, it's shocking to me that of all the companies in the computer/media space that it would be Microsoft that has earned the qualification. Now that they have it, I'm sure they are thinking of discontinuing MCE. I'm just saying ... they've done crazier stuff before.

Do the Ceton and SiliconDust products let you see the flags on the channels once you have them configured? Perhaps using some internal debugging tool to inspect the streams?
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post #8 of 10 Old 02-02-2012, 09:06 AM
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To the OP, I'm gonna jump in on this and give some feedback on my experiences so far as a relatively new user, and also pose a few questions/suggestions that I don't have answers to (yet):

I'm a sports junkie. Football particularly, and Saturday's specifically. I currently have 5 HDTVs in my house; 3 of them are in one room. It's a room built to showcase multiple live sporting events all at one time.

Up until last week, I was doing so by a complicated, cumbersome, system of wires and slingboxes, with one local Comcast DVR, one sling catcher, 3 "independent" cable inputs (no "splitters"), and one of their stupid standard def "Digital Adapters" (the "transfer to digital" really made things more difficult/cumbersome, but I won't bore you with the details).

Last week I finally "took the plunge" into the HTPC world. I bought a quad-core PC running Windows 7, an AMD ATI Graphics Card, 16 gigs of RAM and 4 TB of internal hard drive space. I installed a Ceton InfiniTV cable card, which as you know can tune and record 4 channels at once.

First, the positives:
1) Outside of problems with my Norton Firewall, setup was relatively painless, and integration with WMC is fantastic.

2) Everything that is slow and annoying about one of those $20-a-month cable boxes is fast and seemless in WMC.

3)Having four tuners and one "central recording location" is nice, and paying the cable company $6-$7 a month for one M-Card instead of $19-$20 a month for one of their stupid boxes is satisfying.

4) I already owned an XBox 360, located upstairs on my "Home Theater" set-up. Integration as a WMC Extender was likewise painless, and now ALL of my digital music on my hard-drive is readily available upstairs on my "best stereo". Very cool. And convenient.

5) My cable company (Comcast, here in Southwestern PA) doesn't appear to be flagging much content, including live sports over cable network channels, as Copy Once. Great news if this is true for you as well.


Now, some negatives:
A) I have 3 TV's side-by-side. Now, because I read AVS, I knew before I purchased/installed that this supposedly wouldn't work, and so far I can confirm that I don't see/haven't found a way to make it work, but despite having 3 screens right next to each other, 3 unique outputs from my graphics card (1 HDMI, 1 DVI, and 1 VGA), and 3+ seperate TV tuners available, even though I can extend my desktop to multiple screens I cannot run multiple instances of WMC. If I could? That would be fantastic. But I don't believe it's possible, and even though I knew that was the case before I bought it, I still find it to be disappointing.

B) We also have a laptop running Windows Vista Home Premier, which means it also has WMC installed. Although I haven't yet gotten it fully integrated (I hope to make progress with that tonight, I think I need to enable some sort of "network sharing" of the folders on the HTPC first) yet, it appears that I will not be able to take over a tuner "live" on that laptop. I suppose a workaround would be to start a recording and then have that laptop play the file while the recording is being made, but this is likewise disappointing. I had assumed that other WMC-capable PCs (be it laptops or netbooks) would be able to grab a tuner whenever. That doesn't appear to be the case.

C) "Remote Potato" (which I'm currently trying to get to work) should allow mobile devices or other PCs without WMC installed to access HTPC content, but again, they can't get access to a Live tuner. You have to start a recording and then begin playback.

D) Xbox 360's are cool, and I was impressed with all of it's functionality when I paired it to the HTPC, but I already own one. They're loud, they draw a lot of power, and at $300, the most bare-bones "to be used as WMC Extender only" costs about as much as a half-decent Netbook that would be a great extender if only for limitations discussed in "B" above.



So what can we do for "extenders" that don't cost an arm-and-a-leg, and will be able to grab live-tuners and have some useful functionality? Right now I'm contemplating adding one of the SiliconDust products. If a mobile apple device can access a tuner live (without something like Remote Potato), and your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch has HDMI out, then why can't any of these devices (particularly iPod Touch's) function as "extenders" to a TV? Additionally, if I'm reading their website correctly, I think laptops/netbooks might also be able to grab a Live tuner, whereas they don't appear to be able to do so with my currently-installed Ceton InfiniTV card.

Just some feedback for you, both positive and negative, about my experiences so far, and some thoughts/ideas that I haven't had a chance to work through yet. I hope to have Remote Potato and the laptop's WMC instance functioning tonight, and if I find anything surprising I'll share my findings.
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post #9 of 10 Old 02-02-2012, 10:23 AM
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So what can we do for "extenders" that don't cost an arm-and-a-leg, and will be able to grab live-tuners and have some useful functionality? Right now I'm contemplating adding one of the SiliconDust products. If a mobile apple device can access a tuner live (without something like Remote Potato), and your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch has HDMI out, then why can't any of these devices (particularly iPod Touch's) function as "extenders" to a TV? Additionally, if I'm reading their website correctly, I think laptops/netbooks might also be able to grab a Live tuner, whereas they don't appear to be able to do so with my currently-installed Ceton InfiniTV card.

Ebay is full of media center extenders for under $100.

XBOX 360 was $140 at Target on black friday. (the quiet one)

Ebay is also full of XBOX 360's, some have broken DVD drives and sell for $30. You don't need a DVD drive to use it as an extender.

6 TV's in the house on FiOS and we only pay $4.99/month to connect them all!!! Power to the CableCard and WMC7!!!
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post #10 of 10 Old 02-02-2012, 10:37 AM
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Ebay is full of media center extenders for under $100.

XBOX 360 was $140 at Target on black friday. (the quiet one)

Ebay is also full of XBOX 360's, some have broken DVD drives and sell for $30. You don't need a DVD drive to use it as an extender.

bleuiedgod,

Am I correct in believing that my Windows Vista laptop (with WMC installed) will not be able to access a TV Tuner live from my Ceton InfiniTV, installed in my HTPC? It will be able to access music, pictures, and even TV recordings, but not live TV?

And if so, would adding a network HDHomeRun (or "Prime") solve that problem? Would laptops/netbooks be able to grab the 2-6 "SiliconDust" tuners?
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