Can an HTPC compete with the cable company's DVR? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 08:51 AM - Thread Starter
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By "compete", I mean offer comparable features at a competitive cost. It's fair to say they're apples and oranges (owning your own HTPC beats leasing a closed-box DVR, and an HTPC is a cool DIY project), but that's not the point for everyone. I recently got fed up with Time Warner's prices ($60/mo for a basic HD package with 1 tuner, no discounts) - and cut loose. I was hoping to replace it with an HTPC.

My goals/needs:
  • Watch open DTV channels via QAM as well as ATSC support
  • PVR
  • 1080i component out (still got a 32" CRT HDTV which works fine, just no HDMI/DVI in)
  • Being able to browse the web on the TV will be nice - e.g. for watching HBO Go with little hassle
  • Compact chassis (2 rack units or smaller)

Are there any well-performing configurations that can do all of the above for less than $150?
Time Warner will rent an HD-DVR for $10/mo. If a budget HTPC runs $250 nowadays, that's 2 years of renting a box from Big Brother. Aside from the disclaimers at the top, it's hard to justify that route.

Apple TV 3 w/ XBMC comes close at $99, but no tuner. Any other options?
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post #2 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 09:58 AM
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For $150? No.

How do you plan to watch HBOGo without having a cable subscription?
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post #3 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 03:46 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zon2020 View Post

How do you plan to watch HBOGo without having a cable subscription?

Not on a regular basis, but I'm sure you've heard of borrowing an HBO Go login. There are plenty of other online services that are only available via a browser and not, say, on my Sony BD player.
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post #4 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 04:42 PM
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If it is really only $10/mo to rent a DVR, that is extremely cheap by today's standards and I would just stick with that honestly if the primary purpose of an HTPC is simply a cable box replacement to you. You sure there isnt another part to that rental fee like box rent + separate DVR service fee ala comcast or something?

Anyhow...I dont understand why people only factor a year or 2 of box rental againt hardware cost of an HTPC. Do you only plan on renting a cable box for 2 years? What are you going to do after that 2 years? I think the answer for a lot of people is keep on paying that monthly rental...and it most likely wont ever be any cheaper. That said, on the HTPC side, do you only plan on the entire setup lasting you 2yrs before throwing it in the trash and starting over? without reusing a single thing or selling off the old components? I just dont see the logic with such short term comparisons. The real comparison is over several years and beyond, while accounting for some regular component swaps along the way to keep things current. Over the long haul an HTPC will eventually pay for itself. How long depends on what the box rental rate is in your area and how extravegant you go with the HTPC.
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post #5 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 04:53 PM
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If you only need one, like me, Charter is very steep.. $5 for the STB and $20 for the DVR "fee". That makes the payback about 20 months when you include the $2 for the CableCARD. I switched to Charter from Uverse when I got the Prime and got a $20/mo promo on my package for 6 months which almost coveres the cost of the Prime so my ammoritizarion time is even less than that plus I got use out of the HTPC for a year before that.

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post #6 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 06:45 PM
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For the purpose of saving money just stick with the cable company dvr since you need to factor in the cost of a cable card tuner, as well as a good programable remote control. The htpc performs so much better than the dvr from comcast that it's not even a fair comparison. You get more tuners, more storage space, a better interface, consolidated media, commercial skipping, remote access. The benefits go on and on.
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post #7 of 11 Old 08-09-2012, 07:03 PM
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Drew, I assume you're posting from your PC. So using what you already own, plus a tuner card, you could stay within budget. Personally, my HTPC was essentially free since I built it from old parts I already had. I've been slowly upgrading it one component at a time - video card, then bigger drive, etc. There are also stand-alone solutions for OTA, like the CM-7000PAL, which will be a lot simpler. You'd just have to add a basic streaming box like Roku or blu-ray player or an XBox you may already own for the rest.
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post #8 of 11 Old 08-10-2012, 06:04 AM
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My Time Warner DVR I used to rent wasn't $10/month. I think they split it up into 2 different fees, one is around $10 for the box & an additional $10 for the DVR service, so it worked out to $20/month. Not only do you save money, but as others have stated you can do so much more with your HTPC. More tuners, more storage, etc., all with a GUI that is much more responsive, beautiful & customizable, it's not even close. As long as you don't mind tinkering a little bit to get everything dialed in right, an HTPC is defintely the way to go.
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post #9 of 11 Old 08-10-2012, 06:25 AM
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Cable company DVR boxes suck. Period. They're slow, have horrible interfaces, and you usually get jerked around on the rental fees. That all being said, it has one huge advantage over an HTPC: it's easy and cheaper in the short term.

A good HTPC will blow away anything else, no doubt, but how much do you value your time and money? A decent HTPC with a Ceton tuner is going to run you $500 minimum, more depending on what you decide you really want in it - things like small case size, quiet cooling, bluray playback, etc, all add to the build cost.

And while people like to say building HTPCs is simple, it's really not. If you enjoy tweaking and troubleshooting (which a lot of people do), then awesome! But just assume you'll be spending a lot of upfront time and at least an hour a week on the thing.
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post #10 of 11 Old 08-10-2012, 07:50 AM
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If you shop bargains you can maybe get it done for just over $500 with OS. The tech really isn't changing all that much. an i# processor from two years ago will do work so you don't need the latest thing to make an HTPC DVR set up. With STB/DVR being up to $25/mo (Charter) then it pays off in pretty short order. in my case about 20 months (not counting the $20/mo for 6 months promo I got when I switched to Charter from Uverse) and then it is all money in your pocket. If you're not trying to stream local content you don't need much more than the following:


Case $50
CPU $90
MoBo $90
RAM $30
SSD $60
HDD $80
OS $90
Tuner $140

If you are only using it as a DVR it isn't too hard to set up either. Just activate WMC and then activate the CableCARD, tuner and TA and it just works. Not much tweeking involved. MS did a great job with this portion of WMC, IMHO. It is too bad they didn't advertise it much because it is better than most CableCos DVR's. If they did advertise it I bet there would be more demand for it. Jeez they could even charge for it. Maybe people would see that MS does have an edge on Apple in cool tech stuff with this. Who knows?

As far as time with it goes, I spend no time each week tweeking things related to the DVR on my HTPC. I do however spend time adding movies to my storage drives and tweeking that part of the HTPC but as far as the DVR part, none.

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post #11 of 11 Old 08-12-2012, 02:41 PM - Thread Starter
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First of all, thanks for all the responses. I agree that the cable companies' DVRs are very clunky and limited. Also, you were right about the DVR fee. It's actually $21/mo. which makes quite a difference.

From there on it's all details - what kind of entertainment experience are you after? I felt like my investment in an HD projector was well worth it, but spending $100/mo on cable wasn't. I already have a Sony BD player so that takes care of a number of HTPC functions. I also have Netflix Bluray+streaming and am really dissatisfied. Netflix mail-in catalog is the only one that covers the movies I like, yet they're completely behind on acquiring Blu-Ray discs that have been in the market for a while. (Their online catalog is a joke like we all know.) Even with a beefy internet connection and Hulu+Netflix+Amazon+HBO, very few titles are available at a quality that rivals Blu-Ray and you're at the mercy of tonight's server load. So no HTPC is going to fix that.

I also have a CRT HDTV with no DVI/HDMI inputs. The display quality is excellent and it compliments the projector, but the lack of an HD tuner and digital input is an additional complication which might make it a project to undertake before an HTPC. (Getting rid of the 120lbs behemoth and spending $100's on an LCD that doesn't look as good.)
I'm a video & IT technician so no stranger to tinkering with electronics, it's more that I don't have the attention span for yet another project right now... too busy tinkering with electronics all day at work.

That said, I thougt that an $80 machine like a Dell Optiplex 755 USFF PC (Core 2 Duo) would do fine for MythTV and recording 1 stream of OTA HD. Add $250 for tuner, video HDD and some extras and it should do fine (or so I thought from all the FAQs). My main computer is a Macbook Pro but I think an HTPC needs to be a dedicated machine. I have a Mac G5 and two Pentium 4 PC's lying around, but figured they're too weak, massive, and power-hungry for the task (a big old computer might not be such a bargain if it costs $200 a year in electricity bills).
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