Replace cable co dvr with htpc, worth the hassle? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 12:31 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm on Time Warner Cable and want to cut out the cost of $20 a month for their dvr so I considered replacing it with HTPC. I already have an old Dell XPS 420, Win7, and media center remote and I'm trying out the HDHomeRun Prime right now but this is where I question the choice. I've only had it for a few days and when it works it's great, but so far everyday there's something that I have to fix like losing random channel signals (not because of weak signals), rebooting/reset, or issues with WMC. Sure TWC cable box isn't great but it's mostly hassle free and I'm ok with the storage space. So in the long run, is it really worth putting up with the issues over paying the monthly fees? Or am I doing something wrong with my setup? Plus my power usage might rival the rental fee?

On another note, it seems like most of the issues is with WMC so is there a way or device where I can just bypass it altogether? I'm a HTPC noob so any advice is appreciated.
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post #2 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 02:49 PM
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I've been *fighting* with my HTPC for four and a half years. It is not only my primary DVR, it is the only way to watch TV in my house. And for me, I'm unable to go back, no matter how frustrating a HTPC can be. The reality is that the features and functionality of Windows Media Center far outweigh the cost and aggravation. And keep in mind, that I have FiOS instead of TWC, which has a much better DVR solution. And I also get a chance to play with just about every DVR out there, as part of my work.

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post #3 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 02:55 PM
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Once you get it set up correctly, it's trouble-free. I had problems too at first, but haven't had to touch anything after getting them resolved. If you set your computer to sleep when not in use, you'll save a lot on power. It will wake whenever you record or watch tv.

It would be nice to bypass, but WMC is the only option for cable tv at the moment.

Just attack your issues one at a time and you'll end up with a rock solid system.
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post #4 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 03:44 PM
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IMO, the most reliable thing to do is to for WMC is this:

-setup WMC on a clean Windows installation,
- make very minimal adjustments (like installing mychannel logos, Ceton Companion services)
-tell your bios to restart the computer automatically in the event of a power outage
-remove the monitor, keyboard, and mouse
-put it in a corner somewhere
-stop messing with it

Then use extenders for live television and DVR. This was reliable enough to setup for my parents. I wouldn't dream of setting up an HTPC for them that they interface with directly. I personally think the full Windows operating system has wait too much baggage. Too much can go wrong, especially as you make more changes. Maybe I just have bad luck (for instance, anytime I ever installed Shark codecs, live TV would just completely break, forcing me to reinstall Windows), but that's my experience. And don't get me started on Catalyst...

Anyways, I also have things set up this way at home, and for personal media I've starting using OpenELEC. I have found the OpenELEC + WMC extender combination excellent, and I will never use a Windows based HTPC again.
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post #5 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 04:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lockdown571 View Post

IMO, the most reliable thing to do is to for WMC is this:
-setup WMC on a clean Windows installation,
- make very minimal adjustments (like installing mychannel logos, Ceton Companion services)
-tell your bios to restart the computer automatically in the event of a power outage
-remove the monitor, keyboard, and mouse
-put it in a corner somewhere
-stop messing with it
Then use extenders for live television and DVR. This was reliable enough to setup for my parents. I wouldn't dream of setting up an HTPC for them that they interface with directly. I personally think the full Windows operating system has wait too much baggage. Too much can go wrong, especially as you make more changes. Maybe I just have bad luck (for instance, anytime I ever installed Shark codecs, live TV would just completely break, forcing me to reinstall Windows), but that's my experience. And don't get me started on Catalyst...
Anyways, I also have things set up this way at home, and for personal media I've starting using OpenELEC. I have found the OpenELEC + WMC extender combination excellent, and I will never use a Windows based HTPC again.

It was over a year ago that that was an issue for me. It has been smooht sailing since at least May of this year.

I did the HDHR Prime in June and after initial set up it has been working very well. It is the CableCo Tuning Adapter that causes me issues. Also, when they add new channels or when my billing method changed recently, I lost pairing but that was a minor frustration and I've seen it happen with their DVR too during these same events so I think it is on their end. I have my HTPC connected direct to my AVR and then to the HDTV (monitor so to speak) and I have a mini wireless keyboard that rarely gets used.

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post #6 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by bdraw View Post

I've been *fighting* with my HTPC for four and a half years. It is not only my primary DVR, it is the only way to watch TV in my house. And for me, I'm unable to go back, no matter how frustrating a HTPC can be. The reality is that the features and functionality of Windows Media Center far outweigh the cost and aggravation. And keep in mind, that I have FiOS instead of TWC, which has a much better DVR solution. And I also get a chance to play with just about every DVR out there, as part of my work.

I, too, have FiOS and am potentially looking at building a HTPC for both live TV and Blu-ray playback. Do you see any video quality degradation or feature loss using 7MC?
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post #7 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 05:32 PM
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I think you're likely to get rather biased answers on this site, but I can tell you I've had very little problem since setting up my HDHR Prime--once I figured out a special network setting for direct connecting the HDHR to my computer (as opposed to a network).

Still things sometimes do happen. Just yesterday I was getting dropped frames sporadically, and at first I thought it was a video card setting issue. It turned out for some reason my Blu-Ray software was still running, taking up almost half my CPU cycles, and Chrome was also eating up a lot of cycles. I've not had that occur before, but the point is troubleshooting skills are useful.

BTW, what I like best about the HTPC is not having to constantly switch connections on my TV--everything is through the HTPC, and not having to use a remote (I use a mouse instead). I'd pay $20 a month to avoid giving up either advantage.
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post #8 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 06:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Thx for the replies. I figured the opinnions here would be biased, but i was hoping for devil's advocate smile.gif

I have it running on a newly installed Win7 and connected to my HDTV. So far my main two headaches are when it randomly loses tv signal or when WMC will just not recognize the tuners and freezes. What happens with the no signal error is that sometimes a channel I was watching early would show no signal when I tune to it again. Even more frustrating when I miss recordings because of it. A lot of time I would get a pop up saying the channel timed out. The WMC thing, well in the few days I've had it, I had to reset WMC twice.

By full windows experience, you mean having other programs installed? Or is there a way to strip it down even more?
Can the bios restart the computer if the power is out? For me, when the power comes back, my pc is just off.

I've gotten faster at fixing problems and if I just leave it alone, it seems to be ok for awhile except for that no signal thing. There doesn't seem to be a reason for that. If I can get it to be more reliable, then I would ditch the cable co dvr.
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post #9 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 06:18 PM
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You can get this to work well if the cable signal to your home is decent. You may need to use something like a Motorola amp to boost the signal. I personally have had my share of adventures with the Ceton but it works well enough now that i am running the Ceton 99.9 percent of the time, My Tivo is just doing backup duty and will likely get mothballed soon. I don't really think that using the Ceton in a full fledged HTPC is the way to go af first.Test, Test, Test!.

I run mine Ceton host 24x7 and run no other apps on it. A full suite of HTPC apps is there but I don't use them. I would put the Ceton at the most advantageous spot cable drop wise and then use either and extender or a dedicated client PC ro run a networked tuner for each display.

My brother finally after fighting bad cable drops and a bad Ceton card has two Cetons running in a headless i3 Win 7 box in his server room and uses simple intel Pentium or i3 SB mini-itx clients or extenders through out his house. To say getting it working right was vodoo would be an understatement. I would not go through what he did. I would have thrown the whole mess off the second floor balcony. But now that is sorted a year later he is very pleased with its performance.

The newer Ceton cards are just plain better hardware, the newest firmware is better, having Comcast replace all the coax on the street priceless. Without the Motorola amp though forget about it. The problem is YMMV. Lots of people have this working robustly. Depending on the provider and the wire you may have great succerss with minimal effort, on the other hand....

I don't even run the Aero interface on Ceton host box, a vanilla SB i3. I do run2 dual HD Homerun ATSC tuners. The Tivo HD is unqquestionably a more robust signal captuire device then the Ceton. Still the Ceton I have gets the job done. If WAF is critical you could be held to the Cable STB or Tivo standard of availability. Again though, you never know about your individual signal. If you have trouble with the providers equipment capturing and locking to signals then don't expect Cetons or HD Primes to do it better because they don't

My final thought is that things are muich more likely to go really well today than a year ago.

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post #10 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 06:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Not sure what WAF is. Right now signal strength doesn't seem to be a problem. I just had one time where a bunch of HD channels was getting bad signals but it went back to normal shortly after. My other concern with HTPC is that if any component stops working then the replacement cost may outweight the monthly fees. I live right by the TWC office and can exchange the parts easily which is one of the few good points about using their equipment. So basically so far the advantage of set top box are simple plug and play and no cost replacement, which I've done many many times.
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post #11 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 06:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shinaku View Post

By full windows experience, you mean having other programs installed? Or is there a way to strip it down even more?
Can the bios restart the computer if the power is out? For me, when the power comes back, my pc is just off.

If you really want to strip it down, you can go this route.

Every motherboard I've ever used as an option to automatically turn the computer back on once power is restored.
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post #12 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 06:52 PM
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WAF, Wife acceptance factor. My point is that you really don't know about the quality of your signal in the sense it might work fine on the CableCos equipment and give you trouble on the Ceton or HD Prime.. A simple SB i3 box with Win 7 is all you need if you choose to run the PC attached to the TV. They are pretty robust. You will get the occasional burp because MS did a Windows Update and breaks something. They recently broke a number of folks Electronic Program Guides with an update. This required rerunning Windows Media Cetnter TV Signal Setup. If you have a PC around that is fairly modern it should not be a problem. I have Comcast so I don't have to deal with Tuning Adapters... that can make life painful. Time Warner is one provider that I believe uses them in some markets.

I use the remote that came with an HP Windows Media Extender. It is a nice solution because it has a pretty complete set of Windows Media Keys and it is a full universal remote. I have my Denon, my big Mits and the PC run from the remote. You can obvious do this from a Harmony... I am just kind of partial to having a Green Button etc on my remote and still have good control of my DVD player, TV, AVR and the PC. WAF is not an issue for me because my wife doesn't watch TV much and my Mom who lives with us is elderly and remote phobic. Either I change the channel or she watches what is on.

One thing that can affect WAF is whether or not sleep/suspend modes works properly. My PC will not resume from sleep so don't hit the remote power button when the PC mode on the remote is enabled. I need to work through that ultimately. For now since it is mostly me I just work around it.

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post #13 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 08:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manchild View Post

I, too, have FiOS and am potentially looking at building a HTPC for both live TV and Blu-ray playback. Do you see any video quality degradation or feature loss using 7MC?

No, I've never noticed any video quality difference, but then again, I never used the FiOS set top for any extended period of time. I played with them for a month here and there for work, but never used it full time.

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post #14 of 24 Old 12-13-2012, 08:48 PM
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Not only do I save the $20 or so for a DVR but I get the HiDef feeds of most of the channels I subscribe to. I doubt I'll ever totally recoup what I have invested in PC gear to do this however. HTPC is, however, stable enough for the wife to use. She even does stuff like puts the TV show into an always on top window so she can play SCRABBLE at the same time.
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post #15 of 24 Old 12-14-2012, 07:53 AM
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If you're having signal issues, minimize the splitters and check every connection. For my system I have a 1:2 splitter running to the HDHR Prime, and then split the second leg to run to other devices.
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post #16 of 24 Old 12-14-2012, 08:24 AM
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^^ Yup. Mine has one spltter to the modem and Prime / Tuning Adapter from the drop straight off the pole. 100% signal quality and strength nearly all the time.

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post #17 of 24 Old 12-14-2012, 09:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shinaku View Post

I'm on Time Warner Cable and want to cut out the cost of $20 a month for their dvr so I considered replacing it with HTPC. I already have an old Dell XPS 420, Win7, and media center remote and I'm trying out the HDHomeRun Prime right now but this is where I question the choice. I've only had it for a few days and when it works it's great, but so far everyday there's something that I have to fix like losing random channel signals (not because of weak signals), rebooting/reset, or issues with WMC. Sure TWC cable box isn't great but it's mostly hassle free and I'm ok with the storage space. So in the long run, is it really worth putting up with the issues over paying the monthly fees? Or am I doing something wrong with my setup? Plus my power usage might rival the rental fee?
On another note, it seems like most of the issues is with WMC so is there a way or device where I can just bypass it altogether? I'm a HTPC noob so any advice is appreciated.

What hassles?

How is your prime connected to the HTPC?

Lost signal seems to be originating with the signal it self or the tuner, HTPC has nothing to do with it.

Power use with HTPC may even be less than company provided DVR. When we had the Verizon FiOS DVR, it drew 130 Watts constantly. HTPC draws 150 when in use with all 4 tuners, and about 30 when idle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lockdown571 View Post

IMO, the most reliable thing to do is to for WMC is this:
-setup WMC on a clean Windows installation,
- make very minimal adjustments (like installing mychannel logos, Ceton Companion services)
-tell your bios to restart the computer automatically in the event of a power outage
-remove the monitor, keyboard, and mouse
-put it in a corner somewhere
-stop messing with it
Then use extenders for live television and DVR. This was reliable enough to setup for my parents. I wouldn't dream of setting up an HTPC for them that they interface with directly. I personally think the full Windows operating system has wait too much baggage. Too much can go wrong, especially as you make more changes. Maybe I just have bad luck (for instance, anytime I ever installed Shark codecs, live TV would just completely break, forcing me to reinstall Windows), but that's my experience. And don't get me started on Catalyst...
Anyways, I also have things set up this way at home, and for personal media I've starting using OpenELEC. I have found the OpenELEC + WMC extender combination excellent, and I will never use a Windows based HTPC again.

I agree, clean install, lock down in media only mode, boots right into WMC. I built one for my parents too, with a ceton card. I did not even tell them it ia computer, as that would freak them right out. There is no keyboard, no mouse, just a remote, and a box connected to their TV, and a Linksys DMA 2100 connected to the other TV. HTPC never goes to sleep, stays on at all times. Kind of "set it and forget it" thing.

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 #18 of 24 Old 12-14-2012, 12:10 PM
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Yep, if you do it right the end user won't even know a PC is involved. IR remotes and extenders do it all.

My PC peaks at 40-60W which is less than my old Dish, DirecTV and cable DVRs, and uses almost zero power in standby. My old DVRs used around 60W 24x7, even when off. So the power savings with an HTPC is significant, in my case probably 75% less energy with an HTPC vs. DVR. I can't bring myself to leave mine on 24x7, but even if I did, the power use wouldn't be all that different than a normal DVR.
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post #19 of 24 Old 12-14-2012, 07:26 PM - Thread Starter
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Well it's been a day and a half with no trouble at all. No channel time out or random no signal detected. Good sign to keep it going. I do miss the ability to watch two channels simultaneously though. I still have some weak signal time to time but its mostly likely on their end. Here's hoping to saving $20 a month smile.gif

@blueiedgod the hassles I was talking about was any kind of problem that I didn't have to deal with the twc cablebox, meaning simple plug and play. It would be frustrating if I have to mess with it everyday. My pc isn't the most efficient for HTPC, it was an old gaming pc so the power draw is probably higher than my Cisco dvr but still shouldn't be $20 a month.
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post #20 of 24 Old 12-15-2012, 08:29 AM - Thread Starter
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So that good luck didn't last. I having issues with signal quality and symbol quality dropping and causing pixelation on certain channels. Signal strength is usually around 92. Cable connection is coming from the wall and I'm guessing its split somewhere within the walls. Any ideas?
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post #21 of 24 Old 12-15-2012, 08:50 AM
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What do you live in? A house, multi-family housing? Is there any way to figure out where the connection comes into your residence? If the splitter isn't outside, it's probably in the attic, or possibly the crawlspace. I doubt it would be inside a wall.
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post #22 of 24 Old 12-15-2012, 10:07 AM - Thread Starter
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A house that was already wired and I think there should only be one splitter since I only have 2 active outlets. I have another connection that runs straight from the box outside that is connected to my modem, but I would need to use a splitter if I want to use it for tv. I was told not to do that by the tech that connected it since it would mess with the internet connection (?). The thing is, I don't know if it's the connection or not since the channels that's getting low signal/symbol quality now was working fine earlier in the week. I checked on the cable box and they work fine. Although now that I think about it, this house has always had low signal issues even with the cable box. The cable guy would come and check and said it's kinda weak and they say they would check the junction box in the neighborhood. I don't think they actually fixed anything. I really hate the fact that all I have is TWC or the even worse U-verse.
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post #23 of 24 Old 12-15-2012, 11:58 AM
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If you can gain access to the box outside without committing a felony, it would good to know what's going on out there. Based on what you said it sounds like they might have done a 1:2 splitter, with one running to your modem, and the other running to another 1:2 splitter for your two TV outlets. I have that reversed on my setup and have not had any problems with the modem, and it's a phone modem too, and I run a separate VOIP modem off it too. Comcast is my ISP.
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post #24 of 24 Old 12-15-2012, 12:14 PM - Thread Starter
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The box is locked but from what I can see, the line going to my modem is independent from the rest of the house. I remember when they set it up, they ran it directly from the box and through my wall. There may be a splitter in there, not sure. I tried putting a splitter on the modem line and the signal quality was stable in the 90% range for the problematic channels and the modem (also a phone modem) seems to be ok, though speed test did drop a bit to about 19Mbp. I was hoping not to have to use this outlet since I didn't want to run wires all the way to the tv room and I can't use power line av because it's not different breaker boxes but I'll manage it. I'll try to get the cable guy to look at the wiring too.
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