DVR or HTPC? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 04-20-2011, 11:57 AM - Thread Starter
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I was all set to buy a DVR, but I got to thinking, "A HTPC can be had for just a little more money but with a lot more function." For example, this $500 Dell Mini PC comes with Bluray and a 1TB Hard drive. All I need to do is add an HDTV tuner and I should be set.

http://dealnews.com/Dell-Inspiron-Zi...ng/455101.html

Is the HTPC more complicated and expensive than that? Or should I just stick with a DVR? Thanks.
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post #2 of 20 Old 04-20-2011, 01:04 PM
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I'm sure this might depend on what your source will be.
If just OTA, then a couple of TV tuner cards can make sense.
If on the other hand, cable or SAT service is needed/used, then a DVR might make more sense.

A.K.A. VOS
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post #3 of 20 Old 04-20-2011, 03:08 PM
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You should also take into account how much of a quality nut you are.

As versatile as HTPC's are, a general-purpose computing device (one with as many buses and electrical noise as a PC) will likely not be able to compete with the picture quality of a device designed from the ground up to deal exclusively with high definition video.

If you are after the best possible picture quality, you may want to look at some devices such as the TViX 6640n.

(this is not to say that HTPC's look bad...most have very acceptable quality. Just as the buying public often purchases lossy audio over lossless, the same is true of video)
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post #4 of 20 Old 04-20-2011, 03:43 PM - Thread Starter
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My concern of using DVR is that the process of transferring recorded materials to DVDs is time consuming. First you have to put the recorded stuff on your computer. Then you can do the editing. With a HTPC everything is on the same system.

As for quality, I am new at this but I think it would be the same because DVRs are really just small specialized computers whose internal parts are similar to if not the same as that of a HTPC.

Yeah, the Tvix DVR is the one I have been considering.
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post #5 of 20 Old 04-20-2011, 05:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Davidt1 View Post

My concern of using DVR is that the process of transferring recorded materials to DVDs is time consuming. First you have to put the recorded stuff on your computer. Then you can do the editing. With a HTPC everything is on the same system.

True, but in my case I like to watch quite a bit of it at friends homes...it's convenient to bring it over on BD or USB stick (many BD players can play HD content from USB memory sticks). I'm not lugging around a DVR, even if it is relatively small, and you can forget about lugging around a HTPC.

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As for quality, I am new at this but I think it would be the same because DVRs are really just small specialized computers whose internal parts are similar to if not the same as that of a HTPC.

This is completely wrong. Video devices such as cable TV/Sat DVR's and the TViX do NOT have many similar parts to a personal computer. The chips designed for these devices are purpose-built for a very narrow set of tasks. They tend to be quite a bit slower than, say, the CPU of a personal computer, but all of the hardware and software/firmware involved has a very specific task: AV presentation. It is both because of the lower overall cost and because of the superior AV presentation that this type of hardware is used instead of commodity x86/x64 PC parts.

Here's what the inside of my cable box DVR looks like:

Other than the hard drive, there is little resemblance to anything in my PC...no intel or AMD CPU, no Nvidia or ATI or Intel graphics, etc. What is there was designed for a very very specific task. There was no need to include noisy legacy buses that even today's newest PC's still have.

To say that the internals are mostly the same as a HTPC, and thus should deliver the same result would be akin to saying that human DNA is mostly the same as chimp DNA, so their capabilities should be roughly the same (obviously the picture and audio qualities of a HTPC are not *that* different from dedicated DVR devices, but you get the point). I'd say that, other than the clear video noise differences (which are subtle, but obvious during A/B tests), my biggest complaint against HTPC's is lackluster deinterlacing. I find that dedicated video devices do a far better job of proper deinterlacing.

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Originally Posted by Davidt1 View Post

Yeah, the Tvix DVR is the one I have been considering.

Me too. I had a TViX in 2007, and it really did have a picture quality that noticeably beat any HTPC that I A/B tested it against. The only reason I got rid of it was because it only handled MPEG2, not MPEG4 (and, at the time, MPEG4 support was glitchy on their newer units...this is no longer the case). The only reason I haven't bothered getting another is that I've learned a lot about FireWire cable TV capturing and Blu-ray disc authoring (that, plus I don't pirate stuff, so I could care less about the TViX's ability to play back .MKV's, etc...besdides, those downloads generally look like hot garbage).
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post #6 of 20 Old 04-22-2011, 01:17 AM
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If you are going to watch/record over-the-air TV, I highly recommend an HTPC with Windows 7 (as on the Dell in the first post). Windows 7 Media Center is a fantastic, easy-to-use DVR program, with an excellent and completely free program guide. Add an HDHomeRun external dual TV tuner for great performance.

No, an HTPC is not entirely hands-off, but on the other hand, if a stand-alone DVR has problems or quirks, the odds of getting major improvements are slim on most models. My Windows 7 box just runs and runs.

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"It's [expletive] lame to watch Jaws, a film that uses the 2.40 ratio as well as any ever produced, in the wrong format on HBO." -Steven Soderbergh, Oscar-winning director

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post #7 of 20 Old 04-22-2011, 03:46 AM
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Originally Posted by TNO821 View Post

You should also take into account how much of a quality nut you are.

As versatile as HTPC's are, a general-purpose computing device (one with as many buses and electrical noise as a PC) will likely not be able to compete with the picture quality of a device designed from the ground up to deal exclusively with high definition video.

If you are after the best possible picture quality, you may want to look at some devices such as the TViX 6640n.

(this is not to say that HTPC's look bad...most have very acceptable quality. Just as the buying public often purchases lossy audio over lossless, the same is true of video)

If you are looking to record OTA digital sources, and deliver them via HDMI to a display, then I don't think some of your logic holds these days - particularly as the video and audio can stay entirely in the digital domain within the HTPC.

I have both satellite and OTA DVRs, and have also built satellite and OTA HTPCs. Similarly I have standalone Blu-ray players and HTPCs with Blu-ray capabilities.

I'm also very keen to ensure high video and audio quality. These days I don't think there is a huge amount of difference. Watching a 720/50p satellite feed on my HTPC and the same feed via a standalone DVR there is very little difference in picture quality. Watching a 1080p Blu-ray played on a separate player and the same disc played on my HTPC, again very little difference - in fact I'm not sure I can see or hear any. The audio is bitstreamed over HDMI to my amp, in most cases in the same format.

In some cases I would rate the 1080p output of my PC higher quality than the 1080i output from my DVR de-interlaced by my TV (because my HTPC vector adaptive de-interlacing outperforms my Sony TV's internal de-interlacing)

The one area where DVRs win is their lack of "PC annoyances" like antivirus, Windows updates etc. Also ensuring 16-235 level consistency can be a pain with HTPCs, and ensuring 23.976Hz refresh rates for 1080p content is also tricky in some set-ups, as can be properly bitstreaming HD audio. However when all that is mastered - the results are pretty good. And the PC front-ends are often a lot better than the DVR front-ends - and you can mix sources. (I have a combined OTA and Satellite set-up in Win 7 Media Center - which is tricky to engineer with a DVR)

Whilst the quality argument held a lot of sway for analogue sources connected to displays via analogue connections, I think with the right HTPC components, and entirely digital sources and destinations, things like electrical noise become almost irrelevant.

The one area where noise IS an issue is in the RF tuner front-end of an OTA tuner card - where excessive RF noise from your PC components can cause interference to low-quality source signals and stop reliable reception. On the other hand, one of my OTA tuners (a new DVB-T2 USB stick - I'm in Europe!) is lots more sensitive than the T2 tuner in both an IDTV and a DVR.
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post #8 of 20 Old 04-22-2011, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by TNO821 View Post

This is completely wrong. Video devices such as cable TV/Sat DVR's and the TViX do NOT have many similar parts to a personal computer.

I don't think it's completely wrong, Tivo runs (or used to run when I had one) a Linux kernal. It's true they had specialized components, but HTPCs do as well, i.e. video and audio cards. While the HTPC components are more general purpose in nature, these days they're also much more powerful and can be every bit as good. Plus given that most content is digital, there's even less of a difference when dealing in that domain.

Also agree with sneals, my HTPC seems every bit as good as my Comcast DVR when it comes to picture quality. And for Blu-Ray playback, I'm able to tweak things with color control and very good quality renderers like madVR, the picture quality is top notch if you have things set up well.
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post #9 of 20 Old 04-22-2011, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

If you are looking to record OTA digital sources, and deliver them via HDMI to a display, then I don't think some of your logic holds these days - particularly as the video and audio can stay entirely in the digital domain within the HTPC.

I can agree with this...if everything stays in the digital domain (assuming there is error correction involved), I would expect the noise to be a non-issue. But I have never seen great deinterlacing performed on a HTPC, and I blame lousy software for that.

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The audio is bitstreamed over HDMI to my amp, in most cases in the same format.

Again I agree. If your HTPC is just passing through the same bits (say, from a 1080p BD), then, regardless of those bits being audio or video, I would expect the same result Vs. a dedicated video player. This depends on the software doing a proper job, which has not been my experience.

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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

In some cases I would rate the 1080p output of my PC higher quality than the 1080i output from my DVR de-interlaced by my TV (because my HTPC vector adaptive de-interlacing outperforms my Sony TV's internal de-interlacing)

Now this I find to be unbelievable. You either must have a rather old Sony TV or you need your eyes checked! TV's built-in deinterlacing is typically very very good (see the results in publications such as Home Theater magazine where they run a battery of deinterlacing tests against TV's, BD players, etc).

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The one area where DVRs win is their lack of "PC annoyances" like antivirus, Windows updates etc.

Very very true. And you never have to fight with deinterlacing.

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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

Also ensuring 16-235 level consistency can be a pain with HTPCs, and ensuring 23.976Hz refresh rates for 1080p content is also tricky in some set-ups, as can be properly bitstreaming HD audio.

Been there. Huge annoyance.

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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

PC front-ends are often a lot better than the DVR front-ends - and you can mix sources. (I have a combined OTA and Satellite set-up in Win 7 Media Center - which is tricky to engineer with a DVR).

Agreed. And I have mad respect for the Windows 7 Media Center interface. Microsoft really knocked it out of the park! It's also nice that the .wtv container that Win7 stores the recording in can be understood by VideoReDo TVSuite v4 and, if not copy-protected, can be copied to more standard container files such as .ts or .mpg.

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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

Whilst the quality argument held a lot of sway for analogue sources connected to displays via analogue connections, I think with the right HTPC components, and entirely digital sources and destinations, things like electrical noise become almost irrelevant.

I am willing to concede that the electrical noise argument matters less and less, as long as everything is both digital and has error-correction.

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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

The one area where noise IS an issue is in the RF tuner front-end of an OTA tuner card - where excessive RF noise from your PC components can cause interference to low-quality source signals and stop reliable reception.

I hadn't even considered that.

So, obviosuly my biggest complaint is that I've been underwhelmed by the software (both the UI, other than with Windows 7 Media Center, and particularly the deinterlacing). So what software (and hardware) would you recommend for a really nice HTPC?
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post #10 of 20 Old 04-22-2011, 01:42 PM
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I don't think it's completely wrong, Tivo runs (or used to run when I had one) a Linux kernal. It's true they had specialized components, but HTPCs do as well

Well, I don't think that's a solid argument, being that Linux runs on just about anything. As the saying goes "write once, run anywhere" (or, as programmers sometimes say "write once, debug everywhere". My point is that dedicated video devices take a minimalist approach to the hardware...they don't contain legacy buses that PC's must support and their processor is generally MIPS-based. There's a lot less stuff going on in both hardware and software (the software doesn't have to take a moment to perform an antivirus scan, or perform operation xyz that a full-blown Windows OS or full-blown Linux PC OS would do). This could become particularly important as hard disk I/O gets squeezed with 4-tuners all vying for hard disk access time, while the user may also be trying to play back an HD video. There's a reason why DVR units such as the Motorolas use the IBM GPFS file system instead of a typical Linux or Windows file system.

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Also agree with sneals, my HTPC seems every bit as good as my Comcast DVR when it comes to picture quality. And for Blu-Ray playback, I'm able to tweak things with color control and very good quality renderers like madVR, the picture quality is top notch if you have things set up well.

My opinion on video tweaking is that the display should be professionally calibrated and the BD player (or HTPC or whatever) should just send the bits unmolested...any interference beyond that degrades the picture in my view. It should all be native; Garbage In Garbage Out.
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post #11 of 20 Old 04-22-2011, 04:37 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you, everyone, for sharing your experience. I think I will start with this USB HDTV tuner hooked up to my laptop first.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...YH9R0T51TD8P78

Hopefully, this will give me a portable means to watch and record OTA stuff while I am learning how to build a HTPC.
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post #12 of 20 Old 04-23-2011, 04:39 PM
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Originally Posted by TNO821 View Post
Well, I don't think that's a solid argument, being that Linux runs on just about anything.
I guess we'll have to disagree, I do consider the DVR a specialized computer as the OP stated.

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My opinion on video tweaking is that the display should be professionally calibrated and the BD player (or HTPC or whatever) should just send the bits unmolested...any interference beyond that degrades the picture in my view. It should all be native; Garbage In Garbage Out.
Yep, that's what I'm talking about. My projector is calibrated but lacks the proper CMS color controls to accurate correct the primary colors. I'm able to do that on the HTPC instead since it has the computing power and software controls are available. Could do that with a dedicated video processor, but that's one benefit of an HTPC, don't necessarily need that separate component.
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post #13 of 20 Old 04-23-2011, 05:30 PM
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I guess we'll have to disagree, I do consider the DVR a specialized computer as the OP stated.
But surely you can appreciate that a DVR is not being taxed by AntiVirus scans, hard drive indexing and other background and OS tasks that HTPC's have to deal with. And there's only so much disk access time to go around. Recording from all 4 HD tuners while performing an AntiVirus scan, while indexing the hard drive, and also playing back a HD video could overwhelm many hard drives.

My #1 complaint about HTPC's is the software deinterlacing (and the 3:2 pulldown). I have an AMD ATI(?) Radeon 5xxx series HDMI video card (can't remember the exact model, but I think it's the 5750). The deinterlacing isn't horrible, but it does not look as good as when I burn a Blu-ray rewritable disc and play it back on my Sony BDP-S570.

You seem to be very happy with your HTPC setup, so what do you recommend? I'm particularly interested in which OS and playback software you recommend, but I'd love to hear about the hardware too!
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post #14 of 20 Old 04-24-2011, 11:52 AM
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I agree de-interlacing has typically been a weak point for HTPCs. I watch mainly movies, so that's not a big concern for me. I have had pretty good luck in the past using the dscalar IVTC tweak to get good 3:2 pulldown on MPEG2 sources. Not sure if there's an equal for H264.

I like both Zoom Player and MPC-HC for playback. ZP is a tweaker's heaven, you can configure it to your heart's content. I haven't really used it much in the past year or so, but now that you can play back anything around with DirectShow codecs again, it's certainly a viable player. MPC-HC is a little easier to manage but still allows some good customization. I also use XBMC as a front end, it's really slick in allowing a nice interface to browse your media collection(s).

I consider an HTPC a hobby, you have to enjoy fiddling around with new software and tweaking things. It is possible to get one as a nice stable system, but more often than not you're going to end up trouble shooting some piece of it at some point. My current hardware is pretty old (~4 years for the mobo/CPU), most recent change was upgrading the video card to an ATI 5450 and moving to Win7. I'm really happy with the way it's working.

And in case you didn't recognize me from the Comcast fire wire thread, I do use their DVR for recording TV, not the HTPC. If I were only interesting in OTA channels, I might do otherwise, but renting the DVR works fine for me.
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post #15 of 20 Old 04-24-2011, 03:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TNO821 View Post

I can agree with this...if everything stays in the digital domain (assuming there is error correction involved), I would expect the noise to be a non-issue. But I have never seen great deinterlacing performed on a HTPC, and I blame lousy software for that.

De-interlacing is often carried out by GPUs these days - and whether you consider this a hardware or software process is probably a bit fuzzy.

Depending on the GPU you can get everything from very basic Bob/Weave, Adaptive, Motion Adaptive or Vector Adaptive de-interlacing algorithms used. Vector Adaptive can deliver pretty high quality results.

You do have to do quite a lot of work to ensure that the default driver settings aren't used though (edge enhancement, noise reduction etc. all need to be disabled and they're usually enabled by default)

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Again I agree. If your HTPC is just passing through the same bits (say, from a 1080p BD), then, regardless of those bits being audio or video, I would expect the same result Vs. a dedicated video player. This depends on the software doing a proper job, which has not been my experience.

But with DXVA2 and Windows 7 the software doesn't have that huge a part to play - it's the drivers that are key.

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Now this I find to be unbelievable. You either must have a rather old Sony TV or you need your eyes checked! TV's built-in deinterlacing is typically very very good (see the results in publications such as Home Theater magazine where they run a battery of deinterlacing tests against TV's, BD players, etc).

Err - I'm a former broadcast R&D engineer, who watches broadcast quality sources on broadcast quality monitors (albeit not in an engineering role any more) - I can certainly see the difference in de-interlacing performance.

My Sony Bravia 40W4000 and 40W2000s are OK - but nothing special - particularly with mixed cadence content (say where you have a mix of 50i native interlaced and 2:2 25p native progressive content on-screen at the same time) Worse still is the 576i to 576p de-interlacing (which can't be inhibited) in my Sky HD box.

The number of times you see combing for a frame or two as the de-interlacer is late deciding whether the source is interlaced or progressive is really annoying. The de-interlacing of the same content in my HTPC with a Vector Adaptive de-interlace is far higher quality.

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I am willing to concede that the electrical noise argument matters less and less, as long as everything is both digital and has error-correction.

Given that all broadcasting that matters these days is either H264 or MPEG2, and all sources and displays are largely HDMI digital now, the path from broadcaster to display is pretty much entirely digital. The error correction for the modulation and the transport of the digital video and audio is the same whether a PC or a set-top box/DVR does the demodulation and decoding.

The only real variables are de-interlacing (for 480/576i and 1080i sources) performance and stuff like UIs etc.

Quote:


So, obviosuly my biggest complaint is that I've been underwhelmed by the software (both the UI, other than with Windows 7 Media Center, and particularly the deinterlacing). So what software (and hardware) would you recommend for a really nice HTPC?

I'm in the UK - but would recommend Win 7 Home Premium with DVB Logics tuner virtualisation (that lets you share a pool of centralised DVB-S/S2 and DVB-T/T2 tuners over a network), and small PCs with decent video cards. They're not as easy to set-up as DVRs, but the flexibility of being able to receive channels from multiple satellites, being able to inject XMLTV listings, coping with teletext, subtitles (DVB and WST) and being able to store recordings on a server allowing you to play recordings on multiple PCs (and share live TV tuners across a network) make the whole system a far better proposition than a reasonably dumb DVR. Also being able to watch my DVD and Blu-ray library over the network on the same box is great.

The very basic cards are fine for Blu-ray 1080p content - but if you watch interlaced sources then you need something that will do a decent VA de-interlace. 3:2 isn't an issue for me - as we have no broadcast 3:2 sources here. Much more if an issue is 2:2 detection (for 25p content carried 50i)

If you don't want any post-processing then the ATI 5450 is pretty good, but the ATI 5570 may be a better choice.

Getting consistent black levels is the biggest challenge IME.
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post #16 of 20 Old 04-24-2011, 03:53 PM
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Originally Posted by JDLIVE View Post

I don't think it's completely wrong, Tivo runs (or used to run when I had one) a Linux kernal. It's true they had specialized components, but HTPCs do as well, i.e. video and audio cards. While the HTPC components are more general purpose in nature, these days they're also much more powerful and can be every bit as good. Plus given that most content is digital, there's even less of a difference when dealing in that domain.

Lots of satellite receivers now run Linux, but this is often only for the control layer (as it is with Tivo AIUI). The video and audio paths are pretty much separated from the Linux bits - it just routes them to dedicate hardware video decoding silicon (so the video and audio paths are still effectively dedicated hardware).

This is still very different to a normal HTPC (though in the old days some of the Hauppauge video cards with video OUTPUTs as well as inputs, and the Real Magic XCard which had a separate video output, were similar)
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post #17 of 20 Old 04-24-2011, 04:01 PM
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Originally Posted by TNO821 View Post

This could become particularly important as hard disk I/O gets squeezed with 4-tuners all vying for hard disk access time, while the user may also be trying to play back an HD video.

I think this is less of an issue than you may think.

My HTPC SATA1 TB Samsung hard drives happily write at 80MB/s (that's Megabytes per second) continuously. No RAID involved.

A single HDTV stream is going to be maximum of about 25Mb/s on a really high bitrate satellite channel (that's Megabits per second) which is just over 3MB/s. These days most HDTV streams using H264 are 3-15Mbs - so between <0.5 and 2MB/s.

An 80MB/s drive isn't going to struggle to write 4 x 3MB/s streams - even with quite bad fragmentation.

Add to that watching another show and you're still not taxing the system. I've never had an issue - even on a 4 tuner (2 x DVB-S/S2, 2 x DVB-T) set-up - even with Anti Virus.

My set-up runs with my Blu-ray/DVD collection on an unRAID server (Parity protected but no RAID striping), and I also archive important 'Recorded TV' there. However my main 'run of the mill' Recorded TV stuff just sits on a couple of 1TB drives in my HTPC, which is also shared over the network.

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There's a reason why DVR units such as the Motorolas use the IBM GPFS file system instead of a typical Linux or Windows file system.

Yep - one good reason is that many consumer DVRs are designed to cope with power cuts. Their file system has to be resilient to cope with an uncontrolled shutdown.

If your HTPC is REALLY important to you then a UPS might be a good idea I guess. I've not had any major issues in 6 years running Windows HTPCs - but I live in a very reliable power area where spikes and outages are pretty rare.

The biggest issue for me is ensuring stuff like Windows updates and other application messages don't get in the way. Windows Embedded might be a way towards this - though I'm not sure it's for me.
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post #18 of 20 Old 05-01-2011, 08:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TNO821 View Post

But surely you can appreciate that a DVR is not being taxed by AntiVirus scans, hard drive indexing and other background and OS tasks that HTPC's have to deal with.

Drive Indexing is the first thing I turn off on every computer/hard drive I buy or build, whether it is an HTPC or not. And, especially if a computer is an HTPC that is not used for random Web surfing and e-mail, there is no reason to have a continuous antivirus program running on it. I don't think I even have any antivirus programs on my HTPCs.

Chris

"It's [expletive] lame to watch Jaws, a film that uses the 2.40 ratio as well as any ever produced, in the wrong format on HBO." -Steven Soderbergh, Oscar-winning director

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post #19 of 20 Old 05-02-2011, 07:47 AM
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Thanks for the suggestions everyone! In the next month or so I'll redo my HTPC and see how my results turn out.
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post #20 of 20 Old 05-02-2011, 11:34 AM
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OP, why dont you just get one nice computer? My computer is near to my HDTV and video source. I use it to play movies, record and run a forum and hosting a website. It got 9 hard drives on it. A nice case with side windows and 2 big fans at the top and 2 big fans at the front.

My motherboard is lifetime warranty. Just built yourself a nice computer.
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