I would agree with the softer picture with my HD-PVR. If I record something I want to keep, then I capture at the highest constant bit rate and then re-encode to convert a film capture back to 1080P and add some subtle sharpening to the image. I usually use MEGui from the doom9.org forum. It uses AVISynth script language which has hundreds of filters to do all kinds of processing like removing pulldown flags and lots of different sharpening filters adding black boarders to remove logos ......... Takes some time to learn but it is all free software and the final mkv file looks very good. I do a 1 pass encode with x264 CQ setting of 18 on my older I7-930 overclocked to 4 GHz and it usually runs about 14-18 frames per second maxed out at 100%
Where in Silicon Valley? I think I helped name it in the 1970's and 80's, started 3 companies there.