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Total noob htpc DVR advice

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Long time reader, first time poster. Have become fed up with TWC ridiculous fees and even worse equipment, so I am considering my first build ever. Most of this is pretty foreign to me, since I've been an Apple person since the old IIgs, so I've never looked into tinkering too much with hardware. I do have more experienced friends who have offered to lend a hand, and I'm a quick learner, so I think I can pull this off. So far, these are my goals:

-Build an HTPC that will be used specifically for watching and recording live HD cable. As of right now, find the Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe very appealing. The only other thing I'm considering is trying to integrate Netflix and/or Amazon video into WMC if at all possible.

-Build it so that I can use an extender in the future. At my current residence I don't have a wired network, but down the road I will, and I guess I can always hold out hope wireless technology will progress exponentially in the next few years. I have 2 360s just begging to be used as extenders, but that can wait.

-Must be as bullet proof as possible for the WAF (side note, this abbreviation cracks me up everytime, well done). Since I won't be ripping movies, using torrent, or doing ANY gaming on the machine, is this a realistic goal? I probably won't even mess with commercial removal, though I'm not against simple tinkering like adding the logos to the guide, and at most trying to figure out how to use Remote Potato(which I know nothing about other than it seems cool concept wise). The only other thing I would be interested in is potentially using a smart phone or tablet as a controller some of the time, but this and Remote Potato are not requirements. My dream is to set it up, lock it into media mode, stuff it in my media console, and never touch it again. I know that's crazy talk, but I'm hoping that since I'm not trying to do anything too crazy, that can be accomplished.

-Was considering adding BluRay as a requirement, but with how cheap stand alone players are these days, and my lack of interest in ripping or burning, is it even worth it?

-Considering I have a couple 360s already, what is the best way to connect the HTPC to the TV? Is it best to connect it straight to the TV? Or just use the 360 as an extender into the TV? I think I've read that it's better to just use the 360, but that seems like a waste of power?

-From what I've read, I think I want to go the i3 3225 route, but that's coming from a very naive place in regards to my knowledge, so I'm up for any suggestions. I just don't want issues like stuttering feeds, or dropped frames in recordings, or just overall crashes, and this seemed like the most likely to give me that stable performance.

So, calculating what I could save per month on my cable bill by cutting out the DVR equiptment and service fee, I'll be saving about $30 bucks a month. Can I realistically set something up for around $500(less if possible)? I can get Windows 7 Ultimate for $30 bucks since I'm a student. Everything else I'll need to purchase, as there's not a lot I can source form my old Macs. I need equipment suggestions, as I barely even know the difference between ATX and mini ATX, etc.

In closing, I came here because you guys seem like some of the most knowledgable out there, and would be able to steer me in the right direction. Am I crazy for taking this on? Is it going to be too much for someone with little computer hardware experience? I'm pretty patient and willing to learn, and the wifey is pretty accepting of new tech, aslong as it works. Thanks so much for any help!
post #2 of 8
You can definitely do what you what you're seeking. It will be easier on the Windows platform, but may be able to done done on OSX using EyeTV; I don't know the status of EyeTV and features.

Basically, you don't need really poweful machine. Something with 2cores and 2ghz CPU or better. 4GB RAM or more. If you have an old Mac Mini late 2009 or new or another machine with similar specs, you can use one of those and save some money.

Just install Windows 7. As for Windows 7, just get Windows 7 home. It will include Media Center. You don't need ultimate since you're just getting features you're not going to use. I assume you can still get it on the cheap for being a student. An alternative is WIndows 8. Metro isn't a bad inferface once you get rid of the crap, but could be very remote friendly. If you're using an old Mac, I would stick to Windows 7. The OSX disc will have the all drivers for Windows 7. Just do a clean install, and then run the boot camp driver install. It''ll be one OS on the system. I don't run OSX on my of my Macs.

As for tuners, the Ceton is a fine choice, assuming you have a bay for it. Another good choice are the Silicondust HDHomeruns. You'll want the HDHR3CC or the upcoming HDHR4CC. The HDRH3CC comes with three tuners, and the later will have four. Unfortunately, they haven't released a street date for the HDHR4 units yet; just quarter 1 of 2013. Probably be quarter 2. Like the Ceton, but will use the CableCard M card. You'll want to verfy that Time Warner will give you that card. If you can wait, I would try out the HDHR4 since it's support onboard transcoding, which will help with being able to use on mobile devices or other unfriendly devices with their new DNLA. The HDHR3CC is able to run beta DNLA firmware.

As for externders, the 360s are a good choice since they're certified media center and cablecard devices. This will allow you play copycone flag material, such as premium channels like HBO. All you need to do is setup the media library sharing in the Media Center on your PC.

The big thing for you to setup is actually going to be your LAN and seeing it has enough bandwidth. I have and use HDHR3CC. I use it DVR some shows. I use a bunch of Mac Miinis around the house. I do all my DVR recording on the one in the office, which has a wired connection to my network. The rest of the rest of the Minis are wireless. I can stream live TV and DVR to my HTPC will no issues; other than the microwave when it's on. I use to do with an HDHR2, which was was more sensitive than the HDHR3. My biggest suggestion, what ever machine you use to DVR record, use a wired network connection. Even the best WiFi connections will have occasional drops. This will give the best DVR recordings
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hey, thanks for the response. I'm actually going to be looking at just starting from scratch with a windows based build. While I do have a few old macs laying around, none of them meet the specs needed I don't think. I have a late 2007 iMac, but I doubt it'll work and its dying anyways, and a late 2012 MacBook Pro retina that I'd rather not mess with too much at this point because it's my wife's, and she'd kill me,haha. As of right now the LAN isn't as important, just because I don't plan on running extenders to other rooms until we move somewhere else, so this HTPC will be set upright next to the family room TV, either hooked directly into it or run through the Xbox sitting next to it and then to the TV. I hadn't really thought of the HDHomerun, but it sounds like a viable option instead of the Ceton. Do people typically find them to be more stable/easier to use? I guess one things I'm trying to get to is this: if someone wanted to do what I'm doing, and turned you loose with a $500 budget max, preferably lower, what would you buy? Coming from the Mac world, I'm not used to having so many options, definitely making my head spin a bit.
post #4 of 8
Well, I assumed you going to try to do the extender thing fairly early. But don't doubt the importance of a proper LAN setup, It's important for online gaming as well. Plus, a lot of this stuff can done over WiFi. Plus, setting up the media share to use the extenders should only take about 15 minutes if you have LAN setup right. I think the wired part is really key for the incoming TV feed for the DVR machine. If you use the Ceton, having the cable feed directly into the machine will keep information loss to a minimum. The HDHR, this is where you use eithernet to the HTPC is important. After that, I think WiFi should be able to handle feeding your DVR recordings to extenders; it may not be able to handle a lot of feeds; I've only done at a time.

I would agree that the iMac is too outdated at this point.

The $500 is going to be very tight for what you're looking to do. Not impossible, but you're going to want to take advantage of any sale you can find. First, the TV Tuner cards you're looking at--Ceton and HDHomerun that accept cablecards--if you buy new, are going to run anywhere from $150 to $250 dollars. You're going to watch some kind of Media Center friendly remote. You may have gotten one with a Xbox 360; I did with the Pro sku shortly after the initial 360 release, and another with the HD DVD drive. You may only need to pick up infrared dongle. You may want to get a BT media remote so you don't have to point it at the HTPC. I'm assuming you're going to build this HTPC, so that means you need to get an OS disc and license. I'm not a big fan of the OEM versions, but you can go that route. They're more finicky on the machine you're going to use. But doable. That's at least $40. If you go retail, I would recommend going the Upgrade version route. Use the registery hack so you can do a clean install; it's not hard, but you may want someone who's not afraid to mess in the register there to help. A retail Upgrade of Windows will run about $100. The nice thing, you get both the 64bit and 32bit versions. To save money, I wouldn't get a SSD drive. Just use a traditional HDD; I think a good TB should give you ample space to a lot of DVR recordings; I have idea how much you DVR. I have no issues with all my programs and DVR on a 500GB (now 750GB because the old drive went bad). But all but one show I DVR are watch once and delete. A quick search for Western Digit 1 to 2TB drives showed prices from $85 to $223. Needless to say, you can see how it will be tight.

Either tuner will be fine. HDHomerun is a network attached tuner. I doesn't attach to the PC. I think it makes it little easier to share tuners among several devices. I haven't used the Ceton, but I know it's possible as well, and don't believe it to be very difficult; at least it should be somewhat easy. The HDHR are great if you don't have an empty slot of space in your PC, like with a Mac Mini. Plus, I think the DNLA shows promise for expanding it's use. Both the Ceton and HDHR are stable. They their quirks, for most people, they're easy to maintain and reliable. You can't go wrong with either.

I think you have one thing off. No big issue about having the HTPC in the living room in the entertainment unit. Hooking it up directly to the Xbox is not an option. I haven't known the 360 to be able to passthough any audio or video from a device directly hooked up to it; the exception being the HD DVD drive, but not the same. I assume you meant a AV receiver.

The last thing, I would definitely try to have some expandability built into your HTPC. Rarely what our original plan to use it for stays just at that. I wouldn't be surprised if you digitize your media and distribute through your home or mobile devices using XBMC or Plex, and use more web video services.

Personally, I haven't build a PC. I'm good at replacing parts that go out. There are others who are really good with hardware recommendations. I would definitely check out Assassin's guides and hardware recommendation. He gives excellent and solid information.
post #5 of 8
I'm looking for a similar solution and have decided (I'm guessing) that a HTPC is the best I'm going to do:
  • OTA tuner, preferably with two tuners for simultaneous record and watch
  • DVR capability
  • Network extension to all three displays
  • wife-friendly, controllable by remote control (Logitech Harmony One or Touch)
  • A guide of some sort so that OTA recordings can be scheduled in advance (even rudimentary)
  • No recurring monthly charges

I have both wired gigabit ethernet and wireless to all rooms.

I am confused about what is needed in each room to receive the stream to each display, and how to make scheduling and viewing friendly with remote control (these may be related, if the end device is something like Roku or blu-ray player that supports network files). My wife accepts anything, being able to easily control is another issue altogether. I'd like to build something as easy to use, hopefully better than my Dish Network PVR.

I'll check out Assassin's guides and see if all of this is covered, if not I would appreciate pointers to allay my confusions.

Thanks.
post #6 of 8
HD Homerun Dual for your tuner. Xbox or Echo for extenders in each room. I don't use Harmony, but about any universal remote will work fine. WMC has a very nice guide and has no monthly fees. My system is so seamless, my wife still thinks we have Dish.

All that being said, WMC is not as full featured as your average satellite DVR (no PIP, no multiple live buffers, no OnDemand or PPV), but an excellent DVR nonetheless and very easy to control with a remote.

Since you won't have cable you have a lot more options than just WMC and extenders as mentioned above. You could even use XBMC and Raspberry Pi clients if you were so inclined. But I think WMC is the easiest to use and implement.

The thing I'm confused about is how you plan to record 2 channels and possibly watch 4 live programs at the same time with only 2 tuners. What equipment exactly do you have with Dish today, in all rooms?
post #7 of 8
A sticky on "Pay-TV DVR Options" would be nice, but it's an evolving standard

The main limitation is going to be your provider

WMC and Extenders with Ceton/Silicondust/Hauppauge cablecard tuners
  • Verizon FIOS (all programming)
  • Should be all cablecos (TWC, Comcast, Charter, etc) and all programming

XBMC and Raspberry Pi or other XBMC "streamers" with Ceton/Silicondust/Hauppauge cablecard tuners
  • FIOS (may no longer work with premium channels)
  • Comcast except for premium channels
  • Requires additional backend (NPVR, MythTV, Argus)

AT&T Uverse
  • No HTPC support I'm aware of (Others feel free to chime in)

Dish/DirecTV with Hauppauge and firewire or IR blaster
  • "Roundabout" type blaster/firewire support in some backends (MythTV, NPVR, Argus) which *could* work in XBMC
  • Other hackety type support options (some that cost a lot and still require the provider box - i.e. slingbox)
  • Possible WMC support - surely guide support not sure about channel changing (Others feel free to chime in)
post #8 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by mdavej View Post

HD Homerun Dual for your tuner. Xbox or Echo for extenders in each room. I don't use Harmony, but about any universal remote will work fine. WMC has a very nice guide and has no monthly fees. My system is so seamless, my wife still thinks we have Dish.

All that being said, WMC is not as full featured as your average satellite DVR (no PIP, no multiple live buffers, no OnDemand or PPV), but an excellent DVR nonetheless and very easy to control with a remote.

Since you won't have cable you have a lot more options than just WMC and extenders as mentioned above. You could even use XBMC and Raspberry Pi clients if you were so inclined. But I think WMC is the easiest to use and implement.

The thing I'm confused about is how you plan to record 2 channels and possibly watch 4 live programs at the same time with only 2 tuners. What equipment exactly do you have with Dish today, in all rooms?

Thanks for the response, since many of your answers apply to me I will presume you were answering my request. FYI I have created a new forum thread.

WMC sounds fine, my needs aren't significant (OTA only). The number of tuners doesn't matter, provided we are not limited to watching something else (Netflix, disk, etc.) because we are recording. At most there will only be three separate viewers.

Today I have a separate dish receiver in each room. Even basic service with HBO is $90, I want to get rid of them.
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