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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I run an EyeTV Hybrid (2008) on my MacBook Pro to watch cable TV broadcasts live or recorded. My experience with this has raised some questions for me about minimum specs on the Macintosh when used as a HTPC.


My hardware/software combination is a MBP that's about three years old with 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 3 GB 667 MHz ram, with this video chipset info (copied from the system profiler):


ATI Radeon X1600:


Chipset Model: ATY,RadeonX1600

Type: GPU

Bus: PCIe

PCIe Lane Width: x16

VRAM (Total): 256 MB


I run OS 10.6.2 right now.


Watching live TV seems to completely max out the laptop. I'm not able to browse the web simultaneously with live TV viewing. Can't play a game of solitaire, either. The ability of the video card (or other hardware?) to both process the cable feed and redraw the screen image for any other application just isn't there. If I don't even touch the keyboard I am able to watch live TV without jerking, dropped frames, or whatever else is happening to add up to unacceptable performance if I add in another application that requires use of the laptop screen.


Experiments with Plex on this laptop have also been mixed, in the sense that it looks like it might work wonderfully on someone else's machine. Mine is appallingly slow, with the fan running full blast as it always does with anything video intensive.


I am, however, able to stream something like The Daily Show direct from their website via DSL and still use the screen for other activities without stalling.


This performance leaves me confused, as many of you say that the minimum processor speed for HTPC on the Mac is 2.0 GHz or greater. My laptop meets that criteria. I'm considering a Mini for a HTPC. If I use an EyeTV Hybrid with a Mac Mini with a processor speed of 2.0 GHz or better to record cable for later use, could the Mini handle transferring files from an attached USB drive to other laptops on the system at the same time? This laptop cannot. As soon as I attach the EyeTV Hybrid to it, it's a TV screen and that is it.


Is this a video card bottle neck? What video card or better do I need to make sure I have? Some of you are using iBooks in your HT. What specs work for you on that? My sense is that if I put this MBP into service as the main guts of a HTPC, I would have nothing but problems with it. Am I misunderstanding something about HTPC setup?
 

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Quote:
Watching live TV seems to completely max out the laptop

Gayle, I think what you're describing is probably normal for 2006 era hardware and EyeTV, especially if you're trying to watch live TV with a bus-powered USB stick tuner. EyeTV is gonna take as much CPU as it possibly can, plus the USB adds more overhead than a comparable firewire or ethernet tuner would. Those of us here using 3-4 year old hardware like yours in the HT, and either EyeTV or Plex, are probably not trying to do much else in the background, and certainly not any meaningful multi-tasking--it just can't handle it. EyeTV needs everything you can throw at it for its best deinterlacing job with 1080i programs, so does Plex if you're trying to play back blu-ray rips and 1080p content.

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This performance leaves me confused, as many of you say that the minimum processor speed for HTPC on the Mac is 2.0 GHz or greater.
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What video card or better do I need to make sure I have? Some of you are using iBooks in your HT. What specs work for you on that?

Well, for EyeTV, I feel the minimum is a 2.0 C2D with any graphics better than the GMA950.


Though we have some better Macs in the house, I've been relying on a 2.0 C2D Macbook with the X3100 in my HT for a good while, your MBP should be more capable than mine--and I have no problems with EyeTV at its best deinterlace setting, can record two shows while simultaneously watching a third in full screen; with Plex, I do feel I'm right at the borderline of perfectly acceptable 1080p blu ray rip playback too, every so often I'll drop a frame with the toughest passages, but day in and day out my older MB can handle it. I'm not talking downloaded 8GB scene releases, which are pretty easy, but full size MakeMKV rips. I would have predicted that you'd have no problems at all with Plex and 1080p content. Have you increased the cache size and set H264 acceleration to "high" in Plex?


However, the differences between us: I've never hadd less than 4GB of RAM in mine, I don't rely on USB anything with it, just firewire and gigabit, I keep its lid closed and I've upgraded to bigger/faster hard drives inside (first a 200GB/7200 Hitachi then a faster 320GB Scorpio Black then a 500GB Scorpio Blue then back to the Black) it makes a noticeable difference HT-wise. And I never try to do something else on it when I want it focused on playback. Yes, the fans do kick in and yes it can work hard, especially with EyeTV/1080i and Plex/1080p, but not so much that I can hear it from the couch.


Do you notice much difference system-resource-wise when you're playing back a recording and not watching live or recording?


Your MBP model is limited to 3GB of RAM, right? What about the hard drive--have you upgraded that 5400 to something nice and fast? How full do you keep it? And don't try using that USB tuner with USB storage, that's asking for trouble. So bottomline, I think you could squeeze better performance out of that MBP at the very least by dumping the bus-powered Hybrid and upgrading your internal drive.


Minimum specs for the HT if you were buying something right now--you'd want something with the 9400 graphics and probably no lower than a 2.26 C2D, so that's the entry Mac mini.

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Is this a video card bottle neck?

No, I think you should be seeing decent performance with that.

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My sense is that if I put this MBP into service as the main guts of a HTPC, I would have nothing but problems with it.

I disagree, I think if you lived with it for a while in place, lid closed, as a front end hooked up to your HDTV, dedicated to recording and playback and stopped trying to multitask with it you might be surprised at how capable it could be. Weighing against that approach, is that the 2.26/9400 mini can be had for $499.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·

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Originally Posted by chefklc /forum/post/18236470


Gayle, I think what you're describing is probably normal for 2006 era hardware and EyeTV, especially if you're trying to watch live TV with a bus-powered USB stick tuner. EyeTV is gonna take as much CPU as it possibly can, plus the USB adds more overhead than a comparable firewire or ethernet tuner would. Those of us here using 3-4 year old hardware like yours in the HT, and either EyeTV or Plex, are probably not trying to do much else in the background, and certainly not any meaningful multi-tasking--it just can't handle it. EyeTV needs everything you can throw at it for its best deinterlacing job with 1080i programs, so does Plex if you're trying to play back blu-ray rips and 1080p content.


Well, for EyeTV, I feel the minimum is a 2.0 C2D with any graphics better than the GMA950.


Though we have some better Macs in the house, I've been relying on a 2.0 C2D Macbook with the X3100 in my HT for a good while, your MBP should be more capable than mine--and I have no problems with EyeTV at its best deinterlace setting, can record two shows while simultaneously watching a third in full screen; with Plex, I do feel I'm right at the borderline of perfectly acceptable 1080p blu ray rip playback too, every so often I'll drop a frame with the toughest passages, but day in and day out my older MB can handle it. I'm not talking downloaded 8GB scene releases, which are pretty easy, but full size MakeMKV rips. I would have predicted that you'd have no problems at all with Plex and 1080p content. Have you increased the cache size and set H264 acceleration to "high" in Plex?

I set the acceleration to high, but didn't increase the cache size. Thanks for that recommendation. I'll do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc /forum/post/18236470


However, the differences between us: I've never hadd less than 4GB of RAM in mine, I don't rely on USB anything with it, just firewire and gigabit, I keep its lid closed and I've upgraded to bigger/faster hard drives inside (first a 200GB/7200 Hitachi then a faster 320GB Scorpio Black then a 500GB Scorpio Blue then back to the Black) it makes a noticeable difference HT-wise. And I never try to do something else on it when I want it focused on playback. Yes, the fans do kick in and yes it can work hard, especially with EyeTV/1080i and Plex/1080p, but not so much that I can hear it from the couch.


Do you notice much difference system-resource-wise when you're playing back a recording and not watching live or recording?

Yes. Playback only is better, with all other apps closed, and doesn't seem to overtax the system so much. I've been experimenting with creating full size MakeMKV rips, which I will do eventually with my whole library. I thought I'd try to first figure out what I'm aiming at creating in terms of recording and distributing media to both the TV and the laptops in the house.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc /forum/post/18236470


Your MBP model is limited to 3GB of RAM, right?

I believe so, at least I think that was the original limit. There may be an option to add more. I think I remember something to that effect at Other World Computing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc /forum/post/18236470


What about the hard drive--have you upgraded that 5400 to something nice and fast? How full do you keep it?

No; it's the original HD.
And, it's pretty full. Not much left of the original 200 GB, though I try to clean it out.


I've added storage to this point via hard drives connected as airport disks, so that's USB, too, to my Airport Extreme with gigabit ethernet. Those drives are faster than the internal drive. They have ethernet, eSATA, and firewire connection options, I just have elected for the ease of use of the airport disks. One is setup for Time Machine backup and another is the target for EyeTV recordings.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc /forum/post/18236470


And don't try using that USB tuner with USB storage, that's asking for trouble. So bottomline, I think you could squeeze better performance out of that MBP at the very least by dumping the bus-powered Hybrid and upgrading your internal drive.

Could you say more about this? Is the issue that I'm using USB and asking the CPU to process the data? Sounds like you would not recommend using the Hybrid at all? Would you say this if I was springing for the mini? I'm trying to make sure I understand.

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No, I think you should be seeing decent performance with that.

I am interested, and encouraged, to know that you don't think it's my graphics card that is causing the problems.


Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc /forum/post/18236470


I disagree, I think if you lived with it for a while in place, lid closed, as a front end hooked up to your HDTV, dedicated to recording and playback and stopped trying to multitask with it you might be surprised at how capable it could be. Weighing against that approach, is that the 2.26/9400 mini can be had for $499.

Yes, this is why I'm trying to understand the current issues better. I'll be getting another MBP this spring, and could dedicate the current, old MPB to HT use. But if I understand your points (which I may not have grasped yet) I couldn't just plug in my current tuner stick to the old MBP, add external HD's via firewire or something like that, keep the lid closed, and expect good results as a front end. Am I following you?
 

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No; it's the original HD. And, it's pretty full. Not much left of the original 200 GB, though I try to clean it out.

So you'll definitely see an improvement HT-wise with something like the Scorpio Black inside, especially if you keep it relatively lean.


It's not an easy process to swap hard drives on that model, is it?

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I've added storage to this point via hard drives connected as airport disks, so that's USB, too, to my Airport Extreme with gigabit ethernet. Those drives are faster than the internal drive. They have ethernet, eSATA, and firewire connection options, I just have elected for the ease of use of the airport disks. One is setup for Time Machine backup and another is the target for EyeTV recordings.

OK, that might also 'splain some things...it's not really a good idea to record TO an Airdisk with EyeTV, and rely on that as your main EyeTV archive. You'd be MUCH better off recording internally or locally. USB AirDisks are slow, slower than a regular, directly attached USB external. I would recommend you read from USB Airdisks only, i.e. it's safe to store high def media content there, but that's it. And what do you think will happen to EyeTV when TM kicks in to do its thing--all over that same slow bus? It doesn't matter that the Extreme itself is gigabit or that Mac might be hard-wired to it with gigabit.


Granted, USB AirDisks are easy to use, I love mine and have about 3TB of media stored on them, but, word to the wise, just store files there, recording your EyeTV locally instead. With a USB tuner, record internally or to a firewire external.

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Is the issue that I'm using USB and asking the CPU to process the data? Sounds like you would not recommend using the Hybrid at all? Would you say this if I was springing for the mini? I'm trying to make sure I understand.

I wouldn't recommend using the Hybrid at all in a home setup; it's probably my bias from being a Mac user for 10 years showing through. USB2 is half-duplex, add in bus power for that stick, all that is more intensive to manage and ties up even more CPU. Macs, historically, never handle stressful USB tasks well, whereas firewire or ethernet have always seemed smooth and fast. Even if you spring for a mini I'd recommend you rethink loyalty to that tuner and go in a different direction. A 250+ would be an improvement over the Hybrid, I have a 250+ and find it to be reliable for ATSC or QAM because it does not rely on bus power, but I'd dump USB tuners entirely, go firewire (500s) ethernet (HD Homerun) or with the Hauppauge HD PVR.

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I'll be getting another MBP this spring, and could dedicate the current, old MPB to HT use. But if I understand your points (which I may not have grasped yet) I couldn't just plug in my current tuner stick to the old MBP, add external HD's via firewire or something like that, keep the lid closed, and expect good results as a front end.

I do think you could expect very good results with that approach, mainly because of the 2.33 C2D CPU, especially if you started recording locally to a firewire enclosure. Since you have an EyeTV license already, I'd recommend you swap in a different tuner bought locally, like the HD Homerun, just for the sake of comparison, you could always return it afterward, and if you decide to keep it sell the stick on Craigslist.

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Am I following you?

Well, my larger point was probably this--since you're getting a newer MBP anyway, you might be better off selling the old MBP outright, then with the proceeds picking up a current mini and better tuner. You lose nothing by first trying out the old MBP in a true, dedicated home theater context, though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Not too long after I posted, I scored a refurb mini 2.53 GHz/8/320 on the Apple site. It's due to arrive in a few days. There is some sort of delay on shipping. This just seemed like the cleanest approach.

Quote:
chefklc wrote: So you'll definitely see an improvement HT-wise with something like the Scorpio Black inside, especially if you keep it relatively lean.


It's not an easy process to swap hard drives on that model, is it?

No, not easy. I've swapped quite a few hard drives over the years, and wasn't looking forward to this one. I'll get rid of this MBP, though it's still a fantastic machine.


The new mini HD specs show it as running at 5400 RPM. I haven't googled yet to see what to expect in terms of cache. When you say to keep the HD lean, does that mean that when you record something to your internal hard drive in your HTPC you then move the recorded material (if you want to keep it) to, say in my case, an Airport disk and then access material from there?


So there are two steps: Record the material as locally as possible, then move it if you want to keep it?

Quote:
]chefklc wrote: OK, that might also 'splain some things...it's not really a good idea to record TO an Airdisk with EyeTV, and rely on that as your main EyeTV archive. You'd be MUCH better off recording internally or locally. USB AirDisks are slow, slower than a regular, directly attached USB external. I would recommend you read from USB Airdisks only, i.e. it's safe to store high def media content there, but that's it. And what do you think will happen to EyeTV when TM kicks in to do its thing--all over that same slow bus? It doesn't matter that the Extreme itself is gigabit or that Mac might be hard-wired to it with gigabit.


Granted, USB AirDisks are easy to use, I love mine and have about 3TB of media stored on them, but, word to the wise, just store files there, recording your EyeTV locally instead. With a USB tuner, record internally or to a firewire external.

FYI, the TM backup and the EyeTV recording location are two separate hds connected to my AEBS. Is this the better protocol? (Your point though, I know, is that the Airport Disk just isn't fast enough to write to to get a good recording.)

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I wouldn't recommend using the Hybrid at all in a home setup; it's probably my bias from being a Mac user for 10 years showing through. USB2 is half-duplex, add in bus power for that stick, all that is more intensive to manage and ties up even more CPU. Macs, historically, never handle stressful USB tasks well, whereas firewire or ethernet have always seemed smooth and fast. Even if you spring for a mini I'd recommend you rethink loyalty to that tuner and go in a different direction. A 250+ would be an improvement over the Hybrid, I have a 250+ and find it to be reliable for ATSC or QAM because it does not rely on bus power, but I'd dump USB tuners entirely, go firewire (500s) ethernet (HD Homerun) or with the Hauppauge HD PVR.

I haven't, so far, been able to find a 500 anywhere. The HD Homerun certainly looks interesting. The mini only has one ethernet port though, so you'd have to connect it to an ethernet hub?
 

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Quote:
The HD Homerun certainly looks interesting. The mini only has one ethernet port though, so you'd have to connect it to an ethernet hub?

Gayle, you'd plug the HD Homerun into your Extreme, it'll be assigned its own address, etc. It doesn't get directly connected to your Mac.

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When you say to keep the HD lean, does that mean that when you record something to your internal hard drive in your HTPC you then move the recorded material (if you want to keep it) to, say in my case, an Airport disk and then access material from there?

I meant all drives slow down as they fill up. So, if you're trying to stretch a few percentage points of better performance out of your system, as in the MBP example, by putting a fast Scorpio Black (or an even faster SSD) in there, you'd probably want it mainly running your apps, and yes, writing to external firewire storage. I've found with the 320GB Black that as long as I keep it about half full I'm still pretty zippy.

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So there are two steps: Record the material as locally as possible, then move it if you want to keep it?

There aren't hard and fast rules with this, I'll just tell you what works well for me. I have two main viewing locations--living room and bedroom. I record high def TV with four EyeTV tuners: two (a 250+ and a 500) on a BR PowerMac recording to one of its internal drives, and two 500s on my LR Macbook, recording to an external firewire drive. That means two EyeTV archives, two instances of EyeTV running, but since both are on my gigabit network, it's painless to share (within the EyeTV app itself, since other archives can be seen and shared by the app) or I can simply play back from either archive with Plex. I don't really move EyeTV recordings around, that's too much of a hassle. other types of video files, rips, downloads, etc yes, yes, I do move them to my AirDisk drives--and then tend to keep those drives full, watch something, delete it, move more over.

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FYI, the TM backup and the EyeTV recording location are two separate hds connected to my AEBS. Is this the better protocol? (Your point though, I know, is that the Airport Disk just isn't fast enough to write to to get a good recording.

Well, you might get perfectly fine recordings to an AirDisk, my points are 1) I don't think that's something that is actually supported by El Gato and 2) you definitely can't stress out that USB/AirDisk connection, it's not fast even with a single drive, and it's just not meant to read/write to multiple AirDisk drives, which is what you'd be doing if you were trying to 1) record one show while 2) watching a recording and 3) have TM kick in for an update. I have two separate drives connected to my Extreme as well, but both still connect over a single USB, though. When it comes to video, I've had better luck with mine when I don't ask it to multitask, and instead do one task at a time over that USB connection, say stream a recording from it or move a file over to it, but not both simultaneously.
 
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