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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,


We're looking to replace the cable company's DVR with a PC.


Because I am a complete klutz when it comes to assembling machines, building an HTPC from scratch is out of the question. However, I'm OK with installing cards inside computer cases. So, what I would like to know is: is it possible to buy an inexpensive off-the-shelf PC that meets the requirements for the Ceton InfiniTV 4 , install that tuner, the CableCard, and maybe a more powerful graphics card, get a remote, and then go on our merry way? Or is there something special about an "HT" PC that requires a custom build?


It will probably help for me to describe our needs. We simply want to replicate, on a PC, the functions that the cable company DVR currently performs: to watch and record digital and high-def cable programs, and play them back on our TV set. We do not need to receive broadcast (over-the-air) channels. We are not interested in downloading programs or videos off the Internet onto the TV.


We have no desire to show photographs on the TV. Sending recorded programs to other TVs in the house is not essential. Knowing that the CableCard is a "one-way" device, we are willing to sacrifice the ability to watch pay-per-view and "on demand" programming, but we would like to still be able to use a program guide/channel listings to look for shows and to program recordings. The form factor is not an issue -- we're OK with having a tower PC standing near the TV.


We have a modern HD television set (purchased this past summer) with multiple connectivity options: HDMI, component, coax, and Ethernet and USB ports. There is no AV receiver in the middle of our setup -- if possible, we would prefer to hook up the PC directly to the TV, just as we now connect the DVR directly to the TV.


What do you think? Is our idea possible?


Thanks in advance for any advice you might give us.
 

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Possible, sure. The PC you linked to should be able to meet the requirements of the Ceton tuner. Caveat, I didn't see an HDMI port in the pictures, so you'll probably have to buy video card for that.
 

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The idea is definitely possible and actually doable. The one major caveat is that if you're not particularly PC savvy and are willing to tinker to get things right, an HTPC may not be in the cards for you. These things aren't as plug and play as many would like to think, although they're far better than they were a few years ago.


To use the Ceton InfiniTV cablecard tuner you'd need a PC with an empty PCI-E 1X slot and Win 7 Media Center, which comes with just about every version of Win 7 except Home Basic. You may also need an HDCP compliant graphics card. The Digital Cable Advisor utility needs to be run prior to setting up the Ceton tuner and will tell you if you're lacking in any area.


Media Center takes care of the DVR chores and has no monthly fees attached. Just install the Ceton tuner and contact your cable company to install a cablecard for you and activate it. There are instructions on the Ceton website for setting up the tuner in Media Center.


Unless you're willing to deal with TV outages and a family that's ready to lynch you because they can't watch their shows, you might want to rethink the situation. My advice would be to start with an HTPC as a supplement to your existing setup and get acquainted with it first before cutting the cord. I'm not trying to scare you off. I just want you to be aware that owning an HTPC can sometimes be more than you bargained for. OTOH, once you've got it up and running there's no need for further tweaking. It should be as reliable as any other Windows-based PC, so take that with a grain of salt.


FWIW, I've been using an HTPC for almost four years now and I installed a Ceton card a few months ago and loving it. I attempted to rid myself of all cable boxes through the use of media extenders but ran into hardware issues when I tried to upgrade the HTPC. The result was an unhappy family and a lot of aggravation. I ended up getting a cable box for my son's room, but he's paying for it. The wife objected almost immediately so I relented and kept a standard def box for her use. I know what the limitations are and I'm a lot more patient so I'm (almost) perfectly content with the way things are for the moment.
 

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What the captain said.


A dual tuner cableco HD receiver/PVR rents for about $15 per month, say ~$200 per year, and it just works. Pretty hard to justify $400 for the Ceton, $5-700 for a PC plus all of the screwing round to get it working properly. For a single TV installation The cableco box can't be beat and it is far cheape.


BB
 

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On another note, if $400 is too steep for your budget, consider that SiliconDust has announced that their 3-tuner cablecard unit will be going into production within two weeks with a retail price of $250. If you can hold off a bit longer then the SD HDHomeRun Prime may be a better choice for you.
 

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If you already have a PC, doing the HTPC route is a no-brainer.


If you get the SD HDHRP, you'll almost break even in a year or so.


It's pretty important that if you want the HTPC to be really reliable...you should use it ONLY for HTPC. Web browsing by the kids is probably not a good idea (though for TV shows on the web, it's OK). It should not be something that your mom/daughter uses to browse for cat pictures or your son/father install strange programs on.


The 2 best features of going the PC route are:

1. Infinitely expandable capacity...update, add, or replace drives and not lose the recordings. Archive HD HBO, Max, Showtime movies.

2. Extenders (xbox 360 is the most common)...you can literally have one PC serve 5 TVs...it could be the only cable box you even need! If the family already has 360s, that can literally replace a cable box ($100 a year savings each!!!). If you go the "whole house DVR" route, wired Ethernet is a must.


Still, I advise running the CableCo DVR alongside the PC for a while. Eventually you will feel you can ditch the cable DVR. Also, with a bigger family, it might be prudent to invest in some cheap ClearQAM (unencrypted digital channels like CBS, Fox et al) tuners, too. With something like the SD HDHRP and an AverDuet, you can tune 5 channels at one time.
 

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Poor interface, simultaneous recording limitations, high long-term cost, low storage space, flaky recording (although improved), no archival options, and (most of all) DRM on everything.


With a PC, as long as the broadcast flag isn't there, one can watch their recordings on literally anything (including your phone)
 

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OP said he wants a single TV solution with no desire or need for OTA recording, downloaded video, music or photos ie a DVR.....Period! He just wants to junk the cableco DVR, not cable. There is no way that an HTPC with a cablecard tuner, with whatever software/OS solution he chooses and the hours of tweaking and missed recotrdings before it is set up can compete with the modern, dual tuner HD receiver/recorders that are offered by the cablecos for 15 bux a month. The cableco will send a guy out to set it up for you, exchange it if it breaks and sends software/firmware updates down the wire. Granted, it has nowhere near the capability of a PC but OP doesn't want or need these capabilities. To HTPC junkies, like most here, the HTPC isseen to be THE ANSWER for everybody. I am just saying that it isn't always the right/best solution for everyone.


BB
 

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BB that's what I was thinking. The Cable DVR is what 99% of cable people use to record TV. I've only seen ONCE (I fix TV's for a living) where somebody is using a PC as a DVR. HTPC/DVR is something just us HTPC junkies are familiar with, it's FAR from mainstream...


DVR costs are heavily subsidized by the pay TV companies, once you have a bunch of recordings on your DVR it makes it hard to switch to a different Pay TV provider.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Servicetech571 /forum/post/19555243


DVR costs are heavily subsidized by the pay TV companies, once you have a bunch of recordings on your DVR it makes it hard to switch to a different Pay TV provider.

Seriously? Charter charges $25 per month for DVR. How much do these things cost, anyway? Can't see how you can accumulate a ton of stuff. If memory serves, ours only had a 160GB HDD.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by ilovejedd /forum/post/19550631


Possible, sure. The PC you linked to should be able to meet the requirements of the Ceton tuner. Caveat, I didn't see an HDMI port in the pictures, so you'll probably have to buy video card for that.

Thanks for the info, and for the caveat -- I hadn't noticed that! I'd probably want to go with an upgraded graphics card anyway.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by captain_video /forum/post/19550650


Unless you're willing to deal with TV outages and a family that's ready to lynch you because they can't watch their shows, you might want to rethink the situation. My advice would be to start with an HTPC as a supplement to your existing setup and get acquainted with it first before cutting the cord. I'm not trying to scare you off. I just want you to be aware that owning an HTPC can sometimes be more than you bargained for. OTOH, once you've got it up and running there's no need for further tweaking. It should be as reliable as any other Windows-based PC, so take that with a grain of salt.


FWIW, I've been using an HTPC for almost four years now and I installed a Ceton card a few months ago and loving it. I attempted to rid myself of all cable boxes through the use of media extenders but ran into hardware issues when I tried to upgrade the HTPC. The result was an unhappy family and a lot of aggravation. I ended up getting a cable box for my son's room, but he's paying for it. The wife objected almost immediately so I relented and kept a standard def box for her use. I know what the limitations are and I'm a lot more patient so I'm (almost) perfectly content with the way things are for the moment.

Thank you very much for the extensive details and warnings!


What kind of "TV outages" do you mean -- are these like the technical problems that I'm sure will crop up while we're getting to know how the new system works and adjust things so that everything works together?


Fortunately, my wife knows something about computers and is game to experiment and put up with aggravation -- but only up to a point, so I take your advice to try an HTPC setup before ditching the cable box as very sensible, the voice of experience.


And thanks for the tip about the upcoming 3-way Silicon Dust tuner. Three channels would be enough, and $150 or so would be a substantial savings.


Much appreciated.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by Servicetech571 /forum/post/19554664


Why do you hate the cable co's DVR so much? If all you want to do is DVR just keep the one from the cable co.

Servicetech571,


@Bigbird999,


There are three main reasons that we're thinking of an HTPC (TiVo/Moxi is another candidate concept) to replace the cable company DVR. Here they are, in no particular order:


1) Expense -- We're paying almost $200 a year for this machine. Assuming that the rental fee stays the same, I figure that if we approach the project sensibly, the HTPC can pay for itself in 5 years or so, and then we're ahead. (The first CableCard is free, I found out.)


2) Convenience -- The cable company's DVR has limited storage space, and no way to expand it. A couple of nights ago my wife had to delete several unwatched episodes of "Murder, She Wrote" to make room for new recordings coming in. We would prefer to be able either to store more programs on the DVR, or to offload them to an external drive for later viewing.


3) Quality -- Frankly, the cable company's DVR is cr*ppy. Often, it fails to record shows we had set (did this again last night). Then, sometimes when we want to fast-forward a few minutes, instead it will skip all the way to the end of the recording, ruining the ending for us. And if we want to figure out mumbled dialogue with closed captioning, we have to turn the DVR OFF in order to get into the menu and turn the CC on. This means that, if we happen to be recording something else when we want to do this, then we have to either lose the concurrent recording or suffer along without the CC. It's just poor design, badly executed.


One other thing that's annoying (but I put this in a separate paragraph because I don't know how Windows Media Center handles it) is that, if we pause the recording in order to look at something on the screen (say, to read handwriting on a letter or a newspaper headline), much of the time we can't do it because the DVR puts up this wide green band of "information" across the bottom third of the screen, blocking everything there from view. I hope that the designers of WMC had the good sense not to do this. Even my ancient VCR just gives discreet little numbers off in the corner somewhere when we pause a tape.


The main things that have been keeping us from making the switch are the upfront expense and the pain-in-the-neck aspect of setting up the new system and making everything work. But the frustrations and aggravations of the DVR keep piling up, so we're edging closer to a decision.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by steven975 /forum/post/19553661


If you already have a PC, doing the HTPC route is a no-brainer.


If you get the SD HDHRP, you'll almost break even in a year or so.


It's pretty important that if you want the HTPC to be really reliable...you should use it ONLY for HTPC. Web browsing by the kids is probably not a good idea (though for TV shows on the web, it's OK). It should not be something that your mom/daughter uses to browse for cat pictures or your son/father install strange programs on.


The 2 best features of going the PC route are:

1. Infinitely expandable capacity...update, add, or replace drives and not lose the recordings. Archive HD HBO, Max, Showtime movies.

2. Extenders (xbox 360 is the most common)...you can literally have one PC serve 5 TVs...it could be the only cable box you even need! If the family already has 360s, that can literally replace a cable box ($100 a year savings each!!!). If you go the "whole house DVR" route, wired Ethernet is a must.


Still, I advise running the CableCo DVR alongside the PC for a while. Eventually you will feel you can ditch the cable DVR. Also, with a bigger family, it might be prudent to invest in some cheap ClearQAM (unencrypted digital channels like CBS, Fox et al) tuners, too. With something like the SD HDHRP and an AverDuet, you can tune 5 channels at one time.

This is all very good to know!


We would definitely want to start "small" in one room before branching out to other TV sets. At that point I would look into Powerline or MOCA to send the signals around the house via wire. But expandable capacity is absolutely one of the benefits that we're hoping to gain.


I hadn't heard of the AverDuet, I'll have to look into that. Five channels at a time would be awesome.


And yes, the PC would be a dedicated system for TV viewing and no Web browsing or other applications -- a "lean and mean machine."


Thanks!
 

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Get the Moxi or Tivo if all you want to do is DVR. I love my HTPC but I've cut the cord and get signal OTA. We also use it to play music, pictures, video, online, etc.


The Moxi and Tivo boxes can do a lot of what a HTPC does, but Tivo has a $13 monthly fee and Moxi is cable only.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by Servicetech571 /forum/post/19557183


Get the Moxi or Tivo if all you want to do is DVR. I love my HTPC but I've cut the cord and get signal OTA. We also use it to play music, pictures, video, online, etc.


The Moxi and Tivo boxes can do a lot of what a HTPC does, but Tivo has a $13 monthly fee and Moxi is cable only.

It sure IS tempting to go TiVo. We'd probably pay the extra $400 for the lifetime subscription so we could do away with the monthly bills, and come out ahead in about 4 years (counting the price of the TiVo machine).


I didn't know that detail about the Moxi, thanks! We'll have to put it on the scale.


There's a few channels that keep us from cutting out cable altogether. I like the news channels, and during baseball season it's nice to be able to watch somebody other than the home team every time.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by JorgeA /forum/post/19557360


It sure IS tempting to go TiVo. We'd probably pay the extra $400 for the lifetime subscription so we could do away with the monthly bills, and come out ahead in about 4 years (counting the price of the TiVo machine).


I didn't know that detail about the Moxi, thanks! We'll have to put it on the scale.


There's a few channels that keep us from cutting out cable altogether. I like the news channels, and during baseball season it's nice to be able to watch somebody other than the home team every time.

Just ask yourself if it's worth $1,000 or so per year for national news and a few baseball games... I'm not a fan of the national news channels no matter how "unbiased" they claim they are, but that's a whole other discussion. Keep in mind there will be a cable card fee (normally under $5/mo) for Tivo/Moxi and cable card support may be dropped before the "payback period" of your investment.


If you build a HTPC, you can do so w/o buying the cable card device. See how you like it then decide if you want to invest in the cable card reader. You currently don't want to watch any content you aren't spending $100/mo for but that changes once the HTPC is set up. It's just to convenient to load up a movie, home video, photo album, or music w/o having to leave your recliner.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by steven975 /forum/post/19553661


If you already have a PC, doing the HTPC route is a no-brainer.


If you get the SD HDHRP, you'll almost break even in a year or so. .

A bit too brief here. SD HDHRP means SiliconDust HD Homerun Prime, which should be released shortly. Three tuner cablecard device for $250 which doesn't require too much in the way of other hardware, and is completely external to the PC.
 
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