Help me upgrade my DIY HTPC without it becoming a PITA
September 10, 2008 7:58 AM   Subscribe

With digital OTA coming in February and the possibility of dipping into HD in the near future, help me give my 2 year old HTPC a facelift.

I'm working with a ASUS P4S8X-MX board at 3.0Ghz and 2GB of memory. I have a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 MCE in there and a fairly lowend videocard because a needed a way to get TV-out (I believe it's a Radeon 9250 but don't quote me on it).

Here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to have this thing be able to receive OTA after the digital switch. We don't get or want cable or satellite and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Instead of spending my money and government coupons on digital boxes that I then have to route through the computer, can I purchase a card that will do that?

I am also looking at the fact that HD is becoming more popular and a nice TV could be purchased in the next 6-12 months that could take advantage of some of that OTA HD stuff. What does it take to support HD recording?

Last and final question. When we set this up we were on XP MCE 2005. We since upgraded to Vista and while we like the interface, I can't help but drool at some of the other software options out there like Plex, Mediaportal, et. al. Something that is easy for the wife to use is of utmost importance but I'm getting a lot more content online these days and adding it to the box (because of a lack of cable/sat) and the Vista Media Center seems less focused on media other than photos and personal videos. Any good recommendations on the software front?
posted by genial to Technology (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest way? Buy an HDHomeRun. It works over the network and has two tuners and functions fine with MCE, MythTV, and plenty of other software packages.

Your computer should be fine for decoding even 1920x1080i60 MPEG-2. You will obviously need an HD display to view it at full resolution. They're getting pretty cheap. Don't skimp too much when you decide to buy one, though. While plenty of people are happy enough with low end HDTVs, they really don't look very good.
posted by wierdo at 8:09 AM on September 10, 2008

Oh, and to answer the second half of your question..MythTV or XBMC whenever the Windows/Linux ports stabilize fully.

XBMC owns. I have an original Xbox that I bought used and never have used for anything but XBMC. It has excellent organizational capabilities for both movies and series, is easy to use, and looks nice.

I've been playing with the Windows and Linux ports, but as of a couple of months ago, they still crashed too often to be my daily driver.
posted by wierdo at 8:13 AM on September 10, 2008

I'm not gonna lie, I don't see the point in capturing and encoding broadcasts myself, when someone else is already doing it and posting the results. There are so many places to download any TV show in existence, to the point where I can get them within a few hours of air date, and I just can't justify the effort of setting up my own way of doing it.

Of course... I have a HD-PVR thing so maybe if I had to download every show I wanted I'd change my mind, but I don't think so. I made a simple script that interacts with the site I like the most, and it does "season passes" for me, whenever a new show shows up, it adds the torrent to my downloader.

I use a very crude menu program that I wrote, it all works pretty great. The nice thing about an HD-TV is that you can take a DVI output from a video card, use a simple cable adaptor to change that to HDMI and feed it into the HDTV, turning it into a giant monitor.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:48 AM on September 10, 2008

Best answer: Thet Hauppauge ~1600 or ~1800 models will do exactly what you want: Allow you to watch OTA digital broadcasts, just like the converter boxes. All you need is an antenna. Don't be fooled by "HD" or "digital" antennae, they are all the same; so don't pay a premium for one. I have the 1600 model on my Vista Media Center box and it works perfectly. The quality of OTA HD is actually superior to the offerings from cable/satellite, as the signal is not compressed any further (you get the full ~12mbits or whatever).

With Vista media center and that card, you can watch, record, and play back HD with no problems. It's very easy. Just remember to add the "sub" digital channels that aren't natively picked up by Vista, there's a ton of info out there especially on TheGreenButton.

I went through this whole thing very recently, so MefiMail me if you have any questions, especially regarding the digital subchannels or getting proper guide info.
posted by lohmannn at 9:16 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

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