Recording live television onto a computer
December 12, 2006 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Recording live television onto a computer? I'm NOT looking for a HD quality picture here. Just bare minimum; choppiness in the video stream is my enemy. I've tried a tv-to-usb adapter on a couple of computers I have, with the recording software set at BARE MINIMUM settings (ie, about a 5 inch by 5 inch picture, with audio and video settings set very low if not on the lowest settings).

Tried it on a 1.5ghz celeron M, 768mb, 7200rpm 60gb drive: and it was PRETTY CHOPPY.

Tried it on a 1 ghz pentium, 512mb, 4200rpm 40gb, and it was PRETTY CHOPPY.

I know I could spend hundreds of dollars and buy the latest media center pc and it would work. I dont want to spend much so a new computer is out; i'd consider used computers or hand me downs though.

SO I guess I need to know -- what minimum specs should I be on the look out for, based on your experiences, to be able to record live tv that is watchable in terms of minimal choppiness when recorded at minimum software settings? Thanks.
posted by jak68 to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The USB adapter is your big bottleneck. Spend a few bucks on a TV tuner card that goes to your PCI bus, and you'll improve your video bandwith about 3300%. Your Celeron M machine is plenty to record off-the-air NTSC video at full frame rate, for up to 800 x 600 full screen, if your video input isn't throttled, and you're using reasonable codecs.
posted by paulsc at 10:08 PM on December 12, 2006

i have a few years old desktop with video inputs and I still had troubles. But I never got it to work right. I even asked before. Maybe you can get some help from my past thread though.

Good luck!
posted by freudianslipper at 11:12 PM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: well, its a laptop though... so a card is out. DO pcmcia cards exist for this? Prolly expensive, no? Any other options?
posted by jak68 at 11:14 PM on December 12, 2006

Notebookreview forum topic on PCMCIA/Cardbus/USB TV tuners. That should at least give you something to Google. They do exist, but I can't vouch for any of 'em.
posted by chrominance at 11:24 PM on December 12, 2006

I have a usb plextor brand video capture device (I don't think it does any tv tuning, if that's a problem - it has composet RCA and svideo for inputs). I used it on an 800mhz machine with no problem. Make sure you have usb2 ports. The nice thing about the plextor is hardware encoding in MPEG2 or MPEG4 (it also has divx but I forget if it does that hardware or software)
posted by chndrcks at 11:24 PM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: Chndrcks:
Yes, they're usb2 ports, and no external hubs. I'm using the ADS Instant TV usb thingie. Not sure if its doing hardware encoding or not; if not, maybe thats why it sucks. I can check.
Interesting that you're getting good results with an 800Mhz machine via USB encoding.

(if all else fails I think I can get my hands on a hand-me-down desktop unit for free, and I'll try the PCI card solution, but hoping to stick with laptops here).
posted by jak68 at 11:39 PM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: p.s., pcmcia tv tuner cards appear to be $80 plus in general, so they're out (besides, my slot is taken).

Interested in hearing other computer specs that have worked well with usb tv tuners/recording..., especially from low end computers. Trying to get a sense of where the minimum is...
posted by jak68 at 11:43 PM on December 12, 2006

p.s., pcmcia tv tuner cards appear to be $80 plus in general, so they're out (besides, my slot is taken).

To be honest, any PCI solution worth its salt is going to be about that expensive as well. For example, Hauppage is a very popular brand, and their PVR-150 is the go-to card for standard-def cable/antenna. They retail for about $80 as well.

What USB tuner do you have? It could be there's a problem that requires troubleshooting, or perhaps some more optimal recording settings. For example, my All-In-Wonder card allows me to dump raw AVI files to the hard drive—I end up with disgustingly large files, but because there's next to no encoding involved, it's lightning quick.
posted by chrominance at 11:56 PM on December 12, 2006

The USB is your bottleneck, not the computer. Assuming your ports are USB 2.0 (but given the specs you mention, it's entirely possible they are USB 1.1), USB 2.0 is at best 480 Mbits/second - but that is a burst rate. USB 2. cannot maintain that speed consistently for video streams - this is why camcorders have firewire ports, which at 400Mb/s is slower, by that 400Mbits is constant.

I'll echo what a lot of people have said about getting a PCI bus based tuner, Hauppage works great, but even the off brands will work fine. Everybody pretty much uses the same two or three chipsets to build their boards. You can get them a lot cheaper than $80, but at that price you'll get on board MPEG2 encoding.

Any of those computers is fine with this kind of board. However, if you are expecting a crystal clear picture on your 1024x768 monitor at full screen, forget it. Standard television is 720x480 - this is why you have a 5x5 inch picture. If you exapnd it to fill the screen, there's no additional data, so the pixels just get doubled.

This is also why crappy yout tube video look crystal clear when played on ordinary TV's.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:39 AM on December 13, 2006

Some places are selling the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150 for as little as $40 right now. I run this hardware-encoding card in an 800MHz machine with 768MB RAM and several 5400RPM drives. It works like a charm and my wife can type up her Christmas letter while the machine is recording a show and I'm watching something recorded earlier. It's operating on WinXP SP2 with some of the flashy things turned off.
posted by kc0dxh at 7:50 AM on December 13, 2006

I had a dell d600 latitude that i used a hauppauge wintv usb device on. Worked pretty well after changing some of the recording setup around. I can't remember what settings i used, but this was on a 1.3 ghz pentium M with a gig of ram.

It was 2 years ago... sorry I can't be more helpful. You can find tons of the pci cards on ebay for cheap, they are usually based on the same chips- as mentioned before.

What are you recording? Can you find a torrent for it?
posted by eleongonzales at 8:28 AM on December 13, 2006

If you have a TiVo Series 2, this can be rather simple (and right now, the lowest end TiVo Series 2 have a rebate on them equal to the purchase price.)

You let the TiVo record it, which eliminates any problems of choppiness. Then you use the TiVo Desktop to drag them over to your computer (and from there to whatever you want -- I drag them to my video iPod.)
posted by bclark at 9:29 AM on December 13, 2006

Response by poster: thanks for the responses --
-what am i recording? I want a cheap vcr replacement! Again, i dont care about hi quality at the moment.

-Tivo series 2 -- but you hve to buy a subscription, no? I read somewhere that with the older tivos you didnt need to buy a subscription and could us them as a vcr (recording onto their hard drive), but when I checked ebay for prices on them they all sold for around $80.

-a regular hard drive based dvd recorder costs about $200 these days, so those are out for the moment too.

-pci cards - hauppage - i'll keep an eye out for one of those on sale. sounds like hardware encoding pci card may be my best bet. Tho i'm puzzled that at least 2 people have reported good results with usb-based recording devices attached to laptops. Maybe those devices are doing hardware encoding and maybe my model is not. (i have an ADS Instant TV).

thanks for the variety of information and responses tho, this gives me some idea. Any other experiences out there? looks like a cheap pci card on a handmedown desktop may be my best bet.
posted by jak68 at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2006

I third the hardware encoding pci tuner cards... and the hauppauge pvr150 is a solid bet.
posted by rampy at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2006

Apparently the Instant TV worked just fine on a Duron 800 system, which is a fair bit slower than your specs. That would seem to confirm chndrcks' experience.

The only thing I can think of is that maybe your 7200rpm laptop is reverting to USB1.1 speeds with the Instant TV plugged in, but I've never heard of that sort of thing happening, and presumably Windows would complain if your USB2 device saw a USB1.1 port.

If you're really keen to stick with USB, the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-USB2 has a hardware MPEG encoder, but it also costs more than the PVR-150.
posted by chrominance at 2:57 AM on December 14, 2006

Response by poster: chrominance: thanks very much for that link, thats the exact same model that I have. And yes, that would indicate that the bottleneck for me wasnt my laptop's processor speed. AFAIK usb2 on my laptop was functioning as usb2. I'll have to investigate why it would be so choppy.
OR I might just pick up a hardware encoding pci card/usb tuner. I know my ads doesnt have hardware encoding, and hardware encoding - and offloading all that processing from the CPU -- makes a lot of sense to me.
Either way, thanks again. This was exactly the kind of info I was looking for.
posted by jak68 at 12:33 PM on December 14, 2006

Response by poster: UPDATE: The ads tv review did say "Response to time shifting commands was a bit slow and playback tended to be jerky. Just to be sure, I installed the Instant TV on a XP 2500+ system where it performed admirably - no hesitation and smooth playback"
That actually sounds like my problem. The review didnt describe what recording quality was like, i'm guessing it was similar.
(Watching regular TV on the ADS device though, was flawless, the review says; as it is for me as well).

So in other words, I think my laptop processor speed/usb2 input, IS the bottleneck. So I'm going for some kind of hardware encoded device (Preferably PCI on a hand me down desktop which I can get for free).

SO I guess that solves that. ;)
posted by jak68 at 12:43 PM on December 14, 2006

Response by poster: another UPDATE:
SO now i have a desktop with the USB2 ads instant tv device: its a 2.5 ghz celeron with 256 mb and a 7200rm 40gb drive --and its working FLAWLESSLY with mpeg2.

So I guess hardware encoding ISNT really necessary if you have a moderately robust desktop (and arent looking for HD quality).
posted by jak68 at 8:01 PM on December 15, 2006

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