What would be my best source for HD Content and the best PVR to capture that content?
April 27, 2007 11:02 AM   Subscribe

What would be my best source for HD content and the best PVR to capture that content? I just purchased a new HDTV. I have a Direct TV Tivo box that is only standard def. I figure as long as I have an HDTV though, I should try to get the most out of it. It seems my options are Direct TV with their HD PVR, a Direct TV HD receiver and an HD TiVo or MythTV set up, cable and one of their PVRs or cable and a Tivo or MythTV set up.

I live in Los Angeles (Torrance), and if I were to switch to cable, my provider would be Time Warner. They provide my high speed internet, so there is some bundling that I could take advantage of there. I think the pricing might be a wash or might still slightly favor satellite after whatever introductory specials I could get, but I haven't put it all in a spreadsheet to make sure yet.

I've been reasonably happy with DirectTV up to this point, and I generally like the Tivo interface pretty well. It's just that the old DirectTivo box isn't capable of anything other than standard def.

I have an OTA antenna plugged into the set, and I don't seem to receive a number of local channels in high def. The antenna may need to be tuned a bit better, but I only seem to have digital equivalents for about half of the stations I should.

I've been looking a little at the Mythtv Dragon 2.0 system. That looks pretty sweet. I've heard that Myth is a pain to set up and maintain though. I'm not really a Linux guy. I can CD and LS, but not much beyond that. I can follow instructions pretty well though if somebody lays it out for me.

Does anybody here have a Dragon or has anybody used one? How does that compare to Tivo? Would it be better to use a system like that with cable or with DirectTV? I know the Tivo HD receiver says that it won't work with a satellite receiver. I find that hard to believe, but I guess it's smarter to trust them on that. Would that be true of the Dragon as well?

I don't currently have an upscaling DVD player either. I assume if I got a Dragon, it could serve as that device as well. Is that correct?

Is there even enough HD content out there to make this worthwhile? I know a lot of shows/channels are still broadcast in standard def. I don't know if standard def shows over component or HDMI look any better than standard def shows over s-video (which is the highest quality I have available to me now).
posted by willnot to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a standard definition Tivo that I loved, loved, loved loved.

I have moved that to the kid's room and we have the HD PVR from Dish Network. It is perfectly functional, but just doesn't compare interface-wise or function-wise with Tivo. Tivo is simply best in breed. Nothing will compare.

I thought about a HD Tivo but they are profoundly expensive. I can live with this HD PVR for a year or two until prices come down.

I have had both Satellite and Cable HD service, and I strongly prefer the Satellite, both for more choices/more channels, and for just quality of signal.

True HD satellite stuff is great always, and sometimes amazing. If you have an HD tv, then you need to pump some HD programming through it pronto.

I even enjoy watching standard network fair (sitcoms, etc) in HD. Although be prepared... watching the CBS Evening News in HD will convince you that Katie Couric died 4 years ago, and she has been animated by a dark necromancer ever since then.

That's my $0.02.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:30 AM on April 27, 2007

I have Comcast and the HD Tivo and it is pretty excellent. Some stations lose sync at times or swap to SD which is annoying. About 70% of what I watch is HD, or SD content on HD stations which end up decent enough. I watch SD content with bars on my HDTV and I don't mind it all that much, but there is a difference, obviously.

The HD Tivo uses CableCard to tune. It does have tuners for unencrypted QAM (I don't know what that means) without the CableCard as well. But I'd assume what they mean when they say it won't work with a satellite receiver is because it tunes either through normal cable tuner or an unecrypted QAM tuner or through a CableCard, and none of those are used by the satellite box. The HD Tivo has multiple tuners so you can record two things at once. This was very nice when I moved up from old Series 1 to this Tivo. It decreased the amount of TV I had to download a lot.

The HD Tivo was expensive. My Comcast bill is pretty obscene. But at the end of the day, I'm pretty happy with it.

I do have a MythTV box as well, but I only use it to play DVDs and stuff I download. I don't record with it. I don't think it can tune encrypted QAM though, so I don't know how successful the combination of Myth and cable is. It will depend on how much of the cable stream is encrypted. Undoing this encryption before viewing is the problem the CableCards solve, but you have to have some certification before you can take CableCards.
posted by cmm at 11:37 AM on April 27, 2007

I have an OTA antenna plugged into the set, and I don't seem to receive a number of local channels in high def. The antenna may need to be tuned a bit better, but I only seem to have digital equivalents for about half of the stations I should.

My brother-in-law is in San Pedro, in the "shadow" of Palos Verdes. While waiting for Direct TV to hook him up, he used an antenna and was able to get very good HD reception from San Diego, but not LA. You may want to play with that antenna a bit more.
posted by yqxnflld at 11:59 AM on April 27, 2007

I just cancelled my Comast cable TV + HD DVR since the bill was insane and the service worse (No On Demand in the middle of Silicon Valley? In 2007?), and I've been more than happy with a decent OTA antenna, DVDs (Blockbuster Online), and bittorrent for those shows I can't get, that I missed, or that I'd rather watch all at one time anyway.

I have an HD tuner built in, but I don't get the regional PBS or NBC stations. Sometimes when it's rainy or the stars are misaligned, the OTA reception stutters a bit. The channel guide is slow, but it might be the TV's fault (Syntax LT37HVS). I also use an XBox with XBMC installed to play remote video (bittorrent). 350MB AVIs over XBMC are surprisingly close to DVD quality, honestly, at least video-wise.
posted by kcm at 12:47 PM on April 27, 2007

I know it probably isn't what you want to hear, but having just been in the same boat I would say to wait. There are very few HD channels on satellite right now, but if you switch to cable you'll probably regret it in a year or so when they come online. If you must do something now don't forget to look at dish network; they seem to have more HD channels at a lower price than directv.
posted by true at 1:38 PM on April 27, 2007

Response by poster: I'm in a condo that has contracted with a company that provides satellite antennas for multi-dwelling units, so Dish isn't an option for me. That company would also be responsible for adjusting the OTA antenna on the roof.
posted by willnot at 2:16 PM on April 27, 2007

I went with Comcast in my area - I'm not so sure about Time Warner, but my usage of HD channels has really be relegated to the major networks, Discovery Channel, and HBO. The HD channels that are offered by most cable providers are not great in number. You're not under any contract with cable, so I say take advantage of whatever promotional pricing they've got going on now and wait out for satillite.

As for the DVR, mine came with an HD DVR built in (LG), so I've had one from the word go - its even allowed me to use the Cablecard system. One remote, everything built on. Only thing I lost was On Demand, but I've got bittorrent for that if I really want it.
posted by plaidrabbit at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2007

I live in Torrance, and have a Time Warner HD DVR. Email me and I can answer some questions.
posted by soundslikeobiwan at 3:59 PM on April 27, 2007

I love my Myth HD box, but unless you have a firewire-enabled STB (which Direct and Dish won't sell you), you won't be able to record HD content from your satellite in Myth. Myth is great with OTA HDTV broadcasts and for folks with firewire cable boxes, but not DirecTV.

That being said, these guys will sell you a firewire-modded STB (or a kit to mod the box yourself) but it's way pricy.
posted by eschatfische at 5:27 PM on April 27, 2007

S3 TiVos are now available directly from TiVo for $499 or $599 from the TiVo Community Store. I tried to use Cox's Motorola 3416 DVR running Passport Echo for a month or two, but eventually got fed up with it and spent the $600 on the TiVo and another $120 or so on a 500GB drive for it. I'm much happier now that I have a TiVo that can record HD.

I've read that the DirecTV HR20 isn't really that bad. I wouldn't know, as I refuse to use a service that downrezzes their HD content (both Dish and DirecTV do, while most cable companies pass through full resolution. That said, many of them don't have as many HD channels as the satellite companies do.

Whatever you do, don't go with Dish Network. They are pretty much at their bandwidth limit now, and have no reasonably near term possibilities to increase it, so they're pretty much out as far as new HD goes, unless they decide to overcompress and downres even more than they are now. DirecTV is in a much better place for that going forward, unless both of the new satellites they are launching this year blow up.

Since you're in a Time Warner market, the S3 might not be the best solution for you, as unlike the other cable companies, they're being relatively aggressive about using switched digital video, which the S3 cannot support, since it is not a two way device, and thus cannot communicate back to the headend to request a particular channel be sent down the pipe. Of course, you could always use it until TW implements it in your market and then sell the S3 on eBay and switch to something else.

Also, if you decide to go with a MythTV box, you'll quickly run into the encryption/copy protection the cable companies use. I happen to be lucky in that the only HD channels Cox encrypts are inHD and HBO-HD. All the other HD channels are not 5c protected, and can be recorded to a PC. Unfortunately, many cable companies encrypt nearly everything. Cox does encrypt most of the SD, making a MythTV over firewire thing nearly useless.

As it stands now, I'm using two TiVo S2s, one S3, and the aforementioned 3416, on which I only record things I don't care much about, since it sometimes fails to record programs and has hardly any disk space. I'd love to use MythTV operationally, but it's just not feasible here due to the encryption.
posted by wierdo at 7:36 PM on April 27, 2007

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