I want my HDTV
September 1, 2007 11:22 AM   Subscribe

A/V Question: What do I need to run an HD satellite signal into my computer.

We currently have basic analogue cable, which we've hooked up to a computer we use as a media center/tv in our living room. We're thinking of upgrading to Star Choice satellite TV and getting the HDTV option as the programming, receiver and dish are quite reasonable.

What do we need to make the HD and/or satellite work on the computer? Would cable HD be better? Bonus points if you can tell me how to set up PVR on the computer as well. (FYI, computer is standard desktop running Win XP)
posted by Zinger to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no PC-as-PVR expert, but as a former long-time employee of Star Choice, I would like to urge you not to get a subscription with them unless there are no other HDTV providers in your area.

Star Choice has many fine attributes as a company and as a service provider, but their equipment is extremely buggy, particularly their HD receivers, and technical service and support are often plagued by delays.

Digital Cable has lots of advantages if it's available in your area - not the least of which is that you can split a digital cable line and receive analog cable without a digital decoder, so you have more flexibility to use multiple TVs/systems and more (analog) streams to record from as well.

Best of luck!
posted by chudmonkey at 11:35 AM on September 1, 2007

The biggest thing about digital cable is the bandwidth available, allowing them to offer more HD channels of better quality. The bandwidth available satellite providers for their HD offering means they can offer fewer channels and those that they do offer are often compressed resulting in a less than full HD picture.
posted by iamabot at 12:14 PM on September 1, 2007

Start with Knoppmyth, should provide you with the basics, regardless of whether you go linux for the PVR or not.
posted by iamabot at 1:02 PM on September 1, 2007

to a large extent this is impossible, under linux anyway. there are no sattelite receivers available for PCs, and though you can get a digital cable tuner card for a PC, most cable systems are encrypting even the stuff that they retransmit from over-the-air HD sources.

to solve this problem you need a PC and operating system that supports CableCard, and i dont know if there are any of these. i think sony may have announced one, but i dont know if its shipping. its likely you'll have to use vista though.

i think in europe they use DVB and there are PCI cards with DVB tuners on them. i dont know the status of encrption in europe, or what the standard used in canada is.
posted by joeblough at 1:28 PM on September 1, 2007

What you're trying to do is (currently) very, very hard. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but it's well outside the realm of what even a moderately technically inclined 'average user' is going to be able to do. This is hardcore geek territory.

When you start combining satellite TV (which means you have to use the satellite service's decoder/decrypter box) with HDTV (which is an immature technology generally) with PVR systems (which can be a bit finicky even under the best circumstances), you're building up a "perfect storm" of weaknesses.

It's hard enough to do terrestrial (cable) HDTV into a PVR system...you have to mess around with CableCard if you want anything but the broadcast channels, usually. And CableCard sucks. But it's better than nothing, and nothing is what you have with satellite systems, depending on where you're getting the service from.

The best chance you have of making this work would be if you could get a satellite decoder/decrypter box that has some sort of digital output that's compatible with an output on a computer/PVR. But for copy-prevention revenue protection reasons, the satellite providers usually disable those sorts of features (e.g., unencrypted HD MPEG-2 streams on FireWire).

The place to ask around on these things would be AVS Forum, but before you go there and start asking, you should really ask yourself if this is something you're seriously interested in (to the tune of quite possibly several thousand bucks of bleeding-edge hardware and many weekends of your time) or if you want to go for terrestrial cable or OTA HDTV, which will be a lot simpler.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:48 PM on September 1, 2007

When I was working with Star Choice, I dealt with a few customers who used Star Choice receiver hardware in conjunction with PC-based PVRs, but the solution was typically to attach the receiver to the PC's tuner card via Component, Composite or (shudder) coax to capture the video, which just adds a layer of noise to the result. To allow the PC to control the receiver, they would use a device called an IR blaster, which allows the PC to behave like the receiver's remote and simulate a user changing channels, etc. It's a messy sort of system over-all.

Set-top box PVRs from most of Canada's service providers are decent. I used Star Choice's current HDTV PVR extensively until about a year ago, and it was extremely buggy and difficult to manage. Difficult to manage for me... who worked with them every day at work and wrote the user manual for the UI. Also bear in mind that satellite service is generally more prone to problems than cable. A satellite dish needs to be precisely installed, and Star Choice install technicians are generally not above doing shoddy/unsafe jobs in order to save time and keep customers. Even a perfectly installed dish will require adjust every few years - adjustment a cable line never will. Wet weather can result in choppy video and wet snow in particular means no TV for many Star Choice customers.

I currently have the current HDTV PVR from Shaw Cable. If you're in Western Canada and their service is available to you, you wouldn't go wrong with them. I've never had a technical problem with the PVR - it's just very reliable and easy to use and I never have to think about it.

I've never owned a Bell system, but their PVR hardware has a good reputation. Nowhere near as heavily maligned as Star Choice's comparable equipment, that's for sure.

That'll be my last word on it, except to say that if you decide on Star Choice after all, e-mail me and I'll give you some tips on ensuring a safe, proper & informed installation - satellite systems are finicky, so it's best to arm yourself with knowledge and realistic expectations.
posted by chudmonkey at 8:54 PM on September 1, 2007

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