How do I hook up a homebrew HTPC to an analog TV?
April 25, 2008 12:51 PM   Subscribe

How do I hook up a homebrew HTPC to an analog TV?

I've got a 6-year-old analog TV which, aside from coax, only offers RCA connections (two sets). In hopes of creating a quasi-TiVo, I took a 5-year-old HP unning Windows and added a wireless-G adapter (for my home network) and a Hauppauge PVR-350 tuner. Add in GB-PVR software, and it's working great on my monitor - which I do not want in my living room permanently.

I'd planned to use the TV outs on the Hauppauge card, only to discover that they only really work with the accompanying software (or an older version of GB-PVR that doesn't do much else). And even then, it only shows THAT program, not the desktop or menus you'd need to actually open said program. It doesn't appear adding a new video card is an option (there's no AGP slot and I think the tuner & wireless cards took care of the expansion slots).

I'm really NOT a techie, so I'm out of my element here. Since this is sort of a tinkering/hobby-type thing, I'm trying to keep costs fairly low (ie, don't want to have to spend as much on it as I'd spend on a new TV that'd work right out of the box.) I'm pretty sure this is a hardware issue, but software suggestions are welcome. Thanks!
posted by Ponsonby Britt to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Basically, you need a video card that supports TV-Out. With the TV you describe, something like this Nvidia card would be what you are looking for. It has a composite out but you can also find cards with s-video. Before getting a new TV, I used a Nvidia card similar to this, but with an s-video out, for my MythTV box. Worked great, though took a little bit of tinkering to get the settings right for X. If you are on Windows, you shouldn't have too much issue getting it working.
posted by chrisroberts at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2008

You can also get a VGA-to-tv converter. These take a VGA input from a normal video card, and convert it to svideo and/or composite video. These are foolproof and reasonable quality. They won't require special drivers or software on the computer, or special video modes etc. They just work. That's what I use on my htpc-analog tv.

The one I have is old so it's no longer available but check out

This is very close to the one I have
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:12 PM on April 25, 2008

make sure you know whether the RCA jacks on the back of your TV are Composite Video (3 connectors - yellow for video, red&white for audio) or Component Video (5 connectors - re&blue&green for video, red&white for audio). S-Video, which is a round connection with 4 pins, looking somewhat similar to the PS/2 connector for older keyboards and mice, might also be an option for you - it's often overlooked.
posted by bartleby at 1:22 PM on April 25, 2008

What chrisroberts said.. I picked up a cheap PCI video card with TV out for around $50 many years ago now (incidentally, for the same purpose as you are suggesting, before I got the Mac Mini to do it!), so it shouldn't break the bank! I'd be really surprised if your machine has only 2 PCI slots. Usually they have at least 3, but if you've really used them all up, then Rusty's suggestion will also work (but probably be more expensive).

Good luck with it, before you know it you'll be looking to upgrade tho... (HDTV beckoning!) :)

(Oh, another idea I just had is that you could buy a USB Wireless adaptor, which would give you an extra spot for the video card? Might still be cheaper than the VGA-TV convertor)
posted by ranglin at 6:27 PM on April 25, 2008

The one I linked to is $80. I'd really recommend going that route actually. Not having to screw with buggy drivers is pretty nice. Also, it's totally portable, you don't have to take it out of one computer and put it in another - I've used the same one for something like 7 years now. I also take it with me when I'm taking a laptop somewhere, since a lot of hotels will have TVs that have a composite or SVGA input (some don't though, some hotels use made-for-hotel TVs). it's nice to be able to watch my own movies from the laptop (or tv shows, whatever) on the hotel TV.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:10 PM on April 25, 2008

in terms of visual quality, composite (single yellow RCA) is worst, svideo/svga (small round 4 pin connection) is next and component (red/bue/green RCA) is best. RGB scart is about equal to component, but that's for euros.

Assuming the onboard video card is intel, then your only option with that is an external vga converter box. You can get component, but they're expensive. Composite or svideo are cheaper, but if that's all your tv supports, then it's moot anyway.

If your TV supports component, I'd personally get a PCI nvidia or ati card with component out, and swap the wireless card for a usb dongle - or even run a cat5 cable. It'll probably be about the same price, and you'll get a better quality doing it natively to the TV. If not, a vga to composite adapter is very simple and easy, albeit fairly naff quality.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:14 AM on April 26, 2008

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