Creating a Vista Media Center HD PVR

This fall season for network television has brought about an interesting phenomenon: Monday night seems to be overloaded with some of the best shows! Now, this isn’t really a problem for pvr geeks – more of a challenge waiting to be overcome.
My cable DVR that I am forced to rent due to cablecard “issues” (I’m slightly bitter here) just can not handle the notion of wanting to record more than two shows at a time, what to do?
I thought about just using the awesome streaming service Hulu, but I really wanted a seamless viewing experience in the living room – and I want to watch it on my flat panel TV. So… I decided that a fun thing to do would be to put my Vista Ultimate box to work, and dive into Media Center. After a playing around with it, I am pleasantly suprised – and am in almost disbelief that this is an Out Of The Box Microsoft solution.

Here was my trip:

  • Purchased a Tuner: I was thinking about going with the HDHomeRun (the network attached dual tuner from SiliconDust), but I decided to start out slow, and build out my Media PC a brick at a time. Starting out slow for me, meant going with the Hauppauge1250 PCIe card. It is a digital/analog hybrid tuner that came with a non standard Media Center remote- and I figured I would add more as I need them. (Currently only have 3 shows that I want to record during the same time slot – as this grows, I’ll add more tuners. Note: Media center only supports 2 of each type of tuner. IE: 2 analog or 2 digital)
  • A non Media Center Remote in Media Center: I had read on some forums, that using the Hauppauge remote would not work within Media Center, and at first it seemed that was the case. After making sure the IR received was fully inserted into the tuner card, I installed the IR Remote utility that comes with the Hauppauge WinTV software. Once installed, and after a reboot, I was able to hit the power button on the remote, and start Media Center! All the buttons were working, and it even had a home button which mapped to the Media Center Green Button.
  • Tried to get QAM going, got OTA instead: So I have Cablevision/Optimum where I am located and thought I could pull QAM through. The first snag is that QAM is not supported in Vista Media Center, which sucks, but it is coming with the currenlty-only-oem-release TV Pack. Luckily Hauppauge does have a Media Center plugin for QAM support. I have not been able to get this working. I’m thinking that it may be due to the signal strength of the cable input – but as an interesting side effect, I managed to get over the air ATSC signal by accidently touching the CAT9 cable to my metal desk. Woohoo, a poor mans HD atenna…
  • Tested recording and playback: With my accidental OTA signal, I decided to schedule a recording of a show- while having Media Center closed, and Vista in sleep mode. When I woke up the next morning to check the recordings, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the HD recording was flawless, and that the recording service had awoken the PC to do its thing.
  • Purchased a DVI to HDMI cable: Now that the recording test passed, I decided to head over to MonoPrice and pick up a cheap/awesome DVI to HDMI cable. For those who don’t know, MonoPrice is carries some of the best equipment with the best prices bar none – as long as you arn’t looking for instant satisification. So, after a couple of days of anxiously waiting, my cable arrived and I was finally able to connect my Media Center PC to my Panasonic Plasma TV. After changing the resolution to 1920X1280 – I was watching my HD recording and very, very happy.

The final verdict, is that I have had the cable-provided-DVR-solution-blindfold removed from my eyes, and am now able to see what competition can give the consumer – a compelling user experience, that just works (seems like a good slogan, maybe I’ll trade mark it).


1 comment so far

  1. […] Media Center – QAM In my last post, I was unable to get QAM working with Vista Media Center. The reason seemed to be due to the fact […]

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