DVR/HTPC options

Posted by: Zarak

DVR/HTPC options - 09/24/13 10:05 PM

So the receiver went on hold and I started to look into a DVR/HTPC solution instead. I've held out this long because I hate monthly fees and didn't want to pay Comcast an extra $15/mo or whatever it costs just to record/playback live TV. It is getting harder to sit and watch football on Sunday, so it was time to look into a way to pause when I need to. I got the Homerun HD Prime, which is nice in that it attaches to the network, but I can't use it on the TV without a HTPC hooked up to the TV or a XBox as a media center extender. As of now I can sit in the office and watch/record TV, but why sit at my desk in front of a monitor instead of the couch in front of the TV.

I have a PS3 and was hoping I could use that, but all I can do there is play back already recorded shows, where the real need for this for me is to pause live TV so I don't miss any of the game. Unless there is some solution other than media center to work with this.

Is there a different solution I should be looking at? I saw PlayTV for PS3, but that doesn't seem to be for sale in the US anymore.

I thought about just hooking up my laptop to the Prime when I need to use it with a crossover network cable, but it seems it doesn't want to do live TV if it can't get to the internet. I assume media center is checking copyright info or something.

What options do I have? Right now I am looking at needing ~$200 for an Xbox plus running a network cable to the back of the TV or buying powerline adapters, or buying a new wireless router and putting a repeater behind the TV as well (using 802.11ac, still on G now, so skipping N).

If I was running a cable thought about running a HDMI from the office to the TV as well, but I would still need a way to control the PC in the office remotely (run an RF too perhaps?)

Basically looking for the cheapest way to do this without monthly fees. I'm sure we'll use the DVR record and watch later feature some since we have it, but we generally aren't big TV watchers and most shows are available online the day after anyway, so there isn't a big need for that part.

The laptop could get retired and become the HTPC if I have to, although it is a little on the loud side for that.
Posted by: nickbuol

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 08:42 AM

I'm in the process of just starting the planning of my HTPC build, but I am not doing any recording of live tv so I am of little help. I've been a movie ripping fool lately trying to get all of my movies on to my newly built media server. I hope that six 3TB hard drives are enough.
Posted by: Boltron

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 09:12 AM

I am very much into HTPCs and have what I believe is the ultimate solution. I rip all my blurays and use the HTPC for playback. I don't even have a bluray player on the home theater. I have set it up for top notch picture and audio quality that in my opinion will match or best any bluray player on the market.

Expect to pay about $1800.00 for the HTPC. I could do a write up if you like but there's a lot to cover and I will probably have to do it in a few parts.
Posted by: Ken.C

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 09:19 AM

Building an HTPC to save money seems to me a lot like building a table to save money. If you've already got pieces and tools and such, you might come out even. But really, just face that it's more of a hobby thing and it's going to cost a fair amount more than just buying one.
Posted by: Boltron

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 09:52 AM

Theres more to it actually.

Advantages of using a HTPC:
Movies play back instantly, no load times, advertising, menus or other crap to wait through.
Instant access to your library, all of your library.
All fully integrated with a single remote control. I use a high end Harmony but mostly any remote will do.
Better playback quality.
Better deinterlacing options.
Better options for avoiding judder.
Only need a single device to connect to my receiver. Possibly a cable box if you watch TV but I even got rid of that with an OTA antenna.

In my opinion, the HTPC is a vastly superior solution, but it's not right for everyone. There is a certain degree of technical knowledge required, should not be an issue for most folks on the Axiom forums wink
Posted by: MarkSJohnson

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 10:13 AM

How is the playback quality better than an original disc playing?

Not being argumentative; just curious.
Posted by: Murph

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 10:29 AM

I'd agree with Boltron. Well, I'm not sure if my playback quality is better. Equal for sure. However, the advantages are worth the initial effort, but only for those people who enjoy the effort or feel it's worth.

For me, having one device and a common, really easy to use interface for all of my movies, music, and photos is a huge convenience. From this same box, I also have access to Netflix, Youtube, Internet Radio and several other streaming services. Any you care to use, really.

I also moved my Squeezebox server to it so it's doing double duty for broadcasting music upstairs. It also houses my digital comic collection. However, I pretty much just read those on my tablet. Although, it is kind of fun now and then to see a full, double-page image of Batman smashing through a window on a 60" TV.

I also set up Splashtop Remote (I liked the Android App for this one) so I if I forget to set a timer or I need a download, I can do it remotely and it's ready when I get there.

Personally, I had a lot of fun and satisfaction building it and it's something that between my wife and I, it gets used every day. Wake on LAN is finally working properly for me now so it's not using much power at all until I press a button on the remote or something like my Squeezebox wakes it up.

Also, as an added bonus, if you have some long term company/kids/etc. that you are tired of entertaining, you show them all the content on your HTPC and they don't come out of the basement for hours.

Posted by: Boltron

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 10:32 AM

It is like an original disc playing and in some cases may be better. Let me clarify:

- Some people I have talked to think that when ripping the bluray to disk they will lose quality. I rip 1:1 with no compression so the video/audio quality is not reduced in any way.

- I say it may be better than a standard bluray player because the video renderer I use uses the Highest quality chroma upsampling available as well as high quality scaling (Jinc, mitchell, lanczos, spline etc) and YCbCr -> RGB conversion. Many experts in video processing debate these endlessly in order to come up with the best possible quality. I do not think this much thought goes into most commercial bluray players.

I hope this helps.
Posted by: nickbuol

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 11:13 AM

Yeah, I am deep into a discussion over at AVS about ripping and quality.

I don't want to hijack this thread, but I too am doing (almost) 1:1 rips. I don't rip the audio tracks in other languages, and I don't rip any subtitles. We just don't use/need them in our house. Others are all about compressing that rip down to as small as possible before they notice a difference with their system. I just never want to have that "compromise" but others might be OK if they have a 50"TV (vs. a large front projector) or are in a common room in their house where the room acoustics are their biggest issue, not compression, and not a dedicated space.

I broke things up into 2 devices. A media server, and a HTPC. The HTPC hasn't been purchased, but I am look at hardware configs. The server is probably way overkill, but it came down to about $80 more for a speedy CPU vs. a low end one and in the whole cost of the server (with all of the hard drives), it wasn't much.

Boltron, I might hit you up in a PM first about picking your brain on the HTPC piece of things. If the information is good for the masses, we could turn it into a new thread.

For now, I wonder how we can help Zarak out with his question.
Posted by: Boltron

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 11:20 AM

Sure I'll be glad to help.
Posted by: nickbuol

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 11:20 AM

Originally Posted By: Boltron

Advantages of using a HTPC:
Movies play back instantly, no load times, advertising, menus or other crap to wait through.
Instant access to your library, all of your library.

These two things alone are what got my wife on board with this.

Currently, when we watch a movie (still pre-HTPC at our house, but "in progress"), my wife will say "Go down and get the movie queued up, and I will be down in a few minutes."

So I go into the theater, fire everything up, pop in the movie, wait for the different previews to skip (most have jumping to the movie menu disabled, so you have to manually skip each preview), then the "FBI" and other warning come up that can't be skipped...

Then I pause it when the movie starts and then hollar to my wife that it is ready.

Now we will just go downstairs and by the time that the projector is "on" everything will be loaded and the HTPC will be fully booted to the menu of movies. Heck, the HTPC will boot in about 10-15 seconds probably anyway from cold boot. Sleep mode or whatever would be even faster.

Of course, we have DVDs, HD-DVDs, and Blu-Rays. Some movie series are on HD-DVD for some of the early movies (like early Harry Potter ones, Bourne movies, Batman Begins, Transformers, etc) and then the more recent sequels are on Blu-Ray. Or some movies that are on DVD still, but now we have to dig through 3 different sets of movies just to find what you are looking for.

Now they will be all in one spot.
Posted by: Ken.C

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 12:31 PM

OK, I was thinking more on the PVR aspect of the thing. $1800 for an HTPC (for the sake of argument) vs $1000 for a TiVo+lifetime+remote TiVo dookicky.
Posted by: nickbuol

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 02:00 PM

$1800 gets you A LOT more than the TiVo. Just a matter of if you need it or not. I mean, I've got $1200 into a media server just to hold movies and such. It is mostly disk costs and the fact that I tend to "over build" things. The HTPC will be a lot less because I won't load it up with drives. It will still be pretty powerful though.

But yeah, if you just want PVR functionality, there are cheaper options.
Posted by: tomtuttle

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 02:29 PM

I think it's an interesting topic, and I enjoy learning from you guys.

My own experience has been that it just really depends on your priorities and how you want to spend your time and money. We simply don't buy or watch enough movies for consumption of that content to matter in the equation. We do, however, watch a fton of episode TV series. So, for us, the combination of DTV and some Netflix streaming box (Apple TV, Roku, BD player, etc.) has been just fantastic - both cheap and easy.

In addition, we are in an area where it is basically impossible to get OTA digital TV, so a Tivo or homebrew DVR just doesn't help.

How are you guys ripping Blu-Rays, anyway?
Posted by: Boltron

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 02:50 PM

Just a note, when I said $1800.00 it included a couple of 4TB disks for storage. I just built one for a friend and that was about the cost. The two 4TB disks alone are about $400.00. Add a good quality SSD, a good video card, CPU, motherboard etc... and it works out to about that.
Posted by: nickbuol

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 04:28 PM

Originally Posted By: tomtuttle
How are you guys ripping Blu-Rays, anyway?

There are several ways to do it, but for media storage (on a server or on the HTPC itself) it seems that a majority of the population uses a free piece of software called MakeMKV and then pick and choose the video and specific audio tracks they want in the languages they want, plus any subtitles.

Note: Some studios are slick and will have different titles for different languages as well. Unfortunately, that displays as a whole different "playlist" or sequency of the individual movie files. So in MakeMKV some discs will showmore than one large movie file. Battle: Los Angeles was the first one that I hit. It has 3 different file sequences depending on the language selected. Sure, the Audio states right in the program what format (DTS-MA, TrueHD, DD2.0, etc) and the language, but you need more information to know which video to pick. Too much to get into here, but it really isn't bad once you know where to look or what tools to use.

You can then use something like "Handbrake" to compress it if you want.

Google search "Assassin HTPC" for some (now) free guides to a lot of this, including using MakeMKV, etc.
Posted by: Nick B

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 05:11 PM

I don't think that this is what the original poster was looking for...but if you want something like that for an over the air antenna that is also inexpensive, then it doesn't seem to get much better than this:

I just purchased one of these since I inherited an old 1080i rear projection tv and it doesn't have a digital tuner and accept high definition over the coaxial input. But, with this box I can output to the tv over hmdi (converted to dvi first). The cool thing is that it has programming information (from tv guide) and dvr capability if you plug in a flash drive or external hard drive. All for around $45!

Posted by: Boltron

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 08:29 PM

I also use OTA but I picked up a video tuner card and JRiver plays it just fine. It's all integrated with the HTPC, so separate box needed.
Posted by: Zarak

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/25/13 10:09 PM

So it is sounding like there is no easy answer here, and I can't just use the PS3. With what I have today adding a media center extender and network over powerline is probably my cheapest option. I assume the harmony remote can be used to control the xbox/media center extender. I'm thinking the xbox will start to drop in price soon, since the new one is on its way to release.

The PC in the office would be fine doing double duty as a media center. If I were to build one I found some things online where you can do it for ~$500 vs. the 1800 mentioned here, albeit with less storage I'm sure.
Posted by: Murph

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/26/13 12:53 PM

To expand on Nick's good call on using MakeMKV for ripping your Blu-Ray collection, I would add that you might also need something to get by the copyright protection on some.

There are other solutions but I use AnyDVD. All you need to know is that it is super simple. It just runs in the background and makes ripping or playing BRs seamless as far as copy protection goes.

For a more technical reason you 'might' need it.....
I choose this one because it solved an problem I had with the HDMI port on my old TV triggering the HDCP protection. It wasn't HDMI Ver.n I guess. Therefore, I couldn't even watch a legitimately owned Blu-Ray from my HTPC unless this SW was loaded. It cost a couple of bucks but it was so worth it and it requires no uber-knowledge to work once installed.

Posted by: nickbuol

Re: DVR/HTPC options - 09/26/13 03:12 PM

MakeMKV gets around the copy protection pretty easily, but I also use AnyDVD as well (for other reasons as well). Both great tools.