Jon’s HTPC: The “Tivo”

This is Part of Jon’s HTPC setup. For more, see: Introduction and Table of Contents

The “TIVO”
Everybody knows what a TIVO is and what it can do, so what’s the advantages to doing it through your computer? Several. First, a TIVO can only record one, or sometimes two, channels at a time. With a computer, it can record as many channels as you have tuners installed. Want to record 12 channels at once? No problem, just make sure you have 12 tuners installed. If you are going to buy a tuner card for you computer (I can’t stress this enough) buy a Hauppauge PVR-250, 150, or 350 card. There are tons of other cards out there and some for a lot less money, but look through the user profiles of people in HTPC forums and you will see that 9 out of 10 profiles use one of the cards I mentioned above. They are very reliable cards, heavily supported by all Hauppagesorts of software, and most importantly they have hardware MPEG2 encoders built in. That means when you are recording TV shows it won’t slow down your computer. Also, the cards are top-notch quality. For a comparison, DVD’s are usually encoded at around 8 Mbit/s. These cards hardware encode at up to 12Mbit/s. The problem for me is that the cable signal coming into our house is really crappy. We’ve actually had the cable company out to look at it and they did something outside that helped a bit, but it’s still not very good. Oh well. Also, stay away from the ATI All-In-Wonder cards. If you want a headache give one a try, but in a few months I guarantee you will upgrade to a Hauppauge card. If you are looking to record HDTV content it’s going to be a whole other game. I haven’t personally tackled that beast yet, so I don’t have any advice. That takes care of the tuner card. Just like TIVO you can schedule shows to record once, or every time it airs, or every new airing, yada yada. You can skip commercials with the push of a button. You can fast forward, and rewind TV. The interface is also automatically available via a web server, so you can schedule your computer to record shows from anywhere in the world. You can also watch recorded shows streamed from your computer to anywhere in the world. Fun stuff. I guess the other big difference from TIVO is that with a computer you don’t have any monthly subscription fees. Once you buy the software that’s it. Another advantage is that the shows record to your hard drive as MPEG2 or WMV files, so when your hard drive gets full you can just burn them off to DVD-R discs. I usually wait until the end of a season then burn the whole season to DVD to save space. Another advantage to TIVO is that you can easily upgrade your hard drive space. With my settings, an hour of MPEG2 takes up 4 Gigs and an hour of WMV takes up 1 Gig. I have it set up to record everything as MPEG2 and then every day at 1AM the computer takes everything recorded that day and then re-encodes it as WMV to conserve space. My personal choice for software is Beyond TV (accessed through the Meedio front-end). It’s good software, but there is other good software out there as well. A major competitor is Sage TV and Windows Media Center Edition. Beyond TV works just fine, but I don’t have any die-hard loyalty to it.Tivo Intro

Beyond TV Software…

Hauppauge PVR cards… (the 250 is your standard card. The 150 is identical except it encodes audio and video using one chip instead of separately on two. The 350 is identical except has two inputs and two hardware encoders.)

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gravatar Jon

I misspoke above. Both times I mentioned the PVR 350 card I was actually thinking of the PVR 500 card. The PVR 500 has two tuners and two hardware encoders. The PVR350 is the same as the PVR 250 except is has a hardware DECODER as well. The hardware decoder sounds like a good idea at first, but it only outputs video. That means if you use the hardware output you don’t get any on screen information like the program guide. Essentially you would want to get either the 250, 150, or 500. I just wanted to make that correction. Sorry.

gravatar Charlie

Hi Jon
You mentioned in your article the ability to “watch recorded shows streamed from your computer to anywhere in the world.”
I would like to do this, but so far have the only option I have found is to set up a media server (a costly affair).
What option were you referring to in the above article? Is it using the software bundled with the Hauppauge card?
Thanks very much for your help in anticipation.

gravatar Jon

It’s a part of the “BeyondTV” software and is automatically installed when you install the software. All you need to do is (from a web browser) type http://(your IP):8129 and then you are connected to your media library on your HTPC. Clicking on a show will open WMP on the client machine and then the show will then be streamed. The setup is all automated in the “BeyondTV” software setup. How fast of a connection will be required depends on what quality you store your media at. You can specify a login and password on the video server if you want. If you are behind a firewall you would need to forward port 8129 to the local IP of the HTPC. –Jon

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