Saturday, 7 May 2011

I can haz tech bl0g.

This is my little blog.. where I'll attempt to talk through some of the tech projects I've got carried away with, past & future.

Lego Mindstorms
HTPC/Home Networking
Here's where I'll talk about HTPCs, Home data storage, Lego Mindstorms, Home networking, PC Hardware, coding, and General Geekery.

For this first post, I'll hover around a little & wibble about the latest addition to the media pc.

Engage hovering! (This only works if you all hover too.. if you don't/can't/won't hover then nevermind, you'll only get some of the following text).

Ok, so I have a media pc, which I've tried to make the main interface for all my digital media needs in the home. Not because it was a shiny tagline, and not because someone said it'd be a good idea, but more out of necessity. I wanted a way to integrate European and UK tv programming into a single guide, be able to schedule recordings, watch recordings, live TV, dvds, blurays, avis, mkvs, mp3s, from any room I could be bothered to configure it for. I've more or less got that now, but there's always a bit somewhere that I can tinker with to improve.

In this case, the main issue is that the satellite tv provider here in the UK has a pretty close minded view of how you should experience its programming. It's either through their set-top box, or not at all. There are some entertaining ways to make it work without one of their boxes (still with a valid subscriber card), but I'm trying to be a bit more like a Tivo, control their box via IR, and feed its video output through a media pc.

Sounds easy, except in todays fantastic high def world, 'they' dont want you doing that anymore. If you want to pause a movie, you must use their pause button, not attempt to create one for yourself.. at least not if you want to pause it in high def. So there's a slight challenge to overcome before you can even connect a high def uk set-top satellite box to your media center.

For now, lets assume that bit is done (magic!, I'll talk about some ways to achieve that in other posts later). What options do you have for hardware to capture the signal in the pc? Well.. there are 2 real options, then a bunch of sort-of-options that I wont go into. The first are both from Hauppauge, under the HD PVR model, one USB, and one PCI-e (The Colossus!). I used to use the 1st, which had nasty habits of crashing & requiring a hard powercycle to recover it, and now I'm using the 2nd.

HD PVR Colossus
The Colossus has a bunch of inputs, and has a beta driver that lets it work with media center, alternatively, theres the DVBLink for Colossus product, which imho has nicer channel management. Once configured, media center thinks it's a direct satellite tuner, and lets you watch the high def channels from the set-top box just like a Tivo would. (Thats the UK Series-1 Tivo I mean, in that it's grabbing the analogue video signal, and h/w re-encoding it).

All seems pretty nice at the mo, and there doesnt seem to be the need for the powercycles the usb model required.. although there's an issue that I can only use stereo audio at the mo, until/if dvblink or Hauppauge resolve why AAC audio is silent through dvblink, and AC3 works fine.

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