The DVR is gone, we are now 100% on HTPC for television viewing

24 07 2012

The DVR was returned to TimeWarner about a month ago and all viewing is now on HTPC.  The problems with the Hauppauge 2650 cablecard tuner went away when I stopped using sleep mode between viewings/recordings.  With the computer online 24X7 operation has become very smooth and virtually hiccup free.

The switch from the AMD X2 processor to the Intel Pentium G620 has lowered our power useage from ~120 watts idle to ~14 watts idle which makes running the computer continuously reasonable cost wise.
The main issue I am facing with the HTPC DVR is the issue with encrypted content from the cable card tuner.  Several channels encrypt all of their shows, these channels include Disney, Food Network and many others.  When you try to play this content on a PC other than the one that recorded it you get a message saying the content is protected and cannot be played.  This issue also comes up if you have to rebuild your HTPC, it can no longer play back protected content that it had previously recorded.


Low Power HTPC

12 06 2012

My HTPC that was connected to my cablecard tuner started acting up.  This was an AMD Athlon 2 Dual Core system.  I have the system on a UPS and am able to monitor it’s power usage through the UPS.  The AMD system was pulling about 120 watts on average.  The system started acting up (it turned out to have a memory problem) so I pulled it and replaced it with another system I had running an Intel Celeron G530 processor.

The G530 is the baby brother to the i3 family of processors.  The G530 is rated at 65 watts TDP, I was surprised to see my UPS indicate about 10 watts of power while idling.  This is with windows up, Media Center running but no shows recording or being watched.  With this low of power usage I’m going to dump  the MCE Standby Tool and stop putting the PC to sleep in between shows.  I think keeping the computer up all the time will make it more reliable and user friendly.

To HTPC or not?

19 11 2007

I’ve got a dilemma, I love my HTPC (Home Theater PC) but I’m being tempted to replace it with a cable HD DVR.  My HTPC is excellent, it records television in HD, plays games and browses the web in beautiful 1080p.  The problem is that my HTPC only receives OTA (Over The Air) broadcast HD channels. I’ve never hooked up the analog cable channels because a cable converter box would still be necessary.  Now my cable company is offering me HD channels and an HD DVR (Digital Video Recorder) for $10 more than I pay them for services now.

I’m currently paying $80 a month for 6MB cable internet, cable telephone with unlimited long distance and basic cable channels.  For $90 they will throw in cable channels in HD and an HD DVR.  I’m not sure which DVR but whichever it is I’m sure it will work fine.  The idea of being able to record my favorite cable channels  is very tempting.  The only thing making me think twice about this deal is the time, effort and money I’ve put into my computer.
As I’ve recounted in prior posts, my HTPC is made up of the following:

ATI TV Wonder HD tuner card

VBOX Cat’s Eye DTA-150 tuner card

HIS RADEON 1800GTO graphics card

2GB of RAM

70GB 10,000 RPM SATA hard drive for the system

400GB  SATA hard drive internal for recording

500GB SATA hard drive external for storage (I manually move shows to the external to free space for recording)

AMD Athlon X2 3800+ processor

DVD Read/Write

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005

Terrestrial Digital DB2 Multi-Directional HDTV Antenna

Eagle Tech Silver Aluminum HTPC Desktop Computer Case

This is a nice computer and I’ll still use it for games / browsing / burning DVDs but it just doesn’t feel right to give up on Media Center.  Yes, I’ll be getting a lot more channels on the cable DVR but my beloved HTPC will be underutilized.  Maybe all I’m feeling is the fondness that one feels when he/she sells a beloved car to buy a new one.  Part of the loss is the sense of pride I have when I show off my HTPC, the sense of community that I have when dealing with others in the HTPC universe.

The HTPC gives me abilities that a DVR never will.  I can burn recordings to DVD, change them to other formats, share them, the DVR won’t let me do these things.

I’ll try the DVR for a while and see how it goes.  I’ll miss playing with my HTPC, now there is no reason to but the HDHomeRun tuner that I’ve been drooling over.   If the DVR doesn’t work out or if the cable company jumps the price my HTPC will be sitting there waiting to pick up the slack.

Which processor should you buy in your next PC?

30 03 2007

I have several computers at home. I have a server, two desktops and two laptops. My computers range in age from five years to just over a year old. Not all of the computers are ideal personal use, I’ll explain why.

My server is an old Gateway that I bought about five years ago. I use the server for testing; it features two Pentium III 933 processors, a raid controller with a bunch of drives and a gigabyte of memory. The server is way too slow to use as a desktop but pretty good for testing server products.

The two laptops are my wife’s. She has a two year old Pentium 4 system running at 2.0 GHZ that she uses daily. Her other laptop is an older 1 GHZ or so system that she’s had for years. She keeps it because she has some apps on it that we don’t have the discs for anymore and she may need the data one day.

The two desktops that we have are AMD Athlon 64 based systems. The older of the two is a 3200+ that I’ve had since the Athlon was introduced. It’s a single core system with a gigabyte of ram. This used to be my main workstation until I put together the new system a year ago. I used to think this system was fast but I’ll come back to this story in a minute.

The second of the desktops, my current primary system, is an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ system. The Athlon 64 X2 is a dual core processor allowing this system to process two commands at a time assuming your software supports multi-threading. Multi-threading allows the program to send commands to multiple processors at the same time to spread the load out and make processing faster.

I’ve been playing games and running my Media Center Edition Windows XP on this system. It’s worked fine but friends of mine have purchased newer systems and the X2 is no longer the fastest system while playing multiplayer games. This hasn’t been a problem but more a niggling bother.

After buying the large screen HDTV I moved my X2 system into the front room to act as a DVR with the MCE software. I reclaimed the old 3200+ Athlon system and began playing games on it again. What a shocker. I don’t remember the 3200+ being slow but then again I wasn’t playing Company of Heroes when I was using that system.

The 3200+ system is so slow that the games would just drag and the game would pause for long periods. The game was actually unplayable. That is when I finally got the parts I needed to be able to play in the front room. I’m now back on the X2.

So, the whole point of this article is which processor should you buy if you’re buying a new system. I think the keys in processor selection are

1) Get a dual core or better system. Single core processors just don’t cut it anymore. Even if your application is not multi-threaded the dual core processors help with multi-tasking and with background services.

2) The processors should be relatively quick, the 3800+ I’m running is ok but I’d rather have the newer 4600+ or 5000+ that AMD has come out with.

3) Get at least 2GB of memory. I didn’t talk much about the need for memory but memory helps processors be more efficient. Not to mention that Vista requires large amounts of memory. If you are going with Vista I’d get four GBs of memory. Two will work but four is much better.

Now I need to go out and build a new system so that I can keep up with my buddies. I’d upgrade my current one but my X2 system is a Socket 939 and AMD is no longer making Socket 939 processors. I’ll need to buy one of the new AMD Socket AM2 motherboards and processors or move over to an Intel system. No matter which I decide to go with I’m going to incur the additional cost of new memory as the newer systems all use DDR2 and my old systems use DDR. Oh well, faster memory helps too.

Intel currently has the better performing CPUs. When Intel came out with the Core2Duo systems they leapfrogged AMD’s Athlon processors for the king of performance title.

Fry’s always has motherboard and CPU combo deals listed in their advertisements. Each week they feature an Intel and an AMD system. I’m not sure which I’ll buy. I’ve heard rumors that there is a big price cut coming for AMD in April, I’ll wait for that before I decide.