|Biases: USA, English, Microsoft Windows, NTSC|
blog date: January 2005; last updated:
2005 May 30
In an effort to turn my older computer into a TiVo-style PVR (personal
video recorder), the first step was researching and deciding upon the hardware:
you need some sort of video capture / tv-tuner card (or USB device, but I wouldn't recommend that).
In the end I went with the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150:
The sealed retail box for the PVR-150 (model 1045).
(Click to view enlargement)
Note that even though it has a Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) logo on it, this is not the "MCE" model.
The box contents: you get the PCI card, an install disk, a remote control, and an Infrared receiver/transmitter.
(Click to view enlargement)
The input connectors for the card. Note you'll need to get an audio adapter
(Stereo Audio 3.5mm (1/8") plug* to two RCA audio plugs), as it doesn't come with one.
- No need to get the PVR-250 or PVR-350 if you already have a way to output the video back to your TV. (In my case, I have an nVidia card with an S-Video out.)
- The PVR-250 is essentially the exact same card as the PVR-150 (above). Why spend more?
- I didn't care about getting radio.
- Especially important was that the PVR-150 retail box came with an IR Blaster included. In my case, I have digital cable and a Cable Box. To have the computer (PVR software)
change the channels on the cable box, you need an Infrared (IR) transmitter ("blaster"), which will send the same kind of signal your remote control does. Now you can buy a blaster/receiver
separately, but why spend the extra money?
Detail of the infrared cable, showing the Transmitter end and the Receiver end.
What I like about it:
- After you've figured out how to set it up and use the software, it does what it's supposed to: records live TV, allows you to timeshift live TV, allows you to watch TV on your PC
- Includes a remote (though this is not as useful as it sounds, 'cause you'll still have to sit in front of your monitor or TV with a keyboard and mouse to get this to work)
- Includes an IR Blaster for controlling a cable box (but you can't actually use the enclosed software to change channels: only works if you get 3rd party software like SageTV)
What I don't like about it:
Incomplete, outdated documentation.[This has improved.]
- Mediocre tech support [Just my limited experience: this may also have improved.]
- Okay quality for the video and audio, but not great (Fuzzy picture, tinny audio)
- The software is really poorly designed. (Some of it, like the "WinTV MPEG Editor", doesn't seem to work at all.)
- Unnecessarily complicated to set up. [Not sure how they could fix this. The updates to the documentation have helped. It's a shame the software needs so much explanation though.]
- Hauppauge claims to record to DVD-compliant formats, but the single audio-encoding option (MP2) is not DVD-compliant.
Note: no updates to Driver software since Oct. 18, 2004 [haupaugge download page] ;
last update to "Win2000" software: Feb. 15, 2005; last update to WinTV decoder: Jan. 17, 2005; last update to IR remote control software: Dec. 20, 2004
Interesting looking alternatives:
* The PowerColor Theater 550 PRO (uses the ATI THEATER 550PRO) [view close-up of the card]
[ The active user SHS (at the BeyondTV and VideoHelp.com forums) seems to indicate that the picture is softer on the ATI 550 than with WinTV-PVR 500MCE....]
* I noticed that Alienware decided to go with the AverMedia Cards (e.g. the AVerMedia UltraTV Media Center PCI 500) for their "Home Entertainment Media Center (PVR)" boxes.
(Which I found online (Feb15) for $60!) Models: AVerMedia AVerTV PVR 150 Plus PCI TV Tuner Card
* UPDATE, MAY 2005: Real Time MP4 ENCODING!? $35! Kworld
Studio TV Terminator ....|
Kworld XPert TV-PVR 883 TV Tuner Card : $55 : "New Conexant 10-BIT chipset provides even higher quality video with support for Nicam Stereo and MTS. "
(be sure to read mixed reviews for both products at those links)
View the actual Encoding Quality Options for the WinTV software.
- I can confirm that SageTV version 2.1 works with the PVR-150.
* Quick note on the SageTV bundle. I personally found the following wording to be ambiguous: "The bundle also ships with a 45 button remote control that has been integrated for use directly with SageTV. There is also a new IR blaster ..." So I checked with them, and was assured that what they meant to say was "This bundle includes the latest Hauppauge remote, and it also includes the IR Blaster." The bundle is a good option because you can potentially save a little money over buying the Hauppauge card and SageTV software separately. Since most of the software included with the Hauppauge card is available online, you don't gain much by buying the retail version of the card.
- The WinTV-PVR-150 is also identified as the "Hauppauge WinTV PVR PCI II Capture" Card (PCI 2). (e.g. this is how SageTV identifies the card).
- (Update) Snapstream's BeyondTV sucks. After trying them both, I'd definitely recommend SageTV over Snapstream. Snapstream's video (live TV) fequently freezes up, for one thing. For another, it hides any setting any reasonably proficient user would want to modify (this is the trying-to-be-user-friendly-by-hiding-all-options approach that Microsoft likes to use, but taken to the extreme). Also, once I picked a channel line-up, there appears to be no way short of reinstalling to change it (and, in the end, I couldn't select the actual channel line up I have, and was limited to only the first 80 channels in the interface). The fact that I got a rude email from one of their tech support reps was just the final nail in the coffin.
Installation Instructions for the PVR-150:
I'd recommend copying the install disk to your hard drive, then downloading all the file updates from the Hauppauge support page. Then, you replace the files in your local Install Disk copy with the updates, and run the install program. (Note that if you use this approach, you do not need the HWCLEAR file from the support page.)
About the Hauppauge Remotes:
There are three versions you will see being discussed on message boards and in help files:
1. Classic black [HCWClassic], 2. Silver PVR remote (often referred to as "the new silver remote") [HCWPVR] , and 3. latest extended Remote [HCWPVR2]
(extended remote has Music/Videos/Pictures buttons and seperate NAV buttons, etc.)
view diagram of Extended Remote functions (click to enlarge):
[Update, April '05: the latest version of the manual now has info about the "extended Remote"]
Improve Sharpness : this is from the cask-of-amontillado site. Applies to the PVR-250/PVR-350; I'm assuming this will also work for the 150 (haven't tried it yet)
Enable Closed-Captioning: again, from cask-of-amontillado. Some people may not care about this (maybe why Hauppauge disabled it), but I use CC very frequently, and I want it on my recordings.
Getting the Hauppauge Remote to work: see below
Recording to DVD / editing out commericals : see below
More tips & tweaks (from SHS)
(this thread looks like it might have some good info it, but I haven't had the time to figure it out yet)
Getting the Hauppauge Remote to a fully functioning state:
First: The IR RemoteBlaster QuickInstall Guide (PDF document file, last updated Dec. 17, 2004) available from the Hauppauge support pages has some serious rendering error
when opened with Adobe PDF Reader 6. (You listening Hauppauge? You need to fix this.) So you can read the 4 page guide here instead.
When you install the software for the Hauppauge remote, it hides a file called "irremote.ini" in a root folder (the "Windows" directory).
This file can be opened and edited using notepad.
The remote uses "RC5" commands. These consist of 2 portions:
1) A system code ... range: 0 - 31; The silver Hauppauge remote uses system 31.
2) A command ... range: 0-63 , 64-127
(as of irremote.ini FILEVERSION 2.42.22180 and later, support for Key Codes 64-127 are via an RC5 'field' bit)
Now some applications in Windows XP respond to "APPCOMMANDS".
The default APPCOMMANDS configured in irremote.ini are:
About recording to DVD / editing out commericals:
Once you've got the card running, and you start recording some tv programs, it seems the next natural step is to want to try to edit out the commercials in shows you'd like to keep;
either to prep the files for burning to a CD or DVD, or just to save some space on your hard drive.
The Hauppauge install disk includes a program called nanoPEG. Seems straight forward enough, and it would be great, except: every time I try to use it, it crashes.
I was once able to get one small piece of video out of it, but every other time, as you advance through the video: CRASH.
I was thinking about writing in for support, but then I found this great quote on one of the boards:
"I am looking for a simple MPEG editor that works. As everyone knows, the nanoPEG software that comes with the PVR-x50 boards does not work. "
Which begs the question, 'If everybody knows that the nanoPEG software doesn't work, why does Hauppauge still include it?'
(I'm using Windows XP, by the way.)
I'm still trying to find an alternative. I tried the Ulead software, and Nero software, but they don't seem to be able to do what I want to do: just cut out the commercials and/or remove the beginning or end of the file without reincoding the MPEG file and audio. I'm recording to a DVD-Ready formats, and I don't want to degrade the quality while getting rid of the commercials.
[Supposedly, in Nero Vision Express 3 (in the Nero 6 Ultra Edition Major Update), if "Smart Encoding" is selected, "Compliant files are not re-encoded." However, in my experience, the files are always re-encoded in Nero; also, a Nero tech support rep has stated that re-encoding is always necessary....]
I'm suprised that these high-visibility commerical applications can't do something that seems so simple.
It's starting to look like these are our options: Video ReDo (trial, $50); WOMBLE MPEG2VCR (trial, $?); MPEG2Schnitt . . .
I've tried the short trial of Video ReDo, and it's pretty good, but at $50 it's way over-priced.
About picking a quality setting for the video:
See this page. (UPDATE: latest version of the PVR-150 manual was, at the time of writing, March 15, 2005: looks like it has some new, good info it. My problems with the manuals may have been fixed since I originally wrote these articles. It looks a lot more detailed now, which is cool. But they still have typos in the Quality Settings... [e.g. "MB/sec"])
Guest Comments / Post Your Comment :
WinTV PVR unofficial forum(SHS; may as well be official)
The "official" forum (in the UK) [hauppauge.co.uk]
Fry Technologies (SageTV) forums
SnapSteam (BeyondTV) forums
Conexant Data Sheets (makes the MPEG-2 encoder chip used by Hauppauge)
* "Hey!" you may say, "1/8 inch = 3.175 millimeters! Why does the plug pretend they're equivalent?" To which I must reply: "I dunno." But you can buy one here.
** according to a forum user:
"Yet another difference between the [150 and 250] cards: The 150 uses yuv 4:2:2 Chroma sampling; The 250 uses yuv 4:2:0 Chroma sampling.
It appears the 150 is actually an improvement--technically speaking. "
First version of this article: Jan. 14, 2005
Last Updated: see top of page