The best feature Windows Media Center has going for it is the ability to add tuners and use it as a PVR. Once I have a show recorded I can pause and resume watching it from any TV in my house. With the recording being performed on my computer the only limit to the amount of recordings is the size of hard drives I want to spring the cash for.
The tuner that most excites me was the Silicon Dust HDHomeRun as it can be connected to the network and has many advantages over tuners that have to be installed into the computer. After some closer examination I have had to eliminate it as it only has ATSC and QAM support but was missing NTSC. In Canada we still have many NTSC broadcast channels that haven’t been replaced by ATSC yet.
Next on the list was the Hauppauge HVR-2250 which has a dual ATSC/QAM/NTSC tuner. This is refered to as a Hybrid tuner as it can change between either Digital (ATSC/QAM) and Analog (NTSC) signals. It also has 2 of these Hybrid tuners built-in so TV can be recorded on one while watched on the other or 2 different shows can be watched at the same time.
I have tried other tuner cards before by ATI and ASUS but they always ended up with issues (albeit on older versions of Media Center). I can’t recommend to my friends often enough not to purchase an AMD/ATI product as their products have proven to me to be the most problematic and difficult to support in the years I have been using them. In the past I found the Hauppauge cards had less issues and their cards seemed to be supported for longer periods of time. AverMedia cards were popular on-line with other users of Media Center, however I had never used any of their products and didn’t know anyone who had so they missed the short-list.
The only other option I have been able to find for content available in content is the Hauppauge HD-PVR. This connects to your computer using USB and then to a digital cable box using the component out & optical cables. Now some of my friends who are serious about HD have told me that they would prefer to use the HDMI cable. The thing I remind them is that the HDMI signal from the box is only 1080i and the component cables will send a 1080i signal so they aren’t loosing any quality.
As I don’t have a cable box and I really wanted the NTSC signals (at least until the broadcast ends in August 2011), I ended up going with the Hauppauge HVR-2250 card. I installed one at first to play with for a month or two and make sure it was what I needed. Eventually I ended up purchasing 2 of these, one to attach to my ATSC/NTSC antenna and the other to my QAM/NTSC connection from my cable provider. because I work for a computer reseller, I got the OEM models that didn’t include a remote. When my friend was purchasing the same card I got him to order two with remotes (one for him and one I bought off him for myself). I wish I had got both of my cards with remotes as I found out after the fact that they work perfectly with the XBox 360.
Connecting the cards was easy and once the drivers were installed tuning my first TV channel was easy as pie. There was a little trickery involved to get some more advanced stuff. First off, according to Microsoft, there is no QAM in Canada. The next issue was that I can receive ATSC signal from the US, however media center will only download guide data for one region at a time. My quickly found hero Peter Near figured his way around both of these issues and has shared this information for all who need…
In the future I figure that I will end up replacing my Hauppauge tuners with the network tuners from Silicon Dust once I no longer need NTSC. These will work better with some of the upcoming Windows Media Center Embedded devices, especially when trying to share the signal between multiple PC.