Subscriber Bill DePierri wrote recently to ask about using a PC to record television. I’m already doing that with my home theater pc, which Bill has seen:
We recently got a Cox DVR. It is pretty clunky with little flexibility. This got me to thinking about your comments about your PC-based DVR’s, especially since I have an old Dell machine that is about to go out to pasture.
This machine is a Dell Pentium 4 with a 2 GHz Intel processor. The computer has 8K of primary cache and 512 K of secondary cache. It has a 100 MHz bus, 1GB of RAM and two 80GB Disc Drives (EIDE).
If I made the conversion to a TV recorder, I would purchase at least one large (500GB?) drive and install it in the computer.
1. Does this machine have enough power to handle one channel of video recording?
2. How many spare slots do you need to add the required equipment to convert to a digital TV recorder?
3. Can you record regular definition TV through the Cox Digital Box? What about recording HDTV through the Cox Box?
4. As I recall, you used a Hauppauge Video Receiver Card and Sage Software. What model Hauppauge Card would you presently recommend? What version of Sage TV?
Terry, many thanks for your help!!!
A Pentium 4 with a 2 GHz Intel processor is plenty of power! My old HTPC was a home-brewed computer with an AMD Athlon XP 2800+. My new HTPC is also home-built, but it uses an Intel Core i5, 8 GB memory and two dual-tuner cards that can record analog (over cable) and unencrypted QAM digitals. But, that’s really overkill. I’ve run SageTV on a 750MHz Pentium 3.
According to the SageTV web site (www.sagetv.com), SageTV 6 system requirements are:
- Microsoft Windows 98SE, 2000 SP3 or higher, ME or XP (Any Version)
- 128MB RAM, recommended 256MB RAM
- Intel Pentium III 600 MHz or AMD Athlon 600 MHz with additional requirements including TV Tuner Card, Video Card and additional software.
I’ll differ with them on the memory, at least if you want to run multiple TV tuner/encoder cards — in my AMD-based HTPC, I had 4 tuner/encoder cards and 1GB RAM. I upgrade the 1GB to 2GB to reduce hesitation issues. RAM is pretty cheap and it just makes things work faster.
Good choice on upgrading to a 500 GB hard drive. You were a little light on hard drive space, but some people run that way. With the default record-rate of 2 GB/hour, that can handle 250 hours of shows.
How many spare slots do you need to add the required equipment to convert to a digital TV recorder? One PCIe slot is all you need.
On recording regular definition TV through the Cox box, you should be able to. Certainly you can if you use the box to set the channel. But, the real power comes in being able to let SageTV control the channel switching via the tuner cards.
In order to use a digital box to change channels, you’ll have to use a third-party infrared repeater system called “Girder” to communicate between the PC and an adapter that hangs in front of the digital box’s infrared receiver. That way, SageTV can send the signals to tell the box to change channels.
On Hi-Definition, though, the story is not so good. There is not a standard for how hi-def is sent over the cable systems. More importantly, recording the digital hi-def signals is exactly what the content creators want to prevent. I’ll check out those options in a couple years. There’s probably some discussion in the forums at http://forums.sagetv.com . Right now, SageTV supports hi-def broadcast (over-the-air) if you have one of the compatible cards.
For the tuner/encoder card, you need one that is supported by SageTV. Some cards are tuners, while others have both the tuner (to pick which channel) and the encoder (to turn the signal into an .mpg file) built into the card. BY the way, all digital-capable cards need PCI-e slots, not old-style PCI slots.
On my old HTPC, I was one of the Hauppauge PVR-150 cards and 3 of the earlier PVR-250 models. The new HTPC uses two Hauppauge WinTV HVR 2250 dual tuner cards, able to record analog cable signals and digital Clear QAM signals from the air or cable. Configuration, though, requires that both tuners on a card record either analog or digital, not one-and-one.
The current version of SageTV is version 6, although there’s a version 7 on the horizon. I’m not sure how fast I’ll upgrade to the new version, as I’m pretty happy with my current setup. SageTV is available for online purchase from SageTV, LLC (www.sagetv.com). The software can be downloaded easily and has a free 15-day trial.