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HTPC Setup
HTPC Setup

So I thought it might be a bright idea to illustrate what has to be one of the more over complicated HTPC (Home Theatre PC aka. PVR, Tivo thing, etc…) setups ever, mine… Ok, probably not, I’m sure plenty of people have crazier setups. But, it does surprise me how reliable it has been, even with so many computers involved. So how does it work? Magic! Ok, maybe not but something like this…

SageTV controls most of it. But, after trying numerous 1394 (a.k.a. FireWire) cards I never managed to get Windows XP, the Scientific-Atlanta SA-3250HD STB, and Charter Cable’s crappy signal to get along. Magically (Apple did create the standard for 1394) it just works without anything special on a Mac. So, FireWire is plugged in to the Mac, Sage TV controls it, all HD and digital channels go through the Mac and get recorded to the main media server/raid as raw MPEG-2 TS (transport streams). SD signals get recorded directly to the RAID through a Hauppauge PVR150 in the Windows box. All channels SD and HD are controlled through the 1394 (no infrared blaster silliness).

The great thing about this set is you get pure digital recording and playback all the way to the display. Digital cable -> Firewire digital files -> HDMI TV. The only other systems that work like this are DirectTV TiVo, some dedicated cable/sat. company PVR’s and Cable Card based systems. Unfortunately, after many years of unencrypted goodness, earlier this year Charter turned on 5C encryption on all HD pay channels. Note 5C is the digital encryption for the HDMI not the encryption that protects which channels you get which I believe is DigiCipher 2.

So what does the future hold? FIOS TV and the Hauppauge HD PVR Model 1212 likely. Unfortunately, this may mean losing pure digital recording/playback. But, I would regain recording of all HD channels.

The future is more likely the Internet and Bit Torrent. It’s really too bad for the studios that downloading bit torrent TV shows are often higher quality, more convenient and let you build collections as compared to the ‘legitimate’ offerings (Hulu, NBC online etc… and even recording SD/HD TV from cable/sat). But, this is a rant for another time…

Update: For completeness I added my parents Mac Mini to the full diagram (click the image), it runs Front Row Apple’s not so good PVR software, its slow over the Internet, but I believe that might be something about Samba. She can watch movies via the remote mount to my RAID and I put aliases in her Movies folder in her home directory.

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