HTPC Versus HD Set Top Box

TVViewer

Standard Member
In the next couple of months I am intending purchasing either a HTPC setup OR buying (when they come out) a Freesat HD box with built in PVR system. I'm very undecided over which route to go. I appreciate the HTPC offers more options e.g. internet, DVD etc. however I have a few questions I haven't been able to find answers for which I thought maybe some HTPC owners could help with. I'd be using Vista MC with the latest pack on a HTPC, and either option would be hooked up via HDMI to a 32 inch LCD.

  1. In terms of picture quality, is there any difference between a HTPC and a good quality HD set top box for viewing both BBC HD and normal SD channels?
  2. I assume with the latest pack VMC will allow you to record HD material in it's original format?
  3. On a HD Ready TV, how well does VMC handle the aspect ratio/resolution? Will it display the same as a set top box or will there be additional borders or annoying aspect ratio problems?
  4. I understand you need to download the EPG for VMC over the internet. When it's downloaded, assuming it shows a weeks worth of TV, can you then setup recordings for the week and have them record without being connected to the internet? Or for recording to work does it require a constant internet connection?
  5. Does the HTPC work as well as a PVR in terms of waking up from standby, recording a TV program, then going back to standby?
  6. When a normal Freesat box is on standby it's silent. What happens when a HTPC goes into standby - is it silent or are any of the fans still running?
  7. If you purchase the Microsoft remote control, does this let you change channels, adjust volume, switch the HTPC off etc. as easy as a normal PVR remote does?
I know I'm asking quite a few questions here but I appreciate any answers! :)
 

Stephen Neal

Distinguished Member
In terms of picture quality, is there any difference between a HTPC and a good quality HD set top box for viewing both BBC HD and normal SD channels?

Not much in it when it comes to HD - though HTPCs may do better than Sky HD boxes with SD. (The Sky HD box has a rubbish de-interlacer and won't output SD native via HDMI.) Can't comment on Freesat HD box quality.

I assume with the latest pack VMC will allow you to record HD material in it's original format?

Vista TV Pack as currently sold by MS won't cope with European HD at all. With a hack it can be persuaded to - and the recordings are lossless (i.e. the video and audio remain as broadcast), but the file format they are wrapped in is a new one (WTV rather than DVR-MS) - designed to cope with recording subtitles and multiple audios I believe.

On a HD Ready TV, how well does VMC handle the aspect ratio/resolution? Will it display the same as a set top box or will there be additional borders or annoying aspect ratio problems?

With the right graphics driver settings the output from VMC is fine. No difference in scan size with SD stuff - and 4:3 / 16:9 stuff is handled fine. 576i and 1080i stuff are scaled to your desktop resolution. HD is a teeny bit off in my experience - probably a result of the 1080 vs 1088 line issue and me watching in 1920x1080 on a 1:1 pixel mapped display.

I understand you need to download the EPG for VMC over the internet. When it's downloaded, assuming it shows a weeks worth of TV, can you then setup recordings for the week and have them record without being connected to the internet?

Yes - though for best performance your HTPC should be connected at all times, as it will update the guide daily.

Or for recording to work does it require a constant internet connection?

No need for a connection to record.

Also - for DVB-T the EPG can be downloaded over - the - air as well as via the internet.

Does the HTPC work as well as a PVR in terms of waking up from standby, recording a TV program, then going back to standby?

Yes - though it requires some tweaking in some set-ups. HOWEVER - when in standby the HTPC won't get record triggers broadcast OTA - it is strictly timer recording.

When a normal Freesat box is on standby it's silent. What happens when a HTPC goes into standby - is it silent or are any of the fans still running?

AIUI they are silent.

If you purchase the Microsoft remote control, does this let you change channels, adjust volume, switch the HTPC off etc. as easy as a normal PVR remote does?

Yes - pretty much. The VMC and MS Remote combo is pretty similar in use to most Freeview PVRs or a Sky+. You can alter what the Power switch does on the remote in software.

You will find that sometimes switching from recorded TV to live takes a second or two more than on a set top box - but then on a set top box you can't have a library of 100+ DVDs, your entire music collection, and watch the BBC iPlayer (well not yet anyway)!
 
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TVViewer

Standard Member
Thanks for your reply, that is very useful.

I was considering getting a HTPC with the Hauppauge Nova-S2 card to record HD. It comes with Cyberlink Powercinema - would I be able to use it to record HD stuff out of the box without having to do lots of tweaking and installing other bits of software? I am aware the Vista TV pack requires a bit of tweaking because, as you say, it does not support European HD.

I'd like to stick to standard software, and obviously update/configure that software if required. If that works then fine, if not then it becomes a bit annoying and a set top box appears more attractive. I'm wondering how much more hassle a HTPC will be than a set top box, after it's set up.
 

Stephen Neal

Distinguished Member
I've never used PowerCinema I'm afraid so can't comment.

In my experience there aren't that many good PCTV solutions, though Windows Media Center and SageTV are quite well regarded (and the latter supports H264 without hacking I believe).

I ended up with, initially, Vista Media Center for Freeview, and DVB Viewer for HD Satellite, before I manage to get HD satellite working inside VMC.
 

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