Newbie advice requested

Gez

Novice Member
OK, I'm new to HTPC and thought it is time to ask some questions before confusing myself further.

My current setup has a Sky+ box and CRT TV in one room, CRT TV in another room, an XP Desktop PC in a third room, and a NAS connected to the broadband wifi router. There are coaxial TV points in various rooms in the house, served via an 8-way booster. The TVs and PC are obviously old kit and are about to be upgraded. Currently I can only record and playback from the TV attached to the Sky+ box. Also, I will be switching from Sky broadband to BT fibre as soon as I have finished my deliberations, so effectively I have a blank canvas. Whether I will have BT TV or just Freeview HD is undecided; I might even stay with Sky if they make it worth my while – we’ll obviously still have the sky satellite dish and be able to access free channels.

I would like to achieve a unified system whereby I can record from either TV and playback those recordings on either TV - this has brought me to the current point of thinking about HTPC which I believe will provide this and more.

So I am in the market for 2 new TVs and a new PC, but want to make sure I keep my options open when upgrading.

(Probably) silly question time…

  • Does a TV need certain specifications to be compatible with HTPC?
    • E.g. must it be a Smart TV; have USB record; etc?
    • Can Freetime be serviced via HTPC, or would this need to be on each TV?
  • Can HTPC simultaneously drive multiple TVs separately?
    • i.e. different channels on different TVs; simultaneously watch and record; watch one recorded programme on one TV while watching a different recorded programme on the other TVs; etc.
  • Can HTPC manage Sky, Freeview and FreeSat on the same system?
    • i.e. so on any TV, programmes can be selected from any source, and recorded programmes can be seen on any TV regardless of the original recording source?
  • Is a dedicated PC required for HTPC?
    • The XP is used as a general PC by the family, used mainly for web surfing and some Office apps (Word and PowerPoint) for the kids’ homework. It was expensive and a high spec many years ago…but is long past its prime. Could a new PC be both a general PC and a HTPC, or is that likely to lead to performance and/or other problems?
    • How many expansion ports would be needed on the PC for the tuner cards required for satellite and Freeview to enable simultaneous watch and record?
  • Can this work over wifi, or is cabling necessary? Is existing coaxial wiring of any use? What about Powerline networking?
  • Can DVD players also be added to the HTPC network? Could they be controlled from the media centre menu?

I am keen to get some of the new kit before Christmas – one new TV at least – but want to be sure I don’t spoil things by getting something that is not compatible.

Any guidance would be much appreciated, thanks in advance.

PS I forgot to make reference to pause and rewind live TV. We make a lot of use of this feature on Sky+ so would want that on both TVs - would that require functionality on the TV, or is this handled completely from the HTPC?
 
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D

Deleted member 39241

Guest
Crikey, many questions, and to be honest there are probably many ways of doing what you want to do.

One way, which I do, and may be considered old school by some...

Server - tucked away on the top floor of a 3 storey house, in a storage room, has 3 x freeview tuners and many TB's of hard drive storage. That does all the TV recordings (could use satellite tuners instead or as well as) and is a medium spec PC running Windows 8.1 and Argus TV. I leave it on 24 / 7, costs about £10 per month in electric. It also hosts all of my media files which are rips / downloads. I actually have this connected via wifi, but am using very expensive wifi - Asus 5G with beamforming, Access Point connected to router via ethernet, and PCI card with external aerials in the server. I tried powerline adapters and MOCA adapters (using the existing coax system) but had many many problems, wifi was last ditched attempt before running cabling up the stairs, and to my suprise works really well. Obviously it could be different for you depending on your house and environment.

TV's - many TV's throughout the house, just plain old flat screens, it will make life a lot easier for you if they have at least one HDMI input. Also, you might want to add some additional sound enhancements, such as 5.1 systems or soundbars.

Clients - there are now many different clients on the market for you to choose from which will connect to your server via the home network (mine are mostly wired, but some are wifi, and one is MOCA) I use windows clients, NUC's are good, running MediaPortal 1 as my front end, these are connected to each TV.

With this sort of set up, depending on which clients you go for (hardware and software) you should get the exact same experience on each TV, such as watching media files, live and recorded TV, scheduling, start watching in one room and pick it up in another etc...

A couple of things to think about with software. Some TV recording software such as MediaPortal and Argus, can record multiple channels with just one tuner. With my 3 tuners I can record all of the channels on one mux simultaneously, in theory, so 6+ easily, probably more, not really tried it, probably the hard drive might be the bottleneck.

You may be in for a bit of a journey, good luck, hope we can help!
 

Gez

Novice Member
Thanks for that deleted member. Yes it's going to be a journey, but it starts with the first step :(

Your post really helps, and I think a significant penny has just dropped.

Each TV needs a client and therefore some computing power. So each TV will need a small box next to it that performs the client functions? With a Smart TV can this be an app on the TV itself, therefore not needing a separate box?

If a separate box is needed and if I am using MediaPortal (which was my original intention) each box will be in effect a mini PC running Windows OS meaning each box will require its own licence?
 
D

Deleted member 39241

Guest
Yes (generally).

There are some TV's now which have an Android OS built in, (eg new Sony's) these may be able to run some HTPC software without a separate box, but that would be pretty cutting edge, I imagine there may be many problems, if it would work at all, but maybe I am cynical!

Lots of people use android or linux as an OS on their HTPC's to save on the need for Windows licences, but that would rule out MediaPortal as your front end software. I have re-used old PC's and licences to get windows on all my machines, but that is just my personal preference.
 

Gez

Novice Member
After a bit of surfing I've come to the conclusion that Smart TV will not help as far as HTPC is concerned, so I will use a stand-alone client (jury still out on Windows v Linux).

This makes me wonder if a Smart TV is worth considering at all? Presumably a non-Smart TV will have a better picture at the same price point as money won't have been spent on the Smart features.

Is there anything a Smart TV can do that cannot be done with HTPC? I think HTPC makes better web surfing possible, and I guess things like Netflix can be delivered via the HTPC?
 
D

Deleted member 39241

Guest
Yes, I have some smart TV's but have never really used any of the features because I have Windows PC's connected to all my TV's. I am not sure that buying a non-smart TV is cheaper now though, I think it is all bundled in whether you want it or not!

I don't use Netflix either, but I think that may be a little tricky to incorporate into HTPC software because of copyright restrictions, so a Smart TV 'app' may be easier.

You could, of course, just watch Netflix in a web browser on the PC conected to a TV but may be a little clunky with a keyboard / mouse combo? I have a number of those devices though, tiny keyboards with built in trackpads, and MCE remotes / logitech harmony's, so, I guess there is a lot of choice!
 

Gez

Novice Member
Making progress :). That's the TV sorted - not bought yet, but now I know I'm not bothered if it is Smart or not, nor if it has any other particular features other than HDMI which is a given on a new TV anyway.

The HTPC server is the next item I need to resolve.

The current desktop in use is an ageing dinosaur, and is somehow still going at the grand old age of 12 :eek:. I have another XP desktop gathering dust in my office which is a sprightly 9 years old! I expect both of these are heading for the scrapheap as I doubt any practical use can be made of them going forward in their dotage. Whether I can make use of their licence keys I will have to check. (Unless, that is, they can be used as NAS?)

I am hoping therefore that a new desktop will do the job of HTPC server and family PC. In this case I need to be sure that the combined use won't compromise either function, and that the PC I buy will have enough expansion ports to accommodate the tuners.I have a Firewire card I would like to keep (though will need to check on compatibility).

I'm a bit confused about how many tuner cards I will need for watching and recording on various TVs simultaneously if MediaPortal and Argus can record multiple channels with just one tuner?
 

plum23

Active Member
Just to complicate things, as you mentioned a NAS you might want to run the tv server software on that?
(TV streaming requires very little power - in my system it's done by a 10 year old fanless pc originally designed to run shop displays - streaming uses barely 5% of its CPU.)
 

Gez

Novice Member
Thanks Tony - better to complicate things now than be kicking myself for missing a trick later.

I guess this would need to be a PC running as a NAS so there are expansion slots for the tuner cards? My NAS is a dedicated NAS with just 2 drives in it and no expansion slots (DLink DNS 323).

The fact that you are operating with an old PC makes me wonder if there is life in my old PC yet. If the dinosaur XP PC can do the job, it could be reassigned as a dedicated media server and then just get a new family PC without worrying about its ability to handle the media server job as well.
 
D

Deleted member 39241

Guest
Yes, that could work, I use an 'old' PC as a server, (it's not that old) but it is running Windows 8.1, with Argus TV and then I just share all the media folders for the client PC's to pick up over the home network.

You'll have to check what OS you'll need to run on it for support with the TV recording software that you choose.
 

plum23

Active Member
I guess this would need to be a PC running as a NAS so there are expansion slots for the tuner cards? My NAS is a dedicated NAS with just 2 drives in it and no expansion slots (DLink DNS 323).
You can also get a traditional NAS (eg HP Microserver for value; Synology for ease of set-up) and attach USB tuners instead of cards. An August 210 tuner for Freeview HD is under £25.
 

jcjefferies

Active Member
I have a HP Microserver in the top of a wardrobe as my server running NextPVR on Windows. There are 4 disk slots, 1 used for Windows boot, 1 a 2TB disk for recordings and 1 500GB in case other disk fills up. The server is set to sleep after 5mins inactivity.

For Recordings I have a single USB DVB-T tuner , a twin USB DVB-T tuner and a single USB DVB-T2 tuner. I am thinking of adding a DVB-S2 PCI-e tuner. Its set to not make a recording if it has already been recorded or recently deleted

For playback clients I have a Celeron and a N54L Nettop PCs running KODI under OpenElec so don't need Windows licenses. Both easily play SD or HD recordings. WOL boots the server if its not running. I can watch part of a recording on one client then stop playback and watch the rest from that point on the other client.

It has been running for about 3 years and was thinking of updating to 3TB disk but instead deleted recordings I was never going to watch!!

I am only interested in recording and playing back TV although I do also use the KODI iPlayer client sometimes.

Chris
 

Gez

Novice Member
Thanks for the advice so far.

I need to think about services and locations...

The satellite cable comes down the side of the house and through the wall directly behind one of the TVs. Meanwhile the Aerial cables (TV and FM) come through the roof, through the loft void, then down inside a cavity wall reappearing in the garage where there is an 8-way redistribution amplifier. This sends TV signals to various points around the house via coax cables (though there is no coax point next to the satellite cable - it's in a different corner of the room). Telephone points are also distributed around the house.

So the latest challenge I am thinking about is how to link up the signal sources to tuners and then on to the hard disk?

I was anticipating locating the old PC in my home office in the loft to act as a server, but would need to get the signals to it. Easy enough for the TV/FM as I can break into the coaxial cables in the loft void and connect to a tuner card (or USB tuner) in the PC, but not sure how to get the satellite signal up there.

I guess I could get an installer out to bring another cable from the dish through the roof alongside the coaxial cable, but I'd rather avoid that if possible.

As there will be a client PC (or similar) for the TV where the satellite cable already comes in, could that be used to process the satellite signal?

I'm wondering if there is any way of using the existing wiring infrastructure, be it coax, telephone or mains, to help. (Either for channeling the incoming signals to the server or for Ethernet connections from the server back to the clients so the connection is by copper instead of wifi?
 

plum23

Active Member
You can have two computers, one for sat and one for freeview, and hack Kodi to see them as one; but i would get both sets of cables somewhere together and have one pc. Maybe in the same room as your sat cable you could run more coax behind the skirting boards?

Btw, forget about FM and just use the radio channels on Freeview.

ETA: Is there anything on Freesat that you'll miss if you go Freeview only? If you have the pc in the loft you could attach two tuners; or put it in the garage and have as many tuners as there are outputs from the distribution amp?
 
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