SDI modded Sky+

Discussion in 'Sky Digital TV Forum' started by philipb, Sep 21, 2004.

  1. philipb

    philipb
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    Having lashed out on one of these I thought there may be a couple of you out there interested in the outcome - ie is it worth over £500?

    Well yes, but.

    Only if you have a high quality display - goes without saying really.
    You need to try to keep the signal all digital right up to the display - either via a PC then DVI out or a suitable box (Lumagen etc).
    So how much better is the PQ? Quite a bit better than say an analogue picture via SCART with no processing being done. I was previously using the Sweetspot card and Dscaler to smarten up the analogue feed, and SDI is better but not miles better. I have now sold the Sweetspot card so the nett cost was probably worth it depending on your financial circumstances.

    But can SDI improve the low bitrate crappy channels on Sky? Actually yes surprisingly. But the real benefit comes from the better channels. The movie channels now approach DVD quality, and the sports channels also are a marked improvement.

    To sum up, if you have a display with digital input and can keep the signal digital all the way from the dish to the screen, then go for it.

    And BTW, remenber that the SDI feed comes off before the box can do anything with the incoming signal - I mean anything, including macrovision ;) Not that anybody would need that pointed out of course.
     
  2. dgc

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    Certainly something to consider if sky is your main source of viewing.

    Few questions if I may

    What display are you using?

    Is it still only the v1 Pace box that can be modded ?

    Is there a worthwhile improvement on the footy in particular on SkySports channels?
     
  3. Andyuk911

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    Brill write up, you answers some questions in my mind. Do you use a Plasma and I assume it has a SDI card
     
  4. philipb

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    Hi guys.

    Set up is SDi modded Sky+ (has to be V1 box - V2 cannot be done) supplied by the Pluggedin TV people, to PMS (Sweetspot) SDI capture card in HTPC with Dscaler; DVI out from graphics card to DVI in on a Pioneer 433MXE1 plasma (IMHO the best screen overall currently available).

    Footie is improved - worthwhile depends on how good your current PQ is. Sky's coverage is generally the best bitrate wise, better than BBC and miles better than ITVs appallingly poor quality. The all digital feed with Dscaler properly configured, and the graphics outputting to the plasma at 50hz to eradicate jerkiness, is very good. Clear and well defined colours and very little or no signs of MPEG blockiness. It hasn't improved Charlton Athletic's stuttering start to the season, but I live in hope.
     
  5. SimonO

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    Hi philipb... Agree with your comments on the screen!!!
     
  6. Alex Simon

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    Hi Phil
    Rumour has it that a Charlton Athletic StutterTerminator will be in DScaler 5
    Look out for it :D
    Glad you're happy with SweetSpot SDI and your new SKY+ box, are you still using PVR1.1 to capture?
     
  7. Pavel

    Pavel
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    As I'm on a shared dish, what would happen if I just plugged one of these SDI modified units in instead of my standard digibox? I'm assuming that I'd only get one channel, but assuming things can be dangerous!

    Improving sports and the film channels is exactly what I'm looking for...

    Any pointers greatly appreciated!

    P.
     
  8. philipb

    philipb
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    Alex

    Dscaler is good, but it's not that good. Still, a welcome 3 points on Monday.

    Yes still using PVR. However I've run into a problem since upgrading my MB and upping the CPU to 3.2GHz. I now get a lot of dropped frames except at the lower level settings. Had no problems before. Done all the usual checks - DMA enabled etc. May just be a crappy MB. Still at normal DVD settings recordings onto hard disc via SDI are excellent quality with no DFs.

    BTW - do you have any info on the new PMS plasma enhancer - ie price abd availability? I assume you will handle it as and when?

    Pavel

    Don't see why not. Alex would be better placed to answer than me.
     
  9. Alex Simon

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    Hi Phil
    Now that you've settled on a PC configuration, it's always a good idea to do it again from scratch if you've been trying different options during the build.
    Obviously do a Ghost first.
    There's not much in the way of mobo combos that can't be made to work these days.

    Re: PlasmaEnhancer - It's still on track for December/January release. Everything PMS have said about it makes it sound great - It's obviously more limited in functionality than Crystalio, but PQ should be the same high quality according to their engineers.
    Pricing still to be finalised but approx iScan HD price was the original target.#

    Hi Pavel
    Swapping the box should work in exactly the same was as it does now - you would swap your contract/viewing card onto the new box. PVR functions would be disabled unless you upgraded your contract to a SKY+ one though.
    SDI doesn't effect anything except output quality so have a word with SKY about your individual situation.

    Hope that helps
    Alex
     
  10. Y0rkie

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    Phil,
    Read a few of your posts and you seem to be doing exactly what I want.

    I am fine with PC stuff and will build a SFF HTPC to connect to a 43MXE1 I have just ordered, but I am still struggling to decide on the method of video input/output to plasma.

    Basically what I want to do:
    - My family use Sky for all channels, so freeview is not really required.
    - I obviously want the best PQ possible (SDI?)
    - Would prefer to use MCE2005 (for other features also, mp3, pics, video clips)
    - Use EPG on PC if possible (pass IR to Sky+)
    - Record programmes onto PC (PVR software)

    --- Most importantly - once setup, possible for wife to use, as if not......

    So, just wondered if anyone could provide any further info to help me come to a conclusion, I am keen on the Sky+ & SDI card, but will this be easy to use once setup? (for a non techie person)

    Any info would be great, eager to order something
     
  11. David PluggedIn

    David PluggedIn
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    Hi Phil

    The easiest and best quality PC setup is to use Sky+ SDI in to a SweetSpot SDI card. Then you would use Meedio as the front end - it gives most of the functionality of a MCE but with the benefit of support for all Windows hardware, so you would get your photos, MP3 etc.
    Personally I think you are better using the EPG built in to Sky+, it works seamlessly and of course does not need the PC to be on to drive it. Using SDI you would then just archive the programs that you want to store permanently to PC.
    I run the 250gb option and it has transformed the way I use Sky+, I no longer need to ruthlessly delete programs to make space for new recordings (often before I had had a chance to watch them) as it now has over 100 hours of capacity. A 3 hour football event now is a couple of percent, compared to 15 percent on a standard disc.

    Finally, you may want to also hook up the analogue video outputs to a spare input on your plasma, that way you can a] show off the improvement in PQ, b] allow Sky to be used without the PC being required, for ultimate ease of use.

    all the best
     
  12. philipb

    philipb
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    David

    I assume the Hi Phil should have been hi yorkie?

    Not to worry. agree with what you say of course.

    On PVR software - I have replaced my ATI graphics card with a GeForce 6800 and it came bundled with Intervideo WinDVD suite. Part of this is WinDVD Creator which captures in MPEG2 in real time to the hard disc.

    Using the DVD High Quality setting it produces files about 2GB for each hour of video - about the same quality as XP on a set top recorder. Recorded via SDI the resulting video is excellent quality - virtually indistinguishable from the broadcast stream - and can be played back on Theatertek or Media player or whatever.

    Yorkie - if you will be using a small PC then invest in an external BIG (GB wise) hard drive. The Maxtor 250GB one touch is excellent.

    So long as you install the WDM drivers then almost any PVR package will recognise the PMS SDI card. WinDVD creator is now the capture software of choice for me and I use it to archive from the Sky+ hard drive.
     
  13. Y0rkie

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    David / Phil,
    Thanks for the info greatly appreciated, still a few area's not sure about hope you may be able to clear these up?

    Firstly, any reason for the external drive? I was going to put 200+GB internal, small partition for OS, rest for video, music etc. I have wireless lan which will allow me to connect to my main PC which has shed loads of space for archiving of stuff. I have a 160GB Samsung spinpoint in my current pc which is excellent, but I have read that the motors have now been changed to JVC which are loud, is the Maxtor 250GB one touch a nice quiet drive?

    Video Card - I was planning on getting a 9600, would this be OK? I don't really bother with games much, just Counter Strike which will run on just about any decent card.

    Regarding the SDI (the new bit for me), I understand the signal is taken before the sky box touches it. What happens if you are watching something via SDI and also recording another program on Sky+, will the recorded program lose any quality? How would archive this to the PC, through the SDI and capture, possible to copy files? (again apologies if dumb questions, sky+ and sdi, new to me)

    Just waiting for my MXE1 to be delivered, it is on a Target van somewhere in the north east, they tried delivering yesterday without telling me :-(
     
  14. David PluggedIn

    David PluggedIn
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    Hi Phil
    Yes, I did mean 'Hi Yorkie' - brain in neutral it seems :)
    The WinDVD creator sounds like a nice solution for creating DVD archives - a good result that.

    Yorkie, no specific requirement for internal versus external drives - I think Phil's point was that if you are using a SFF type PC then the usual issues of heat/noise are more difficult to manage with an internal drive. Radeon 9600 are tried and tested in the world of HTPC so again no issues there to worry about.

    Now, about the SDI recording. Basically the SDI stream is exactly what you see on the analogue outputs, so no change there. The difference is that the video information is picked up immediately prior to the digital>analogue conversion.
    The SweetSpot SDI capture card then displays this in realtime via DScaler, or you can use any Windows software to record it. This is what the WDM driver does, it lets the SweetSpot cards be seen the same as any other video source in Windows.

    hope that makes sense - if not just shout up :)
     
  15. philipb

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    David - you read my mind. The Maxtor one touch has USB2 and firewire connections, so speed is no longer an issue, and external HDs are just easier to use especially for SFF PCs. even a 250Gb disc fills up alarmingly quickly, so the one disc inside the PC will not last for ever. You can have as many externals as you have USB ports free.

    Yorkie - you should get hold of Powerstrip so that you can set up the MXE1 to take a 50Hz signal into the DVI input for silky smooth pictures. Post again when you're ready to go and I'll run through what you need to do on the PC and on the plasma - that's if you don't already know.

    And BTW a new MB and a reinstall of XP and no more dropped frames :)
     
  16. Y0rkie

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    Thanks David & Phil,
    MXE1 arrived today, unfortunately cannot fit it to the wall until painting finished and flooring laid :( gutted.

    David - what is the lead time on ordering the sky+ with SDI mod and SweetSpot SDI card?

    Phil - I will certainly contact you once I am all set up (when I have all the decorating sorted....that was the agreement, my wife gets a new living room and I get HTPC with Plasma on wall, hard work, but will be worth it in the end)
     
  17. David PluggedIn

    David PluggedIn
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    Hi yorkie

    Depending on the spec of the Sky SDI box (hard disc size etc) then usually they ship next day, same with the SweetSpot card.

    cheers
     
  18. Y0rkie

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    Hi Philip,

    My MXE1 is fitted beautifully to my chimney breast, just got me bits yesterday for my HTPC, which I built today, basically consists of:
    Accent HT-400 case (took a while to deliver)
    Asus A8V Mobo
    AMD 64 bit 3000
    1 GB Ram
    160Gb Samsung spinpoint (wifi connection to my main PC for more storage)
    9600 Radeon
    LG GSA Dual DVD Writer

    Only thing I am yet to purchase is the SDI Sky+ & Sweetspot SDI, may have to wait until after xmas as the whole living room project has set me back £10k+, but I will be purchasing SDI as soon as my kids get there presents.

    Was hoping you might help me set my MXE1 and HTPC for best possible with current config for DVD's etc until I get SDI? I have basically just connected the DVI cable and switched both on, therefore any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Yorkie
     
  19. philipb

    philipb
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    Get the kids Xmas presents instead of going SDI - strange boy :)

    Will you be using the LG to play DVDs on the PC? And what software player?
     
  20. Y0rkie

    Y0rkie
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    the wife is adament about the kids having a nice xmas, I said they would with SDI, but she aint going for it :(

    Yeah - using the LG for playing dvd's, not sure about the software, suggestions more than welcome.
     
  21. philipb

    philipb
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    Just to be awkward, I'm not currently using the HTPC for DVDs. but I have done in the past.

    My recommendation would be to buy Theatertek 2 (www.theatertek.com), but there are plenty of other software players out there, some free. TT2 allows you to use ffdshow for postprocessing the image, and there are plenty of posts on the TT forum on their website about settings to use in ffdshow (www.theatertek.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4392 is specifically about setting up ffdshow). TT2 plus ffdshow into the DVI of the MXE1 will be better than any sub £1000 DVD player and some over £1000 players. I have a SDI modded Denon 2900 and TT2 is better ( not much but it is better). ffdshow is a bit fiddly to set up, but there are some simple settings to make which bring a big improvement in PQ. after that you can fiddle to your heart's content but the improvements will be more marginal.

    TT2 also uses some Nvidia codecs to do postprocessing (they come with the software) and they work on ATI cards as well as Nvidia. They are almost as good as ffdshow, not quite, but are simpler to use. You just select them in TT2 and away you go. So for a no brainer use these, but use ffdshow for fine tuning and the best possible PQ.

    TT2 will also play just about any video file on your PC, including Hi Def files.

    So buy and install TT2; download and install ffdshow for free; configure ffdshow; then select it or Nvidia codecs in the TT2 set up area; download and install Powerstrip and set your desktop to 1024x768 at 50Hz (for PAL stuff); insert a DVD and be prepared to be seriously impressed.

    You should calibrate TT2 using AVIA or DVD Essentials of course. And I find that the default gamma setting in TT2 is way too high for the DVI on the MXE1 in mode 2, but this can be a personal thing so play around.

    Let us know how you get on.
     
  22. scrowe

    scrowe
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    HI All,

    Just thinking about the ultimate Sky solution then, to complement my 505XDE Plasma:-

    Sky+ with Dual SDI, upgraded hard disk
    Crystalio VPS-2300 Hi Definition Video Processor
    SweetSpot SDI Video Processor

    This would give me best possible Sky picture into the Plasma via the HDMI input using a DVI to HDMI cable from the Crystalio

    I could also archive recorded Sky+ shows onto my PC for permanent DVD or Hard Disk storage via the Sweetpsot.

    My component DVD Player would connect directly to the Crystalio and also share the HDMI for plasma input

    My VCR would connecto to the Composite Video input on the Crystalio and also share the HDMI for plasma input.

    That leaves my TiVo, requiring an RGB to Component converter, fed into the Crystalio, also sharing the HDMI input.

    I'm guessing the Crystalio itself handles the input switching into the Plasma?

    Have I missed anything? Assuming I go mad and dip into my savings?
     
  23. Starburst

    Starburst
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    Sounds fantastic:)

    However.....
    Considering the amount of less than steller programming on ALL the SKY channels in terms of picture/video quality and the fact that DVD outperforms SKY movies every step of the way why not save your pennies and wait for High Def?
     
  24. David PluggedIn

    David PluggedIn
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    Hi scrowe

    That would all work, you could actually connect your Tivo via RGBS and not need to use the convertor. Also you want to get your DVD to output in digital rather than component as that will give another big jump in its performance.

    Starburst raises a good point – and it was one raised in the What Satellite & Digital TV review this month for Sky SDI/Crystalio about the quality if the Sky programming for bandwidth etc.

    They also described how good channels look great, poor channels look poor etc, essentially like a high end hi-fi system. But just as you wouldnt tend to play flexidisc 45 singles (anyone else remember them!) on a high end hi-fi, then most people wouldnt purchase bother with a high end AV system to watch shopping/gambling channels!

    Our own views are that the ‘Sky looks poor due to limited bandwidth' is really a generalisation. In many cases the problems that people see on large displays (posterisation, noise, softness etc) are not anything to do with the Sky picture but are problems in the signal chain or display, caused by repeated analogue/digital conversions, suspect digital processing enhancements etc etc.

    I personally view Sky through SDI in to Crystalio as my main viewing source in to a 1280x720 LCD projector via DVI. The screen is not tiny (1.5m wide) but not huge either.
    I have to say that on the main channels, which lets face it are the ones that 90% of people view 90% of the time, the picture is nothing short of stunning when the material is good. Some programs look DVD quality – it really is that good. The level of detail is what I personally always notice, it's the fine detail that tends to get lost on analogue connections and this is what really helps give the picture a 3d look. On close up shots being able to see the texture on fabric that would otherwise be blurred does make the picture feel more solid. The quality of the image depends more on the quality of the source material that Sky are transmitting rather than bit rate issues (again talking about the main channels) - so if they have got some old, rough, transfer of a film then it can look poor, but that if anything is just part of owning a high end viewing system that you will see variations in quality depending on the material.

    We have customers using a variety of displays with this combination.. At the ultra high end we have one customer with a Sony G90, 9” CRT projector. This is one of the most revealing displays you could ever dream of owning – and he now uses is Sky+ SDI to watch Sky box office movies, something he said he never would have dreamt of before Sky/Crystalio.

    Speaking to a plasma owner (Panasonic 50), he described that he ‘couldn't go back to pre-SDI Sky – you can see the changes in cameras that are used between different scenes, it is that revealing'

    Sorry if this sounds like sales pitch – but Sky SDI is for now the closest to HD you can get for day to day viewing.

    Should someone wait for Sky HD? Sure – it will be great when it comes. However, Sky HD is still a long way off, the technology platform is undecided, the programming is not yet identified/publicised. How much programming will there be in HD at launch? These are all unknowns. Crystalio is HD ready, it can take SD and HD inputs and supports HDCP, so an investment in Sky SDI and Crystalio really does give a smooth transition to Sky HD when it arrives.

    Just my 2p worth..
    pps - if anyone has read the review then the point about the judder on the ticker tape / news channels is resolved by using a custom frequency timing in Crystalio, so it then looks silky smooth :)
     
  25. scrowe

    scrowe
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    Hi David,

    Still new to all this.

    What would I need for the TiVo to connect via RGBS?

    Damn, this all getting seriously tempting. Do you do interest-free?
     
  26. stonking

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    Hi, all

    The PC spec that YOrkie is using is top of the range stuff. What's the min spec I could use that would work, i.e CPU etc. I am just thinking if I could put together one of these using an old motherboard etc that I have.
     
  27. David PluggedIn

    David PluggedIn
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    Hi Scrow

    for the connection to Crystalio for Tivo you just need a SCART to 4 x phonos cable, its a pretty standard cable and we can sort all that out for you - drop me an email to david at pluggedin.tv
    Sorry , we dont do anything with finance..

    stonking, if you just want to use your PC as a video processor then 2ghz and a basic video card is plenty powerful enough, people have successfully built DScaler PCs on 1ghz processors. Recording to disc is more demanding though, and 2ghz or above is what you would want for SDI archiving.
     
  28. scrowe

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    Thanks David,

    On the back of this, and after a quick check of fincances, I've just been approved for a Credit Card offering 12 months interest-free on new purchases, so unless I cool off and get a reality check in the 2 days it takes to arrive, I may have to whack a very unsensible-sized order your way.
     

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