Windows 7 Media Centre = Cheap Freesat and BBC HD PVR

Rob.Screene

Active Member
I thought I'd post my findings from the last few weeks.

The HTPC has definitely just moved on in my opinion...

I have used an HTPC and TheaterTek for DVD playback for years. I tried Windows XP Media Centre with a Freeview usb adapter and found it to be unreliable, Freeview had drop-outs and was low bit-rate. Also it didn't handle the new BBC HD transmissions of the time.

I got Sky HD in the living room and lived with just blu-rays and DVD's on the big screen on my dedicated room.

A few weeks ago I just strung a couple of extra cables from my sky dish to my dedicated room. The sky hd provided disk receiver (LNB) was only using two of the 4 outputs, so I simply required two 20m double-screened, foamed-in cables at £12 each from Maplin, which came with the require pair of f-connectors each.

I had a spare dual-core athlon x2 pc, so bought a cheap Compro VideoMate S350 (I think the simpler S300 would do too) DVB-S card from ebuyer for about £31 delivered.

I also bought an ATI hd 4670 ultimate graphics card because it has a big fanless heatsink, heatpipes and full hd h.264 decoding to keep the rest of the pc less busy and allow it to run cooler and quieter.

My first surprise was that windows 7 found the driver for the card relatively easily itself after a few minutes and the media centre setup detected the Sat card, asked my postcode and found the freesat (astra and hotbird?) channels after a shrt while searching.

The 14-day guide looked fairly nice out-of-the-box.

I noticed some minor judder, which went away once I remembered to set the desktop to 1080p and 50Hz (euro broadcast ** is all at 50Hz, no 59.97 like the US stuff, which seems to be the default for pc's graphics drivers)

I did notice that many BBC HD recordings blocked-up horribly, which I since learnt may be due to the Windows built-in h.264 handler not agreeing with the newly introduced HD encoders (BBC - BBC Internet Blog: Picture Quality on BBC HD: a response).

I bought an Nvidia 9500 passive graphics card for £31 delivered and tried that in-place of the ati 4670. All recordings played flawlessly now, but annoyingly it appeared to conflic with the sat card and recordings had regular dropouts every few seconds.

I suspect it might be because the nvidia 9500 heatsink does not have heatpipes and is also two slots tall so may radiate more heat to the sat card one or two slots below. It tried both slots and also leaving the case open to no avail. I reinstalled the ati 4670, recordings fine, replace with 9500 again, recordings have drop outs. Very odd and repeatable and perhaps an electrical or irq conflict or somesuch. Maybee it's specific to my old motherboard, but just beware it wasn't the fix-all I'd read about on tgb forums.

More importantly where is a workaround for the ATI using a DXVA checker tool to add a setting so that hardware h.264 decoding is not used. This results in a few seconds of blocking on hitting play or skip, but them the live or recorded program plays fine, albeit at 75% cpu usage.

I have now about a week of season passing all but the kids programs on BBCHD, filling a 300GB hard disk.

The smoothness of the pans and picture quality looks very, very close to blu-ray on my full 1080p JVC-HD1 projector and 8ft screen.

I'm using an old xp media centre remote and usb receiver. The standby button works to turn pc off and on (even this old nforce 4 ultra motherboard), with the pc seeming to wake a few minutes before a scheduled recording and then turning off about 30 minutes afterwards if not being watched.

Oh, and not one crash with about 12 hours BBC HD viewing, plus 3 hours of the standard def grand prix at Suzuka.

I'm tempted to buy another second sat card to allow dual-channel recordings or changing channels while recording something, but it seems a little pointless as the only thing it's recording is the single BBC HD channel, still even with a second card this looks a bargain to be compared to the Humax £240 freesat dual-channel PVR.

Your thoughts appreciated.
regards,
Rob.
 

Embarker

Active Member
try my channel logos to enhance the guide.

my htpc plays nice with my 9500gt with bbc hd via my nova dvb-s2 card - very rarely see blocking either.

Recorded strictly come prancing for swmbo and the episode was over 11.5gb - what a waste of hdd space:eek:

just thought, the only codec i have is coreavc pro which enables the cuda support with the 9500gt
 
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Rob.Screene

Active Member
I didn't want to put any non-standard codecs on there if possible. I think the interesting thing about it is how relatively easily it works out the box just allowing the default installation.

Perhaps with the exceptions of the haali mkv splitter to allow .WKV playback and madflac to allow lossless .flac playback that all my CD's are ripped to.

One other thing to note is that now I'm happy with the build, I've started to disasemble my old HTPC. The m-audio 2496 soundcard did not find driver automatically at all. In fact I had to join an m-audio form in order to download their beta windows 7 drivers, that seem to work ok, except a minor issue that they may have added a slight 0.5 second delay to the play and stop button responses.

I'm certainly enjoying the sound quality from the BBC HD broadcasts and link logos, more so now I'n using a good digital out soundcard than using the built-in motherboard "hd" audio.

Rob.
 

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