Saturday, January 28, 2006

SageTV Updates

Warning - this is boring if you don't like tech stuff. I've tried not to be overly technical, but I think I've failed at that. :)

For those of you who don't know, for our television at home I use a computer to control all of it. The idea is basically the same as Tivo, except I don't have montly subscription costs and a lot of control over how a lot of it works and to make additions and changes to it. The downside is it probably costs a little bit more over time - depending on how long you keep Tivo of course. If I don't upgrade this computer for another year or so, I think I'm coming out quite a bit ahead. I've had it for a while.

The hardware I'm using is a custom built older computer - in this case an Athlon 1.4Ghz with 256MB DDR memory, and a 30GB and 120GB Hard Drive. It is underclocked to like 1050Mhz and I've removed some of the active cooling because this computer is sitting in the living room and loud = bad. Especially since this is the only form of technology I've put into our house that my wife won't let me pry it away from her now. Needless to say, she's become quite attached to having this.

The software I am using is SageTV. I've been using it for about a year and a half. It does Electronic Program Guide updates, Schedules Programs to Record, and Does timeshifting (pause and rewind live TV). It has lots more features and custom addons (I can schedule programs to record from a web browser anywhere on the internet) that I think make it better than Tivo. There are other pieces of software that do the same sort of thing, most notably BeyondTV and MythTV. I've actually tried them all as well as some others and let me put it to you this way. This was a hobby for me to try to set up for about half a year trying many different free pieces of software and trying to do it as inexpensively as possible. I got more done as far as setup goes in one night with SageTV with better results than in 6 months with the other pieces of software. Looking back, I bet BeyondTV will work just fine as well and actually has some other cool features SageTV doesn't have, but I'm now hooked on SageTV.

Anyhow, on to what I've changed on it. When I originally built it, I only put one TV Tuner into it because - well at the time it cost me about $90 for it and it would be functional with just one. It was also one of the only components I'd have to purchase at the time and my cheapskate nature would not allow me to pay for more. The TV tuner I chose was the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250. If you've never purchased TV Tuners before for a computer, you may have never heard of them, but trust me they are the standard in this field. I'm not saying there aren't better products out there, but since they are so popular most software supports them. This card has done me well and is at the center of making things work as far as the tv goes.

So in December I ask my wife if she'd rather have a new remote control or an additional tv tuner card in the computer. Like I'm sure you may ask as she did - whats the advantage of another tv tuner?

With one tuner and SageTV - you CAN do 2 things at once - meaning you can watch a show while recording another, but the one you are watching has to already be recorded in the past. This is kind of like having a vcr - and like a vcr - you can watch something as you record something else (if you know how to work your tv right and don't have a cable box or satellite) but unlike a vcr - you can't watch something that is showing right now as you are recording something else. This is because in order to do the timeshifting you are contstantly recording what you are watching - even if you don't keep it. In fact, if you were to put another tv in the room, you'd find what you are watching isn't even exactly live - there is a momentary delay in what you are seeing compared to the other set.

I've just put in a Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150. This tuner may sound like a downgrade from the older tuner, but I picked it up for $65 from Amazon. So, cheaper, and a lower model number - it must be a lesser product, right? From what I can tell from the comparison chart on the Hauppauge website - I'm going to say no. It might cost them less to make it but looking at the features and from what I've already witnessed - they are really about the same. If I were to build another system or start today I'd just get 2 of the 150s. Maybe 3. I'd also get the MediaMVP unit - well, I won't get into that right now. If someone wants to know more about this stuff, let me know.

The results? Well first of all let me say it was ridiculously easy to add the 2nd tuner in. I just popped it into the pci slot, attached another cable connection to it from my splitter, loaded the drivers (and updated them) and then added another video source in SageTV (and programmed the channels in it). With 2 tuners, the game changes dramatically. I can now record 2 live programs at once. So, if my wife schedules something for a time she isn't home but I am - I can now watch something else without cancelling "Martha" or "Judging Amy". Not that i'm ever home at those times. I also, and this kind of seems odd to me, but works - can record 2 shows at the same time AND watch another program that i've already record. I didn't even notice any stutter in the playback. This is most likely because the 2 tuners both have hardware encoding so the only video i'm playing back and decoding is the recorded show. Now I can finally schedule The Daily Show and My Name is Earl (still haven't seen it) to record and not interfere with previously committed show and Wendy can still record The District every day while not interfering with Judging Amy.

The ironic thing? I don't really watch that much tv really. I've barely even watched any this week at all. But nowI'm not forced to make that choice if two things are on at once. Anyone got any favorite show recommendations to check out? :)

To continue my SageTV is the coolest rant, it appears that someone has developed a SageTV to Video Ipod convertor piece of software for free. It watches for new recordings, coverts them, and adds them to iTunes so that when you plug in the ipod - your recorded shows are on there. Since I now have a video ipod, I definitely am going to test this out. I'll report on it if it cool. I should have some of the shows recorded encoded and put on the ipod today.

And - for Christmas - my wife did buy me(us) a new remote because the one we have we got for $6 and is wearing out. It was a crazy slick deal since it is a programmable remote that uses fm instread of infrared for transmission. I decided on wanting the ATI Remote Wonder Plus - because it has decent range and looks versatile - but it was on backorder around Christmas. I still haven't gotten it yet, but it says in stock at the ATI Store so I should really look into that soon.

Cheers everyone, thanks for making it through this more techie post. I'm off to test tv shows on the video ipod!

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