Freeview HD via DVB-T Tuner Card, Part 1

Drive by the need to test out a DVB-T capture card for future use in our HTPC (what’s the point in having a fancy HDTV without access to HD broadcasts right?), and the desire to replace the 14″ CRT TV in my room with something at least slightly more modern, I realised that with all the spare hardware I have, I might as well order up a card and get to it.

Based on my associate Troy’s recommendation, I ordered the Hauppauge HVR-4000 Quad Mode tuner card. I got mine from Playtech, where they retail for a little over $200 inc GST. The spec page listed above tells the whole story, but basically it’s a PCI card with analog TV, DVB-S (satellite), DVB-T and FM tuners. It comes bundled with Cyberlink PowerCinema software, FM antenna, IR receiver and a Microsoft Media Center clone remote. Batteries ARE in fact included.

First up: it’s handy to be aware of some of the local resources available, these will prove invaluable if you run into problems. Geekzone has a fairly busy forum based around DVB-S and DVB-T matters in NZ, with a pretty good signal-to-noise ratio for the most part. Fossie, one of the big posters on the Geekzone forums has put all his info on his blog, and is keeping it updated. This page is very valuable. Cranz has a very detailed site on how to setup MediaPortal. I plodded through it myself, but I link it for reference of others. It’s fairly straightforward if you’re technically minded and have at least some idea of installing and configuring new hardware.

Current test hardware is an entry level box with:

*ASUS M2N-MX SE Motherboard
-nForce 430 Chipset with GeForce6100 VGA onboard
*AMD Semperon 3200+
-1.8GHz
*1GB DDR2
-PC2-5300 @ 333MHz
*80GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 SATA HDD
*XFX GeForce 7600GS 256MB Dual DVI+TV PCI-E card
*Philips 190C 19″ LCD @ 1280×1024

Software:
*Windows XP Pro SP3
*Cyberlink PowerCinema (comes with the Hauppage Card)
*MediaPortal
*GB-PVR

Results so far:

*Trying to use onboard video is fruitless. Even cranking it up to 256MB, pointless. You can just get 720p streams to play, but they are jittery as hell. the 1080i of TV3, no way. Usually results in a lockup.

*With the 7600GS – joy, it works, sometimes a very very slight jitter, but it varies from channel to channel. Long and the short of the above two points, you need a card with good H.264 decoding skills.

*PowerCinema wont give me the AAC LATM sound for some reason. Also, it’s a piece of shit, but at least it seems snappier than the other two.

*GB-PVR is a piece of shit. Complex to configure, barely documented, works in a generally stupid way.

*MediaPortal is better, but still a bit tricky to setup, but at least it’s got better documentation and a wider community.

*EPG (Electronic Programme Guide). This is the KILLER app of any PVR. Not knowing when shows are on SUCKS for recording purposes, and most PVR software makes it hard for you to record anything unless it’s in your guide. The advantage of digital TV is that the guide is built in along with the signal, unlike analog TV, which is a stone cold bitch to get a solid, stable guide source for. In fact, it’s unsupported by any official channels here in NZ, and many other places. Thanks Microsoft (and HP/Dell etc) for selling us products we can’t make full use of here! Anyway, I digress….with digital TV, you tell your capture card to grab the EPG over-the-air, and all is well in the world! 😀 Apart from the fact that the quality and depth of detail varies greatly, but I can only hope this improves with time.

*The UI of all 3 bits of software, at default skin settings, are all ugly as fucking sin. Cheap rip offs of WinMCE, which at least as some kind of slickness to it. MediaPortal is your best bet here with a far wider skin range.

*If you’re installing on Windows XP, you need THIS hotfix. In WinMCE it’s included in a rollup, but not on XPSP2. Note, I used a particular version because doing it the standard way will result in the updated file being replaced by the old version thanks to Windows trying to be secure. 🙂 Once I find the page that told me how to do that again, I’ll link it later.

*Codecs: you need to be able to support H.264 and AAC LATM audio.

Next steps: Trying same DVB-T card and 7600GS in more powerful hardware, recording, and trying to wrangle Windows Media Center (XP and Vista versions), and some kind of linux PVR setup into playing the game. Also, remotes, but this should be trivial. I have both the remote that came with the Hauppage (MS clone), and a genuine Microsoft MCE remote here. That, and I’ve already tried the MS one with MediaPortal, as it has the best support templates it seems.