Introduction to HTPC - on the cheap


I'm once again looking to get a PVR setup. I really didn't have a computer that looked like it would have enough Oooomph before, so I gave up on it. My wife is now wanting to rent a DVR from Charter, but if I can get a PVR system fairly cheap setup I'd rather do that. I've looked at some of the cards on NewEgg, and checked into some of the software listed on this site. I have an old video capture card, Win TV card which doesn't do live pause etc, and I have a video card with TV out. I'm sure I'll need a PVR card, however there are several brands, some cheaper than others. Any suggestions on a low cost PVR? Software suggestion? I'll be running XP Home.
It does help a bit, thanks. There are so many options, so much money you can spend LOL why can't decisions be easier sometimes? LOL
Tim, I know EXACTLY how you are feeling! I had SO many questions when I started and put my HTPC together! I knew basically NOTHING when it came to getting it all working. The best advice I can give for a great Capture card on a budget is the WinTV-PVR-150MCE.

It is a hardware encoder card, meaning it does not tie up the processor when recording/watching TV. When I am recording TV my processor ranges under 15% usage. The link is for a bundle that has the card, InfaRed receiver and the remote control all for $99 bicks! (Thanks to TreeTop for pointing that out to me when I needed it!). (I have since added a 2nd one in my machine so I can record one show and watch another).

A good link on this board to start is THIS ONE.. It is when I knoew nothing about setting this all up, and I asked many of the questions that you probably have. It's funny for me to look back at that thread now, as some of the things look SO simple in retrospect!

BTW, I am using Microsoft Media Center Edition as an OS, and am very happy with it. I usually try to find another way other then using MS software, but I have tried various other HTPC programs, and this was honestly the best/easiest one to use, and having access to the free program guide info from MS, and not having to set up other scripts, and stuff to make the TV Guide listing work is a definate plus. There are also a LOT of 3rd party plugins HERE and many other places that are available for MS-MCE to do just about anything you want.
It used to be that the only real answer for the hardware was "Get a Hauppauge card (with hardware encoding)." There are a number of comparable cards available now, but the Hauppauge cards are still good. I really haven't looked into the others in any detail, so someone else may be able to make specific suggestions.

My current PVR machine has two Hauppauge cards in it - a 250 and a 150 (I forget the specific versions). It's also got an OTA HD card, but I'm not using it right now (it works fine, but the program schedule information for the digital channels has been messed up and it would record the wrong programs - and my reception with an inside antenna isn't that great). I was running two separate machines, each with one of the cards and using different software, but I consolidated them into a single machine.

I only use my machine to record and rarely use it to play back the recordings. I use separate hardware for this, but the machine itself works quite well for playback and live TV (except for a sometimes-annoying TV out that likes to forget I want to use it).

I'm running a P4 1.8 with XP Home. I'm using SageTV for the software end of things. My other machine was running Beyond TV. Using both of them, each had features I liked that the other didn't - usually small things like setting a default start or end recording offset (SageTV doesn't have this). I'm also using a SageTV client running on another PC (the machine I use for whatever I'm working on) to control the PVR machine. This gives me a front end that looks exactly like the display on the PVR machine. I can watch recordings or live video over my network this way if I want to. I almost always use this to interact with the PVR.

I haven't really checked the performance of this machine. It doesn't have any problems recording multiple shows at the same time. It's not unusual for it to be recording 2 at the same time. I tested 3, but I don't remember how much CPU it was using in any of these cases. I don't normally use it for playback so I haven't tested performance during combinations of recording and playback.

I've played with some other software, but ended up back with a commercial product (SageTV). I've found that it works better out-of-the-box than most of the stuff I've played with. By using this, I can spend my time working on other projects and not continually needing to tweak this machine.

There is a lot of customization that can be done with the commercial codes. I've looked into some of the stuff for SageTV, but I really haven't had time to do anything. I've been happy letting it record programs for me without much interaction - and sometimes I even get around to watching what it's recorded.
Yeah sometimes it can be overwhelming, thats for sure! I'm a pretty smark, tech type of guy (Shut up Electron LOL) but anytime you get into anything new, it can be tough to figure out. With so many options, so many different prices etc...whats a guy to do? I'm in the process of moving now, so I have sort of delayed anything to do with building the HTPC for now, but I think I'm going to start with the PC I got, and then slowly build me a good one. This one don't have any PCI express slots or AGP slots, so it won't be the greatest, but its a good start. Price is right, FREE! LOL I do appreciate all the help, have viewed the sites and bookmarked them. Once we get moved, and some of the events out of the way, finances will level off a bit I'm going to start buying hardware and software. I think I may go with MCE, I did like Sage, and a couple others too, but so many recommend it I'm going to give it a shot. I may try and download the others to try them first though, then I can decide myself. Thanks again!