Polska Brain Jelly

Media Center PC Part 2

by on Aug.18, 2009, under TV

My last post detailed my ambition to unify my media experience using Microsoft Media Center.  It also detailed some of my frustration (along with others) on making that possible.

It seems that in the last eight years since Media Center came out it’s been hit or miss on bringing together all aspects of your entertainment center into one box.  The digital transition and DRM (uhg!) has complicated things even more.

The first option that I looked at was cable.  The local cable company is Suddenlink, and to say their website is lacking is an understatement at best.  No information other than basic info on what services they offer and contact information.  So I contact Suddenlink and inquire on how much high definition programming would cost.  After picking my jaw up off of the floor, I decide to look elsewhere.

Knowing the DirecTV doesn’t have locals in my area, I turn to Dish Network.  Their site is much, much better than Suddenlink’s, detailing all of their packages and offerings, and how much they cost with and with out their promotions.  The cost for their hd offerings is reasonable, so I decide that I will go with Dish Network.  However, knowing that I will be tied to a contract for at least a year, I decide I need to do some additional research on the cost of tuner cards to integrate the feed into the media pc.  This is where things got confusing and frustrating.

The first obsticle I found was there is no tuner card for Dish Network (or DirecTV for that matter) that integrates their feed into a media pc.  There are sattelite tuner cards (DVB-S), but those only feed free stations and they don’t work with Dish Network (they, from what I can tell, are really only useful in Europe).  Okay, so I have to deal with their tuner box, that’s fine.  There is a neat little gadget called in IR Blaster that will handily interface with Media  Center and change the channel on a set top box as needed.  So I start searching for a high definition tuner card that I can hook up the Dish Network box and use Media Center with.  I find one.  Just one. Well, that’s not exactly true, I did find another solution that worked with certain set top boxes that was a do-it-yourself kit, but it was way more work than I wanted and it would only work if they gave a compatible box, which I couldn’t be sure of.

Anyway, the one box I found that could record high def signals was the Hauppauge HD-PVR.  Yay!  Wait, it’s not compatible with Media Center?  Boo!  Oh, it’s because Media Center doesn’t support the h.264 format?  But Windows 7 Media Center does!  Oh, but we don’t know when (if ever) we will support Windows 7 Media Center.

What?  You have the opportunity to be the first (and only) company to offer HD recording for satellite and cable users (for those that don’t have CableCard) and you are sitting on your thumbs when it comes to support in Media Center?

Uhg!  Okay, next.

There is a project that was announced about a Media Center tuner built just for Dish Network.  Project Draco shows incredible promise, and could finally mean an easy, ready made way to get your Dish Network programming into Windows 7 Media Center.  However, there is little to no information about the project other than a few tidbits that were released many months ago.  Not only that, but it probably won’t be available before the consumer release date of Windows 7 in October.

*Sigh*

Back to cable.  I choose to forego the HD for now because I don’t have a mint in my garage.  Doing a little more research and grilling a Suddenlink cable guy I find out that the local HD stations are available through the extended basic package, and that they multicast their digital signal with an analog signal, so with a tuner card with both NTSC and ATSC/QAM, I can get all of the cable stations I subscribe to in Media Center.  Finally, I’m getting close to my vision.

I call and subscribe to cable.  I look at the bright side: I don’t have a contract so if this goes bust I can cut my losses and cancel, and if the Dish Network tuner card does come to fruition, then I can switch over then without any hassle.  It’s a win-win of sorts.

The final post in this series will detail the massive headache it was to get the cable stations programmed into Media Center and the results so far.


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