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2.25.2009

Upgrading Vista Media Center to DTV/HDTV

Last week most of the local broadcasters in Fort Wayne went ahead with the DTV broadcast switch on schedule and turned off their analog transmitters.  Rather than spend money on a converter box just for the computer, I went ahead and decided to upgrade my Vista Windows Media Center PC with a new DTV tuner card.  I went to A Plus Computers here in town and picked up a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1600 dual tuner card.  I like the Hauppauge brand.  I've been using a MCE-150 for years with no problems, so I decided to stick with the same brand.  I researched some of the Pinnacle and other brands available at Best Buy and Radio shack and saw a lot of poor reviews and driver issues.  Hauppauge is solid and a proven name in the Windows Media Center market.  Hauppauge is also one of the few companies that includes a MPEG2 encoder on the card to keep CPU useage low.  Those little USB dongles make your computer do the compression on the video and it can eat up half your CPU cycles.  I can record TV and play games at the same time with the only performance hit being a lot of traffic on the recording drive.  I really recommend using a dedicated 2nd drive for a DVR computer. 

The upgrade went smoothly, except for a couple of issues.  
Vista Media Center can't correctly setup or retrieve program guide info for DTV subchannels.  We get 2-4 channels on a lot of the DTV channels here, so that wasn't going to work for me.  Upgrading to the Microsoft TV Pack 2008 fixed this.  This upgrade isn't supposed to be available to end users, and is only supposed to be done on a fresh install of Vista, but it worked fine as an "in place" upgrade for me.  Once I applied the update, my tuner set up all the subchannels and pulled in correct guide info for them.

I also didn't read the specs closely enough on the HVR-1600, I thought having dual analog / ATSC tuners was going to allow me to tune analog and digital over the air, but the analog tuner in the card only works for Cable channels.  I was expecting it to be switchable in software like the MCE-150.  It turned out to not be a big deal, as only FOX is still on analog in Fort Wayne.  I just popped my MCE-150 back in the lower PCI slot and am running both tuners at the same time.  I just had to go into setup in Vista Media Center and untick all the analog channels except for 55.  I wish Fox would get their crap together and get their DTV transmitter online.  Way to plan ahead guys. 

Now I'm all set up, two tuners, I get 12-15 channels or so for free via rabbit ear antennae.  I get all the major local network shows.  I'm going to have to upgrade my hard drive though.  I have a dedicated 120GB drive for the DVR.  I was getting about 96 hrs of standard def  using the MCE150, but now I can only get 12 hours or so of HD programming with the new tuner.  Looks like I'll have to grab a 1TB drive soon, or clear some space off my 500GB external drive. 

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