Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vista View Saber DA-1N1-I tuner and Media Center

This is a follow up to my first two posts:
Vista 32-bit, First Impressions
Making Sense of Home Theatre PCs

Last night, I spent a few hours experimenting with Windows Media Center on Vista and the new TV Pack, with the goal of getting digital cable from Comcast integrated into Media Center. As suggested from the article linked above, I reinstalled Vista (painfully slow). I then installed the TV Pack and associated hotfixes. That day, I had bought a Vista View Saber DA-1N1-I tuner card. It is PCI, to fit in my older Dell 400SC. I let Vista select the driver from the internet and I saw that it found the latest driver.

Setup in WMC was straightforward, similar to Ben's experience. I connected the card's NTSC connection to my comcast line. After the requisite asking of where Ilived, downloading of my area's TV guide and inspecting my tuners' connection, WMC got me to the point where I could select my area's cable provider. Since I live in NY Metro, there were about ten choices. I selected Comcast in Jersey City. So sure enough, channels 1-99 on Comcast appeared.

I was happy to see I had basic analog connectivity, but wondered where the digital channels went. At the time, I didn't realize that this was regular analog cable from Comcast. I went through the discovery process again, and this time I selected Comcast Digital as my provider. Well, this didn't work, because the cable was plugged into the analog, NTSC connection. In my haste, I hadn't realized that the card I bought is only good for ATSC, over the air HD and NTSC analog cable. It won't get me what I wanted, which was the ability to watch and record unencrypted, clear QAM channels via my Comcast connection. Duh.

Taking my idiocy in stride, I moved on to the ATSC output. When I connected my cable connection to ATSC, as expected, WMC didn't find any channels. I thought I might be able to use the cable coming from the back of the PC as an antenna, so I disconnected the opposite end of the cable from the PC (the splitter end), reran the automatic setup and I was nicely surprised to see that the WMC picked up the local over the air HD channel selection, about 14 channels in my case, directly across the river from Manhattan. Performance was a bit choppy, as my signal wasn't very good in my computer closet. I'm sure with a proper antenna, the signal would be great.

In both cases, analog cable and over the air, WMC picked the correct guide. The guide picked up all the shows, was really nice to navigate through and had lots of supplemental information. Very slick.

Today, I went back to the drawing board and picked up a Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1600 . I'll let you know how this install goes tomorrow.

Long story short, though, if you are looking for a card that works for NTSC and ATSC over the air signals out of the box with this latest update for WMC, the Vista View Saber seems to fit the bill.

UPDATE 8/14/2008
Last Tuesday, VistaView released a QAM patch (a simple registry tweak) for MediaCenter with TVpack to allow the Saber DA-1N1-I to allow you to tune QAM channels on ATSC cable TV: http://www.vistaview.tv/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=31&Itemid=46

I downloaded the patch and rebooted. I split my cable line to go to both the analog NTSC and digital ATSC jacks on the back of the Vista View card. The positive: during the tuner setup, Media Center now sees both the analog tuner and a new digital cable tuner:

ViXS PureTV Analog TV Tuner

Continuing through the tuner setup, I can select my provider's (Comcast) channel selection and guide. Checking the source of the channels under Guide -> Edit Channels, I get a mix of the OTA HD channels (about 14 channels) on the Digital Cable connection, but the rest (70 or so) are coming through the analog tuner. The digital channels seem to break up a lot. I imagine using an HD antenna instead of the digital cable would help here, since the digital cable is only getting me those 14 channels. If I hook up only one cable to the ATSC input, I only get those 14 channels. I have had no luck seeing any channels I would normally see with the Comcast Motorola box above 99.

From the Guide -> Edit channels, I see that most of the available channels that are disabled have padlocks next to them and that the source of them is the digital tuner. I imagine the padlocks mean that they are encrypted.

Tonight allowed me to get a bit farther, but am perplexed as to why I'm not seeing any channels above 99. I am a bit of a newbie to this MediaCenter/cable integration stuff. It seems as if Comcast locks everything above 99..not sure right now. Looking at the clear qam guide for my zip code here https://www.silicondust.com/hdhomerun/lineupui?Cmd=LocationProgramsWeb&Country=US&Postcode=07302, I notice that the higher range (above 99) channels that I enjoy watching like Military/VH1 classic/Encore/etc are missing from the list. I guess they are not in clear QAM. Maybe I'm just out of luck?

So, a bit of progress, a bit of disappointment.

UPDATE 8/15/2008
One follow up: I'm a bit disappointed in the performance of HDTV in Media Center w/TV Pack. I've got a Dell SC400 (probably four 1/2 years old) P4, 3.2Ghz, 2GB w/120GB IDE drive and ATI all-in-wonder 9800 pro. Not the latest and greatest, sure, but no slouch box either. Viewing standard def, Media Center drives the box to run at 50% CPU without a problem. Running live HDTV (1280x720), MC runs the box to 100%, at which point I get drop outs. Also, I notice SearchIndexer runs constantly, thus sucking up more CPU.

Granted, the system is a few years old, but this is unacceptable. I will look for ways to tune or upgrade the system to see if I can relieve the 100% spiking.

Andrew Grant has an excellent post on optimizing Windows Media Center to improve performance. I will try his suggestions out tonight. A more technical article on the same subject is on APCmag.com.

UPDATE 8/16/2008
Today, I wasted about an hour tracking this high CPU problem down. I accidentally scheduled a recording and wondered why Media Center Receiver service was taking up so much CPU. This was because it was recording a show and I didn't know it! I went into my Recordings and deleted the scheduled recording.

Getting Started with Windows Media Center in Vista
Getting Started with HDTV in Media Center
Great intro to channel tweaking in Media Center
Tweaking Media Center's HDTV Lineup
Media Center Receiver Server Technical Discussion


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