In the summer of 2006 I bought a Hauppauge PVR-150 and tried it on my PC workstation with MCE2005. I could instantly see the advantage of a HTPC, but reading around the internet I quickly became aware of the limitations of MCE. I searched further and found alternatives; the one I was most impressed with was MediaPortal.
I have been looking at the MediaPortal website and forums since October 2006, and have installed various versions to test them on my workstation. I decided at the beginning of 2007 that I would look to take the plunge and build a dedicated HTPC around April. I chose April as it is my birthday and I could get family to buy some components as presents.
Where I live in the UK, the Freeview (DVB-T) website says that the service cannot be received. As we do not have an aerial (we get the standard UK analogue TV channels through a Virgin Media cable connection) it would be expensive to find out if this is actually true or not. I decided that in order to gain further advantage of an HTPC (and sell the concept to the wife & kids) I would put up a minidish to receive Free To Air satellite. I would still need analogue capabilities as Channel 4 and Five are not yet Free To Air on satellite.
I have built and modified numerous PCs over the last 10 years, but I must say that this is the one I have agonised over the most. I decided to allocate a reasonable budget to get good performance, especially bearing in mind that high definition is becoming more common. However, because it was due to go in the living room, performance had to be balanced with space and noise (it needed a high WAF). This made selection of components very hard. In addition, I was concerned that the hardware I chose may not perform well with the MediaPortal software. In order to go ahead I convinced myself that if I could not get it working as anticipated I would still have a reasonably specified PC.
I built the PC in two phases:
I originally chose the Antec Fusion case based on the glowing reviews I had read, but it only takes a uATX and none of the intel i965 boards had the 3 PCI slots I needed for TV cards. I also realised that the main venting was through the sides and I didn’t have a lot of clearance there.
The lack of PCI slots is also why I chose a PCI-e Wi-Fi card.
I chose Hauppauge TV cards as these seem the most common. My experience has been that Hauppauge are fairly good at maintaining support for their products. I have had a software encoding WinTV card for the last 10 years and it has run under Windows 95/NT4/98/98SE/2000/Millennium Edition/XP. I also believe the cards that are in my HTPC are supported under Vista x64 if I wished to use that.
I loaded Windows XP Pro SP2 plus updates. Then I loaded the hardware drivers. Most of these have been downloaded from the internet as they are nearly always newer than those on the supplied CDS. Then I loaded TV Server, MediaPortal & SVN & client plugin.
Both the MCE remote and VFD display have been tricky to get working, although now I know how to install them on XP Pro it is fine. The remote I seem to need to apply the irbus.inf & irbus.sys files as well as the rollup (KB912024)for the eHome Infrared Receiver. I am not sure yet with the VFD whether it is the iMon software with the case that makes it work or the drivers from the website.
So far I have had to reformat twice and start again. With the benefit of hindsight I have reason to believe that both of these were probably unnecessary.
I noticed that even after running for some time, the EPG obtained from DVB-S contained very little information. A trawl on Google revealed that Free To Air satellite in the UK only currently broadcasts a now and next EPG. At least I can get up to 14 days worth using WebEPG.
In July 2007 I had a week off work and decided to change the HTPC to run on Vista x86 instead of XP Pro SP2. There were a number of reasons the main ones being:
Before proceeding I took an image of the current set-up (just in case) and a backup of the MS SQL database. The update went smoothly and the SQL backup restored fine onto the copy of MS SQL Server Express on Vista keeping all my settings and recorded program details.
The main issue I have had have been the Nvidia drivers for the 8500GT. They still feel very beta compared to the XP ones and a lot of the settings present in XP are currently missing in Vista. The only mode I can use is 720x576 @25Hz interlaced. This works OK but leaves thin black (well dark grey) bars on the left and right of the screen. There are currently no settings to overscan to remove this. On the Plus side with the drivers, the Jitter level in MediaPortal in standard definition is zero. Scrolling text is beautifully smooth which I could not achieve in XP (as Jitter was 1).