Your Daily Phil

Archive for the ‘HTPC’ Category

A tech-free weekend, a cable free summer?

Posted by lozenp on June 16, 2008

My wife and I spent out first night together away from our son Saturday at a wedding on Michigan’s west coast. We’ve both individually been gone several times, but this was first time we were both gone at the same time. My sister came to the Milan compound to keep things (things being our rambunctious 19-month old) under control so we could enjoy a nice Father’s Day trip.

We were staying at a bed and breakfast in the small town of Saugatuck called the Belvedere Inn, it was beautiful. Built in 1913, wonderfully manicured grounds, minutes from Lake Michigan. The wedding was outside, as was the reception. The Weather was great, and we had a great time.

But a word of warning to the tech-happy of you out there, when you head to a bed and breakfast, don’t assume you’ll have any tech in your room. In our case, no TV, no wireless, nothing. The closest thing to technology was the iron in the closet. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to have a night away, and I was still able to do a few things thanks to my iPhone, but my clicker hand felt a bit lonely that night.

But it was a good test to see how I would handle no TV, since my big experiment for this summer should start sometime shortly after the Fourth of July: I’m cancelling all but the most basic of cable. And the only reason I’ll keep what I do is because I think it’s cheaper to have internet and basic cable than to have just internet.

This means no HD, no DVR, no On Demand. No for those of you who know me, you’ll saying right now there’s a catch. There’s no way Phil voluntarily dumps cable and has no backup plan. Well, you’re right. Here’s the plan.

I’m selling a bunch of stuff back to Best Buy via their trade-in site and will use those gift cards toward a new PC that can handle HD content and serve as a media server. This will be paired with my HD TV Tuner and will allow me to get OTA HD and QAM HD as well. So I’ll be able to see most of the Olympics, for instance. I’m also hoping that by putting this PC in the bedroom (hidden of course, honey) and hooking it up to the network, I’ll be able to not only use the Windows Vista DVR functionality in the bedroom, but also in the living room via the Xbox 360.

The other test will be to see how much content I can find on the internet to keep me busy for the summer. And how much of that will be HD.

I’ll be updating the progress as I go, and I plan to go without for at least July and August. We’ll see what happens come September.

Posted in Best Buy, computers, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, TV, Xbox 360 | 2 Comments »

My attempts at an HTPC

Posted by lozenp on April 24, 2008

I have a dream of one day not having to use the cable company’s set-top box as a DVR. I love the potential freedom I would have with my content by using a Home Theater PC as my DVR, especially the portability of the content, and the freedom to access it from remote locations with tools like WebGuide.

There’s a lot to consider (cable card, QAM, etc.) but I decided the best way to start was to get a PC, hook it up to my 50-inch DLP and see what happens. So far, the answer is “not much”. Here’s the specs of my PC to get things going:

  • Dell Precision WorkStation 360 from 2004.
  • Windows XP Pro.
  • 2GB RAM.
  • 3.2GHZ with an Intel 875P chipset.
  • Nvidia 7600 AGP video card with 512MB memory.
  • Hauppauge WinDVR 1600 TV tuner card.
  • WinTV and Beyond TV for viewing.

I’m not even trying to get it set up as a DVD/Blu-Ray machine yet, I first want to prove I can get QAM and OTA HD, record it, and slowly ween myself from Comcast’s grasp. The problem is, I can’t get HD to play. It drops frames, it’s choppy. I tried watching recordings, same issue. I tried viewing a recording on a different, much fast and newer PC, same thing. So now I’m stuck, and I’m turning to you, my four faithful readers.

I’ve gotten some ideas from the AVS Forum, but at this point I’m trying to get help wherever possible. If you know a good resource for answers, leave a comment.

Posted in computers, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, TV | 2 Comments »

Random weekend thoughts

Posted by lozenp on March 7, 2008

I’m one week into my iPod Touch trial. So far so good. I do enjoy the technology, no doubt. The question I have to answer for myself is do I want to keep it and forgo an iPhone in a year when my Verizon contract comes up, or take it back and hold out until Jan. 9, 2009. I’ve gone back and forth many times. I’m not up for buying an iPhone and jailbreaking it to use as an iPod so that’s not an option. Suggestions? Let me know.

Watched Pan’s Labyrinth on HD DVD yesterday while sick. Good movie, great HD DVD. Sound was amazing, especially in the scenes in the caverns and enclosed spaces. Great spatial representation. I’ll try to post a more extensive review over the weekend if my cold continues to regress. Also checked out Blade Runner but I was on several cold medications and pretty much dead-tired so I need to give that another viewing. Managed to pick up 300 and Bourne Identity for 10 bucks apiece at Hollywood video over the weekend, bringing my collection of soon-to-be-collectors item HD DVDs to eight.

My home theater PC is shaping up a little at a time. So far I’ve got it into my entertainment center, hooked up to my Samsung 50-inch DLP via VGA with a wireless keyboard/mouse combo. I ended up cancelling and restarting my Netflix under a different name to get full access to my four PCs again (I’ll be much more careful this time). We’ve enjoyed watching Heroes and 30 Rock from Netflix, video quality is suprisingly good, if a bit soft.

Still having trouble with HD content, be it from sites like KoldKast TV, Miro or via OTA broadcast. It’s the same issue with all content, very jumpy. I have a 512MB NVIDIA 7600 card so I don’t think it’s the graphics card. The only other thing I could think is I need more than the 1.5 MB RAM I have or that the 2.8 GHZ P4 I’m running is just too old to take it (the machine is probably 4 years old). Meanwhile my other PCs are torn apart while I “borrow” pieces to see if I can get this one running, since it’s the only machine with Windows Media Center in it. My next step is to take one of my bigger machines that have more RAM and put the TV tuner card in and just see if I can get HD content working in those. If so, I might just order a copy of Vista Home premium to get the Media Center feel.

If you’ve had experience with HD on PCs and have a suggestion, drop me a comment.

Posted in Apple, computers, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, IPTV, TV | 2 Comments »