My wife gave me and my computer a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1250 TV tuner card and a Terk HDTVa antenna for Christmas. I had to do a lot of research before I gave Santa my wish list, but I must have been a very good boy this year because that research paid off perfectly. I want to build a HTPC for my den, but I thought I’d experiment first by adding over-the-air TV to my computer. My previous TV tuner card experience consisted of working with an ATI HD-Wonder card on three different computers over the last three years. What I learned by playing with that TV tuner card is making TV work on a computer leads to high blood pressure and a desire to seek the simple life. And I’ve found many a blogger that confirmed this lesson.
I was very worried that Santa would bring me another lump of coal, but I got a cool toy instead! I knew it helped to have a computer and graphics card with a certain level of oomph and I was worried my old HP Pavillion a6000n with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ and NVIDEA GeForce 8500 GT graphic card lacked the horsepower. I kept reading Best HDTV Tuner for PC’s over and over, looking for clues and advice, and finally figured I needed a tuner card with a PCIe connector to increase the bandwidth between the card and computer. I was going to go with their highly rated AVertTV HD Duet, but after comparing the buyer’s comments at Amazon with it and the Hauppauge 1250, I decided to go with the cheaper card.
Both cards are designed to be simple, tuning either over-the-air TV or clearQAM cable signals. Make sure you have a PCIe slot free if you buy this type of card. Best HDTV Tuner for PC’s actually seem to prefer USB tuners, but I was afraid to try them because of poor bandwidth issues with my old PCI based card.
I made a very lucky guess because I popped the 1250 in my PC running Windows 7 Professional and the 1250 was recognized and installed automatically. In fact Windows Media Center did such an excellent job of configuring the card that I decided not to install the Hauppauge media center software or even try out any of the other media center applications, like XBMC, Boxee, SageTV or MythTV. I’ll save that research for when I build my den HTPC.
The Terk HDTVa antenna also worked out well. We have two local channels here in Memphis that still transmit on VHF that causes lots of trouble for indoor antenna users. I tried the Terk without amplification and couldn’t tune in channels 5 and 13, but the Terk tuned them in great after plugging in its amplifier.
The bundled Hauppauge remote did not work out of the box with Windows Media Center, but I went to the install CD and manually ran IR32.exe and bingo the remote was recognized. I would love to find a way to get this remote to work with other Windows programs. I’d like to be able to sit in my reading chair and change music from across the room. I’d especially love to be able to remote control Lala.com. However, this brings up another issue for dealing with building a HTPC, and that’s the user interface and how visible it is from across the room.
Even sitting right at the computer with mouse in hand, getting to a particular TV show, photograph, film or song takes a lot of clicking. Windows Media Center works hard to help, offering many ways to search. I was delighted by searching for albums by their release year. I also liked searching through my music by album cover. However, with over 1200+ CDs, it’s hard to find a particular CD. This isn’t an Achilles heel of Windows Media Center, but a central problem of all media managers. Try finding a song from 1200+ CDs in iTunes with a remote from across the room.
The ultimate solution is either to have voice commands like in Star Trek, or have a handheld controller like those from Sonos or remote control programs that work with the iPhone or iPod touch. Having a touch screen UI on the remote is the way to go now.
One thing I immediately liked about Windows Media Center is it allowed me to list only my preferred TV channels in my guide. I mainly watch PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC and extremely rarely CW and FOX. I blocked another dozen plus local channels, and I may block CW and FOX. This makes my onscreen guide very easy to read. However, I haven’t found out how to make it jump to a particular time and day. It will take me awhile to explore the depths of Windows Media Center. From reviews I’ve read, Windows Media Center is a great program, but some of the other media center applications offer tremendous customization (but with steep learning curves).
Windows Media Center is like a super Windows Media Player, with a UI that scales up with big lettering for watching on a TV set. When I build my HTPC for the den, and start using it from across the room, while sitting in my La-Z-Boy with a remote in hand, I’ll know then whether Windows Media Center succeeds or not. I gave up cable TV to save money and have a very simple TV lifestyle, so any solution I keep must be frustration free.
And any HTPC I build must be simple to use too, and so far Windows Media Center and the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1250 fits the bill. Right now I have a Blu-Ray player, DVD-recorder and CD/SACD player in my den setup, along with a receiver/amp. I’d love to build a HTPC that replaced all four boxes so all I had was the HDTV and HTPC. That would save electricity, reduce my pile of remotes, and may make my TV watching more simplistic. As I get older, simple often means elegant.
My goal for having a TV tuner in my home office PC is so I can record the news and documentaries and watch them while checking email and web surfing. Setting up recordings was a snap with Windows Media Center The image quality is excellent for HD broadcasts, so I might even start watching short shows like The Big Bang Theory at my computer too. I doubt I’d want to watch movies or hour dramas while seated at the computer. And if I don’t like watching TV at all on my computer screen I’ll yank out the 1250 card and put it into a new HTPC box for the den.
JWH – 12/25/9