Over the years, I tried many hardware solutions to bring “convergence” to the PC desktop, but I found most implementations to be flawed one way or another. The new contender from Silicon Dust seems to be the perfect solution.
To quote the Experts Community Wiki,
These [television broadcast] new digital signals have greater effective range, provide a crystal-clear high definition picture, and as with all over the air [OTA] network TV broadcasts are free and legal to access. It’s worth noting that over the air [OTA] signals represent the best high-definition picture quality you can get for network television – better than cable and much better than satellite. While high definition [HD] is available for a fee via cable and satellite, those high definition channels are subject to ever-increasing compression and picture quality degradation as they try to squeeze more and more content into your subscription. And unlike cable and satellite, over the air broadcasts are not encrypted and can be easily incorporated into a Media Center setup, copied over to your iPod, and are generally easy to use. The United States has completed their digital transition, and shut down the analog broadcasts in February 2009. Canada is well into its transition, with most major markets now broadcasting in digital and 100% of the country switching over to digital by late [September 1] 2011 before we shut down our analog transmitters [completed, with some exceptions for CBC in small areas]. Here in Toronto, I can get access to every major US and Canadian network in full high-definition glory using a $40 antenna that I put in my attic.
Some of the things I tried in the past include solutions by ATI and Hauppauge and this worked quite well until the forced change to HDTV, which left the old analog signals behind, in the dust. While the old solutions can probably still be made to work with Cable TV, I decided to sell them and rely exclusively on OTA (antenna) HDTV. If you are going to rely strictly on the antenna, go for the HDHomeRun Dual (PDF). If not, consider the original (HDHR) which allowed mixed operation of both antenna (ATSC) and cable (QAM) – but beware that Media Center 2005 and Vista Media Center uniquely don’t support such operation – or the new one (HDHR3 Prime), which allows for reception of encrypted or premium channels with a CableCARD. You might also consider getting the original device if the channels you want are in different directions, requiring directional antennas (btw, “antennae” is in~ / hypercorrect) in each such direction.
Building a MythTV system is not easy (in a sense that most people are unwilling to boot Linux), so we’ll focus only on Windows 7 reception with WMC in this article.
- Connect your box to a an antenna. Depending on where you live, you may be able to use a simple indoor antenna that allows reception in the UHF band. The best antenna to use is either Channel Master 4221 or Channel Master 4228 which you can install on your roof (best reception) or in your attic (picky neighbours and protection from the elements).
- Connect your box to your router. Obviously, your router should be capable to provide it with a DHCP lease. In your router menu, make sure you make this IP permanently attached to the device’s MAC address. When surfing to the HDHR IP you should get something like the screen shown. Also, by this time all the device LEDs should be green.
- Download and install the software from SiliconDust. It will automatically detect the “mother” device on your network.
- In the location tab, set your country and postal (zip) code.
- Choose the main PVR application you plan to use with HDHomeRun. In my testing, I found that only WMC gets audio. QuickTV is quick, but no sound either. I fired an email to tech support and got a reply 3 days later:
- QuickTV no audio: The audio decoder included with Windows 7 has limited functionality when used outside of Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player. There are 3 workarounds for this: * Use an audio device that supports Dolby Digital output, such as HDMI, S/PDIF, or coaxial digital to a receiver that can handle the decoding * Use Windows Media Player for viewing. Change the Preview application on the Application tab in HDHomeRun Setup to Windows Media Player, and use the View button to watch channels, or open Windows Media Player, go to Playlists, and use the HDHomeRun playlist(s) to watch TV and change channels. Note: playlist functionality requires HDHomeRun software version 20100828 or later. * Install a licensed AC3 decoder that works with Windows Media Player. The decoders included with most common DVD playback programs such as PowerDVD and WinDVD meet this criteria.
- I tried installing DivX, hoping that this will provide the necessary codec but so far no cookie.
- The biggest problem though was that even WMC would not get TV listings, offering a somewhat lower quality experience. To enable them, one has to jump through some arbitrary hoops, as explained on the “Windows Experts” website. They suggest downloading and 2X clicking the batch files in the provided zip file, but I found that I had to do this after configuring the tuner for Canada, not before. The command is: %windir%\ehome\loadmxf -i MXF\EnableATSCandQAM.mxf. The mxf file contains the following:
<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<Type name="TvSignalSetupParams" />
<TvSignalSetupParams uid="tvss-ca" dvbtSupported="false" atscSupported="true" qamSupported="true" autoSetupLikelyAntennaChannels="5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13" autoSetupLikelyCableChannels="14,15,16,17,18,19,20" autoSetupPositiveChannelThreshold="3" autoSetupRFChannels="3,4,2" autoSetupSupported="true" autoSetupLikelyAtscChannels="34,35,36,43,31,39,38,32,41,27,19,51,44,42,30,28" rfChannels="2,3,4" autoSetupLikelyQamChannels="69,71,75,78,81,84,87,90,93,96,99,102,105,108,111,114,117,120" tvRatingSystem="US" />
- First, if WMC doesn’t know you’re in Canada, choose it. You’ll find this setting in Settings, TV, Setup TV Signal. After selecting Canada and entering your postal code, agree to the terms of service (if you want the service, that is).
- Next, you’re in for a wait as WMC will download TV data and scan for ATSC (and QAM) channels. At the end you’ll have a bunch of channels un-associated with the TV Guide, for digital antenna reception is not officially supported, no matter how official is the version of Windows you paid for.
- To map guide listing to ATSC channels, first you have to run the batch files from the zip you downloaded (after having closed WMC), then start it and navigate to Settings, TV, Guide, Edit Channels.
- Click on the call sign of each channel, then on “Edit Listings”. In the list of channels WMC is aware of you will find the same channel followed usually by some comment in brackets (e.g., Independent Canadian Cahnnel). Choose it (if you’re doing multiple guide listings, choose “copy” rather than “merge”). This will be quite straightforward, except for TVO which, for some reason, is CICA-DT.
Congratulations, you are now able to enjoy the best quality HDTV no money can offer!
We will soon look at setting up MythTV (1 backend and multiple frontends), which allows, among other things, commercial skip.