If you have been my blog while you may know I am a PVR nut. I have two ReplayTVs (a 5040, upgraded to 120MB, and a 5540) and have been working for what seems forever on a PC-based PVR. I have never gone the TiVo route because of their proprietary video format (but TiVo-To-Go may someday prompt me to reevaluate this). I have been using MythTV for 6 months or a year and have liked it, but, with every release it seems to get flakier and flakier. I tried running it on Redhat and it takes forever to get everything running — and when you have problems it is often difficult to resolve. So I moved to KnoppMyth. KnoppMyth worked great on the first release I tried but it was missing some features. When a new version of KnoppMyth came out I upgraded and it worked pretty well, still missed some features, but “commercial detection” would crash the MythBackend, so I turned off “commercial detection”. Recently I saw the KnoppMyth R5A12 was out. People said it was stable (although marked as “alpha”) so I went and grabbed it. I got it running (with just a few glitches I had to fix) in short order, but… it crashes my system a fair bit, the front end crashes a LOT, when you are playing back a recorded show and press pause, pressing pause or play doesn’t restart playback (you must press Exit and go back in). There were other problems and I was finding few solutions.
So… yesterday I was so frustrated with it I decided to dump the MythTV and try some of the Windows-based PVR programs. All the recorded shows exist on a Linux XFS partition which isn’t readable (as far as I know) by Windows, so, I deleted all the shows I didn’t cared about, wrote a script to rename the shows I did care about so they had meaningful filenames, then backed up all the .NUV (recorded show) video files to another machine. Finally, I formatted the hard drives and installed WinXP on the box.
WinXP went one as smoothly as usual. The box uses a Chaintech 7NIF2 motherboard (EVERYTHING on the motherboard, it is a very nice board) so getting all the drivers (ethernet, audio, video, etc.) up and running was fast and simple (from the CD). I installed updated nVidia GeForce drivers from the nvidia.com site. I did a complete “Windows Update” to get everything up to snuff, install .NET 1.1, etc. Finally, I went to install the Hauppauge drivers (this box has two Hauppauge PVR250 tuner cards in it). The two PVR250 cards are “different”, so, when I installed the drivers from the CD-ROM one of the tuner cards worked and the other didn’t. I got the latest drivers from the Hauppauge web site and both cards worked fine. The system was “ready for software.”.
Last night I tested GB-PVR, a freeware PVR package. This software is decent and has some plusses but doesn’t feel terribly polished. I may come back and play with it some more, it did work, but it just feels homemade.
I also tested SageTV. I generally liked SageTV and I heard it is probably the most stable of the bunch. It has lots of features. I think the interface could probably use some fine tuning and it failed to play back (or even see) many of my Video files (it didn’t seem to even see .WMV files for some reason). This didn’t bode well for SageTV as I want it to play back any kind of video file. Otherwise, I liked SageTV.
I also tested BeyondTV and Beyond Media. I like the interface of this set of packages better. It played back all the video files I tried on it (at least after installing the latest ffdshow video codecs — you would want the newest “alpha” version, not the older versions). My complaints with BeyondTV/Beyond Media are that the two programs have different interfaces and aren’t integrated. You can go between them but it really feels like you are going to a completely different program (well, you are). Also, out of the box BeyondTV supports the Hauppauge Silver Remote, but Beyond Media doesn’t. My Harmony 688 remote is setup as a Hauppauge Silver remote (artifact of using MythTV) which isn’t directly supported by Beyond Media. I read this morning that there are some changes I can make to the IRRemote.ini file (the Hauppauge IR Remote configuration file) to make it work with Beyond Media. I will try those tonight. People have mentioned stability issues with Beyond TV… we’ll see if this latest version seems stable. One BIG plus of the BeyondTV software is that it supports “ShowSqueeze” (converting the video file from MPEG2 to smaller formats), and, I think, commercial detection. These are big plusses in favor of BeyondTV.
You might then be asking what about Windows Media Center Edition. I will have to say no for that… (a) because it is Microsoft and (b) because it uses a proprietary video format that cannot (at least easily) be transcoded to a smaller format (such as Xvid, etc.). MPEG2 files are just too big!
So where does that leave me… I am still not sure. I need to evaluate more tonight. If I am going to pay for Windows PVR software I want to love it, so… we’ll see. I am currently leaning toward BeyondTV/Beyond Media.