So, having a Hauppage HD-PVR, I decided to hook it up & see how it works. The Hauppage HD-PVR is a pretty neat little box - it has the ability to record 1080p video using component video as its input, and has a built-in H.264 AVC encoder, which compresses the video 40% better than the MPEG-2 used by ATSC broadcasts. It also can record the AC-3 output from an optical SPDIF source, so you get pristine audio as well. It also has a built-in IR blaster, which lets you send & receive IR remote codes from the device itself. In many respects, it’s almost an all-in-one HD Video solution.
It’s designed to hook up to a receiver or source of HD video -- like a Blu-ray player or Sattelite/Cable box. In my case, it lets me connect it directly to my Satellite TV’s component and SPDIF outputs. And the IR Blaster (potentially) allows any PVR software I’m using change the channels and otherwise control the satellite receiver - meaning it can change channels for schedules, etc.

Of course, it’s not quite so simple in my case (it never really is...).

I’ve been a big fan of Elgato’s EyeTV PVR software. It’s Mac software, but it’s got great features, integrated support with a lot of stuff (tuners, schedules, even accessory H.264 encoders (namely their Turbo.264[HD] hardware, which I also have. EyeTV also supports most of the functionality in the Hauppage HD-PVR. The glaring omission is the IR Blaster software. (And due to licensing/legal stuff, they are unwilling and unable to add support for it themselves. Technically, it’s supposedly not that hard (they admit as much), but propritetary licensing being what it is...).

That isn’t a problem for me - I have one of IRtran’s excellent IR blasters. It makes the HD-PVR’s blaster redundant, yes, but that’s only an issue if you can use it to begin with (and EyeTV users can’t for the moment).

These babies are sweet; they’ve got models for ethernet, powered ethernet, WiFi, USB, and I think normal serial input models. The ethernet model I have has its own HTTP server, and can be controlled directly via UDP with a fully documented network protocol (they even provide the source code). The Linux software provides a LIRC emulation server, which should make it pretty useful for other applications. (If only I can figure it out...). And the best part is they work with EyeTV (Provided you have the iRed software for Mac).

And EyeTV works beautifully. Honestly, I love it, it’s great software. Exports to my AppleTV/iPod Touch/iPhone, even has its own iPhone software. My only beef (and it’s small) is that EyeTV doesn’t support the HD-PVR for my older, PowerPC Mac Mini. So for the moment, I have to use my (oldish, non-HD) EyeTV 250 - which can do DVD-resolution video, and has its own MPEG-2 encoder. With an HD source, it looks pretty good -- it’s not full HD, but it’s still pretty nice. And, there’s a plugin that flags & skips advertisements automatically.

Where it falls down is where I want to hook up my HD-PVR to EyeTV. I’d need a new Intel-based Mac Mini for that -- and that’s an expensive trinket that would require spousal approval, which I don’t think is going to happen for a while. I can still hook it up to my MacBook Pro -- but I can’t record TV while I’m at work if I do that. Another problem is that the commercial flagging/skipping plugin doesn’t work for the H.264 video that the HD-PVR outputs.

So... trying to figure out what I can do, I figured I’d give Linux & MythTV a try. I already run a Linux server for quite a few things on my home network; so I figured I’d give it a try. Installation isn’t bad anymore - just an apt-get install with Debian or Ubuntu. Configuration is a bit arcane, but fairly well documented. There’s a cheap TV listing service for US residents ($20/year), and it supposedly has commercial skipping for the H.264 video. After some fighting, I did get it partially set up. I can get video out (but it’s really choppy - more on that later), and have TV listings work, and have TV output. The problem spots so far is the video quality, and the sound. Channel changing also works (using my IRTrans box), which is great.

One big issue is length. The Linux server is about 20 feet away from the rest of the entertainment system -- including the HD-PVR. So, I’ve got an active/repeated USB cable that’s 30-ish feet long. It works fine when connected to my MacBook Pro and EyeTV. However, when connected to the Linux box & MythTV, the video is choppy and stutters & stops. I’m not sure if it’s a datarate difference (ie.The MacBook is simply using a lower recording datarate - but it’s set to have “maximum” quality, so I doubt that), or if there’s some setting that needs to be tweaked in the Linux Driver, or MythTV -- or if it’s just a bug with MythTV or driver.

Another issue is sound. The PC has an Intel HD audio chipset, and both coaxial and optical digital output. Since I have an appropriate length coaxial cable (and because it’s thinner & hides under rugs easier), I used coaxial. After hours of fighting yesterday, I got audio working -- sorta. I have Stereo output in KDE. But the general Linux audio isn’t working yet. 5.1 & 7.1 sound definitely isn’t working yet. And I don’t have the audio working for MythTV.

Still, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to have a decent HD-PVR solution going soon; if not, I can always beg & hope for a new Mac Mini server... which I do lust after; but we have other financial obligations that need to come first.