I realize that this is a Home Server blog but since Windows Media Center and Home Server are working so nicely together these days I thought these posts would be relevant to the WHS readers.
Part 1 - HD Signal Issues
Part 2 - How to convince your spouse to subscribe to Hi-Definition content
Part 3 - Which service should a Media Center user choose? DirecTV or Dish Network?
I have issues. Media Center issues.
Several months ago I was content with my Media Center issues. I live in a rural area which is many miles from the nearest broadcast towers. I pick up 80% of the HD broadcasts when the conditions are right and about 40% when there is less than stellar conditions. I ran across some posts on TGB(thegreenbuttton.com) about signal issues with my particular tuner so I begin to get curious. I'm using the Hauppauge 1600. It's a dual tuner, SDTV/HDTV and I only use the HD input. My antenna is in the attic and I know that I could increase my reception if I had it externally to my house but the Spousal Acceptance Factor on this particular issue was very low. (see Part 2) I follow the posts for a while but never really did anything about it.
In walks a new HDTV into the household. It's a very plain Samsung 19" LCD with a built in ATSC tuner. I plug the antenna feed into it which was previously plugged into the Media Center and begin a channel scan. (no splitters, good cable)
As you might be able to guess, I uncover more HD channels than I was previously able to receive via the Hauppauge 1600. I even find more digital content than was reported to me by antennaweb.com. Very interesting, but how will it do when the conditions outside are less than stellar? I couldn't wait for a good stormy night and alas it came. I quickly compared signal quality between the Media Center and the Samsung tuner and to my chagrin the Sammy was 100% and the Media Center was back to its usual 40%.
All this time I thought my signal issues were due to my proximity to the broadcast towers. I had no idea there would be such a huge difference between tuners. It's time for more testing.
Two days later I have the AverMedia, AverTVHD MCE A180 in hand. This is a PCI card with one ATSC input. After downloading the latest drivers from their website I replace the 1600 with the A180. There were no problems with the driver and Vista Media Center picks up the changes immediately runs me through the setup of the tuner. Channel detection and signal strength looks about the same and sure enough it was not much different than the 1600.
The A180 fared a little better in picking up stations but it was hit or miss. On a good day there was no problem viewing every channel that was available on its first signal test. However, it was mostly disappointing because I would see something in the guide that I would like to watch and it wouldn't be available due to lack of signal even though that channel was available the day before.
With the 1600 you simply did not get the channel. At least I knew where I stood with it!
I was wondering if this was just a fluke so I got yet another 19" LCD to test with. This time a Viewsonic LCD HDTV which was much cheaper than the Samsung. Still, it produced more channels and better reliability than either the AverTVHD card or the Hauppauge 1600 card.
I don't really know what the conclusion of this story should be. I'm a bit disappointed in the these two TV tuners. Are there better TV Tuners out there? Are the TV Tuners for computers more sensitive and require a better signal? What is so different about the ATSC tuner in a Samsung than the ATSC tuner in the various computer cards. Am I missing out on the perfect tuner card somehow? Is it out there?
One would think if it wasn't cost prohibitive you could market a better tuner to the professional installer market.
My dilemma is now turned over to the reader. Your comments and discussion would be appreciated.
Next in this 3 part series - How to convince your spouse to subscribe to Hi-Definition content. I also have ideas to continue this series and focus more on Windows Home Server so stay tuned!