Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Digital Evolution

So on June 12th, the analog TV age has ended.  And with it, some pains and troubles started.  This is of no surprise, as any transition and migration cannot go without a hitch.  Having waited for so long for this to happen, I’m finally glad that the analog signal has been cut off, mostly.

And while those who use cable or satellite TV will not notice a thing, those using old fashion rabbit ears will feel the transition pain.  The first is reception.  Digital signals are different in how it is received and shown for your TV.  You don’t simply get fuzzier images as the signal gets worse.  Instead, the picture becomes more garbled with pixel blocks and weird image artifacts.

As I am one of those who are “in the know,” I have been well prepared for the DTV transition for a very long time.  A converter box has been purchased early on but it was never put to use due to poor reception.  But that was until it was suggested to use the big antenna that is mounted up in the attic.  The connection was made and the signal quality improved significantly.  Now, having seen that reception is possible quite easily even where I live, I have started to even consider jumping on the bandwagon.  But therein lies the problem.

I have noted a couple of times that the TV tuner card that I have (a Hauppauge PVR-150) doesn’t work.  This is due to a couple of things.  One is an unknown limitation where the hardware does not work on systems with more than 4GB of RAM installed.  The second is that the TV application for the hardware doesn’t exactly work very well, even though the hardware works with it.

My RSS reader picked up a little deal from a feed that I keep track of.  The offer was tempting and I figure I’d give it a try.  And the signal strength discovery as noted earlier has me wondering if this can work out well in the end.  While the channel availability has me limited to about 4 major channels, it was enough to go through with this.  After all, once a while there is a show that may be worthwhile to view using DTV.  So I placed the order, a Hauppauge HVR-1600.

Originally, I did not want to pick up a new TV card, since I want to make them last for as long as I can, to maximize the value of the card.  Another reason why I did not want to pick up a new card was to see if it can work well with my current setup.  One of my biggest gripe is when you upgrade to a new OS, the hardware that you currently use would not work with it, either because of a certain problem or because it’s just not supported any more.  It frustrates me to no end on how unsupportive some companies can be when they just don’t try to fix the problem or create a work-around of sort in order to make it work.  I have seen many hardware flaws and issues and there are always work-around fixes and patches that helps the old or legacy hardware to function properly.  I don’t see why they cannot do the same here.

Anyway, the hardware arrived in a day’s time, all thanks to a warehouse located out in New Jersey, so UPS Ground Shipping doesn’t feel like it’s taking forever.  After getting the drivers removed and preparing the system for a new hardware, I shut the system down and swapped the card out.  The system boots up and I begin installing the drivers and application.  Everything went well without a problem until I tried to scan the DTV signals.  The TV software either cannot do it or I have a faulty card.  I tried everything, using a different cable to using a different connector.  And then I fired up Windows Media Center and set up the software for the new card.  And lo’ and behold, it can scan the DTV signals!  Wait, the manufacturer’s own software cannot scan for DTV yet WMC can?  So after WMC got the signals set up and I set the proper channel listing, I switched it over and gave it a test run.  Wow...

I have seen 720p Blu-Ray movie rips of some movies and I love how clear it looks.  But what amazes me is how good it looks watching live TV with it.  I’ve already seen some HDTV stuff and know how good it looks.  But they were all elsewhere and not at the comfort of home.  Granted, there’s a difference between watching it on an actual HDTV and watching it on a computer monitor.  I don’t know about you but it just looks amazing watching it.  And that’s strange since I should not be all that surprised or amazed since I have already seen it before.

The remote that the card came with is nice, and appears to be the exact same thing that the other card came with.  I’m not too sure if there’s any difference.  But it works well with Media Center.  And frankly, I think it works wonders in it.  This could very well determine which version of Windows 7 I intend to purchase when it is available.  But I’ll have to see on how much this will set me back first when compared to the other versions.  It looks like I’ll be using Media Center a lot more now that I have it all set up.

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