I recently bought a new computer for my gaming and also for my media center. One of the first things that I added to the machine, once I got it, was a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500. This will be a recount of not only its features, but also my experience getting the card to work with my computer.
- Dual 125 channel cable ready TV tuners, each with a dbx-TV stereo decoder (Nicam stereo decoder in Europe)
- Dual high quality MPEG2 video and audio encoders based on the Conexant -416 MPEG encoder
- One back panel composite/s-video plus stereo audio inputs to connect to cable or satellite set top boxes
- Two on-board A/V headers, to connect to two more A/V sources (A/V cable set not included)
- One FM radio receiver
The feature that attracted me the most to the WinTV-PVR-500 is the dual tuners. Being able to watch one show while recording another, or recording two shows at the same time is a must have for me. Rather than having to install two single tuner cards I thought it would be great to get it all on one card.
When it comes to a card that goes into your computer, design is not that big of a deal. Once it is installed you will probably never see it again. One aspect of the card that bears mentioning is the inputs on the back of the card. There are two coaxial inputs, one is for your TV signal and the other is for an FM antenna. Next to that is an S-Video input, and next to that is a composite video and an L/R audio input.
Another mentionable item is an extension panel that adds extra inputs to the card. This add-on gives you one more set of A/V inputs so that you can connect two more sources. I personally had no use for this, so I chose not to install it.
I bought the WinTV-PVR-500 MCE-Kit which also comes with a remote control, IR transmitter, and an A/V cable. The remote control is universal so it can be used to control your other devices like cable TV set top box or satellite receivers.
Installing the WinTV-PVR-500 is the first hurdle you need to get past before you can really test how well it works. This proved to be much more of a challenge for me than I originally thought. When I first put the card into my computer and turned on my computer it detected new hardware. According to the manual you need to skip this and then run the driver installer that comes on the included disk. After doing this I was prompted to restart the computer. When the computer started up, and before I got to the login screen, I got a blue screen of death. After rebooting into safe mode I disabled the tuners and rebooted, and the computer started up fine. I tried switching PCI slots, but that didn’t help.
At this point I contacted Hauppauge support for a little help. It took them a couple days to respond, and their suggestion was to try enabling only one of the tuners. So after enabling one of the tuners I restarted the computer and it booted fine. When I started up Media Center and tried to watch TV I got an application failure message. I reported this to Hauppauge support and they asked me to send them back the card so they could make a modification. So three weeks later I received the card back and tried again.
This time after installing the card I at least did not get the blue screen of death, but I did continue to get the application failure message. MCE did recognize the tuners during the setup, but would not display any video, so I had to contact Hauppauge for some help. Their suggestion was to download and install their own TV program to see if the tuners were broken. After installing their own TV program I was able to verify that the tuners worked, just not in MCE. Their next suggestion was to install a program that would verify that the turners were recognized in the registry. This program showed that they were installed and the registry showed they were configured. This program also let me decide which tuner I wanted to have as the primary, so I played around with that, still no luck. At this point the Support rep at Hauppauge said he didn’t know what the problem was.
It was obviously a MCE problem, because the card worked with Hauppauge’s own software. So I headed over to the Microsoft website. On the Windows Media Center support website I found a chat room that had several people who could answer questions. As I read through some of the posts I saw several diagnostic programs mentioned. One of them was the Microsoft Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility; another was the Media Center Diagnostic Kit. So I downloaded both the tools and ran them. The Decoder Checkup Utility told me all the decoders that I had installed, and whether they were compatible; it also let me change which one was used for Media Center. Next I ran the Diagnostic Kit and let it run its tests. The Diagnostic Kit indicated that the Audio decoder that I was using was not compatible. How do I get a new audio decoder? I did some searching on the web and found that software DVD players often come with audio and video decoders. So I downloaded a trial version of PowerDVD and installed it. The PowerDVD came with a video and audio decoder that I could use. After installing PowerDVD I tried the Media Center again and like magic I was getting video. I was so excited because this is the first time since I bought the card, about 6 weeks ago, that I saw video. Now that I could get video, I noticed another problem — the video was really fuzzy. I also had another problem because the video kept freezing. The only way to unfreeze the video was to change channels or close Media center. Unfortunately, it would only stay unfrozen for a short time.
So this time I asked the experts at the Windows Media Center support website about the problem. The first response came within hours and said the freezing was a known problem with AMD processors and I needed to install the newest AMD drivers, they even provided me with a link to the AMD website and the drivers. After installing the AMD drivers I tried the Media Center again, and again like magic the problem of freezing was fixed. Now, on to my last problem and that is with the quality of the picture. In Media Center it was grainy and on a TV it was clean and clear. So once again I asked the professionals on the support forum. Theysuggested that I download the latest drivers for the WinTV-PVR-500. I told them that I already had them and they indicated that I should look on the Hauppauge FTP server for a newer version. So I looked and found that there were several newer versions of the drivers including a beta version. So I found the latest one and installed it. The quality improved like the difference between night and day, it was amazing.
After that I had everything working for a long time. Then I downloaded the latest MCE update from Microsoft and I ran into another problem. I was only able to see the top half of the video. The only thing that would help was disabling SLI. So until Nvidia, Hauppauge or Microsoft decides to come out with a fix, I have to switch off SLI before I can watch any videos.
Wow, what an ordeal. This process is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is amazing that a series of products can be successful with this much trouble. Unless you are very adapt at trouble shooting I would not recommend that you attempt this. Instead you should probably purchase a computer which is already configured. That way you can get help from the people who initially set it up.
Warranty and Support
This card comes with a limited 2 year warranty. I imagine that most people would give up on the install process long before that and just return the card. The support provided by Hauppauge was helpful, but when it came to trouble shooting Windows Media Center they were almost useless. Because they say their products work with Media Center I think Hauppauge should be training their support reps a little better.
After going through all the trouble of getting it installed, it finally works really well. I don’t know if I should blame Hauppauge or Microsoft for making the install so difficult, but they need to make it easier or else most people won’t bother. Microsoft could have done me the favor of proving the diagnostic tools built in to MCE. Hauppauge could also provide support reps that know more about MCE. With a retail price of $199.00 you are spending as much as you would on a nice graphics card. So far I have never had this much trouble installing a graphics card. Before you buy a card like this be sure to brush up on your computer diagnostic skills.
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