Anyone following me or Garry Whittaker on Twitter or reading his blog here on TDL will have seen us singing the praises of some software created by DVBLogic (website / twitter). I thought I’d do a post on what this software actually does, as most information seems to focus on getting it working, and also why Garry and myself are so excited about it.

I think that most people would agree that Windows Media Center is a superior solution over a standard Digital Video Recorder (DVR) for a number of reasons:

  • The interface is easy and simple to use
  • It provices a single interface for viewing TV (live and recorded), music, pictures and video
  • Unless Digital Rights Management (DRM) prevents it recorded TV can be viewed on many other devices
    • Another computer with Windows Media Center (even easier with Windows 7)
    • Any computer with Windows Media Player (even outside the home using network streaming on Windows 7)
    • A Windows Mobile device
    • The Zune (only available in the US)
  • The core Windows Media Center experience can be available on any TV using an Extender (Xbox360)

This is in contrast to most standard consumer electronics (CE) type DVR that you might pick up in an electical retailer or indeed the Sky+ DVR which generally only allow you to view live TV or recorded TV on that device. There are ways to get that content onto other TV’s but not any computer in the way Windows Media Center does.

There is one limitation of Windows Media Center that only an extender device, like an Xbox360, can solve and this is getting live TV to other TV’s in the house or computers on the network (unless you install a TV tuner card within each one). This can be expensive and also means that computer is tied to a cable, not ideal with a laptop, and may not even be situated near a TV point. If you consider that Windows Media Center can only simultaneously record as many channels as there are tuners it seems a shame that all those tuners are installed in seperate computers.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to install all tuners into a central computer, perhaps the Windows Home Server that you have (you do have one right?), and allow any computer on the network to use those tuners as if they were installed on that computer. Now there is at least one hardware solution that I know of which allows tuners to be used in this way and that is HDHomeRun but there are some drawbacks:

  • It can’t utilise your existing investment in tuner hardware
  • As you require more tuners you need to purchase extra boxes which need to be powered
  • Currently there is no DVB-S or DVB-S2 version of the HDHomeRun (although we have been asking for them)

Now what if there was a software solution you could install that could allow any number of tuners (PCI, PCIe, USB, DVB-T, DVB-S) into a network tuner? Well as of 3:44 pm on Tuesday 12th January 2010 there is thanks to DVBLogic. The software consists of four components, three of which you install on the server (this could be a desktop computer) and one that gets installed on the client.

  • Server installation
    • DVBLink Server
    • DVBLink TVSource
    • DVBLink Server Network Pack
  • Client installation
    • DVBLink Network Client (You can watch live TV using a UPNP (Windows Media Player, Sony PS3) without installing this)

I’m not going to cover the installation process because there is already an excellent guide here (note that the 1st release candidate (RC1) is now available and should be downloaded from here) and on the DVBLogic forums.

The software is still in development, it has just reached RC1, so is not a fully released product but I have found it to be very stable to the point that I have now converted to using this instead of having a tuner installed on our Home Theatre PC (HTPC). I did some initial testing with an Hauppauge Nova-T-500 (this is a hybrid dual DVB-T PCI card) taken out of a desktop PC and installed into the WHS. I then installed the client onto the desktop PC and my netbook and after the setup process I am able to view, pause, or record live TV even though these devices have no local tuner. The quality is excellent on both devices which are receiving the TV signal through different paths:

  • Desktop – Connected to the WHS via a 1Gbit wired network
  • Netbook – Connected over 802.11n to my ADSL Router/AP which connects to the WHS via HomePlug (100Mbps)

I have since moved another Nova-T-500 tuner card from our HTPC into the WHS to give me a pool of 4 tuners. This means we are now able to record up to four channels on our HTPC but still enjoy live TV on the desktop or netbook so long as tuners are available (in the RC1 version of DVBLink you are able to specify a “master” client and the software will cut off other clients in order to ensure a tuner is available should all four be in use).

I’m currently using only DVB-T tuners but you can use all DVB-S or any combination. There is one limitation and that is the “virtual” tuners on the client emulate DVB-S only so even if you have DVB-T tuners you will be unable to use “red button” services currently available on Freeview. I don’t have any DVB-S tuners so I’m unable to test if this has the same limitation.

This is an excellent solution for my setup because it opens the possibility of having an HTPC directly connected to the TV again. Without the need for tuners on the HTPC it means that the box can be small and it doesn’t need an outlet for the TV signal. It also means I can consider installing an all-in-one nettop in the kitchen or even enjoy live TV outside in the garden on my netbook. If I were to setup a VPN I could even enjoy live TV from another location although I should point out that DVBLogic didn’t design this with that in mind).

Live TV on my netbook playing in Windows Media Player & Media Center

Hopefully I’ve covered exactly what the DVBLogic software does and why Garry and I are so excited by it. Please post any questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’m already planning a follow up, with some screenshots, to show what devices get installed on the server and clients, the configuration tools and Media Center add-in, along with the CPU & network useage when recording up to 4 channels simultaneously.

2 thoughts on “Why all the excitement over network tuners?”
  1. HI JayC

    How much CPU/Memory load is this putting on your machine with the tuners in it?

    Is that machine runnign a version of windows media center?


  2. Hi Ed

    I’m planning on doing a follow up post on CPU & bandwidth use, but so far I’ve not had a chance, so apologies if I don’t answer that here. I will say that it isn’t an issue. I’ll get that post done soon I hope, just need to work around family and our recording schedule.

    No, Windows Home Server does not have any Windows Media Center components. The only additions are the tuners and the DVBLink server software. All WMC software is on the Windows 7 clients so recording and watching TV works as before except that there are no local tuners (they are in the server).


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