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Scott's Column
TV on a Portable Device,  Resurrecting an old PC

May 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

It has still been very busy at work. We are getting close to turning off our HP mainframe, and a lot of things are coming up that need to be finished. I have 7 or 8 active projects, half related to turning of the mainframe. Add to that my wife and I bought a new home gym. It is a Marcy SM 4000. I am loving it. I have gotten better works than I ever thought possible at home. However, mix the evenings on assembling the and the workouts I have been doing with all the work at work and I still have not had the time to write enough.

I have been enjoying my Zune 80 immensely. I watch movies on it during my lunch break. I would love to use it to catch up on TV shows as I am having less time for that with the new workout routines. SO I did a little digging to see what it would take to put TV on a portable device. Some of the information is generic, and some specific to the Zune. Getting TV on a portable device led to the next topic, which is what it would take to resurrect my old desktop PC.

Enjoy this month's infotainment.

Current Topics:

TV on a Portable Device

I have been using my Zune 80 to watch movies during my lunch breaks. It is awesome, really. The next logical step would be to catch up on TV shows. But how do you get TV shows onto a portable device. This month we will get into a "light" discussion on getting TV shows on a portable device and what would be the best way to do that.

iPod fanboys will be quick to point out that they already have TV shows on their device of choice. But I beg to differ. What iPod zealots have is a device that makes them BUY TV shows for their hardware. I get TV shows at home for free (well, not exactly free as I pay my monthly cable bill and have to endure commercials), so why should I have to buy them. I am not interested in buying TV shows from iTunes to watch on an iPod or an Apple TV (don't even get me started about a device called Apple TV that cannot be used to watch TV, only paid for TV shows from a nearby computer).

So, the big question is... how do I get my own TV programming from a cable or satellite provider onto my portable device. My DVR has an option to "copy to VCR," which could be used to copy to a portable device that can record video content. The Zune does not have a record feature, so that is not an option. Even the pricey Home A/V Pack is a display only device. I am seriously considering getting this for my next vacation. I can copy a bunch of movies to the Zune and hook it up to the TV in our condo at the coast. It would be easier than lugging a bunch of DVDs. But that is for another article.

Microsoft does have one neat feature. If you have a Windows Media Center or Vista computer you can record TV shows from a TV tuner card, and these shows can be synced up with a Zune. Hmmm! I am not so sure I want to tie my laptop to a RG-6 cable, but it might be an option. I could get a USB TV Tuner device, such as the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950 available for $64 at Newegg. Then all I have to do is hook up a RG-6 cable and I can record any analog TV show from my cable provider. Then the shows ban be synced with my Zune.

This is certainly the easiest solution, but it does tether my laptop to a cable. It is far from an elegant solution. It would be better to hook up a desktop PC to a TV tuner card and cable connection. This would eliminate the need to drape a cable over the floor to my bed where I mostly use my laptop. I even have a cable connection in my computer room.

The next hurtle becomes digital TV. The 950 only does analog cable and over the air HDTV. I am not really concerned with HDTV on my 3.2" screen, so we will leave that out of this exercise. I get a significant number of digital channels as part of my cable TV packaging. Of particular note is Speed (Channel 208) and HBO (Channels 320-331). I like a few automotive related shows on Speed and would love to record shows from HBO to time-shift and watch during my lunch hour. Unfortunately we need to move up to a digital TV tuner card.

If we move up the Hauppauge line a bit we come across the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1600. This will record analog and digital TV channels. But it will only record QAM digital TV. What is QAM? Good question. I don't know. Regardless it is not a form of digital television I get from Time Warner. From what I have read I will have to wait until February 2009, when all channels are to be broadcast in digital and the cable companies start using CableCards.

I am getting close to building a new computer for my computer room. When I do that I plan to move all my music & movies to the desktop and do all my syncing from there. I will probably start using the WiFi syncing capability of the Zune at that time as well. I have an A/C adapter for it and leave it next to my cell phone charger on the kitchen counter. I come home and plug the Zune in to charge it. With the desktop on all the time I could let the Zune sync automatically without having to do anything more than I do now.

Since I can only do analog at this time I will probably stick to the cheapest method possible. Why bother with a more expensive digital solution if it will become obsolete next year. Or.. I could just wait until next year.

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PC Resurrection

I am considering resurrecting my desktop PC. I did some shopping around to get some prices. It would be expensive to build a good gaming machine. Granted, to me a good gaming machine is one that will run Crysis at a good frame rate (30+fps) with all the eye candy turned on using a 1920x1200 widescreen display. I would need a $400+ video card from some of the benchmarks I have seen with Crysis so far. Read this article for a little on Crysis and video cards.

From what I have read I will need a minimum of a nVidia 8800GT video card to play Crysis. The 8800GT card is still going for around $200. At the moment I do not have enough spare cash to justify a $200 video card, no less a $400+ video card, on top of the other components I need.

As a recap, I know my motherboard is toast. Other items may have also gone bad, but there are two things that would require me to replace at least 4 components. 1) It is my philosophy that you should replace the motherboard, CPU and memory together. If the computer is going to be used for gaming then you should replace the video card too. 2) My motherboard/CPU/Memeory/Video setup is all out of date. It is an AGP based motherboard so I have to replace the video card with the motherboard. Current motherboards have different sockets then when I bought my last motherboard/CPU combination. And the memory is different too. So I have to replace all four components.

I am hoping that the DVD Drive and hard drive are still usable from my old computer. I priced out the following components for the basis of a decent gaming rig... should I eventually go that route. Here are the base components:


Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 Conroe 2.66GHz LGA 775 65W             179.99
GIGABYTE GA-P35-DS3L LGA 775 Intel P35 ATX                     89.99
Kingston HyperX 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066     66.99
GIGABYTE GV-NX85T512HP GeForce 8500GT 512MB x16                67.99
                                                              ------
                                                  Sub-Total   404.96

I went with the E6750 processor because it was the fastest Intel Core 2 Duo for under $200. The Gigabyte motherboard has some overclocking features, but it nothing too special. It does have 4 memory slots so I can easily add two more sticks of memory to get up to 4 GB. I only went with 2GB for now, and stuck with name brand Kingston memory for this configuration. The GeForce 8500GT video card will not run Crysis. This motherboard does not have built-in video and the 8500GT should beat my old 6600GT for playing all my old games (FarCry, Halo, F.E.A.R). That makes this about the lowest I would go. This motherboard will take Quad Core CPUs and can run its front-side bus up to 1333MHz (that's fast, for those not into the technical stuff).

This should have me up and running. Notice that this is an ATX motherboard. That is a little outdated as most newer systems are built using Micro-ATX boards, but as a price compromise I will be using my old case... though I would prefer upgrading the case to an Antec Sonata III, but that would cost another $130. Ouch!

So, for $400 I can be up and running. This machine will feel very fast running any normal software, especially loaded with Windows XP. This should be an excellent machine to run Windows Vista. The only thing Vista brings to the table for me is two things... 1) DirectX 10 support for games, but we don't have the video hardware at this price, and 2) much improved multi-user features. I like Vista's ability to have different users and the security levels work great for me. I am probably the only person that likes Vista's UAC (User Access Control). Since this computer will go into my den, everyone will have access to it and I don't want the kids messing with my stuff or playing games like F.E.A.R. Vista is perfect for this.

Next up is an inexpensive way to capture TV on the machine to sync with my Zune 80. I priced out a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950 for $64 on NewEgg (BTW, all prices in this article are from NewEgg and were current for products in stock on 4/3/2008). The HVR-950 will record analog video... up to channel 99 from my Time Warner subscription. That leaves out Speed and HBO. I think this is the most practical solution until the whole digital conversion takes place (supposed to happen in February 2009). Why waste money for a fancy digital TV tuner card that may or may not be compatible with what my cable provider will provide.

So for less than $500 I can have a pretty fast Media Center style PC. Next month I will outline what components it will take to get this computer to a solid gaming machine. The biggest issue for me is getting a new monitor. The one I have is a 17" monitor and I want a nice LCD. I will also need more drive space and the all important video card. Stay tuned and see what it will take to build a good gaming & media PC.

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. I am going to continue the PC resurrection to configure a nice gaming machine. Then I have to try and convince my wife that I need it.

Until next month.

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