The Perils of the Edge of Change

We’re on the edge of the largest disruption in Tv technology since color Tv became mainstream. In 2009 all analog television transmission will cease. Although the two terms tend to go hand-in-hand that doesn’t mean that all channels will become HD. There just isn’t the bandwidth for that in the cable pipes right now. But it does mean that soon nearly everyone’s Tv will be obsolete. Sure, the government plans to subsidize at least one converter box per household, but by-and-large everyone is going to need a new Tv; and a new Tivo….

Currently I’m trying to finish building my own PVR (Tivo) using the Mythbox program on Linux. I only have two parts left, which I hope to get for Christmas. One is the hard drive and the other is the capture card. The capture card is, undoubtedly, the most important part of the PVR. Without it, there’s no way to get the Tv programs onto the computer to save them for me to watch later. The capture card can also be called the tuner card. The tuner is the part of the Tv, PVR, and VCR that interprets the signal coming down the line. So, do I buy an analog tuner and be obsoleted or buy a digital card?

I started to investigate it and originally I had the WinTV-PVR-500 MCE Dual TV Recorder Tuner Card which is an analog card and has two tuners. That means I can record two programs at once or record and watch with pause at the same time. Then I found WinTV-HVR-1600 1183WB NSTC/ATSC/QAM/FM Tuner and WinTV-HVR-1800 1129 NTSC/ATSC/QAM/FM Tuner. After looking at the raw specs, the cards seemed to be best to worst in the reverse of the order I have listed them there. The latter two have tuners for both analog and digial so it would seem like the perfect deal. Quick definitions: NTSC is over-the-air analog, ATSC is over-the-air digital, and QAM is digital over cable. However, I started to do some research and things aren’t always what they seem.

Although the latter cards claim they do QAM, I found in my research that not all cable companies transmit their digital channels in QAM. This leaves me with an analog tuner over cable and a digital tuner for over-the-air channels. So when cable switches to become fully digital, I will be worse off than just going with the standard definition card. That one has two standard def tuners so with the conversion box I’ll be able to do two channels whereas with the others I’ll just have one tuner for cable and one for over the air.

So, while I’m waiting to see what the cable companies standardize on, I think I’m going to stick with just getting the WinTV-PVR-500 MCE Dual TV Recorder Tuner Card. I don’t want to be crippled now for, perhaps, getting something better later. I’ve seen people who are early adopters get taken advantage of over and over. First off, with the HDMI and other such cables which have changed because they were afraid of people ripping off DVDs. Then there are other things like the Sega Dreamcast where the platform was discontinued. So I’m sticking with the old technology for now.

On a quick side note, I’m excited about digital Tv. At least with other the air Tv, I see the networks taking advantage of the way digital transmission works by having multiple channels within one signal. Now those who can’t afford cable will be able to watch 24/7 weather – like the weather channel.

Author: Eric Mesa

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