Experiences upgrading my Media Center to receive Freeview HD

I have used a Windows Media Center as my only means to watch TV for about 5 years; upgrading over the years from XP to Vista and onto Windows 7.

Picture of Windows Media Center

I am a completely hooked on the ease of use, especially if you just want a means to watch and record Freeview (the UK free to air terrestrial service). Far easier UI than any Freeview PVR I have seen, and I personally think easier than Sky+ box (satellite) or Virgin’s Tivo (cable) though I don’t have much experience of these device (and they do look a bit of a pain to integrate with Media Center, but they are not really designed for that)

The key reason Freeview is easy to get going with Media Center is the ease of adding a TV Tuner to Windows 7 (this was more awkward in previous versions but the drivers and install process are good now), it now just works – OR SO I THOUGHT…….

I have been running my Media Center with a Hauppauge Nova T 500 dual tuner for a few years without any issue, this allows two channels to be recorded at the same time. Recently due to the UK switching off the analogue TV signal, some HD channels have become available in my area. To receive these I needed a T2 tuner so I got a PCTV nanoStick T2. Now the first point of interest is that many UK suppliers sell this under the Hauppauge brand, one of the reasons I ordered it as I have been very happy with their kit in the past. Why they do this I don’t know, because as soon as you hit the support forums it is obvious they are different vendors (though part of the same group?).

So I plugged in the new USB tuner, so I now had the 3 tuners, the dual Nova T 500 and the nanoStick. This new device was detected by Windows 7 and a driver installed (without the need to put in the CD-ROM) and Media Center tried to do a signal setup. All seemed OK at first but after the 3 tuners were seen the setup wizard hung with the ‘toilet bowl of death’ busy icon. I left this overnight but it did not move on.

I thought the problem might be that the Nova T 500 could only pickup Freeview whilst the nanoStick could also see Freeview HD. So I rebooted and when it got to the stage to detect the tuners I manual set them up as two groups, one for the pair on the Nova T 500 and the other for the nanoStick. This had no effect on the problem.

So decided to try just the nanoStick; at the manual setup stage I just selected the nanoStick. This worked, I still got the ‘toilet bowl of death’ busy icon, but it cleared in under a minute and the wizard continued to detect Freeview and Freeview HD channels, though this detect phase did take about 30 minutes.

I then tried just configuring the previously working Nova T 500, it all locked up again. So something in installing the nanoStick drivers had screwed up the Nova T 500 install. I tried updating the Nova T 500 drivers to the latest I could find but still got the same problem.

It seems I am not alone in this general problem, a mixing of tuner cards can cause this problems. From the Hauppauge support forums it seems that Nova T 500 is really a USB device bolted onto a PCI riser so I suspect a USB issue, (sorry can’t find the links to this again, but that seems not uncommon with Media Center issues there is no easy central resource, we are in the land for forums – hence Google is your friend, not Bing. I find Google does a better job for forum searches).

So what is my solution? I wimped out and ordered another nanoStick. This has a number of advantages

  • It should just work without hours of fiddling
  • I do not have to reinstall my Media Center to remove the NanoStick drivers
  • All my tuners will be able to receive all their available channels; with the mixed tuner install I would have to make sure I associated tuners correctly so that Media Center knew that BBC1 on Freeview on the Nova T 500 is the same as BBC1 on the nanoStick, but BBC1 HD is only on the nanoStick
  • The image quality seems better on the nanoStick, I don’t just mean that I now have HD, which I do, but I am also seeing less pixilation and break up on the other standard Freeview channels. I assume the nanoStick codecs and silicon are just better, they are a few years newer
  • It also is a step toward replacing my current Media PC, which is in a standard desktop case with PCI slots, with a quieter, cooler running device something like an Acer Revo, just not sure I can justify the cost when what I have works.
  • There is still a reasonable eBay market for a boxed Nova T 500, especially as I have never even opened the wrapper on the Hauppauge remote as I was using the Media Center one.