Getting Cheap TV Tuners to play along with Media Center

My WinTV PVR 150 Media Center Kit TV Tuner
My WinTV PVR 150 Media Center Kit TV Tuner - This uses Hardware MPEG2 Encoder which works with Windows Vista Media Center

Before I bought the Hauppauge TV Tuner (PVR 150 MCE Edition) , I bought a WinFast 200 XP RM Tuner. I thought that it would just work like the rest of the tuners (Bought it for RM 145). I found out that the TV Tuner doesn’t work with Windows Vista Media Center Edition as Windows Vista prefers a Hardware MPEG-2 Encoder , usually those expensive TV Tuners such as Hauppauge TV Tuner comes along with it. Whats the difference you ask , well there are some difference between the two. Lets take a look at them shall we-. Firstly ,TV Tuners that do not use a hardware MPEG2 Encoder , they’ll usually only work with softwares (aka PVR Software) that comes along with the hardware. The software doubles as a software MPEG-2 Encoder , in other words it uses up your CPU Cycles to encode MPEG-2 Video direct from the steam and feed it to the TV. Usually with a fast CPU you wouldn’t feel the pinch but when you try to use a slow CPU , lets say 450Mhz you’ll be seeing the frames are being chopped as the CPU isn’t fast enough to encode the Stream and output it. Okay , now lets say you have a decent CPU (Pentium 4 1.6Ghz and above) and you don’t have the moola ($$$) to buy a hardware encoder card and yet you still want to use Windows Media Center¬† to record. Then continue to read on my journey…on how to convert your cheapo TV Tuner card to work with MCE. If you’re using a software TV Tuner that is – Otherwise you’ll be getting this error !
Whoopsy ! - Guess it doesn't see the card !
Whoopsy ! - Guess it does not like my Card

First is fast , that is a picture of my TV Tuner box which uses a software encoder and it comes along with a Remote too (that works with Windows Media Center). Thats the box , now if you take a look closely , you’ll notice that the card uses CONEXANT FUSION 878A Chip. Its a very popular chip which is cheap and its *nix compatbile – meaning that if you use ubuntu your card just works out of the box which is pretty great as opposed to Windows. So if you’re thinking of using MythTV with Ubuntu , then you may want to consider to get this card. If you still insist of using Windows , then continue to read. The default software that comes along with this TV Tuner sucks , it doesn’t work with Vista and it always crashes.
My WinFast TV 2000 XP Tuner (Fusion 878A Chipset) - A software-based MPEG2 TV Tuner
My WinFast TV 2000 XP Tuner (Fusion 878A Chipset) - A software-based MPEG2 TV Tuner

One funny thing about this card is that you’ll have to “output” the sound your CD-In socket over at your motherboard. This sounds to be stupid as bt878 outputs sound via that , there is no other way. at least with some other cards , you just plug and play and it has its own sound encoder and decoder to process it and send it to your sound card. I guess that’s the price when you use a cheapo TV Tuner card. Next up , Lets get a Software MCE Encoder , well basically its a MPEG-2 Encoder that enables you link with Windows Media Center . There are couple of encoder but I prefer this one. Its a shareware , the only limitation when you run in Demo mode is that there would be this annoying watermark. If you’re okay with it then you may go on and download. If it works for you , I would recommend you to buy the software. All you have to do is just install the software and fire up MCE. Select Live TV (if there is any) and it would say that you’ll need to configure your Tuner. Just follow its instructions and make sure you choose Cable without a setup box , if you choose satellite or other things it would ask you to connect Windows Media Center Remote. You’ll be sucked there
My Cheap TV Tuner
My Cheap TV Tuner - Got carried away with

If you’re using ASTRO or any other Setup Boxes , you’ll have to connect by using the Coax Cable , as Composite doesn’t work at all because you would be needing the Windows Media Center Remote (as shown below) and as well as its IR Blaster. You can take a look at the picture below. (Pst I had to buy the Real TV Tuner as I am lazy to use Two Remote Controls , one for the PC and the other one for the set up box/ASTRO).
My Windows Media Center Remote and the IR Blaster (Click to Enlarge the Image) - Oh yeah , I know I have sexy hands , now stop being horny ! - pfft - Naughty Naughty (Borat Style)

There we go thats the all-in-one remote , doubles as my set-up box remote control as well. How lazy can we get seriously , now with 1 Remote we can do all. If only it does the laundry (I am asking too much). Okay Okay , now lets get back on how to do it. Let me put it up in simple English (enough of me being long-winded and explaining every from A-Z)
1. Make sure your TV tuner has ‘PCI Audio In’ Support (Just make sure that you can use RCA Cables directly and it doesn’t have to link to your CD-IN. If you are being adventurous then you can check out this link on how to determine if your TV Tuner card has support for PCI Audio In) – This is very important , my cheapo card doesn’t have it hence rendering it useless as it only outputs video and not audio. Windows Media Center needs this , otherwise its a no go – unless you just wanna watch Video only – If you want to know why , I suggest you to read this
2. Next , you will have to install a Software Encoder. what it does is basically takes the stream from the TV and outputs it as a MPEG2. Then MCE will decode it and deliver the picture. Of course , its all done through a software , in other words it would use some of your CPU Cycles to encode and then decode. It has to do double the job. If you have an AMD Athlon X2 Processor or a Intel Core 2 Duo series , it shouldn’t be a problem at all. I recommend you to use this software encoder – Mainconcept MCE Encoder (works with Windows Media Center 2005 , Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit). Its not free but the demo version has a watermark , if you’re okay with it then it shouldn’t be a big deal. I say live with it , its not that big !
3. Install a MPEG2 Decoder – Windows Vista comes with a default MPEG2 Decoder however its not compatible with Mainconcept’s MCE Encoder. Therefore , you’ll have to get a third party software encoder such as Nvidia’s Pure Video Decoder or one from Cyberlink (Power DVD). You can download a Trial version to test it out first. Oh yeah I totally forgot to change the default MPEG Decoder , you’ll be needing this software. Don’t worry if AVG gives you an error saying that its a virus , so far only AVG throws this error. Just disable it. If you’re paranoid , I recommend you to use online scanner such as BitDefender Online Antivirus scanner just to be extra safe
Windows Media Center Decoder Config Tool (Credit goes to : MediaCenterBlog)
Windows Media Center Decoder Config Tool (Credit goes to : MediaCenterBlog)

4. Once you have done that ,¬† configure Windows Media Center. Just select your country as Germany (if you’re using a setup box that outputs PAL/B (i.e ASTRO – For Malaysians ) , or just select your desired country. Don’t worry , Windows Media Center now should detect your TV Tuner !. Just navigate it through and it shouldn’t be a problem at all. Don’t worry if tuning fails , you may have to configure manually later
5. In this case , after setting up. I just selected Channel 37 (that is where my setup box outputs) and voila I got an image and it works. Of course its blury and its not clear as I need to tune to the right frequency for it. Your millage may vary !
Voila , Software-based TV Tuner and Windows plays along !

If you want to get more information on this , I recommend you to visit TV-Cards , they have couple of people who are pretty good when it comes to getting your software-based TV Tuner cards to work. Alternatiely you may want to try The Green Button Site as well.
– Portion of this guide was based on the Guide which is at TV Tuner . Copyright (C) tw1965

5 thoughts to “Getting Cheap TV Tuners to play along with Media Center”

  1. You are Genius No one provided a Solution for this problem but your technique works like a charm.
    But i have a doubt… i have no problem watching television with a watermark but regarding the nvidea decoder its a trial version…u have any other alternative softwares for it. After the trial of nvidea pure video decoder will media center stop detecting my tunr carD ?
    Sankaranands last blog post..Honda Insight – Let It Shine on Vimeo

    1. Hello there. The other alternative i can think of is ffdshow. I’ll be writing a review and how to set it up. Its a free alternative to Nvidia Purevideo decoder and it does a great job. Its a bit cumbersome to set it up

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  4. Additionally – ”The TV Tuner devices are providing you with the ability to use your computer as a normal, fully functional TV. There are TV Tuner cards, TV Tuner USB sticks, and stand-alone TV tuners available in almost every PC shop. The TV Tuner cards are usually PCI based, and are usually installed/used mainly in desktop PCs, while the compact USB TV Tuners are the best choice for your laptop. The stand-alone TV Tuners are capable of receiving analog and digital TV signals without the need of any extra software…” You can read the full article @
    Best Regards

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