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HDMI is vastly superior to the high-definition connectivity solution of yore, which relied on one of two types of digital cables for audio and a second, well-shielded, three-gang cable for component video. Unfortunately, HDMI is tightly entwined with HDCP, and that DRM standard interferes with our ability to exercise our fair-use rights to time-shift TV programming and to make back-up copies of Blu-ray movies.
If you’re willing to settle for digital recordings of analog high-definition content, Hauppauge has a solution that exploits the so-called “analog hole.” Set-top boxes and Blu-ray players currently encrypt their digital video streams, but they output completely unprotected analog streams. The HD PVR captures component analog video (at a max resolution of 1080i; 720p is also supported) and either analog or digital audio, digitizes those streams, and sends them to your PC’s hard drive over a USB 2.0 cable (these files will be large, so use an NTFS-formatted drive). Plug in the included IR blaster and install the scheduling software on your PC and you can power up your cable or satellite TV set-top box, tune it to the desired channel, and record whatever TV programming you happen to be interested in.
Video is recorded using h.264 compression in AVCHD format with stereo (if you use analog audio connections) or AAC or AC-3 (if you use digital audio connections). Your video container choices are TS (the MPEG-2 transport stream compatible with a range of digital media players), M2TS (the modified MPEG-2 transport stream used for Blu-ray discs and the Play Station 3), and MP4 (the MPEG-4 container compatible with the Xbox 360).
Hauppauge puts a copy of Arcsoft’s Total Media Extreme in the box, a software suite with modules for video capture, playback, editing, and conversion to other formats. You can also use this software to burn your recordings to a DVD disc (but not Blu-ray). Total Media Extreme is incredibly easy to use, but it won’t satisfy users who like to twirl every possible knob and lever. Alternative software that’s compatible with the HD PVR includes versions of SageTV and MythTV, for Linux users.
We connected the HD PVR to a Dish Network ViP722K set-top box and an AMD Athlon 64 X2 based home theater PC and made several recordings. The ViP722k is a strong DVR with a 500GB hard drive, but you can’t easily move its recordings to a PC or digital media player or burn them to a disc. We then connected the HD PVR to the component-video output of a Panasonic DMB-BD85 Blu-ray player and copied a couple of the retail Blu-ray discs we own.
The set-top box, Blu-ray player, and home theater PC were all connected via HDMI to an Onkyo TX-NR3007 A/V receiver, so that we could easily compare the video from all three sources. We were very impressed with the high-definition recordings we made to the PC’s hard drive: Image quality was slightly software than the digital output of the Blu-ray player and the set-top box, but you’d probably notice the difference only in a side-by-side comparison.
Here are a last few caveats you’ll want to be aware before purchasing Hauppauge’s HD PVR:
Other than that, the Hauppauge HD PVR is a great piece of hardware for recording high-definition video, and it’s dead simple to use.
Editor's Note, 7/26/2010: This review was updated to reflect Hauppauge's announcement of a free plug-in that adds Windows Media Center compatibility. --mb
Simple connections; easy to use software; very good image quality.
Generational loss in video quality; relies on the “analog hole,” which might be plugged someday.