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February 8, 2005

SnapStream Hydra
DVR with the ability to record 10 shows at once

Unleash the BEAST in your PVR
Powered by SnapStream Beyond TV 3.5

Introduction:

That's right SnapStream Media fans, we're at it again and this time around we've taken Beyond TV's versatility to the next level. We know how much you love the Medusa with its SIX tuner capability, so when we received word about the release of the PVR-500MCE dual tuner, we knew we had to give you more. With The Hydra, you now have the ability to record TEN shows at the same time. We built Hydra here at SnapStream to show the newly revised multi-tuner capabilities of Beyond TV 3.5 using off-the-shelf PC parts.

Table of Contents:

 

Setup:

Hardware

Chassis: Silverstone Lascala SST-LC10M HTPC Case
CPU: 2.4ghz P4 w/ Hyper Threading
RAM: 1GB
Hard Disk: 2 - 120GB SATA HD (7200 rpm)
Capture Cards: Hauppauge PVR-500MCE (x 5)

Software

OS: Windows XP Pro
Beyond TV 3.5 (comes with the ability to use 2 tuners or 1 PVR-500MCE)
Beyond TV Tuner licences (x 8)
Optional: Beyond TV Link


Hardware Installation:

Installing five tuner cards is just as easy as installing one. For the Hydra PVR, we started by loading the PVR-500MCE Drivers according to the provided documentation, powering down the machine, and installing each card into its PCI Slot. After tightening all of the screws and plugging the power cord back in, we booted the machine back to Windows XP. Once logged in, we confirmed each of the driver installation prompts and the tuner cards were up and running.

 

 

 

Beyond TV 3.5 Setup:

Getting the software setup is just as easy as getting the hardware up and running. We started by running the setup wizard as usual and then we ran through the video source setup for each card. Please remember that there are two tuners on each card which means that this function must be performed for each one. After each tuner was configured, we had 10 sources setup. For the technical user, the Web Admin could also be used to setup the devices.

 

TV Source:

For the purpose of this test, we wired each TV tuner card to our local Time Warner Cable feed. However, if we wanted, we we could have had each one connected to a different line-up - ie one to antenna, one to digital cable, one to a DirecTV satellite, etc.

 

 

Hydra In Use

Now that we have everything setup, it's time to put the Hydra to the test. It appears that finding 10 shows to record at the same time was almost harder than setting up the Hydra PVR. Well, 10 shows worth watching that is!

Beyond TV Link lets you connect other home networked PCs to your Beyond TV server. It also provides a good opportunity to use all of this new recording power. By connecting multiple machines to the Hydra server, we can watch each of the different recordings at the same time. With Beyond TV Link, if five shows are being recorded at the same time, the other five tuners can be utilized for watching, pausing, and rewinding, their own live TV stream from any other networked PC in the home.

The best part of using hardware encoding TV tuner cards, like the PVR-500MCE, is that they don't tax the host CPU. Here, the 10 recordings are taking a total CPU usage of only 10%.

 

Technical considerations

Note: non-nerds can safely skip this section.

Hard Drives:

By this point, you might be wondering what special tricks it took us to turn this tame HTPC Case into a Beastly Recording Machine. The surprising answer is: It didn't. We used all of the defaults as configured by the setup wizard, including using the "Better" capture resolution. This machine utilizes two 7200rpm, SATA-100, 120GB hard drives, however only a single drive was used to record and store shows. We decided on this drive to prove the point that it doesn't take an insane set of hardware to setup a great recording machine. Barring that, you could also use a striped raid set to increase total disk throughput.

Tuner Cards:

Now we know what you're going to ask at this point. Is this the limit? Is that all? The fact of the matter is that most common recording and viewing tasks can be performed with ten tuners if not less, but if there are additional PCI slots or USB ports that are available, then have at it.

Heat Considerations:

Given that each tuner card has two encode processors onboard, adding 10 to a system does slightly raise the internal temperature of the machine. We suggest making sure your machine has proper airflow before attempting this type of setup.

Signal Strength:

At SnapStream, we have a moderately large signal amp and set of large splitters. You may run into issues of signal strength as you split past the 4th or 5th device in your home. If you run into this issue, you may want to consider adding a small signal amp. Radio Shack sells a small one for around $50.

 

 

Conclusion

So now you have seen it. A Monstrous PVR with five dual TV tuners and Beyond TV 3.5. Combine this with Beyond TV Link for the other PC's in your home and all the members of your family, fraternity, sorority, or whoever else may live in your home can enjoy all of their favorite shows or Live TV at anytime. The Hydra is just an example of the numerous possibilities with SnapStream's Beyond TV 3.5. If you have yet to check it out, download the 21-day free trial and find out for yourself.

 

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