A PC PVR with six tuners
Powered by SnapStream Beyond TV 3.5
We built Medusa here at SnapStream to show off the new multi-tuner capabilities
of Beyond TV 3.5. Yes, it's true: some TiVo's and other PVRs let you
record two shows at the same time. But how about turning up the volume on that
idea? How about recording SIX of your favorite shows at the same
time? Well, that's what we set off to create using off-the-shelf computer
parts and Beyond TV 3.5.
OS: Windows XP Home
Beyond TV 3.5 (comes with the ability to use 2 tuners)
Beyond TV Tuner Add-on Pack (x 4) Optional: Beyond TV Link
Installing six tuner cards is no different that installing just one. For Medusa,
we started by loading the PVR-250BTV 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 30 (yes thirty) driver installation prompts. Once we got through the
prompts, all six cards were successfully up and running.
Beyond TV 3.5 Setup:
Beyond TV 3.5 is as easy as getting the hardware up and running. We started
by running the Beyond TV 3.5 setup wizard just like normal. Then, we ran through
the video source setup for each card. After each card was configured, we had
6 sources setup. For the uber-technical user, the WebUI could also be used
to setup the devices.
For the purpose of this test, we wired each TV tuner card to our local Time
Warner Cable feed (but 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,
Once we had the software configured, all that was left was to schedule enough
programs to take advantage of all of the tuners. Turns out, it's not that easy
to find 6 things on at once that you really want to record, although, there's
nothing wrong with an episode of Saved By The Bell every now and then.
Beyond TV Link provides
a good opportunity to use all of Medusa's recording power. With Beyond TV Link,
while you record two shows at once, four people at different places in the
house could be watching (and pausing, rewinding, etc) their own live TV stream.
Pretty cool if you've got a lot of people that want to watch TV at the same
best part of using Hardware Encoders (like the PVR-250BTV) is that they don't
tax the host CPU. Here, the 6 recordings are taking a total cpu usage of 22%.
Note: non-nerds can safely skip this section.
By this point, you might be wondering what special tricks it took us to turn
this mild mannered White Box PC into a Lean Mean Recording Machine. The surpising
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 utilizies a 5400rpm, ATA-100, 40gb hard drive. 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. Notably, this hard drive was getting near
its limits for throughput, but it worked just fine given the settings we had
But what if you wanted to record each show at 12mbps or add more tuners? In
that case, you could take a couple of different routes. The cheapest and easiest
way would to invest in a larger 7200rpm SATA-150 drive. Barring that, you could
also use a striped raid set to increase total disk throughput.
Why did we choose to make Medusa a six tuner system and not add more? Simply
put, we ran out of PCI Slots. In theory, we could have used external USB encoders
as well, but it was nice to have such a clean installation of the PCI Cards.
Given that each tuner card has an encode processor onboard, adding 6 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
At SnapStream, we have a moderatly large signal amp and set of large splitters.
At your house, you may run into issues of signal strenght as you split past
the 4th or 5th device. If you run into strength problems, you might consider
adding a small signal amp. Radio Shack sell as small one for around $50.
So we agree that not everyone needs a PVR with six TV tuners -- not unless
you have a big family and watch a lot of TV or if you live in a fraternity/sorority
house -- but Medusa gives you an idea of the possibilities with SnapStream's
Beyond TV 3.5. Beyond TV 3.5 delivers a big punch! Be sure and check it out
(and if you're a programmer type, don't forget to come back and check out the
new Beyond TV SDK when we publish it).