Home Theatre PC Guide
Posted on: 04/02/2005 06:00 AM

I know you're probably getting tired, but there's still one important item that we need to discuss before we start to wind down. At this point you're probably ready to start picking out your hardware and you've probably made up your mind on which application you'd like to run with. Those of you who intend on using your new HTPC with an existing cable or satellite set-top box should have an important question on your mind: "How will changing channels in the HTPC application change channels on my set-top box?"

There are two ways this is generally accomplished:

1) Serial Cable Connection - If your set-top box has a serial port on the back, there's a chance you might be able to connect it to your HTPC and control it with a third-party application like girder. If you're a DirecTV user, you may be able to use the DirecTV Serial Control Utility.

If your serial port doesn't appear to be active, you may want to try calling your cable provider. This probably won't be successful, but if you're lucky, you might get to speak with an actual geek in technical support who may be willing to enable the port. If you're not fortunate enough to get a geek on the other end, you can always say that you've purchased a TiVo (since they'll at least know what that is) and you need to give it channel changing control over your set-top box.

As I said above, this probably won't be successful, but if you're brave it's at least worth an attempt. If it doesn't work out, don't lose sleep because there is an alternative.

2) IR Blaster - An IR Blaster is an infrared device that can be taught the remote control codes for any set-top box and can also provide control over many PC applications. The most famous IR Blaster on the market is the USB-UIRT. It will connect to your HTPC via USB. Once it's connected, you can train it with your set-top box remote control. Once the USB-UIRT knows the appropriate codes, you simply point it towards your set-top box and it will transmit the codes when an action occurs inside of your HTPC/PVR application.

As far as HTPC/PVR application support goes, the USB-UIRT has solid support, which includes BeyondTV and SageTV. Girder is also supported so you could use that in combination with another Windows-based HTPC/PVR application.

For the Linux/MythTV users, USB-UIRT can be made to work, but you may have to do some more advanced tasks like recompiling your kernel, ivtv (the capture card driver), and LIRC (Linux Infrared Remote Control).

There are other Linux-compatible IR Blasters out there, and a quick google search will find them for you. MyBlaster is one that clearly states support for MythTV.

UPDATE: Blaine let me know that MCE2005 will only recognize the Microsoft IR Blaster that ships with the Microsoft Remote. He says that he's tried many others without success. Thanks Blaine!

For those of you wanting to skip the hassle of messing around with serial cables, you can purchase the USB-UIRT from Frey Technologies, Snapstream, and of course usbuirt.com. Availability on these units can be sketchy so don't expect the unit to be shipped to you overnight.

Let's continue on with a sizeable list of online resources that you can check out if you'd like to do even more research on the HTPC scene.




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