Back in December I wrote an article about pulling recorded content off a set top box using the Hauppauge HD PVR. Since then, the Hauppauge Colossus has been released. The main difference between the two is that the HD PVR is an external USB connected device whereas the Colossus is a single slot PCIe card meant to be installed inside a PC. I decided to upgrade to the Colossus and sell my HD PVR on eBay (so I was able to break even). The main reason for me was since the HD PVR was an external device it took up space in my AV cabinet and required an external power source. The Colossus I could tuck away in my HTPC and not even know it was there, as well as freeing up a power outlet on my power conditioner.
Today I will take a look at the Colossus to see if the experience is the same as when I was using the HD PVR for pulling recorded content off my set top box. I won’t be looking at using the Colossus as a capture card for recording live TV (such as integrating with SageTV) because my setup at home doesn’t really allow for it. To connect the Colossus to my set top box requires connecting the two together via component cables. However, my cable box connects to my TV via component cables as well, so to use the Colossus I have to manually switch the cables (introducing a component switch would really be unnecessary for my setup). Check out Andrew Van Till’s (also known as babgvant is some of the darker corners of the world) excellent review of the Colossus over on Anandtech for more insight on using as a TV Tuner (I believe currently the Colossus only works with SageTV and Media Portal 1.2 as front ends).
- Set Top Box (Scientific Atlantic 8300HD)
- Hauppauge Colossus along with included Showbiz software
- tsMuxeR(optional, used for video encoding, will explain why this was needed)
- MKVMerge(optional, used for video encoding, will explain why this was needed)
- Handbrake (optional, used for video encoding)
A Look At The Hardware:
The Colossus came with nearly the same compliment of cables and accessories as the HD PVR. Included is a Colossus PCI Express full height board, Hauppauge remote control, A/V cable adapters (two sets supplied), Component video cable set, IR blaster/receiver cable, Installation software on CD: WinTV v7 and Arcsoft ShowBiz application, and Quick Installation Guide.
Looking at the Colossus there is an HDMI Input (will only work with un-encrypted HDMI video sources), A/V Input, A/V Output, Optical Input, Optical Output, and IR Blaster Output
Below is a picture of the Colussus installed in my HTPC (The green board). As you can see it is the same height as the full sized Graphics card behind it, and slightly shorter.
Here is a picture from the rear of the HTPC with the Colossus installed.
Here is a picture with the A/V cable adapter connected
Setting Up The Colossus:
Setting up the Colossus on my HTPC was fairly straightforward. Using the included CD I decided to install both the drivers and the included software (WinTV and Showbiz). Once installed the Colossus was recognized with no issues.
Capturing Video With The Colossus:
With the Colossus now installed it is time to pull some recorded content off my STB. I connected the Colossus to my STB using component cables (YPbPr) for video and Optical for audio (needed for 5.1 unless you are using HDMI). I would have liked using the HDMI input but unfortunately my STB does not support unencrypted HDMI.
The first mistake I made is I didn’t realize that I couldn’t use the Total Media Extreme software that I still had installed on my HTPC for use with the HD PVR, so launching that software actually froze my PC. Once I sorted out that little problem and realized that ShowBiz replaced Total Media Extreme I was in business. Although Showbiz has a different look then Total Media Extreme the functionality is nearly identical.
Since I am looking to capture recordings from my STB, I clicked the Capture tab which brought up the Capture Module. If the Colossus was installed correctly it should be automatically detected and whatever feed is coming in from the STB should now appear in the preview window. The settings for capturing are similar to what I was using with the HD PVR. I chose to go with AVCHD as my video output which based on the settings I chose would output a 1080i 5.1 ts video file (Jake and the Never Land Pirates was the choice of the day, Yo Ho Ho!).
One bug I ran in to, when I finished one capture and wanted to start another I would lose audio. The only way to get audio back would be to close out of ShowBiz altogether and reopen. Doing so would restore audio. This was a bit annoying since I was trying to capture multiple recordings. Hopefully this is something that gets resolved in future software updates. I didn’t find any of the other options in ShowBiz (Edit/Produce) particularly useful so I didn’t bother with.
Encoding The Capture:
As I discussed with the HD PVR writeup, I like to encode down the captured videos. A typical 25 minute TV Show takes up nearly 2GB. Since I am looking to archive these recordings that is way too much space that I am not willing to sacrifice when you consider you could have a large number of episodes per TV series. I don’t know if this is a bug or not, but with the HD PVR I was able to take the created ts file, drop into Handbrake, and encode away. With the Colossus created ts file, when I try to drop in Handbrake I get an error message that the file is damaged or corrupt. Unfortunately to get what I needed I was forced to demux/remux the ts file first.
The first tool I used is tsMuxeR, which is a small application that can be used to demux (i.e. remove contents from) a ts file. It is as simple as dropping the ts file over the tsMuxeR GUI, select “Demux” in the Output section, and click “Start Demuxing”. When done you are left with the individual audio and video files that are contained in the ts file.
Next up I decided to combine the demuxed audio/video files into an mkv using mkvmerge. Once again, it is as easy and just dragging the files over the mkvmerge GUI. One caveat, the Colossus encodes the video stream as a 1080i AVC/H.264 stream. When bringing into mkvmerge you will see a message that mkvmerge cannot determine the frames per second (fps) of an AVC/H.264 stream, so it will default to 25 fps
In order to ensure that the correct fps is used (in this case the 1080i stream is 29.970 fps), you need to select the video stream in mkvmerge and manually edit the fps (you can either type in 29.970 or using the 30000/1001 option yields the same result). If you are unsure about the correct fps you can use MediaInfo on the ts file first.
Once this is done I am left with an mkv file which now works perfectly in Handbrake. I don’t know if this “bug” is Colossus or Handbrake related, I will have to ask around to see if anyone else has encountered this.
So now for the big question, was the move from the HD PVR to the Colossus worth it? In my situation it definitely was. Getting rid of the HD PVR freed up space in my cabinet. Where in the past I had to power on/off the HD PVR I no longer have to do this with the Colossus, as long as my HTPC is on I have full access. Otherwise the experience was nearly identical. I did encounter a few bugs, which for better or worse is expected when a new product is released. The unfortunate thing about the bugs is that each time I use the Colossus I have to deal with them, and although not major, they do add a few extra minutes to the entire process. Hopefully over the coming months we should see the software/drivers mature and put all the bugs behind us. At some point I wouldn’t mind looking in to integrating the Colossus into a PVR type setup, but that will probably be something for down the road and will require me getting an additional STB (as well as waiting for the Colossus to add support to Windows Media Center).