If you were starting from scratch....

  Pineman100 18:25 22 Aug 2007

Imagine you had the money the start your computer/TV setup from scratch, and you wanted to incorporate a Sky box in your setup. How would you set about it?

Firstly, would you need an actual TV set, or would a simple large-format monitor do the job? After all, the Sky box does all the TV reception stuff doesn't it, so all it needs is a dumb screen?

Next question: if your computer runs Windows Vista Home Premium (with the Media Center function) do you also need a hard-drive video recorder? Or can you save Sky programmes on your computer hard drive? Presumably the programmes are decoded by the time they get to the Sky digibox's output port?

Next: how would you distribute the data around your house? Wireless, powerline, or hard wired? Would you need any data-management hardware in the circuit, or would it be possible just to connect the TV (monitor), Sky box and computer together?

As you'll have guessed by now, I have grandiose (and possibly unworkable!) ideas about an integrated computer, Sky box and TV setup, in which I can use the computer both as a computer and a TV recorder, with a monitor in the office for computing, and a second monitor in the living room as a TV.

Am I talking technical nonsense?

  holme 22:07 22 Aug 2007

I think I can see what you're getting at and this is by no means a complete answer, but here's something to be going on with.

IMHO, while it's certainly possible in principle to set up various equipments exactly as you envisage, there are (currently) various practical factors and limitations to take into account, and which unavoidably complicate the overall issue.

Just one example, a Sky digibox can output high-quality RGB video to a DVD recorder and to a TV - but currently there's no convenient/inexpensive way of getting RGB into a computer. So you have necessarily to fall back on using the much lesser-quality composite video.

Similarly, computer monitors aren't primarily designed to display TV progs or video (including high-definition). It is possible to do so, but it ain't convenient and there are unavoidable limitations. For example, a 'widescreen' TV is 1.77:1 aspect ratio, but a widescreen computer monitor is 1.6:1, so cannot fully display a 16:9 TV/video display.

And while in principle it's possible to record TV progs onto a computer's hard disc, strteaming that around the house is by no means a simple project.

In other words, it's a whole series of working compromises which, when taken together, create far more problems than they solve. Sadly, it has to be accepted that, for all talk of 'Media Centres' and all-in-one solutions, "received wisdom" (as discussed in these forum pages) is that we haven't yet reached the stage where one size fits all.

Domestic audio-video units, e.g. a Sky digibox, stand-alone HDD/DVD recorder and a posh TV, maybe with internal Freeview tuner(s), are designed to work well with each other, regardless of manufacturer. But for all sorts of reasons, they ain't (yet) designed to integrate with a computer and monitor.

No doubt the time will come - my guess is not less than 3-5 years.

  Pineman100 11:19 23 Aug 2007

That's very useful information - not necessarily because it provides solutions to all my ideas, but because it clarifies where such ideas are workable, and where they're not.

Given my (low) level of knowledge in this area, I think it might be safer if I fall back on my plan B. This is to get a Sky+ recorder and a whizzy new flatscreen TV. Since my computer already runs Windows Media Center, and has a digital tuner card, I'll just hook it up to an aerial for occasional use as a supplementary recorder.

Presumably if I record something off-air on the computer, I can burn it on to a DVD in a format readable by a normal DVD player?

Thanks again for all your help here and elsewhere. It's much appreciated.

  holme 12:51 23 Aug 2007

" ... plan B. This is to get a Sky+ recorder and a whizzy new flatscreen TV."

Coo, there's posh for you! I hope the diagram and notes Doug sent you the other night will assist but we can always 'customise' it further to suit. It's no problem.

"Since my computer already runs ... a digital tuner card, I'll just hook it up to an aerial for occasional use as a supplementary recorder."

I'm not personally familiar with Sky+ but, if it also has the supplementary RF OUT 2 socket (i.e. the same as a Sky digibox) and you can feed a coaxial cable through to the computer, that saves having to provide a separate terrestrial aerial for the computer TV card.

And if the TV card also has an analogue tuner, you can watch/record a Sky prog on Chan 68 on the computer! Albeit much lower quality than Freeview and in mono audio.

"Presumably if I record something ... on the computer, I can burn it on to a DVD in a format readable by a normal DVD player?"

Absolutely; DVD-R is the universal format. Plus of course you can edit as required (cut out trailers/adverts etc) before putting it onto DVD. Windows Movie Maker is great for that.

I hope this doesn't confuse the issue, but can I mention a unanimous view we have here that a standard Sky digibox plus a DVD recorder (maybe with an HDD and Freeview tuner) would give significantly more operating flexibility than, say, a Sky+ box and a DVD player.

With recorder prices having dropped so much recently, particularly HDD/DVD variants, there's no longer a huge difference in total cost for a multibox system. The notes Doug sent describe some of the 'added extras'. HTH.

  al7478 18:18 23 Aug 2007

sorry to butt in but i just wanted to check something...

holme - why would a standard sky box and dvd recorder give more flexibility than a sky+ box with a dvd player...? not that i disagree mind you, i just wondered.

  holme 19:09 23 Aug 2007

" ... why would a standard sky box and dvd recorder give more flexibility than a sky+ box with a dvd player...?"

It ain't possible to do that query justice in 4500 characters! :-)

However, to discuss what IMHO is probably the major reason; although I don't personally have Sky+, I know of a number of people who do and, to a man/woman, they all remark that it's very often a frustrating exercise to find the hard disc is nearly full and then having to decide which progs they're going to have to delete to make room for something else, *especially* if it's something such as a film they'd like to keep long-term (a.k.a. "archiving").

By the same token, I know of four Sky+ users who got so fed up with doing it that they bought a DVD recorder, specifically to transfer progs (which they wanted to keep long-term) from the Sky+ box onto DVD.

So to take that one step further, why not instead have a basic Sky box and a DVD recorder, so that progs you wish to watch later - and/or to keep - initially go onto DVD?

Better still, if the DVD recorder also has its own hard disc drive, you can first put everything onto the hard disc, i.e. just as you would with Sky+.

But then, when you start hitting the limits of the hard disc, you can copy (dub) programme(s) onto DVD, either re-writable or write-once (for archiving). In other words, you will never need to dump a programme you'd rather keep.

Plus most recorders with a hard disc can offer basic edit functions so that, when you come to archive to DVD, you can cut out all the unwanted bits such as trailers or adverts.

IMHO that's the main reason, but there are many other flexibility options which are discussed within some notes we've recently sent to Pineman100 and others. So if you (or anyone else) would like a copy, please send us your email address - via the yellow envelope please - and we'll get a PDF copy off to you PDQ.

And as someone said, not having to fork out for the Sky+ box, and the lower monthly subscription, paid for his HDD/DVD recorder in a matter of weeks! :-)

  holme 19:24 23 Aug 2007


Sorry about this, a colleague has just pointed out that the last hearsay comment about costs is now probably out of date. He thinks the Sky+ box is now 99 quid and no extra subscription. But with 'branded' HDD/DVD recorders starting at c. 150 quid, arguably there isn't a huge difference?

  al7478 20:16 23 Aug 2007

that all makes sense - just depends if you're a big archiver, but im not really - i rarely rewatch stuff. short attention span i guess! i do like the point about dvd recorders having editing features tho - you learn something every day!

i've already been n gone n got sky+, but i might add a hd dvd recorder when i feel flush enough to do so.

my understanding is that they have now waived the sky+ subscription - providing you have the minimal £15 pcm package or upwards, but that freesat customers will still have to pay the extra £10 pcm. so that makes it £99 plus installation, which recently went from 60 to 30£.

  holme 22:46 23 Aug 2007

"... just depends if you're a big archiver"

Guilty m'lud. My own 'archive' (wholly non-commercial) DVD collection has recently run into treble figures, which I guess is as good as video-on-demand. Lots of pre-1960s films and 4 series of Blackadder and Open All Hours has got to be a lot better than the utter rubbish on live TV. Anyone for Big Bro? Blegghh.

  holme 08:24 24 Aug 2007

I realise we're going off-topic here (with apologies to Pineman!), but your comment about editing prompts me to mention that a popular use of a DVD recorder is to copy a stock of video tapes onto DVD and then dispense with the VCR. See (for example) the topic headed "VHS to DVD" in this forum.

If the recorder also has a hard disc, it's a simple matter to sort out the copied programmes, do some broad-brush editing (e.g. cutting out trailers, adverts, etc), and arrange them to dub onto standard DVD-R discs.

If you're archiving (say) a long film of over 2 hours which needs DVD-ing in 4-hour long-play mode, that's perfectly adequate for VHS material which is already limited quality.

Indeed, some DVD recorders (especially Panasonic) have noise-reduction circuits so that the archive copy on DVD is often of better quality than the original taped version. Good eh?

  holme 13:24 24 Aug 2007

We're still throwing your original query about the office and another couple of points have surfaced this morning.

While Doug was correct in saying you can't conveniently/inexpensively get RGB video out of a Sky box and into a computer (so are limited to relatively low-quality composite video), I think I'm right in saying that the Sky+ box you're contemplating (Plan B!) has an S-video OUT port, which the Sky box doesn't.

S-video is much easier to interface with a computer (various cheap ways of doing that) and the video quality wouldn't be far short of RGB. And some up-market monitors have a dedicated S-video IN socket so the Sky+ box can be connected directly and you can switch between the Sky+ piccy and the normal computer display.

However, once again this is a compromise which shows up in the 'TV' display. If you were connecting to a standard LCD TV (not HD), the native resolution of the LCD screen would exactly match the TV display, i.e. 768x576 pixels (or 1024x576 for widescreen), so no re-scaling is required.

But if you were putting it onto a high-resolution LCD computer monitor (say 1280x1024 pixels or larger), the Sky+ display would have to be scaled up quite considerably to fit. And the rescaling factor is never an exact whole number; 2:1, 3:1 or whatever, so some 'dithering' is involved. This invariably results in visible "scaling artefacts" (difficult to explain in words but, once seem never forgotten). So it's back to the working compromise Doug mentioned above.

The other point was that, although not mentioned in your "VHS to DVD" posting, trying to put 90 hours-worth of video tape into a computer, maybe doing a little bit of editing and burning DVDs, although feasible in principle, is asking an awful lot of even a powerful piece of kit.

Hence the recommendation to use a stand-alone DVD recorder which is specifically designed for the job and can be left to its own devices, both for the dubbing and for the DVD burning. HTH.

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