Getting to Know the Colossus

When Hauppauge introduced the original HD PVR in 2008 its component plus TOSLINK (optical S/PDIF) capture of 5.1 Dolby Digital and up to 1080i analog video was a revolutionary, and long overdue, shift for the home theater PC (HTPC) based digital video recorder (DVR). Finally there was a viable option for recording DRM-free high definition (HD) content. The device was far from perfect however, suffering from stability (I RMA’d four personally); furthermore, as a large external USB device, it didn’t provide the most appealing form factor for many installations. Today we’re looking at Hauppauge’s second iteration of the HD PVR concept, this time as a standard height PCIe x1 device dubbed Colossus. It offers all of the previous capture options while adding HDMI input to the feature list.

Hardware

The single slot, full height PCIe x1 card has a simple layout with all of the components exposed. There is not much to point out besides the lack of any cooling on the ViXS encoding chip and the presence of Hauppauge’s standard analog connection header along the top. To utilize the auxiliary inputs a daughter card (not included with the Colossus) is required. I have one in the parts bin so it was possible to test the feature, which adds s-video and a second composite/stereo capture option to the options provided directly on the device.

Looking at the native inputs we find HDMI, two breakout connectors for component (YPbPr) / stereo audio, two TOSLINK (optical S/PDIF), and a port to attach the infrared (IR) receiver/blaster. The top breakout/TOSLINK combo provides input and the bottom output for audio/video pass through anytime the PC is powered including standby (S3), hibernate (S4) and soft-off (S5) states. HDMI is the most interesting not only because it is new, but because of the usage scenarios it could enable were the full capabilities of the connection provided. Unfortunately (and understandably due to legal and licensing issues), this is not the case; instead, the HDMI input provides the same feature set as component plus TOSLINK (up to 1080i and Dolby Digital support). Most important, there’s no support for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), so HDMI capture will not work with devices that require it.

In practice, the HDMI link did record most channels/programs from the cable STB (Set-Top Box), but it was not 100% reliable as some files had no audio or video—I assume because HDCP was active in those cases. I did not notice a significant difference between HDMI and component output from the RNG 110 (using Comcast in Chicago), but results will vary between STB and providers so it is worth an attempt if the box has an HDMI output, because the streams will skip a digital to analog conversion.

There’s plenty in the package besides the card; you get a remote with IR hardware and batteries, two breakout dongles, analog audio/video cables, a driver CD (not shown), and some “value-add” software including a copy of Arcsoft ShowBiz. One of the applications Hauppauge provides with the Colossus is a system tray application that drives the IR receiver and blaster, but compatibly with other software products is very limited for the remote and changing channels with the included device is very clunky. Only one blaster is supported per PC, there’s limited set top box compatibility (none of the Pace profiles worked with the RNG110 used in this evaluation), and we experienced general stability issues both with the system tray executable and IR blasting in general.

All of this led us to a cursory evaluation of the remote. For those using this—or any STB based capture device—options like FireWire, serial, or Ethernet based channel changing are much better options. I would prefer an OEM/bare version of the card with just the dongles for those planning to use it with SageTV (or when drivers are available, Windows Media Center), passing the savings for unnecessary hardware and software to end users. The current package starts at $139 online, so removing the frills should get the Colossus down to $100 or less.

Software Analysis
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  • Macoy - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    Can this do streaming captures? I used to have a K-World SD tv tuner, and I would be able to select it in my ustream flash options, and stream it live. Reply
  • babgvant - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    Can you explain this use case a bit more? I'm leaning towards "no"; the device only takes external input AFAIK it does not expose the capture filter for internal input. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Saturday, April 16, 2011 - link

    I think he wants to capture and stream to another PC live.
    e.g. the client PC has no tuner, and uses a 'TV server' to watch live content.
    Reply
  • jnmfox - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    I see you have Sage with the Diamond UI installed.

    Is anandtech.com going to do a review of SageTV?
    I got SageTV set-up a couple of months ago and love it. Sage is a great HTPC option, hopefully more people can be made aware of it. The HD-300 extenders are a great option to get content to you HDTV; small, low-power, customizable, high WAF.
    Reply
  • babgvant - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    I'm a big fan of the Diamond UI. SageTV V7 is a solid platform, but the stock UI leaves a lot on the table; the Diamond team has done an excellent job of making it second to none in this space. Reply
  • Bob-o - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    I'm running Kubuntu linux on a machine in my home office. Is SageTV my best option for recording TV on this platform? I know about Myth but have never tried it.

    My HTPC in the living room is a modest machine running XBMC, mounting a disk from the office machine using NFS. I'd like to leave that as-is.

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • babgvant - Friday, April 15, 2011 - link

    There is a Linux version of the SageTV server, so it should work but I've never tried it. Reply
  • queequeg99 - Friday, April 15, 2011 - link

    Sage keeps the linux version as up to date as the Windows version. However, it is clearly aimed at OEMs so support can lag a bit (i.e. you better feel reasonably comfortable messing around in linux). Reply
  • tno - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    That said, it reminds me, bittersweetly, of all the time I spent configuring my HTPC when I had it fully loaded with tuners, drives and some complicated quiet cooling. When it occurred to me that I spent more time fiddling with it than the household cumulatively spent watching TV I needed to simplify. Now we're down to a quiet, low-power, SSD-only uber streamer. Only thing that ever breaks now? Netflix. Reply
  • eselig - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    Before anyone seriously considers this card, please be aware that Hauppauge has a proven history of not supporting their equipment. Essentially, this card will work for Windows 7, but when windows 8 comes out, they'll put out the drivers for whatever their new card is, but nothing legacy. After getting burned by them twice this way, I've learned my lesson and will never buy a Hauppauge card again. Reply

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