Turn Your PC Into a DVR
I've found that it's almost impossible to buy a standalone DVR to record broadcast TV programming, and I don't want to rent one. I understand there is a way to build your own, but I'm fuzzy on the parts required. Can I turn my old computer into a DVR?
How to Build Your Own DVR
The digital video recorder (DVR) has revolutionized television watching. In January, 2006, a survey by A.C. Nielsen found 1.2 percent of U.S. households had a DVR; by February, 2011, that number had mushroomed to 42.2 percent.
A DVR captures television signals and stores them as digital video files on a mass storage device. A DVR may be a standalone appliance; circuitry embedded in a set-top box or the TV itself; or a home-brewed version consisting of a PC, TV tuner card, and the right software.
Sure, DVR units can be rented from TiVo and cable or satellite TV companies. But why rent when you can build your own? If you have an older computer sitting idle, this is a great way to put it to good use. It's also a fun project that doesn't require much in the way of tech skills.
To build a DVR, you need a PC with a large hard drive (500+ GB); a TV tuner card that receives and decodes television signals; and DVR software. These components can be purchased separately or bundled together in different ways. You can build your DVR on a Windows, Mac or Linux computer. Here's what you will need.
DVR Software and Hardware
Windows Media Center is Microsoft's DVR software. It comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions. If your Windows 7 version lacks Media Center, you can buy an upgrade from Microsoft.
Alternatives to Windows Media Center include the $79.95 SageTV and Snapstream's $99 Beyond TV. Free DVR software includes the open source MythTV and NextPVR, formerly called GV-PVR. All are Windows-based, with the exception of MythTV, which runs on Linux, Mac or PC.
Some of their common features include the ability to pause, rewind, and fast-forward live TV broadcasts; record and store programs for later playback, record multiple TV programs at once using multiple TV tuner cards; burn DVDs of your TV recordings, and support multiple simultaneous viewing on different displays. BeyondTV also has commercial-skipping technology built into it.
TV tuner cards include the Hauppage WinTV HVR-2250 Media Center Kit, KWorld PC150-U Hybrid ATSC Hybrid HDTV Tuner Card with FM radio receiver, the PCTV HD Card 800i, and the isiontek 900355 ATI All-in-Wonder MC Edition TV Tuner Card - Radeon H. Some TV tuner cards come bundled with DVR software. Prices range from $40 to $100.
You'll be able to access any local free over-the-air TV broadcasts, and (if you are a cable subscriber) certain cable channels that are broadcast "in the clear" (known as Clear QAM) by your cable provider. You'll have to find out from your provider if they offer any Clear QAM channels.
SageTV offers a compact appliance that includes a TV tuner and its software for around $150. It has no fan, so there's no noise, and it's easily set up to work with your PC. It also supports HDMI 1.3 and Dolby TrueHD for better sound quality. It even comes with a remote control and supports wireless keyboards.
"Place-shifting" is another benefit of DVR technology. Once you capture your favorite TV shows via a DVR, they become ordinary files on the hard drive. You can copy the files to a laptop or smartphone to view anywhere and any time you like. You can even access your personal video library through a Web browser if your DVR software includes a server function.
Have you built your own DVR? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Jun 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Turn Your PC Into a DVR (Posted: 3 Jun 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved