We don't want to miss the ice skating
January 27, 2010 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Setting up a PVR/DVR before the Olympics: feasible or not feasible? If so, what components should I buy? Guidance or current resources, please; current setup within.

We have:
- a spare Windows XP laptop
- an old Windows XP desktop that is constantly in use near the TV
- Panasonic CT-27G13w that may be replaced this year
- basic cable with Internet
- wireless router
- a 500gig passport drive

We would like:
- to record SD cable programming
- to easily skip commercials
- remote control interface for the technologically challenged
- be able to burn things to DVD/watch on computer

It would be nice to:
- program it to record an entire season of a show automatically

We don't want to pay a monthly fee in the process.

We have not joined the HD revolution, nor do we subscribe to any premium channels. We don't play video games. We were even considering getting rid of cable TV at one point, so if we ever decide to go through with it we'd like to still be able to record over-the-air programming.

Could we use the laptop for this, or is that a bad idea? Should we buy a cheap desktop and dedicate it to the TV or can we use our current old computer in it's "free time"? Which TV tuner? Which software? How much hard drive space do we need? Where do we get the program data? Is this one of those projects that will take much more time than expected and not be ready before the Olympics?
posted by Soliloquy to Technology (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have been using Windows Media Center for a long time and would heartily recommend it. If you're planning on upgrading to Windows 7, get Home Premium, it comes with Media Center.

I have used the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick USB as well as the ATI TV Wonder HD 600 USB with good results for the past few years. I'm recording over-the-air HD but they support analog cable as well.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:50 PM on January 27, 2010

For hardware you'll need a TV tuner (probably USB), coaxial cable to go from the cable box to the TV tuner, and perhaps a coax splitter if you still want a live cable signal going into your TV. For SD programming only, a TV tuner will be very cheap, $20ish.

There are many options for the DVR software (I use MythTV but that's linux-based and I'm not going to recommend it to you given your criteria). I might suggest you use a 21 day trial of SageTv, which if you plan it right will get you through the Olympics, then you can decide to buy it if you want. I've also heard good things about BeyondTV and the built-in DVR in Windows7 (which is really an up-to-date Windows Media Center).

good luck, and don't miss recording all that Curling, even if the IOC nixed Coed Curling again.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:49 AM on January 28, 2010

Also, to answer your questions at the end directly:
You can use your desktop while it's recording provided you aren't doing things that cause it to need rebooting (this is windows after all...)
For a TV tuner look to Hauppage, Pinnacle, or ATI. You're only doing SD, so the existing hardware out there for this is pretty well established (and cheap).
You should google about disk space, but what I see is a formula of 1 hr SD ~= 1.25 gb disk space.
Whatever software you use will have some method of getting program data, sometimes but not always at a small cost to you.

Once you make all the hardware software decisions (which take time if you do your due diligence), I think you should be able to set something up that works for your purposes in roughly 2-4 hours. YMMV.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:56 AM on January 28, 2010

The *easiest* thing would be to get a used TiVo.

My local craigslist has them dirt cheap. I just did a quick search and found a Series1 with lifetime service for $50 (that means no monthly fee) and a Series 2 40-hour for $10 (but that will cost you $13/mo or $130/year for service, or lifetime service for $400). Setup is very simple, with clear on-screen menus, and you get a great remote control. No need for mouse and keyboard. You can fairly easily put a much larger hard drive to increase the storage. The TiVo Desktop software will let you transfer and watch shows on your PC or Mac and let you burn them to DVD.

This meets all your requirements, except maybe the monthly fee.
posted by dalesd at 10:12 AM on January 28, 2010

a years worth of monthly fee may be cheaper than any PC hardware buy to get things setup for the olympics. and setting up a TiVo is much easier
posted by garlic at 10:50 AM on January 29, 2010

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