Time Shift me, please
September 15, 2010 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I want to record TV. I’ve thought about too many options – exhaustively - from old school VCR to Mac Mini/HTPC setups. I don’t care about HD, I just want basic recording, and not to pay more for cable. My head is full of options and I need perspective. Help.

I've searched AskMe and the internets, but if you want to link to anything I'm happy for the resources in case I missed something.

I have –
- HDTV (6 months old)
- Series 3 TiVo (hooked up but not to cable, used only to stream Netflix and not for anything else)
- Series 2 TiVo (not hooked up, no service from TiVo, used as a doorstop)
- DVD player (fairly old)
- Comcast digital transport adapter (I don’t want a Cable Card, or a Comcast DVR, and I know I won’t get channel guide functions without them – I know this would be the path of least resistance, but not the path I want)

I want to –
- Basically, I want to record a show at a specific time, and I know that I do not have modern conveniences like Season Passes and viewing guides as options – but I’d like to set up a device that I can ask to record a specific channel at a specific time and know that it will happen
- I would like to program this at least a week in advance
- And I don’t want to have to be home to press record or to change a channel
- The Comcast setup (DTA) I have won’t play nice with my TiVo, which I would like to keep using (Series 3) to stream Netflix (or somehow stream Netflix)

I don’t want to –
- Get any more Comcast products or services
- Hook up the old Series 2 as well as the Series 3 and set up some IR blaster mechanism, unless that’s really the best way
- Get DirectTV

I am open to – almost anything, including
- home brew DVR
- DVD recorder or VCR
- Mac Mini or HTPC – the expense stops me – I have a 5 year old PC I can take, running XP, relatively primitive I am sure in terms of computing power and out of use because it was getting buggy for my mom

This is Anon because the details are pretty specific if you know me, and I don’t want to make my MeFi name that readily associated with real me.

Email to MeFiSnowflake@gmail.com (how is that email still available?!). Thanks y’all.
posted by anonymous to Technology (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i would think that torrenting and RSS would be the best solution. then you don't have to worry about the time specific part.
posted by nadawi at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2010

With the introduction of the DTAs, Comcast has turned on encryption on all channels except the locals and a few basic channels. So unless you want to be limited to recording just those channels, you'll have to get something that uses an IR blaster to get the DTA to change channels. If you're happy with locals and a few stations like Discovery, you can use a QAM tuner and your computer to time shift. I use MythTV on Linux, and it works reasonably well, but there are other packages out there for Windows and Mac.
posted by zsazsa at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2010

Since you are open to home brew and do not care about HD, I think your best option is to build a DVR out of a PC. Your old PC might suffice for this. All you need is a TV tuner card that works with the old analog (NTSC) standard, because that's what the Comcast DTA spits out. You also need an IR blaster. That's just a little gadget that will connect to your PC and mimics a remote control. That will change the channels on the DTA when your PC wants to record something. I think some of the TV tuner cards come with one.

New TV tuner cards will all work with both digital and analog broadcasts. Your DTA is analog only so you don't need the digital part. You might also be able to find an old TV tuner card on eBay that is analog only.

I used MythTV on Linux for some time and was very happy with it. There are also Windows solutions out there. If you do go Linux the most important thing to do is make sure that the TV card will work with Linux. The MythTV wiki is good here.

Good thing you don't care about digital or HD, because this gets a whole lot more complicated if you do.
posted by massysett at 4:25 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you want to make your own recordings instead of just downloading the ones that are already available for free all over the internet? There are lots of sites and programs that will automate this for you, so all you have to do is tell it what shows you watch and it will automatically grab the latest episode as soon as it's available. It would certainly be a lot less work on your part.
posted by bizwank at 4:39 PM on September 15, 2010

Step one: Accept that Comcast is evil. The first thing to do will be to determine what kind of signal Comcast is sending you. In a few remaining markets Comcast still sends analog signal. From this you can record at will. This is fast disappearing if not gone already. Use a VCR or old-style PC tuner turned into a DVR. Either TiVo will still work (provided you pay their subscription).

If your local Comcast has made the digital switch, odds are you will have mostly encrypted channels. This is what zsazsa said above. Many markets will have only the local stations and a few basic channels unencrypted. The unencrypted channels can be accessed using a QAM tuner. There are a fair number of QAM tuners available online and local electronics retailers. Most are compatible with PC, Linux using MythTV and there are Mac tuners as well. Getting this setup is another thread entirely.

If your Comcast is truly evil, as they are in the Portland, OR market, there will be NO unencrypted channels. You must have Comcast equipment somewhere in the mix to be able to record anything from your Comcast signal. This can be done through CableCard equipment, which there is little of, or through a Comcast receiver. massysett is correct in that you will need an IR Blaster to be able to switch channels and have whichever device record appropriately.

Remember that over the air broadcasts are still fair game. If you want the truly awesome way to record lots of TV via Comcast, look no further than the Ceton Infinitv 4. It has four tuners and uses a CableCard. It's also a US$400 tuner and availability is an issue.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:33 PM on September 15, 2010

I use an Acer AspireRevo 3610, two USB external HDTV tuners and an external hard drive. That + Windows Media Center + Boxee for online streaming/playback of downloaded content gives me more TV than I know what to do with. It wasn't easy getting everything working perfectly together, but the project is half the fun. MeFi mail me if you need any details.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:19 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

BTW, if you want to see what channels are unencrypted in your area, put in your zip code on SiliconDust's channels site, then pick a Comcast lineup from the dropdown on the upper left. SiliconDust makes great tuners, BTW.
posted by zsazsa at 9:50 AM on September 16, 2010

If you decide to explore building your own DVR, be sure to take a look at SageTV.
posted by reddot at 4:55 PM on September 17, 2010

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