Will an HTPC help get shows off my DirecTV DVR?
March 9, 2011 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Can I use an HTPC/DIY DVR solution to record shows off my DirecTV DVR?

In a few months, we'll be cutting the cord on DirecTV - canceling our service with them, and effectively going to just having OTA channels (along with Netflix and all that jazz). That being the case, I'm planning on going the route of building myself a little HTPC of sorts, using this site as a guide, and purchasing a Revo AR3700, and this USB tuner so that we can still timeshift stuff as we see fit.

Let's assume that I get the RevoHTPC up and running prior to us canceling DirecTV. If there are a few shows that are on our DirecTV DVR that we'd still like to save to watch later, would it be possible to record said shows by harnessing the Revo? I feel like the answer is "yes", and that it wouldn't be too difficult, but I'm a bit unsure as to what all would be involved in doing that. FWIW, I'm fairly certain I'll be running Windows 7/Media Center on the little guy. Nothing's been purchased yet, on the off-chance what I'm thinking of getting is not what I want.

I recognize that the DirecTV DVRs are probably built in such a way to make getting content off of them as difficult as possible, but, I'm not giving up hope just yet! I've done a bit of Googling/searching around, as well as the forums on the RevoHTPC site (I've asked a similar question there, but it's not really as well-trafficked as AskMeFi), and haven't had much luck.

As a secondary question, if the Revo won't work, what are my options? Unearth my old school DVD-recorder and go that route or something?

I'd appreciate some help/direction HiveMind!
posted by mrhaydel to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can use the Revo for this. You may need additional equipment/software. I deal with this stuff in a professional capacity-- I don't know lots about Windows-based consumer-end products for this, but I've got some suggestions.

First, you're going to need a TV-capture card for the Revo if it doesn't already have one. How are you currently outputting the DVR to the TV? If it's HDMI, you need a capture card with HDMI in. Etc. So install that. I have a Hauppage tuner that I used in a linux-based DVR experiment, and it worked great and wasn't expensive. Worth looking into when you do your research to see which card you want.

There are also USB video capture devices. Easier to install, but generally pricier and flakier. But if you can't/really wouldn't like to install a new card in your machine, and the price is right, you might do that.

Now you need software to grab and encode the stream. They can be separate apps, there are lots that do both. Your new device might even come with something that will work well enough for your purposes. CaptureFlux is free and works well enough, but the options for compression are limited. You might use that to grab the raw video and then another free program like VirtualDub to compress the file into a high-quality-but-still-much-smaller AVI file.

So you'll add the hardware and at least the capture software, connect the DVR to your new capture device, start the show that you want to save, and start the capture. Then when the show's over, you'll stop the capture and compress it, possibly with the capture software or possibly something different.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the response Mayor Curley.

To answer your first question, the DVR goes to the TV via HDMI.

I think where I get a little hung up is with the whole capture part - the video card on the Revo has an HDMI port, and then the "capture" part of the equation is via that USB tuner I linked to. However, that USB capture/tuner stick just has a co-ax female plug on it.

Sooo...I guess that eventually I'll have the TV going into the USB stick via a co-ax connection, but in this interim state of wanting to get stuff of the DVR (which, that definitely has an antenna-in on it, but maybe not an antenna out?)...well, I'm not sure.

Is what's messing this up the fact that the video card inside of the Revo is not a capture card? Or can I still get to the same end-result via what I've described above?
posted by mrhaydel at 9:10 AM on March 9, 2011

I recognize that the DirecTV DVRs are probably built in such a way to make getting content off of them as difficult as possible, but, I'm not giving up hope just yet!

The files are encrypted actually. You can't just pull them off the disk. I believe the old workaround was to install the Tivo desktop app (not sure if your model supports it) and somehow get the video off of there (screen copy + audio copy as it played). I believe some people at the Tivo community forums figured this out.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:20 AM on March 9, 2011

This is actually not a trivial problem, especially since you get video out with HDMI--there are no tuners that just take HDMI as input for capture because most of these sources are encrypted to prevent just the sort of thing you're trying to accomplish. The solution is not cheap (around $200), and assumes that in addition to the HDMI out, you also have component output, but I'm almost 100% certain that your DVR has component out, so you're good to go. What you need to get is a Hauppauge HDPVR box that takes component input and gives you H264 encoded video via USB. I use it to get HDTV signals from my Roger's box to work with Windows MCE, but for your purposes, you can just use the software that comes with the box to record your files. I'm not sure if the videos you have are HD, but if they are, I'm pretty sure this is the only practical solution at the moment.
posted by reformedjerk at 11:14 AM on March 9, 2011

Response by poster: Hmm, well, I can say that our DirecTV DVR is definitely not a Tivo branded one, so I think that route of getting stuff of it that way is out.

And what reformedjerk describes is I think what I knew in the back of my head all along, I just needed someone to spell it out for me. :-)

Since I'm not super keen on dropping $200 on a solution for what's arguably not that big of a deal (although ms. mrhaydel would probably disagree), I may just have to break out the old DVD recorder (which I'm sure has component-in) and go that route. I think whatever we do wanna save may be a mix of HD and SD, but I'm certainly not concerned with retaining HD.

I'll still welcome more input here, but I'll try and report back here once I do figure out something.
posted by mrhaydel at 6:02 AM on March 10, 2011

What shows are these? If this was me, I'd just torrent them and put them on my new HTPC and be done with it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:32 AM on March 10, 2011

Response by poster: @damn dirty ape
I suppose the short answer is that I don't know yet. Obviously the goal is to watch everything we really want to before we send it back to DirecTV (which, will still be 2 or 3 months), but, and you're going to laugh, we've got stuff on there like, Obama's inauguration (I'm sure I could just get a DVD or something), or some tributes/specials to Walter Cronkite, things of that ilk that in the moment we were like "Ooo, yes, let's record that because it'll be interesting", and I guess the sentimental side of ms. mrhaydel is like "Don't delete that stuff!" I personally can probably live without it.

So really, it's rather trivial stuff (and honestly, not many/any regular shows that could be torrented, because believe me, if it was that simple, I'd be all for doing that), and me wanting to get stuff off of the DVR is probably not so much about actually wanting to save the shows and more about just wanting to take on the project of figuring out if I can. :-P
posted by mrhaydel at 5:40 AM on March 11, 2011

Response by poster: Well, as fate/luck would have it, our DirecTV DVR died on us over the weekend, so, there's no more worry about having to get stuff off of it!

That doesn't mean I won't still try to do so, just for shits and giggles, but whatever "urgency" there might have been before is not there now.

I'll update here again should I figure anything out.
posted by mrhaydel at 6:53 AM on March 14, 2011

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