Dvr possibilities?
July 23, 2005 6:03 PM   Subscribe

DVR possibilities? Are there smaller companies that make computers ready to go like a tivo, only not a tivo?

I dont want to pay the subscribtion fee for tivo, so are there smaller companies that build boxes stream lined for dvr?

I aquired an older computer to play with and is it a waste to merely upgrade the graphics card, to like an ati tv tuner card to make my own dvr? It runs windows 98 (its been reformated so it actually runs fast with no progs)384mbs of ram 400mhz 60+gigs (i wont be recording in highdef).

I dont want to 'rent' one from my cable company either.

SO please help me decide if its a good idea to upgrade the card or find an alternative to subscription based dvr.
posted by to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
MythTV is the only solution I know of -- Linux only.

You'll have to upgrade to do anything:

* A PIII/733MHz system can encode one video stream using the MPEG-4 codec using 480x480 capture resolution. This does not allow for live TV watching, but does allow for encoding video and then watching it later.
* A developer states that his AMD1800+ system can almost encode two MPEG-4 video streams and watch one program simultaneously.
* A PIII/800MHz system with 512MB RAM can encode one video stream using the RTjpeg codec with 480x480 capture resolution and play it back simultaneously, thereby allowing live TV watching.
* A dual Celeron/450MHz is able to view a 480x480 MPEG-4/3300kbps file created on a different system with 30% CPU usage.
* A P4 2.4GHz machine can encode two 3300Kbps 480x480 MPEG-4 files and simultaneously serve content to a remote frontend.

I higihly recommend adding a DVR to your cable bill, it's relatively inexpensive and records a fair amount with an intuitive interface. I wish it had just one more tuner so I can record two and watch whatever I want, but I know that's just greedy.
posted by geoff. at 7:02 PM on July 23, 2005

If you buy a TIVO player, you don't have to subscribe to the service--you can record by date/day-of-week and channel. The subscription service just allows you to record programs by name, actor / artist, and stuff like that.
posted by curtm at 7:11 PM on July 23, 2005

Nearly all TiVo units require a subscription to function, even at a basic record-by-time-and-date level. This crippling of unsubscribed units was gradually introduced over the last few years.

If you want a unit that will function without subscription, you need to look for one that features "TiVo Basic" service. These are generally the combination DVD player/TiVo units produced by 3rd parties.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:17 PM on July 23, 2005

In addition to MythTV, there is BeyondTV, and Freevo. I have heard that MythTV is really hard to get running properly, and I assume the other two are also tough to deal with. MythTV, I believe, downloads TV listings from zap2it. Zap2it provides the listings for free, for now, but who knows if that will change.

There is also Windows XP Media Center Edition, but that is not sold directly to consumers.
posted by profwhat at 7:34 PM on July 23, 2005

Response by poster: are there any companies that build a computer ment to be used just as a dvr rather than building it myself?
posted by at 7:56 PM on July 23, 2005

Telly. I've never seen one, but heard they're okay.
posted by sfenders at 7:56 PM on July 23, 2005

I've got a MSI mega 180, which is advertised to do this, but I don't have cable, so I have never tried it out. I used the built in FM tuner (works when computer is off). It needs an optional tv tuner card to do tv (~$50). Sony also makes a couple, but it's $2000 or so.
posted by 445supermag at 8:34 PM on July 23, 2005

If you're willing to pay about $250 (I think) more you can get lifetime service from TiVo or Replay.
posted by abcde at 8:34 PM on July 23, 2005

I think I've seen Sony PCs that double as DVRs (can be turned on their side) in the store but I can't find anything on the web.
posted by abcde at 8:39 PM on July 23, 2005

HP makes some Windows Media Center PCs. More broadly, here's Microsoft's list of Media Center PC vendors.
posted by box at 9:15 PM on July 23, 2005

I recommend just factoring the cost of a lifetime subscription to TiVo into the cost of the box. (Aren't they giving them out practically free nowadays?)

The simple fact is, TiVo is soooo much more pleasant to use than any other DVR, particularly those cable company monstrosities.
posted by trevyn at 9:26 PM on July 23, 2005

Yeah, trevyn, TiVo is the most easy option on the market now, but that could change very quickly given the number of developers and how quickly the market is evolving. Every dollar spent in this market is like a vote for what technology you want. One of the reasons I won't buy a TiVo, an iPod, or (another) MiniDisk is that the hardware is deliberately crippled by the manufacturer.

Whether we're playing/recording sound files or video files, there is no reason why consumers should support any system that doesn't give them the freedom to record/play any codec that the hardware will support, or store/move whatever data they want on the storage device. As processors get faster and storage gets smaller and cheaper, the bottom line becomes more clear: cameras, dv recorders, mp3 players, etc are all just hard drives with encoding/decoding hardware and software. All attempts to convolute that simple set of functions with "features" designed to prevent full freedom for the user should be opposed on principle.
posted by squirrel at 9:58 PM on July 23, 2005

For those of us not in USA and without access to a Tivo, running Windows XP, what software options are there? Thanks.
posted by madman at 10:07 PM on July 23, 2005

I have heard promising things about KnoppMyth for setting up a MythTV box.
posted by britain at 10:55 PM on July 23, 2005

i've been using BeyondTV for a year with almost no problems. you have to pay for the software, but there's no subscription fee to get the tv guide information. it supports up to two tuner cards, and i think you can pay them more money if you want a version that supports more than that. it records as MPEG or (i think) WMV. you probably want a tuner card that does the MPEG encoding for you (like hauppauge's wintv-250) so the processor doesn't get bogged down.
posted by clarahamster at 1:05 AM on July 24, 2005

I've played with myth. If you build a myth box, you're doing it for the geek-fun factor, it isn't cheaper than a TiVo with service.
posted by mosch at 1:20 AM on July 24, 2005

Is there a mac solution to this? I would have thought that a mac mini would be ideal.
posted by bruceyeah at 5:48 AM on July 24, 2005

mythtv user here. not in the US so tivo isn't really an option. i've been using mythtv for the past couple of years now. i really love it and wouldn't know what to do without my mythtv box. the only real problem is that there's no 'official' program guide distribution in europe afaik and it scrapes the info off websites. worst comes to worst i can grab programming data from an EPG being broadcast (unfortunately not all channels are on there last time i checked).

maybe TVCentral ( suits your needs? I have no experience with it but saw that it now comes bundled with the fanless pc i bought to run myth. there seems to be a trial version you can download.
posted by canned polar bear at 10:19 AM on July 24, 2005

Knoppmyth is the way to do MythTV. A linux distro made for MythTV. For video, a PVR-250 from Hauppauge, not expensive.

The remaining hassle may be changing the channel on your input, depending on source (satellite or digital). We're hoping to get the computer to send infrared to the satellite box.
posted by Goofyy at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2005

Monarch computers makes some. I have not bought from them, and cannot judge their service or quality (although I've heard good things about them).
posted by QIbHom at 11:15 AM on July 24, 2005

I'm typing this right now on my brand new HP Media Center PC. I needed to upgrade from my 6 year old PC anyway, and found a good deal on the z545 Entertainment Center through eCost. The computer uses Microsoft's equivalent of Tivo, but it's free with the media center version of XP. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it'll work just the same as Tivo, and I decided that the cost of a new computer plus a tivo box and subscription was going to be about the same as the cost of the z545, so I went ahead and got it.
posted by MsMolly at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2005

madman -- Keep in mind, though, that you will still need to invest in some kind of TV capture hardware if your PC does not already have one installed. These packages don't just record TV signal from the ether. The most widely available card is the ATI All-In-Wonder, but for similar money, you can get far better quality from Hauppauge's WinTV cards. These cards should come with some rudimentary recording software built-in, and if you just want something that functions like a non-intelligent VCR (record this channel at this time) then the bundled software should be satisfactory.

However, if you want to do more (ie. show me all movies starring Richard E. Grant for the next two weeks and allow me to choose which one I'll record, record all episodes of Deadwood from now until forever) you will need to look at getting PVR software.

on the Windows non-MCE side of the shop, you're looking at either BeyondTV or SageTV. Both of these are commercial packages that require (and should be supported by) some kind of license fee. (about $70).

As far as comparison of the two -- BeyondTV has some nice recording features that SageTV lacks, like remote recording (so that you could, say, login to your PVR from work and have it record a breaking news program) and WMV compression of recordings to save drive space. SageTV, on the other hand, has a great library interface that doubles as an MP3 jukebox, video/DivX library and DVD player.

Personally, I went with Sage since the comprehensive media interface meant that I could replace my DVD player, CD jukebox and VCR with one PC, while also having a convenient system for viewing unlicensed, fansubbed anime. Granted, it's possible to duplicate this functionality on a PC with BeyondTV, iTunes and PowerDVD installed, but it's nice to have one seamless interface that's controlled by a single remote. The remote recording stuff I can accomplish via XP's Remote Desktop, and video compression isn't that necessary if one can just burn archived recordings to DVD.
posted by bl1nk at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2005

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