DVR/PVR options without a cable box?
July 8, 2013 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Living in on-campus housing for the next 3 years, and have school provided cable and no cable box. There is no dvr that I could get through the university. What are my best options for dvr-like service?

Right now, the cable is just plugged in to the tv.

I've been looking at Tivo, PVR, and some others but I am not sure which is best or cheapest over 3 years.
I'd prefer not to need to use a computer for this, but if it is the best setup then I will do that.

-We have 2 tvs and would like to be able to watch and delete recorded shows from either one. It is ok if we can only record from one of them, as long as they sync.
-We don't have a cable card (which I think is needed for Tivo) but we are going to see if we can get one.
-We would like to be able to program recordings of every airing of a show (like a season pass) instead of having to record each one manually.
-It would be a bonus if we could stream the shows to the ipad or have them available while traveling, but not necessary.
-Spending up-front is ok if the solution is the best for long term, especially if it could be used to save money at our next (non-campus) place.

So what should we do?
And, if we cannot get a cable card, what are our options?

I've seen this previous question which ended in a Tivo subscription but my circumstances are different)
posted by rmless to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Adding one thing- if we did connect the cable to a computer somehow, it would be a macbook. Not sure if that might change the answers.
posted by rmless at 10:24 AM on July 8, 2013

You might take a look at MythTV, though I think most configurations run on a standalone, dedicated box of some kind.
posted by jquinby at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're just talking about run-of-the-mill American network shows, the easiest solution might be a Hulu+ subscription instead of trying to roll your own DVR. Then you just need pretty much any device with a network connection and HDMI-out and it will run their app and show you at least the whole current season of most shows you can think of. Add Amazon Prime streaming to fill in some other gaps, and you're almost all the way there without having to manage your own recordings.
posted by jozxyqk at 10:42 AM on July 8, 2013

Best answer: Take a look at simple TV. If your cable service is QAM, it is almost perfect for what you need.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:58 AM on July 8, 2013

Best answer: I've never used it, but paired with a couple of rokus might do what you're looking for. That way it'll stream to the iPad, both TVs, and the size of the DVR is limited only by the hard drive size.
posted by eisenkr at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2013

Best answer: TiVo only needs a cablecard for decrypting encrypted channels. Since your cable goes directly into your TV, your channels are clear and you don't need one. You'll need to verify that the TiVo service has your campus cable lineup in their database, otherwise it won't know which channels are which. You can do that here.

I have TiVo at home and love it. But the costs add up quickly. There's the up-front cost for the box, plus the monthly subscription. They do sell the TiVo Mini which allows you to watch recorded shows on a second tv without another whole dvr hooked up. They also have the TiVo Stream which allows streaming to some mobile devices as well. Not sure if that's an additional monthly fee or just the cost of the box for each option. (Also not sure why they need to sell two separate devices, but it's rumored that the Stream functionality will be rolled into the next generation of TiVo DVRs when they launch).

Cheapest is definitely going to be rolling your own solution with an older or new-but-inexpensive PC and finding/using the right software. But in terms of ease-of-use and maintenance, you may decide it's worth buying a retail solution and saving yourself the headaches.
posted by trivia genius at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2013

Do you have a Windows PC? Use Windows Media Center. You can buy the adapter for just a few bucks and plug the cable right into your computer. Windows Media Center does all of the DVR stuff. Get a HDMI cable, use the TV as a monitor, and boom, done.

It's what I do and it's wonderful.
posted by phunniemee at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2013

I love my TiVo. You wouldn't need a cable card; you could also use it for netflix, amazon prime, hulu, pandora, spotify, youtube, etc. It's easy as can be.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far!

If I did get SimpleTV, what would the advantage of also having Rokus be?
(Sorry, I'm kind of in the dark about what all these things do. I thought that Roku connects your tv to the internet, but it seems like the SimpleTV premier service does that too?)
Also, if SimpleTV has an interface where you choose what you watch and so does Roku, which one do you actually use when watching tv at home vs on an ipad?

Since SimpleTV seems to be the direction I'm leaning now, what would the set up be in total-- should I get the lifetime premier package ($300) and 2 HD rokus (one for each tv at $60 each) and also a hard drive?
Or do some of those pieces overlap?

Feel free to talk to me like a 5 year old.

For those searching later, Tivo makes you buy separate subscription packages for each device, so I'd have to get a 4 channel box ($250 unit + lifetime service $500) plus a mini ($100 unit + lifetime service $150) making the whole thing $1k and then $130 more to get the stream to watch on ipad.
posted by rmless at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2013

Best answer: All the rokus do is stream the recordings to your TVs so you can watch the recordings on a big screen. If you want to watch Simple.TV on your computer or iPad, rokus are not needed. But in either case, you will need a hard drive.

There is a app for roku which is what you use on your tv. On your ipad, you use the app. When you use your browser, you use your browser.

The limitation of is that there is only one cable input, meaning that you can only record one station at a time.

So, the total cost would be $300+any rokus you want+hard drive.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2013

Best answer: Also, be very sure to verify what type of cable is coming in from the wall--if it's encrypted digital cable, you can't decode it. If it's ClearQAM, you're all good.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you! You guys are the best. I told my fiance that metafilter would know just what to do, and you proved me right.
I bought the $300 Simple.TV and two Roku 3s and will try to hook it up to an external drive I already have.
posted by rmless at 1:52 PM on July 8, 2013

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