DVR Setup?
March 2, 2007 11:10 PM   Subscribe

Simplest home DIY home DVR setup?

What is the simplest possible setup for home DVR? We have no cable but want to record and playback over-air TV shows to hard drive rather than investing in yet another crappy VCR and store bunches of tapes. I have a Windows XP Pro computer in the office that I could use to run Media Center, and wouldn't be opposed to doing something on Linux in a virtual machine. If necessary I could connect to a box by my TV via wireless or Cat-5 but I don't have coax cable running to the office (the TV is not in the office). I may subscribe to cable eventually but for now just the simple VCR functionality is what I'd like to do. Looking at home pictures and movies on the TV would be great as well. What hardware/software should I get? What should I think about for upgraded functionality in the future?

I don't mind investing some money in hardware but want to avoid any solution that requires a subscription fee.
posted by retro88 to Technology (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Simplest? Buy a used TiVo for which the prior owner purchased the product lifetime subscription option. The lifetime subscriptions are unfortunately no longer available, however TiVo still honors TiVo's with product lifetime subscriptions if you buy such a recorder from a private party. They're available on eBay.
posted by RichardP at 12:18 AM on March 3, 2007

Tivo can't record OTA.

Go with MCE. It's simple to setup, and you can easily record OTA HD broadcasts too. Toss in a inexpensive tuner card (or several) and you can record cable as well.
posted by mphuie at 1:16 AM on March 3, 2007

Tivo, can, and does, record over-the-air analog just fine - just connect the antenna coax to the RF input.
posted by RichardP at 1:45 AM on March 3, 2007

Myth TV?
posted by Otis at 7:02 AM on March 3, 2007

Really, the only downside to TiVo is no HD unless you buy the Series3, which is, IMO, too expensive, even at $650.

An old Series 1 will still work fine and requires no subscription at all, although you would have to make manual recordings. Some Series 2 combo units (like the Humax DVD recorder version) have that capability as well, but most S2s are a brick without some sort of subscription. (lifetime or monthly/yearly)

So as far as TiVos go, your options are an S2 with lifetime, an S2 combo unit with TiVo Basic, or an S1 without a subscription.

All TiVos record OTA and cable.

MythTV and MCE would work, too, but would probably end up costing you as much or more in hardware than an s2 with lifetime, or possibly even as much as an S3 with lifetime (there are a rare few out there, as TiVo had an offer to transfer lifetime service from an S2 to an S3 for S3 early adopters)

If the pictures/movies thing is a must, your only TiVo option is an S2 with lifetime, but even then, I think you'd be better off with another solution (some sort of computer-based DVR and an Xbox, perhaps?) as TiVoToComeBack isn't very good.
posted by wierdo at 7:10 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Even without a subscription, series 2 tivos can be programmed to start/stop recording based on time right? Just no program guide? In that case, it's just like a VCR, which is what the OP requested. The program guide is certainly nice but I could do without it if I had to.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:26 AM on March 3, 2007

I run mythtv at my place. I can run it and my girlfriend can run it. I am, however, a professional linux admin, and while I love the idea of MythTV, I do not believe it is ready for people who don't administer linux machines to run yet. Mythtv is made of so many little pieces that are each a little finicky, so when one changes, the whole deck of cards can fall down.

Someday, MythTV will be exactly what you want.
posted by adamwolf at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2007

RustyBrooks, no, a Series2, excluding the ones that come with TiVo Basic (the DVD recorder and one or two others) cannot be used to record without a subscription. Only some original TiVos can do that. (ones that originally came with v1.3 of the software, before they noted on the box that they were useless without the subscription)

They all will allow you to play back previously recorded shows and trick play live tv without a subscription, though.

A Humax DVD recorder w/TiVo would be the OP's best bet if the S2 with lifetime route is too expensive. It gets you a couple of days of guide data for free thanks to TiVo Basic, plus the DVD burner and the ability to do manual recordings.

Also, it gets you all the regular S2 functionality should you decide to pay the $13/mo at some point in the future.

That said, you can occasionally find an S1 for next to nothing.
posted by wierdo at 9:37 AM on March 3, 2007

I presumed that to mean a PC the OP could use non-exclusively for the task, rather than dedicating it to MCE. Perhaps I misread. If I didn't, the TiVo will be cheaper, if I did, you are correct.

BTW, the S2 with lifetime will be more than happy to show you pictures (and play DVDs in a roundabout way, since they're MPEG-2).

The TiVo will also make much less noise than a computer not specifically built to be quiet.

All that said, one of the units with TiVo Basic can be had on eBay for less than the cost of a tuner for the PC, but then you don't get the networked features, so no picture gallery, TivoToGo, TivoToComeBack, multi room viewing, etc.

Oh, and I was incredibly wrong, the Humax DVD recorder version doesn't have TiVo Basic, only the Toshiba and Pioneer units do. :(
posted by wierdo at 2:30 PM on March 3, 2007

I found that the KnoppMyth distribution made MythTV pretty simple. You just need to stick, without fail or deviation, from the hardware that's "well supported" (as told in their forums, which unfortunately you need an account to read). Within the recommended range of stuff, it's plug and play. In some ways it's even easier than using Windows, because you don't ever install drivers for anything. You install something, turn it on, and it works. Or it doesn't, in which case your best bet is to take the part back and get one that is supported out of the box.

I have a Dell econobox (Pentium IV) + PVR-150 card + StreamZap remote, and it works really well. You just need to be prepared to turn the computer you run it on into an appliance. It's when you start trying to ALSO use the computer for regular computer-ish functions that you take your life/sanity in your own hands.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 PM on March 3, 2007

what about this idea of using an old xbox? would that do what I want? (note: i am the actual original poster...sorry i couldn't check back until now)
posted by jacobsee at 12:22 AM on March 4, 2007

maybe a silly question...I always thought that I could install "Windows Media Center" software onto Windows XP without having to upgrade (downgrade?) to the Windows Media Center Edition OS. Am I wrong?
posted by jacobsee at 12:34 AM on March 4, 2007

buy a tv tuner and Sage TV

CrayDrygu: will this setup let me play back the programs on my TV or only on my PC? I guess i would still need some kind of box next to the TV to feed the video into the TV? Is that what the Sage TV extender is for?
posted by jacobsee at 1:10 AM on March 4, 2007

That would probably be what I have to do...I don't have an easy way to run a video cable from my computer to my tv, but cat 5 is already run.

so i guess my question now is what kind of extender should i get?
posted by jacobsee at 9:06 PM on March 4, 2007

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