Building a DVR/PVR can be a rewarding project for those who enjoy watching television and gadgets. For those who are tech savvy, this project should should be easy to complete in an afternoon. Many cable and satellite companies charge a monthly fee to rent a DVR. Building your own PVR/DVR could allow you to reduce your cable bill, as well as providing you with a more capable DVR than is commonly available from your provider.
The first decision to be made is which operating system to use. If you are familiar with UNIX or Linux, the software you need is freely available on the Internet. Windows users will need to purchase a Media Center capable version of Windows. Next, you need to analyze the physical set up. Common considerations include whether or not you have a high definition television, how many hours of video you wish to record and what type of case you need.
A high definition TV will require a higher end video card than building a DVR for a standard definition television. A HDTV will require at least a component cable output a. A High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cable will provide better picture quality and built in sound. Component Video (Y-Pr-Pb) is a 3 cable set up that will provide good HDTV picture quality, but will require an additional digital coaxial cable to output surround sound.
Recording HDTV requires more storage space than analog TV. A one terabyte drive will hold about 60 hours of high definition and 300 hours of standard definition programming. A good rule of thumb is to put as much of your budget as possible into storage. A 60 hour drive fills up pretty fast.
When choosing a case, keep in mind that any computer case will work. High end cases that look like stereo components are also available. Remember, your PVR is a computer, and needs to be properly cooled. Ensure that your PVR has proper ventilation when picking a location in your home.
At a minimum, you need a case, Random Access Memory (RAM), a power supply, hard drive, a television capture card, DVD/BD player and a motherboard. Assembling the pieces is fairly straight forward. There are designated spaces within the case for the motherboard, DVD/BD player, hard drive and power supply. The RAM and video capture card, are installed on the motherboard.
Picking the capture card requires special attention. Make sure you are buying a card that has the correct outputs for your TV. If your TV has a HDMI port, make sure that your capture card outputs to HDMI. If your TV only accepts component cables, ensure that your card outputs via component jacks.
Buy at least 2 gigabytes of RAM. This is enough memory to provide ample memory for DVR functions. This is also enough memory to allow you to browse the web if you hook your PVR up to your home network.
This is also a good time to consider adding a Blu-Ray disk player. A computer BD player is cheaper than a stand alone unit. Installation is also simplified because you are only adding one component to your home theatre set up. If you do not opt to install a BD player, you'll need to install a DVD player in your PVR.
Recent versions of Microsoft Windows have DVR capabilities. Once you install a media center capable version of windows on your newly built PVR, you need only to plug everything in and you are ready to record, watch or even pause "live" TV.
If you are a installing a Linux based operating system, you will also need to install the PVR software. Myth TV is free and easy to configure. Building a Linux based system may require some set up via command line. A fairly deep knowledge of the operating system is required to properly configure a Linux based PVR.
- Photo Credit tower computer image by Albo from Fotolia.com
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