Home Built DVR (hardware)
TiVo has made a name for itself as the first notable DVR allowing you to time shift and record live TV. In fact, its name bares the verb for recording live TV (“Just TiVo it.”). Originally TiVo was costly and limited, including a monthly fee. Now with cable and satellite companies giving DVRs away TiVo has lost its prominence. There is a recent trend, however, for people to build their own DVR using Microsoft or Linux as the OS and using any number of DVR software packages (including MythTV). I am one such person.
I recently had a run in with a free cable provided DVR. The experience was horrible. The worst part was the fast forward feature. There were only 3 settings: slower, slow, blazing fast. The first two settings weren’t very good because it would take you all of a minute to make it through a commercial set, but the last one wasn’t very good because you would often find yourself two commercial sets away in under 10 seconds. Most DVRs will jump back a few seconds when you quit fast-forward, (because you usually hit the button right when the show starts so you need to go back a click to make sure you didn’t miss anything) not this one it actually jumps forward. It happened to me twice when I quit fast-forward I found myself on the next commercial break and missed an entire block of TV. This DVR was at my in-laws house and within 2 weeks of having it they had already filled the hard drive with recordings. Honestly my experience could not have been worse. On the flip side I built my own DVR. My setup is Ubuntu using MythTV. Fast-forwarding is a breeze, in fact, MythTV skips back, just like you would expect, but also has a feature to skip, not fast-forward, through an entire commercial break (assuming that the TV station uses standard timing). I have two hard drives and have only 200GB designated to recordings (with room to grow), I have yet to fill up this space partly because I can autoexpire episodes or limit how many episodes to keep of particular shows and I can transcode episodes after the fact to save space. A final feature is the built in MythTV server. This allows me to stream my recordings anywhere. I currently only allow it within the house, but in theory I could stream it from home to my work or that coffee shop.
That really only scratches the surface of what MythTV can do, and I am sure that other DVR software packages do the same, but this isn’t about the setup (though I am planning on redoing my MythTV over the break so perhaps I will document it) it is about the hardware. I can’t do a better job than Ars did in giving you the run down of how to get started with a home DVR. It is complete with the different setups and software as well as pricing. If you are considering setting up your own DVR system this is the place to start.