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Those monthly fees are killing me smalls!

37668122You cut the cable bill to get away from those monthly fees, right? While the very slick Tivo Bolt over-the-air DVR is cool — they want $15 month for the scheduling info. My approach requires some hardware — nothing exotic really, and needs a $20 ANNUAL subscription to http://www.schedulesdirect.org/. This post aims to explain how an average Joe or Jane with more time than money and some basic computer chops can create a homebrew dvr that has a high spouse approval factor. Meaning: something that works and does not blow the mind of people who just want things to be like they used be … without the VCR flashing 12:00.

Prerequisites:

  1. You’ll need a good tv signal from an antenna, plus multiple channel tuners. I get this done with my antenna setup and the

    If you are just playing with old XP era hardware from the scrap heap to see if this works, let me save you some time. What you will find is that it will kinda work, not perform as well as it could, and might be a time vampire as you chase down problems and workarounds. It’s best to plan your hardware around linux-friendly (and mythtv friendly) components.

    HDHomeRun Connect. My house has both coax and ethernet run throughout — so for live viewing the actual TVs are hooked directly to the antenna to use their own tuners BUT the signal that feeds the “DVR” computer is connected from the attic antenna to the HRHomeRun device via ethernet cables.

  2. You need a computer that you can install linux on that has hdmi out on the video card (ATI/AMD or NVIDIA, with NVIDIA preferred.)
    • 2.0 Ghz x86 or x86_64 Processor (2+ cores, more is better)
    • 4GB MB of system memory (RAM)
    • At least a 500 gigabyte drive for the system and storage of HD material (more is better)
    • nVidia Graphics Card (I like the GT218 [GeForce 210] – which is silent AND supports the VDPAU standard
    • Remote control of the computer. I’ve used Microsoft Media Center Edition remotes with good success.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Build a “Mythtv” Linux PVR for Recording TV shows  

Recently I built a linux computer (chock full of hard drives) to be the always-on server “back end” chugging away in the basement recording TV shows — and I have others smaller computers around the house that work great as client “front ends” for connecting to the server and playing the TV shows stored there. This is your “advanced” setup — you may want to start with something easier. For many years we used just one computer as a “combo” recording (backend) and playback (frontend) machine that would sleep and wake-up when it was time to record a show. AMD or Intel — both work, and it’s ideal to use a multi-core CPU if one computer is doing both the recording and playback.

hvr2250-contents-diagram-b

For many years I used to build my mythtv boxes around Hauppauge TV tuner cards that needed an infrared blaster gizmo to switch the channel on the cable box –  this was a kluge.

connect-diagramI started using SiliconDust HDHR tuners a while back– and I heartily recommend going this direction for your TV signal. Whether you use a CableCard model or the HDHR Connect with your antenna (for 1080p digital TV over-the-air), the digital TV arrives at your computer though your Ethernet port, ready to be stored and played back, without a lot of fuss. As I was doing research for this post I found the following detailed instructions here: http://gedakc.users.sourceforge.net/display-doc.php?name=pvr-mythtv-hdhomerun and here  http://gedakc.users.sourceforge.net/display-doc.php?name=pvr-install-mythbuntu1404. After reading Gedak’s how-to I almost scrapped mine … but I think I can add value by cutting through the technobabble, mystery and fear.

What it looks inside the modified Ikea TROLWÅNGR cabinet

computer, roku, xbox, wii all tied into speakers and the TV using a Sony STR-D530 HDMI Receiver

Computer, Roku, Xbox, Wii all tied into speakers and the TV using a Sony STR-D530 HDMI Receiver.

So the goal is clear. You want to record the tv signal — maybe more than one show at a time — and be able to play back the shows using a computer. Now it’s time to talk about linux a little bit. People who have never used linux are sometimes afraid of it. WHY? I DON’T GET IT. These same people have been held hostage and tortured by Microsoft for so long they have developed Stockholm Syndrome. Are they afraid linux will make them look stupid? What could be more insulting than the treatment of buggy, blue screen, crash prone, expensive Windows? And linux is free so there is no financial risk. So today, you get over it and try something new and fantastic that has a learning curve, but works great and is well-documented.

The system and the software — all together for you to install on a disk

The program Mythtv has been around a while. The first time I tried to build a computer to use it in 2004 … it was not pretty. But that was what, 12 years ago? Since the early days things have gotten a TON better. Now you can simply download a boot-able disc image or USB stick image that will walk you through the installation process — and leave you with a working system. HOWEVER, you must understand some fundamentals about computers. Assess your computer building know-how and stamina. Can you change boot order settings in the bios or is that making your eyes glaze over? Does downloading a torrent of a ISO file and writing it to an optical disc or USB stick sound too hard for your soft skill set? Will you lose your shit if asked to open a terminal window and enter some command line commands? If yes, maybe this project is not for you. On the other hand, if you don’t want to be part of the clueless, can’t fix anything generation, then I welcome you. The water is fine. There are enough clues in this post for the brave to get started … then in PART 2 we will dive deeper into the hardware choices. Meanwhile, get your head straight. Stop letting Microsoft and Apple rule your life. Don’t buy another black box that hoovers your money into the clouds. C’mon Man!