Have you ever looked into setting your computer up to record television shows and movies? If you haven't yet or you're still paying for a TiVO type service, you're missing out.
Now I travel back and forth between Germany and the US, working in each location every other month. That's a lot of traveling and there's nothing worse than missing out on those seasonal episodes of TV series and sports games because of it. Unfortunately, I'm not fluent in German (as of yet), so German TV doesn't make the most sense to me. I also miss the variety I had in the states. (Don't ask me, but a large portion of Germany has an infatuation with a year-long showed-daily season of Big Brother. I feel trapped in the house with only German TV. The last thing I want to watch is others trapped in a house.)
So to provide myself with much-needed entertainment, I looked into building myself a Digital Video Recorder (DVR).
At first, I had large expectations and wanted to stream the TV I recorded from the states to Germany. Unfortunately the upstream capabilities are just not there yet for the standard cable or DSL user. (That's why we dream of Verizon FiOS
I then looked into how to utilize my Windows Media Center laptop to a greater degree. Unfortunately, it didn't have all the program functionality I required and I also needed a stationary desktop machine to do the recording so I digressed and found out how easy it could be done with one of my old machines.
First, I purchased a Hauppauge
WinTV PVR-150 TV tuner. Now I was a bit skeptical when I was first looking at TV tuners. It hasn't been since college that I had ever thought of hooking coax back up to my computer and back then it was because I didn't have enough money for a TV and an ISA TV tuner card ran for about $10. Now the TV tuners are much more advanced and powerful. I did not need all the functionality of the higher end PVRs and I had read nothing but great reviews for the PVR-150. The main thing is that it has a built-on hardware encoder so your computer isn't strained with the processing.
Second, the software that comes with the Hauppauge tuner is nothing spectacular. The software requires Windows Scheduler for TV scheduled recording and that's just not user friendly. So my next purchase was SnapStream
's Beyond TV after evaluating it for a 30 day trial. I also looked into SageTV
as an alternative but my personal preference leaned towards Beyond TV. Beyond TV lets me download a TV guide and setup future recordings. I would spend a few minutes going through programming what to record for the entire following week.
In addition, I use Beyond TV's web interface to setup remote recordings while I'm in Germany. I then download the shows from my computer to watch on the road. It's not streaming live video, but it'll do.
My last optional purchase was a Seagate
300 gigabyte USB hard drive. Depending on the quality you record your shows at, a 1 hour show can easily be 2-3 gigs in size. Knowing that, it doesn't take long to fill up a laptop hard drive so I needed some massive portable storage. The USB 2.0 drives now on the market are extremely versatile and quiet. I save all my recorded shows on my external hard drive, and then simply plug it into my Windows Media Center laptop and use Media Center to play the videos on the road. If you had any other normal DVD software such as WinDVD, you could use that as well.
Yesterday, to my surprise, I came across a similar scenario
written on Makezine.com. Ken Sharp explains in much greater detail how to turn an old computer into a DVR. Beyond being simply a DVR, he also explains how your computer can serve as a (streaming) music server and play console games using your console gamepads.
The approach he takes doesn't require a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. He uses all off-the-shelf products you can purchase and plug into your computer to make it a streaming, recording, playback, gaming machine.
Check it out