Well, for sometime now I have been working on building a DVR from a computer. After several months I am finally at a point where I consider the project done, and I have decided to post a how-to so that others can build one of their own and hopefully bypass a few of the pitfalls that I hit and benefit from my time Googling.
I chose to build my DVR using MythTV, a Linux DVR platform, and specifically I used the KnoppMyth version. Why didn't I use Windows Media Center? Well, I'm a big fan of the open source movement, and KnoppMyth offers a wide variety of features for free. Several co-workers have pointed out that I could have saved a lot of time and money by either buying a Tivo for about $100 at Best Buy, or paying an extra few bucks a month and get a DVR through my cable company. I chose to build my own because it has a lot more functionality than you basic DVR. I also have the ability to rip my music collection to it as well as my DVD collection. It has a screen that shows me the weather for my area, as well as a feed reader. Since its open source there are many add ins for everything you could desire. I also have the ability to link several of then together (which I plan to do) so that I can stream shows to different rooms in the house. Not to mention the fact that since it is a standard computer I can continue to upgrade it as much as I want. Also, I have no monthly fees so I could rationalize a little more up front cost.
This is the first of a several part post to walk through the setup and configuration settings I used for my setup of KnoppMyth. Hopefully it will help others through the problems I encountered along the way.
In this first post I would like to list the spec's for my setup and a few of the requirements that you should take care of before getting started.
The computer I am using is a Compaq Presario SR1910NX I picked up at CompUSA for $200. The general specs are as follows:
- Motherboard: Asus A8N-LA
- Processor: Sempron (P) 3200+ 1.8 GHz
- Chipset: GeForce 6150 LE
- Memory: 512 MB
- Storage: 120 GB SATA 3G
- Media: CD Writer DVD Combo
- Sound: Integrated
- Network: Integrated 10/100 NIC
There are no particular reason I picked this computer to use. I actually bought it to use for a web server, but reallocated it towards this project instead. The one thing you should steer clear from is a VIA chipset. Most of them just don’t seem to work with the software.
The rest of the default specs are fairly standard, but feel free to view the link above to get all of the other specs. To turn the computer into a DVR I added several other hardware pieces. The first necessary component is a TV tuner card. I wanted to be able to record two shows at once, or watch one show and record one so I got the PVR 500 by Hauppauge. This is a dual analog tuner built onto one PCI card which I purchased from NewEgg for $144.98 including shipping. I chose it for the fact that it would only use one expansion slot in my computer. One problem I ran into with this card is that Hauppauge had recently switched it to use a Samsung chip which apparently poorly affected the video quality from previous versions. Thankfully I found a patch that corrected the video issue and I am happy with the quality now. From my research the single turner version, the PVR150 does not cause the same video issues as the PVR500, but I have not used it.
The next necessary addition was a video card. The computer did have integrated video, but with only VGA out. I added a card with both svideo out and DVI out. I currently have a 42 inch widescreen HD TV that the DVR is hooked up to. I am only connected to it by svideo at the moment, but I would eventually like to switch it over to the DVI. The card I got is an NVIDIA Geforce 6200LE 256MB (128MB on board) made by BioStar with a PCI Express interface. I also got this from NewEgg for $41.98 including shipping. I was very happy with the card as it worked right out of the box without much of any configuration. One thing I learned purchasing this product is to look at how many MBs are on board. As you can see this card says it has 256MB. If you look closer you will find that it only has 128MB on board and it uses system memory for the rest.
The last piece of hardware I added was a remote. The remote I bought was the Streamzap PC remote from Streamzap Inc. This remote connects to the computer via USB and worked out of the box. I bought this remote from Provantage for $29.58 including shipping.
This is currently my entire hardware setup. There are two spots where I would have made modifications and plan to in the future. The first is more memory. In my opinion it would be best to have at least 1GB and I plan to go ahead and just add another 1GB once I find a good deal on it. This will give me a total of 1.5GB of memory. When I am recording I can see that memory usage is maxed so I think the system would benefit from more memory. The second thing I would modify is the storage space. I currently have 120GB. This is fine, but I have to make a point of getting shows deleted promptly. I think it would be best to have 250GB. With this amount I don't think anyone would have very may problems unless they are ripping a lot of music and movies to their system. I plan to add more storage space sometime, but it isn't a major priority.
The last thing I would like to eventually add is a HD over the air tuner so that I can record my local channels in HD. These run about $100 and I will post more specifics about this once I pick one up and get it installed.
The last thing I want to go over are a few pre-installation things that need to be done. The first is to download and burn the iso for the KnoppMyth install. The current version which I am using is R5D1. Download it and burn a bootable installation cd.
The second thing you will want to do is sign up for an account on the forums for KnoppMyth. I received a lot of help from the users there that was very valuable. The other place with very helpful information and how-tos is the Wiki. These two places provide extensive information for setting up a KnoppMyth system.
The last thing you will need do to is sign up and configure you account on Zap2it Labs. This is the account your system will use to get its TV listings. I don't specifically remember what the sign up process is as it has been a long time since I filled it out, but I don't recall any issues. There is a how-to on the Wiki about installing that references using the code 'TGYM-ZKOC-BUTV' so you may need it, but I don't recall.
That's about it for now. Next time I'll walk through the basics of handling the install and point out the areas where I ran into some troubles.