How To Turn Your Computer Into a DIY DVR

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,Home Theater & A/V,How-to | Tuesday 21 August 2012 10:30 am

Windows Media Center DIY DVR

This post has been on the back burner for a while. I didn’t want to post about it until I had actually done it myself, and it took me a bit to get all the necessary components. That said, once you have everything you need, it’s very simple to set up.

You’ll need:

  • A Windows Computer – Any computer built within the last few years should be plenty fast to use as a DVR. You’ll want it to have plenty of hard drive space (to store all your recorded TV), and any Windows newer than XP (Vista Home Premium, Vista Ultimate, or Windows 7). I used Windows 7 on a 3-year-old computer with 500GB of hard drive space.
  • A TV/Monitor – Anything that will connect to your computer is fine. Most flat-panel TVs have VGA inputs these days.
  • An HD Antenna, or a cable subscription – Most cable subscriptions these days come with DVRs, so chances are anyone reading this is looking to cut the cord and take advantage of the free over-the-air broadcast networks. Just about any Digital TV Antenna will do, it all depends on how far you are from your local repeaters. I use an outdoor antenna to minimize signal interference. Check out this article to know where to point it for best reception.
  • A TV Tuner card – Just about any card will do, unless you have cable (then you’ll need to make sure it’s a Cable Card). This article will help you pick the one that’s right for you. I used this one, it has a dual tuner, which allows me to watch/record 2 shows at once with a single connection.


Logitech Harmony Remote for DIY DVR

  • An Xbox 360 – If you don’t want to put an unsightly computer in your TV room, or if you just want an easier-to-use interface than a keyboard and mouse, you can network your DVR-PC and stream it to your Xbox 360. This is how I’m set up, although my computer is still connected to the TV so we can watch Hulu on our TV without paying for Hulu Plus.
  • A Universal Remote – Let’s face it, using a keyboard and mouse while lounging on the couch is cumbersome. Most TV Tuner cards come with a remote, but do yourself a favor and get a remote that will do it all for you. Logitech has some very easy-to-set-up remotes in their Harmony line. I use the Logitech Harmony One (pictured above) and it simplifies things not only for my less-tech-savvy wife, but also for guests that visit. They just pick up the remote, push “Watch TV,” and the remote does the rest.

Windows Media Center Logo

The Setup:

The first thing you’ll need to do is install the TV Tuner Card in your PC. This may be as simple as plugging a USB card into the slot, or as complicated as opening your computer and plugging a card into an open PCI slot. Either way, I’m confident just about anyone can handle it, just follow the instructions that come with your card. There may be some drivers to install, but the instructions should walk you through that as well.

Next, connect your antenna or cable to the appropriate jack on the back of your card. You can then either install the TV software that came with your card, or use the built-in Windows Media Center. I use Windows Media Center because it’s necessary if you want to stream to an Xbox 360, but I found the WinTV software that came with my card very easy to use. Another advantage to the WinTV software was that I could program and watch my DVR from anywhere in the world through the internet. I haven’t figured out how to do that through Windows Media Center, though it may be possible.

Here are directions for setting up Windows Media Center on Vista, and here are directions for setting it up on Windows 7 (As of the date this post was written, Media Center is not supposed to be included in Windows 8, but there is supposedly a way to add it after the fact through a Windows upgrade). It’s a relatively straightforward, automated process. You can set it to download any graphics that pertain to your media, such as album or movie covers, tell it where to store your recorded TV, and even to only record new episodes of a series. Those articles also contain links to walk you through setting up your Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender, allowing you to use any Xbox 360 controller/remote to control your DVR.

That’s it! The computer will scan for available channels on its own and you are then ready to enjoy your new DIY DVR. You can pause live TV, record all new episodes in a series, and anything else you can do with just about any other DVR. You can add multiple TV tuners to the same computer and record multiple shows at once. My tuner is a dual tuner, so I’m able to record/watch 2 shows at once, so if I add another identical tuner, I’ll be able to record/watch 4 shows at once.

I hope this helps anyone who has ever considered setting up their own DVR. As always, feel free to ask me any questions here, or on Facebook, or Twitter. I’d love to hear your success stories or even pictures of your setups!

How to Enable Emoji Emoticons in iOS 5

Posted by AfroWhitey | How-to | Friday 15 June 2012 10:00 pm


Look, all the cool kids are doing it, even Jeff Winger. Everyone likes emoticons, except maybe the terrorists, and in iOS 5 you don’t even need to download an app to get them. They’re built right into the Keyboard Settings. Here’s how to enable them:

  1. Tap Settings > General > Keyboard
  2. Tap InternationalKeyboards
  3. Tap Add New Keyboard
  4. Locate and tap Emoji

Once emoji is enabled, you can access the emoji keyboard by tapping the globe icon to the right of the space bar: Globe icon

So there you go. It works on any iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch running iOS 5. Once you access the emoji keyboard, tap around the icons at the  bottom and explore a little. You can also swipe left or right to access more pages of the smiley goodness.

Why Emoji? Like a lot of the cool stuff we have in America, it came from Japan. It’s their term for the emoticons or picture characters they use in their text messages, emails, and web pages. From Wikipedia, “Originally meaning pictograph, the word literally means e ‘picture’ + moji ‘letter’. ”

 Source: Apple

How to Set a Secure Password

Posted by AfroWhitey | How-to | Thursday 7 June 2012 10:25 am


With the recent increase of hacking among some of the major sites we use daily, including LinkedIn, there’s never been a better time to take a look at the way we come up with our passwords. The most important thing is that they are secure, but it also makes our lives a lot easier if we can remember them.

My brother recently wrote an article with some tips for setting passwords. His main point was a great one, use different passwords for every website you use. That way, if/when a website is hacked, you only have to change your password on one site, rather than every one you visit. A couple of his other points are below, but head over and read the entire article for some more tips.

  • Make it more than just a word and numbers. Make it a sentence, preferably with letters, spaces, numbers, and even non-alphanumeric numbers (like $ and * and others).
  • Keep it at least 10 characters long – if you take my above recommendation, that should be easy because sentences are easy to remember.
  • Another school of thought is to use a service that randomizes your passwords for you, so that you never know what they are. They are all managed by algorithms within that service. I have never used any of these services, so I cannot vouch for them, but one LifeHacker writer swears by them. In his article he explains this school of thought and provides a few recommendations for services.

    The Only Secure Password is the One You Can’t Remember

    Whichever method you use, it’s always important to keep your passwords personal. Do not write them on post-its or give them to anyone you don’t trust. If you take your computer in to be serviced and they ask you for your passwords make sure it is one that will not give them access to anything they don’t need access to. Always change it as soon as you get it back and beware of companies that ask you to write down your password on publicly available forms.

    I’m hoping to get this site back up and running regularly, so feel free to contact me using the links on the left with any questions you may have.

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