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.

Optional:

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!

Share Your Favorite Movie Clips Legally With MovieClips.com

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,Cool Websites | Thursday 21 January 2010 2:03 pm

Movie may not be visible in Google Reader. Please click through.

I am a big movie buff. I have a film degree and hundreds of DVDs cluttering up my house to prove it. My memories are more like scenes ripped from the big screen, full of intense action, gritty suspense, and random symbolism. They even have their own soundtrack. I am constantly using movies to describe what’s going on in my life, even using them as analogies in speeches and writing to better address a point. When I meet up with friends, it’s never long before someone is quoting lines from some movie we saw together. Needless to say, movies are an integral part of my life and if you’re anything like me, you’re going to love the new website, MovieClips.com.

The site is pretty much self-explanatory, it’s a site full of movie clips, old and new. If you’ve ever scoured YouTube looking for that one clip from that one movie to share with your friend in an email, on Facebook, or on Twitter, then this site’s for you. The beauty of this site is that its creators, Rich Raddon and Zach James, have spent countless hours negotiating with all the major studios for the right to display their content legally online. In other words, unlike YouTube, who is being sued by studios like Universal for allowing clips from their movies to be shown, clips on MovieClips.com will never be taken down for copyright infringement. You are free to share them as often as you want wherever you like.

Searching on MovieClips.com

The site is simple and highly searchable. They have armies of film buffs scouring movies daily looking for keywords to tag each clip with. They mark everything from mood, to actors, to product placement, and more. They even have a feature called “we [heart]” that contains categories such as “Awesome FX,” “Alien Attacks,” “Die Already!,” and even “”Projectile Vomiting” to aid you in your browsing.

Sharing on MovieClips.com

Sharing on MovieClips is easy. They have links to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to make sharing even easier (I should note that Facebook embedding is not available yet, but is coming soon. For now it’s just link sharing). You can also use the provided “embed” code to embed the clip right on your blog or website. This is where I think the real value will come. I could probably find an applicable clip to any post I write (so be warned), and what better way to spice up a boring post than with a movie clip, not to mention the obvious application for movie critics.

Movie may not be visible in Google Reader. Please click through.

MovieClips.com is still in beta, which means they are constantly adding new features to the site. They have most of the major studios on board, but are still working on more, so if you can’t find a movie now, chances are it’ll be there soon. They even have clips from movies still in theaters, like Avatar. If you encounter any errors with the site, be sure to report them, their customer support is great. I heard back about my issue within the same day. So check them out and share some clips with your friends, I could easily spend all day reliving my favorite movies. Below is an interview my brother, Jesse Stay (@Jesse on Twitter) did with MovieClips’ founders talking about the site.

Movie may not be visible in Google Reader. Please click through.

You can also find MovieClips on their Facebook page or on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated by MovieClips.com for this post. This is simply a site I love and think should be more widely used.

What is this Google Reader Anyway?

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,How-to | Thursday 16 July 2009 1:01 pm

google-reader20logo

Google Reader announced some new features yesterday, so I thought I’d continue the Google theme of my blog lately by breaking it down for the uninitiated. The idea of an RSS subscription manager, or reader is foreign to most internet users, but it can be very helpful, especially for mothers and estranged friends and family trying to keep up with the blogs of loved ones. What follows is my attempt to de-mystify Google Reader, using more familiar language. Feel free, as always, to leave questions in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

What is Google Reader?

Google Reader is an RSS-based subscription service and manager. I know, I’ve lost you already. Put more simply, Google Reader is a tool used to put all the blogs you check regularly in one central location. From Wikipedia:

RSS (most commonly translated as “Really Simple Syndication” but sometimes “Rich Site Summary”) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format.

Google Reader takes the “RSS feeds” (or more simply, the constantly updated content) from your favorite blogs or news sites and constantly checks them for updates, so you don’t have to go to little Billy’s model rocket page 5 times a day just to see his latest launch. You just go to your Google Reader and wait for the post to show up.

It’s a lot like having an email account for your blogs. You don’t go to a hundred different sites to get messages from your hundreds of accounts, you go to one email account and let the messages come to you. Why should it be any different with the websites you frequent? Google Reader makes that happen. You go to one place and your websites come to you.

How do I get started?

Reader Login

Getting started is as simple as logging in. Go to the Google Reader homepage here, and either use your existing Google Account to log in, or register for a new one. If you use GMail or any other Google service, you already have an account and you should use that one, for reasons I’ll explain later. After logging in, you’ll be brought to this screen:

Reader Home

Google put some helpful tips in your feed to get you started. Go ahead and read them for a quick overview of what I’m about to talk about. There’s even a video to walk you through some of it. The first thing you’ll want to do is add your favorite websites. Click “Add a Subscription,” then enter in the address of any website. I’ll use this site just as an example. Enter http://www.afrowhitey.com and click “Add.”

Add Subscription

You’ll notice “The Mighty AfroWhitey” shows up under the “Subscriptions” tab. Click on it.

Subscription

Congratulations, you are now reading The Mighty AfroWhitey from your very own Google Reader. You can customize the way you see each feed by clicking on the “Settings” link. I prefer seeing my sites as a list, and using the “Previous Item” and “Next Item” buttons to scroll through them. To do this, click on “List” in the upper-right corner of the blue box. To go back to the old view, click “Expanded.”

List View

As you add more subscriptions, you may prefer to read through all your websites in the order they posted. To do this, click on “All Items” and you’ll see all the posts from all your websites. You can then sort them by oldest or newest by clicking on “View Settings” (“Feed Settings” when in a specific subscription). “Oldest” puts the oldest posts at the top, “Newest” starts with the newest. I prefer to sort by oldest and cycle through the posts using the “Next Item” button.

Now what?

Now you’re pretty much on your own. Add whatever site you want to your reader using the “Add Subscription” button, or you can create a bookmark to add any site you’re viewing that will go in your toolbar. This can be found in the “Goodies” tab of your settings. To find out if a site is subscribable or not, check the address bar. If you see an icon next to the address that looks like a soundwave, you can subscribe and all updates will come to your reader (it’s the icon next to the star in the screenshot below).

picture-9

I suggest starting with any family or friends’ blogs and moving on to news sites or even, like the New York Times or CNN or BBC, or even ESPN. You can also subscribe to specific columns, like sports or fashion, or specific contributors a lot of the time. I keep track of my movie reviews this way. You can subscribe to Roger Ebert or my personal favorite, Peter Travers. Just look for the icon on any page you’re reading and you’ll know if it’s an option.

Bonus features (A little on the advanced side):

One of the coolest features of Google Reader is the ability to share a post with any of your Google Contacts. This means that if you think your mom will like a post, you can email it to her without even leaving Google Reader. If you look at the bottom of any post in reader, you’ll see a bunch of links: “Add Star,” “Like,” “Share,” “Share with note,” “Email,” “Keep Unread,” and “Add Tags.” “Preview” is only there because I use a program called Better GReader for some added functionality.

picture-10

“Add Star” is a way of organizing your favorite posts so you can come back to them later. You’ll notice a “Starred Items” link on the left below “All Items.” Clicking this will show you all the posts you’ve starred. You can also search all starred items by using the drop-down menu next to the search button.

“Like” is a new feature. Clicking like in Google Reader works just like it does in Facebook. Anyone who reads that post will see how many people have liked it. You can also see the individual people that liked the post. This is useful when looking for more people that share similar interests to discover more interesting blogs. Just click on the link below the title to see the individuals, then click on a name to see their shares.

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“Share” will share the post with any of your Google Reader followers. Your followers are any of your Google Contacts you’ve allowed to see your shares. To choose who sees these, click on “Sharing Settings” under the “People You Follow” tab. You can also “Share with Note” to personalize any of your shares with a little message. My shares can be found here. Go ahead and follow me if you like. I share anything from cool technology, to movie news, to funny videos.

Sharing

The rest of them are pretty self-explanatory. The most useful of which being “Email.” Click on this and you can email a post to anyone in the world. It will even auto-fill for you if you used your GMail account to login. It’s vey handy for sharing with those who haven’t yet taken the Google Reader plunge.

So there you have it. I hope I’ve de-mystified Google Reader for those who may be weary of joining. As always, leave any questions in the comments, or Twitter, or Facebook. And don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook!

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