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!

Optimize Your DTV Antenna with AntennaWeb

Posted by AfroWhitey | Home Theater & A/V | Monday 14 December 2009 1:01 pm

Lucy and Ethel feel your pain

Since moving into a new house, I have been in a constant battle with weak digital signals. I placed our over-the-air antenna in a room with a south-facing window, thinking all our local repeaters were to the south of us (a fact that was even incorrectly confirmed by my local NBC station through one of their engineers). Yet every time we wanted to watch a show on a different network than we were on, I had to trudge up to the second floor and move the old bunny ears around while my wife shouted confirmations from below. Something had to be done.

As a quick aside, it wasn’t all bad. In an email exchange with the local NBC station attempting to get them to boost their signal since theirs is the only channel we can never get, the engineer let me know that an antenna with bunny ears is the best at getting VHF signals, which are the lower channels on your TV and the stations with the lowest frequency. In my case, NBC is channel 3 and the lowest frequency in the area. Keep that in mind when choosing your antenna, bunny ears are not obsolete after all.

After countless vain attempts to get the elusive NBC on our TV so my wife could watch Biggest Loser without waiting the week that Hulu requires, I started looking at outdoor antennas, figuring all the wireless signals in our house and the thermal barriers we put around it were causing too much interference. In my searches (I’m leaning towards this one), I came across a website that has changed our TV watching forever for the good: AntennaWeb.

AntennaWeb proclaims itself as a way to “Maximize your television reception,” and maximize it does. You simply choose your antenna (or the closest match), enter your address, adjust your location for better accuracy, and it tells you what direction each local station’s signal is coming from (in degrees). I simply busted out my trusty Boy Scout compass, pointed the antenna in the exact direction stated on the website for optimum signal reception, and we now get just about every channel in the area without having to move any bunny ears.

Now, there are still many factors that go into the quality of your signal reception. The slightest change in weather can affect things as can microwaves, wireless internet, cell phones, and other similar devices, so keep that in mind when choosing the best room for your antenna. If indoors, it’s best to put it near a window as the signal passes better through windows than walls, and you’ll want it to be as high as you can get it, above any possible interferers. We sometimes even get NBC when everything feels like cooperating.

I’m still going to get the outdoor antenna, but with AntennaWeb, I can be sure where to place it and that it’s going to work. If we get most channels with an indoor antenna, we should definitely have better luck with a stronger outdoor antenna. Go ahead, try out AntennaWeb and let me know how it works in your area.

Disclaimer: This post is for informative purposes only. I am in no way involved with or a part of AntennaWeb or any possible affiliates. I have received no compensation from AntennaWeb for this post.

The Mighty AfroWhitey Will Save Your Life

Posted by AfroWhitey | Home Theater & A/V | Thursday 2 July 2009 1:59 pm

Lightning by Luke Stay

You may remember one of my earliest posts on this site, “How to Survive the DTV Switch,” but when I wrote that post, I had no idea that the DTV switch could actually be a matter of survival for some people. I was reading through my blogs the other day, when I came across this article: “Digital TV Saved a Man’s Life.” From the original article:

As of 11:15 p.m. Saturday, 69,003 Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division customers were without power. On Friday, soon after the storm blew through, more than 131,000 customers were without power.

The damages caused by the storm are easy to see at the Midtown home of 86-year-old Robert Monsarrat. […] Monsarrat hasn’t received his digital converter box yet, so instead of watching “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from his bedroom like usual, he went into the kitchen to use his only digital television.

Soon after, lightning struck a large red oak in his backyard, causing it to come crashing down on his house at Hawthorne and Peach near Overton Park. […] The tree destroyed the back of the house, including his bedroom. […] Other than a few bruises, minor cuts and a gash on his head, Monsarrat was not seriously injured.

So there you have it. By the transitive property of equality, this blog can save your life. I wrote about switching to digital television, and digital television saved that man’s life, therefore my article saved that man’s life!

Okay, maybe not, but I do hope that everyone else out there made it through the transition without any problems. I may have to upgrade our antenna because after the switch, our local digital signals don’t seem to be coming in as strong as they used to be. How about you? Did you survive the switch?

Oh, and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook! I’ll be trying to post more content such as links and shorter tips over there so it becomes a little more valuable to follow. Plus, if I get 100 or more fans, I can get a nifty new vanity url!

– Source: via Warming Glow

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