Building a PVR the Hard Way
Jim Buzbee tries to build a notebook-based PVR using USB products from ADS - and is reminded of why he gave up on DIY projects.
Thanks for documenting your bout w/ a laptop PVR system.
I'd like to take a slightly different strategy to get closer to PVR ease of use...by, um, using a PVR. Specifically, I want to combine my Acer 1.5GHz Celeron M lappy with my DirecTivo (DSR7000) and a NAS device. I know this is cheating, but I think of the DTivo as a great dual-tuner hardware encoder (plus great built-in software, of course).
I should probably just buy a Slingbox, but I'd like to see how far I can get before I reach my frustration threshold. I have lots of questions, but I know you guys can't post enabling words for modding or disabling content protection...so I'll stop here.
Thanks for your work, Jim. It's an interesting idea.
To go on a tangent, I have been searching for ideas to make a "complete" HTPC that can pause/rewind/fastforward/record like a TiVO for all HD and analog channels for the lowest price as possible. Like many, I have cable service [with Adelphia] with all channels such as HBO, SHO, HD channels, etc. Also, like many, I have old computers just lying around collecting dust and taking up alot of space. So, I thought it would be interesting to start a project to utilize them for a better viewing experience.
My goal [at the time I thought it was modest] was to build a HTPC that can pretty much replace a TiVO, but also can do a bit more like surfing, gaming, burning, etc. So, I started to search for hardware like cases, fans, PSU, drives, and most importantly, tuner cards for PCs. [Software is probably the most important, but I wasn't there yet.] I spent many - many hours reading about building a HTPC - addressing some of the issues like heat and noice as discussed in this article.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that all the HD tuner cards were made for OTA HD channels, like CBS, NBC, etc. So essentially, I couldn't use my HTPC to get HBO, ESPN, and the like. This was, needless to say, quite disappointing. I could not justify spending approximately $1,000 to buy parts just so that I could watch/record/pause/etc less than 10 channels!?! IMHO, this defeats the purpose. I wanted more ...
Luckily [after spending many more sleepless hours], I came across a thread that discussed a method to use your digital cable box. The method was quite simple and elegant, easy enough for a novice like myself. Apparently, there was a law that required all cable companies [there is no law that applies to satellite dish providers] to proivde a firewire on their cable STB. With a proper recording software and a video player, you are good to go. This setup was even easier if you owned a Mac.
And of course, I just happened to have an iMac - G5/2Ghz. All I needed was a firewire - A to A. So, I quickly went over to a nearest computer store and purchased one for $35. I was eager to try it out.
Wow!! It was extremely easy to install and record. For installation, just plug in the firewire. For software, I needed a capture program which happened to be free [SDK22 worked fine for me]. I needed VLC, which is again free to play back the video. Apparently, there is no other player that will play m2t files. To burn your recording onto a DVD, you will need to get a converter/encorder that will convert from m2t to mpeg2/mpeg4 or whatever you desired. I haven't tried yet, so I can't comment too much about it.
Unfortunately, that was about all it can do. I could not watch live feed on the iMac. I could only record. Essentially, all I had was a recorder. However, I couldn't record every channel. The only ones that I could record were mostly free OTA channels - including in HD format like CBS and NBC. I was able to also record ESPN2 HD and all INHD channels. But, I was not able to record any of the "other" channels, like ESPN, TNT, MSNBC, HBO, SHO, etc. These unrecordable channels were coming in encrypted, and currently there is no PC unencryption key .
There are several beta programs that you can use to schedule a recording, but that is the extent of this method. There isn't much more you can do. [There is a discussion about using Quicktime or Final Cut Pro to watch live feed, but I don't know if this is yet possible.]
Quickly, I became bored. I mean it was nice to record some channels, especially in HD - btw, they look fantastic on my 20" iMac. For $35, I had a recorder, which I thought was a good deal.
As of today, there isn't more that you can do [that I know of]. So, my current project to build a "complete" HTPC has been abandoned, or better yet, postponed until there is some method to get encrypted channels on your computer. I guess there are legal issues with this, which I will not discuss here.
My final thoughts on this frustrating experience - This reminds me of the day when Windows first appeared. There was alot of discussion about its potential - multitasking, networking, etc. When Media Center appeared on the scene with computers like Vaio [and other MCE computers], I thought these computers have truely evolved into a bona fide "media center." Now that I have a chance to reflect on these developments, it was just alot of fluff and no substance. All this foreplay just got me wanting more and frustrated.
** BTW, if anyone of you out there know of a tuner/hardware/software that can legally integrate cable onto your computer, please inform me. Much appreciated!! **