The digital video recorder, more popularly known as the DVR, has been around for quite some time now. When DVRs hit the market, they gave users the freedom to record video without having to be bound by physical media such as VCRs (remember those?). However, they also carry several constraints which can be rather difficult to side-step when you buy such a device. This is why we focused on How to Build a Custom DVR with Your PC in today’s How To BurnWorld Guide. We sought to teach you how to successfully build your own Custom DVR with nothing more than a PC, a capture card, and dedicated DVR software.
Some may argue that the procedures described below are expensive. However, they don’t have to be. In fact, the PC you already own may provide most of the necessary equipment for this How to Build a Custom DVR with Your PC guide to work. You should also consider the cost of an alternative such as TiVo or renting a subscription DVR from your television service provider. You pay a subscription service to the manufacturer’s just to store video on this box. Both of these alternatives come at a high cost. In the long run, these alternatives prove far more expensive than re-purposing a desktop computer and investing in DVR software.
Step 1: The Computer
First off, you need a PC to refashion into your custom DVR. You could use a laptop or a Mac. But, desktop PCs are both more customizable than either option. Just how powerful your computer needs to be depends entirely on your needs. If you plan on watching HD programs or Blu-ray quality material, you will need a machine with a hard drive that can handle such large file sizes. Here are the tech specs that you should consider when deciding on what kind of computer to use:
- The processor. You definitely won’t need a state-of-the-art CPU to watch video. Most CPU’s from the past three or four years should suit the needs of this machine just fine (provided your processor can run a contemporary OS). If it’s in good enough shape to run Windows 7 or 8, the part should be adequate.
- The HDD. Given the amount of space that high definition quality video files take up, you might consider investing in a large HDD. Hard drive prices became ultra affordable in recent years (despite a setback following the disaster from the flooding in Japan). I highly recommend you spring for at least a 1 Terabyte capacity HDD. Also, make sure the HDD runs off of a SATA connection (for the fastest read/write speeds) and runs at a speed of 7,200.
- The RAM. Once again, you don’t need the most up to date PC in terms of 2014 standards. Two GB of RAM (which happens to be the requirement for the 64 bit version of Windows 7/8) should suffice for running a proper DVR computer. With that being said, having four GB of RAM wouldn’t hurt when the system multi tasks between running video playback software and other operations running in the background.
- Video card + power supply. In years past, PC owners would need expensive video cards to run high quality videos on their computer. That’s just not the case nowadays. Most video cards built into the processor or motherboard can more than adequately play 1080 p video in full 3D (provided you own a 3D television). However, to make this computer a true DVR, you will need to purchase a separate video with a built in TV tuner. You will know if the video card has a tuner because it will have a coaxial input from your cable box or antenna. Compare the latest releases on the video card market, then shop for an adequate power supply, too, since powerful cards do gobble up a lot of power. There are many free online tools to help you calculate the amount of power your supply needs to be able to generate.
Step 2: The video card
Since you’re buying a new video card, make sure that it’s ready for digital, i.e. that it takes MPEG-2 transport streams in DBV and ATSC. Older models only accept an analog signal which is not really useful nowadays. Most programing is broadcast entirely in digital. With this card, you’ll be able to record two programs simultaneously. Luckily, installing them is very easy, since most models are PCI Express. That means you’ll need to insert the card into the correct slot in your the PC’s motherboard. Then, screw it in to secure it into place. Alternatively, you can opt for a plug-and-play video capture card which connects through a USB port.
Step 3: The DVR software
There’s a wide range of options at your disposal in terms of DVR software. You can choose to download a free program online, or simply use the native program that your video card includes. In terms of the best options for your particular needs, that will all depend on your operating system. For Lynux, there’s Freevo, SageTV and MythTV. SageTV, though not free, boasts the advantage that it is also compatible with Windows. Other Windows options include BeyondTV and GB-PVR. Mac users can try EyeTV or EvolutionTV. Ultimately, you could run your custom DVR via Windows’ own Media Center. Media Center is a promising option as Microsoft sells a separate tuner remote to control the software without having to get up from the sofa.