Building a PVR in 3 Or So Steps for About $200

Building a PVR in 3 Or So Steps for About $200

a.k.a.

2n's Thrifty PVR

a.k.a.

I Don't Want to Build a Whole New Bloody Computer PVR

or

What You Will (GET ON WITH IT, ALREADY!!!)

ABSTRACT:

The author shows how a thrifty and clever person can make a highly functional PVR using an existing PC and about $200 worth of components. He then thumbs his nose at the mega-geeks who have spent at least twice as much money and four times the hours putting together a whole new computer.

AUTHOR: 2n (Kenn)

THE GUIDING CONCEPT

As anyone who has ready Rampy’s “Build Your Own PVR 101″ knows, there are many ways to create a PVR along with a wide variety of costs. Rampy and probably many other members and users of BYOPVR.com tend to be interested in the high end idea of a PVR, which consists of building a whole new computer in a sexy and sleek mini case that will sit next to your television and be dedicated to the PVR experience. I, on the other hand, am a thrifty (cheap) person and have had to go to an official computer repair shop for help both of the times I tried to build a computer from scratch on my own. The whole idea of buying the parts and building a whole new computer just does not appeal to me, particularly since I have a perfectly good computer sitting in my home office that I use for important things like playing City of Heroes.

REQUIRED TECHNICAL ABILITY LEVEL:

The actual skill level required for completing this project is not very high. I would rate the difficulty of this at about a four on a scale of one to ten (one being the ability to plug in and turn on a computer and ten being the ability to assemble and configure a network for the government of an entire small nation). If you already have a decent computer, a small home network, are comfortable with installing PCI cards, can install programs, and don’t mind stringing a network cable to your living room, then I would encourage you to consider this frugal PVR option.

REQUIRED COMPONENTS:

There are five main components to this PVR setup plan:

1. Television: You must own a television and receive cable services (this is not part of the budget.)

2. Computer: You must own a fairly decent computer. If you don’t already have a computer, then you will want to go with one of the more extensive plans for building a complete PVR from scratch. You also need to have a minimal home network, since the MediaMVP is connected to your computer through a network, although a crossover cable can be used to connect directly to your computer’s network card in theory.

3. Hauppauge PVR 250: This is the TV tuner/ capture card that I use. I purchased it oem from pcalchemy for $99 (at time of this article). You could also use the following cards which might be more or less expensive: “Roslyn/Blackbird”, PVR350, PVR USB2 cards Adaptec VideOh. Provideo PV258, PV259 Leadtek PVR2000 Avermedia M150 Generic Conexant “Blackbird” based card Plextor PX-M402U Generic GO7007SB based capture device. All of these should work with the required software.

4. Hauppauge MediaMVP: The mediamvp basically is digital media receiver that hooks up to your network and handles output to your stereo and TV for digital files. The current retail price is $99, but I got mine from Circuit City with a $30 rebate, so it cost me $69. (Rampy: Shameless site sponsor plug – PC Alchemy has a pretty good price on MediaMVP’s)

5. GBPVR: This is the software that brings the system all together and does all the actual PVR tricks for you. It is a beta version that is still in development, but it is very functional and Sub, the programmer provides a great amount of support though his message boards. It is the only 3rd party software that I have found that functions through the MediaMVP and, best of all, it is free. (Rampy note: there are some resourceful folks trying to get a MythTV client wedged into the MediaMVP although I haven’t seen/tried a release yet)

OVERVIEW OF REQUIRED STEPS:

1. Installing a TV tuner/capture card with hardware assisted MPEG2 encoding

2. Connecting a MediaMVP to your television and computer

3. Installing and configuring GBPVR



STEP 1: INSTALL A TV CAPTURE CARD


The first thing that you need to do is to enable your computer to view and record tv signals. In order to do this, you need a tv tuner/capture card. I first installed a budget card, ATI’s TV Wonder VE. It was complete manure; it used too much in the way of system resources and the sound, picture and recording quality was poor. After I returned this card I acquired the Hauppauge WinTV PVR250 OEM version. It has all of the features talked about in Rampy’s PVR350 review except that it does not have a remote or TV out.



The actual installation of the card is fairly straightforward; you simply insert it into an available PCI slot, install the software, and connect a tv input cable.



Once the card is installed, your computer itself will be able to do many PVRish type things: you can record shows, schedule future recordings, watch and pause live tv, etc. But you can only do this on your computer monitor. In order to connect to your TV you must move on to… Step 2.



STEP 2: HOOKING UP THE MEDIAMVP



The MediaMVP ( MediaMVP spec sheet )
is a crucial bit of hardware that allows you to display your media (i.e. taped programs) on your television. I have written a review of the MediaMVP that goes a bit more into depth about the features of the device.



The MediaMVP is the only thing that you will need in your living room or where-ever you have your television. This is nice because it is absolutely silent and it is very small and inconspicuous. (If you were to place a computer right in the room with the television you would have to deal with the size and with all the PC related noises: fans, cpus, beeps and blips oh my!) It is a great little device that does a whole lot more than play movies; it is an all purpose media client and makes my home PC a full on media server.



In order to hook up the MediaMVP, you need to install the software provided by Hauppauge. Next, you need to run a network cable to an area near your television I went down through my basement and up through existing radiator holes. You plug the network cable in the MediaMVP and then connect the power and the RCA jacks to your television (and stereo if you wish). The MediaMVP also does S-Video output, but my TV’s sole S-Video input is being used by my DVD player. Once you have set up your software, the MediaMVP will be able to read and play your media files.







At this point, the provided MediaMVP software would allow you to play all of your recorded videos, listen to your MP3s, view picture slide-shows and even listen to Web-radio. It would not, however, allow you to pause live television or schedule recordings from the comfort of your living room. In order to do this you must move on to Step 3


STEP 3: INSTALLING GBPVR (PVR software)






GBPVR screen capture: Main Menu




The final step for this PVR solution is GBPVR. Although GBPVR is still officially a work in progress, it is a fully functional PVR program. It is also FREE! (Rampy note: as in beer)

It allows you to schedule recordings, view and pause live TV, view your recordings, listen to music (MP3 and net radio), check the weather, and view pictures. Although there are several programs that can do all of this, GBPVR has one essential feature that makes it very valuable: it can be used through the MediaMVP.






GBPVR screen captures: Video Library & Music Library





When you set the program up correctly, it replaces the Hauppauge provided server program so that the GBPVR interface shows up on your television and can be controlled with your mediamvp remote. The result of this and the last three steps is that your computer will do the dirty work for the PVR process, but it can be controlled and viewed on your television though the MediaMVP/GBPVR combo.






GBPVR screen captures: Scheduling Recording & TV Guide




The setup for GBPVR consists of downloading, installing, and configuring the software. The configuration of the program is a bit less user friendly than you might be used to if you have used only commercial software, but it much more straightforward and better documented than a lot of other "free" software I’ve tried before.

When it is properly configured, this program handles just about every step of the PVR process from downloading your local listings to scheduling season recordings, and it keeps getting better every revision! There are a few things that occasionally glitch; for example pausing live TV occasionally causes the program to crash for me, but the discussion board on the site is very active and has solved all of my small issues so far. Once your have set up this program, then your PVR setup is complete and ready to go!


CONCLUSION





On screen display while viewing a program




I have been using the Thrifty PVR solution for three months now. There is no doubt that it would be cool to have a super-sleek dedicated PVR computer sitting next to my DVD player under my television, but I just don’t have the money or patience to put one together.






Video library screen on the TV




With this setup I have a fully functional media solution that allows me to record and view my favorite shows (Family Guy), set up a MP3 jukebox though my stereo for parties, show slideshows of my vacation pictures to bored friends on my TV, and even check my local weather forecast in the morning.

Overall, the resulting PVR is highly functional and easy to use, and the fact that I didn’t have to put out $500 for the setup adds to my overall enjoyment.


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