Free TiVo: Build a Better DVR out of an Old PC (Page 1 of 4)
Categories: Homebrew & DIY
Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) have become a necessary luxury over the last several years. Millions of people rely on these devices to pause and rewind live television, and to keep track of broadcast schedules and record programs for them. Many consider them just as essential to their daily lives as their cell phones.
Several months ago, I finally became sufficiently jealous of the millions of DVR owners to motivate me to put a DVR in my own living room. But I wanted something more versatile than a normal TiVo, ReplayTV, or Ultimate TV system. I envisioned an all-purpose media server that would function as a full DVR, but would also work as a music server and play console games. It would have an easy remote-control interface, just like a commercial DVR, and a way to program it through the internet. Finally, I wanted to avoid the monthly fees that many DVR owners pay to keep their machines' schedules up-to-date.
I earn a living as a computer engineer, so I understand how long it can take to write custom software. So, in order to build my dream machine as quickly and easily as possible, I wanted to use only off-the-shelf software and components. I knew this was all possible, and after a month of research and a few late nights of construction, I had my custom DVR box. It works just as I'd hoped and does even more. For instance, it streams music over the internet, so I can listen to my music collection from work (or anywhere else).
Here's how I did it.
- Windows machine with at least 256MB of RAM (512MB is better), plenty of hard drive space, and a good video card.
- TV and receiver presumably from your existing home theater system).
- TV card I used a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250 card, $149 at hauppauge.com.
- PC DVR software I used BeyondTV, which was bundled with the Hauppauge card, but is available from SnapStream separately for $70 at snapstream.com.
- WinDVD I already had an old copy of this from my video card, but it's $50 from intervideo.com.
- Winamp The standard Windows MP3 player, free at winamp.com.
- VNC Remote PC access software, free at realvnc.com
- SlimServer Lets your server stream music remotely through the internet, free at slimdevices.com.
- Various game emulators Run console game ROMs, many free ones listed at zophar.net.
- Playstation or Nintendo game controllers These work much better than PC gamepads for the price, and are available lots of places for $15 and up.
- PSX/N64 to USB converter Lets you use console gamepads on the PC, $13 each at lik-sang.com.
- Girder Automation software, $20 at promixis.com
- Cygwin and server software Linux-like operating system, free at cygwin.com.
- Dynamic DNS service Lets you connect to your home server using a fixed domain name if your broadband account allocates your IP address dynamically. I got this from dyndns.org.