DVD Drives

Building Computer-based DVR (PVR) Systems

Copyright 2010 by Stephen Vermeulen
Last updated: 2010 Nov 27
Flash Memory Drives

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Home Built Systems

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs, also called PVR or Personal Video Recorders) can be built from a moderately powerful home computer, typically equipped with a TV Tuner card and a DVD drive.

There is a procedure for doing this using MythTV on Ubuntu Linux, see this guide for the process. While this worked for me, the installation was quite long and in the end had a frame rate of about 2-3 fps. I thought this might be due to the video card drivers, but installing the ATI drivers resulted in a non-working system.

MythDora, a Fedora based distro that eases the installation of MythTV

Knoppmyth, a MythTV focused distro based on Knoppix. The installation of this (release 5F1) worked quite well, very little user input was required and the installation proceeded quite a bit faster than the Ubuntu installation. In the end the system worked and appears to be running at a correct frame rate (this is on a dual 400MHz Celeron system - the old ABIT BP6 motherboard with 256MB RAM, an ATI Radeon 9250 and an Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150 card).

Using Windows 2000 Pro one can do the same sort of thing, perhaps using SageTV or Beyond-TV. Just using the WinTV PVR software on my old BP6 box I was able to view TV (both in a window on the desktop and in full screen mode) and record to disk with about 50% CPU utilization on both processors without any issues. I was able to use windows media player to play a recorded show at the same time as WinTV was showing live TV, at this point both CPUs were at near 100% and the media player was missing the occasional frame. With this configuration playing YouTube videos in a browser worked fine, but playing them in full screen mode was missing frames. Obviously this is asking a lot of the ABIT BP6, a motherboard that was produced in mid-1999, but it serves as a useful bench mark, it looks like a single processor 1GHz unit should be fine for a PVR, and your typical (2007) low end 3GHz type chip should have no issues with this task.

  • 2010-Nov-27: Possible wireless keyboards for a DVR include these units from BTC: BTC 9019URF and BTC 9029 (specs here). The remote keyboard from Microsoft is also a possibility, but it's even larger! This is a product niche that manufacturers seem to have missed. The point of a media center keyboard is that it is primarily a pointer control device (so needs a trackball or touch pad integrated with it), secondarily a remote control replacement (so it needs some dedicated keys for volume, mute, play, pause, channel up/down) and a distant third a text entry device. You're not going to compose novels on this thing, just edit program titles for videos burnt to disk and enter URLs to search the web and do YouTube, so a full sized keyboard is not important. A small thumb board like design (such as on a PDA) might well be just the ticket, then the whole think could be a 3x6 inch device instead of taking up half the couch! Brando has introduced (late 2008) a hand-sized, back-lit, wireless, mini-keyboard which would be perfect for an HTPC application - except it does not include a pointer control. Brando does sell this keyboard which is a bit larger and includes a trackball, but does not have illumination. Engadget asks its readers What's the best wireless keyboard for the living room? The Fly Mouse is a small keyboard (exactly how small is difficult to say) that includes a built in gyroscope so it can also be waved in the air as a mouse pointer controller. The iPazzPort is a small keyboard with an integrated multi-touch control pad. IOGEAR will be selling some wireless keyboards with integrated trackballs that should be good for HTPC applications. [1991]
  • 2010-Sep-07: Boxee Box will have a remote control with a QWERTY keyboard. [9367]
  • 2010-Mar-11: MSI will be selling the Air Keyboard a wireless keyboard that uses motion sensors to control the mouse. One article says it is 14.2 x 8.8 inches, which is a lot larger than the photos of it look. [9015]
  • 2010-Mar-05: The Rii Mini Wireless Keyboard combines both a small keyboard and a touch pad for mouse control in a small format that makes sense for the home theatre PC. It is about the size of a larger remote control. [8992]
  • 2009-Dec-28: At the end of 2009 Lenovo started selling an oddly shaped RF wireless mini keyboard (model 57Y6336with built in trackball and multimedia controls. This looks like it might be a good design for the HTPC system. [8873]
  • 2009-Nov-26: A new Wireless USB Keyboard and Touchpad has started appearing on a number of gadget merchant sites. Brando has it for $60. This could make a very nice HTPC remote control device. A review of it is here. [8797]
  • 2009-Nov-23: Microsoft's Windows 7 Media Center now supports digital cable tuners, so if you have CableCARD you can record on your PC. [8790] [1]
  • 2009-Aug-27: Cable companies in North America are starting to move away from analog cable, this could make things more difficult for users of home built computer DVR systems. [8433]
  • 2009-Jun-17: A couple of wireless keyboards with some mouse pointing support were shown at Computex'09: the Lazy pad from E-LEAD and the Air Keyboard. [8157]
  • 2009-Jun-11: Brando is selling a wireless HTPC keyboard with an integrated trackpad. Only problem with it is that it is full-sized so would be rather large to leave on the coffee table by the couch. Its a pity they don't make a trackpad version of their tiny keyboard with trackball, which at about 8 inches wide, is more appropriately sized. [8131]
  • 2009-Feb-11: The LBA-D300 Bluetooth mini-keyboard from LG is intended to give you a portable QWERTY keyboard for use with a cell phone, but maybe this could also be used with an HTPC? Its a pity it does not include a pointing device as well. [7555] [1]
  • 2008-Oct-03: Brando has introduced a very small keyboard which with two changes would be great for a HTPC or PVR. It needs to be wireless (preferably using radio not infrared) and it needs to have a built in pointer control, such as a trackball, pointer stick or touch pad. They have now added another keyboard which includes a trackball and uses radio wireless. [6913]
  • 2008-Jul-26: Sandberg has a rather large wireless (2.4GHz radio) keyboard with integrated touch pad . They also make this rather odd looking PC Remote which is an infrared connected mouse. [6586]
  • 2008-Jul-11: Engadget discusses how to archive DVDs, with to many means ripping them to a large hard drive and compressing them to a more space efficient format (like H.264). [6504]
  • 2008-Jun-28: Schedules Direct is a non-profit organization that provides US and Canadian TV listings in XML form for about $20/year. They have a listing of DVR media player type packages that can use their schedule data. [6457]
  • 2008-Jun-15: Slashdot discusses options for wireless keyboards. [6342]
  • 2008-Jun-12: The various MythTV specific Linux distributions. [6329]
  • 2008-May-29: AnandTech looks at building a home theatre PC in 2008. One goal for this is to be controlled via a web browser from some other wireless device (like an iPhone). [6257]
  • 2008-May-28: A very small Bluetooth keyboard from I-O Data. Too bad it does not have a built-in mouse substitute (such as a touch pad) because if it did it might make a good PVR input device. [6250]
  • 2008-May-08: The Sony PS3 could become a good DVR machine. Their dual tuner add-on called PlayTV is due for release in Europe in Sept'08 for $160. You'll need a PS3 ($399) and also need to upgrade the hard drive to something in the 200GB plus range for another $150 or so for a total of about $700. [6075]
  • 2008-Mar-12: The Logitech diNovo Mini Bluetooth keyboard and mouse emulator is finally shipping, a cute but rather expensive small wireless keyboard for a home theater PC system. There are a number of less expensive alternatives including: a wireless RF keyboard with joystick and this Adesso WKB-4000US [5263] [1]
  • 2008-Jan-06: Logitech's diNovo Mini is a small keyboard with built in mouse support that communicates over Bluetooth for media center control, a demo of it is was here. [4585]
  • 2007-Oct-09: Via's vm7700 is a compact computer built into a case that can bolt onto the back of any standard VESA type LCD monitor. The screws that hold the the PC in place actually go all the way through it, which makes mounting it to the back of the monitor very easy. Now that this approach has been publicized I would expect to see some other third party case manufacturers start making similar boxes. One potential application of this sort of thing would be as a DVR PC, allowing the PC and all its cables to easily be hidden behind a large flat panel TV system. [3047] [1]
  • 2007-Sep-17: A source for wireless keyboards, still most are a bit on the large side for use with a DVR. [2141]
  • 2007-Sep-10: The free TV guide service that Zap2it Labs provides that MythTV uses is being shut down, a replacement service is being worked on and may initially start at $15 for 3 months. More discussion of this issue on Slashdot. [586]
  • 2007-Aug-28: A Linux.com article comparing the three MythTV distros: Mythdora, Mythbuntu and KnoppMyth, gets discussed here on Slashdot. [595]
  • 2007-Aug-28: Rather than burning shows to DVD for storage one might consider recompressing from MPEG2 to DivX and storing them on a hard drive or as files on a data DVD. [594]
  • 2007-Aug-28: WikiPedia has an article on Digital Video Recorders that has references for most of the current packages [593]
  • 2007-Aug-28: CTpvr, another commercial PVR package [592]
  • 2007-Aug-28: MediaPortal is an open source PVR package [591]
  • 2007-Aug-28: Got All Media, a free PVR package [590]
  • 2007-Aug-28: ReplayTV makes a PC-based PVR version [589]
  • 2007-Aug-28: ShowShifter, is another commercial PVR software product [588]
  • 2007-Aug-28: GB-PVR is a free PVR software project for Windows. [587]

Commercial Systems

For commercial systems see: DVR, PVR and DVD Recorders.

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