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Building Your Own Digital Video Recorder

DVR is a great idea. It let's you record TV shows like a VCR, but instead of VHS tapes, it stores video onto a hard drive. These units run about $300. You get something like 30 hours of recording and you can selectively record the TV shows you want to watch.

The DVR unit is basically a specialized computer. I figured with all the stuff out today for home computers, I could build these functions on my home computer and not have pay a monthly subscription fee or spend $300. Here is a list of things I did to get this project to work. I know many of you probably could figure this stuff out on your own.

I just wanted to share what worked for me. Here's what I started with. * Pentium III, 733mhz on Apollo Pro Motherboard with 512meg 133mhz sdram. * Sony 8x CDRW, 80gig Western Digital Hard Drive, 32meg ATI Rage Pro video.

* Windows 2000 Professional By today's standards, this is an antique computer. I've had this computer for about 5 years, but hey it still works. You could buy a system about ten times as fast as this one for like $500 now. Amazing.

Here's all you need to turn your computer into a DVR. ATI TV Wonder VE. $39 with $10 mail in rebate. I just installed the card and loaded the software. The card plugs into an open pci slot in your computer. One screw and you're done.

It's that simple. I have basic cable and plugged the cable into the back of the card. I don't think digital cable works, since the ATI tuner takes analog signals. It comes with GUIDE+, which downloads all the TV listings in your area.

You can then sort the listings by show name, channel, and times. The software GUIDE+ is great. I love just typing in the first few letters of my favorite program and GUIDE+ lists all the times and channels that show is showing.

You can also search by actor, subject, or channel. Type in "Raymond" and one of my favorite shows "Everybody Loves Raymond" is displayed with every channel, show time and a short synopsis of the episode. I click on simple record icon next to each episode I want to record. Highlighting the show gives you an episode synopsis and who's starring in it.

Really COOL! The shows get recorded to your hard drive and listed in a library folder. Each day after work or a long vacation, I just click on "Library" and it shows me all the shows it recorded while I was away. Now I can either watch these on my computer or copy them to cd and play it on my DVD player! The record quality is a little better than VHS. Remember those? Technically the shows are recorded at 480x240. When you copy this to a CDRW, it plays on your on your TV from the DVD player like any other movie you'd rent from the video store! Believe it or not, the quality is clearly better than VHS.

There are even higher quality settings, but you'll get few hours of record time and given the quality of standard TV, just a waste of hard disk space. I tried it just to see and found the quality really didn't improve that much. A 30-minute program takes about 650 Meg at a standard setting. The higher quality settings use about 1.7gig for 30 minutes.

So that's it! For around $40, I built a DVR equivalent. I burn my favorite shows to CDR, which cost about 10 cents each. I can now record the entire season of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and make my own season box sets! Applying simple math, 100 episodes will cost me about $10.

Robert Rogers is a writer in the Washington DC area. For more free tips and resources, visit his blog at Consumer Electronic Reviews


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