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Television Media Hardware

Building A Low-Budget TiVo Substitute? 743

thepuma writes "Since I'm cheap, and don't want to pay monthly fees to Tivo, I am researching building my own low-budget Personal Video Recorder and player. Free software options include Freevo and MythTV. Hardware options are the main cost factor. How would you go about building the perfect low-budget PVR?" We've looked at similar questions before, but the guts of such a system (both hardware and software) have been improving -- MythTV, for instance, now supports Hauppauge's PVR-350 card. How would you build a system like this now?
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Building A Low-Budget TiVo Substitute?

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  • I have a Myth box (Score:5, Informative)

    by SirTwitchALot ( 576315 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:34PM (#7683056) Homepage Journal
    I use myth (mainly because it supports live tv while freevo doesn't.) It's a decent program, but still somewhat buggy. I find it crashes on occasion, and compiling can be a nightmare at times. With a fast processor (I have an Athlon XP1800) you can easily encode and decode without having to use a hardware mpeg card. The setup process is somewhat painful, and sometimes confusing. I think Myth is great for a DIY'er, but not ready for a consumer solution.
    • Re:I have a Myth box (Score:5, Informative)

      by Darth Maul ( 19860 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:54PM (#7683342) Homepage
      I have a myth box (had it for over half a year) and don't find it buggy or hard to setup at all! I'm impressed with the quality of the software. It's only nearing a 0.13 release and it's already quite mature.

      The important thing for me is that the WAF is high (wife acceptance factor). We're almost never home so to be able to watch whatever we want whenever is a real plus. And she really loves the image gallery feature.

      IMHO MythTV rules.

      • Re:I have a Myth box (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AKnightCowboy ( 608632 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:47PM (#7684011)
        The important thing for me is that the WAF is high (wife acceptance factor).

        I guess my WAF is pretty high. I wanted to take mine down to rebuild it with the PVR-250 cards and erase whatever it has recorded (about 500 shows) but my wife freaked out and offered to buy me a DVD writer for Christmas if I'd back up her shows. I reluctantly accepted her offer. :-/ I guess it got accepted pretty good for what I had originally setup as a toy project to catch Seinfeld episodes I had missed in first-run.

      • Re:I have a Myth box (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rob Parkhill ( 1444 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:29PM (#7685010) Homepage
        As with most things Linux, your mythtv experience completely depends on what hardware you are using. For example, don't even attempt to get it running on an EPIA M10000 based system with a Hauppauge PVR-250 installed unless you are a serious Linux hacker. Wait another 4-5 months, then try it. The drivers might behave by then.

        If you are building a box from the ground-up, it's best to copy what someone else has already built, or do some serious research into your hardware first. (The Asus Pundit system seems to be popular, and pretty inexpensive. Not to mention it's not much bigger than a VCR.)

        My biggest concern with mythtv is the use of XMLTV for the guide data. You just know that someday soon, the websites that are being scraped are simply going to start blocking XMLTV (at least one website has started doing it already), and then you are left with a really expensive VCR and no guide data.

        That said, once up and running, myth is quite nice. Sure, it could use a few tweaks here and there, but I'm sure those will be worked out eventually. If you don't want to keep updating the software, get a TiVO :-)

    • Re:I have a Myth box (Score:5, Informative)

      by paul_pick1 ( 540613 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:15PM (#7683579)
      An easier path to myth installation is to use knoppmyth [] which (just like it sounds) uses a knoppix style boot-and-detect-everything followed by a myth installation-to-hd script.
    • Try Mandrake.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by msimm ( 580077 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:01PM (#7684163) Homepage
      With urpmi and Easy Urpmi [] and Thac's [] configured properly (follow instructions). You can install it in a few minute, with no compiling.

      urpmi mythtv

      Thats xmltv and everything.
    • Re:I have a Myth box (Score:5, Informative)

      by scottadmi ( 227125 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @08:24PM (#7685422)
      Approximately three months ago I spent around $600 to set up the ulimate TIVO/DVD home entertainment system. Admitidly, the intitial setup was quite challenging. Numerous hurdels had to be crossed to get all the drivers to compile. Of particular note, overscan was not supported in the latest NVidia driver.

      Having finally got it up and running however I am continually amazed at its performance and functionality. MythTVs interface is clean (and plugable which is fortunate) and architecturally very sound. My 1.6 GHz Athlon XP easily handles recording and watching television. The commercial skip warrants the cost by itself. Furthermore, after getting LIRC working, it is completely controlled via a universal remote. After some work, Xine worked flawlessly as a DVD player. That in addition to the music interface (with excellent full screen visualization) and a game emulator module and it blows away commercial products. What I've found particularly cool is the optional web interface allow remote scheduling for recordings.

      In response to the buggyness, despite initial difficulties, a 20 day up time thus far is pretty good to me (considering it was only restarted as part of testing).
  • by KendyForTheState ( 686496 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:34PM (#7683062)
    ...has a great article on just this subject.
  • Go to this site :-) (Score:3, Informative)

    by atari2600 ( 545988 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:35PM (#7683067)

    TV Cards []

    Pretty helpful site for beginners.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:35PM (#7683068)
    Don't try to use one of these projects because you think it will be cheaper.

    If you want to do it because you think there are other benefits, or because you like to tinker, go right ahead.

    You will spend more than the cost of a Tivo plus lifetime service by the time you are done, though.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:55PM (#7683349) Homepage

      Coolermaster component case atc-620 -$88.00
      Motherboard with processor and integrated items-99.00
      128 meg of ram $28.00
      120 Gig hard drive - $99.00
      OEM-boxed PVR-250 capture/tuner card $80.00
      IR reciever + remote that is lirc compatable $40.00

      $434.00 + tax

      all from my local computer shoppe. It would have been cheaper if I went looking on ebay for the parts.
      • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) * on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:08PM (#7683497)
        40 Hour TiVo w/DirecTV reciever. Brand new [] $99

        Lifetime TiVo service $299

        Total $398... And you don't have to do any work.

        Though I don't know why you would buy lifetime service instead of paying the $4/month for service through DirecTV. You're probably going to upgrade in less than 6 years.
        • They no longer offer lifetime service for directv tivos.
        • by MarkGriz ( 520778 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:20PM (#7683655)
          "Though I don't know why you would buy lifetime service instead of paying the $4/month for service through DirecTV"

          Actually, for the Directv/Tivo unit, you can't. There is no lifetime service option with Directv/Tivo, only the Tivo standalone units. You have to pay $5/month to Directv, who presumably shares some of that with Tivo. Plus, if you sign up for the full DTV package (HBO,Starz,etc) the $5 fee is waived.

      • by Dalroth ( 85450 ) *
        You're a fool if you don't get the PVR-350. The video out is stunningly better than all the other options I've seen (and it only costs about $20 more). The MythTV/IVTV support is still flakey, and there's no mplayer support yet, but don't let that stop you. The video quality is absolutely worth a few months of extra bugginess!
    • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:58PM (#7683392)
      I agree. Personally, I did it because I wanted to be able to burn DVD's of what I watch/record. Now when you take that into consideration (and the fact that a stand-alone DVD burner/recorder is still about $800), and add in the fact that I have TiVo abilities as well (with over 500 gigs of storage space), I feel that my setup more then surpasses the abilities that I could get with a consumer product. I also have the added bonus of it being a kicking system for gaming and video editing as well. Now grant it I paid about $2500 in total (6 months ago), but once you take into account the fact that it would be $600 for the TiVo parts (with only 1/3 the hard drive space) and the $800 for it being able to produce DVD's of TV shows, there is more then 1/2 the costs right there. The bonuses of it also being able to then edit the video as well as do heavy gaming more then makes up for the rest of the costs.

      You can probably make a scalled down version for $800 - $1000 to do capture and burning to DVD's now (especially with DVD burners being only $100 now as opposed to the $300 when I built mine).
    • by kent_eh ( 543303 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:02PM (#7684174)
      Of course not.
      I want to do it because there are no TIVO like boxes available for sale in Canada (except one that is built into a satellite reciever).

      If us Canucks want a PVR, we either have to go cross-border-shopping for something that doesn't require a subscription (which is not available for sale to us) or hack together something.
      Which option do you suppose yer typical Canadian Slashdotter will go with?
  • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:35PM (#7683069) Homepage
    Hmm... PC $600 + about a month configuring it to work as a PVR.
    Tivo + Lifetime sub $300-$400

    I know which I'd go for...
    • half hour setup time (RTFM) $0
      High quality PVR card $200
      PC $0

      benefits of learning? priceless.
      • Half hour?

        Just getting the dependencies right for MythTV (most of which are *not* documented) took about half a day.

        Then there's the kernel patches for the card... at least two different ones, none of which compiled cleanly and had to be manually hacked.

        For the price of your 'high quality' card you could have bought a Tivo, you know... they sell for half that.

        Learning is irrelevant - the OP was trying to save money, not learn.

        • If you use a good packaging system then dependencies are no problem. I don't want to sound like a gentoo whore, but all i had to type was emerge mythtv mythfrontend. Bam. TV tuner card was bt878 based so that worked with the default kernel(although I've upgraded several times now).
        • by CyberKnet ( 184349 ) <slashdot@cybe r k n> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:55PM (#7684692) Homepage Journal
          Seriously... what is your problem?

          MythTV is not *THAT* hard to set up. I see people on the mailing list complaining about it all the time. And usually, the reply that gets them fixed is a pointer to the appropriate place in the documentation.

          I have about six months work in my MythTV box, and I only got the parts a few weeks ago. I subscribed to the mailing list for about five months before I even attempted to start the project because I had heard stories of how horrendous it was to install. I printed out a hard copy of the documentation, and two different installation tutorials. Even after that, I read through all that about three times over.

          Preparation is everything, I have found. You cant expect to have something of TiVo quality without putting in a lot of work your self. You have to remember that TiVo has employed a lot of people for a long time to get where it is, and it is very far from perfect as well.

          About the best thing you can do to help yourself is to subscribe to the mailing list and learn from other peoples mistakes. Here's a hint in case you didn't already get it: The #1 mistake is not reading the documentation, which lists every dependancy that you need to fulfill.

          If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would be forced to concede that nobody should ever build a MythTV machine because they think it will be cheaper. It probably wont be. In fact, 99.999% of the time if you are making a dedicated box it will not be. But if someone is looking for something they can change, something they can upgrade, something for a hobby, then THAT is the person who should use MythTV.

          Personally, I don't regret a single minute that I've put into my MythTV box. If I did, I think I would have to question why I was doing it in the first place. IMHO, saving money is not a good enough reason.

          Disclaimer: I did save money when I built my MythTV box. I managed to find a quiet dual proc PIII 633 for $100 and two AverMedia M179's for $50 a piece. That, after trying not to buy a PVR-250 for several months. Patience is indeed a virtue. Luckily, what I lack in patience I also lack in fiscal terms too.
    • by RicoX9 ( 558353 ) <rico&rico,org> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:14PM (#7683569) Homepage
      Your math is somewhat flawed. Tivo ($149) + lifetime ($299) = $448 + TAX. That's only if you get the 40 GB version, add $100 for the 80 GB.

      You're better off spending that $100 on a larger hard disk (bout 100GB for $100), and hacking it in.

      You negelect to tell people one thing: Standard warranty on any Tivo/DirecTivo is 90 DAYS. Tivo lifetime subscription is linked to the box. Day 91, if your box burns up, you're out the whole bill. The only way you can transfer your subscription is if the box dies and is REPLACED BY THE MANUFACTURER UNDER WARRANTY. Many, many people have been burned by this.

      I am a Tivo (series 1) owner. I'm going to build a MythTV box because I can't bring myself to blow another $500 on a single use box that I can't even web browse or play DVD's on. If the experiment fails, I have a PC for my daughter. If it works, I still have a PC for my daughter that also happens to record TV.
    • after a month? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by theonetruekeebler ( 60888 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @07:01PM (#7684766) Homepage Journal
      I know which I'd go for...

      And at the end of a month, he will probably know a thing or two about managing video streams, caching, fs tuning, how TiVo works in the first place, and probably a thing or two about building small databases with large BLOBs attached, and maybe start figuring out how to network the FreeVo together with the rest of his LAN so he can watch CNN from his laptop on the porch.

      At the end of the same month, however, one who just buys a TiVo will probably know how to watch television.

      Whatever happened to taking on a challenge just because it's there?

  • Budget (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Teckla ( 630646 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:36PM (#7683077)

    If budget is important, consider estimating electricity costs in a do-it-yourself solution. You might be surprised how much money worth of electricity a PC can use in just a year.

    As an example, I've seen people "save money" by reusing old PC's as firewalls instead of buying a cheap $50 unit that does the same job. They're spending more money in electricity than it would have cost to buy the dedicated unit.


  • Guide Information (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kentamanos ( 320208 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:37PM (#7683099)
    Isn't the biggest problem STILL programming guide information? Don't things like XMLTV use web sites that sometimes block IP's from using them?
    • Re:Guide Information (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 )
      It depends - I think some providers support xmltv directly.

      The UK version of xmltv is pretty sucky - it's missing half the channels and there's no series information on most of them (I only managed to get 4 channels out of 30). There's a program to strip the Radio Times website of listings but it takes hours (and isn't very friendly to the website!).

      You can program a Tivo using xmltv data, although the people who know how to do it (tivocanada) are pretty tight lipped about how (if you're lucky you might
    • 1 year.. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by msimm ( 580077 )
      no trouble in North America with MythTV (xmltv). I did have to upgrade it a couple of times..

      urpmi xmltv

      Not much trouble and the flipside is I've got a full featured PC plugged into my HDTV (sure was nice watching those Quicktime Matrix previews on a big screen).
  • DirecTivo (Score:5, Informative)

    by jgordon7 ( 49263 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:38PM (#7683105)
    Actually you probably can not get much cheaper than DirecTivo.

    If you are a new sub. you can get the DirecTivo for about $50, and with a DirecTivo you only pay $4.99/month for the Tivo service (and that is for the account not the number of boxes). For me in my area DirecTV is MUCH cheaper than cable. Also the quality of a DirecTivo is far superior than any other option available for non-HDTV PVRs. It records the direct MPEG stream no encoded done on the box. Also the DirecTivo can record 2 shows at a time!

    Course if you want to do it yourself you can and it would be fun, however it would most likely not be as stable, quality not as good. And you probably wont save much money if you already have cable or directv.
  • by psxndc ( 105904 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:38PM (#7683107) Journal
    Can you recommend a low budget system that will likely cost me between $200-$600 between time and money so that I can avoid spending $300 on the easier solution? FWIW, you can use a tivo without paying the monthly fee. I think the monthly fee just let's you access their programming guide and recommendations. I don't own one yet, so I really don't know.


  • by ozzmosis ( 99513 ) * <> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:39PM (#7683120) Homepage Journal
    I use mythtv, I have 1 backend server with a Hauppauge pvr-250 and a OLD win-tv card in it, it has 1GB of ram, 3x120GB harddisks, and an amd2500+. The two cards allow me to record two shows at once, lets two people on two different frontends watch two different channels, or picture in picture. This computer has more power than mythtv needs, you can use something with alot less power. Especally if you get a hardware tv capture card.

    When I am recording off my old win-tv capture card and I am in gnome running mozilla, etc. I can tell a big difference in video quality as when I am not doing anything on the computer. So if you have a slow computer, you want to use X/mozilla/etc, or just want better video quallity get a hardware video capture card (happauge pvr 250/350). A pII 400mhz would do very very well with a pvr 250/350.

    My main frontend is a Xbox with gentoo installed. If you have a Xbox and you are as disappointed as I was with the games the xbox is your best bet for a front end for a TV. It "fits" beside the tv, I mean who wants a tower computer beside the tv anyways? Also some guy made a xbox-linux/mythtv [] distro. I haven't tried it but it looks really neat.

    My other front end is a laptop with 802.11g card in it. I must say mythtv does QUITE well wireless.
  • by mprinkey ( 1434 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:40PM (#7683137)
    A cheap Duron, hard drive, case, TV-out capable video card, and TV card is going to probably cost more than a stand-alone Tivo, so you are only saving on the "backend." I like the progress that I have seen in MythTV and Freevo, especially the integrated features like emulators and such. That is the appeal for me to build these type of solutions, not price.

    FWIW, I am a DirecTV subscriber and the DirecTivo gives you a lot of functionality that you just can't easily replicate. It stores full quality video from the satellite feed on the hard drive. It also allows you to record two shows at the same time. That makes it well worth the price. Of course, mine has a 120 GB hard drive hacked in to give over 100 hours of storage.

    Now I just need to figure out how copy the video from the Tivo. I can ftp and telnet into the system, but I haven't investigated the state of the extraction software lately. One of those projects I need to get to...
  • by earlytime ( 15364 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:40PM (#7683146) Homepage
    If you add all the hardware costs up, you'll pay close to (or more than) the $250 it takes to get a tivo. Then you'll need to find some way to get program listings if you want to schedule recordings based on something besides just channel & date & time.

    And the bottom line is, you don't have to pay tivo a monthly anything. Just buy the tivo and don't subscribe to the listings. Or you can buy the lifetime and not deal with monthly payments. Or buy a used tivo(with lifetime service) on ebay and get a deal. Lots of folks are trading up to series2 this way.

    I have to admit that the series2 with home media is awesome. Get a $30 usb nic, and you can stream images/audio from the network. There's a sweet *nix program called byrequest ( that lets you serve files without windows, and they claim is will serve video also...

    So why don't you go put that in your pipe and... nevermind.
    • by bmeehan ( 128735 ) <> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:56PM (#7684100)
      I started looking into a replacement PVR solution when my DishNetwork sub ran up. My wife and I were hooked on the Dish501 PVR and hadn't watched TV bound to a schedule in more than a year. Our local cable provider (TW-Rochester) gave us a great deal on all the digital offerings with HBO @ 25.99 /mo for 12 months. Sounded like a good idea. I went on board with their PVR "solution", the Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8000.

      Has anyone else used one of these clearly beta units? Ack!

      That lasted about 3 weeks. So I sat down and looked at our needs and our options:

      - Two tuners (the only nice feature of the SA8000)
      - Intelligent recording options (record once/series/all)
      - Sufficient storage (enough to fit the entire Tour De France: 20 stages x 3hrs. That was our unit of measurement. YMMV)
      - Ability to record network channels (NBC/ABC/CBS/Fox)
      - HighDef is a nice-to-have

      - DirectTV with DirectTivo (No Rochester locals then) (~$550 for Series2 unit with big HD)
      - DishNetwork with the Dish921 (High Def! Have to lie to get Plattsburgh locals) ($1000+)
      - DishNetwork with the Dish721 (Have to lie to get Plattsburgh locals) ($500)
      - Time Warner with SA8000 (Ack!) ($5 + $9 rental/mo)
      - DIY box (???)

      Wife gave the project a green light, and I bought the parts to build it. Motherboard with integrated LAN and VGA, $100; AthlonXP 1800+, $50; PVR250 Tuner cards, $130 x2; Wireless mouse & keyboard, $40. I already had a case and 120Gb drive.

      It took a bit of work and a weekend to get it running the first time (Myth 0.11). Thanks so much to Jarod's guide []. I tweaked it and broke some stuff about 3 weeks later, and rebuilt it. Only took 8 hrs that time.

      Tweaked stuff again and broke it again. I should realize that it's a TV device, not a playtoy. This time I rebuilt it in 3 hrs. (That included restoring a backup of the programs saved on the HD.) ATRPMS with apt-get (thanks Axel) makes it a breeze.

      It's been fine for the last month. It sits quietly mounted between floor joists in the basement crawlspace storage, where it is keep quite cool. As a bonus over Tivo, it has a picture gallery viewer of all the PCs in our house, it runs MAME and ZSnes, plays MP3s and shows the weather.

      Thanks Issac and all the developers who put so much hardwork into a great project. Your efforts are very appreciated.

      By the way: The best part about this being an open source, Linux based project? When there's a problem with the app and I'm not at home, I can ssh to it and fix it remotely. No more trying to explain things over the phone!
  • by use_compress ( 627082 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:41PM (#7683153) Journal
    Mom, can you tape the Simpsons? Mom, can you tape the Simpsons?
  • Networked (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:41PM (#7683157) Journal
    What you want to look at is not competing with what is there, but do what the future holds. I have a server that is doing VLC and can see ripped DVD's (my own) or listen to music via my computers or via the linux client that I run on the Telly. When KDE 3.2 is out fully, I will be using lirc to handle the dvd's/Music correctly.
  • I just did this (Score:5, Informative)

    by seafoodbuffet ( 527069 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:41PM (#7683163)
    I just built a MythTV box recently. Here's a rough breakdown of the components I used:

    • CPU: Athlon XP 2400
    • MB: Some random Gigabyte motherboard, about $60
    • Case: I splurged here and got an HTPC-looking Cooler Master ATC-610
    • Video: GeForce2 MX 440
    • Capture: Hauppage WinTV PVR 250
    • 120MB IDE HD
    • 802.11 wireless card
    • DVD-ROM/CDRW drive
    In total, I spent around $700. This is clearly not cheap compared to a TiVo, but I can do a lot of things that a typical TiVo can't and I don't have any service fees to pay. If I really wanted to save money, here's what I would have done:
    • get a cheaper processor, possibly a MiniITX-based CPU/MB combo, the PVR-250 card does on-board MPEG2 encoding so you don't really need much CPU power
    • get a cheap case, mine cost about $100 'cuz I wanted it for looks. You can get a beige one for next to nothing
    • get a cheap optical drive or don't use one. (I wanted to do DVD playback and be able to burn VCDs)
    • don't use wireless networking (run ethernet and use on-board networking)
    • Re:I just did this (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SnowDog_2112 ( 23900 )
      Don't forget wireless keyboard and mouse to control from your cushy couch :).

      Anybody who is trying to save money by building a TiVo substitute is going to end up losing in the end.

      Do it because you love to hack, do it for the satisfaction, do it for the feature set, but trying to save money is not going to work here.
    • Good god man! For $700 you could have hired illegal immigrants to swap video tapes for you, clean your pool, and take care of the yard. Or you could have just bought a Tivo Series 2 with a lifetime subscription.
  • by mjh ( 57755 ) <[moc.nalcnroh] [ta] [kram]> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:47PM (#7683246) Homepage Journal
    I can see getting a lot of geek satisfaction out of building one of these things, but to use it as a day-in/day-out DVR, I don't think it makes a lot of financial sense. First thing is that it's expensive. A TiVo with a lifetime subscription costs about $500. The WinTV-PVR 350 card alone is most of the cost of the TiVo hardware. [] I have yet to see an example of building one of these things for that low of a price.

    Second, if you've got DirecTV, then there's no DVR that you can build that's going to do as good of a job of capturing the signal as the DirecTV DVR w/TiVo (DTiVo). The DTiVo simply copies the already MPEG encoded stream that DirecTV sends. Thus the DTiVo doesn't need an expensive (and relatively low quality) hardware MPEG encoder. Which means that the DTiVo can be found for serious cheap, [] sometimes even for free. [] Assuming that a homebrew DVR costs about $800 to build, you could get a free DTiVo and put the $800 towards 13 yrs 4 mos worth of monthly fees.

    Still it sounds like a fun project. But it seems like you'd be paying for the entertainment of putting it together. Not for the low cost of the DVR.
  • Why I love my MythTV (Score:5, Informative)

    by strags ( 209606 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:49PM (#7683268)
    It took a bit of work to get going, and I probably spent a total of about $500-$600.


    There is no subscription fee - TV listings are downloaded via XMLTV.
    I can store CDs and DVDs on the HD.
    I can run multiple front-ends, enabling me to watch TV/recordings on another machine on the network.
    I can update recording settings through a very friendly HTTP interface.
    I can extract and re-encode recorded shows.

    In addition, people have written lots of groovy addons, including:
    A MAME frontend
    A CallerID module (when the phone rings, callerid information is displayed onscreen!)
    A weather report module

    The possibilities are endless.
  • by xchino ( 591175 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:50PM (#7683285)
    I went through the build process of a DIY PVR. Eventually I stuck with MythTV after trying Freevo and some others, because of all the kick ass plugins for myth. The most useful piece of advice I have is pay attention to the hardware you're going to use first, and then add software.

    The $45 ATI TV-Wonder you can get at best buy isn't going to cut it. This thing is ok for watching TV, but it's not even great at that. You definately want a TV tuner card with hardware MPEG2 encoding, preferably at 12MB/s. I'd recommend a Hauppauge [] product. You may even want to look into HDTV tuner cards, although I have no experience with them.

    In the end the quality of your hardware is going to matter most, because regardless of the software you use to accomplish your goal, the end result will only be as good as the hardware that was used to capture the image.

    I had a TiVo, but sold it after I built my own PVR. TiVo is great, and did some things my PVR doesn't (like suggested viewing), but all in all there's nothing better than your own home rolled PVR :)
  • MythTV (Score:3, Informative)

    by Darth Maul ( 19860 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:51PM (#7683294) Homepage
    I've been using a Myth box for 7 months now. It's great. It is a TiVo plus more. I bought a nice little Shuttle XPC case, Athlon 1800+, and a 80 Gig hard drive. I now have a real home theater media center box with PVR, movie library, audio library, image gallery, and weather services.

    I cannot recommend MythTV any more highly. It really is the way to go, especially for those who love to hack around with Linux.
  • Compare these costs: (Score:4, Informative)

    by osjedi ( 9084 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @04:54PM (#7683338)

    Hauppauge's PVR-350 tv tuner card: $200
    Tivo after rebate: $200

    It's hard to justify the cost of building your own when a tivo is so cheap. I'd like to build my own, but I can't do it as cheaply as just buying tivo hardware. (Yes, I have a Tivo).
  • My setup (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eponymous, Showered ( 73818 ) <jase@du f a i r . org> on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:00PM (#7683416) Homepage
    I have a 1GHz TBird + cheap mobo, 256MB RAM, a 40GB HD, cheap case, a GeForce 4 MX440, and a PVR250. I'm using ATI's Remote Wonder and running SnapStream PVS 3.4 beta (on Win2K) with myHTPC as a frontend. Functionality-wise, it's a great setup. I'm about to pop another 80GB drive in and I'll be set for a while. All in all, with parts I already had, I think it put about $500 into hardware and software and enjoy having the system.

    On the downside, there was far too much fiddling I had to do to get things right. If I were to do it all again, I probably would just by a TiVO and get the home media option.

    Bottom line: Whatever you do, get a PVR250/350 for your capture card. Software capture cards simply don't hold a candle. Everyone who starts with a WinTV Go or other software card ends up upgrading to a PVR250 (yours truly included). Do yourself a favor and go straight for the PVR250.
  • Linux HTPC How-to (Score:3, Informative)

    by lothar88 ( 300818 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:01PM (#7683424)
    as someone who's never built a linux machine from scratch, i found this to be helpful:

    Linux HTPC How-to []

  • What they can do that TiVo can't do is unlimited storage and playback of other media. I am sure I am not the only one that has zillions of Divx/Xvid movies on CDs. Tivo can't play those. Second, sure you have 40-80 hours of storage on your Tivo, but what happens if you want to archive it? Or burn it? You can't get the video OFF the machine unless you open it up and transplant the HD into your computer? You have 39.7 hours of Will and Grace and you can't record tonights episode? What do you do?

    With that said, I will only buy a PVR if it has the following options:

    1. Built-in DVD player that does VCD/SVCDs, Divx and Xvid.
    2. 10/100 ethernet
    3. Standard network file system access to my recordings with NFS and Samba file sharing.

  • by skipintro ( 442883 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:10PM (#7683521)
    I've built a MythTV box, and although I am happy with what I built, the next time around I would build something similar to the SolarPVR:

    It has:
    • Via Epia-M mother board -- This is the best mother board for building a Linux PVR because it is small, cheap, and when combined with Via's low powered processor can run completely fanless due to its low power consumption. Noise and size are more important than you'd think.
    • PVR-250 (or 350) -- Because the Via Epia motheboard includes a onboard mpeg decoder you don't really nead the PVR-350 for mpeg decoding, but the few extra dolars for the 350 couldn't hurt. (If you get a regular motherboard with a 2+ Ghz processor you can make due with a regular bttv based software encoding card, but the PVR-250/350 cards are really cool and the relatively stable ivtv drivers seem to be working great on my machine). Plus the remote they come with works great.
    • 120+ Gig hardrive (Wester Digital 8mb buffer) For the hardrive, you basically want something big, especially if your going to use the kickass PVR250/350 card which defaults to DVD quality encoding. You can lower the encoding bitrate on the 350/250, but once you get used the higher quality you'll find it is well worth the space. At this highest bitrate level they take up about 3.7 Gigs for an hour. So 120 Gig machine will give you about 30 hours. (I have actually set mine to record at a lower bitrate, so they take about 2.2 Gigs per hour. And the quality is still way better than what you'd get at maximum quality on a crapy little Tivo).
    • A plain black aluminum case -- because it will look more like a Tivo. You won't have to explain to hot chicks why you have a stupid looking plastic putty-toned computer sitting next to your TV.

    Those are the bare neccesities if your just going to be cheap. I am cheap/poor too, so that is all I have. Someday I'll get a nice DVD burner so I can archive stuff I might want to see again somday. I also want a wireless keybaord.

    For further info check out the PVR Hardware Database: icles.php

    They have a page with some nice installation guides: ageName=i nstall_guides

    As you can see I am all for building a MythTV box, but having built one, I have to warn you that the software isn't perfect yet. It really kicks Tivo's ass in terms of functionality (I love the MythWeb interface, and you can set it too completely cut out commercials, which it does surprisingly accurately), but it still can be a little buggy sometimes and should only be used by people who like to tinker.
  • by Bishop639 ( 128992 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:12PM (#7683543)
    I built a MythTV box and went the Mini-ITX route for $500. I paid more for the small size, considering I could have gotten more CPU power, etc. for less money.

    For case, I used the Morex Cubid 2699R. It's about the size of a 12" pizza box (much smaller than the VCR that it replaced!), and uses a 50W external power supply, which *significantly* cuts down on noise. My hard drive is the biggest contibutor to noise with this setup. I got my case for about $80 US.

    I keep it in my TV cabinet without an attached mouse, keyboard, or monitor. Just connected to TV and my LAN, and controlled via remote control.

    You can see pics and a review of its older cousin at:

    As for the rest, I got:

    VIA EPIA M10000 ($150-$160 US) - Has onboard ethernet, 5.1 audio, video,
    and one PCI slot. Processor is already on it. Processesor has
    exceptionally low power requirements (compared to high-end AMD/Intel).
    Crucial 512mb DDR (if you do decide on the 2699R case, make sure the RAM
    height is below 34mm or it won't fit - the Crucial fit just fine)
    Hauppauge PVR-350 (less than $200 via
    Its included remote works really well under LIRC

    Some generic slimline DVD player for $55.
    If you get the 2699R case, you need a slimline which means more $$
    Note that as of current date, MythDVD and MythVideo don't work
    with the PVR-350, so you won't be able to watch DVD's (yet).

    Hard drive:
    I used an old IBM drive laying around, I plan on upgrading to a Seagate Barracuda which is rated at 20dB while idling.

    Now the pros and cons of my setup:

    Very small, very quiet
    PVR-350 with the Epia M10000 uses only 3% (!!!) CPU utilization during
    playback and record
    Front of case has firewire/usb connections if I need later on
    Even without MythDVD or MythVideo support, it's already better than a
    commercial Tivo because (1) I can record at higher bitrate and resolution,
    and (2) I have direct access to the recorded videos, so that (3) I can
    archive to DivX or DVD...

    No DVD or avi/quicktime/etc. file playback since I've using a PVR-350 (hopefully soon though!)
    I couldn't use the already built 0.11 .deb packages since I was using the
    PVR-350. I ended up compiling both IVTV and MythTV CVS instead.
    Since there's no attached keyboard/mouse/monitor, I need to ssh from
    a different computer on the network, but I actually prefer it this way

    Hope that helps
  • by dspyder ( 563303 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:16PM (#7683594)
    I've always maintained that buying a real Tivo was always the cheaper option, especially if you count the costs of your time involved. Now, even not counting those costs the commercial product is much cheaper! If "cheap" is really what you want (as it's listed in your request) then you really need to look at it closely.

    With a new account (1 year contract) at DirecTV or Dish you can get a free or cheap PVR included... and many other benefits (3 rooms, free installation, etc. etc.). Certain plans (Platinum level or some shiiiiii) even give you the PVR subscription fee included (or included in your receiver mirroring fee).

    I'm not saying you shouldn't try building one yourself, but the argument was usually "I could build one cheaper with parts I have lying around" however most people then went out and spent $75-$100 on a brand new capture card. With subsidized

    MythTV has definitely progressed along the years, but it's still not 100% reliable (what open-source anything ever is truly complete, tested, and waranteed). That being said, it definitely has some other cool "Media" functions that I really would like in my family room. Of course, I'm not willing to live with the ugly beige box and noise (before you say silent processors and slimline cases, add those costs to your initial argument).

    If I truly had the hardware lying around (I don't) and I truly wanted a project not just the end Tivo functionality (I don't) and I was willing to put up with all the tinkering and annoyances required (I might be, wife definitely isn't) then I would consider doing it.

  • Cool question... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alphix ( 33559 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:22PM (#7683682) Homepage
    I just ordered my hardware for a MythTV [] based box two days ago after researching it for a long time. This is the shopping list I came up with.

    The reasoning for the different items are as follows:

    A similar model of the motherboard got good reviews [] by Toms Hardware Guide (yes, I know some people in /. hate Tom). The integrated sound on this board was recommended to me by an ALSA developer. It's also got SATA, LAN, USB and Firewire and, as a nice bonus, both coax and optical digital sound outputs.

    Samsung...didn't matter much as long as it had DVD and CD-RW capabilities, black front was a nice touch though.

    WAG311GE, one of few cards that support A, B and G wireless networking. Supported in Linux by the MadWifi [] drivers, unfortunately not truly open source, but neither are any other ABG card drivers.

    Intel processor, I usually like Athlons but temperature (and thereby cooling requirements) is much more important in this box than speed.

    Hauppage, well supported by MythTV and able to do MPEG2 recording and playback in hardware.

    MSI GeForce, has VGA, DVI and TV-Out, also fanless and really cheap. Closed drivers but that's kinda hard to avoid.

    Maxtor drive, I really wanted a more quiet Seagate but the SATA models were kind of impossible to find in any nearby store for decent prices. Also most stores seemed to have the ones with the least storage capacity.

    Coolermaster, the case isn't "designed" to be a HTPC case (such as this one []) which means it doesn't have the same silly price tag. It was also the exact same width as my stereo components (well, 3mm wider) and similar color.

    Now all I have to do is wait...

  • by Rick Richardson ( 87058 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:32PM (#7683817) Homepage
    If you have any intent on building up a legal and huge collection of movies by capturing them off of cable TV, and you want to be able to play those movies on a standard consumer DVD player, then you must get a hardware MPEG-2 encoder.

    The general rule about software MPEG-2 encoders is this: quality, low-CPU, realtime; pick any two.

    If you don't care about being able record to DVD, and/or you want to record to DiVX and envision a house where all of your DVD players are DiVX-capable, then a $30 stereo tuner card will suffice for now.

    I have two AverTV Stereo cards that are going up on eBay, because I decided that I really do want to record good quality MPEG-2 to DVD. I need to be able to hand my wife/kids a DVD of the favorite shows that she missed because I made them leave the house. I will be getting a PVR-250 like everybody else.

    Note also that this advice applies to Windows people just as much as it does for Linux people. There are no software, high-quality, realtime MPEG-2 coders that don't require an overclocked cryogenically cooled CPU, regardless of what OS you run.

  • by dameron ( 307970 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:37PM (#7683869)
    Knoppmyth is a fully installable Knoppix(debian) distro with mythtv. Knoppmyth is a pvr, has tv with a guide to your local cable/sat provider, weather, news, a dvd playing, an mp3 player (and indexing, by group and album, with visualizations), cd ripper with artist and title lookup, emulator frontend, and vcd player.

    You can burn the iso, assemble your pvr/media machine, boot of the iso, provide a few usernames and passwords and Knoppmyth will partition and install everything you need to get MythTV running on your system including mysql, xmltv, mythtv. As a bonus you get the magic of apt-get to install almost anything else you might want. The fontend program is very nicely done and it supports remote controls and external channel changers too.

  • by jbarr ( 2233 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:43PM (#7683943) Homepage
    No doubt the techno-geek-hobbyist in us all longs for a custom, home-grown PVR, but the reason I haven't gone the "roll-your-own" route yet is simple: The "Wife Factor". Plain and simple, the absolute LAST thing I need to deal with is my wife trying to get a less-than-100%-stable system to work.

    [Obligatory_ReplayTV_comment]Our ReplayTV systems have been very stable and reliable. They are basically "appliances" that simply work. No muss, no fuss. And the wife is very happy with them.[/Obligatory_ReplayTV_comment]

    Trust me, after you've heard the line "So, how do I turn on the TV?" coming from a very pissed-off wife, you won't regret your buying decision...
  • by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:49PM (#7684031)
    I thought about spending $600 to build a mythtv box and then $10-$15 a month in electricity to run it, but decided a ReplayTV would be cheaper ($200 + $10 a month), easier for my wife to use, and would do most of what I wanted.

    I chose replay over Tivo because it was much ($100 or so + $5 a month) cheaper for the ReplayTV with ehternet and sharing and picture viewing and all that, plus it has auto-commericial-skip (beware: the 55xx series does not). I wish it had the thumbs up/down thing, but nothing is perfect.

    Now, if mp3 and video game emulation are must-haves, then build the MythTV box. Tivo also supports mp3, but you have to spend $100 + $5 a month or something for their permission to listen to your music.
  • Snapstream (Score:4, Informative)

    by slaker ( 53818 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @05:57PM (#7684123)
    I use Snapstream PVS for my media center needs.

    My HTPC is an Athlon 2800, 1GB of RAM, an all-in-wonder 9600 Pro and a 3ware Escalade 7506-12 with 12 200GB Maxtor drives (two RAID10s of 600GB each) and 2 160GB Samsungs. It's in a 4U rackmount case with a 550 Watt PC Power and Cooling PSU. I use an Asus A7N8X Deluxe for a motherboard, with its support for Dolby Digital 5.1 on digital outputs. The PC is connected to an Integra DTR-8.2 receiver (that's its name, not how many speakers it supports) which itself can be controlled with its own radio frequency remote, and whose video switching and AV zone support I make full use of.

    The whole thing is sitting in 19" rack in a closet, so I don't have to listen to it be all noisy.

    It runs 2000 Server, mostly because, at the start of its life, I was working with 2000's soft-RAID features, and "Pro" versions of Windows don't do redundant RAID.

    I use Snapstream PVS for TV-watching and recording, primarily because it integrates nicely with my ATI RF remote, and because it supports tuning my DirectTV receiver via a serial connection.

    The PROBLEM with Snapstream is that it's not the paragon of stability that it should be. Every few days it flies off the deep end and takes my poor HTPC with it. I have a 35-hour DirectTivo for a back up and second video source, just in case. :)

    I also have three 400-disc DVD carousels of varying ages that I use to house my collection of movies. The DVPCX985V is the newest of those, and the one I appreciate the most, since it support SACDs. The 3 jukeboxes are connected to each other and operate as a single logical unit.

    Regular daily viewing is done on a 32" 16x9 Princeton display. It can handle HDTV signals but I haven't coughed up the cash for DirectTV HDTV reception or a video capture solution that works with HDTV. I also have an ancient, 800lumen, 800x600 Sony projector that I plan to replace when its bulb dies, probably with an NEC HT1000 (3000:1 contrast ratio).

  • I have a MythTV box (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dalroth ( 85450 ) * on Wednesday December 10, 2003 @06:27PM (#7684414) Homepage Journal
    I have a MythTV box so I speak from experience.

    You *SHOULD* build a MythTV box IF:

    - You are an experienced Linux user, have some extra hardware lying around (or money is no object), and are looking for a fun and interesting project to mess around with.

    - You are an inexperienced Linux user, have some extra hardware lying around (or money is no object), and are looking for a fun and interesting project to learn Linux with.

    - You are not one of the above, but absolutely must have the single best Multimedia Convergence box you can possibly have at all costs.

    You should *NOT* build a MythTV box IF:

    - You are an inexperienced Linux, user and have no money and no hardware lying around.

    - You have no interest in learning Linux.

    - You are an experienced Linux user, have no money and no extra hardware lying around.

    - You want something that works now, not something that is sorta great now, but will be absolutely great later.

    This exactly what I've been telling my friends when they get jealous of my MythTV box. I suspect in about a year or so, building a MythTV box will be a LOT simpler. Until then, follow my guideline above.


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