Long gone are the days of using videotapes to record your favorite TV programs (the kids of the 80s know what I’m talking about). Now you can buy a device that will perform the same task with just a few clicks on your remote. However, even in today’s digital climate, there are complications associated with such convenience.
The main problems that can arise with a digital video recorder (DVR) is that you cannot use all the features that come with the device. This, in addition to the additional costs associated with your monthly ISP bill, can scare people off completely. So why not just create your own?
Building your own DVR is not as difficult as you might think. With multiple sets of hardware out-of-the-box, you can opt out of the monthly maintenance fees that usually come with this feature.
Not only that, but since you will be doing it yourself, you will have the opportunity to modify the technology when you feel the need to do so. This includes expanding the storage base by upgrading hard drives and tweaking the user interface for better navigation.
A DVR is essentially just a hard drive with interoperability with a TV and some accompanying software to help you take control. So, stop paying for a monthly feature when you can put your old desktop to good use instead.
How to turn a computer into a DVR
To create the foundation for your new dash cam, you’ll want to dust off your old computer or buy a refurbished one that can be obtained cheaply. If you have any plans to expand in the future or install newer components, a PC is your choice.
You can use a laptop, but it will be difficult to upgrade as most are very limited in the expansion department. Macs are not a bad choice either, but PCs usually have a lot more options available.
It doesn’t take much power to record standard definition (SD) video. Recording and viewing high definition (HD) or Blu-ray videos is a different matter entirely. The higher the resolution, the more power will be required.
There are a few specific parts you should pay attention to when setting up your DVR.
- Processor. If you have a processor that can handle the latest operating systems, it won’t work. you need something special. The encoding for the DVR will be done by the video capture card, which takes the heavy load off the shoulders of the processor.
- Hard disk. Recording a single movie, especially in HD, usually costs a gigabyte or more of hard drive space. These things can accumulate quickly, so you need to have enough room for your DVR to operate. Hard drives have gotten pretty cheap over the years, so buying a new one shouldn’t set your wallet on fire. However, if you are stuck with money, you can always expand the system later when the initial hard drive is full.
- Graphics / Video Card – This will be the more expensive part of setting up your DVR. You will need a card that is powerful enough to handle the video signal sent to your TV. HD and Blu-ray will require decent graphics cards. Don’t be afraid to spend money on this component as it has to do with what your eyes will look at when it comes to the quality of the video you are watching.
- Memory – 2GB of random access memory (RAM) will keep your SD DVR smoother. However, the upgrade to 4GB + will make sure any HD issues go away pretty quickly. Bigger is always better, and RAM is generally pretty inexpensive these days.
- Power supply. The more powerful the components you selected above, the more energy they will need to operate. Search the Internet for a Power Supply Unit (PSU) calculator to determine how much power your DVR will need.
Video Capture Cards
Unlike most modern TVs, the video capture card has its own tuner for receiving TV signals. Higher-end capture cards will have built-in processors capable of handling all signal encodings. This will take the load off the computer’s main processor, so purchase one.
When examining the features of your video capture card, it is important to find a card that is capable of receiving MPEG-2 transport stream in both DBV and ATSC. These cards are sometimes referred to as digital hardware cards and are the best version of video capture cards since most television is broadcast digital rather than analog.
Most video capture cards are Peripheral Component Connectivity (PCI) or PCI-Express cards and can be inserted into slots on your computer’s motherboard. There are also video capture devices that can take up a USB 2.0 slot if you prefer that route.
There are many options when it comes to the software required to run a DVR. Some of these options are even free. Your chosen video capture card may even come with its own DVR software, which you can use or not. If you like software, it can save you time and money looking for additional programs.
The available software options depend on the operating system you choose. Linux has MythTV (free option) or SageTV SageTV can also be used for Windows, which is useful if you have chosen to dual boot two operating systems.
This is another personal choice as the user interface and settings are all that differ between apps. Some will need an Internet connection to send programming information to your DVR, while others may use a web browser.
Enjoy the fruits of your work
After connecting all internal components and installing the software, connect the newly assembled DVR to the TV.
- First connect a cable or satellite connection to the input of the video capture card.
- Then connect the video card of the DVR computer to the TV. An HDMI connection is required to view HD.
- Connect the audio output of your computer to the inputs of your TV or home theater.
- Complete the process by connecting your computer to the Internet and turning everything on. Allow download of the program list and you’ll be ready to watch and record TV shows with your own DVR without a contract.