I’d like to take a break from the usual Ubuntu-on-Macintosh discussion to share my latest project: a fully functional homebrew PVR (Personal Video Recorder) that I created in a few hours for a net cost of 70 US Dollars.
I started with a Gateway Pentium 500Mhz box (circa 1999-2000) purchased at my local Salvation Army thrift store for $9.99 plus tax. It came with 128Mb of PC-133 SDRAM and a 20Gb hard drive. I scavenged 256Mb RAM from another junker PC I have and added it to the Gateway, for a final total of 384Mb RAM. Likewise, I swapped in an 80Gb 7200RPM hard drive from the same aforementioned piece of junk PC. The Gateway didn’t have an Ethernet card, so I added one. The Gateway came with a stock 16Mb Nvidia TNT Riva AGP video card which might have done the job just fine, but since I also happened to have an Nvidia GForce4 Ti-4200 64Mb AGP card which had been given to me by my brother-in-law (thanks, Allen!), I decided to slot that puppy into the Gateway as well.
(Obviously I have a lot of spare computer parts just lying around, waiting for just this type of opportunity. If I didn’t, this little project would have cost me substantially more money.)
The final upgrade was a Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150 PCI TV capture card, purchased from Circuit City a few months back for $100 with a pair of $20 mail-in rebates, for a net discounted price of $60 + tax.
I have in the past experimented with no-cost homebrew Digital Video Recording (DVR) software on the Windows platform: GB-PVR. I found it functional and adequate, but sluggish on my Pentium III/733 with 256Mb of RAM. There was also a feeling that the package lacked polish and that something was just “missing” or somehow vaguely unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I figured you can’t really complain too much about free software. However, after a couple of weeks of messing around with GB-PVR, I lost interest. It just didn’t work well enough to merit my full attention, or compete with my crappy Time Warner DVR box.
What I have since discovered is that my expectations of free software had to be readjusted after I installed and experienced the Linux-based MythTV on my Gateway PC. Pretty much anyone who’s tried MythTV swears that it is the most mature open-source DVR package available, and the closest thing to the holy grail of a freeware TiVo. After trying it myself, I really must agree. I am loving my $70 MythTV DVR. It has turned me into a believer.
I’m no Linux expert, but there’s a new wrinkle in the homebrew DVR scene that really makes it easy to jump right into a homebrew DVR project. That wrinkle is KnoppMyth. This project takes the power of MythTV, and marries it with the ease of setup, LiveCD capability, an unparallelled device detection of Knoppix. The result is a MythTV installation that you can perform with a minimum of technical knowledge, especially if you’re installing on fairly standard hardware. With KnoppMyth, I was able to get my homebrew DVR up and running in a matter of hours.