Building a PVR

For the benefit of no one but those who randomly google for this information, here is the complete listing of hardware I used to building my tivo-style computer. The goals of this computer:

  • Display tv channels transparently (no weird interaction, just like a cable box)
  • Act as networkable mp3 jukebox
  • Record tv shows, including those on digital cable
  • Basic pause, rewind, commercial skip
  • Near-silent operation

The complete list is in the extended entry below.

I order from a whole lot of sites. I correlated between lists and ratings. I tried to get the optimal result.

Part Company Rating Price (with

  • AMD Athlon XP 1700+
  • Shuttle AK35GT2 VIA KT333 W/Audio
  • Samsung 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM
  • Thermaltake Volcano 9 Highest Performance Smart & Silent CPU
    Cooler (not totally silent)
  • Arctic Alumina Thermal Compound 9.74 308.00
ThermalTake TT420AD Power Supply
(silent) 7.96 62.33
Seagate Barracuda V 60 GB
(silent drive) 9.22 89.62
ATI All-In-Wonder 128 Pro 32MB 9.42 84.69
AverTV stereo capture card Microcenter (brick store) 49.99
Network card pillaged from old
DVD rom pillaged from old machine 0.00
IR MAN (infrared receiver) 10.00 (only 4 records) 43.00
IR Blaster (infrared transmitter
to control cable box)
snapstream media only source, none 30.00
Case CTS computer (local store) 30.00
total 696.63

The price, while high, is roughly comparable to a high-end tivo with lifetime service, or a dvd-player with hard disk recording that I saw for 1000$ in a store. I might have been able to save on RAM, but I wanted to be sure it would be enough. Basically, it’s a decent price. Sure, there will be cheaper stuff, but this solution has one big thing going for it: the package is totally open. There are no warning stickers, no fees, no digital rights management.

The RAM I received was actually bad, so I haven’t been able to build the whole thing and get it up and running. For now I am going to scrap my old machine and use that as a temporary tivo box. I’m going to do that tonight.

A couple surprises:

  • The “smart and silent” cooler wasn’t quite as silent as I hoped. It’s an audible hum, something that I found annoying enough that I turned the machine off at night when I was trying to sleep (I was sleeping next to the machine, basically).
  • I thought the ATI AIW would be perfect: capture card and vid card in one. It turns out that the current drivers CANNOT do capture and playback simultaneously!

So, the extra 50 bucks for the other tuner card. I could return the ATI, but it still has tv-out and is very cheap for video output anyway. If you can find a much much cheaper solution for tv-output, feel free to suggest it. Nvidia cards aren’t good for this purpose, they have black borders around the edges of the screen which are ugly.

I chose the AverTV because it’s cheap and has svideo and stereo input. Most of the cards you see — WinTV GO, ATI TV Wonder VE, etc — are all composite and mono. I mean come on, we’re working on HDTV with 5.1 digital audio and you still have to work at finding something with stereo? S-Video is also necessary if you want digital cable. You gotta use the cable box to decode the channel, then send it to the computer. This also means there are problems with watching one channel and recording another. You can do this as long as one of the channels is analog (channels up to 100 or so these days), but not if they are both digital cable. I don’t know yet if this will be easy to adjust for in mythtv. Here’s hoping.

4 thoughts on “Building a PVR”

  1. Pretty cool write up Owen... I'm going to link to your project over at Build Your Own PVR / tivo dedicated to discussion about DIY PVR's just like this.

    Would love to hear your comments about your experiences in the forum...


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