Saturday, December 20, 2008

Making My Own DVR: Why It's Not Such a Great Idea

Yesterday I sent an e-mail out to a Google Group I belong to, which consists of various friends of mine from college. I was considering making my own DVR (instead of paying the cable company to rent one). After various "why don't you just find stuff online" responses, which were expected but not helpful, I got a great e-mail from one of the more tech savvy group members.

My question was simply thus:

I don't want to pay the greedy imperialist cable company extra $$ every month for a DVR, so I'm thinking of making my own. I've looked online and it doesn't look too tough, but I wanted to see if [you guys] had any input. Has any one tried this? If so, is it worth the $$ and effort?

Here's the best response I got, which I thought was very worthy of broadcasting out to the rest of the internets:

Its not worth the effort. Here is why:

You can buy a TV tuner for your computer. However, all you will get
are analog channels and unencrypted clear QAM digital channels. This means that the only channels you are going to get are basic analog and local HD channels (ABC, CBS, etc). You won't be able to get any HD channels like food network HD, espn HD, HBO HD or any channel that they have moved to digital. Cable companies are starting to move analog channels to digital. This allows them to add more channels but it also means that they can encrypt them. So it might get to the point where without a cable box, the only channels you can view are local channels.

The other option is to buy a PC that has cable card. Cable card
allows you to rent a card for 3 dollars a month and put it in your pc. It decrypts the channels so you get everything. This also sucks because you can't build a PC with cable card. You can only buy one and they start at around 1000 dollars. You CANT hack it either. Cable card also works with HD tivo, for now. Cable companies are starting to use something called SDV. SDV saves bandwidth over the lines by only sending channels as they are requested, instead of sending them to everyone all the time. This is great, because they can add more HD channels. It also means that cable card can't see those channels.

There is one new thing emerging. Its called the HD DVR by hauppauge.
Basically it uses the analog hole. You rent a normal cable box, and connect the Component and digital output on the back of your cable box to this box. Then it has a IR emitter that causes your box to change channels. This way you can record all channels in HD. However its pretty expensive and the software isn't that good at the moment.

Basically the cable companies suck ass and unfortunately if you want
something that will work and keep working no matter what, the best thing is to just rent a DVR. As they add more and more HD channels, more and more of them will be SDV rendering HD tivos useless.

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