After 5 years of pining over the idea of building a DVR, Rachel and I finallly decided to go for it as a (early) christmas present to each other. We are both pretty thrilled with it. There were some bumps along the road, but fortunately – the right software existed for me to make it happen to our specifications.
I got a micro ATX form factor case for the project. The guts are as follows:
- Sempron 140 processor
- Gigabyte AM3 motherboard with HDMI output
- Two 640 GB WD green hard drives
- Samsung DVD-RW
- Radeon 4200 onboard video card
- Hauppauge 2250 dual ATSC/QAM tuner card
- 4 gb of unganged 800 mhz ram
The hard drives use the onboard RAID controller to function as a RAID 1 configuration. I did this because I wanted a fairly robust storage solution for the house.
The RAM was supposed to be 1033 mhz, but it was unstable at that clock, so I had to bump it down. I didn’t want to deal with returning it, and it seems plenty fast.
The processor actually has two cores, that my motherboard was able to unlock, so while it is a Sempron 140 – it registers at post as an Athlon X2 4200+.
The idea for this build was to use MythTV on ubuntu linux. I bought all my hardware with an eye for linux compatibility. That didn’t work out. I’m sure that if I really hacked on it, I could have gotten it all to work with linux, but I decided that it wouldn’t be up to rachel’s standards in the end. I had a copy of Windows 7 beta, so I thought I’d give it a try for the media center.
It worked great! I had spent several hours trying to get linux working, but windows media center was up and running within 30 minutes.
There were still a few software quirks to work out, however.
The main thing I had to work out was the power settings. The system didn’t wake from sleep properly, so I had to configure everything to work as hibernate. I got lucky, as my motherboard supports waking from hibernate for windows scheduled events (like show recordings). I had a hard time getting the thing to go back to hibernation after it woke up for a recording. I eventually found this software (http://slicksolutions.eu/mst.shtml) for configuring standby behavior with windows media center, and it works great.
I also snagged a plugin to make hulu desktop a clickable item from within windows media center. There are several out there, and none seem to work quite right – so I’m still working on that.
I had some trouble getting the sound to come across the HDMI because the settings in windows were strange. In the end, I didn’t really need to do anything – it just worked. The problem was that it doesn’t say that it’s a 5.1 signal unless one is actually being sent. This was mainly a problem in the windows media center speaker configuration thing, as it couldn’t tell I had 5 speakers for some reason.
Windows media center is a very slick DVR solution. It has netflix watch it now included in it, and you can record things with all the power that you might find in a Tivo. I actually like the interface better in some spots.
We have the capacity to record about 40 hours of HD stuff and have some room left over for music and photos.
We can record two shows at once, which I am amazed that we actually do (I’m looking at you bones).
Here are some (bad) pictures of the interface.