zen.org Communal Weblog

October 18, 2004

Taking back our day-to-day schedule.

Filed under: — brendan @ 18:04 GMT

We decided to build our own PVR (personal video recorder) to make it easier to enjoy TV when we want to. With a son nearly 3, we’ve long known that our ability to watch random television programs is controlled by how tired we are. Since TiVo doesn’t have any service in Ireland, and we don’t want to buy the alternative service that is around Ireland and the UK, we’re rolling our own. (The privacy addict that I am hesitated mentioning Ireland here, but there’s already enough evidence on public record about our existence in Ireland, so why not.)

The goal is to make a device that’ll save TV shows for whenever we choose to watch them, but with more convenience than usually comes from a VCR. In particular, we don’t want to be restrained to the length of the tape that happens to be in the VCR at the time. But we would like to be able to save the programs we enjoy watching so we can take advantage of recreational time when it presents itself. (Our current favorites: The West Wing, CSI, Law and Order, and Gilmore Girls.)

Right now in the livingroom is a Shuttle SN45GV2, which is a tiny (SFF — Small Form Factor) PC. It’s got a 250Gb disk (from the states for $139, tho E just found one for $80 that’s even bigger), 512Mb of memory, a Radeon 9200 video card that I got near home with my friend Declan, and a Hauppauge PVR-350 tuner card to actually get at the TV signal. The PC has a long Ethernet cable at the moment, but it’ll soon be using the Linksys 54Gbit wireless bridge that I got today to let it be on our network without a wireless card in the computer, and without stringing a cable along the floor in front of our fireplace.

The tuner card is interesting because there’s nothing on its packaging to suggest that it matters where you buy it, Europe or the US. (TVs in one area use different signals than another, making them not work from one place to the other.) A friend was over in the US and brought one back for me; everything looked great. In fact, if you visit the link for the card you’ll see the page that says, ”Note: The WinTV-PVR-350’s TV tuner and S-Video/composite video inputs are for either PAL or NTSC.”. That’s actually wrong; the tuner, when you take it out of the box, has a big sticker on it that says “NTSC / NTSC-J”. Gah. I verified that it will not work properly with PAL-I signals coming over the wire here in Ireland. So I had to go get another from someone here. Voila, no markers on the box, but on the card is a “PAL-I” sticker.

In goes the card, up comes the computer, and after booting and some bit-tweaking (to be detailed later) I saw a successful test pattern on the TV screen. Yay!

Now that it’s working, and I’ve gone through the steps with mythtv-setup to make it understand the basic parts of how I’ve got everything set up (also to be detailed later), I have to make it grok the frequencies of the NTL basic cable. Haven’t had a chance to do that yet, and I start some work tomorrow (11 days of fun C++ stuff), so I suppose I’ll be working on it in the evenings somehow. Or maybe the weekend, though typing in the livingroom around our son is an exercise in futility. What time I may have had today was eaten up by making this blog exist, getting a toner cartridge, and the wireless bridge.

Tsk, tsk, it’s all about time management.

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