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Cheapest possible HTPC DVR?

Ken g6

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My main computer is in one room, my TV and outdoor antenna hookup in another. I've done some recording with rabbit ears, but they frequently have glitches. I'd like to set up a way to record TV glitch-free. But I'm too stingy to pay for a $240 pre-built DVR, and way too stingy for a TiVo. Plus I'd like to get the recordings back to my computer in HD if possible.

So what's the absolute cheapest computer that can record ATSC OTA? Something with a Raspberry Pi? I looked at this, but it seems to be UK-oriented, and this older article says the Pi can't play back MPEG2. Not absolutely necessary, I guess, but it would be nice if I could verify what I'm recording.

*** Available hardware ***
I have some other things lying around that might be useful:

TV tuners:
- A Hauppauge WinTV HVR-950 USB tuner, currently on my main computer
- A K-World USB tuner, somewhere.

Storage devices: I have a 3TB Seagate external HDD that I have backup files stored on. My old Windows laptop and Android tablet (see below) can see it, but my Linux desktop can't, so it's something of a pain to use. But the Pi might not be able to see it because it uses NTFS. I also have a 160GB external drive that I could possibly reformat, and several little USB drives. But these are formatted FAT32, which can't store more than 4GB in a file, and many HD streams seem to be ~6GB/hour.

Network: I have an old Netgear MA-101 802.11b USB network device. Or I might be able to tether my phone over USB, for very temporary access. There's no Ethernet out there. If I could run Ethernet I could run antenna cable...or run a USB extension...but none of these is practical.

Power supply: My phone came with a 550ma USB charger that I'm not using. (I plug the phone into the computer.) I guess it might work on the Pi. I figure I'd need a powered USB hub anyway.

So, do you think a Raspberry Pi can do what I want? I'd need the Pi, a powered USB hub, and what other hardware?

*** Other available devices ***
Alternatively, I do have a few other devices. I have an eight-year-old Dell Inspiron laptop with a Pentium M. But it's too slow to display anything it's recording, I haven't found software to record without displaying on Windows, and besides it uses too much power and it's getting very old.

I also have an Asus Transformer tablet with a USB connection, but it didn't recognize my Hauppauge card at all. Plus its screen needs to stay on when using anything USB. But if you know of software to use an Android tablet like this let me know.

TLDR: So what's the cheapest way for me to set up a DVR considering the available hardware? Get a Raspberry Pi, or use something else above? Or something else entirely?
 

nForce2

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Hang on, so what exactly is the problem with what you have? :confused:

Your Pentium-M would be fast enough for a record-only machine, and it could be fast enough for playback too if it had the right graphics card. And you have the drives and the tuners, so you seem to be set for hardware. If you are asking for software advice, MythTV is the answer. ;)

But it sounds like you already have a faster computer all assembled, and you have already done some recordings with it, but they have "glitches". What kind of glitches are we talking about? Maybe you're trying to build/buy a whole DVR computer, and fix an across-the-house networking problem, when all you really need is a better antenna? :confused:

Before you go too far, check your local stations by entering your address at tvfool.com. I suspect that you will find that most of your local stations are UHF stations, and your VHF rabbit ears are the wrong antenna type to receive them properly. If you need a decent cheap antenna, try the $8 UHF single bow-tie from Radio Shack. :thumbsup: TV Fool will also help you know which way to aim it. :thumbsup:
 

Ken g6

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Your Pentium-M would be fast enough for a record-only machine, and it could be fast enough for playback too if it had the right graphics card. And you have the drives and the tuners, so you seem to be set for hardware. If you are asking for software advice, MythTV is the answer. ;)
Hm, you might be right about this. The main downside here is that I occasionally need a machine with Windows to run IE8 for work. (I telecommute.) I have been thinking about getting a new laptop. Of course, this is way more expensive than anything listed here, but it is for work. :hmm:

On the software side, I tried KnoppMyth some time ago. It kept asking for a "server" - server of what I have no idea. I couldn't get it to work at all. And I'd rather stay in Windows for the reason above, unless I get a new laptop.

Maybe you're trying to build/buy a whole DVR computer, and fix an across-the-house networking problem, when all you really need is a better antenna?
Maybe. I have a better antenna, on the other side of the house, outdoors. Which is a better place because all the TV station transmitters are on that side of the house.

I suspect that you will find that most of your local stations are UHF stations, and your VHF rabbit ears are the wrong antenna type to receive them properly. If you need a decent cheap antenna, try the $8 UHF single bow-tie from Radio Shack.
I know all the TV stations in my area. Only one is VHF - and it's one I have the most trouble receiving from this location (of the ones I expect to receive). Oddly, hooking up a bit of extra cable seems to make it easier to receive if the cable is placed just right.

Come to think of it, there are three other stations I have never been able to receive from this location. I do have a bow-tie antenna around here somewhere - I'll try that.
 

Ken g6

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So, I'm still missing a few components here. I haven't been able to find that bowtie antenna yet, but I doubt it would help much. So I'd like to find some software for my laptop.I couldn't get VLC to tune anything, let alone record. So I need either Windows software or some livecd that can record without requiring too much configuration. Any suggestions?
 

nForce2

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On the software side, I tried KnoppMyth some time ago. It kept asking for a "server" - server of what I have no idea. I couldn't get it to work at all. And I'd rather stay in Windows for the reason above, unless I get a new laptop.
"some time ago" meaning "quite a long time ago"? The last release of KnoppMyth was over 5 years ago now. ;)

Did you read any of the documentation? If you're going to use MythTV, you need to read at least a LITTLE bit about it to know what you're doing. MythTV is a two-part system, with backends and frontends (servers and clients). These can be split across different machines, but even on a single standalone machine, you must run both the backend and the frontend. You also need a database, which again could be on a different machine, but is typically on your master backend machine.



So, I'm still missing a few components here. I haven't been able to find that bowtie antenna yet, but I doubt it would help much. So I'd like to find some software for my laptop.I couldn't get VLC to tune anything, let alone record. So I need either Windows software or some livecd that can record without requiring too much configuration. Any suggestions?
Why not use the software that came with your tuners?
 

Ken g6

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some time ago" meaning "quite a long time ago"? The last release of KnoppMyth was over 5 years ago now.
Yep. Same laptop, though.

Why not use the software that came with your tuners?
Because my laptop is so slow it can't display 1080i content, and can barely display 720p content. And because the software that came with my tuner insists on displaying what it's recording, as far as i can tell. It's Hauppauge WinTV 2000.

I haven't been able to locate the K-World tuner or the bow-tie antenna. The house is under repair and everything's a mess.

Edit:
Did you read any of the documentation? If you're going to use MythTV, you need to read at least a LITTLE bit about it to know what you're doing.
No. And, really, I don't want anything that heavy. I just want to save the transport stream to disk. I have the azap configuration files and everything - I just need something lightweight that will interface with the tuner card. I'm starting to think some lightweight Linux on a USB drive might be the way to go.
 
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JoeBleed

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Maybe i missed it in the OP, but why not just do what is probably the cheapest solution and run an coax cable from your room with antenna hookup to your computer/dvr room with a splitter in your antenna hookup room?
 

Ken g6

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Running a cable from here to there just isn't an option. It would either be unsightly (on the ceiling), a tripping hazard (on the floor), or require drilling holes. The splitter's not the problem if you were wondering - I have that.

I just looked into wireless solutions, but I think something like this is more like a small computer with four USB ports and WiFi. Which is sort of what I was going for with the Raspberry Pi, but I'm not sure either knows how to work with a TV tuner card.
 

Ken g6

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I'm back!

Well, the laptop's hard drive started reporting errors, so I removed it, installed Puppy Linux on a USB drive, and hooked it up with the external hard drive and USB tuner. It works almost perfectly. The problem is that when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work.

I've been recording with a derivative of record-dvb.sh from here: http://wiki.gentoo.org/wiki/TV_Tuner I've made it more resilient, so it will retry if it doesn't get a tuner lock immediately. But that still doesn't solve my problem: Sometimes, after the machine has been up for hours or days, the dd command will copy nothing, and I'll get a zero-size file. I set up my script to retry five times when that happens, and that didn't work either. It's completely unpredictable when this will happen, and I've found no way to get it working again without rebooting.

So I either need to get that fixed or find a different recording method. The other thing I'm thinking about is a network-based tuner with some method of getting the results back to my desktop wirelessly. When there's no interference, my laptop's 802.11g gets 20mbps back to my desktop, though that drops to 10 when there is interference. I'm hoping N would do better, though. And I think VLC could receive and store the video.

The next question is whether to use the wireless router packaged with that as a second AP, and maybe get a wireless card for my desktop? Or to get some Ethernet extender like this? Or would an AP work like that in bridge edit: "wireless repeater" mode? Or is this whole sending TV signals wirelessly thing foolish? :p
 
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nForce2

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Or is this whole sending TV signals wirelessly thing foolish? :p
Yes, it is. ;)

Why is it, when your whole intention is the "cheapest possible" DVR, that you are OK with spending $130+ on a fiddly setup strewn all across the house, but you're not willing to just buy a decent antenna and be done with it? :confused:
 
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Ken g6

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Because the rest of my house is between my computer and the TV signals I need to receive. Because AntennaWeb actually says I shouldn't be able to receive any signals, but on the other side of my house I can receive everything available in the area.

But I guess I'll bite. What do you think is a "decent" antenna?

Edit:
In my experience antenna choice is like house hunting. Location is way more important than anything else.

It's better to make an effort to get a good line on the transmitter rather than get an expensive antenna.
This is what I'm trying to do, without stringing wires all over the place. I think there are at least two stations I'll never get from my computer's location.
 
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Ken g6

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Well, I'm going to go ahead and order that network tuner ("SiliconDust HDHomeRun Dual"). I could use two tuners, I think I can configure my current router as a bridge, and if I can't, I could probably run a 75 to 100-foot Ethernet run outside. I guess a 75-to-100-foot coax run would be possible too, but the cable's not as flexible as Ethernet, and I don't think the signal would hold up as well.

And if it doesn't receive my OTA stations, as some reviews claim it won't, I'm fairly sure Newegg would take it back.
 

glugglug

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Network: I have an old Netgear MA-101 802.11b USB network device. Or I might be able to tether my phone over USB, for very temporary access. There's no Ethernet out there. If I could run Ethernet I could run antenna cable...or run a USB extension...but none of these is practical.
In that case, you may as well quit while your ahead. If you aren't in the same room, 802.11n is usually horribly inadequate for TV streaming. 802.11b is a complete non-starter.

For HD mpeg-2 streaming (as in TV tuners, not Netflix etc. which has much better compression & buffering), you need at least 20Mbps continuous bandwidth. That means it can't dip below that, not that 20Mbps is the average. Extremely few 802.11n routers provide this (especially through walls), and exactly ZERO 802.11g or b routers do. The buffer used by WMC is miniscule. If your connection drops below 10Mbps for 500ms, that is enough to screw up your video watching. Wireless renegotiates the connection and pauses for a second or two ALL THE TIME. Attempting to do a DVR over 802.11ac would probably be more headache than its worth as the WiFi QoS would be too low. Attempting it over 802.11b is absolutely ridiculous. It would in fact be shocking if an SD channel was watchable.

In fact, I very much doubt that such an antiquated router would have the CPU horsepower to provide you 20Mbps bandwidth packet switching on wired ethernet. You are far better off using a $20 dumb Gbps switch for your local LAN.

If you have existing coax wiring for cable, MoCA adapters should work, albeit with an annoying 4ms ping latency making the UI more sluggish than you would expect.
 
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Ken g6

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I won't be using WMC - I'll be using the HDHR and VLC in Linux. I imagine the buffer for the HDHR is nonexistent - it uses UDP.

In that case, you may as well quit while your ahead. If you aren't in the same room, 802.11n is usually horribly inadequate for TV streaming. 802.11b is a complete non-starter.
Yeah, I didn't list all the hardware I had. Between the free router coming with the tuner and my existing router, I'll have two N300-capable routers, at least one of which I think is capable of being configured as a bridge. The b thing is an old USB network card that I won't be using at all. With the g-card in my laptop, I've been getting 20Mbps average, so I'm hoping for much better than that between the two routers.

And if that doesn't work I'll be looking for ways to run an Ethernet cable outside. I have no existing wiring for cable other than a single hole drilled in the outside wall for the antenna wire. I don't want to drill any more holes, but may be able to get a cable out the bottom of a door and in a window.
 

glugglug

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VLC stands a far better chance of working since it is designed for internet streaming not just LAN.

But anything involving 802.11g absolutely will not work. And 802.11n will not be a good experience. OK, with VLC maybe its ok, but at 75-100 feet I doubt it. Also, with such antiquated hardware I am wondering if you have the space to store HD videos. Potentially you could be using up to 8GB/hour for each recording.
 
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Ken g6

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And 802.11n will not be a good experience.
Wireless renegotiates the connection and pauses for a second or two ALL THE TIME.
Hm. This would cause the kind of glitches I started this whole thing to prevent, wouldn't it?

Well, the laptop idea worked; it's the tuner that wasn't working so well. I now have another tuner (coming soon). Maybe that, with a crossover Ethernet cable and a little socat/netcat magic, will work. Either that or I have to figure out how to install VLC better on Puppy Linux.
 

Ken g6

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Final update, I hope: I got the HDHomeRun, and finally got recording working on my Puppy Linux PC. Streaming video over WiFi also works very well, surprisingly, though I wouldn't depend on it to record video in high quality.

I just wanted to leave this thing here too. It's something I discovered a couple of days after ordering the HDHomeRun. It only has one tuner and no WiFi, but it might have been a much easier-to-use, and slightly cheaper, alternative. Now I may never know - although it is cheap, so I might get one someday. :hmm:
 

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