How to Turn your PC into a DVR – It’s Easy!

Illustration: Gordon McAlpin

How to Turn your PC into a DVR

So you’d like one of those fancy digital video recorders (DVRs), especially to record high-definition content on your television. However, you’re not a fan of paying either your cable television operator or TiVo a monthly fee. Plus, those boxes never have enough hard drive space to record a significant amount of high-def television, and adding a hard drive to them is either impossible or very difficult.

The solution is easy. A cheap TV Tuner card for your old PC, maybe a new hard drive, some free software, some cables, and viola: a DVR!

First, I’ll lay out the stuff you’ll need to buy, then I’ll help you get it all set up, step by step. Here we go.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO PURCHASE

    1. A TV Tuner card

If the desktop PC you’d like to dedicate to this purpose was made in the last five years, it probably has a PCI Express slot open, so look for one of those. Here’s a good choice.

The above card comes with many of the cables you’ll need, TV scheduling software, and also a remote control. Neat, huh?

    1. Cables

You’ll be running a coaxial cable from your cable company’s cable box to the TV Tuner Card on the back of your PC. A coaxial cable is round and twists to tighten. You’ve probably seen one before if you’ve ever plugged in your TV.

You might also be running another coaxial cable from your TV Tuner Card to your TV; you can also run a HDMI cable, component cables, or even a VGA cable, depending on how new or advanced your TV is. Any of those will work fine. If you don’t have a spare cable lying around, you’ll have to buy one someplace. Don’t spend more than $10.

    1. A Bigger Hard Drive

Most desktop PCs in the last five years have what’s called SATA, or serial ATA. So look for a SATA drive; around 1 to 2 terabytes (TB) should do it. This won’t run you very much, as prices are falling, while capacity increases all the time.

DVR HARDWARE

Open up your PC’s case; you might need a screwdriver. Find an open PCI Express slot on your motherboard that matches the card you just bought, and push it in firmly. Find free SATA cables and a drive bay and install the new drive. If the above is Greek to you, get a PC expert to help you with this part.

Run a coaxial cable from your cable box’s “Out” to the TV Tuner card’s “In”. Figure out which cable you’re running from the card to your TV and do that.

If you’re wondering how the card can change channels on your cable box, it’s simple: the card has what’s called an “IR Blaster” on it, which means it’s got its own remote control built in and changes channels by itself. Neat, huh?

DVR SOFTWARE

If the new drive you put in is your only drive, you’ll need to install Windows on it; otherwise, start up Windows and format the new drive. Also, put in the CD or DVD that came with your TV Tuner card and install the drivers for it. This will allow you to use your TV as a second monitor, but since the screen on your primary monitor is probably sharper, you might need to continue using that until you’re all done.

Most quality TV Tuner cards out there, including the Hauppage one we recommended above, come with TV scheduling software on the disc; this software will work excellently for scheduling recordings.

ONE LAST THING

Don’t forget fresh batteries in the remote!

NOW WHAT?

Launch the TV scheduling software, turn the TV on and change the video input until you see your PC, launch the video recording software, and see if it all works! If all went correctly, you’ll be recording at high-def without paying a fee to anyone. The hardware you purchased will eventually pay for itself, and if you’ve got a Blu-Ray recorder, you can even burn your content to disc, if you want. This is a truly optimized television experience, and you’ll feel like a wiz-kid at the same time. And with a 2 TB drive, you’ll have room for 300 hours of high-definition content. That’s enough for you. Isn’t it?

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