Why would anyone in their right mind want to build their own Personal Video Recorder (PVR) when something can be picked up from the local electrical superstore for a couple of hundred bucks? And there’s such a great selection to choose from! For me to begin to answer this, let’s examine the stash of equipment I have for recording free-to-air TV to identify the limitations.
Cream of the crop, I have a Samsung Blu-ray player model BD-H8500A-XY with twin HD tuners and a 500GB HDD. Pretty impressive huh?! Not really. Two significant issues I have with this unit are:
- It is a closed system. You cannot transfer anything that you record out of the system. The internal HDD can’t be shared on the home network. When the HDD fills up, you have to decide what you’re going to delete off it to make space for new recordings.
- It is region specific and there is no known hack to get around this. I have some Japanese DVDs that will not play on this unit.
Second in line is a Pioneer DVD recorder model DVR-550HX-S with a single SD tuner and 160GB HDD. The issues I have with this unit are:
- It is also a closed system. The internal HDD can’t be shared on the home network. . While I can, in a manner of speaking, get recordings off the HDD via the DVD recorder, it’s not ideal. It has to be in a DVD format. I’m not able, for instance, to pull off a recording as an MPEG-2 file.
- It is region specific, but there appears to be a hack for it. I’ve not tried it though.
- It has an SD tuner, which is not ideal.
While not a TV recorder, I also own a Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray Player. I keep it around because I have hacked it to be region free so it will play my DVDs from Japan.
Somewhere stored away, I also have an Astone AP-360 Media player. Now, this was more to my liking. This unit has a built-in HD tuner. It has an internal HDD that could be shared on the home network so that recordings could be pulled off. The solution to all my TV recording woes. However, it was not to be. The unit was woefully unstable and since the company Astone folded, the unit has been relegated to the bottom of a drawer.
All of the units I own perform some function well, but none do everything that I require. They are all also taking up valuable real estate in my home and I’d like to consolidate. The first three units above sit in my hi-fi cabinet. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to replace them all with a single unit and in the process recover all that real estate?
So, what am I looking for in a PVR? Here’s the list of desirable characteristics:
- A single unit to replace what I already have so that I can declutter and recover some space in my hi-fi cabinet;
- The feel of a bought appliance rather than a PC;
- Has an optical device that will not only play Blu-ray, DVD and CD disks, but will also write to said media;
- The unit needs to be region-free to be able to play optical media from anywhere in the world;
- The ability to record free-to-air TV; and
- The ability to share the unit’s internal HDD within the home network so that recordings can be moved to or viewed from other devices.
Is there anything commercial that fits the bill? Not that I’ve seen. So, there you go. I’ve now built a case for rolling my own PVR.
In my next post, of this multipart series, I’ll present the hardware I’ve used to meet the desired specifications. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at the software required to tie it all together. There may be one of two additional posts thereafter that look at specific aspects of the build.