Skip to main content

How to set up a custom DVR box

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) have become a necessary luxury over the last several years. Millions of people rely on these devices to pause and rewind live television, and to keep track of broadcast schedules and record programs for them. Many consider them just as essential to their daily lives as their cell phones. Gone are the days of the VCR - DVRs let you schedule recordings of your favorite shows and replay them at your convenience.

Ken Sharp build his personal DVR dream machine using only off-the-shelf software and components. Here's how to build a Better DVR out of an Old PC. You will need the following to set up your personal DVR.

Windows machine
with at least 256MB of RAM (512MB is better), plenty of hard drive space, and a good video card.

TV and receiver presumably from your existing home theater system).

TV card I used a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250 card, $149 at

PC DVR software I used BeyondTV, which was bundled with the Hauppauge card, but is available from SnapStream separately for $70 at

WinDVD I already had an old copy of this from my video card, but it's $50 from

Winamp The standard Windows MP3 player, free at

VNC Remote PC access software, free at

SlimServer Lets your server stream music remotely through the internet, free at

Various game emulators Run console game ROMs, many free ones listed at

Playstation or Nintendo game controllers These work much better than PC gamepads for the price, and are available lots of places for $15 and up.

PSX/N64 to USB converter Lets you use console gamepads on the PC, $13 each at

Girder Automation software, $20 at

Cygwin and server software Linux-like operating system, free at

Dynamic DNS service Lets you connect to your home server using a fixed domain name if your broadband account allocates your IP address dynamically. I got this from

And the basic sequence of steps are:

1. Build the PC
2. Install the TV and receiver
3. Install the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250 card and BeyondTV
4. Install video, music, and game utilities
5. Install PSX/N64 to USB converters
6. Install and configure Girder
7. Install Cygwin and server software
8. Set up firewall and dynamic DNS service

Read the full article for detailed steps to build a combination Digital Video Recorder (DVR), music server, and game machine out of an old computer. It does far more than a commercial TiVo, and there's no monthly fee.

TiVo for cable and satellite is more expensive and less portable. TiVo offers TiVo2Go, which converts TiVo programming into a viewable format on your laptop, but it takes a long time to do the conversion.

Several big-name cable companies, including Comcast, are renting DVRs to subscribers for a monthly fee competing with ReplayTV and TiVo.