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Television Media

Turning the PC into a Digital Video Recorder 202

Posted by michael
from the some-assembly-required dept.
gearfix2 writes "The NYTimes ran this story in today's paper about how to turn the PC into a personal video recorder (a la TiVo)... It's got pretty thorough coverage of PC-based hardware with the conclusion "the TiVo outshines the PC-based systems by being easier to use and by offering more built-in intelligence." Conspicuously absent are El Gato's EyeTV for the mac and SnapStream's Personal Video Station... Anyways, the real question is whether PC PVR will *ever* get there. No one does it quite right yet..."
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Turning the PC into a Digital Video Recorder

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  • Me? (Score:1, Troll)

    by Tall Rob Mc (579885)
    I've been testing six of these systems on my Compaq Presario 7000, running Windows Me: the I/OMagic PC PVR ($50), the AVerTV Studio ($90), the Hauppauge WinTV PVR 250 ($149), the Pinnacle Bungee DVD ($199), the ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500 DV ($249) and the Nvidia Personal Cinema ($299).
    I can only be impressed to a certain point if he's using Me for anything.
    • I can only be impressed to a certain point if he's using Me for anything.

      On the contrary! I'm impressed if he can use ME for anything. God knows I couldn't manage to.

    • "I can only be impressed to a certain point if he's using Me for anything."

      This is not a troll, there's actually a good point here. PVRs need to have really good uptime, something that nobody will claim with Windows ME.

      Windows 2000 is a good PVR OS. The uptime on my PC-PVR was well over 2 months.
  • I've heard good things about the all-in-wonder, and even that there are free data feeds for all the value-added stuff that Tivo brings. You have to set it up yourself, but you don't have to pay for a service either.
    • Re:ATI? (Score:3, Informative)

      by _J_ (30559)

      I gots me one of them there ATI 8500 All-In-Wonder DV cards and I have to say I love it.

      Two complaints tho';
      1. The TV window has to be the active window for the remote control to work
      2. I've had instances with the scheduled recording feature where I've set up the event, closed the scheduler interface (The scheduler still runs in the background), and when the time comes to record the program an error pops up saying that another device is using the tuner.

      Somewhat frustrating, but over all the device is a lot of fun.

      IMHO, as per
      J:)
      • I've got a complaint of my own. I don't wanna give up by Geforce, so when I bought my ATI, I had to buy a PCI card. Well, the ATI card doesn't do *any* TV or video capture unless it's the primary card. That plays hell with all your desktop settings and getting games to work and so forth. It would be nice if you could pop it in as a second card and it would just work.
    • The current AIW is pretty good for this, though not as good as the TIVO (imho, I own both). The next version of the AIW will add one big thing which the current is missing, which is a hardware mpeg2 encoder. This should make a huge difference in performance.
    • It's just so hokey, tho, the way you have to plug the TV sound output into the microphone jack to have it sampled.

      It just doesn't give a very solid impression
  • Wasn't there a story on some PVR software for Linux a while back? Anyone have the link?
  • by edrugtrader (442064) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:37PM (#4000912) Homepage
    accurate up to date free TV listings.
    able to auto-configure to any cable or satellite setup
    dual tuner
    program suggestions
    season pass
    easy interface
    video quality

    exactlly what is missing in the current PC PVRs?
    • What is missing is plug and play ease of use for the average consumer. In a nutshell, PC PVR's have much more bang for the buck features over Tivo, but lack the smoothe interface...

      Personally, I'd take a PC PVR over Tivo anyday, (heck, i am an early adopter), but I wouldn't recommend it to my grandparents...

      • "Personally, I'd take a PC PVR over Tivo anyday, (heck, i am an early adopter), but I wouldn't recommend it to my grandparents..."

        Here's the conclusion I came to:

        PC PVRs are ideal for:
        -Archiving everything you record
        -Watching an entire series
        -Dumping stuff to your laptop to watch on a trip. (I've done this a few times now, it's great!)
        -Watching TV Shows while you're browsing the web

        TV-Based Tivo etc are ideal for:
        -Watching stuff on your TV (much better video quality)
        -Pausing/Skipping commercials
        -Catching a new show that you're curious about
        -Shows that aren't that important to watch after a week's gone by. (Archived shows eat up at the ol hard drive space...) ... and so on.

        What am I getting at? Well, frankly, I want both. I already have a PC-PVR I used to watch the entire run of Quantum Leap, in order. But now I want a Tivo to sample some of the other shows that I don't want to bother setting up the PVR to capture.

        For everybody else, I'd recommend starting with a Tivo, and building a Tivo-like PC if you have larger needs with it. You do take quite a hit on visual quality when you go the PC route.
    • I would add:

      tunner support for cable, broadcast and satellite signals in one box

      I've got DirecTV at home, plus local cable for the local stations. DirecTV signals start at channel 100, the cable tops out in the mid-60s. No overlap at all. But, if I want TIVO to be able to record them both, I've got to get a non-DirecTV model, and use a separate tuner for the satellite (which means, of course, that I can't watch one satellite program and record another). And the situation doesn't change if I drop the cable and put an antenna on the roof. The DirecTV TIVO receiver (or the regular DirecTV receiver, for that matter) is not capable of tuning to non-satelitte channels.

      I can't imagine that the reason for this is technological. Can anyone explain this to me?
      • by malfunct (120790) on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:04PM (#4001128) Homepage
        The reason for this is based on how the two tivo's get thier signal.

        The direcTivo just extracts the mpeg stream directly from the sattelite signal, it has no mpeg encoder in the box. Thus its cheap enough to put in 2 recorders because they just dump the stream to disk.

        The standalone tivo on the otherhand has a chip for doing mpeg encoding in realtime. It can only process 1 stream at a time. I guess its a price/value call for the tivo company not to include 2 of these in the box.

        The one thing I like most about the tivo vs a PC based solution is that the tivo is a sexy little box that does its 1 job very very well. I don't want to have 2 pc's to do that same job. The only big advantage to me for the PC based solution is the fact that it would be far easier to archive the video that I capture.

      • The reason you need a standalone TiVo for cable is that the DirecTiVo doesn't have a normal channel tuner or MPEG encoder. It just writes the MPEG stream from DirecTV to disk.

        You could build a box that had all of that built in, but it would cost more and TiVo probably doesn't think there's enough of a market for it.
  • I used to use VirtualDub when I was on Windows, and it was rally nice. Did everything from recording, to cutting out commercials, to encoding into a variety of formats.

    Wondering if there's any similar program on the *nix side?

    I do know of Video::DVDRip and drip for ripping DVDs, but spefically looking for cable. (to use w/ my WinTV card)
    • Check out the mjpeg tools -- mjpeg.sf.net... although originally created for cards like the Buz & the Matrox Marvels / Gx00, it has a software-encoding flag that works well with the WinTV card (assuming you have a decent processor).

      I use the toolset to cap several shows a week with my G400-TV, edit them, clean them up, and encode them to SVCD. The results are great.

      -ZK-

    • by Anonymous Coward
      http://www.videolan.org/

      "OpenSource Video streaming solution for every OS !"

      ok, so it doesn't do the redording but it can sure serve video all over your LAN. The price is nice, too.

  • For those who want to make a start, here's [microsoft.com] some sample code to start off with.
  • ATI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lysol (11150) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:42PM (#4000946)
    I moved across the us recently and decided to ditch all my tubes (tv & monitors). i got a ati tv wonder usd and it's totally kick ass. works off either cable or antenna. plug it into a networked computer, give it a zip code, and voila!, u have tv in that local area.
    my friend has tivo, and it's cool. but when i get my projector goin (ati also has a remote for this), i'll have a mobile projection system. even a 640x480 projector on a wall will look better than most tubes. i basically gave my tv away. just like the old radios yr granparents mighta dug and have since bitten the technology dust, so will tube tv's.
    expect more tv wonder type devices. now, if only it worked on my tibook.. :(
    • I love people like you. I am running dual 19" monitors on my PC from people that have gotten rid of them for no good reason.
  • by sterno (16320) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:43PM (#4000953) Homepage
    If you are average or even above average consumer and are given the following choice:

    1) Go out and buy a $450 ReplayTV that provides 40 hours of record time, network sharing, and was builting from the ground up to be an integrated part of your home theater system.

    2) Go out and buy a PC for 300-400 then buy the video capture card, a video card with a TV out, an IR receiver, and software. Then hook it up to your home theater system and always have this odd looking box sitting next to the rest of your equipment.

    Gee, I wonder why the PC PVR thing hasn't caught on. We are only now getting to the point where the left over machines we have from new purchases have the performance necessary to handle being a PVR. I've tried to do this a bit myself, and the basic problem I ran into was that my processor just wasn't fast enough to handle the demand. If you have an old PC that's fast enough, it might be worth hacking but otherwise, it's WAY easier and similar priced to just buy a Tivo or ReplayTV.
    • Well, that is true to an extent. But the PC offers much more. I have a PVR machine set up and big-deal; record TV programs on a very overpriced Tivo. BUT I also have complete access to my audio streaming server with a web interface with my entire CD collection available (and soon adding mixes...) at the touch of a button. And 192 kb/s MP3 is pretty decent. Not to mention web access which can be fun, even with company (look up movies, trivia, etc). And all hooked up via HDTV connection. Eventually it will be hooked up to home automation.

      Sure a PC PVR is overpriced (and a bit of a pain) but the potential is much better; it just needs to be realized with more turn-key software.

      Now if the damn thing wasn't so noisy and stopped heating the room....

    • always have this odd looking box sitting next to the rest of your equipment

      A few days ago there was a Slashdot article [slashdot.org] where Overclockers Melbourne's installed a PC in a VCR case. View here [ocmelbourne.com]
    • Go Replay TV!!

      Nice to see SOMEONE mentiones Replay and not just Tivo. Don't worry Tivo users, I think yours is cool too.

      But you don't have My Replay TV [myreplaytv.com]

    • 2) Go out and buy a PC for 300-400 then buy the video capture card, a video card with a TV out, an IR receiver, and software. Then hook it up to your home theater system and always have this odd looking box sitting next to the rest of your equipment.

      No. I'm not going to go out and buy a PC + TVcard. I have the PC, and TV cards are incredibly cheap. What I want is the software to effectively turn my existing PC into a DVR. Personally, spending $50 on a tv cap card is a lot more attractive than spending $400 on a Tivo + $200 for lifetime subscription, or $600 on a ReplayTV.

    • "'ve tried to do this a bit myself, and the basic problem I ran into was that my processor just wasn't fast enough to handle the demand."

      It's not the processor, it's the codec. I built a PVR out of a 400 mhz Pentium 2 that captured at 640 by 480 @ 30 fps. Magic, eh? No. The MotionJPEG codec by PicVideo handles it just fine. As a matter of fact, it only used about 60% of my system resources.

      The down side is that it is quite a video hog. I think it was 2 gigs an hour, but it might have been more than that. However, it did capture elegantly, and it played back smoothly.

      I actually started speccing out a new PVR based system using this codec. I was going to have a 10 gig buffer (I think it was good for roughly 4 hours at good quality...), then on the shows I wanted to keep it'd run an extra background process to recompress that video into something like DivX or Windows Media or something.

      I even wanted to go to the extra step to make it run at 60 fps. This *is* possible. I've managed to do it. However I ran into one major problem: I had to tell it whether it should start on the even fields or the odd fields. Choose the wrong one and the video looks like it has parkinson'.

      I couldn't automate a way to automatically detect the field and process from that. DAMN!! Hopefully that problem will get resolved one day. When it does, my P2 400 will be a rather envious capture box. 60fps video on a PC looks sooOOOoo much better than 30.
    • I've had PCs capable of capturing video for a few years now, and I have yet to acheive the kind of results I would expect for the capabilities of the hardware. I currently have an IrDP (but have yet to configure it, as googling for liks left me with no ideas on how to get a stanrd univeral remote to work with it -- if that is even possible)
      After all the money spent on the hardware I'm not exactly feeling like paying an extra $50 or more for software to do PVR, and VirualDub has a number of strange bugs in it, like only using 80% utilization of my CPU, or dropping video frames because the 'audio stream' falls out of sync. I gave up on using cards with integrated tuners as S-video seems to provide better quality (because of reduced interfearance) but then I need some way to make my 2-way IrDP control the Digital cable box (again no luck finding software that does that, plus it would require mirrors to establish line-of sight otherwise I'd only be able to use the PC to control the Digital cable)
      On the plus side, when I do make a video with a PC, I have all the flexibility I need, unlike PVRs like the tivo (which has no way to transfer files built-in) or ReplayTV (which can only share with other ReplayTV boxes, and not any PCs on the LAN..)
      In fact it's much simpler to conver a DVD to a DivX than it is to record TV with a PC, and that is just how sad a state the PC PVR industry is in.
      That and PCs aren't even to a point where they're properly engineered either. how many slashdotters are using 20" box fans or at least leaving the case panel open to prevent overheating in their PCs?
      I can point to countless mis-engineered products. High performance ram has always run hot and yet only recently did heat spreaders become widely available for some high-performance modules. The Asus v8460 leave a gap between the Ti4600 and the 'fancy' all-copper HSF. and not only that the only copper fins are located over the memory. All copper is good, but leaving a gap and using silicon thermal compound is not desireable. Thermal grease is meant to fill the air-gap in a 'seemingly' smooth metal surface, not a gap between hsf and processor. Adding artic silver III instead of the cheap stuff they had on there wasn't quite enough, so I've been forced to buy a thermaltake Geforce 4 cooling solution.
      The other nice thing about Tivo is that with DirecTV there is no recompression, but you can bet there will Never be a PC solution that allows direct recording of the mpeg stream transmitted by DirecTV. Still, without he ability to move the files to my PC or laptop there is no incentive for me to get either set-top PVR solution so perhaps that has something to do with why the PVR market isteslf is struggling to gain acceptance. That and 'normal' people (like my mom) complain about the menu systems on DSS and digital cable to be 'too complex' (much less the PVRs which use simmilar UIs.) It's rather like the blinking 12 parigdim. People aren't willing to take the time to learn, and since VCRs and DVD players already fufils the need to rent movies, the only part of the VHS marketshare PVR can cut into is the minority of people who actually are willing to take the time and effort to timeshift television programming. The only people besides myself who I know use a VCR for timeshifitng are doing it the manual way, by having someone press record at the time the show airs, because they're unwilling to go through menus to set it up correctly.
      To address this issue I do have some ideas. People are genrally willing to accept a complex web interface, as it is pretty much point and click, So why not just have the Tivo/ReplayTV have a small http server (hardware or software, hardware solutions run as low at $10 and that includes a NIC and IIRC 512k of programmable memory for the web interface Tivo already runs Linux, adding a stipped down httpd server and some more flash memory for the UI can't be too expensive) Also, Tivo is a subscription service, instead of implementing the httpd on the box itself, you could allow progams to be scheduled from a my.tivo.com style web interface, that connects to your tivo to tell it to schedule the programming, unfortunately this type of solution would require a 'check for programming updates' button on the remote or something to make it work and it wouldn't be as reliable as an in-the-box solution. However it could enable co-branding for example, tvguide.com could have 'record this with my Tivo' links embedded in their online TV listings. "one-click recording" is the kind of 'feature' that might attract people tired of unwiedly VCR interfaces or obscure VCRPlus+ codes.
  • by mazeone (5457) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:43PM (#4000955) Homepage
    There is a fairly neat open source PVR at mythtv.org [mythtv.org]. It is still rather early in development, but has neat features like an on-screen display, a program guide, pausing and rewinding of live TV, etc. Pretty neat stuff.

  • by bmooney28 (537716) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:43PM (#4000958) Homepage
    This is a very informal review, compared to those at Tom's Hardware Guide, etc... Additionally it is written aimed at your average consumer, who is interested in ease of use, whereas the average Slashdot user would be more interested in advanced features and tweaking DVR's for peak performance...

    I personally own a AIW Radeon 7500 and am *extremely* happy with the advanced features it offers over a Tivo, most notably the ability to save video directly to VCD format, for cheap, easy, longlasting storage...

  • "the TiVo outshines the PC-based systems by being easier to use and by offering more built-in intelligence"

    To compensate for a lack of external intelligence in the average couch potato, no doubt.

    Ali

  • I used the new ATI A-I-W 8500 for a while and the tools were easy to use. I wouldnt compare it being on par with other solutions out there, but if you wanted a PVR and a Good Video Card thats one way to go.

    The Live-Pause feature was quite good and the image jitters once (when it starts recording) and does a good job, but the file sizes were obviously too large (Half an hour of high quality video translates to 3 GB of space).

    Where as Nvidia's Personal Cinema, though boasting a superior Chip had the worst software tools. I was surprised to see the Live-Pause feature to be totally useless, where you try to play back the video that got recorded was so jittery and of bad quality that it was practically useless. I wish they would do a better job with their suite of tools next time.

    As for me, I would try and see if ATI does some good work with the 9700 A-I-W, coz as for me, thats the card I would buy (till DoomIII fades out and QuakeV gets in).
  • NYT Registration (Score:4, Informative)

    by McCart42 (207315) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:46PM (#4000982) Homepage
    User: dummy
    Pass: dummy
    Works for me as a member login.
  • ...is if someone could put together a cohesive package for linux/windows/whatever. Something that works out of the box with a selection of TV cards (hey the BT chipset is common like dirt... you could even make a commercial package that included a card).

    You could make money from a subscription service (to get the TV listings online).

    The most challenging part would be the interface - people want it to work like a piece of home electronics - much like the tivo manages, they just don't want to pay tivo prices (or if you're like me you don't live in a tivo supported area).
  • Snapstream (Score:3, Informative)

    by oo7tushar (311912) <slash.@tushar.cx> on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:47PM (#4000992) Homepage
    I've been using Snapstreams' PVR since the Winter Olympics and I've found it to be an amazing tool. It's pretty simple to use through the web interface but the web interface is slightly slow...
    Although the version I have currently encodes to WMV (then I use the MS media decoder to convert it to fixed version of wmv and then use virtual dub to convert it to divx) the newest version (Quartz) can encode right to divx =)
    If you have an older version then you can upgrade to Quartz for free.
    Also in Quartz, there is a service you can buy that uses .Net technology and allows you to surf a tv guide and record straight from that.
    But...since I prefer recording shows at custom lengths I find the text interface pretty easy to use (I even recorded all the World Cup games using the PVR).
    So...PC PVRs aren't all that bad...at least Snapstream has a good PVR...I suggest it to those who like good software, it's well worth the cost.
  • I just use the at daemon to schedule ffmpeg to record to 700kbps divx in real time. The only problem is that on a machine slower than a 1.7 ghz athlon, the sound is off sync. Occassionally, the sound clips once every few minutes if I don't keep calling sync(). I just have a "watch sync" running in an xterm to handle that. Anyone know if Reiserfs or ext3 is better for this? I suspect the tail packing on Reiser may be slowing the fs down enough to cause the audio sync problems. My cpu is only at about 30-40%, so it can't be process scheduling causing it.
  • huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NiftyNews (537829) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:50PM (#4001013) Homepage
    "No one does it quite right yet..."

    Err, one company does. Stop comparing it to Tivo and just get a Tivo. It's made for its purpose and won't require countless hours of hacking and tweaking and kludging to work. I'm all for building your own and Open Source and blah blah blah, but now and then a product is actually produced for a decent price that does a great job doing what it was made to do.

    (But for those who prefer a lot of hacking and tweaking and kludging, you can get a BASH prompt on it and go nuts fiddling with code to your heart's content.)
  • Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by imta11 (129979) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:50PM (#4001021)
    When figuring cost, keep in mind that the PVRs are a device and subscription service wheras the PC solution is a one time investment.
    • by caferace (442)
      When figuring cost, keep in mind that the PVRs are a device and subscription service wheras the PC solution is a one time investment.

      Only is your time is worth nothing to you. Keep that in mind as well.

      • Re:Cost (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Krow10 (228527)
        Blockquoth the poster:
        When figuring cost, keep in mind that the PVRs are a device and subscription service wheras the PC solution is a one time investment.

        Only [if] your time is worth nothing to you. Keep that in mind as well.
        For some of us, tinkering is recreation. That, and the fact that we are not beholden to those who would limit PVR functionality for some reason.

        -Craig
    • by Evro (18923)
      When figuring cost, keep in mind that the PVRs are a device and subscription service wheras the PC solution is a one time investment.

      You only have to subscribe if you want the program listing information. Without this, you're left with basically the same functionality as a VCR. With a PC the program info subscription is not even an option, which makes the PC about 100 times less useful for most people.
    • Re:Cost (Score:2, Insightful)

      by eison (56778)
      TiVo offers lifetime subscriptions if you prefer to think of it as a one time investment.

      How do you plan on getting the subscription data (show schedules) onto your home-built PVR forever without paying anyone anything? Whatever screen-scraper scripts you write will be broken by the content provider if they become popular.
    • Re:Cost (Score:2, Informative)

      by McCart42 (207315)
      When figuring cost, keep in mind that the PVRs are a device and subscription service wheras the PC solution is a one time investment.


      YES, it IS a one-time investment. A few of the other replies to this parent said that a program listing isn't available with a PC PVR, while at least with TiVo you get it with a subscription. Check the ATI AIW 8500DV interface--it has FREE program listings that are downloaded from the internet. This, in my opinion, is vastly superior to having to pay for listings on a set-top box. However, the TiVo and other set-top PVRs certainly have their advantages, that may exceed PC solutions.
    • Re:Cost--electricity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by endoboy (560088) on Friday August 02, 2002 @05:43PM (#4001825)
      offsetting the subscription cost is the significant additional energy cost to keep the PC running--

      Even if you figure it (conservatively) at an additional 100 watts, it comes to something like 35 cents per day-- which comes out within about a dollar per month of the monthly subscription fee

      Essentially, the PC solution has you paying your subscription fee to the power company instead of Tivo
    • When figuring cost, keep in mind that the PVRs are a device and subscription service wheras the PC solution is a one time investment.

      This is a good thing, considering that SonicBlue's stock is at $0.50. If SonicBlue folds, what will you do with that $400 box? If it ran Linux, at least you'd be able to hack it to do something different.

  • by sdo1 (213835) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:50PM (#4001022) Journal
    ... in case TiVo, Inc. goes under, I do take some comfort in the fact that PCs are getting there. The big advance in the last year or so has been advent of inexpensive PCI cards with built-in MPEG2 encoder chips. The key there is the quality is much better than software based mpeg encoding routines. The chips handle 3/2 pulldown and deinterlacing much better, if such things tickle your fancy.

    Hauppauge has a new card [hauppauge.com] that I've been looking into, and the Navis-Pro [pentamedia.com] is also supposed to be good.

    Similar cards were in the thousands of dollars a couple years ago. Now they're around $200... and falling. We're not long before its very easy, very good quality, and very inexpensive. We're not quite there yet though, and for now TiVo and the like and certainly the way to go.

    -S

    • key there is the quality is much better than software based mpeg encoding routines

      Before anyone jumps down my throat (I know they're waiting), I should have said "realtime software based mpeg encoding routines.". Obiously, given enough compute time, a software routine can do a much better job than an mpeg co-processor chip, but the key here is realtime compression and all but the most wickedly fast CPUs can't keep up with a dedicated mpeg encoder chip.

      -S

  • Anyone that owns an ATI All-in-Wonder; does the radio frequency remote interfere with other RF devices (such as a wireless RF mouse)?
    • by _J_ (30559)
      I do. ATI All-in-Wonder 8500 DV with RF Remote on the same computer as my Logitech RF Cordless Web Mouse. No Problems Whatsoever.

      I'm sure they use some low level packeting, and I tend to be channel surfing when I'm using my Remote control so I'm not normally using my mouse. I've never noticed any issues.

      J:)
  • Not yet... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by swordboy (472941) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:52PM (#4001037) Journal
    No one does it quite right yet...

    Not yet but soon. Microsoft is working on their version [microsoft.com] of TiVo. You wonder why the Nforce2 has dual ethernet ports? Well, basically, Microsoft is going to take over the loose ends that are hanging in various markets.

    Hollywood doesn't want you copying their crap, the cableco's don't want you using more than a single PC on their crap (without paying extra for it) and Microsoft doesn't want you doing anything without paying for their crap.

    In the end, you get a set-top box with a built in web-server, network router, PVR features / AV features, gaming, etc, etc, etc. It is a wonderful idea and will likely take everything by storm. The cableco's will stick one of these MS boxes on your TV for free. In return, you'll be able to rent games and movies from them. If you want to add another PC - no problem - the system will automatically run a wizard which will register the system with the cableco, and most importantly - your bill.
  • by oGMo (379) on Friday August 02, 2002 @03:55PM (#4001060)

    Check out MythTV [mythtv.com], from the author of Freeamp. It uses Linux, Qt, and a TV tuner card to provide an entire solution for dropping a box next to your TV. Here are a few features:

    • CD ripping and music playback (mp3, ogg, etc.)
    • Grabbing TV program information off the web
    • IR remote control support

    Other things such as support for various emulators are on the todo list. The frontend [mythtv.org] is rather pretty [mythtv.org] as well [mythtv.org].

  • Ah, but what if one could operate Tivo *from* a PC? Or even better, from any internet-connected PC anywhere in the world? Check out the The Tivo Web Project [lightn.org]. There, you can also find info on hacking your Tivo to get a ppp or ethernet connection.

    Personally, I can't imagine living without Tivo, but I hear that they (much like Major League Baseball) are conspiring to take over the world by collecting all sorts of sinister marketing information about my viewing habits. . . Should I be afraid?

    boobip boobip,
    d.
  • by McCart42 (207315) on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:02PM (#4001120) Homepage
    I remember being shown "current" research into this a couple years ago (winter 1999-2000) on a campus tour at Carnegie Mellon--anyone remember this? It was called "Informedia", and it promised to monitor closed captioning on all channels for keywords, and record the A/V stream as well as save the closed captioning.

    Oh here we go, I found a link [cmu.edu] to it. Very interesting stuff. As it turns out, the use is to store this video in libraries...it would be recorded from WQED and similar educational stations and accessible for playback later. Very entertaining project, IMO.

    Here's an early overview of the project.
    "RATIONALE of the Informedia Digital Video Library Goal:
    The Informedia(tm) Digital Video Library Project at Carnegie Mellon University is creating a digital library of text, images, videos and audio data available for full content retrieval. The initial testbed will be installed in several K-12 schools and students will use the Informedia System to explore multi-media data for educational purposes. The Informedia system for video libraries goes far beyond the current paradigm of video-on-demand, by retrieving a short video paragraph in response to the user's query.

    (Why is this project needed, why now)
    Vast digital libraries of information will soon become available on the nation's Information Superhighway as a result of emerging multimedia computing technologies. These libraries will have a profound impact on the conduct of business, professional, and personal activities. However, it is not enough to simply store and play back information as in commercial video-on-demand services. New technology is needed to organize and search these vast data collections, retrieve the most relevant selections, and effectively reuse them.

    The Informedia Library project proposes to develop these new technologies and to embed them in a video library system primarily for use in education and training. The nation's schools and industry together spend between $400 and $600 billion per year on education and training, an activity that is 93% labor-intensive, with little change in teacher productivity ratios since the 1800s. The new digital video library technology will allow independent, self-motivated access to information for learning, exploration, and research. This will bring about a revolutionary improvement in the way education and training are delivered and received."
  • I disagree... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eric2hill (33085) <eric@ijacBALDWINk.net minus author> on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:05PM (#4001146) Homepage
    "No one does it quite right yet..."

    I disagree. I've got a Dish Network [dishnetwork.com] PVR 501 that works wonderfully.
    • All the guide information comes down through the sat signal.
    • The hard drive stores the raw MPEG bitstream, not a recompressed version.
    • The quality is therefore identical to the live sat broadcast.
    • I have a 10-second skip back.
    • I have a 30-second skip forward.
    • Live pause is perfectly integrated.
    • The guide search works great now.
    • Built-in on-screen caller ID.
    The only things I miss are the ability to change out hard drives for a bigger model, and the ability to dump a show to CD or DVD. These features I can live without. This little box works great.

    Now if I can just get caller IQ I'll be all set.
  • by astrashe (7452) on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:11PM (#4001189) Journal
    It seems to me that the key missing element is some sort of database of listings. It seems that it ought to be doable -- we have freedb's of CD track names, for example.

    A computer with a PVR card is a more complicated replacement for a VCR, and unless you want to edit or share the video, it doesn't give you many advantages. If you just want to watch the show you're going to miss because you're going out, a VCR is a better solution.

    TiVo is a lot more than a VCR -- you program it, and you never miss your favorite shows again. You have a pool of programs waiting for you, a queue of shows you like that's available whenever you have the time to watch them.

    Imagine coupling all of the funcationality of TiVo with a p2p system -- so you could even get shows that you forgot to record, or earlier episodes of a show you've just discovered.

    Kazaa lets you do things that go a long way towards proving the potential of this technology. You can tell kazaa to get some specific episode of south park, and it will, although it might take awhile. But the selection of shows available on kazaa is pretty poor.

    If a p2p system shared all the shows that people recorded for themselves, then everything would be available. We'd all end up in jail for copyright violations, but there'd be a lot of good video on the network.

    Better yet, the system would be international. We could watch British shows here in the States, or Japanese shows, or whatever.

    This stuff has a lot of potential to be insanely great.
    • "It seems to me that the key missing element is some sort of database of listings. It seems that it ought to be doable -- we have freedb's of CD track names, for example."

      XMLTV (http://freshmeat.net/projects/xmltv/) is a great way to get listings into a personal database. I think the only stipulation is that you cant redistribute them publicly I think. I use it in my *cough* blatant plug *cough* WebVCR+ project (http://webvcrplus.sourceforge.net/) and it works really well, IMO.
  • For the needy, I just made cipherpunk44:cipherpunk44

    cipherpunk:cipherpunk used to be the magic account available almost anywhere, but it seems that some careless fellow changed the password for that account on the NYT web site.
  • they have everything they need...
    • ...the magic is in the software-hardware combo, and the money is in the hardware.

      Plus supporting only their hardware means many fewer support headaches.

      Now, maybe something like TiVo-on-a-PCI-card and TiVo software that only works with that card would fly from a technical standpoint, but then the ability to trade shows would be accessible to the average user. Jack Valenti would pop a vein in his forehead. Right now, it's possible to extract the video from a TiVo only if you're willing to futz under the hood, so the majority of TiVo users can't do it, so it's not THAT big of a concern-- like MP3 trading on Usenet and FTP was, before Napster came along.

      And then we're back to support issues. You put a PC TiVo kit on the shelves at CompUSA, you have to hire people to help Joe Idiot User who can barely work Windows but now expects to get his PC and cable box talking nicely to each other.

      ~Philly
      • ...that if anyone can probably pull off the seamless, user-friendly integration of PVR and personal computer, it will probably be Apple.

        Think about it, they have, or will have, a lot of the pieces. They could make (possibly even in partnership with TiVo) a set-top box that connected with the Mac via Rendezvous and AirPort (possibly 802.11g) and some special software on the Mac side. Hell, throw in a web interface or make the control app highly AppleScriptable so people like me can roll their own. :-)

        I'm just kinda tossing this out there, I haven't really given it that much thought.

        ~Philly
  • EyeTV Software Bugs (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A friend of mine bought the EyeTV soon after it was announced. The software that ships with it is really buggy. Most annoying, you can't leave the USB connection plugged in for more than 24 hours. He's had a bunch of other problems with it too (I don't rememeber the specifics off hand) but the thing seems to be usable. Just barely. I wouldn't recommend anyone buy it until they do a lot of work on the software.
  • Is the ATI TV Wonder USB. Anyone have any experience with or feelings about this one? I don't watch enough TV regularly to justtify actually owning a TV, but it's not a medium to which I want to lose access. [ati.com]

    *muttermutterdon'twanttomissstartrekmuttermutter *

    So given that the ATI USB TV tuner is the same price as Hauppage's [hauppauge.com] but seems to be better feature-wise, does anyone have any grounds on which I shouldn't get it?

    Cheers,
  • by eison (56778)
    Of course it's there. The TiVo and Replay both do PC based PVR very very well. They just happen to bundle their software with some hardware and charge for it. The real question is, why ignore this solution, since it seems to work so well?
  • PVRs vs PCs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Storm (2856) on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:30PM (#4001319) Homepage
    I have been working on this very thing the past feww months, and have found that while there is an associated learning curve, there are advantages to using a PC to record over a TiVO.

    Since my job requires some travel, I have found that it is a definite boon to collect movies. Using my workstation as a PVR, I am able to capture to the hard drive, do some postprocessing and write a DivX to a 700MB CD-R which I can then take with me and watch on business trips. And its all perfectly legal, since I am archiving for later viewing. On the other hand, getting the same from a TiVo requires modifications of questionable legality. In addition, I can make backup copies of my DVDs on 700MB media so I don't have to risk leaving my DVDs in a hotel room somewhere.

    As for the cost issue, if you have a system with the right specs (a modern PC should pretty much do it), then the only additional cost should be a tv capture card, which can be had for $20 or $30 US. The only thing that one could point out is the time cost and the learning curve involved in making the hardware and software do what you want it to. But it is that way with anything. If its worth doing, you're probably going to have to teach yourself.

  • I listen to talk radio, and I want to be able to record broadcasts for later listening.

    Are there any solutions out there for doing this? I'd need AM support.

    I'd love to be able to use my radio just like a TiVo.
  • by sanermind (512885) on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:37PM (#4001402)
    I ditched my vcr months ago. Just get a tv capture card [hauppauge.com] with the bttv848 chip [bytesex.org] for video in [I recommend the winTV-FM, as it also has a stereo decoder and sound capture dsp on the card, leaving your existing sound card free, about $50 street]

    Then, all you need is a good audio sync maintaining capture program like NewVideoRecorder [sourceforge.net] and a good MP4 codec [xvid.org], and you're set! Oh, you probably need a least an athlon 1800 or equivilant, to do realtime 640x480 encoding capture with good deinterlacing. Much weaker systems can easily handle 320x240, which isn't much worse than vhs. Add in a few 80gig drives, a fast CDR, and you've got entertainment bliss.
    Did I mention that the hauppage card comes with a remote, and it too is supported. [slashdot.org] So, sit back on the couch, with the computer hooked up to both record and play to your big screen tv, easily controlled by a remote.

    It's being done right now, today, on peoples linux boxes. I've been doing it for over 4 months!

    The only bad thing is that, currently, I still find the best application for editing commercials out of shows I want to archive, to be virtualdub [a win32 app]. It runs under wine, sure, but it still kind of hurts to have to do it. At least it's GPLd, though.
    • If virtualdub is GPL'd, shouldn't it be possible for you to port it to Linux? I certainly is an excellent program, and there really shouldn't be a reason for it not to be available on both platforms. Does the code use Windows system calls that are somehow irreplaceable in Linux?
  • Showshifter anyone? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by milo28 (170495)
    None of this software holds a candle to Showshifter [showshifter.com]. Easily the best PVR software for windows. You can do any of the options talked about in the article and you're not locked into any single codec like MPEG-2 or any proprietary remote control. One of the problems mentioned was the quick use of hard drive space which can easily happen when using MPEG-2. With showshifter you control the codec used. DivX or WMV8 sure do a better job at keeping the file sizes down than MPG. I've used this software for over a year and am very happy. If you plan on trying to use your PC/TV as a PVR you should take the time to evaluate Showshifter, just like the reporter should have. I think he might have had a better experience.

    -Mike
    • It does look like good software that's worth the $50 price tag. Gotta love this recommendation of theirs, though:

      Recommendations and Comparisons

      1. Never ShowShift with a capture size larger than 320x240. Recording above this limit is possible but requires a powerful computer with a large hard disk size. You have been warned!


      320x240...yeah, right. Obviously this suggestion is geared toward nontechie grandmothers running ancient store-bought "computators".
      • Funny, my Pentium 2 400 captures at 640 by 480 at 30 fps and uses only about 60% of runtime to do it.

        I'm using Motion JPEG by PicVideo. It's a kick ass codec. At decent quality, though, it does take about 2-gigs an hour. Wanna keep it? Recompress it.
  • So, will the MPAA sue the NYT on DMCA grounds? After all, the only reason one might want to turn a PC into a PVR is because one is an Evil Content Pirate(tm).

  • "The NYTimes ran this story in today's paper about how to turn the PC into a bread cooking device (a la Toaster)... It's got pretty thorough coverage of PC-based hardware with the conclusion "the Toaster outshines the PC-based systems by being easier to use and by offering more built-in intelligence." Conspicuously absent are El Gato's Ez-Toast for the mac and SnapStream's Personal Toasting Station... Anyways, the real question is whether PC Toasters will *ever* get there. No one does it quite right yet..."


    Maybe we should focus less on "can it be done?" and more on "does anyone care?"

  • Currently, none of the commercial PVR manufacturers support HDTV. So, if you want to record Digital TV, you need to build your own. By the way, Digital TV is great for PVR's, no compression is needed, the TV program is an MPEG2 stream - making the PVR's job easy. This is very similar to the PVR's for DirecTV.

    There are a few choices for HDTV PVR cards:
    Telemann Hipix [telemann.com] - They have a semi-open source project for their Windows drivers. Availability seems to be a problem.
    AccessDTV [accessdtv.com] - Has some nice features, like pausing live TV. But, they have some drawkacks - Locked video files, so they can only be played back on the same machine - and their PVR guide is a subscription service.
    MyHD [digitalconnection.com] - Newer card, some nice features like DVD vob playback (scaled to 1080i or 720p, looks great!)
    Hauppage WinTV-HD [hauppauge.com] - Not sure if this is still sold. Not well supported if it is.

    Pop one of these into a computer system, add a big hard drive to hold those HD programs (~ 9GB/hr), and off you go.

    I use the MyHD card, and I have been using the DVD scaling feature as much as the HDTV reception. I copy my DVD's to the hard drive of my system, and now I have a pretty nice video library, with immediate access - no swapping disks.
  • What people should consider in the TiVo vs. PC debate is some of the modifications that can be made to a TiVo.

    In addition to being able to upgrade the hard disks, which I think most people know about, you can buy an ethernet card [9thtee.com] for TiVos that allows you to upgrade your (first generation TiVo or DirectTivo):
    • Acquire guide data over broadband, rather than over the phone line
    • Allow most of the user interface, including scheduling of programs, to be run via a web interface that runs on the box.
    • Allow the MPEG data to be transfered directly from the hard drive. With some tweaks, you can direct the TiVo to record 720x480 video, which is directly DVD compatible! (See the forums [dealdatabase.com]). In the case of a DirecTiVo, the MPEG data is that which was stored directly off of the satellite...).
    Note that all but the last are supported (or at least not discouraged) by TiVo corp. The latest version of the software (3.0) even includes the required ethernet drivers.

  • ECS K7S5A Motherboard (SIS 735 chipset)
    Duron 950 running at 1050Mhz (Soon to be an XP 2100+)
    256mb PC133 SDRAM
    Windows 2000 SP2
    ATI All-in-wonder Radeon 7500
    Sound Blaster Audigy OEM
    60 Gig 7200 RPM WD IDE hard drive
    DVD-ROM
    CD-burner, 24x
    Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse (very nice!)
    32 inch RCA TV being driven off S-video
    Harmon Kardon A/V reciever with dolby 5.1 speaker setup.
    Latest ATI drivers and MMC 7.7

    This is what I'm able to do with this system as it stands:

    Watch DivX movies from CD on my TV instead of a computer monitor.
    Record TV shows and movies to MPEG-2 format at up to DVD quality. I can then do any damned thing I want to with the files. (Obviously I can copy them accross our lan)
    Record TV shows and movies in DivX format (only 320x240 till I upgrade the cpu). With 60 gigs of space I can record for three days continuously at this setting and the results are significantly better than VCD format.
    Needless to say I can record things in MPEG-2 format and re-encode them to DivX for burning to CD using flaskmpeg.
    Once I get a DVD burner I'll probably just burn them straight to DVD's.

    The only downside to this current configuration is that only the video is compressed, the audio is saved in PCM format. Current systems aren't quite fast enought to do real time capture and encoding of audio and video at DVD quality levels. Obviously this will change within a year or so. Whether the software will also change is hard to say but I suspect that it will. I'd love to be able to just record a movie straight to DivX and dump it on a CD.

    The software that comes with the AIW features all kinds of tivo-like stuff such as the ability to pause live tv, view TV listings online, and schedule record times. I don't really use these but they are there. You don't have to pay a subscription fee either.

    I also play DVD's on this system and the output as good or better than any console DVD player. ATI's DVD software does an excellent job and the S-Video output on the AIW looks absolutely fabulous on my TV. It has no flicker and is sharp and clear. I can sit in front of my coffee table with my cordless keyboard and mouse and websurf. I can also play video games such as Max Payne thanks to the not-too-shabby 3D capabilities of the 7500. It has a wireless remote control as well.

    At this point I just need a slightly faster computer and better software and this system would kick the living shit out of anything that a Tivo can do. AT this point it already does do better than what a Tivo is actually meant to do.

    How much did this cost me?

    Motherboard and current CPU: $99 Fry's special
    Memory: $45 (I already had it)
    Case: $59
    HD: $89
    CD-Burner: $59
    DVD-Rom: $40 (I already had it)
    Floppy: $12
    SB-Audigy: $60
    ATI AIW: $150
    Wireless KB/mouse: $80

    Total: $693

    I don't know what a Tivo costs these days, but I'll bet you I got more bang for my buck by far.

    Lee
  • Your cable network will NEVER support descrambling of digital channels, and pay channels on your PC :-( But, with the TIVO DirecTV tuner, you can record all channels. The PC PVR market will never be serious until we can record Six Feet Under, Sex in the City and Queer as Folk off the pay channels when we're not home!
    • Your cable network will NEVER support descrambling of digital channels, and pay channels on your PC :-( But, with the TIVO DirecTV tuner, you can record all channels.

      Programs like Snapstream now have software hooks for hardware adapters to remotely switch your current cable/satellite boxen. Sure, you incur an additional expense for an adapter, but that's probably 10% or less than the cost of a dedicated PVR box like DirecTV.
  • For media playback in a HTPC configuration, I would recommmend Zoomplayer for Windows.

    I'm not sure about any possible MacOS offerings...

    For a linux based system I've not seen anything that works too damn well in the particular setup. Xine seems best as is, but to truly be cool for HTPC, another interface would be designed. Until I found Zoomplayer, it looked like my solution would be a custom interface to mplayer or xine, but with ZoomPlayer, it looks like Windows is still the best choice for HTPC...

    I would love for someone to give evidence to the contrary, however,,, I like having solutions that I can tweak for my indicual taste..
  • I got a SPAM from snapstream, about half an hour ago, announcing a 24 hour sale, aimed at slashdot readers. Grrr.
    • In case you weren't paying attention, you signed up with them and gave them your e-mail address, and there's a nice link at the bottom where you can unsubscribe.
      You are currently subscribed to snapstream-announce as: xxx@xxx.xxx To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-snapstream-announce-xxxxxxxx@lyris.dundee.ne t

      So, you gave them your e-mail address, probably to beta-test Quartz or whatever, they sent you an e-mail saying that there was a 20% discount, and you have a problem with that? It's not like it was HTML with big graphics. I got one (that's why I'm here) that's 5K, with three links. And two of them are to Slashdot.org.

      I'd hardly consider it SPAM.

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