Son of DVR

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 15, 2010, 4:57 PM | comments: 0

After about five and a half years, I finally retired my home-built DVR. Mostly because of the ridiculously expensive case, I spent around $600 I think on it, including the various tuners and the BeyondTV software. Overall, I'd say that I got a lot of mileage out of it.

But there were several issues, not the least of which is that the various fans in it were dying, causing heat issues, and it was already on its third power supply. Still running Windows XP, driver support was sketchy with the newer tuner that does ClearQAM, and I was getting random lockups as well. Given the fan issues, it sounded like I was running a wind tunnel in the apartment.

Cable company DVR's universally suck, and the one from Broadcrap is no different. In fact, we need to get it replaced because it won't actually record anything, and I think overheating causes it to just start dropping audio now and then. While I think TiVo is cool enough, I'm not fond of subscribing to them essentially just for show data, and they don't do true SmartSkip like BeyondTV (finds the borders of commercial breaks, one button to skip). Naturally, the only alternative is to build another BeyondTV box!

I started to price out components, and I kept coming to the same conclusion: It would cost around $500 to build out a new machine that would have the same kind of four or five year staying power as the old one. That realization kept steering me back to the Mac Mini, which I knew would be more than adequate, would not require me to build it, and above all, would be virtually silent. So I busted out my employee ID at the Apple Store, got the discount and walked home with a tiny box.

It does feel a little dirty using Windows on it as the primary OS (not a knock on Windows so much as it is that OS X just feels more connected to the hardware), but installation went pretty well. I have three USB tuners, one doing analog cable, the other two grabbing the network stations over ClearQAM on the cable. The tuners are all connected to a splitter with barrel connectors, so as not to introduce more cables into the mess.

I feel like we got our apartment back. It's so quiet. First test was to just record three shows simultaneously, and it worked fine. The UI is a bit more responsive too, which is not surprising since the old box was an old Athlon XP with 512 MB of RAM (remember measuring RAM in MB?). And now we have a computer hooked up to the TV that can actually handle full-screen Hulu (the only one could not). It wasn't the cheapest solution in the short term, but I have a lot of trust and good feelings about BeyondTV. It served me well all these years, and I'd like to stick with it.


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