Thursday, September 22, 2011

Boring Post: Using a PC for a DVR

Don't get too excited, Brig isn't back to post his opinions on the Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, or the even lamer Longhorn Network. He thought about it, and we talked about (believe me, not many weeks go by that I don't have to hear about the latest sports related scandal), but nothing got blogged.

So onto the boring-ness. I've had lots of friends ask me how we got rid of cable and use a PC as our DVR (it works awesomely), and so I'm hopping on here to give explain what we've done. And with the savings of no more cable, we made back the cost of the PC months ago.

Here is our entertainment center. Yep, that's a computer keyboard that you can see. Mostly, it sits in the cubby below, but it's part of our set-up. And I'm sorry about the poor picture quality (I used my iPhone) and the dust.


Our first purchase was the TV. We got it on a sweet Superbowl sale in 2010. They make better ones now (and even two months later), but it is HD and we can get TV with just an antenna.

This is the antenna that I picked up at Walmart. It was like $30. I can get all the network channels with this box. It sits on the flat on the entertainment center and doesn't involve bunny ears.

There was a period where it was taped to the window, but then Fox upped its signal strength. So it's back on the entertainment center. You have to use your TV to search for the channels in the set up or the antenna won't work.

The only thing that you can't see about the antenna is the splitter in the back. We have the antenna routed to go to the TV and the computer. I got that at Radio Shack.


Here is our PC. It is a Dell Zino, but I hear that they have been discontinued. Use the link to see what kind of specs came with our model.

I like the size of it. It has a mouse, keyboard and infrared port for the remote all attached to the USB ports. Our PC also connects to the TV via an HDMI cable (buy those online too if you want to spend less money).

Check out the construction on that shelf. I had Brig custom build a shelf for the TV to sit on. Didn't he do a great job!

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a PC for a TV:

1. Get a good video card (I'm not techie enough to tell you what specs are good, I think I asked my brother or brother-in-law)

2. Wireless Internet (we use Hulu and Netflix through the PC -- but I'm about to drop Netflix because they are offering me less for more money)

3. Hard Drive capacity: Get something that can hold all the shows you want to record. And remember, that PCs get buggy if the hard drive is too full. Go big.

4. Software: All I added was anti-virus software. Windows Media Center (the software necessary for recording) comes standard. Windows Media Center works almost like Tivo. Tivo is nicer, but it also more expensive. You can record series and individual shows. HD TV has a digital TV guide and that is what powers Windows Media Center. You can select from the TV guide or use a search to find shows to record. It has about 2 weeks of TV programming available for recording.

5. Home internet speed: Because we use this to stream TV and movies, we pay for a better Internet speed

6. TV Tuner: This is what our antenna runs into (with that splitter I mentioned earlier) and then it is connected to the TV. It's not pictured. I got what Dell sold when we bought our PC.

Our PC only has one TV tuner (I don't know if you could add more, I haven't worried about it), so you can only record one show at a time. But with Hulu and the Network web sites, you can usually get the show online anyway. I gave up watching the Big Bang Theory because it was on at the same time as Community.

Our last purchase was the remote. It works with Windows 7 and Media Center (the software that runs our DVR).

I bought it off Amazon, but I think other web sites carry it as well.

We bought a Blu-ray player separately. For some reason, our PC doesn't use the full size of the TV as a monitor. It's most of it, but for movies we use the Blu-ray player to get that last missing inch.

Our Blu-ray was also sold with a surround sound system. The PC is connected to the Blu-ray player and then to the TV -- all with HDMI cables -- so we get the shows and streaming content in surround sound.

Sorry that the pictures aren't the best. If I have more time later I'll fix them.

Questions?