Personal Video Recorder (PVR)

Introduction

On this page you can find information about the Personal Video Recorder I’ve built. I wanted to replace my old VCR with a more versatile machine with higher quality audio and video. There are commercial systems out there that can do some of these things, but not all that I wanted:

  • Record and playback tv shows in high quality
  • Electronic program guide, on television and web
  • Play video files (mpeg, divx) from the network
  • Play audio files (mp3) from the network

Because the PVR will have its place in the livingroom, there are some other criteria this machine needs to fulfill: it has to be good looking and really quiet! I opted for a standard PC, not a special fanless one, because it makes it much easier to upgrade and less expensive. Just two fans remained then: one in the power supply and one on the processor.

Case and power supply

I began looking for a nice PC case and ended up with the DIGN-3E case, which can hold a standard ATX motherboard and power supply. It has a silver look (also available in black and gold) that matches audio and video components and is of equal width (430 mm). A VFD display (type HD44780) is mounted on the front to display status information.

pvr-dign-3epvr-silenx-psu

The DIGN-3E doesn’t have a power supply, so I searched the web for a suitable one. SilenX sells really quiet power supplies (< 14 dBA), so I used one of these: 400 Watt iXtrema PSU. This is more than the power needs for the PVR in its current state, but leaves some room for future components.

Motherboard and processor

Mainly because of its speed / price ratio I chose an Athlon motherboard and processor. The motherboard is an Asus A7N8X-X and the processor is an AMD Athlon XP 2800, which I downclocked to reduce its temperature. The processor is cooled by another silent (< 14 dBA) component from SilenX: MCX-462V HSF Combo for Socket A/462.

pvr-asus-a7n8x-xpvr-amd-athlon-xp-2800pvr-silenx-cooler

Videocard and TV card

The videocard had to be fanless, have a tv-out and be supported under Linux. These criteria led me to use the Asus V9400, which uses the nVidia nForce2 chipset. To be able to view and capture tv shows, I use the PVR-350 from Hauppauge. It can record and playback MPEG2 in hardware, relieving the processor from this task. It also has an IR remote and receiver, making it possible to sit on the couch and control the PVR.

pvr-asus-v9400pvr-hauppauge-pvr350

Hard drive and DVD drive

Finally, the hard drive is a Seagate Barracuda 160 GB. Because of its fluid bearing, it is reasonably quiet. For performance, it might have been better to have a specific hard drive for the operating system and one for the media files. However, this makes the system less quiet and the performance hasn’t been an issue so far. For convenience I also installed a DVD drive, one I already had lying around: Afreey 8x DVD.

pvr-seagate-barracudapvr-afreey-dvd

The complete picture

After carefully placing all components into the case, the following picture was formed:

pvr

Software

Several software packages exist to transform a PC into an PVR. One of the most promising I stumbled across is MythTV. It is an open source program and runs on Linux. Some of its features are:

  • Pause, fast-forward and rewind live television
  • Record and playback tv shows, using the electronic program guide
  • View pictures and videos
  • Listen to audio
  • See weather predictions
  • Play games

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