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Best Non-Subscription DVR?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the well-that-eliminates-a-TiVo dept.

Television 153

ngc5194 asks: "I'm thinking about joining the 21st century and purchasing a Digital Video Recorder. However, I DO NOT want to subscribe to any services. I understand that this will limit what my DVR can do, and I'm fine if it just acts like a solid-state VCR. Given the constraint above (no subscription services), which would be the best DVR to purchase and why?"

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If you're worried about artificial limitations.... (4, Informative)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591157)

I understand that this will limit what my DVR can do, and I'm fine if it just acts like a solid-state VCR.

Then go with mythTV. Anything else will limit you in some way.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

bsharitt (580506) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591167)

The problem with MythTV and other PC based solutions is that the box may not looks so good in the living room and particularly price.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591209)

... so get a five year old laptop or something. Or a 5 year old PC and stick it in a wooden box with an open back.

But seriously, I'm not sure how the submitter could not expect 99% of answers on slashdot to be "Myth TV," if they've ever seen a single comment here talking about DVR ever before.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (2, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591255)

I have a five year old laptop.... what video capture and tv out device would you recommend for it?

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592753)

Any of the hardware based USB devices with a PCCARD->USB2 adapter. Even at the full data rate of my Hauppauge PVR card it's only ~2.5MB/s which even a laptop HDD can sustain. The only problem might be displaying the content as a laptop of that vintage may or may not have enough hardware acceleration in the video card to assist the anemic processor at displaying high bandwidth MPEGII.

Two Box Approach (1)

Xesdeeni (308293) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593089)

I put an HD (no hyphen) DVD Media Player (Sigma Designs based) in my Living Room and networked it to my HTPC. That way what the HTPC looks like doesn't matter. I use the Ziova Z500, but the other brands (IOData, Buffalo, DVICO, etc.) have their benefits as well. They play SD DVDs, and HD in MPEG-2 (TS), MPEG-4 (some support h.264), WMV (some support VC-1), and DivX (either over the network or from red-laser DVDs I can burn without breaking the bank).

The HTPC contains digital tuners and big honkin' hard drives.

As a bonus, I'm sticking it to the HD-DVD and BluRay camps.


Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (4, Informative)

spagetti_code (773137) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591347)

box may not looks so good in the living room

Wrong [] .

and particularly price

I can build one for ~ USD500 - 600. Admittedly without the gorgeous silverstone case.
Not as cheap as a DVR, but no subscription. And much
more functional.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

the unbeliever (201915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591635)

What are you going to do when your TV listing service for Myth cuts their free access? 4 []

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

cowbutt (21077) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592249)

What are you going to do when your TV listing service for Myth cuts their free access?

Use the DVB Electronic Programme Guide retrieved over the air. At least, that's the way we'd do things in Europe.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

demon (1039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594393)

Unfortunately in the US, that'd make far too much sense - we have to have our own different standards. If only we could cooperate on those kinds of standards - it took us years to get RDS, and other things that Europeans have taken for granted for many years.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (3, Informative)

knorthern knight (513660) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592611)

Analog TV goes off the air in the USA Feb 17, 2009 and Canada Aug 31, 2011. North of the Rio Grande, you'll be using an ATSC TV set. In the USA, and in major Canadian cities, the old NTSC TV stations are already being double-banked with digital ATSC (in many cases HDTV) equivalants, so digital is a reality now. ATSC tuners can pull in PSIP [] data. To quote from the website...

PSIP (Program and System Information Protocol) PSIP is a standard set by the ATSC that provides a methodology for transporting DTV system information and electronic program guide data. It allows broadcasters to identify themselves when you tune their channel. It can be information such as call letters and channel number. It can also convey up to 16 days of programming information. Consumer receiver manufacturers can use PSIP data to display interactive program guides to aid navigation of channels in the DTV receiver.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591991)

OMG, what an eye turd. Whatever happened to elegant, slim, non-clunky devices [] ?

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (2, Interesting)

shadow349 (1034412) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592757)

Not as cheap as a DVR, but no subscription.
Of course, this misses one huge hidden cost .... electricity.

Most embedded boxes (Cable set-top DVRs, Tivo, etc) are built using specialized components and consume much less power than a home-built MythTV unit.

I've done a few tests with various units (Comcast DVR, Tivo, Myth box) and found there is about a 150W difference between home-brew and embedded. .150kW * 24 hr * 365 days * $.15 kWh / 12 mo = $16.425 / mo

So the electricity for that that "free" MythTV box actually costs $16.43 more per month than a embedded device.

Yes, you can do a lot more with a MythTV box, but don't try and kid yourself that it doesn't cost as much as other solutions.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

fredklein (532096) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593729)

I've done a few tests with various units (Comcast DVR, Tivo, Myth box) and found there is about a 150W difference between home-brew and embedded. .150kW * 24 hr * 365 days * $.15 kWh / 12 mo = $16.425 / mo

Firstly, I don't know how you can say that, considering "home brewed" systems vary.

Second, according to [] , "The average cost of residential electricity was 9.86/kWh in the U.S. in March 2006." The 3 highest rates rates were "12 in California, 14.314 in New York, and 16.734 in Hawaii." So, your "$.15 kWh" figure is potentially WAY off.

3rd, You'd still be wrong- PCs have Power Saving features built into them. A simple Suspend or Hibernate can make the power requirement drop to near zero. This would affect the monthly power requirement in unpredictable ways- a single person who sleeps 8 hrs a day, and works 8 hrs a day could have their TVPC (heh, I made that up. Sounds friendlier than 'HTPC') essentially powered off for 16 hours a day. Or thay could actually power it off (unless a recording session is planned). A busy family with kids might have the TVPC up and running playing/recording kids shows all day long, and recording shows for the adults (plural) all evening/night.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

legoburner (702695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595323)

I'll add to this by mentioning that in many cases, thanks to the client/server setup of mythtv, you can just put a few TV cards in your file (or other) server which you might already have at home (like I did) and then use a very efficient client based around VIA/mini-itx for the frontend, which is still a bit more than a set top box, but is still an improvement.

Plenty of nice-looking HTPC cases out there (3, Informative)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591417)

Regarding the article, at they sell ready-made MythTV boxes so you don't need mad linux skills. The "Dragon" comes in a Silverstone case whose beauty, I suppose, is debatable (but it's not exactly ugly). But there are plenty of nice-looking HTPC cases out there, you can even find some that look not too far from a SlimDevices Transporter.

Just so you know...

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

NinjaTariq (1034260) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592627)

You can get some very cool looking cases which look just like dvd players, stick a pc based blue-ray or hddvd player in it and a hard drive and whatever you can also have a high def player as well as a dvr box.

Yes it would be expensive, but you could probably replace one of your other devices with it.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

rlp (11898) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592931)

the box may not looks so good in the living room

I'm using an old Shuttle SK43G (silver) which looks fine in the living room. A slightly more pertinent concern is finding a unit with a quiet fan for the living room.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594045)

thats what the MediaMVP is for mvp.html [] . It is the about 1"x6"x6", ~$50, and is basically a client for a VNC-like protocol. MythTV and GB-PVR both support it. Run a network cable to it, use your existing PC as the server (doesn't use up a whole lot of resources).

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

Goose42 (88624) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594893)

I'd much rather have (and currently do have) a D-Link DSM320 [] . It does everything that Hauppauge unit does, plus a few extra formats, component video, optical SPDIF audio, and wireless networking. Of course, it costs a little more (about $180 CDN), but I've definitely been enjoying it.

Its good to know D-Link does have some (admittedly weak) competition outside of the build-your-own crowd.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595383)

Question. Does anyone know if there's an HD tuner/capture card that does *NOT* implement broadcast flag?

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

pjviitas (1066558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594227)

Like one of the other posters mentioned, there are some sharp looking case solutions out there for a MythBox however, the price is another thing.

Spending up to $1000 on a nice looking case to find out it doesnt do what you want can be disappointing.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (0, Troll)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591287)

Then go with mythTV. Anything else will limit you in some way.

MythTV has numerous limitations of its own. It's slow and clunky, uses an odd format, and has a god-awful interface. It's so ridiculously focused on TV that you have to go up 5 levels of menus, then down 5 more, to look through the other videos you have available. And to get back to the TV programs? Yep, just as many steps.

I find a file manager and a shell script far more user-friendly than Myth.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

galorin (837773) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591611)

Really.. I've not not noticed the up and down menu levels. Then again my remote has buttons that take me straight to my dvd player, recorded tv, live tv, video library, music library, just about everything I use often has it's own direct button. If I had more buttons then everything would.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (5, Informative)

jasonwea (598696) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592087)

I'm sorry but I've got to ask the question: How many years since the last time you used MythTV? I find MythTV very easy to use[1].

It's slow and clunky

I run a shared backend and frontend on my Athlon 2000 server which has 3 tuners. When I have 3 recordings active it takes a couple of seconds to start playing a video but other than that..

uses an odd format

My DVB-T recordings come out as bog standard MPEG-2 files. If you're using analog tuners, there are tools available to transcode the Nupple format. mythtranscode even comes with MythTV and has a GUI frontend called MythArchive that can even burn video DVDs.

and has a god-awful interface

I'm running the MePo Theme [] on my frontend and I love it.

It's so ridiculously focused on TV that you have to go up 5 levels of menus, then down 5 more, to look through the other videos you have available.

This is a gross exaggeration. See the screenshots linked to above. "Media Library" contains "Watch Recordings" which is for TV recordings (third screenshot) and the next item down is "Watch Videos" which lists all my XviD, VIDEO_TS, etc files as they are laid out on disk from my file server (which happens to be the same box).

And to get back to the TV programs? Yep, just as many steps.

Press the back button twice (once to leave Videos, again to return to Main Menu). Or if you have spare keys on your remote, you can bind buttons to jump straight to whatever screen you want.

[1] Yes it is harder to setup than some other solutions and there's far more configuration options that can be a bit confusing (hint: defaults are generally fine).

If you can get your tuners working (I'll assume DVB tuners) in Xine or similiar or even just scanning correctly (tzap, scan), it's an apt-get and 10 minutes of configuring your channels and playing with some preferences to suit your taste. There's many howtos out there on how to do all this.


Edit: I forgot the obligatory "I know I'm going to be modded down for this" :)

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (2, Insightful)

crypticgeek (946304) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592107)

You think an application called MythTV is ridiculously focused on TV? Huh? It takes two levels to look at other videos. From the main menu you go to Media Library then Watch Videos. Then you select a video to watch. The interface pretty easy to use, I don't know what more you want. MythTV is certainly not slow for me...even on a cheap moderately powered P4 based system which I use. I found the format, while not straight mpeg, is easy to work with. I've made numerous clips from tv shows using avidemux2 and it works just fine. I've heard nothing but the same from everyone I've helped set it up for. Your experience seems to be oddly negative, and I'm sorry that it was for whatever reason. Does your shell script grab listings data and record your favorite shows? Does it have conflict resolution? Does it support multiple tuners? What about commercial detection algorithms? Is it maintained by an enthusiastic community? Is it as easy to use as tivo? Could my mom, who uses mythtv, use it? I somehow doubt it.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591289)

What do you have against Freevo? []

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (4, Informative)

PseudoThink (576121) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591339)

As a Windows user, I used GB-PVR ( [] ) for 18 months with great success. Just recently switched to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and am loving that too. It requires a bit more video card, though.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

Steve525 (236741) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592901)

I'd also add that GB-PVR (and SageTV, too) support the Hauppauge MVP. For those who already have a computer running Windows in the house this is a cheap option. Just $70 for a (hardware encoding) video card and $90 for the MVP and you're done. Add a bit more if you go with SageTV and/or a wireless network, (and you may end up wanting a large hard drive, too).

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

pjviitas (1066558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594255)

Not sure why anyone would want to run WMC over MythTV but to each their own I guess.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (2, Insightful)

SparkyFlooner (1090661) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594791)

2 reasons:

    * WMC is really nice
    * I don't have to learn to use another OS to use it

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (2, Informative)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591413)

The downside of MythTV is typically you need a spare PC lying around to get it running. But there are plenty of upsides. It's free as long as you have the hardware. I have a plextor convertx m402u which works with mythtv. You can use supported capture card. Someone has to write a v4l driver for the device, but there are a bunch. If you have cable or antenna you can record one show per tuner device. You'll need a linux system to run the backend, but there is a windows frontend for it. The backend saves all the shows and captures the video. The front end is where you view the video. All you do is connect to the backend with a network. This is a lot of work to setup, but onces it's setup it gives you the freedom of having a portable DVR on your laptop connected wirelessly to a backend DVR sitting in a closet somewhere. It's definately not for everyone.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (2, Informative)

catdogven (947172) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591491)

You can try out [] , it's a very nice dvr software for windows. It's not open source, but it's freeware. I use it at home, and i'm very pleased with it. You may have to play a little bit with the codecs, to get it working right with your tuner card.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592549)

I bought a ReplayTV 4500 [] on eBay for around $200. There's no way I could have built a rig myself that inexpensively which does everything the ReplayTV does. Sure, they're not making the hardware any longer, but it did come with lifetime activation, worth $299. The company is still in business, but no longer selling hardware; they have ReplayPC now which I think is around $50 plus $20 per year, not a bad solution either if you're building (but if you're building you might as well go with Myth).

I absolutely love the auto-commercial skip feature! (Myth has this also.) Just don't get the 5500 model, as it was removed from that release in an attempt to stave off the lawsuits; they "lost", folded and were bought by the company now providing ReplayPC. [] (Lost in quotes because they ran out of money defending themselves, so the trial didn't need to finish...)

With the ReplayTV, you can use DVArchive [] to transfer shows to your PC; they're in MPEG-2 format, ready to burn to DVD. You can set it up to auto-download as well.

If you're worried about them gathering data on how you watch (for instance freeze-framing the money shots, etc.) then just watch on your PC with VLC. [] But then you don't get the commercial skip functionality. However, it does download the index file, so I suppose someone could add that to VLC. Other than the "viewing habits" data it sends back it doesn't seem to have any "limiting" features, like broadcast flag support etc.

I've also heard good things about Vista's Media Center, but haven't used it myself.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

pjviitas (1066558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594133)

There is only one problem with is a slave to the EPG.

MythTV does not allow you to start and stop recording as you are forced to record the entire program that was in progress at the time you pressed the record button.

MythTV does what it does very well however, it is not the be all end all PVR/DVR as it is made out to be.

Re:If you're worried about artificial limitations. (1)

nugx (994844) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595649)

To be fair, Apple is pretty lax on software DRM. I have been using OSX since 10.0 and I have never been asked to enter a serial number. Windows, on the other hand, I've registered hundreds of times over the years.

Other options... (4, Informative)

Mizled (1000175) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591277)

If you don't want to go the *nix route (MythTV) then there is always BeyondTV [] for Windows. It's a one time fee for the software and will act as a Media Center PC just like MythTV. Either option will work fine...I have found MythTV has a little more setup involved. If you don't want to build a DVR then I'm not sure if there are many options available to you.

Re:Other options... (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591459)

Thank you for the Snapstream link. I am going to recommend it to a friend of mine who is Windows savvy to turn one of his older PCs into a DVR. The option to allow burning of recorded shows to DVD is a great item as well.

Re:Other options... (1)

major.morgan (696734) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592191)

I would add SageTV [] along side with BeyondTV. Very nice interface, stable, easy to use. The extras (Movies, YouTube, GoogleVideo, Pictures, etc.) are all work much nicer than on the Tivo. Threw a cheap tuner card (dual analog/ATSC for $69) into a P4 2.8GHz box that wasn't being utilized, random 250GB FireWire HDD -- completely rocks the socks off of ComcastDVR/Tivo, with no monthly cost.

Re:Other options... (1)

Steve525 (236741) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592755)

I've been using SageTV for almost 3 years now, and I've been pretty happy. I don't use anything besides the TV functions, though. (I use a Hauppauge 350, so I can't use for anything other than TV).

If I were to build one today, I'd buy one of the media extenders instead of building a whole box. Cheaper (provided you already have another computer and a network in the house)and quiet.

Re:Other options... (1)

LMN8R (979699) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593295)

I completely agree. I have two tuners made by different manufacturers - a Hauppauge card and an HDTV DVICO card. Both work absolutely flawlessly with BeyondTV.

I tried the trials for both BeyondTV and SageTV and went with BeyondTV simply because it seemed to have a better interface. Also, the built-in commercial skipping feature is simply great.

Missing Information... (5, Informative)

BandoMcHando (85123) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591293)

It would be helpful to know what country you are talking about, as this will affect lots of things...

eg here in the UK we have freeeview, which is just a brand name for free-to-air terrestrial digital television, and many DVR/PVRs over here are built with this in mind.

But I have no idea what the situatuion is with non-subscription television services in other countries

Re:Missing Information... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591631)

Even Sky+ is going subscription free from 1st July (still need to subscribe to the normal TV package) saving £10/month.

For those in the UK... (1)

IndieKid (1061106) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591773)

...BT Vision ( [] is a fairly good option, especially if you already have a subscription with BT as an ISP.

I'm a BT internet subscriber and got my Freeview-supporting DVR from BT a few months ago for £90 installation fee (the box was free), but apparently there will be a self-install option later this year that will bring the cost down to about £30.

The BT solution also connects to your DSL line and allows on-demand (pay-per-view or subscription) viewing of TV and Movie content (plus Premiership football later this year) at near-DVD quality. Apparently some HD content may be added in the future but this will be downloaded to the DVR rather than streamed.

I won't go into more detail on the box as there are loads of reviews around the net, but one of the nice features is the HDMI output which upscales the Freeview picutre to 720p or 1080i (there are only test broadcasts in the Croyden area of HD Freeview at the moment) and also displays the interface in the higher resolution.

P.S. I'm not affiliated with BT in any way, just a satisfied customer.

Plenty of choice out there (5, Informative)

Snospar (638389) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591303)

I use a MythTV [] box which was fairly hard to get working but is simple to use. It can change channels on my Sky Digibox so I can record shows automatically using the built in TV guide. I can archive recordings to DVD or play back DVD's on the same box. It cost around £400 (GBP) to build 2 years ago, with a lot of the money going on a Hauppauge PVR-350 [] card and a small form factor case.

I've also bought a Pioneer DVR for my father in law, the DVR-540HX-S with 160GB hard drive [] , this was much the same price and does almost as much as the MythTV box including controlling a Sky box. It's also quieter and lacks the initial setup complexity of the Myth box (meaning less support for me!).

If you want total simplicity go for the prebuilt DVR - for total control it has to be MythTV

Re:Plenty of choice out there (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591403)

Is there anywhere that sells MythTV boxes with nice cases and all this hard work already done?

Sounds like there would be a market for them.

Re:Plenty of choice out there (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591419)

Yeah, go with a shitty Hauppage that doesn't work because of a "Bad or missing subvendor ID" along with the communist open-sores solution called "Myth TV" or a box from another country that won't work in the US. Those will really work. NOT!

Re:Plenty of choice out there (1)

pjviitas (1066558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594341)

I agree.

In addition I would like to mention the following:
1. if you are using a STB channel changes can be a little on the slow side.
2. MythTV will not allow you to start and stop recordings as you wish...recording is tied to the EPG.

Non-Subscription DVR - what's that? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591409)

Luckily I don't even know what a subscription DVR is. Well okay, I do, but we don't have any of those around here. It must really suck to live in a country where you have to pay a monthly fee to get some basic stuff like program schedules or something, I feel sorry for you.

Clarify your question (2, Insightful)

Platupous (316849) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591425)

From the way the poster asked the question, I just kind of gathered he wanted a non-PC based standalone DVR box.

I know all about Myth / ATI MMC / Beyond TV etc, but I too would like to know about STANDALONE boxes, which have nothing to do with a PC.

What's out there? Whats good?

Re:Clarify your question (1)

ThirdPrize (938147) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592265)

Mod parent up (1)

Curmudgeonlyoldbloke (850482) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592953)

(how on earth did they get to be posting at -1 anyway?)

There's less traffic in Digitalspy's PVR forums than there used to be, but it's still useful.

Also check links and reviews here: s/ []

and: []

Re:Clarify your question (4, Informative)

Kemahsabe (1118327) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592615)

I have a Toshiba RD-XS32 with 80GB HD and DVD player/recorder. Paid $250 for it a year ago. I use it primarily as a solid-state VCR although it has many other functions. It will pause live TV. I can record a program, edit out the commercials and save it on a DVD. I've transferred video from a video camera (analog or digital) to the HD, then edited the result and saved it to a DVD. Works for me. Does more than I'd ever want or need and I don't have to pay a subscription.

Dreambox (3, Informative)

huha (755976) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591465)

If you don't need HDVT capabilities, you might want to try the dreambox series by dream multimedia ( [] ).
They run Linux and the top-of-the-line model even features interchangeable receivers in case you'll ever need to switch from cable to sat or vice versa.
The box is not quite cheap, but it's a nice thing to have if you don't want to set up a PC for this stuff--it just does what it's supposed to do.
The only problem I've been having is the menu structure, which is--as most of the time with utterly complex gadgetry--way too crowded to be even somewhat intuitive. Luckily, there's a web interface, allowing you to configure and organize movies from your PC.

PVR (1)

Filmcell-Keyrings (973083) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591483)

I am UK based and have a cheap digifusion freeview PVR (£90). Its basic, but it works - I previously had a PC based PVR, using GB-PVR, but my GF could not be bothered figuring out how to use it. Bring up the program guide, highlight the program you wish to record, and hit the record button. This combined with a DivX/XVid compatible DVD player covers most of my needs. That said, I have just started using Win Media Center on my Vista laptop, for when I want to record two programs, or for things that I want to burn to DVD, and am very impressed with it. Worked no problems with the no brand USB TV Dongle that I got as a present. If I had to stop using one, it would be the laptop, as you can't beat the simplicity of the set top box.

Hmm, tough choice... (4, Insightful)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591553)

MythTV with a $1000 PC, or $200 dual tuner TiVo with a year of prepaid service.

Decisions, decisions.

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

drb_chimaera (879110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591877)

Here in the UK we don't get Tivo anymore but I can buy a freeview-based PVR (with 7-day EPG and 160gig HDD) for £180. Of course thats bought outright, theres no subsequent subscription costs.

Or I can build a MythTV box with dual tuners and lots of processing power and RAM and a half-terabyte of storage for £300. And thats with sticking it in a non-hideous case (in my case I'm using an Antec NSK1300) :)

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (3, Insightful)

Gregg M (2076) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592655)

MythTV with a $1000 PC, or $200 dual tuner TiVo with a year of prepaid service.

$1000 PC?

Who pays 1000 dollars for a PC? I paid less for my gaming rig! All you need for a MythTV is a 1 GHz pc with 256MB of ram. I could find that in the garbage these days. All you need then is a 80 dollar PVR-150 and a video card with an S-video out. Storage is about a gig an hour for mpeg2 files. Besides Tivo costs 20 bucks a month for the subscription. Once I pay for the computer I'm done.

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

OldeTimeGeek (725417) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593711)

For those of us who aren't terribly interested in dumpster diving and don't the spare equipment laying around, how much would a bare-bones MythTV-capable system really cost?

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

ratboy666 (104074) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594203)

I build MythTV systems out for people. Here is a rough breakdown:

HTPC case, IR remote integrated, display (VFD) integrated, $300. Note that the VFD/IR is over $100 by itself -- and the case has to be "living room acceptable".

Power supply - main characteristic - QUIET. $40.

Mainboard. Note that we are using this for (potentially) running multiple HD streams, and transcoding HD, so Athlon X2, and 2GB (dual channel) memory. 4 PCI slots, 1 PCIe. $100 for the mainboard/processor, $60 for memory.

SD (standard def) TV. Dual tuner - $140 (with hardware MPEG-2 encode).

QAM/ATSC HD tuner - $80.

Suitable video card (full HD output) - $150

Montego sound card (optical digital in/out) - $40

Now, what does it sum up to? $910. Which is close to a thousand (oh, the quiet passive CPU cooling adds $30).

What do you get? A bog-quiet box, with all sorts of A/V possibilities, that looks very nice. Run MythTV on it, which doesn't take ALL of its power (most of the time -- when transcoding you can't have enough!), so put VMware on there, and some virtual servers as well (I run XP and Solaris 10 on mine).

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

OldeTimeGeek (725417) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594351)

Thanks for the good info. That'll help me decide whether the investment in time and materials is worth it for me (I really don't watch much TV).

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

scribblej (195445) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594731)

I'd just like to point out that I run my MythTV server on a PIII-750 with 128mb RAM, it was free to me because it was donated from a friend who didn't use it anymore. I'd ba amazed if anyone couldn't find a similar PC for free, but even if you have to pay I agree $1000 is way out of line with reality.

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593459)

$1000 PC silliness has already been covered but since I did just buy a new PC, I feel the need to chime in. My most recent PC was an Athlon Dual Core that I bought off of Dell's outlet for $250 shipped. And that included XP Media Center. Granted, to be a decent high definition HTPC I'll need a better video card (maybe $150) and probably a bit more disk space ($100). For standard definition, I have more than enough horsepower and disk-space. I'll just need a TV tuner ($100 for a good standard def one or $30 for one that requires my computer to do all the processing work).

But that's not even the argument that compelled me to respond in the first place. My main beef with your assessment is that you're only considering the Tivo service for one year. Why? Do you only have one year left to live? Are you planning on not watching TV anymore after the first year? Do you suspect Tivo will suddenly alter their business model and stop charging monthly fees after one year? Or are you just being incredibly shortsighted in the financial sense?

How many years do you plan on keeping your Tivo? Maybe 3-4 years? If you bought a PC and financed the sum minus the initial $200*, for the same payments you're making to Tivo you could buy a $700 PC in 3 years. You could buy an $800 PC in 4 years. So all things being equal, I'll take the PC and the cash each month (or year if you prepay yearly).

* Yes, I know financing a PC makes absolutely no sense given its rapid depreciation and I'd never actually do that but I would rather compare apples to pears than apples to 19th Century British Prime Ministers and I thought the financing angle at least makes the comparison more balanced. Oh, and I am assuming 8% interest on financing and the Tivo monthly amount of $14.95 for a year pre-paid.

Re:Hmm, tough choice... (1)

mediocubano (801656) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595543)

I got a refurbed 2-tuner 80G/80Hr TiVo box a month or so ago for $50, and the prepaid service for 1 year is $150. So your $200 is right on the money. And it took longer to fish the video cables thru the entertainment center than it did to set up/configure the box. Definitely money well spent in my opinion.

no subscription takes out the advantages (4, Insightful)

the unbeliever (201915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591645)

Hm, lessee.

If you buy a DVR without a subscription, and use it as a solid state VCR, you take away everything that's remotely advantageous of having a DVR, in my opinion.

Season Pass (or the equivalent) makes recording all new showings of your favorite programs hassle free. If you're using it as a VCR, and the show ends up swapping time slots without your knowledge (you're probably ffwing through commercials that would warn you...) you risk missing the show in it's new time slot. Or if it's pre-empted by another program, or delayed, etc.

If you're not looking to pay a subscription, just download the shows off bittorrent or usenet.

Re:no subscription takes out the advantages (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591745)

Heh, I use a VCR and I rarely have this problem because I always check the TV guide and compare. I have had heard people, with TiVo, get their recordings messed up (e.g., missing the last few minutes, etc.). I always try to make 5 minutes and 5 minutes after the TV shows I record if possible so I won't miss anything.

Re:no subscription takes out the advantages (1)

the unbeliever (201915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591803)

Season passes let you pad the recordings by up to 5 minutes early or two hours (!) late. Not usually an issue except on Sundays during football season when the simpsons gets pushed back.

Re:no subscription takes out the advantages (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591931)

Ahh, I am on Pacific zone so I have never seen The Simpsons get pushed back like that. Is that pad recordings automatic or user has to do that? Bascially, can TiVo and others automatically detect the show is being late due to sport games or whatever?

Re:no subscription takes out the advantages (1)

the unbeliever (201915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592171)

I haven't seen one that can automatically detect it, but the padding is an option in every recording you set up, including season passes.

My Tivo is sitting gathering dust because it won't change channels reliably on my hd receiver, so I dunno if they've updated the software recently.

Re:no subscription takes out the advantages (1)

Peter La Casse (3992) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592813)

If you buy a DVR without a subscription, and use it as a solid state VCR, you take away everything that's remotely advantageous of having a DVR, in my opinion.

In my opinion, it's remotely advantageous to be able to record more than fits on a videotape or DVD without manually swapping. The ability to archive recordings on a separate file server, which some DVRs offer, is also remotely advantageous.

Re:no subscription takes out the advantages (1)

grahamm (8844) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595175)

The only advantage you gain from a subscription is the ability to watch subscription only channels. You do not need to use it as a solid state VCR. The EPG shows details of the programmes for up to a week in advance and most (if not all) PVRs can be programmed to record using the EPG so that if a show changes time then the recording will be at the altered time. Some PVRs also have 'series' mode so it automatically records all the episodes in a series but the repeat showings.

I am also in the same shoe. (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591727)

I also use the old fashion VCR and my computer (HDTV only; not 24/7 so I turn it off when I don't use it). I think once my VCR dies, I am jumping to a PVR that doesn't use subscription. I live in USA and don't have cable and satellite TV. Just the good old fashion rabbit ears and bowtie antenna. I still use a 10 years old 19" CRT TV. I will get a small HDTV when it dies.

I was thinking of getting a DVD recorder, but I heard it is not very good because it skips or something? Also, short recording time especially for HDTV (if I ever get it)? I don't want to use my computer for recordings because I don't like to leave my machines on when I am not at home. I prefer a hardware recorder like the VCR. I don't need a fancy scheduler with TV guides like TiVo and Replay.

Re:I am also in the same shoe. (1)

debest (471937) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592363)

I prefer a hardware recorder like the VCR. I don't need a fancy scheduler with TV guides like TiVo and Replay.

Simple, then. You go and buy a hardware PVR from Best Buy or Circuit City (or wherever). There are models from Pioneer, Samsung, JVC, etc. (all the usual suspects): when you're ready, read up on the models and choose the one that best suits your needs at that time. As a bonus, you'll probably be able to get one with a DVD recorder for not that much more, so you'll have both options.

Re:I am also in the same shoe. (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595523)

Aren't these PVRs subscription based? I don't want to pay for subscription to use them.

Re:I am also in the same shoe. (1)

Micah (278) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592621)

FWIW, I recently got a DVD recorder (a Panasonic) and I haven't yet noticed any skipping.

It's cool because I can play the DVDs in my laptop with Xine. :)

Which country? (1)

Idaho (12907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591735)

You do not specify in which country you live. In the Netherlands, you can buy a wide range of DVR's for amounts between EUR 150 (crappy no-name brands) and EUR 500 (with HD support, 2 tuners, big harddisk, etc.).

For example Samsung [] has quite a few, but I don't know whether they sell them only in Europe (PAL) or in other places as well. There's several other brands that sell 'em too, e.g. Sony.

Pay attention to such things as: does it support an electronic program guide (and will this work with your cable provider), is it actually easy to capture e.g. all airings of particular shows/series, is it easy to navigate the menus or is programming it such a nightmare that you probably won't ever use it after the first week.

I still love TiVo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19591835)

Even though they discontinued their "lifetime" subscription option, I still use it on the 3 boxes I own and wouldn't think of using anything else. To get a lifetime subscription now you need to buy a TiVo box off eBay which has already had the lifetime subscription purchased for it. Also, if you buy a new unactivated box from Humax you are eligible to buy a lifetime subscription for $300 while these boxes are still available.

OnAir (1)

SoopahMan (706062) | more than 7 years ago | (#19591975)

OnAir HDTV Creator: 5589 []

I tend to find with most AV questions, if I just cruise AVSforum long enough I find the best of breed and a long list of posts praising it. Such is the case here.

Absolute minimum PVR (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592143)

Hmmm... nothing more than a VCR? Well, you could try:

sleep 13453; dd if=/dev/video of=tv_show.mpg bs=1000 count=1000000

Elgato's EyeTV (Macintosh only) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19592467)

I know most people will mod me down for this, but I've got a Mac Mini and Elgato's EyeTV and it's been running beautifully for the past couple of years recording regular cable TV for me. I know it's not rocket science, but I especially like that it records a minute before & after my scheduled times to cover any slightly-off clocks or NBC's mucking around with the start times of their shows. 1Gig of disk space for every half hour recorded and multiple EyeTVs can be chained together so you can record multiple channels at the same time (or watch another one) ... it does all the encoding in hardware and doesn't use the Mac CPU for anything except display

Has to be Topfield (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19592571)

I've owned three PVRs and Topfield has been way better than the other two brands.

Why? - easy to use interface (even my wife can operate it)
              functions can be customised with TAPs (Topfield applications)

I essentially use it as solid state VCR but the time shifting function is what makes it so useful.

Forget about Zap2It (1)

PadRacerExtreme (1006033) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592597)

Pretty amusing this appears on the front page 10 stories after the one [] that says Zap2it is shutting down and pondering:

Without a data feed of this type, users will be reduced to scraping websites at best. Is this going to be a killing blow for MythTV?"

This might be a stretch (1)

GweeDo (127172) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592733)

I might be stretching the definition of "non-subscription" but Dish Network now has their "DVR Advantage" plan where for $49.99 you get 250 channels + your locals + a dual tuner DVR. Having use the Dish522, Dish622, MythTV and a few different Tivo's...I have to say my preference goes to the Dish DVR's. I have a 622 (the HD MPEG4 one) and I love it.

Re:This might be a stretch (1)

ironwill96 (736883) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593237)

I agree. DISH DVRs are pretty nice (assuming you have DISH of course!).

You can also buy the 622 HD DVR (300 hours standard recording, 30 hours of HD content) off of e-bay for around $300 so it is considerably cheaper than the MythTV solution or buying the HD TIVO ($799.99 from them directly).

Now I guess "satellite" does count as a subscription, but you have to get the channels somehow, right?

Re:This might be a stretch (1)

GweeDo (127172) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593391)

Don't forget that those 300 hours SD/30 hours HD are based on MPEG2 channels. Since Dish is moving more and more of their HD channels to MPEG4 (and at the end of the year will have a full MPEG4 offering for customers) that will push it to around 600 hours/60 hours.

Re:This might be a stretch (1)

Sandbags (964742) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593791)

If you're some kind of nut who only has the will to access broadcast TV, and have no interest for even basic cable services or basic dish services which can be had for as little as $14.99/mo depending on provider, then you're missing most of the worthwhile programs to record in the first place. If all you watch are the most promoted broadcast TV shows, skip the DVR entirely and just get your programs from iTunes or something similar. Of course, if you're so far gone that a $14.99 subscription to get interference free TV with 20-50 channels is too much money, and are satisfied with the 6 channels your rabbit ears pick up on a good day, then your likely to not have DSL anyway so this really isn't an option, is it?

If you're so strongly against paying any subscriptions, then you are a cheap ass (no offense) and why should ANY manufacturer expect that you would buy a $200+, bottom of the line, profitless device from them, let alone provide it subscription free? You're such a small market nich, and a so entirely unprofitable one at that, what would compel them to bother?

Fact is, bundling a DVR with even the cheapest subscription TV service available won't be more than $24.99 per month, with $10 of that being the monthly fee for the set top box. For another $20 a month, you get over a hundred channels instead of 20. Assuming you're not a nut, and actually have some pay-for TV service already, then the $10 a month it costs to get a DVR from your provider will cost less over 2 years than the cost to buy a simple DVR that might do without a subscription, and 3-5 years of TV vs building your own HTPC with Myth TV. With Time Warner Cable like I have, the HD DVR is the same monthly price as the regular DVR and you get all the broadcast TV channels and Discovery in HD, just not ESPN and the other premium HD networks.

Here are a few other things to consider when getting a unit from your cable provider on lease instead of buying a Tivo or some other unit: 1) no up front expense, 2) Unit is under warranty, and is replaced free, in your home, 3) you can swap the unit out for a newer or better model at will by stopping by the cable office. If you have satellite, you actually "buy" the unit from them when you sign up (it's usually free on new accounts), but as long as you have a subscription to their service, the hardware is covered by warranty. People that already have satellite service, and are being told they have to buy their additional hardware are missing the fine print: Cancel your subscription, then have your wife sign up as a new subscriber and get all the equipment for free.

The one major disadvantage of getting a provided DVR is that you can't export video easily to DVD. Most units employ copy protection measures. If you have a steroe system with video in-out options, you can connect the DVD recorder to your stereo instead of the cable box directly and 9/10 eliminate that issue. If not, add an inline filter you can pick up at BestBuy for $40.

Going the Myth TV route requires several hundred dollars in PC hardware, if not over $1000 (if you're talking multiple tuners), intimate PC knowledge, constant maintenance, no real warranty or service options, and all this just so you can record to DVD? Shit, just spend $2 per episode (or save money and buy season sets). Of course, you're violating your service provider's contract terms (and possibly the law) by time shifting programs to a system capable of DVD recording and playback anyway, so if you're already violating the law, some of you might consider getting the programming through illegal download services anyway.

Ask yourself, is it really worth the cost? The PC needs replacement every few years, or at least expensive upgrades. At an average of $500 per year in hardware and software (normalized) you could buy a new Tivo with the yearly subscription built in every year, and include the cost of a DVD writer and a few hundred DVDs.

Re:This might be a stretch (1)

pjviitas (1066558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594383)

Channel changes are generall faster on STB PVR's thus better suited for surfers.

Before SuperKendall wakes up: Mac mini + Elgato (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19592817)

Before SuperKendall [] wakes up, here's what he (or another Apple fanboy) would probably recommend: a Mac Mini [] plus Elgato EyeTV [] .

Why this is a good option:

  • It looks nice. (Both the mini and the EyeTV.)
  • It's an Apple product. It's insanely great! It just works! Think different! [Insert silly slogan here.]
Why this is a lousy option:
  • It's expensive for the DVR features you get. The $600 mini only has 512MB of memory, a DVD/CDRW combo drive, and 60GB hard drive. A mini with a DVD burner starts at $800. The EyeTV 250 is $200 and is analog-only.
  • The nice little mini form factor only accepts a notebook hard drive in its case. A decent desktop hard drive requires an external Firewire/USB drive, which fricks up that neat form factor.
  • EyeTV's software is nice on most computer displays, but is pretty lousy on most televisions while sitting on the couch. It's nowhere near as good as TiVo, MythTV, or Windows Media Center.

DVR for PC (1)

bbroerman (715822) | more than 7 years ago | (#19592821)

Personally, since I'm kind of stuck in the Windows arena currently, I use SageTV. It is very stable, very functional, and not encumbered by any sort of DRM.

Re:DVR for PC (1)

davonshire (94424) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593223)

I am currently testing SageTV as well, and I'm very tempted to buy the package. It does require some extensive tweaking and adjustments. But by and large it's EPG is non subscription and it's intelligent recording has already guessed that I like Family Guy and Futurama. (Neither I have chosen to record with it yet.)

As I understand it there is also a fairly worthy package called Meedio Pro, who's technology was purchased by Yahoo. [] I haven't
tested it yet, but I will before I decide which to buy.

Oh Oh, Read Me! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19592871)

For a stand alone digital VCR here is the best solution.

Go here [] ? and get yourself a series 1 Tivo. $60

Buy a big IDE hard drive from $50 - $??

Buy some DIY software from [] . $20

The Series 1 Tivo does not require a subscription to work. You can schedule recordings for a channel, time, and duration. So now you have a piece of hardware built just for recording TV without a monthly fee. In the future if you decide to subscribe and get all the cool Tivo features, you can.

WMC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19593033)

You asked on Slashdot, so you're going to get a lot of MythTV responses (which is great, it's an outstanding free product). I'd also suggest you check out Windows Media center (Either 2005 (XP), or Vista Media Center if that's your cup of tea), especially if you're into home automation and want device support (I can control my lutron lighting, HAI system, etc all through Media Center, including scheduling it). It also will stream HD (including protected content, like CableCard recorded stuff on Vista) to Xbox 360s or any other Media Center V2 device.

Consider replacable media (3, Interesting)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593037)

Most DVRs are sealed and the storage is recycled. As long as you have your receiver in a different box, you can get a replaceable media DVR. Several manufacturers are making DivX compatible home DVD burners, Phillips being the cheapest right now. You can get 12+ hours of standard broadcast or 6 hours of HD material on a single DVD. You can rotate through a box of 10 DVD/RWs and get about the same storage you get with a satellite provider DVR unit, and you can permanently burn anything on regular DVDs (including multisession capability). I screwed up and got the read-only unit for $50. I could have gotten the burner for $150. I'm sorry I didn't, despite already owning a Dish Network receiver/DVR. As an added bonus with these units, you can load a single DVD with MP3s and get over 24 hours of continuous music. And it's worth noting that you can get format converters that will take pretty much any video format and convert it to any other, including DivX, so you can download eleventy seven gubbabytes of stuff and make it watchable on your home unit. For Winboxes DivX sells a passable converter, and eRightSoft gives away an absolutely jam packed converter (actually a front end for just about any OSS codec/format converter already available).

Any argument about DivX vs. another format is moot unless there's another format being built into home replaceable media recorders. And as for the false permanence of DVDs, if you follow the listing at [] you can get media that lasts 10 times longer than the commonly available 2 to 3 year lifetime disks.

Re:Consider replacable media (1)

Samus (1382) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593903)

I don't recommend it. I thought I could go the semi-cheap route with DVD/RWs but it hasn't really worked out. I bought a Toshiba DVD recorder last Christmas and have been unimpressed. First the RWs it needed have to be a higher speed than you normally find on store shelves. The only ones I found that would do it were 4x made for video recording RWs. They worked out fine for a bit but after recording and erasing around 4 shows on the same disc, the recorder can't use the disc anymore. I'm not a fool and understand that every time a disc is written to it degrades but I had no idea that they would degrade so fast. I don't think the discs are so degraded that I couldn't use them on a PC. Its more likely that the recorder just can't write to the degraded disc fast enough and it freezes up. I wish that I had gone the PVR or DVR with HD route now. It would have been more expensive but I think it would have worked out better.

DVR cable box (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19593945)

if you have cable you can get them and you just have to pay the box rental fee.

Re:DVR cable box (2, Informative)

demon (1039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594511)

Except [] for [] the [] fact [] that [] they [] really [] suck [] ...

Don't care (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19594431)

I love how this issue doesn't affect me at all.

AT&T U-verse comes with a DVR as a standard feature of the service. Given that U-verse is far, far better than cable, I don't see why I'd ever want to switch.

I use... (1)

MacColossus (932054) | more than 7 years ago | (#19594711)

I am a mac user and have used this. php [] It integrates automated recording/scheduling with My computer room is close to the tv room with a unfinished utility room adjacent to both. So I have this going from the satellite receiver to the Mac Pro's firewire port. I have the second DVI out from the video card going back to the TV so I can watch the video from the computer's hard drive on the TV. I use ILife to edit the video and burn to DVD when I want. The major missing feature to this is commercial skip. But, I already had everything except the studiodv. OK, I had a Dual G4 when I first set this up, and have since had it hooked up to G5's and such as I upgrade, but you know what i mean. :-)

MOXI by Motorola (1)

TeemAwesome (948573) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595057)

I have a Charter Cable service, and they provide a really nice DVR for about 7 bucks a month. They recently updated the firmware, and it's been really great. There's no subscription other than the $7 a month you pay to rent the box. Comcast and TimeWarner also have their own DVRs. My recommendation is to simply go with whatever DVR is provided by your satellite/cable provider.

Some pitfalls of rolling your own (4, Informative)

jbarr (2233) | more than 7 years ago | (#19595067)

MythTV, BeyondTV, SageTV (my preferred), Windows Media Center, and any of a number of PC-based solutions are available to provide subscription-free DVR capabilities. But it doesn't come easy. Just be aware that Satellite companies and Cable companies are not making it easy for roll your own users. If you have local OTA or analog cable signals, it should be a no-brainer to set up the channels and the inputs, but if you use set top boxes (STB) you introduce some complexity that goes way beyond Joe Sixpack's capabilities. You need a way to control the STB's, so you either need to use IR blasters or serial/USB control which varies from STB to STB.

If you want a completely compatible DVR, then you really need to go with one supplied from your Cable or Satellite provider. Of course, that goes against your "no subscription" requirements. You typically have to pay a subscription, and you cannot typically "do anything" with the recordings other than watching them (like transcoding to an iPod, burning to DVD, etc.) But you do get 100% compatibility. And if you want to record HD content, be prepared for disappointment. Unless you use a cable or satellite provided DVR, you WILL NOT be able to record most Cable or Satellite HD content without their proprietary DVR's. There really is no exception to this (in the consumer-level price range.) If you have local broadcast HD content or unencrypted HD content over cable (satellite encrypts it all) you will NOT be able to (inexpensively or easily) roll your own HD DVR for recording. The excellent HDHomeRun [www.silicondust] box does a fantastic job of providing recordable content to such PC-based DVR's but it requires "clear" signals--no premiums, unless your cable company inadvertently leaves them unencrypted. And though HDHomeRun is an excellent product, it's certainly not Joe Sixpack-friendly.

I have an amazing SageTV setup that the wife just LOVES, but I dread the day when I have to switch from cable to DirecTV (which may be sooner than later) because of the technical tweaking and changes I'll need to make to accommodate multiple DirecTV receivers. And, of course, we will NOT be able to record HD. That will have to be done with a DirecTV HD DVR.

For me, it was all about features, so we weer willing to incur extra cost, but if it's about the cost, then you really need to assess which is more economical. So, calculate how much it will cost you to build a subscription-free setup, and then amortize that cost over say, two or three years, and see which is cheaper, the home-built subscription-free DVR, or a subscription.
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