A new use for the PC gathering dust in your closet…

On February 18, 2016

A new use for the PC gathering dust in your closet…

Turn it into a whole house DVR

A lot of people are interested in cutting the cord with their cable or satellite company, but their DVR has become part of their routine. If they cut that cord, the DVR needs to go back to the company. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, only go so far. CBS, for example, is noticeably absent from Hulu and wishes to charge you the same rate again, just for their channel.

The best quality High Definition content you can receive on your TV is actually broadcast free of charge over the air. A rooftop antenna will bring these local channels to your existing TV (and possibly neighboring cities’ local channels too), but you won’t be able to record them. In many countries, you can simply go to Walmart and buy a DVR. But here, cable companies have a virtual monopoly on DVRs, so stores believe there is no demand.

An old PC can be brought into the picture here with great effect. However, we need to rethink how a DVR works slightly, because we want to use this throughout the house. Simply get a couple of the largest Hard drives you can find and install a version of linux, with those Hard drives running in Raid 1. If one of them dies, you haven’t lost anything.


Consider  Silicondust, a company in California, that makes a network tuner called an HDHomerun. They do a separate device for cable tv, which, in this case, we don’t want. The antenna version will allow you to tune into a local channel and stream it across your network. With their Apple or Android app, you can watch local TV on your iPad or Tablet. However, these are pretty easy to use with open source DVR software. Consider MythTV: Pay a small yearly fee to an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) provider, for listings (as these are copyright), your old PC now records any shows you programmed, handles series links, extra program data, and even allows you to set things to record via a web interface. With a little tweaking – you can even watch your recorded shows during your lunch break, through that web interface.

A “whole house DVR” splits into two parts: the backend, which tunes, records, sets up program data etc., and a frontend, which actually shows you what you want to watch. My favorite frontend has changed in the last few weeks, and is now currently a $60 Android TV box. If I need access to my DVR in more rooms, I can simply add another box. I use Kodi as the frontend, and it comes with a MythTV plugin which is simple to set up. I do not recommend attaching these to your network via wifi as the bandwidth required to watch uncompressed HD is too high to maintain over a wireless network.

SiliconDust is in the process of writing software which will record shows directly from their boxes to a Network Storage device without much configuration needed from an end user.  This is a very promising project, which could revolutionize the sources of DVR’s and allow more people to save on their cable bills.  They have a beta version out now.


If you’re interested in converting or creating a PC based DVR, let us know, we can help!


  • By Rob Davis  0 Comments   


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