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Better than a TIvo


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hey guys, i was thinking of buying/building a low cost DVR. I'm mainly going to use this to hook up to my cable and then record me favorite tv shows(my pretty sure thats legal). Its also going to be used for odds and end things like downloading new hak5 eps and ssh when im not home. So my guestion is do u think this is a good set up. And yes i know its from dell, but my running low on money and cant find an old pc for free. Also it comes with vista...damnit and i added a tv tuner card...since i dont rlly like vista im prolly going to put ubuntu or myth tv on it anyway. So heres the list and just say what ever you think...good or bad...idea??thanks!!

PROCESSOR Intel® Celeron® processor 450 (2.2GHz, 800 FSB)

OPERATING SYSTEM Genuine Windows Vista® Home Basic Service Pack 1

OFFICE SOFTWARE No Productivity software pre-installed

WARRANTY & SERVICE 1Yr Ltd Hardware Warranty, InHome Service after Remote Diagnosis

MONITOR No Monitor edit

MEMORY 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz- 2DIMMs

HARD DRIVE 320GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™


VIDEO CARD Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3100

SOUND Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio

TV TUNER AND REMOTE Hauppauge HVR1250 hybrid TV Tuner with Remote Control

KEYBOARD & MOUSE Dell USB Keyboard and Dell Optical USB Mouse

FLOPPY & MEDIA READER No Floppy Drive Included

MODEM No Modem Option

OPTIONAL PORTS IEEE 1394a Adapter (maybe better for transfer video files...speed wise)

My Software & Accessories

SPEAKERS Dell AX210 1.2W Speakers edit

ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE McAfee SecurityCenter with anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, 30-Days (most likely not going to use)

My Service

REMOTE ACCESS Receive an E-mail for your Dell Remote Access

DATASAFE ONLINE BACKUP Dell Online Backup 2GB for 1 year


Mouse Mouse included with Keyboard purchase

Adobe Software Adobe® Acrobat® Reader 9.0 Multi-Language

Network Interface Integrated 10/100 Ethernet

Labels Windows Vista™ Basic

PHOTO AND MUSIC SOFTWARE No Entertainment software pre-installed

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I lost interest when you said "Better than a Tivo".

If you've owned a Tivo and then tried to replace it with a PC running anything (Myth/Sage/Media Center/xbmc) you'll have found the same thing I did. After a year of screwing around - multiple hours a week - trying to make something that was better, I finally settled for something OK and spent so much time fixing it that at 3am one morning I ordered a Series 2 and a 320G hard disk and I haven't had to mess with it once.

I realized that I didn't want to play with a PC, I just wanted to watch TV.

If you've never owned a Tivo and used it for more than a month, you have NO IDEA what you're trying to replace.

Good luck! I'd love to find something better, but honestly, I haven't found it yet.

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Its the old standard motto of any honest engineer: Good, Fast and Cheap, pick two. Building something truly better than a tivo will either take you ages or be expensive. In this case you really need a better CPU, and more memory will definitely be be in order. Get something with a E1xx series Celeron at least, an E2xx if you can stretch it. Plan your memory so you can double it at a later date, so get 1x 2GB DIMM rather than 2x 1GB. Ditch Vista, its a good OS but its not the best for this role. And for the love of god, don't buy a Dell TV card and expect it to work with Linux.

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Seconding VaKo's words there and as an owner of an E2180 I'll vouch for its power for the price, they're dirt cheap but they're still Core2Duos (despite the naming scheme), I'd also recommend a cheap dedicated graphics card too just for a little bit more video decoding grunt should you wish to play a lot of heavy HD. Considering a CPU upgrade I think you could survive without a separate graphics card but depending on the video output options you'll get with that 3100 you might want to go for one anyway, just to allow more output options.

That said, I'll also agree with WhollyMindless in that sure, DIY has its advantages, but often with DIY alternatives to commercial (warrantied, certified products with a manual and support) products, you'll end up spending more time tweaking and fixing than you will actually using it. Of course it's possible to come up with a setup that works flawlessly, but if you start getting kernel panics or BSoDs every time you hit record, you're going to wish you never started.

I'd think carefully about the OS too, each media-centric OS or distro has its pros and cons, for example Vista's Media Center can have trouble with 3rd party codecs but XBMC can't record, I've not played with MythTV personally so I can't say either way but I've no doubt that it will have as many frustrations and niggles as the others. All have their nice little features and functions too though so if you're going to do it, read up, look around, see what people are saying and look for things that might make your experience sub-par so you can avoid the headaches later.

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All good advice - I'll second the "decent" video card - look into nVidia's PureVideo drivers. They aren't open/free but they are incredible and make for some great sound and image quality. (yes, sound - Dolby Digital!) This is really important to offload what dedicated hardware is good at (decoding video).

One serious problem I had with the other solutions is that if I ever watched "live" and didn't stop playback before I left they all thought I loved what was on. My Sage box loved Barney and could NOT stop watching it. Talk about frustration.

Make sure you have a decent remote (a wireless keyboard isn't so great after a couple of beers or when the girlfriend comes over) and a ROCK SOLID tuner changing setup. CableCard goes a long way in fixing the issues with older cable and satellite boxes.

I do wish you luck but know that it's a HUGE undertaking, but can be fun. MAME on a 36" TV can be quite impressive but won't impress most girlfriends.

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