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OTA Forum Moderator
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Step-by-step instructions to build from scratch the least expensive, fully functional HD PVR for Digital and Analogue TV with easy to find, brand new PC hardware and minimal computer knowledge:
  1. Download one of these free MythTV PVR OSes (they contain all the software you will need: drivers, media players, video editors, transcoders, photo apps, digital camera and camcorder apps, music apps, rippers, burning software, bittorrent, sharing, etc.):You do not need to know Linux to set those up since they guide you through the whole setup process. If you do run into problems there is a ton of help and info on the web. You do not need to buy any other software!
  2. Buy PC hardware that is going for clearance prices. You do not need the latest/greatest ($$$) hardware for a fully functional HD PVR
  3. Based on your OS choice above, read its hardware compatibility list then select your hardware. They support most hardware out there, so do not buy an unsupported device!

    Checklist of brand new hardware (cost estimates are based on small PC parts wholesaler lists August 8, 2009):
    • basic standard PC case including ~450w power supply (~$70)
    • DVD burner (~$25)
    • keyboard (~$10)
    • mouse (~$10)
    • dual core CPU (AMD Athlon64 X2 5200 or Intel Pentium Dual 5300) (~$80)
    • basic, simple motherboard with dual-channel memory (~$80)
    • 4GB of ram (~$60)
    • 1 small hard drive <100GB for OS (~$50)
    • 2 or more large SATA hard drives >500GB for video storage (~$60 each)
    • graphics card with HDMI and/or Component out for feeding an HDTV @1080p (~$50)
    • audio card with SPDIF digital and/or TOSLINK optical out for feeding surround sound receiver @ DD7.1 (~$30)
    • LAN device (~$20-$60)
    • tuner/capture devices:
      • PCI
      • PCI-E
      • USB 2.0 (~$90 each for Hauppauge 950Q)
      • NTSC (~$25 each for Hauppauge 150 PCI)
      • ATSC
      • Clear QAM
      • S-Video in
      • Composite in
      • RF in
  4. Additional notes:
    • This adds up to ~$650 before taxes for the whole thing in separate parts
    • most small PC shops will bundle several of the items at an even lower price
    • some low cost motherboards come with LAN and SPDIF onboard
    • Likely you'd want 2 or more each of ATSC and NTSC devices to allow multiple channel recording
    • Other devices can be added, such as multi-card readers, Firewire, Bluetooth, etc. to suit your needs.
    • Local network clients of your new HD PVR include PCs, Macs, XBoxes, and other extenders
If you are replying to this thread remember that it is about building an HD PVR from scratch with brand new gear at the lowest total cost. It is not about used gear or HTPC prebuilt specials. :)
 

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If you're looking for small form factor for your PVR, mini-itx is great in terms of size and price.

A mini-ITX motherboard complete with HDMI/graphics/lan/sound can be had for roughly $120-180 (depending on desired graphics chipset)
Add in some ram ~$60 (4gb of 'laptop' ram)
A mini-itx case, including PSU for ~$70
AMD CPU (like the above) ~$80
DVD burner (like the above) ~$25
mouse + keyboard ~$20 (getting a wireless media board on sale for this price is even better, couch-surfing made easy)
Tuner ~$50-150 depending on brand and function (single vs dual tuner, etc)

Total: $425-585

Not too tough on the wallet, and you get a nice, small box for beside your TV with all the function and features you'd expect!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Yep that's a good point - you can either go tight budget all the way or by tightening your belt in some areas you can splurge on others!
 

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Of course this also assumes unencrypted signals, so this would not work with encrypted satellite or cable. For that you'd need to purchase an HD STB for your "tuner" as well as the more expensive Hauppauge with component video input, or firewire if the STB has active firewire on certain programming/channels not copy protected.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Yes, but the first post specifies ATSC and Clear QAM under tuner/capture devices as digital sources, with other devices or inputs for NTSC analogue.
 

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I just wanted to be clear. There is almost no clear QAM (link below) and if you wanted to record only NTSC a DVD recorder would be a lot less expensive. I think rather than saying digital and analogue TV in your first sentence, the "digital" should be changed to ATSC, or you could simply say "OTA". If you change the title to "OTA HTPC", then you may delete my clarification posts.

http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=32271
 

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I'll take a crack at it :

I don't do Mythbuntu myself so it's even better when no OS cost is involved...

These are the parts I either have/had or heard good things about...

Case :
I have this case - Apex DM-317 mATX HTPC Case Silver Black 1X5.25 1X3.5 1X3.5INT 275W Low Profile Front Firewire - $45. The only 'complaint' I have is the 2 SATA plugs from the PSU are close together and would not plug into the DVD and the HDD if the HDD is at the bottom. An adapter is needed but I have tons of those around.

Mobo : Gigabyte GAMA780GM-S2H ($70), or the Nvidia equivalent like 8300GS IGP. Get whichever one best for Ubuntu OS if that's what you'll be using.

CPU : Athlon x2 5050e ($75)

HDD : anything equal or larger than 1TB (1TB can be had for $80, 1.5TB = $130). I won't recommend too many HDD for SFF cases so go big and you won't regret.

RAM : 4GB anything DDR2 800MHz for $35 after MIR

DVD Writer - any black one, I prefer LG or Samsung myself. ($30)

TV card : Hauppauge HVR-1250 ($65), comes with low profile bracket that will work with the above case. If dual tuner is required, I'd get the HVR-2250 for $160 then. The HVR-1250 is good enough for SD when paired with a CPU like the 2.7GHz dual core 5050e. Remotes are included, which I can only comment they work pretty well for Vista MC though a $30 Vista Remote is better.

Wireless KB/Mouse : $30, I may even look at the refurb higher end ones at Factory Direct or Canada Computers for about the same $ but don't spend over $50 for a set of input devices for crying out loud.

Others : internal card reader ($15), low profile video card (ATI4350 low profile is $30 after $10MIR), Vista Premium 64-bit upgradable to Window 7 ($125)

Total : $45+70+75+$80+$40+$30+$65+$30=$435 for 1TB HDD and HVR-1250; or $580 if opt for 1.5TB HDD and the HVR-2250.
 

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A couple of notes:

- 4GB of RAM seems like overkill to me. I've run 2 ATSC and 2 NTSC tuners on 2GB no problem, and that's using the beast that is Vista.

- While they are necessary for assembly, for many people the keyboard, mouse, and DVD drive aren't necessary for day-to-day operations (assuming you have a DVD player). If you're really on a budget you could "borrow" them from another PC for assembly.

- You didn't mention a remote. Keyboard and mouse work but I find the remote to be a much more elegant solution.

- You can save some money on a graphics card by buying a low cost 780g motherboard (AMD solutions only) with on-board HD playback capable HDMI.

- I'm a little confused by your bullet list of tuners, are they categories or descriptions? They seem to overlap a lot.

- There are a few other free options out there if you happen to already have a spare XP license, such as GB-PVR. Still, can't hurt to experiment with Myth.

Great work though, very useful info for beginners.


Re: 57. I've never used a DVD recorder so I could be wrong, but I believe the big advantage to an HTPC solution with NTSC is the addition of a program guide for analog cable and the replacement of the Rogers guide for digital SD. Also, if they work anything like VCRs it is much nicer to use an HTPC, though not necessarily worth the cost.

I do think it should have a little disclaimer at the top warning people that they can't get encrypted signals without proprietary hardware.
 

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I think PPL4GOLF pretty much nailed it, from a price/component angle. Again, there is no need for any cards that are on the mobo. That means that the only thing required is a TV tuner or capture device (ie HD-PVR.) These are available as external USB devices so a very low profile (slim) case can be used. Toshiba and Samsung DVD drives are equivalent. I see the Toshiba version on sale for $23 frequently. I would use a WD Green 1GB drive since they are the coolest, most efficient drives available right now and 1GB drives are currently the cheapest per GB. I use an I-Rocks mini keyboard and Logitech wireless media mouse. They cost a little more than the basic models but are much better for HTPC. I see the keyboard on sale regularly and refurbed Logitech mice are often available cheap. A decent remote is also required and a blaster is optional but needed to control some cable/satellite tuners.

I also think that 4GB RAM is unnecessary. 2GB is lots, even with RAM for the mobo video. The dedicated keyboard and mouse could be dropped once the software is stable but I have regular use for them (mostly due to an inadequate remote.) Most maintenance can be done with remote desktop or VNC.
 

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I seem to recall reading about some issues with some of the Green drives being limited to 5400RPM (to save energy? I don't remember why...) and if that's still true it could be an issue for multiple tuners recording at once. I don't really know how much the disk speed can limit you though, I've never come close to problems with my 7200RPM drives.
 

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The newer 'green-er' drives are much preferred if you're into SFF. I must also say the 5050e is so manageable in a SFF environment.

Every little thing matters but the 2 key variables you can decide for yourself are the CPU and the HDD. Mobo all has hot chipsets/heatsinks but none of mine breaks due to high temperatures. I won't worry too much about the HDD rpm speed, some of my HDDs are older models and there is no problem writing 2 HD streams simutaneously. They all give me fairly similar transfer numbers from SiSoft SANDRA.

I must also say those ITX ION platforms are very cool looking. Get one of them ASRock ION/Atom330 and call it the day.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Some points of clarification :)

Excellent feedback so far. Let's keep trying to drop the build cost (before taxes) even lower! :)
  • The bullet points regarding tuner/capture cards are not meant to be a decision matrix, just a set of considerations.
  • A remote control is included in most Hauppauge 150 NTSC analogue PCI card packages so that's a good way to get one. Mythdora and Mythbuntu are fully compatible with that particular remote and hundreds more. Other Hauppauge products include that remote too.
  • I chose 4GB of ram because IMHO a PVR must run 24/7 and multi-task beyond just handling transport streams, and I personally have had more than the following running all at once on my MythTV box with no troubles:
    • On-schedule recordings
    • DVD creation/burning
    • video editing or watching
    • MythTV is automatically transcoding transport streams into mpg, avi, mkv, mov, or other formats
    • MythTV is commflagging (marking commercials for skipping)
    • MythTV is downloading latest program listings from Schedules Direct ($20/year subscription)
    • MythTV is backing up its database
    • home media server for video, audio, photos, files
    • P2P sharing on the Internet
    • reading this web site :D
    • and more
    Actually I try not to run all those at the same time, but it is possible with the wide variety of MythTV plugins. You will be happy that you spent a bit more for the 4GB.
  • When I mentioned mobos with LAN and SPDIF onboard I had originally typed "HDMI/Component-out" too, but snipped it out because I wasn't sure if such mobos were inexpensive. Glad to see that prices have dropped.
  • Please do not post retail links. The rules of the forum prohibit them outside of the Shopping Forums.
  • Cable and/or Satellite costs would only apply to someone who isn't relying on ATSC and/or Clear QAM for their digital TV programming.
  • I'm really impressed by how low the prices have dropped on HTPC cases. They now obviate the need to put one together from other parts.
  • I don't consider the following features of Mythdora and Mythbuntu as central to PVR use - just "nice-to-have" capabilities that can easily be setup for free (and easily via GUIs):
    • home Internet firewall
    • router (Internet connection sharing)
    • print server
    • virus sniffer
    • proxy server
    • web server
    • more
  • OSes that you pay for and that require other paid apps (anti-virus, burning, video editing, etc. etc.) are not suitable for the purposes of this thread. Neither are shareware or bundled "special edition" application versions since they are almost always crippled.
 

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This is my most recent build from earlier this summer.

Asus M4A78-EM $80
Athlon X2 5050e $70
2GB DDR2-800 $20
1TB HDD $80
250GB HDD $40
Cheap-o HTPC case/500W PSU $70

Total: $360

The M4A78-EM has an HD3200 on-board, as well as audio and LAN so you don't need any extra cards.

I also bought 2 PVR-150s (1 for $30 with an MC remote, 1 for $20) and an HDHomeRun dual-ATSC tuner for $200, although you can get other options for significantly less, I just needed the flexibility of the HDHomeRun.

I didn't include the cost of VMC because I had a free, legal copy and all my other software is free, but assuming all the parts are all supported by Myth software cost isn't an issue. I also didn't factor in the cost of equipment/subsciption for my Rogers cable because chances are people already have whatever they need or will be satisfied with OTA (for which I also didn't factor in equipment cost). I also just borrowed a DVD drive and a keyboard/mouse since I only needed it for setup.

Obviously with a lot of these parts I waited for sales and specials, but if you're willing to be patient and shop around you can get a lot for a little.
 

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A question just to clarify for myself . As a Bell HD supscriber is one of these builds usefull to me? I have an old PC i was thinking of converting to a HDPVR... Im assuming i would need at a minumum my regular HD receiver as a source?
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
TKG26 said:
As a Bell HD supscriber is one of these builds usefull to me?
No, not directly. Bell TV or Star Choice satellite reception via a PC tuner device would be piracy. As 57 noted earlier, you could import HD programming from your cable or satellite HD receiver over component into a Hauppauge HD PVR feeding into a PVR PC like those in this thread. Firewire transfers are a possibility with some receivers too. Since you are in Ottawa you have several digital OTA channels to go along with the old OTA analogues. If Rogers still has basic analogue cable channels you could PVR them too. If by rare chance some free channels are available, such as in Delta, BC, a person would get them via Clear QAM.

Also this thread is about brand new, not used PC hardware. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #17
TorontoColin you can check the MythTV Wiki for hardware compatiblility. It sometimes isn't up to date with the absolute newest hardware, but it describes any modern, current HTPC hardware that is known to work perfectly.

MythDora updates its Linux kernel at the same pace as Fedora does, so drivers for new hardware appear regularly. Likewise Mythbuntu follows the Ubuntu kernel release routine and integrates the newest kernels. Updating either of them is very easy.

Sometimes HTPC hardware is so darned new that Linux drivers lag behind, so I strongly advise people to do the hardware homework first, then buy the proper gear.
 

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I seem to recall reading about some issues with some of the Green drives being limited to 5400RPM (to save energy?)
The original WD Green models were 5400 RPM. The newer models spin slightly faster, use fewer platters and other techniques to reduce energy. The bottom line is performance. WD Green drives perform as well or better than some 7200 RPM drives and use about half the power. If performance is an issue, go with a WD Black drive. Both offer significantly better performance per watt that any other drive and are among the fastest drives in their respective classes.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
Fan noise, power, heat, and vibration - cheap solutions?

Totally unscientific reply here, but I use two 1TB WD Blacks in software RAID configuration on a 24/7 box and two 1TB WD Greens in software RAID configuration on my surfing/TV watching box and I cannot tell from feeling the cases and listening that one seems quieter or cooler than the other. :confused: Oh well, as i say its not a scientific comparison.

If anyone is considering putting a WD Green into an external case my advice is to test it first for unintentional spindown. I put a 1TB WD Green into a NexStar-3 eSATA/1394/USB2.0 external case and it went into spindown & sleep mode after a certain idle time and no amount of direct communication with the drive (using the Linux hdparm command, whose creator/maintainer is a member here at this site named mlord), reconnections, or power cycles would wake it up within its hard coded time. I had the store replace the NexStar case but that didn't change anything. We tried it on a buddy's Vista box and also on an XP box at the store and it did the same thing. My hunch is that the NexStar's circuitry blocks keepalive signals, but the manufacturer has never responded to my emails. I use a WD Black in it now and it is fine.

Regarding heat and noise from an HTPC, that's an important consideration if it is to be nearby your HDTV, so if you have an XBox 360 or PS3 you already face those problems. I wonder if we could cheaply reduce the fan noise, heat, and vibration as part of this thread's ultra-low $$$ goals?
 
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