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Build Your Own DVR to Record Free OTA TV & Get Complete Freedom from Cable

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Using a TV Tuner Card to build a PC based DIY OTA DVR for Recording Free TV.

You can use your home computer to capture and record free TV using an Over-the-Air Antenna!

Since 2009, United States television programs have been broadcast over-the-air (OTA) exclusively in digital format. This means that HD signal is available for free in many locations using an indoor or outdoor TV antenna. Goodbye snowy picture!

If you’re already using a digital antenna to watch local programming, and you currently use a PC to stream video to your TV, you may be interested in purchasing a TV tuner card.

What’s a TV tuner card, you ask? Well, a tuner card is a peripheral that can be easily added to nearly any home computer to record free broadcast TV directly to your device. That’s right! You’ll be able to pause, rewind or fast forward your local programming exactly the way you would with an expensive cable or satellite box, without any of those pesky monthly expenses!

Did someone say it’s Football Season?

Record your favorite NFL games and watch them on your own time, and commercial-free. With a setup like this, you can not only get Sunday and Thursday Football for free in HD, but you can watch a standard 3-hour game in an hour and a half. Learn more about watching NFL for free in HD

How to choose the right Tuner Card for Your DIY OTA DVR

There are four basic types of TV Tuner Cards:

  • Internal – install inside your computer
  • External – plug into an USB or IEEE 1394 port on your computer
  • External – connect to a CardBus slot or ExpressCard slot on your laptop
  • Network – plug into an Ethernet port on your router

At a high level, the first choice to make when deciding on a new tuner card is whether you’d like a USB, Network, or PCI-e compatible card. With a PCI-e card, you’ll need to open the case of your desktop computer to install the card, but you won’t need to sacrifice a valuable USB port. On the other hand, if you’re using a laptop or don’t have a spare PCI-e port, a USB tuner card will present you with a quicker, easier installation experience. For most novice computer users the USB option works best. The cost for a device like this is around $30 – 60.00

H830 connection

The next step is to think about how you plan to use your tuner card. If you only need to record one show at a time on your DIY DVR, a single tuner model will save you some cash. However, dual or multiple tuner models provide the capability to record content while simultaneously watching another channel.  And if you don’t plan to add a cable TV connection to the setup, you can save a bit more by choosing a digital-only tuner card. Additional options such as a remote control or DNLA compatibility are also worth considering when making a decision.

HDHomeRun Connect

All that being said there is a solution that trumps all of these options. SiliconDust HDHomeRun is a TV tuner for people who want to enjoy video content throughout their home network. Once it is connected to your home router, you can access the HDHomeRun Tuner from any computer, anywhere in your home. Watch or record TV on your DIY DVR from anywhere you have a computer – using Windows Media Player.

To get a full list of TV signals that are supported by Windows Media Center click here. If you have questions about the HDHomeRun this Silicondust Forum has a lot of great information. The cost for a device like this under $100.

Getting new peripherals to talk to your computer can sometimes be difficult, but the majority of tuner cards will work great if you follow a few simple steps.

Drivers and installation will vary depending on the tuner card you purchase, but major brands such as Hauppauge & SiliconDust provide a simple installation process through tight integration with Windows Media Center.

If you have Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate, the required software is included with your operating system. Lucky you! To install simply open Media Center, select “Live TV Setup” and follow the prompts. When setup is complete, you’ll be able to watch and record programming without leaving the native Windows software.

The same result can also be achieved, albeit more difficultly, with other operating systems. One thing to keep in mind is that there are a few system resources that will either positively or negatively affect your ability to stream an OTA signal: processor speed, memory, and video graphics card capabilities, as well as available ports.

Now you’re ready to record HD OTA TV for free!

Recording the content will allow you to save programs for future viewing. Make sure you have plenty of space to store the files, however. The high-definition files can be as large as 7-8 gigabytes per hour of programming when captured using this method. A new external hard drive would probably be a good investment. Get a TV tuner card and enjoy recorded major network TV completely free of monthly charges!

Next Steps – Playing that recorded Video on your HD Big Screen. Read “How to Connect a Laptop to a TV

Here are some additional articles that you will find helpful:

  1. Recording Over-the-Air Channels with a Set-top Box
  2. What is OTA (Over-the-Air)
  3. How to Connect Multiple TV’s to your OTA Antenna
  4. Sky HDTV Outdoor Antenna from Mohu
  5. Watch NFL Free

Ditch “Big Cable” Now – 3 Simple Steps to Cut the Cord

  1. Pick the right streaming service
  2. Get the content you deserve with the best VPN.
  3. Supercharge your internet provider

That’s it — you’ll save money, take back control, and enjoy TV more!

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Frank Moraes
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13 replies on “Build Your Own DVR to Record Free OTA TV & Get Complete Freedom from Cable”

I’m trying to cut the cord after my Verizon contract is up.
I will be going for OTA and since I have Amazon Prime and Netflix (for now) I just started researching it. I remembered having two new in the box ATi Dual ATSC QAM tuners. Also have a repaired sitting in the box MB and QUAD core processor. This may push me to build an HTPC, but still not sure. My home is always in the top 10 of most efficient homes and having a PC powered on all the time king of sux a bit of power regardless.

Wow sounds like a fun project. Please let me know how things go as you start to build up your home media center.

Great site and some good information. I am always looking for someone to finally put all the pieces together and make that all in one device. Some of these are a step in the right direction but the point of cutting the cord is not to add another subscription fee as many of these companies include. Aereo could have been a great opportunity for not only consumers but the Networks who are losing customers to shows being viewed through mobile devices. Aereo Player App on one of the Media devices like Apple TV, Chromecast, Rocku would have given everyone an all in one solution in one small device. Live TV & DVR along with all the app streamed to any device anytime. They had a small subscription but it made everything so much easier for live TV and no extra Antanna or DVR needed Just an Internet connection. Oh well, 100 steps back to take 10 steps forward but eventually the Networks and Cable Industry will lose. They still haven’t learned from the mistakes made by the Music industry being 10 years late to the game. That’s another subject but…. The best thing I did was buy a Gateway computer(recently built a new more powerful HTPC) with Coaxial Cable/PVR Dual Tuner & HDMI out to TV. Easy all in one solution with no subscription fees and it may cost around $400 at the time it has paid for itself and more the 5 years I cut the cord. Antenna hooked to computer for Live TV & DVR which is handled through Windows Media Center. I have Plex Media Server stream everything to any device through it’s app. I Ripped all my DVD’s and imported my music collection and added a Plug-In to have all my WMC network shows played through Plex. I am also running Windows 8.1 and can add any regular computer application as well as the Metro type apps for Netflix etc although Plex also has a ton of Plug-In’s for doing the same. You even can watch friends shows through the server or share yours by invite. It may take a little effort to put it together but until these solutions get better it’s still the easiest and cheapest way to cut the cord! Only subscribe to Internet although now Comcast made it cheaper to get a “package” that included HBO & stream pix but I still use my DVR the most and have never once used Comcast clunky box or interface.

Its official Alan is a stud! Thanks for the great info Alan! Love it when people share with us how they have cut the cord. And I have to agree with you on this one – building a home media center PC is probably the most robust solution available. You can do anything with a PC like that. Nice work. Please check back in with any other tips you have.

The USB tuner is a good temporary or occasional solution, but if you are proposing this as a DVR solution, the computer has to be “always-on” to accomplish that — which makes it a poor idea.

The costs and hassles of the methods in this article should be weighed against the simplicity of buying a used Tivo with lifetime service.

For the person that still wants a computer solution, research into what makes a good HTPC is worth looking in to.

Hi Frank – Very good points. When writing this piece I was thinking through it as if someone already has a Media-center-pc or home theater PC (HTPC) and I can see now that I did not outline that very well up front. I will make a quick edit to help clarify this point. As for using Tivo;s lifetime service – this is also a great point and is actually something I plan on writing about in the next week or two. So far the only issue i have with this option is the out of the gate price. According to this pricing page:
your looking at around $500 for Roamio with a lifetime subscription. And without a lifetime subscription your looking at $14 per month… which I think is $9 more than I am willing to pay for this service.

Do you use Tivo currently or have you built an HTPC? And what tips can you share with us with either environment?

Roamio OTA is a horrible deal.

Unit ($50) + 20 months of service ($15/mo) = $350; resale value in 20 months… maybe $25?

Used Premiere with lifetime on ebay = $350. Resale value in 20 months… ~$250-280

If you want new and 4 tuners in one unit, regular Roamios go on sale for $150. Lifetime service is $500 (or $400 if you have another lifetime unit on your account.) Calculate your own resale value after 20 months or so…

Roamio OTA has a limited resale market too. All of the other units work with cable as well, so there are many more potential customers.

I love the logical thinking you outline here. I had not even considered resale value, but you are absolutely right. This is a major factor that needs to be in the converstation.

Series 1 and series 2 tivos are useless with today’s ATSC signals, but if you can find one used that has lifetime service for $0-20, you can start an account at tivo with it and be eligible for the lifetime service discount on a new unit.

Looked into a PC solution, but the cost of coming up with something decent caused an “upgrade cascade”… which was way expensive in the end. I’d still like to work something out with plex and a NAS (and maybe pyTivo), which would serve media files on the network back to a roku or tivo.

When someone fiscally responsible looks at getting a different car, they may look at new ones, but the certified pre-owned ones are the best value. The same goes to tivos…

When the tivo premiere came out, I bought a used HD Tivo with lifetime for around $300. When the Roamio was announced, tivo started clearing out their stock of premieres. Having a lifetime device already, I was able to get a refurb premiere with lifetime for $485. When people started getting roamios and selling of their premieres, I picked up an additional lifetime-d unit for $350 on ebay.

By my intention, all of these devices had the smallest hard drives in their model line. I replaced them all with 2TB WD AV drives which were $80 each. Now each has a capacity of 317 HD hours.

The WAF had a lot to do with getting tivos as well.

Great info. Thanks so much for sharing your immense knowledge on the topic. If someone is using an antenna, are there certain models of Tivo they should stay away from?

Also – i have heard a lot about ChannelMaster. Any experience with this device? I understand there is no monthly cost for their channel guide.

Check tivopedia dot com for the OTA-compatible model numbers.

ChannelMaster minuses:
* useless 16GB unit for $249 or;
* overpriced 1TB unit for 400;
* HDMI connection required
* minimal guide data
* guide data accuracy at the mercy of your local broadcaster
* not researched — capability for padding, season passes?
* unknown file extraction process
* resale value audience limited (cable customer would not buy it)

Used tivo premiere $350 + $80 DIY 2TB upgrade = $430

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