Multi-room DVRs are great. You can record a show and play it back in any room. That is, of course, if you have the necessary equipment from your television provider. Traditionally you need to rent a DVR, and a set-top box for each of your remaining TVs. That can really add up your monthly equipment rental cost.
For a price comparison, the final result of my project will be the equivalent of having one DVR plus two set-top boxes, and the ability to record six shows at once. To get that level of service from my provider, I would have to pay about $60 per month in equipment rental fees. After building my own system, my equipment rental fees are $4.99 per month.
The secret behind the whole system is the Ceton InfiniTV 6 PCIe. It is a PCI Express card that you can put in any PC running at least Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8 Pro with Windows Media Center. The rest of the system requirements can be found on their website. This card has six tuners that only require one CableCARD™ that you rent from your television provider ($4.99/month for me).
If you have an old PC sitting around that meets the minimum requirements, your ready to go. I decided to go all out, and build a new home theater PC (HTPC). I put together a machine that can easily handle HD shows, and is even good enough to serve as mid-range gaming PC using Steam Big Picture. The HTPC will also take over 3D Blu-ray responsibilities previously handled by a Playstation 3.
The HTPC handles the living room along with all DVR functionality, but I mentioned two set-top boxes that I would be replacing. The other TVs are each connected to an Xbox 360, which serves as Windows Media Center Extenders. This allows you to stream content from the HTPC to the Xbox 360. I only had one Xbox 360 but luckily with the release of the Xbox One you can get Xbox 360s for pretty cheap on eBay.
So now our guest room has full TV and DVR functionality with an Xbox 360, and I have the same on a monitor at my desk.
The system does have a few downsides though. I am running the HTPC over my wireless network, which is not ideal for streaming HD content. After I did some manual tuning to my network and wireless router it works well when streaming to only one other TV. If I turn on all three TVs at once the second and third TVs just stop function. If I could have set everything up on a wired network it wouldn’t be an issue.
It isn’t quite as user friendly as a set-top box from your television provider. It is a PC that is always on and always connected to the internet, so you have to make sure to keep it updated and protected.
It is also a bit louder than a set-top box. I suspect this is from the cheap power supply that came with the case I purchased. If this becomes more of a problem in the future, it is easy to replace the fan inside the power supply with a higher quality fan.
Overall, I love the new setup. I can DVR a ton of shows. I don’t have to worry about running out of space (just get a bigger hard drive). Sure I spent a lot upfront to build the system, but at $55 a month savings it will pay for itself in no time.