Step-By-Step: Turn Your PC Into a Personal Video Recorder
It's easy to get "gizmo envy" if you've seen the latest generation of personal video recorders (PVRs) from ReplayTV or TiVo. These boxes act as sophisticated automated video recorders that use a hard drive instead of tape for storing video, and they have a raft of unique features.
But these stand-alone boxes are expensive and often hard to find because they're so popular. There is a lower-cost option: Assuming your PC has a decent-sized hard drive, you can turn it into a PVR by installing an add-in card and software.
PC PVRs let you easily browse and choose which TV shows to record on your PC's hard drive using an on-screen program guide. Also, they can pause a live show when you get interrupted and can then continue from where you stopped watching. PC PVRs can create transcripts from closed-captioning, or watch for certain phrases in the captioning and automatically start a recording. That's just the beginning. If you have a CD-RW drive or a recordable-DVD drive, you can even create your own classic TV show collection. You can also play back shows you've digitized and record them on a standard VCR.
The PC-based PVR arena hosts a wide variety of product choices, but we used a PVR-ready graphics card (the $195 ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 7500) as our example here. Matrox, VisionTek, and many others have similar products.
Two caveats: First, despite large differences in hardware requirements among different makes, figure on a minimum of a 750-MHz Pentium III, 256MB of RAM, and a large hard drive (40GB to 80GB) if you want to turn your PC into a PVR. Second, you might prefer an all-in-one solution that includes a TV-out jack so you can hook up a standard TV for viewing. Some TV-tuner cards lack that output.
Most PC-based PVR products offer a wide range of options. Expect a challenging learning curve as you familiarize yourself with them. But on-screen program guides customized for your area usually simplify the process of picking programs to record.