The Tech-pert: Turn a Spare PC into a Free DVR
Lately, more and more people have been asking me about "cutting the cord." No, this has nothing to do with childbirth; it's about ditching pricey cable TV
--the "cord"--in favor of Netflix
, Hulu, iTunes
and other digital options.
Much as I'm a fan of those inexpensive alternatives, there are times when I want to watch--and record--live TV. A simple antenna connected to my TV's digital tuner takes care of the "watch" part, as I can tune in most of the major networks via over-the-air signals.
But what about recording? For that, I rely on a spare desktop PC (though a laptop would do as well
), an inexpensive accessory, and Windows 7. Combined, they make a fantastic DVR for watching and recording digital, high-definition broadcasts.
The accessory in question is a digital TV tuner that plugs into a USB
port. Your existing indoor or outdoor antenna plugs into the tuner. From
there, you just run Windows Media Center, which comes standard with
every version of Windows 7 except Basic. WMC gives you a complete
program guide, just like a TiVo
or cable-company DVR, but without the
There are many tuners that will do the job, but I'm partial to the
, which you can grab from B&H Photo
The list price is $99.
The only potentially tricky part is connecting your PC to your TV. If
your system has an HDMI port, you should be able to run an inexpensive
cable from it to one of your TV's HDMI inputs. Alternately, look for a
DVI or VGA input on your TV, then use the corresponding output from your
Got an Xbox 360
already connected to your TV? You're in luck: it can
double as a Windows Media Center "extender," meaning you don't have to
physically link your TV and PC. Instead, your live and recorded shows
will stream over your home network from the latter to the former.
I've just scratched the surface of this kind of setup. The upshot is
that you can use a PC as a free DVR, provided you have Windows 7 and a
digital tuner. To find out more, just head to Google and do a little
Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for
over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently,
"How to Do Everything: Palm Pre." Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.