Extreme Home Engineering: How To Build Your Own TiVo


This week: How to build your own TiVo (or, How to never miss an important football game ever again.)

Building your own TiVo—or FreeVo, as some call it—is more than a dream. It's more than a trend. It's the new cool way to stick it to The (TiVo) Man while impressing your friends.

Make and Wired have published detailed how-tos. There are also several online communities like The Green Button that will help guide you through the tricky parts.

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Your mission: To build your own digital video recorder from mail-order parts.

The payoff: An integrated entertainment system that records TV programs with no monthly fees. You can also build in various wrinkles so that it will record high-def programs and edit out commercials automatically.

Keep reading for your marching orders...


1. A credit card with about $500 working capital on it.

2. A computer with a media operating system. Various versions of Microsoft Media Center, Vista Home Premium, Linux Freevo, etc. will work, too. It's the operating system that's important, not the computer itself; you can even use that old one sitting in your garage. Or you can use your current home computer. But if you go that route, be sure to back up all your music and videos when you install the new media system. You don't want to lose that precious footage of Junior taking his first steps in your quest to record MTV's Spring Break. Depending on how much you plan to record, you may need more hard drive space.

3. Video card: $70 "“ Available in quiet or cheap versions.

4. A dual tuner: $90 "“ This tuner handles both standard- and high-def signals.

5. MCE remote: $30 "“ It seems like an impossible dream, but you're finally going to have ONE remote.

6. Various cables, cords, and adapters as needed. Some people also like to buy a casing to contain hold all these parts and make it somewhat attractive.

7. More relationship savvy than Dr. Phil, since your spouse/life-partner/roommate is going to wonder what the F you're doing to the TV. The best way to play it is to convince said spouse/life-partner/roommate that you're going to all this effort for them. That's what my buddy C.J. did, as he explained:

"You have to consider WAF (wife acceptance factor -- or HAF if it's the wife doing the installation). Always think about ways to make it easier for them. The right remote will make or break your system due to your spouse yelling at you about how to do certain things even if you told them three times in two days. All aspects contribute to WAF: feasibility, silence, beauty and function. Last week I just added a small program that actually skips past commercials of your recorded shows automatically. My wife was shocked when she saw what it did. It's astounding how well it works, no more fast-forwarding and rewinding to get to the right spot. She keeps saying, "˜I just keep feeling the urge to grab the remote and fast forward but it's doing it for me' with a giant smile on her face. That was the best feeling ever."


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2. Install the media operating system on your computer. Once you insert the software CD into the drive, a self-install application will guide you through the steps.

3. Set up the tuners and install the drivers. The tuners are one of the items you just plugged into the case, and the drivers are the software that will run them. Again, a CD will arrive with the tuners, and you just follow its prompts. Once the drivers are installed, the tuners will pop up on screen, a la "Windows has detected new hardware."

4. Configure your media settings (timers, programs you want to record, etc.) At this point, you still have the keyboard attached to the computer, which makes setting up your preferences much easier. The first time you open up your media operating system is kinda like when you open up Microsoft Word for the first time on a computer: it asks you all kinds of questions about how you plan to use it.

5. Program your remote. No different from programming a new remote under any other circumstances. If you're using Microsoft Media Center, it can set up your remote for you.

6. Connect your computer to the TV. A matter of connecting the cables.

7. Sit back and enjoy. You've just conquered the Everest of home entertainment, my friend.

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Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. His last article was on indigenous alcoholic treats.