GB-PVR box, round 2.

Installation was a breeze, but to be honest, this project has been more of an uphill battle than I expected it to be.

Since this will be a replacement for my DVR and not a "real" computer, I had to have a remote control. I bought one on eBay for $40. It was a Windows Media Center remote which GB-PVR claimed it supported directly. It didn't. I had to get a program called HIP to interpret my remote commands and translate them into keystrokes so that GB-PVR would do its thing. It worked, but not well. One hit on the remote, GB-PVR would interpret as 2 taps. So by pressing "Channel up", I actually went up 2 channels. I had to uninstall the Windows drivers for the remote and reinstall the HIP drivers, which solved that problem.

When I run a downloaded video from my video library, sometimes the video will need to grab external codecs or run a 3rd party application to run the video. This causes the GB-PVR window to lose focus, which makes my remote not work. My workaround at the moment isn't very graceful, so I'll not bother posting it until I have one that's a little less tacky that my current technique.

My little 20 gig drive filled up VERY quickly. With 5 or 6 gigs remaining on the drive, the system became very unstable. GB-PVR would crash constantly at the most annoying of times, would take forever to reboot, and was a constant headache. Luckily my neighbor came to my rescue with a 120 gig SATA drive with a RAID control card he'd be willing to let go for free, since he couldn't make it work. I managed to get it working okay, leaving me with a fast system that has plenty of room to record shows.

Speaking of recording shows, I'll be honest... medium quality recordings look like garbage. They look like a bad, 3rd rate bootleg VHS recording. I switched my recordings to high quality, which looks fantastic! Unfortunately, it means a 30 minute recording takes a gig and a half of space on my drive. This means the drive would hold about 40 hours worth of video on high quality. Not bad, but also not great. Luckily GB-PVR has settings to automatically recompress the video into different formats, such as DivX, XviD, and WMV, to substantially save on space. Unfortunately, I couldn't get this feature to work, although admittadley, I haven't tried too hard. Since my card is encoding into MPEG2 directly, it means outputting to DVD is a breeze. Transcoding into XviD means that outputting to DVD will require me to re-encode into MPEG2. But on the other hand, I don't think I'll do that very often. This DVR project is mostly for myself, so burning things as XviD or DivX will work just fine for my personal uses. It won't be as transportable as a standard DVD, but thems the breaks. I figure the benefits of transcoding outweigh the fact that I can't burn directly to DVD. Although this means very little since I can't get transcoding to work anyway.

Anyway, the system right now is very stable and most of the bugs have been worked out. I'd like to get transcoding working, but for now, this system works great for me. Now my complaints, as a guy coming from a Dish DVR.

No resume. That is, when watching a recording program, if I stop in the middle, there is no option to "resume". I have to start from the beginning and fast-forward to get where I want to be. Not a huge deal, but I actually did use that feature quite often on my Dish DVR.

The fast-forward and rewind friggin' suck. The author of GB-PVR even admits this. As a standard fast-forward, it works about 20% of the time. The other percent, by pressing fast-forward I either stop the video completely or lose audio when I hit play. The author has installed a "short skip" option for fast forward, which skips 10 seconds every time you hit the button. This is great for fast forwarding 5 or 6 minutes. Miserable for 1 or 2 hours.

No chapter skipping in the DVD player from what I've noticed. Sure, you can simply use the DVD menu to skip chapters, but it would have been a nice feature.

The GB-PVR beats out the Dish DVR by a long shot because of the commercial skip. So far, it's completely flawless. Every once in a while, I'll see a fraction of a second of commercial before my show resumes, but not often. More often than not, I hear "Stay tuned! And we're back!" with only a frame or 2 of black space between the 2. Awesome.

It also wins because of the "all in one" package. With the same box, I can watch TV, recorded programs, downloaded programs, rip DVDs, check the weather, check movie times, listen to MP3s, listen to net radio, listen to FM radio, and burn DVDs. 3rd party authors are always creating plugins for the app, which allow for things like downloading movie trailers from Apple's website.

Overall, I'm very happy with this program and all its features. I need to work out the transcoding bug, and this box will be perfect for my uses. More to come...