In an effort to cut costs in my life (believe it or not), I broke down and bought a new toy. It's a dual-tuner TV input card for my computer with built-in MPEG2 encoding on each input. This means I can plug in cable TV and record 2 programs at once. That means I can take cable from my neighbor (who knows of my plan and is okay with it since he's taking my internet), set up my own sweet little computer-based PVR, and get rid of the overpriced DISH stuff, and be back in business.
So, with this fancy tuner card and a bunch of leftover computer stuff in my basement, I built a pretty substantialish PVR unit. It's a 1.4gHz Athlon (which is plenty, because the hardware based encoding puts very little strain on the CPU), with 512 megs of RAM, a 64 meg GeForce3 with S-Video output, a WinTV PVR-500 from Haupaugge, and wireless networking. Unfortunately, the only spare hard drive I had was a meager 20 gig, which will only store 6-7 hours of video. A bigger one can come once I realize this will work and work well.
My first attempt at this was with a software application called MythTV. Long story short, I wasted a day of my life trying, unsuccessfully, to get it to work. I'm not fimiliar with Linux enough to get everything set up appropriately. When I use Linux, it better work the first time because I'm worthless at trouble-shooting problems. Well, it didn't work the first time, so it was back to the drawing board for this Windows-dependent-pseudo-geek.
Using the power of Google, I found GB-PVR. It's a similar set up to MythTV, but runs on Windows XP. I'm able to work in an operating system I know with a great front end, not to mention all the plugins and added utilities that people have built for GB-PVR.
I started off installing Windows 2000 with all the applicable updates, only to find that my new video capture card wasn't supported under Windows 2000. I upgraded to Windows XP Professional, and had GB-PVR running in no time. I simply set up an account at Zap2it to get 4 days worth of TV listings, added my 2 tuner cards, and I was in business, watching TV and DVDs in no time with no problem.
My next step is installing automatic commercial-skipping software to automatically delete commercials in TV shows I record, saving a tad of my precious disk space. I'm also in the market for a cheap remote control to make it comfortable to use from my couch without a silly keyboard and mouse getting in my way.
Future plans include a much larger hard drive to store my movies, and a DVD burner to output what I record.