Building the Personal Video Recorder
I spent months of looking a Mini-ITX.com and trying to decide on a project. It was only after I decided to build a PVR too that this project was born.
I looked at a lot potential cases before I decided that my DirecTV RCA DRD-303 was the one. The main reason was it had plenty of room for the Mini-ITX motherboard, power supply, hard drive, and PCI card. I originally wanted to use the DirecTV RCA DRD-222 but, either the power supply or the PCI card would have had to go. Also there was no place for a hard drive.
The easiest part of the whole project was disassembly. A torx T-10 opened the case and removed all the screws that held the boards in. Then the boards and their plastic carrier slid right out. I considered selling the parts on eBay but these receivers go unsold at 2 for .99 opening bid with no reserve. So I figured it was a waste of insertion fees.
A word of warning!
The power supply on the satellite receiver is the switching type. As such it uses very high voltages that are hazardous and can even be FATAL! Do not plug it in with the cover removed. Even powered off, the capacitors can retain a charge. Sometimes for years. Be careful! Also there are many sharp edges on the exposed metal case. Even more after you start cutting. Wearing heavy gloves may protect your hands and wearing safety glasses may protect your eyes. But again, BE CAREFUL!
A few metal tabs had to be bent down for everything to fit correctly. Everything was removed including the front panel before cutting the chassis was started. All plastic and painted surfaces remained off until everything was re-assembled.
Everything was carefully test fitted many times before any cutting took place. Since you probably only have one case, you want to be sure you know what you’re wanting to do. You can’t put the metal back once it’s gone. A sharpie marker is great for marking outlines of where the parts will go.
Sizing it up
One of the many things to consider at this point is how the existing holes in the case will line up with the new holes. This is especially true of mounting holes. Another consideration is cabling. It’s easier to turn the hard drive around now than later.
Cutting it up
I really didn’t take any pictures of the bare chassis after the holes were cut. What was left of the back was painted black to blend in. I opened the back of the power supply as much as possible to allow airflow.
The slot for the PCI card was very tough to line up. To this day I have never found a way to attach the bracket that I actually like. However it does hang there just fine. The slot at the top keeps the card from becoming unseated in the PCI slot.
The hard drive data cable is folded almost origami style to keep it neat and out of the way. The power supply cable to the motherboard was carefully tucked in between the power supply and the CPU fan so that it would not interfere with either.
Pushing the buttons
To turn the unit on and off I chose to use the existing buttons. The back of the printed circuit board was cut to isolate each switch. Then wires from an old computer case that was being trashed were used to connect the power switch, reset switch, and power LED to the motherboard. A red LED was hidden behind the transparent select button. The button doubles as a window for incoming Infrared for the remote.
To connect the arrow buttons, I installed the circuit board from a Compaq USB keyboard that had been killed with water. The circuit board was mounted behind the plastic panel on the front. Wires were run from the keyboard circuit board to the switch circuit board. The USB cable was cut and connectors were installed to allow it to connect directly to the motherboard’s on-board USB header.
All of the wires from the front routed through notches that were already there. The edges were not at all sharp so there was no fear of them being cut.
The wires were all routed to be as neat as possible. I even hid some of them under the hard drive’s data cable. All the neatness doesn’t matter until you have to troubleshoot a broken wire. Then you’ll be glad you did it that way.
Software used so far includes:
- Win2000 – software that came with the card
- myHTPC – best Windows based free software on the market
- SageTV – Coming soon!
In addition to PVR software, there are other things you may want to load on your PVR. For general administration Real VNC is used to remote control Windows XP over the network. You can’t see what’s in the TV display window but you can remotely control everything. The Windows XP Power Toys were used for auto-logon and other settings that allow the computer to run a bit faster.
The components used were as follows:
- M10000 Mini-ITX motherboard from VIA
- 512megs of DDR-333 RAM from Kingston
- A micro-ATX power supply from Shuttle
- An 80gig hard drive from Maxtor
- And a PVR-250 from Hauppauge
After having built the PVR, several things have come to mind.
- While perforated cases are great for cooling, they suck at keeping noise in.
- The VIA M10000 doesn’t come with drivers/codecs for using the hardware decompression. A lesser board with a Hauppauge PVR-350 would have been a better choice.
- The Hauppauge PVR-250 and PVR-350 probably can’t be beat. Period.
- You can’t have too much hard drive space. EVER.
- Don’t start USING your PVR until you’ve tested all the software out there. Otherwise you’ll never get around to it because you won’t want to miss some show.
Ironically I pulled the PVR card for a while and installed a Hauppauge WinTV-Nova-S pci DVB satellite card for a while. Which made it a Satellite receiver again. Now it’s back to being a PVR and the DVB card has moved on to another PC.