Personal Video Recorder Basics

Connect your satellite dish to a PC-based recorder that will time-shift your favorite shows, make archive copies and, with plugins, more.
Roll Film and Back It Up!

Go back to /usr/src/vdr-1.2.5 and run runvdr.remote. If you use Red Hat, set the environment variable LD_ASSUME_KERNEL=2.4.1, because VDR doesn't yet work with the native posix layer that Red Hat introduced in the latest version. The modules for the DVB card then are loaded, and the VDR is started. Hook up your TV, and you should see a black screen prompting you to define the keys on your remote. After finishing the wizard, you're ready to watch TV, record shows and remove commercials. You can listen to your MP3s and watch videos. There's a manual in VDR's root that explains how to record and edit TV events, using the time-shift feature.

Back It Up

In case you're disappointed that the end of the article is within reach, don't worry; there still are some optional things you can do. The automatic backup feature has some limitations. Although the (S)VCD backup works flawlessly, the DivX encoding does not crop the picture to remove black bands, should they exist. This has quite a negative impact on bit rate, size and overall picture quality. If you really want a high-quality, small-size MPEG-4, you should back it up manually. The improved picture quality is well worth the trouble.

Figure 3. The information bar shows the program name, running TV show and what's on next.

VDR splits its recordings into 2GB files, which is a bit inconvenient for transcoding the videos. If you go for manual conversion, which gives you finer control over the quality/size aspect, mencoder or transcode are good options. Use the speedy mencoder, which I found to be perfect for backups to MPEG-4, or transcode, which comes with a lot of tools. If you favor the I-don't-want-to-care approach, get a hold of VDRCONVERT. The README file offers a pretty simple approach to installing it, and at least you can watch some TV while downloading and compiling. With VDRCONVERT you have to change some scripts and configuration files to adapt the DVD/(S)VCD resolutions to NTSC, in case PAL is not used where you live.

It's too bad that a Linux PVR doesn't make the TV programs themselves any better, but I guess you can't have everything, can you?

Christian A. Herzog is a programmer focused on Web development using open-source technologies. He's still on his never-ending quest to bring a Linux-based device to every home and company he comes across. Write him at



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Re: Personal Video Recorder Basics

Anonymous's picture

I was wonder if you could also include a connection diagram . I was looking at the nexus-s card and didn't see a TV out, just a loop connection is this the connection used for the TV. Or are using additional card to get the TV output?

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