Learn how to build a DIY Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that can automatically record all of your favorite live TV shows.
If you’ve ever wondered:
What’s the replacement software for Windows Media Center so I can watch and record live TV?
How do I do weekly episodic programming?
How can I organize and play my TV recordings?
How can I share TV shows across multiple viewing devices?
Then this complete DIY guide, which will show you how to set up an automatized and commercial-free TV experience, is exactly what you need.
You will not be able to achieve this with any set-top DVR box.
I have this DVR system up and running in my home, and I truly believe that this will completely change the way you watch live TV.
What you will learn in this post
- Build a back-end media server
- Set up HDHomeRun TV tuner
- Install NextPVR TV recorder software
- Set up MCEBuddy commercial remover
- Organize recorded TV shows with Plex
- Configure Kodi front-end software
You can use this DIY DVR system to automatically record only selected TV series, or all content on a channel.
When using this DVR system, you will not need to plan in advance to ensure your TV shows will be recorded.
What you will need
In order to complete this guide, you will need a TV tuner, a Windows-based computer with the disk space for recordings, and something with a screen for viewing.
- Media server hardware: I’m using my value HTPC (my performance HTPC also works well) as a back-end server for the TV recorder, scheduler, commercial remover, and media server applications.
- TV tuner: I’m using a HDHomeRun TV tuner to record TV.
- Media devices: I’m using my front-end HTPCs and iPad to watch TV.
- TV recorder: According to my tests, NextPVR is solid TV software that has an advanced scheduling system.
- Commercial remover: I’m using MCEBuddy to remove commercials, rename, and convert TV shows to MP4 format.
- Media server software: I’m using Plex Media Server to organize TV shows and transcode video streams to other devices.
- Front-end software: I’m using my custom HTPCs with a Plex add-on on Kodi software to watch recorded shows in my home.
- Plex app: I’m using a Plex app on iPad to watch TV shows on the go.
This is what my DVR system looks like…
Build a back-end media server
I’m using my reference value HTPC, which fits perfectly as a DVR, but many other hardware types are also suitable as a back-end media server.
If you already have a Windows-based computer that has an Intel Core 2 Duo processor 2.4 GHz or better and at least 2GB RAM, you can skip this step.
If you don’t yet have a computer that can act as a media server and are not sure which components to choose, you can use my value HTPC component listing to build a HTPC with me.
If you already have Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 installed on your computer, you can skip this step.
After the Windows operating system installation is completed, it is time to install graphics drivers.
Set up Windows Storage Spaces (optional step)
You can skip this step if you are using only one hard drive for your TV recordings.
If you use multiple hard drives, I recommend that you create a storage pool so that you can record all TV shows into one folder.
The benefit of Storage Spaces on Windows 8 or newer versions for a Do-It-Yourself DVR is that the Storage Space is actually a virtual disk and you can record all the TV shows into one folder, while Storage Spaces distributes the data into multiple hard drives.
- First, go to Control Panel and select “Storage Spaces” under System and Security.
- Select the “Create a new pool and storage space” option, and you will be prompted to create your first storage space. You will see a list of available hard drives that can be incorporated into your pool.
- Next, enter a name, drive letter, and resiliency type for your storage space. I decided to use the “Simple” resiliency type as I wanted to maximize storage space and I did not want to protect my data from a single drive failure.
- Finally, click “Create storage space”, and your storage pool will be created. The set up is now completed and you can start recording media files to the storage space.
Now, I have about 5.5 TB storage space on one virtual drive, which means I can record almost 5,000 hours of SD or 1,000 hours of HD content.
Set up HDHomeRun TV tuner
HDHomeRun is a great network attached TV tuner that allows you to watch and record live TV.
You can choose between three HDHomeRun products: Connect (2 tuners standard), Extend (2 tuners HD), and Prime (3 tuners HD).
The Connect and Extend are over-the-air antenna devices, while Prime is a premium cable TV device with full CableCARD conditional access support.
Then, let’s proceed with setting up HDHomeRun.
- Connect the coax cable, Ethernet cable and power adapter to the HDHomeRun.
- Download the HDHomeRun software and install it on your PC. Launch the app and set your location and source type. In the Application tab set the “Main Application” to “Other”.
- If you are using a DVB-C tuner like I am, select the modulation settings on the DVB-C tab. If you use the Dual model, you can skip this step. If you use the Prime model, refer to these instructions.
- Run a channel scan on the Digital Cable tab. Once
scanning is completed, you’ve finished the installation.
Install NextPVR TV recorder software
There is a wide range of TV recording software to choose from. Over the past several years, I have been using Windows Media Center, Tvheadend, MediaPortal, DVBLink, NextPVR, Argues TV, Emby TV and Plex DVR.
Recently, I have returned to NextPVR to record TV shows.
Plex DVR and Emby TV are developing in the right direction, providing an easy-to-use interface and quick setup.
However, based on my tests, I still get the most reliable experience with NextPVR.
Here you can see a comprehensive comparison of the PVR recording software.
If you are using a cable card, for example with HDHomeRun Prime, then I would recommend using ServerWMC with Windows Media Center as the PVR recording software.
It is good to keep in mind that Windows 10 no longer includes Windows Media Center any more, so you need to stick with the Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 operating system, if you plan to use WMC and ServerWMC.
In my setup, I only record free (i.e. unencrypted) TV channels, so my recommendation is NextPVR software because of its flexibility and reliability according to my tests.
Note: If you are still using Argus TV based on my earlier recommendation, here you can find Argus TV instructions.
Let’s proceed with the NextPVR software installation.
- Download the latest NextPVR version.
- Launch NPVRSetup_X_X_X.exe and follow the steps in the installation wizard.
- Open the NextPVR application and you will see the Settings page when you launch the application for the first time. You can access Settings later by clicking the right hand mouse button.
- Go to the “Devices” tab and select your TV tuner from the list (mine is HDHomeRun DVB-C tuner).
- Click “Device Setup”, select your country and click “Scan” to search for the channels. Next, select another TV tuner device if you have multiple tuners and answer “Yes” to copy the channel configuration from the first TV tuner device.
- Go to the “Channels” tab and select “Details” to set the correct EPG source (e.g. DVB/ATSC EPG). Tip: select “Bulk Map” to easily set the EPG source for multiple channels.
- Then, select “Update EPG” to retrieve the TV Guide (EPG) for all channels and devices.
- Go to the “Recording” tab and select “Add” a new folder if you wish to record files to some other location.
- Finally, click “OK” and exit the NextPVR application.
The NextPVR TV tuner server software will run in the background even when you exit the NextPVR application.
Scheduling your recordings
There are several ways to schedule your recordings.
For example, you can use:
- NextPVR application
- Web Interface (http://your-server-IP-address:8866)
- NextPVR iOS app
- Kodi PVR add-on
Next, I’ll show you two alternative ways to schedule your recordings: manual and automatic.
Manually schedule and record TV shows
I’ll use the NextPVR iOS app to easily create schedules for the recordings.
- Purchase the NextPVR iOS app in the Apple App Store.
- Open the NextPVR app.
- Select “TV Guide” at the bottom of the screen.
- Select your favorite TV show and schedule recording.
Automatically schedule and record all TV shows on a channel
Next, I will show you a more advanced way to automatically record all TV shows on a specific channel. Using the advanced rules method, you don’t even need to remember to schedule your favorite TV shows.
Let’s create advanced rules so that all the TV shows will be automatically recorded on selected channels.
- Launch the NextPVR application.
- Go to the “Recordings” tab.
- Move your mouse to the top of the screen and select “Man-Rec” from the hidden menu.
- In the “Manual Recording” screen, select the “Channel” you want to record.
- Add advanced rule, such as “title LIKE ‘%news%'” to record all shows with ‘news’ in the title.
Please note that the “Advanced Rules” feature will ignore the specified Start and End times.
You can learn more about possible advanced rules.
Set up commercial remover
If you wish to clean the recorded TV shows and remove commercials, I would recommend using the MCEBuddy tool.
MCEBuddy watches the recordings, strips the commercials, and re-encodes video files in high quality.
I do not want to remove ads on every recorded TV show as I record all programs on specific channels.
I decided to organize my TV recordings into two separate folders: Recordings and Favorites.
The Recordings folder contains all recorded TV shows, while the Favorites folder contains only my most frequently watched TV shows converted without commercials.
So, I will show you how I set up MCEBuddy to remove commercials and convert them to MP4 format for my favorite TV shows.
- Purchase and download MCEBuddy and install it on your PC. Click “Settings” button to configure settings.
- Click the “Add” button under “Monitor locations”. MCEBuddy will keep monitoring this location for new recordings. Then, click the “Add” button under “Conversion tasks”.
- In the “Conversion Task” window, write the task name, set the “Profile” to “MP4 High Quality” and set the destination folder (e.g. D:Recordings). In the “Selection Filters”, type the TV shows you want to have ads removed from and converted. (e.g. Bones*; Castle*;Holmes*). Click OK twice to return to the main screen.
- On the “MCEBuddy Status” screen, click “Start” and it should automatically start converting. You can leave MCEBuddy working in the background, so when ever new recordings are available, they will be processed.
I noticed that some of the converted recordings had a green line on the side.
You can get rid of this green line by going to “Settings” > “Edit Conversion Task” > “Expert Settings” > uncheck “Hardware encoding” under “Audio and Video”.
All in all, MCEBuddy has been working well in my system and it has removed commercials very accurately with Comskip tool.
Organize recorded TV shows
Next, let’s organize our recorded programs and re-encoded our favorite TV shows so that they will be available on any device you use to watch videos.
For this system, I tested both Emby (was MediaBrowser 3) and Plex Media Server to see how they could be used as a back-end media server for my DVR system.
I found Plex to be the easiest way to manage recorded TV shows.
Let’s install and configure Plex Media Server to manage and stream recorded TV shows to any device.
Plex Media Server has the ability to transcode your TV recordings, depending on your device and network.
This way, TV shows will play smoothly on your mobile phone or your iPad over a wireless network.
Another great feature of Plex is that you can continue the video file from where you left off on any device.
For example, you can start watching a TV program with your HTPC in the living room and then continue watching it on your iPad elsewhere.
You can set up Plex Media Server and media library for your TV recordings by following these steps.
- Download the Plex Media Server and install it on your PC. Once installation is completed, select Launch to open Plex. You can also launch Plex by right clicking the application icon on your start bar and selecting “Open Plex”
- The first time you load Plex Web App, a wizard will prompt you to Sign In or Sign Up if you don’t have a Plex account yet.
- Next, Plex will detect your computer as a server and you can give it a new name if you wish. Click the “Next” button.
- You will be prompted to create Libraries for your media. Select “Add Library” and then choose “TV Shows” and locate the folder where the recorded TV show is located. Click “Add Library”.
- Allow Plex to go through your media files and scrape the meta data. Then, click “Next” and finally “Done” to complete the setup.
- You can fix any incorrectly matched videos by selecting the TV show and clicking the “…” icon on the left bar. Select “Fix Incorrect Match” and search for the correct TV show.
- Now, you can access your media library on any PC, mobile device or Smart TV. For example, you can get the Plex app for your mobile phone and start watching your TV shows.
Lastly, I would recommend changing the library update interval, so that media library stays up-to-date when NextPVR finishes recording new TV programs.
In the Plex Web App, go to “Settings” > “Server” > “Library” > Enable “Update my library automatically” and set the “Library update interval” to “every 15 minutes”.
Configure front-end software
You can also use Plex front-end, but I prefer Kodi software as a complete entertainment center solution.
If you are new to Kodi or wish to customize it further, you should check out my comprehensive guide to setting up and customizing Kodi.
Integrate Kodi and Plex Media Server
In this section, I will show you how to integrate Kodi and Plex.
- Go to the Add-ons tab on the home screen and select “Enter add-on browser”.
- Go to “Install from repository > Video Add-ons” > Plex
- Click on the Plex add-on and select install to download it.
- You can go back to the Add-ons menu, and you will find the new Plex add-on under the Video Add-ons folder.
- Launch Plex add-on and select “Sign In”. In your web browser (on any device), go to plex.tv/link and enter the code presented on your TV screen.
- Now, you’re all set and you can start discovering your content on Plex.
Integrate NextPVR and Kodi to watch live TV
Even if this DVR system is capable of recording all TV shows, you can of course still watch live TV.
Here are the steps to watch live TV.
- In Kodi, go to “Settings” > “System Settings” > “Add-ons” tab.
- At the bottom of the screen, make sure you have either “Advanced” or “Expert” settings level selected.
- In the “Add-ons” tab, select “Manage dependencies”.
- Select “..” to go to the root folder and select “My add-ons” and then “PVR clients”.
- Next, select your preferred software from the PVR client list (in my case “NextPVR PVR Client”.
- Click “Enable” to start the NextPVR client. You can also configure your TV server’s IP address if you use a remote computer.
- Now, Kodi should start importing the EPG from clients. Go back to the main menu and choose “TV” from the main menu to start watching the live TV stream.
To wrap it up
You have finally reached to the end of this guide.
It may look complicated to set up this DVR system at first, but once you get it working, you can simply forget it and enjoy TV shows automatically appearing on your media devices.
Let’s recap the main points to consider when building your own DVR (Digital Video Recorder) system…
In this complete step-by-step guide, I have covered step-by-step how to build and set up a DVR system to automatically record TV shows.
Now it’s your turn.
To get started building your own, have a look at the following hardware recommendations that are suitable back-ends and front-ends for your ultimate TV experience.
I would also recommend checking out this guide to watch and record online channels such as Netflix and Hulu.