Build a Flag-Free HD Personal Video Recorder

There are many reasons why you might want to record a TV program on your PC. You might be building a media server that stores all of your digital audio and video, or maybe you just want to save a favorite program to DVD to watch it later. Whatever the reason, you have a right to record and keep the TV you watch, and the PC is a perfect tool to do this.

Such recording becomes even more compelling when you add digital TV to the mix. TV stations are moving over to a digital format, where shows are transmitted digitally at HDTV resolutions. Forget snowy, grainy, analog TV: Digital TV provides crisp pictures and clear, digital sound that your PC can record and play back. But the new ability of viewers to record and duplicate exact digital copies of TV shows and of movies shown on TV is a nightmare scenario for the TV and movie companies, since it's also an opportunity for unlimited copying, or piracy. By now, you've probably heard about the FCC's response to this issue--mandating that devices recognize a so-called "broadcast flag" to limit copying. We covered the broadcast flag issue in "TV Limits Copies" from our June 2005 issue. On May 6, however, an appeals court struck down the FCC's broadcast flag mandate. That ruling might be appealed to the Supreme Court, or Congress could step in, so the broadcast flag may only be delayed, not dead.

Either way, until the broadcast flag is in force, it's perfectly legal to buy a non-broadcast flag receiver, install it, and use it to record digital TV programs. What you do with the programs after that is up to you, but remember that copyright laws still apply: If you illegally distribute a TV program, you may still be prosecuted.

Several PC tuner cards can receive the digital TV signal and save it to disc--the ATI HDTV Wonder and the PCTV HD-3000, for example. In this article we'll show you how to build a digital TV PVR using a digital TV tuner and a PC.

(NOTE: PVRs are also called digital video recorders (DVRs)--PC World's preferred expression. But in this case, the DVR we're going to build records digital TV. Devices like TiVo and Replay TV are also DVRs, because they record analog video in a digital format, but they don't capture and record digital TV signals. For that reason, and to avoid duplication with the "digital" in digital TV, we'll refer to our device as a PVR.)

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