The Problem: Here’s the scenario. We have DirecTV with five boxes that includes DVR services. But only three boxes can be active at the same time. The fourth and fifth boxes can remain in the cold while three TV’s are occupied. And only so much recording can happen at one time with similar limitations.
We have a household with three adults and a 10 year old. The 10 year old believes the best way for something to happen is repeated random button smashing, because a half second delay is too much delay. He never lived in the days where dad’s used kids as remotes. “Go change it to channel 3”.
So, what’s that mean? It means that sometimes, I’m unable to watch or record what I want due to the competition of resources or the errors of button smashing that arbitrarily records or deletes things.
Considering the Options: I took a moment to evaluate what I actually record and realized that several of the conflicting programs were on over the air broadcast networks at the same time as other broadcasts that were being recorded.
I’ve always been a believer in OTA (over the air) antenna’s. I had already confirmed my area receives pretty darn good reception of many channels that are HD quality. I considered using an old VCR to record shows, but the one I had wasn’t able to record from an antenna (coax) cable. And I wasn’t about to spend large amounts on old technology like VHS to record programs.
Step One- A recorder: My search took me in the direction of an ATSC Tuner that also allowed for recording to USB storage. I ran across one that was about $40. An “Iview 3500 STBII”. Between the users guide and a little trial and error, it turned out to be relatively easy to use. It records in MP4 format on a USB attached storage. And for the heck of it, I thought I’d try connecting a USB hard drive and surprisingly, it reads and writes with no problem. It won’t read AVI files, but that’s not important.
As for connections, there is a straight forward coax connection, an HDMI and RGB with audio. I experimented with signal quality and found the signal from the STBII using a coax connection to the TV was fuzzy and degraded. The absolute best connection from the STBII to my TV was via an HDMI cable.
I used online TV guides to find the shows, times and days of the week and set up the scheduling for recording.
Step Two- Antenna: At first I experimented with some inexpensive OTA antenna’s attached to the walls of my second floor office with thumbtacks. You can pick these up discount stores for less than $10 bucks or look at my earlier post where I made my own.
The reception was ok, showing occasional interference on some channels. Ultimately, I needed to improve the signal strength if I wanted fairly reliable quality recordings.
To do that, I decided to go higher. We have a two story house with an easily accessible attic. I sorted through the houses pre-laid coax using some coax trace tools I picked up and attached an old home made antenna to those that led to my office using pushpins as mounts to the rafters.
Step Three- Results: were stellar. The recordings of shows via the OTA antenna and STBII are as good or better than my DirecTV DVR.
The Pros: cheap, easy, no subscription fees and excellent quality.
The cons: The DirecTV DVR service makes it a heck of a lot easier to record first run only shows on all cable included networks like AMC, Comedy, premium sports, etc. without having to set record up for a specific time. In fact, it will auto correct from season to season if the show is in a new day or time and stop recording when the season ends. None of that automated programming is available with the STBII. You have to manually manage it yourself.
There are other boxes out their with far more sophistication. Like the HDHomeRun which records shows and makes them available through your wifi for playback. Or the TiVo which has intelligent scheduling and allows for remote playback also, but has a subscription service.
And then there are the home grown solutions where someone sets up a computer for recording the shows to a NAS and it provides the same functionality with no subscription, but no intelligent scheduling either.
Conclusion: The Iview 3500 STBII is an inexpensive means of augmenting our current service, not a replacement. Glad I have it. Fits my needs, but not replacing my full service provider any day soon.