How to build a Tivo alternative for under $700

Anyone that knows me will tell you I like messing around with AV equipment but I don’t really know what I am doing. I have setup and used many different systems including a whole home system from Russound with intercoms, Sonos, HDMI over Ethernet, iRule for making iPhones into universal remotes and much more. For the past 3 years I have stayed away from using cable company provided hardware by utilizing a CableCard and Moxi boxes and while not perfect it was a great option out of the box and something I recommended to many. Moxi worked a lot like Tivo but had no subscription fees and could play media from my media server where all movies are in MKV format.

Last week I went to purchase another Moxi and Moxi mate and found out they are not longer selling the device and might even stop supporting TV lineup data in the near future. This was disappointing and even more so when I found there are no good alternatives. After much research the only out of the box solution I found is Tivo and of course requires you to pay a monthly subscription or one-time fee for a lifetime access for that purchase. I was about 15 minutes away from purchasing a Tivo when I thought, let’s see if I can build this.

Here is how I built a system for under $700 that replaces a Tivo Premiere Elite ($499) and monthly service of $19.99 or $499 for lifetime. There are a few missing features and I have not run this long so I can say how perfect it is but it works and I can control it. Disclaimer, this is not a great option for anyone not familiar with computers and networking as there will be problems you have to fix.

Starting with a very small computer to power the HDMI signal and Microsoft Windows Media Center I purchased an EeeBox PC EB1501P from Amazon for $431.99 including shipping cause I have Amazon Prime. I looked at a number of small form factor PCs and really like this as it included the Windows 7 license I needed, had a DVD drive and good graphics to power HDMI signal to a Samsung 55 inch TV. Setup was very easy, ran all the system updates, removed all other installed software that was not needed and configured Windows Media Center. As a Mac user I tried very hard to see how this could be done on Mac and it could if you ran Windows but it would double the price if not more.
Time: 2 hours / Cost: $432

Next I needed something to handle the CableCard as I wanted more than standard digital cable. I found tons of options that could take digital cable and make it a stream for Windows Media Center but not many options for CableCard access. Came down to InfiniTV 4 USB from Ceton and HDHomeRun Prime. I decided on the HDHomeRun Prime for $209.99 from Amazon, as it was an external device that would offload the processing of the media compared with a USB device that used the same PC as the media center. The downside of this is the media has to stream over the network and wireless is not an option for HD. Maybe I will test the Ceton device later.
Time: 1 hour / Cost: $210

The final part was a controller and I did not find many options that were made for Windows Media Center and also did IR. I also found that there was a remote that came with the EeeBox PC but does not seem to work well when the PC is in a cabinet. I went with what was available on Amazon for $28.89. It would be nice to add some Media Extenders to this setup in the near future but it seems that all but the Xbox 360 have been discontinued by manufacturers.

So far things are working well, Windows Media Center has lost the connection with HDHomeRun Prime a few times but I am not sure if that is a network issue or an issue with the device. Maybe this would be corrected with using the Ceton device. I am very impressed with Windows Media Center and all the functions it has as well as how the interface looks. Would not expect this from Microsoft, maybe they should focus on this more and less on things they are not good at.

Here is my final setup with the EeeBox, HDHomeRun Prime and Motorola cable modem that also does Wi-Fi, again no reason to rent a modem from the cable provider.

Total Time: 3 hours and Cost: $671