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Digital Video Recorders – A Couch Potato Dream Realized

OK, let’s all admit that we sometimes schedule things around our favorite TV shows. We try to get the laundry done before nine o’clock on Sunday so we can watch Desperate Housewives, or maybe we scramble to get the kids in bed before ten on Thursdays so we can watch ER. We all like to pretend that TV doesn’t have some strange hold on us, but remember: the first warning sign is denial… I remember all too clearly back in the Nineties when I was first introduced to a certain two-member FBI team consisting of a guy named Fox Mulder and his feisty partner Dana Scully. Every Sunday night, no matter what, I simply had to be home by nine so I could watch The X-Files.

This past Saturday, I came home to my wife watching last week’s Gilmore Girls. Later, we both watched last Thursday’s ER. We then caught up on the last three episodes of Invasion. And, during that time, guess how many commercials we had to endure? None, zip, nada, zilcho. We also recently listened to some songs from our MP3 collection and looked at some pictures of the kids on our living room TV.

The amazing technology that makes all this possible, and very affordable, is called PVR, or Personal Video Recorders. These little devices will record your favorite TV shows and movies and store them until you are ready to watch. You can fast forward through those boring commercials, pause and rewind. Of course, you can also pause and rewind live TV, too, which can make for some very interesting sports watching. In our house, we have the TiVo service, but many people also like ReplayTV. I won’t make any suggestion as to which is best as I have never used ReplayTV, but I can say that TiVo is phenomenal.

It’s sort of like a VCR, but many, many times better and more powerful. For example, with a PVR all the shows are stored onto a computer hard drive so there aren’t any tapes to mess with. Also, the PVR device is smart enough so you can tell it simply to record a show named ‘Lost’ and it will automatically record it for you when it comes on– you don’t even have to know when or even what channel to set it to. Further, TiVo allows you to network your PVR with your computer so that you can listen to MP3 files and view images. You can even transfer the shows to your computer and burn them to a DVD. How cool!

Aside from the commercial services of TiVo and ReplayTV, there are free versions of PVRs out there. You just need an old computer, some time and the ability to download and install free PVR software such as Freevo or MythTV. It is a dream come true for couch potatoes, it’s fun, and you may never have to watch a commercial again.

Now, for the Cool Site of the Week… If you ever feel overwhelmed about how fast technology is moving, grab a cup of coffee and sit down to check out where this whole computer thing started by browsing the online museum at Old-Computers.com. This site has pictures, prices and specs for all kinds of computers ranging from the two-story tall Whirlwind computer built at MIT in 1951 (with a whopping 2K of memory) up to the handy ‘little’ laptops of the 80’s.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions for future articles, please email me at mike@mikebryant.com.

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