Wednesday, 18 May 2011

How to build your own 500GB HDD recorder (PVR) for under R1,850 (US$280)

So, my 250GB Philips DVDR appliance died an untimely death (well, it was 5 years old) – it wasn’t the most user friendly unit, but we loved it.  The ability to pause live TV and fast forward over the advertisements was awesome.  We missed it when it horribly when it was in for repair.  Unfortunately, it couldn’t be repaired, and it was time to look for a replacement… we went shopping and hoped to find even larger capacity DVDR devices for much less than what we originally paid for the Philips unit: bought in Apr 2006 for R3,200 incl. VAT. 
We were unpleasantly surprised: The cheapest we could find was a 160GB LG unit for about R3,300!
Another option (through a friend-of-a-friend) was a Sony RDR-HX980B 250GB unit for about R2,800 incl VAT… but that’s also only 250GB.

Many people have asked… why not just buy a PVR from DSTV… well, we don’t want DSTV and their recurring monthly fees of over R500 – the recordings become inaccessible if the PVR isn’t connected to a dish and your account is paid up – and there’s no way to copy the recordings to DVD or USB memory or external HDD. 
We want to be able to record SABC, eTV, CTV (Cape Town TV), TopTV, video camera to HDD.

So, decided to see what modern media players could offer.  1st problem – we needed a media recorder.  Not that many recorders around….
But managed to find this one which had good reviews: 

Emprex ME1-V2 Hi Def Media Player Recorder:
image  image
Comes with remote control; HDD Support: 3.5” IDE and SATA - FAT32 (Max Capacity 1TB with new firmware)
One Touch Record and Time-shift input video from AV-in port -> so no internal tuner; records from AV in
Has Schedule Record function (with new firmware)
Built in RJ-45 Ethernet connector you can stream content from networked devices such as your PC, notebook or home NAS.
Instruction manual is here:
See here for full specifications and diagrams:
From the reviews and forum, I could see 2 main “problems” with it with respect to what we needed:
1) No tuner inside it: solved with this nifty standalone box: for R380 (with added possibility that this box might remove CSS copy protection)
2) Dicey remote control: purchase a learning remote control from Cash Crusaders C-Tech for about R65:
3) Minor issue: Audio output: 3.5mm audio connector converter cable:
So this is what my bill will look like:
Emprex ME1 (from BidOrBuy):  R850 + R145 delivery: R995 (Note: this is available on for much cheaper (R250), but they do not ship to SA and price does not include SARS Duty).
HDD drive: 500GB: approx. R375 
Remote control: R65
TV Tuner: R380
3-5mm audio jack to RCA audio converter cable: R20
Total: R1,835

So, there you have it: a replacement PVR/HDD recorder unit for under R1,850 – with the ability to upgrade to 1TB of storage and no proprietary recording format.

I can’t wait for all the bits and pieces to arrive to see how it all fits together!
Stay tuned for the results.

Do you have any comments or advice to me or others on the above design?

Update on 15May2011:  I have written a follow up posting over here listing the results of my design:


  1. Ah! Brilliant! That standalone tuner box is a real find! I'd love to hear more about the Emprex box once you've played with it. I've been toying with the idea of getting one of those tiny ASUS set top boxes and slapping one of the media player programs into it.

    I've currently got a pvr unit that worked beautifully till it stopped working. So I'm a bit skeptical about their longevity.

    I love the fact that you've shared your research here. Thanks, dude.

  2. Cool! Can't wait to hear the usual HTT low down detail on how well this outfit works!! Thanks HTT

  3. Also just bought a Media Player/Recorder ( and did not realise that I need a separate tuner box for the PVR function to work! So would be interesting to hear your experience.

  4. Hi,

    I saw your blog on "How to build your own 500GB HDD recorder (PVR) for under R1,850 (US$280)" and was wondering if you have tried out the Mecer Stand Alone TV Tuner Card yet.

    I am considering buying one to play Playstation 2 games on my 23" LCD monitor, and to hopefully take screenshots while I play. I don't want to buy something without knowing whether it works, and I can't seem to find any info about this specific standalone tuner on the Internet, except for a very bad review on Kalahari.

    I already own a small EasyCap USB-device that is not working for me at all, and don't want to make the same mistake twice. Really hoping you can help me by telling me what your experiences with this tuner were, and whether you would recommend it.

    Hoping to hear from you soon.


  5. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I have written a follow up posting over here:


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