ReplayTV Replacement Options

As I previously mentioned, our ReplayTV has recently died (Sherree weighed in, too). If you're not using a Tivo or similar DVR, you don't realize what you're missing and just how big of a deal it is! It's a life-changing device, in much the same way an iPod is.

So we can't live without our ReplayTV. Unfortunately, they're not made anymore. We could buy a used one from eBay, but who knows how long that might last, then we'd be in the same position again. A Tivo is an obvious replacement, but I'm not convinced it's the best choice. Comcast (our local cable provider) offers a DVR with limited functionality and a high price, so that's not a good choice. Lastly, there are computer-based solutions like MythTV and BeyondTV that offer some interesting capabilities.

Tivo isn't a bad choice. It works well and is popular. It even offers a few features Replay didn't. It'd be quick to get set up and working. An 80-hour Tivo with a lifetime activation would cost $370. There really aren't downsides to Tivo, except that it does what it does, and that's all.

A Home Theater PC offers a lot. In addition to the DVR functionality, it could serve as a DVD player (replacing our old Sony that has some weird audio-sync problem occasionally) and stream our music collection. My experience with MythTV (1, 2) was very positive and showed that it's DVR functionality is a bit superior to ReplayTVs by offering a great show scheduling and prioritizing interface, as well as a clean recorded program interface--not to mention the great backend features like the transcoding compression options (to save disk space) and multi-tuner capability (to record more than one show at the same time). A Home Theater PC wouldn't cost much more than Tivo; I've priced them out at about $400-$500. A basic system could be put together for just over $300.

Unfortunately, the reason we had to abandon MythTV before is that our TV didn't work well with it. Our old 27" Sanyo TV only has a coax input, so we're using an RF modulator to convert from the more popular s-video and composite connections to the older coax. Sending the signal from the MythTV computer through the RF modulator to the TV resulted in a very unsharp, low-quality picture. By testing with another TV I was able to prove that our TV was the problem. So, if we went with an HTPC we'd need a new TV, too. As much as I'd like to get a nice widescreen HD set, we can't justify that cost. I'm pretty sure I remember seeing Walmart selling 27" and 32" tube TVs with s-video and composite connections for about $200 (though nothing like that is on their website). A TV like that would certainly be an improvement over our current TV, and would work with a computer-based DVR. Is it worth the extra cost, though?

I suppose another option is to just forget about a DVR and go back to normal TV. I'm afraid of that idea, though. After nearly two weeks of normal TV I realize just how much I hate commercials, their interruptions, and watching something when that station decides to play it. It's just too restrictive to be enjoyable.

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