Project PVR

Hopefully soon all the parts should arrive for the latest of my little projects, building my own DVB-T (Freeview) & DVB-T2 (Freeview HD) Personal Video Recorder (PVR).  So far I have in my hand the Noctua CPU cooler, which on its own won’t record TV programmes very well, and the rest is (at the time of writing) due to be delivered early next week.

The plan is to build the PVR software based on Debian 9 (Stretch) Linux, with tvheadend as the backend and Kodi as the frontend, along with its tvheadend plugin.  This is useful because it means I can use Kodi on any device on my LAN (and potentially over a VPN if a fast enough connection) to watch TV, either live or recorded, which I can’t do with my current PVR.

As the box has to fit under the TV, I’ve had to use mini-ITX parts which, although bigger than a conventional PVR, isn’t much bigger widthwise, and will fit in my TV stand.  Here is the complete parts list:

  • Fractal Design Node 202 case (mini-ITX)
  • ASRock Fatal1ty Z370 Gaming/ITX-ac motherboard
  • Intel i3-8100 (Coffee Lake) quad-core CPU (Socket 1151)
  • Noctua NH-L9i low-profile CPU cooler
  • 16GiB of Crucial DDR4-2400 RAM (as a matching pair of 8GiB dual channel single rank DIMMs)
  • Samsung 960 EVO SSD (250GB) – for the operating system
  • Western Digital WD20NPVZ 2TB 2.5″ hard drive – for the recordings
  • Corsair SF450 SFX Power Supply Unit
  • Hauppauge WinTV-quadHD PCIe TV card

A few things to note about the part list:

  • Normally I’d go for a Supermicro motherboard if I can, but this motherboard was chosen because it is one of the few that has an LSPCON chip.  In case you don’t know what one of those is, it’s a chip placed on the motherboard which converts DisplayPort 1.2 output to HDMI 2.0.  This is important because the Intel chipset itself only supports HDMI 1.4 and this standard doesn’t do high refresh rates on 4K video, such as 60Hz.  Although I don’t currently have a 4K TV let alone one that does 60Hz video, this will at least “future-proof” it a little bit so that if I ever need to play 2160p60 video, I will be able to without having to replace the hardware.
  • The RAM is DDR4-2400 single-rank, as this is faster than dual-rank in most cases, but more expensive.  (No need for faster RAM than this since I’m not going to overclock the CPU)
  • I’d normally go for Seasonic power supplies, but although Seasonic do in fact make an SFX PSU, I couldn’t find a UK supplier of it who had any stock, so I’ve gone for the Corsair instead which I’m told is a very reliable and well-made PSU.   The manufacturer is Great Wall, but to Corsair’s specifications which are much higher than your average unit.  The PSU is modular meaning I can keep cables inside the case to a minimum (and there’s not a lot of room for it)
  • The TV card is specifically supported in the Linux kernel out of the box, as long as you use a recent enough kernel.  I’m planning to use the stretch backported kernel, currently 4.13 at the time of writing.  Shame that it only has an input and not passthrough though, because it means I may have to buy a splitter and/or an aerial amplifier if I want to supply the TV with an aerial connection as well.
  • The CPU cooler is a low-profile (37mm high) and low noise (because it’s a Noctua).  Noctuas are well regarded for their cooling properties, and certainly I’ve found this to be true on its bigger brother the NH-U12S in my desktop PC.
  • There wasn’t a lot of choice on the hard disks, as HGST doesn’t seem to make a 2TB Travelstar, but WD will at least let me tweak the idle timer settings (with wdidle or idle3-tools) to something sensible so that it powers the disk off a few minutes after finishing of recording or playback.

Not a lot more I can do now until the rest of the parts arrive, but hopefully it won’t be long until I can get cracking building this lot.

Update: All the parts have been dispatched now so should arrive in the next day or two.

Update 2: All the parts have arrived, apart from the case, which they failed to deliver in time today.

Update 3: The machine is now built, all the hardware is in, but the case needs reassembling, and then the OS installation and configuration can begin.