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Watch and record broadcast TV, free of charge, using your PC. It’s perfectly legal, and a free Windows program called NextPVR makes the process (relatively) simple.

Broadcast TV stations would very much like you to pay them for their free services. They successfully sued to shut down Aereo, and regularly shake down satellite and cable TV companies for re-transmission rights – it’s one of the many forces driving up the cost of pay television right now.

But here’s the crazy thing: despite basically forcing pay TV providers to pay for re-transmission rights, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are all giving their product away over the airwaves. The same goes for broadcast networks in other countries.

All you need to pick them up is an antenna, and with a little geek know-how you can record shows yourself, and even remove the commercials. Combine this with Kodi, the ultimate media center How to Set Up Your XBMC/Kodi Media Center How to Set Up Your XBMC/Kodi Media Center Discs on your shelves. Files on your computer. Websites around the web. You, the modern media consumer, don’t get your entertainment from just one place: you get it from many different sources. Read More and you’ve got a great interface for watching and recording TV that also gives you access to the best of the Web 5 Amazing Add-Ons for the XBMC Media Center 5 Amazing Add-Ons for the XBMC Media Center Make XBMC even better by adding these amazing add-ons. Whether you're into TV, sports or gaming, these plugins will help you get the most out of your television. Last time, I lamented the end of... Read More .

nextpvr-kodi-working

We briefly mentioned this while exploring the true cost of cutting the cord Considering Canceling Cable? The True Cost of Cutting the Cord Considering Canceling Cable? The True Cost of Cutting the Cord When you add everything up, do you really save money by cutting the cord? We do the math involved with cancelling cable in favor of Internet services. Read More , because the live sports and shows offered by network TV are a great compliment to Web-based services like Netflix and Sling – particularly when you add a PVR (Personal Video Recorder). However, we didn’t get into a lot of the details.

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For a long time we thought Windows Media Center was the best PVR program The Best PVR: Windows Media Center! The Best PVR: Windows Media Center! Despite the perceived image of Microsoft as a lumbering beast with bloated software that ships full of bugs, they have actually produced some fine software over the years. Today I’d like to highlight Windows Media... Read More , but Microsoft seems to be actively killing that program at the moment. So here’s an alternative guide, using a piece of Windows software called NextPVR. There are various alternative tools out there, which we might well explore in future articles (and which I hope several of you will point out in the comments).

Step One: Get a TV Tuner Card and an Antenna

If you head to Antennaweb.org you can quickly find out which stations are close to you, and where they are located.

antennaweb

It’s exciting, right? But for your computer to pick up TV transmissions, you’re going to need a TV tuner card. NextPVR’s documentation specifically recommends using Hauppauge tuner cards – I’m using the Hauppauge 2250 ($100) for this article (Lifehacker also recommends this model, if you need a second opinion).

There are USB options available if you’d rather not install a dedicated card. NextPVR supports a wide variety of devices – I recommend Googling any specific card, along with the word “NextPVR”, before making a purchase.

In addition to a TV tuner you’ll need an antenna. I’m using the Mohu Leaf, a flat antenna that works great Enjoy Free Over-The-Air TV Shows in HD with Mohu Leaf [Giveaway] Enjoy Free Over-The-Air TV Shows in HD with Mohu Leaf [Giveaway] The Mohu Leaf is a paper-thin TV antenna you can hang on your wall to get HD-quality television, for free. We're giving away one Mohu Leaf Plus and two regular Mohu Leaf antennas valued at... Read More  (snag one from Amazon).

Any antenna capable of receiving digital signals should work just fine – you could even make your own antenna Ditch Cable with a DIY HDTV Antenna Ditch Cable with a DIY HDTV Antenna Read More if you really wanted to do so.

So, get a TV card, get an antenna, and get ready. If this sounds expensive, remember: cable companies charge $10-a-month just to rent a DVR, let alone whatever you’re paying in re-transmission fees, so you’ll be saving money in no time if you truly cut the cord.

Step Two: Install and Set Up NextPVR

Once you’ve got your TV card installed, follow the directions that came with it to install drivers. Then head to NextPVR.com and download the latest version.

Installation is simple: it’s the standard “Click Next” dance that Windows users are accustomed to. Once you’ve installed it, go ahead and open it. You’ll see the NextPVR interface – right-click anywhere and you’ll find the settings.

nextpvr-devices

Assuming you have properly installed your TV tuner, you should see it listed under Devices. If this is the case, select it and click Device Setup. From here you can scan for TV channels.

nextpvr-scan-channels

This is the tricky part, depending on how good reception is in your area. Compare the channels that show up with the list you see over at Antennaweb, moving the antenna to see if you can get any more channels.

When you’re satisfied with your list of channels, head to the Channels section. Rename any channels, if you wish, then click Update EPG – this will download the current TV schedule for you. Next head to the Encoders section and pick an encoder for all cases. Then head to the Recording tab.

nextpvr-recording

By default your recordings end up on your C:\ drive, so be sure to change this if you’d rather use another drive. You can also choose where your live TV buffer is stored on the Misc tab.

nextpvr-home

There are a few other settings you can check, so explore this screen later. However, doing the above should be enough to enable you to start watching TV right now. You can do so in NextPVR’s own interface, seen above, if you’d like to test things out, or you can set up NextPVR to work with Kodi.

Step Three: Set Up Kodi For An Amazing Interface

Kodi is a cross-platform media player that can organize your TV show and movie collection, give you access to online videos, and provide an interface for watching live TV. Even better: it’s easily controlled with a remote.

Setting up Kodi to work with NextPVR isn’t complicated. First you’ll need to go to the TV section of Kodi’s Settings screen, then click, “Enable live TV”. At this point you’ll be asked to enable a plugin.

nextpvr-kodi-setup

Head to the NextPVR plugin, then configure it.

nextpvr-kodi-setup

You can probably leave the defaults – Hostname is only relevant if you’re using Kodi on a computer other than the one NextPVR is installed on, and the NextPVR Port only changes if you intentionally change it. However, I would recommend heading to Advanced and enabling the Live TV Buffer.

Once this is done, head back to the TV section in Settings. There are more settings you can tweak, and you can even add network logos if you really want to geek out, but basically you should be ready to go.

kodi-main

From the Live TV section of Kodi’s main screen, you can now access your television channels, your recordings, and even set up your DVR to record something. And you don’t need to limit this to just one computer: any machine on your network can access NextPVR, meaning you can watch TV on any of them if you just repeat the above steps (adding the IP of the computer running NextPVR as the Hostname).

This Is Just The Beginning.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cord-cutters should ignore set-top boxes and use desktop PCs Cord Cutters: Ignore Set Top Boxes & Use A PC Instead Cord Cutters: Ignore Set Top Boxes & Use A PC Instead Ditching cable? Stay away from dedicated media center devices. Your spare PC makes for an excellent alternative because it's cheap to set up, more powerful, and forever flexible. Read More . They’re simply the most versatile tool for the job, as I hope this tutorial demonstrates.

And really, this article is just skimming the surface of what a home PVR setup can do. There are many other things I could get into here: setting up a remote control with Kodi, using Comskip to skip commercials, and even using NextPVR’s web interface to schedule recordings from any computer on your home network. I’m willing to talk about all this and more in the comments, and will tackle it in future articles if enough people are interested.

Let’s talk! I’m here to help and very much see all of this as an ongoing process. Let’s all stop paying for TV, one home PVR setup at a time.

  1. bob
    July 15, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    when i open nextpvr setting all i see under devices is ipvt how do i make it so i can see my tuner?

  2. Mark
    July 1, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I would love to know how to schedule recordings based on show name for all new broadcasts of that show

  3. Will
    March 14, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Bit of a noob here - how can I set my PC to record a live stream from KODI if the channel isn't picked up by an external antenna (like in the web article).

    • Justin Pot
      March 14, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      I cannot find a way to do that, which is too bad because I would be thrilled to have such a capability.

  4. Paul Anderson
    February 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS & NBC were all "giving their products away" over the airwaves, since roughly the 1940's (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_television) and was standardized before I was born in 1958. For the bulk of my life, I watched broadcast (OTA) TV, but when cable became popular (late 80's), and finally arrived in my neighborhood, I had to try it out.

    At first, the cable companies did not provide the local OTA stations (ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS & NBC); all their cable channels had different content, and yes, it was cheesy. You had to switch between the cable box and OTA. I had if for a year but it was so bad I got rid of it.

    The funny part of this is that it never dawned on me that younger people would be oblivious to the fact that TV has always been free; that paying for broadcast media is a rather new thing in the history of TV! The way sellers of antennas promote their products; as if free TV is this new discovery! It's just comical!

    I wired my home for cable, but have since cut the cord, but how I did that is important to know: I went into the attic, and where the coax cable goes down into a room, I cut the cord there, crimped a new end onto it, used a coax couple, and then screwed an HDTV flat antenna to it, hanging it on a rafter. Since these antennas are so cheap, I put one on every room (3 in all). Excellent reception!

    http://www.amazon.com/1byone-OUS00-0565-Antenna-Performance-Coaxial/dp/B00RFLXCRK

    On my 15" laptop I use the Hauppauge WinTV HVR (it's portable); however, if you want to bypass your PC altogether, consider ChannelMaster.com for home-only use.

  5. Greg
    February 3, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    This is a very interesting article and may eventually make the jump to Win 10 and use this solution. However, one question... I am currently using and XBox 360 as an extender for WMC. I would assume this would no longer be an option with the solution in this article? I suppose a simple laptop in the basement could work. Also, would love to be able to use the WMC remote controls with this...have you ever written an article on that?

    • Justin Pot
      February 3, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      Hey Greg, I don't think there's a way to use the XBox with Kodi or NextGen at this point. As for an article about using WMC controls with Kodi, there's not a lot to say really. You can enable them in the settings, you can use a program to remap the remote to keyboard shortcuts. I prefer the second method, because this lets you map a few universal keyboard shortcuts.

      My preferred app is this one: http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=164252

  6. Tracy
    January 31, 2016 at 12:23 am

    Thanks for this article. I'm going to try this soon. I cut the cord 7 years ago and have used a few programs (SageTV was great). I was using WMC but, as usual, microsoft dropped the ball and allowed what could have been a great program to settle for just acceptable. I'm using Kodi (kids are watching it now) for movies and tv shows, but NPVR for live TV. I want to use this to integrate them both.
    Is there any reason I should continue looking into Plex? I'd love to see an blog on ComSkip!!

    • Justin Pot
      February 1, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Hey Tracy, I highly recommend integrating NextPVR with Kodi, it doesn't take long if you've already got NPVR set up.

      As for Comskip, I've yet to convince the entertainment editor here, but maybe someday. :)

  7. Thom
    January 14, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I sure wish I'd found this article this morning before I delved into getting my Kodi PVR working. I
    possess just a little above-caveman-geekishness and finally I am up and running. Even broadcasting as an imput to my LG smart TV. Now I can time shift all that free content. Between this and the Roku and fireTV I just laugh at those pitiful offers from DirectTV. 200 channels for what? and 3 DVRS to rent each month. It was ludicrous! Anyway. Thank-you and good night.

    • Justin Pot
      January 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      Glad you got everything working, enjoy the new setup!

  8. Brian
    January 10, 2016 at 7:14 am

    I know I'm pretty late to this post, but thanks so much for laying this out in an easy to follow fashion! I've reluctantly clung to Windows 8.1 on the media desktop I have connected to my PC because I loved the simplicity of Windows Media Center, which I've used for live TV viewing for some time. Thanks to this, I've got NextPVR up and running smoothly with Kodi as a frontend, and can upgrade to Windows 10!

    Did you ever post the articles mentioned at the bottom for setting up a remote and using Comskip within Kodi? I'd be interested in seeing them!

    • Justin Pot
      January 10, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      I'm ready to write the Comskip article, but editors here have not shown interest. :) Maybe if enough of you guys say you're interested they'll change their minds.

      • Cail
        April 17, 2016 at 12:08 am

        I'm desperately looking for this info - how can I let your editors know?

  9. Stephanie
    November 30, 2015 at 4:32 am

    Great post! Thank you for sharing your tips. I bought a TV tuner years ago and was happily using it with Windows Media Center (WMC) until I got a new computer with Windows 10 and realized Microsoft killed WMC! I stumbled upon this article looking for a WMC replacement. I found your article to be quite helpful as this setup was nowhere near as easy as setting up WMC was. It sounds like there is a lot more I can do to turn my setup into a cool cable-free TV setup and I look forward to exploring more in the future. Thanks for sharing!

    • Justin Pot
      November 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      I'm glad the article was helpful for you! Let us know what other cool things you find out, okay?

  10. Cliff Weissman
    November 9, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you Justin great article! Do u know of any similar options that can be run using Linux?

    • Justin Pot
      November 10, 2015 at 4:59 am

      There are many, but I can't speak as to which are easy to set up. I know that MythTV is the ultimate option for people willing to take the time to learn it, though.

  11. Josh Cannon
    September 25, 2015 at 12:56 am

    Do you know of a PVR application to use on a Synology NAS? I don't want to leave my computer running all the time. I currently use a Raspberry Pi running OpenElec(Kodi) connected to the TV. I also have a HDHomerun network tuner that I can access from Kodi which is nice. I lack a decent PVR solution at the moment though.

    • Justin Pot
      September 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      I don't know of any way to do this, sorry, I think you need a computer. I'd love to be wrong, though.

  12. Erin
    September 24, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I cut the cord years ago. I use TiVO for broadcast shows and Plex for the channels. That's how I've been watching comedy central. I may try to integrate Kodi into my Plex, though.

    • Justin Pot
      September 24, 2015 at 11:49 pm

      Kodi and Plex overlap in many ways, but it's worth checking them both out and seeing what works for you best. Kodi is much more open; Plex has a company behind it. There are pros and cons for sure.

  13. Ronald Palomeque
    September 24, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    All you need is the USTVNow addon for live broadcasts of 7 major networks. Primewire is like an OnDemand. No need to buy a tuner card.

    • bfedwards
      November 25, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      Yes but I find the USTVNow servers unreliable and unable to provide a dependable signal even with premium subscription.

  14. mike genova
    September 24, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    This is a great article! I'm all for cutting the cord. I have a question though. How could I use my nexus player with kodi installed, to stream live and recorded TV from my PC? I know I could hook my desktop up to my TV but I need my desktop in the computer room. Thanks for any advice

    • Justin Pot
      September 24, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      If you've got NextPVR installed on a PC, and Kodi installed on your Nexus player, you just need to point the NextPVR plugin in Kodi to the PC's IP address. You can watch live TV and recordings over the network, and even schedule recordings.

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