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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 and you’ve got a great interface for watching and recording TV that also gives you access to the best of the Web.
We briefly mentioned this while exploring the true cost of cutting the cord, 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.
For a long time we thought Windows Media Center was the best PVR program, 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 [No Longer Available] you can quickly find out which stations are close to you, and where they are located.
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.
Any antenna capable of receiving digital signals should work just fine – you could even make your own antenna 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Head to the NextPVR plugin, then configure it.
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.
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. 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.