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Submission + - Can I record one channel while watching a different one using Videotron cable?

Tolkien writes: I've been thinking of building a PVR for a long while now but haven't begun because I'm stuck on one question.

The current situation is that I can't record one channel while watching another like I could with my old VCR years ago. I want this to be possible again without having to pay for two cable subscriptions, so given a standard cable box as source provided by Videotron (in Quebec, Canada), can I make this happen using a custom-built PVR? How can I go about doing that?

I'd love any tips or information this great community could provide, thanks!

Submission + - Building my first PVR

Tolkien writes: I've been contemplating building a personal video recorder (PVR) for quite a while but have wondered about some things that I'm finally asking about now, hoping to benefit from Slashdot's collective wisdom:

My mum uses Videotron (in Canada) for cable Internet and TV (basic "à la carte" cable TV through a small cable box which doesn't provide any options for recording) and is still using her old and still aging VCR (yes, really) with the one and a half remaining tapes that are still usable (read: recordable).

She, like everyone else:
1) used to be able to record one show while watching another
2) used to be able to pass recorded shows to friends to watch (and vice versa)
3) has to deal with six remote controls: TV, DVD, VCR, cable and volume boxes. The volume box controls only the volume to her CD player (which has its own remote too), amplifier and tape deck. Of these six remotes, four are universal.

Since this "upgrade" which required the cable box she can no longer do the first of these two things and her friends have long since moved away from VCRs so she can't do the second either. She just wants the old functionality she had back. I've been advising against using DVD recorders or such because those available have built-in DRM which prevents viewing recorded video on any other player than the one which recorded it (defeating her second requirement, her friends have complained about this aspect with their own recorders too, not knowing why it didn't work until I told them), and DVD recorders also don't help with her first requirement.

I get the impression that simply having a PVR with two TV tuners wouldn't help as her TV, VCR and DVD player each have their own tuners yet she's still not able to record a channel other than the one she is watching (I've tried).

Would she have to pay for a second line of cable just to fulfill the first requirement? Are there any possibilities I'm missing or haven't thought of? How might I go about restoring the functions she used to have? I don't think a cable splitter would work, here. Would the PVR need to have a permanent Internet connection to function correctly or could it work as expected using only the signal provided by the cable box? I ask because she's also accustomed to having an on-screen TV guide and I know there are Internet-based TV guide services, but if she can get a TV guide through the cable box (as how she's receiving it now, I imagine), I'd like to avoid having the PVR require its' own connection to the Internet if possible.

The PVR in question would have to be in a small form factor (her third requirement) because it would have to be in the living room so it would have to be either Micro- or Mini-ATX. I'd like for it to have a DVD or BD burner (though I'm keenly aware of the BlueRay DRM issues so I'm prioritizing a DVD burner for now) and a SATA or SSD drive. How powerful does a decent PVR (or one that fulfills my requirements, anyway) need to be in terms of CPU and RAM, and is it feasible in a small form factor?

As PVR software package choice I was thinking of MythTV on Linux (distro is less important, though I'm most familiar with Ubuntu). Configuration complexity is a non-issue to me but the easier it is, the better, obviously. I have read plenty about how complicated MythTV can be to set up, or was at the time I did that reading. I believe MythTV was at version 0.22 or 0.23 at the time. Stability is essential because Mum is both physically handicapped and not computer literate. Provided her first requirement is somehow met, would this require only one TV tuner or would it require one additional tuner per channel that could be watched/recorded at a time? I am aware that some TV tuner cards have 2+ tuners built into them.

I'd really appreciate any help, information or tips you can offer, thanks very much!

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