The Kiwi Personal Digital Video Recorder
A PC-Based Personal Digital Entertainment Centre
A project diary describing the process of building a PC-based home entertainment center based on regular off-the-shelf computer components and software.

Commercial Operating Systems
So which operating system is best suited for a project such as this?

Well there are a number of obvious, and a few not quite so obvious factors which affect the choice of OS:
Digital Rights Management
Every commercial video or music track is copyrighted, regardless of how it is delivered.

Copyright is important because it protects the content producer from having their material stolen by others. Without copyright, most professional musicians, movie-makers and writers would give up and get a real job.

While piracy has always existed, it's only since the arrival of digital formats that it has become a major threat to the revenues of content producers. Every time you make a copy of a copy using analog techniques, the quality is reduced and this automatically reduces the practical depth of a piracy chain.

Digital copies however are bit-perfect so a copy of a copy sounds identical to the original and therein lies the problem and the incentive for people to duplicate illegally.

In order to prevent unbridled piracy, a technology known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been introduced to stop or restrict the unauthorized copying of digital media content.

This DRM technology is increasingly becoming an in-built part of such applications as Microsoft's Media Player and components such as the latest sound-cards.

  • Cost
  • Availability of software
  • Support for various capture cards
  • Digital Rights Management restrictions
If we were just going to select on the basis of cost then the winner would have to be Linux without any doubt.

However, if you're planning to use an existing PC for such a project then the cheapest OS is the one that's already installed -- which might be any number of others.

The choice of suitable software and compatibility with the readily available capture cards is probably going to be the deciding factor however.

These two criteria make a version of Microsoft Windows to be the logical choice for most people. Yes, love it or hate it, Windows does have a huge amount of hardware and software available for it -- which is why it continues to sell even in the face of competition from "free" options such as Linux.

Visit the sponsor
If you'd like your own system, it is recommended that you purchase the parts, or a ready-configured version from the project's sponsor.

Then there's the issue of DRM (digital rights management) -- that's copy protection to you and me (see the sidebar).

Microsoft is working hard to integrate DRM into all its operating systems and media products. This means that tying yourself to the Microsoft bandwagon could result in operational problems further down the track.

What happens if/when Microsoft strike a lucrative deal with content producers and broadcasters to honor anti-copy information that may be embedded in their music or video streams? You might find yourself up the creek without a paddle.

Fortunately such a scenario is unlikely to arise for at least a year or two and a Windows-based project should give you plenty of enjoyment up until that time.

The next decision has to be: which version of Windows?

This is more important than you might think because in some regards, newer is not necessarily better.

Windows 2000 or XP
XP is an excellent choice for the project OS for several reasons:

  • It's popular and well supported
  • It comes with additional multi-media software out of the box
  • It supports filesizes greater than 4GB
  • It is more stable and robust than some earlier versions
However, one problem with Windows XP is its incompatibility with some very useful freeware that was designed for Win95 and Win98 systems. Examples of software that is not fully compatible are the excellent video capture and editing program VirtualDub and the VideoCrypt decoder HVCPlus.

Win95 or Win98
If you're planning to use an existing PC for a project like this and it already has Win95/98 installed then don't despair, despite the limitations of these older OSes they can still do a fine job.

Their biggest handicap is that they can't create files larger than 4 GB in size. Raw uncompressed or slightly compressed video produces huge files, sometimes reaching up to 12 GB or more per hour of recording. Fortunately the VirtualDub capture program has a clever facility for automatically segmenting large capture files into smaller (less than 4GB) chunks.

Linux and other "Free" OSes
Linux is clearly not a good choice for those who don't want to get their hands dirty tweaking with the finer details of software and operating systems. However, for the "power user," it has a lot of benefits and, since it's going to take a lot of time and more than just one web-page, I'll be fully exploring the Linux options in the next update of this feature.

Bottom Line
Use whatever you've got or, if you're starting from scratch, opt for Windows XP.

If you still want to go for Linux, be aware that, as is often the case with Linux, you'll have to set aside an awful lot of time for "tinkering and tweaking" in order to get things working. You'll also find that few of the video tuner/capture card manufacturers are interested in supporting Linux at this time.

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Published and © 2002 by Bruce Simpson and Aardvark Net Publishing. All rights reserved