I like you shuddered at the thought of bucking up $12.95 a month for a TIVO membership, but after 5 years of sampling other devices I am actually doing it. About 5 years ago, I bought an WinHD 180 Video Card and Beyond TV. BeyondTV was great for the most part. You have ready access to the file rips as they are stored on your local drive and are not encrypted, so you can create highlight reels and even rip content to discs (I ripped the SuperBowl on a disc for a friend of mine who was a Colts fan after they won the Superbowl). However, the problem with BeyondTV is capturing HD is done OTA and I had huge problems capturing quality OTA feeds consistently and there is nothing worse than realizing halfway through a recording that your antenna was positioned wrongly: nonstop program studdering and the same person who told you not to pay a monthly fee will be frowning on your ability to provide quality recordings! There are tuners which can capture HD content via component, but they are priced near $1k making them a nonoption for me at least. The other thing to consider is BTV is a system hog. Unless you have at least a dual core CPU, BTV will monopolize your system cpu during recordings. Total Cost(this is back 5 years ago so it has probably changed) is around $70 BTV + $25 OTA antenna + $80 HD tuner +25 BTV disc burning software=$200.
About a year ago, I switched from DirectTV to cable (boohoo!....I moved to Manhattan!) and probably the only good thing about my cable company is that they supplied an HD DVR at no cost and I must rank it above BTV. It is free, a whole lot more convenient and alot less can go wrong. However, the drive is small (20 hours I think) and it is a bit on the dumb DVR side (ie it will record the same episode multiple times even if I tell it "First Run Only").
So now after 5 years, I am getting ready to join the TIVO community and recommend the same for you...you probably will jump over to the TIVO side anyway after a couple of years so I will save you time and money. What I am looking forward to from TIVO (I'm in the middle of moving again) is larger hard drive capability, much smarter recording options, and a whole TIVO community filled with plenty of people who can provide nifty tips for maximizing my DVR experience.
All in all, I would say buck up for the monthly fee and buy yourself a regular video card to burn your vhs tapes to dvd. I just used BTV to convert my VHS to disc, but pretty much all tuners come with software to do recording with. If you absolutely refuse to give TIVO a shot, I would recommend a DVR from a cable company. If you have satellite and not cable, then I would say go with Beyond TV: just make sure your cpu is at least dual core and do some research on a good OTA antenna...because a bad one (I had 2 different ones) can be a pain in the butt!
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