The Electronic Freedom Foundation has launched a neat project. They’re putting up instructions and information on how to build your own DVR (aka, Tivo, ReplayTV, etc.) for HDTV programming. The Digital Liberation Front aims to get as many of these homebrew boxes in circulation as possible before the Hollywood-backed and FCC-ordered “broadcast flag” becomes manditory in HDTV receivers just over a year from now.
As things stand today, you can buy an HDTV capture card for a computer that does not recognize the broadcast flag, meaning you should be able to view, record, and save unlimited copies of any program that comes in through the card. These cards are perfectly legal today, and are not going to become illegal under the current law, but their production (at least for US sales) will end on July 1, 2005. After that, the networks and movie studios will be able to prevent you from making recordings or copies of recordings, depending on how the broadcast flag is set, and any new HDTV hardware will have to obey those rules.
This kind of project isn’t for a complete computer novice, but it’s not like building a flux capacitor, either. Anybody who’s comfortable installing software and a few PCI cards should be able to get a rudimentary HDTV PVR working on standard PC or Mac hardware.
As a confirmed DVR addict (ReplayTV in my case, a platform that makes extracting digital recordings for burning to DVD trivially easy), I’m planning to pick up a couple of pre-flag HDTV cards myself, even though I don’t own an HDTV monitor yet. Sooner or later, I’m going to want to burn an HDTV Auburn-Alabama game to high-capacity DVD, and I’m not going to depend on the goodwill of CBS or ESPN to graciously “allow” me to do so.