My  "VCRVO" Project

May, 2005

Basically I had:

1. a DVD player without a remote
2. a dead VCR
3. a spare computer
4. a wife who was not  so crazy about another computer in the house

Given this, I decided gut the VCR and use it as a computer case.  This would replace the functionality of the DVD player and video  recorder with one unit that looks more like a VCR than a computer (thus keeping the wife happy).   My initial goal was to get Freevo running on it, so during the build I affectionately referred to it as my "VCRVO" project.  Here are the steps I took:

Dead VCR
The dead VCR.  

 packed with electronics.

A small pile of guts.  

One of the trickier parts was keeping the case integrity and strength while providing enough room for the system components.  Very  little duct tape was involved.

Here it is totally gutted.  Now comes the fun part: getting everything to fit.

Backward MB
Unfortunately the MB I had was not small, a standard ATX  with a 1.2 Athlon, and a full size power supply.  I tried every permutation of motherboard/power supply layout (including suspending the MB from the lid) and finally settled on installing the MB backwards (i.e. with the ports and cards facing inside, toward the front).  It was the only way.  

Power supply was elevated with  a piece of 1x1x3 inch pine, and held pretty tight with a couple thumb screws.  This raised the power supply over the motherboard and allowed room for audio/video cables out of the box.

The Newegg order arrived, woohoo!  One wireless USB Adapter, one PixelView PlayTV (BT878 compatable) Video capture card, one A4Tech wireless keyboard and mouse (good range, over 8 feet). .  

Wireless module (never used)

2part epoxy
The DVD burner was mounted on  top of two 2x4's  glued together.  (After duct tape, the utility  of two-part epoxy is second only to the amazing multi-purpose tie (AKA nylon cable tie (AKA ziptie)))

tight fit
The DVD burner and hard drive (diagonal) mounting brackets were epoxied in place.

Unfortunately the thickness of the doubled up 2x4 was slightly too tall to allow the DVD burner tray to properly open through the old VHS Tape slot.  Fortunately I own a plainer.  

power switch
One of the best features of the old VCR was the jog shuttle.  I turned it into a giant power button by attaching  the power switch mounting bracket on the inner ring of the jog shuttle and mounting the outer ring to  the switch post.

The epoxy for the power button is still setting (blue tape holding it in place) during the first boot.  Knoppix came up fine and detected all the hardware.  

final layout
Here is the final layout.  The cables (svideo in, svideo out, coax audio, ethernet) comming off the PCI/AGP cards (PlayTV, Geforce 3 Ti, SoundBlaster Live!)  were mostly threaded under the elevated power supply.  Biostar Motherboard is "backward" and NEC DVD burner is mounted on two 2x4's.  Maxtor 30G Hard drive mounted diagnoally on its side.  HDD and Power lights mounted in previous light sockets in the VCR front panel. 

OS install 
I installed and tested  Debian Sarge and SuSE 9.1 Linux.   I was able to get everything running properly, including Freevo, under both distributions with a little troubleshooting.  I ended up sticking with SuSE, mostly because it was the last distro I installed. (Gentoo next ? )   (A dual headed second computer and KVM swiitch really helps when troubleshooting)

The system in its new home, right under the TV and home theater system.

Playing a DVD

Connecting the SoundBlaster Live! to the Sony Home Theater in a box worked fine.

in use
Watching Dish Network program guide, while running an xterm under KDE.

Running Freevo.  i mostly use Freevo for the easy access to movies, music and photos.  I  PVR shows with my Dish Network unit, but archive them to DVD on the system.  

A co-worker caught me saying without thinking "I have to rebuild the kernel on my VCR tonight" and reminded me that that isn't something you hear every day. I wish it was.  Wont  it be nice when all our appliances run on open source software?
What started out as a fun hack has turned out to be a very usable system.   Having access to TV, Internet, photos, videos, KDE, a DVD burner, and a shell on one system is extremely convenient.  

This page was completely created and edited on the "VCRVO" with  Jalbum and Nvu.