Pi video recorder with MiniDVBLinux

Valery Kachaev, 123RF

Home Recording


The Raspberry Pi is commonly used as a media center with programs like OpenELEC and Kodi. The Pi can also be used as an excellent video recorder.

The free and non-commercial software VDR (Video Disc Recorder), [1], from Klaus Schmidinger can be used to convert a traditional PC into a digital TV receiver with an easily programmable video recorder. VDR is also available for Single Board Computers like the Raspberry Pi. The program has a range of useful features. For example, it can be controlled using a TV remote control, a web browser, or a smartphone app. It can also handle time shift and streaming, as well as administering multiple signal sources.

Like most Linux distributions, Raspbian already comes with the packages required for basic video recording. However you're going to have an easier time using a specialty VDR distribution, as installation is simple and they have more extensive driver support for various hardware hardware. The miniDVBLinux distribution MLD [2] which is maintained by Claus Muus, is a great choice. Setting up a digital video recorder doesn't get any easier than it does with MLD. This distribution also has a fork specifically designed for use on the Raspberry Pi (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The interface for the software is reminiscent of the terminals in a well known Sci-Fi series.

Test Setup

In our test setup, we received our television signal via satellite. After studying the Wiki, we decided on the DVB-S2 receiver S960 USB from DVBSky [7]. A power supply, one USB cable and a remote control were included in the delivery. The total price came to about US$60.00 .


In theory, you can install VDR on every Raspberry Pi model. In practice however, it's better to use second or third generation Raspberry Pis for this project. The increase in performance between the two models is fairly negligible at first, but the Raspberry Pi 3 is a better choice, as the extra system resources are useful when you start to add plugins.

You will also need an active USB hub with its own power supply. Try to find a PSU of 2 or better yet 2.5 A. Many errors that crop up when running VDR are caused by unstable voltage.

Naturally, you will need a DVB receiver to connect to the Pi's USB port. The choice of receiver will depend on how you receive TV signals. You can receive land-based signals (DVB-T), as well as signals transmitted via cable (DVB-C) or via satellite (DVB-S). There are a large number of devices available in the marketplace. The MLD website has an information exchange forum for members who are interested in these devices. There's also a Wiki [3] with information about compatible hardware for each kind of signal.

The MLD installation files are on the project website [4]. The site has an area for older Raspberry Pis as well as for models 2 and 3. Select the category that matches your Raspberry Pi, download the compressed file (happily it is only 15 MBytes) and decompress it on your computer. Do not be surprised at the small size; the archive does not contain the complete distribution. The installer will download all the remaining files when it runs.

Copy the file to a memory card, formatted to FAT32. If you are using a brand new SD card then it should already be formatted this way. Otherwise most operating systems have an option for suitably formatting the storage medium. If you don't have a card reading device for your computer, many digital camera, smartphones and tablets can also format cards to FAT32.


Insert the formatted card into your Raspberry Pi which and connect it to a television with an HDMI cable. Next, connect the DVB receiver and a network cable. Finally plug in the power supply. Don't worry if you don't have a keyboard and mouse as you can set up VDR via your web browser on a laptop or PC.

You'll see dialog field appear on the television. It is in German, but it is pretty easy to understand. It gives you two choices: Live-Test and Installieren (Installation). This means that the web interface is already running on the Raspberry Pi. The title line of the dialog field contains the address, for instance: Bitte rufe das Webinterface unter oder wähle eine Aktion means that you can visit the web interface at (note that IP will probably be different for your network) or select an option.

At this point you can decide whether to proceed with the installation using a connected keyboard and the dialog fields on the television, or whether you prefer to use the web interface. We recommend the latter, it is easier and you can change the installation to English by clicking on the little German flag at the bottom of the screen. You can access the interface by going to the web browser of a PC or Notebook and navigating to the address in the dialog field above.

If you decide to use the web interface, the installation will once again offer you the choice between a live test and installing VDR to the SD card (Figure 2). The live test loads all of the necessary software components into working memory and starts applications from there. Select Install to permanently install VDR on the memory card.

Figure 2: The installation routine lets you configure the software using a neat and tidy web interface.

The installer will take some time analyzing the available hardware and will than ask you to choose the type of installation you want. For example, the program lets you operate the Raspberry Pi simply as a video server which streams television signals to one or more receivers. In our case, the Raspberry Pi VDR should function like a classic video recorder which transmits the image signal directly to the television via HDMI.

In order to do this, select standard-rpi as your chosen Collection. In addition, tick the check box marked Install on SD card. The system will warn you that it is overwriting all of the data on the card. Start the process by clicking once on Install (Figure 3). The installation routine now formats and partitions the memory card and also performs a basic installation.

Figure 3: To set up the Pi as a VDR system, select the standard rpi installation, choose to install to SD card, then click Install.

When done, the system will reboot. Prior to the restart, you can still choose between an automatic or customized configuration. The latter lets you select or de-select each of the components of the distribution as you see fit. The automatic configuration determines what components are needed for the hardware that it has recognized and installs the software accordingly. Although it does not install any plugins, these can be added later. For now, select automatic configuration and click Reboot.

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