Ask the Technologist

I'd like to replace my VCR with a digital video recorder, but I don't want to pay TiVo or DirecTV a monthly fee. Is there a machine that fits the bill?

--Christopher Bird, Riner, Va.

Microsoft Media Center Edition PCs, which come from a variety of manufacturers like Dell, HP and Sony, should do the trick. Connect it to your cable box and you can record shows to the PC's hard drive, just as you would with TiVo. If you want to watch one live show while recording another, be sure to buy a dual-tuner Media Center.