Sorry to hear about your bad experience with DirecTV. If they'd let you keep the Access Card and it'd been "offline" (and stayed off the Sat afterward) when you called you'd have still had access to your recordings. Might have given you at least a few days to dump the recordings to Tape/DVD before needing to send back the card.
Appreciate the heads up on the Windows Media Center (UTV similarities). I picked up a DTVPAL DVR which I've used very little but seems like a rather nice Standalone... Basically a glorified OSD/Program Guide activated VCR.