My new favorite: MythTV

For years I have been playing around with all kinds of computer based TV and multi-media solutions and toys: Windows MCE in its various editions from 2004 to Vista, early versions of MythTV and proprietary stuff. Until now none of these where really at a point where they were actually useful for a family room:

While Windows did have a reasonable UI from the start, the fact that it recorded to a highly proprietary format with nasty DRM implication was a deal-killer right from the start. Some of the tuner-cards (like ATI) attempted to mitigate this by bundling plugins for MPEG-2 conversion, but these were implemented rather clumsily and had frequent failures.

MythTV was – until recently – also more of a geek toy: nice for my lab or office, but nothing I could really throw at my family. Now, with the 0.20 config found in the Gutsy release of Mythbuntu, MythTV takes a rather large leap towards usability. 

  • The UI is basically usable and driver support (especially for the tuner cards) is becoming acceptable. I am using an WinTV HVR-950 USB stick now with my digital-over-the-air setup and there is not a lot more I could ask for in terms of device support.

  • The proprietary NVidia drivers are good enough and support the motion extensions that are needed to offload motion processing to the GPU.

  • For audio, I require at the very least S/PDIF support (mostly for lossy Dolby Digital, but there is no other format like e.g. MLP being used for digital TV at this time), which has been quite painful, but ultimately doable.

  • There seems to be decent remote support, but I am right now still fighting with my old ATI Remote Wonder (I think that I will cave in here at some point in time though).

The by far most important factor for family room usability for me is RTC wakeup: I could not near having a computer with its nasty fans running all the time. Enter ACPI controlled RTC wakeup: using a couple of scripts[1], I was able to make the MythTV box boot up in time for any show that I wanted to record. Very cool.

One thing that I was fighting with in the end was a problem with the way MythTV could be shut down automatically after an unattended recording session. For this, MythTV provides mythwelcome(1) which is a helper program to start the MythTV frontend[2]. The trick that made is work for me was to instruct[3] mythwelcome(1) to not start mythfrontend(1) automatically: This overcomes a problem with session management in Ubuntu and mythwelcome, and allows the box to shutdown automatically after it completed recording.

Bottom line is that I am quite happy with my MythTV box for now.

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[1] There are quite a few of tutorials on ACPI wakup out there, many using nvram-wakeup. Discard all these, and only use those centered on /proc/acpi/alarm, instead (if you can).

[2]  Mythbuntu Gutsy is actually quite smart about using mythwelcome(1): You only need to go into /etc/mythtv/session-settings and enable the welcome shell. No need to change the script.

[3] Press the ‘i’ key while in mythwelcome(1) to configure this.

One thought

  1. Welcome to the community. 🙂 I’ve been using MythTV until recently. Unfortunately, support for DVB is a nightmare to set up and I had to switch to VDR when analog TV was switched off in my home country a few months ago. VDR looks much uglier but is just as usable and has a few unique features like being able to record multiple channels at once with one TV tuner.

    I don’t understand what your issue is with the remote control? Anyway, I bought a Logitech Harmony a while ago when I got tired of handling three RCs at once. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the Harmony though. It’s much easier to set up than other remotes but the usage concept is something for computer geeks.

    I’d definitely recommend to use nvram-wakeup if you can. It supports very few motherboards however and ACPI is the only realistic choice in most cases. ACPI has the disadvantage that it can’t deal with dates, i.e. it starts your PC at least once every 24 hours. That’s not a big issue since the system shuts down immediately again when it’s idle, but it’s just not perfect. 🙂

    I’m not actually using Mythbuntu but that’s because it wasn’t around, at least not in a workable state, when I got started. I have a Kubuntu Gutsy box running now with kdm disabled. I’m just starting an X11 server and twm (yuck, but fvwm2 was crashing VDR) with an upstart script. Upstart is quite nice, BTW, even though I think daemontools and Solaris SMF have the superior concept.

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