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MythTV Revelations

2005-08-24 19:57:40.983951+00 by Shawn 7 comments

I've been working on setting up a MythTV[Wiki] box for the last year or so. After saving up for some of the parts (a Hauppauge PVR-350 TV encoder, a 200gb hard drive, etc.) and a couple of install attempts I discovered that the extra computer I had wasn't fast enough - the "live" TV paused every so often as it spooled to the hard drive.

A couple of days ago, I finished all the troubleshooting, installation and configuration with a new-used Compaq Deskpro and plugged it in to the TV. Overall the end result was a bit of a let-down.

While it's cool to finally see everything on my TV after all this time, the output is not anywhere near the clarity I'd expected from an S-Video connection. The video stream is a bit grainy but watchable The menus on the other hand are so fuzzy that it's nearly impossible to make out the name of the shows in the program guide.

Furthermore, it has now been revealed that I can't record a show while watching anything else (e.g. live TV or a pre-recorded show) with only one TV encoder card installed. I've never felt the documentation was clear on this point, but one of the reasons I opted for the higher-end PVR-350 was because it handles both encoding and decoding. I reasoned that this meant it would be able to record while watching. I was wrong.

So once again, I've set up a MythTV box only to be delayed by a disappointment/obstacle. I'm not giving up yet (I have some ideas to try to improve the output quality and I'm looking at buying another card), but definately feeling frustrated.

[ related topics: Free Software Technology and Culture Open Source Television Shawn's Life Linux ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-24 20:39:25.799461+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

For those who are interested, here's the specs for my MythTV[Wiki] box:

I've been following, and contributing to, this HOWTO.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-24 23:36:35.262591+00 by: meuon

Synergy: I got my PVR-350 card about 10 days ago, converting a 2.6ghz 512mb Celeron Desktop into a MythTV box using KnoppMyth. (I also tried MythDora) - I'm using the S-Video out for both the X-Server and Video playback.. It's not perfect, but I've been pleased with it so far. I got incredibly better video output using the Badzzzz IVTV drivers, and am recording from either the Tuner and Composite Video.

My picture, on a large Sony rear-projection TV is a little different from live, but you can't really tell unless I put the live in side by side with the delayed playback. My X-Windows is fairly clear and usable. Web pages are readable unless the fonts are very small. I also spend some time re-sizing my windows and settings..

And.. I bought a really nice bluetooth Gyration mini-keyboard and air-gyro mouse which has been pretty nice for couch computer use. It would've been much cheaper in the short and long run to buy a Tivo, but not near as educational.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-25 19:45:13.241831+00 by: Shawn

I just read yesterday about using the S-Video out on the 350 (forgot it was there). Sounds like setting it up might be just at the edge of my twiddling-Linux comfort level. Managing X-servers is still one of my weakest areas.

I hadn't tweaked X for my TV as a monitor, though, and I'm hoping that will help. I'm thinking initially I'll try to set up a better configuration through my video card and later see about using the 350 instead. It is supposed to be a much clearer picture.

And I eventually realized that I can use a splitter and set the box up on the Video1 input (which it was anyway). That way we can watch TV while it's recording and just switch to Video1 to watch recorded stuff. The only thing we lose is convenient, constant access to pause and rewind live TV - but that wasn't a feature we were planning on using anyway. The only remaining question is; will it record scheduled shows while we're playing back something previously recorded?

meuon, how did your lirc configuration go? I never did get it to work in MythTV last time, and this time only the numbers are recognized - but itw recognizes all the buttons.

I downloaded what is supposed to the ~/.mythtv/lircrc file for my remote, but on loading Myth says the file is not a recognized format. (Yet it still recognizes the number buttons - go figure.)

And I'm jealous over your keyboard and mouse ;-)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-28 00:29:35.697437+00 by: meuon

I'm not using lirc yet, but I will, soon, I hope. So far, my MythTV usage has been limited to normal channels. I've only recorded... uh.. 8 shows so far, and have only watched one of them.

I'm a little weird about this compared to most people. Any good movie I want to see enough to record it, I'll typically just buy the DVD, so recording the premium channels at less then perfect quality is not my goal. If I buy the DVD, I get 5.1 sound plus some extra (directors notes, trailers, etc..). A lot of the movies on Stars and such are good enough to watch: once.

I was really more interested in playing with the technology.. and watching some TV shows either without ads, or just the last few minutes of, and you'll laugh: I'll probably figure out how to make a buck or two at it as well.

---- Memories: Once upon a time, I worked on an X-ray system that had a 5mb hard drive that was used for video storage and playback.. about 10-15 seconds worth, pure analog video frames written, in analog, to the drive. It was the same system used for instant reply at major sporting events. Cost: $25k++

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-29 05:07:54.870539+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

Oh, I'm not laughing. I read late last year about a guy who's become the on-demand cable provider for his neighbors using MythTV. He bought a wholesale cable feed (like the hotels get) and put together some massive storage. He's got every episode of SpongeBob ever broadcast (for example).

The more I thought about it, the more I realized (remembered) that the reason I wanted to set up a MythTV[Wiki] box was to break out of the channel-surfing-couch-potato trap. My goal is to stop watching live TV entirely - which typically degenerates into looking for something to watch and then getting sucked into something I really didn't care that much about, but it was there when I had time and felt like watching something. (So, yes, that means my issue with not being able to record while watching live TV has just gone away.)

I'm not generally one for tinkering with new technology just for tinkering-sake - I need to have some issue I'm trying to address. So, yeah, I could've just gotten a TiVo, but I liked MythTV's feature set and the direction they are going - and I wanted to see how hard it would be to do. It's been an adventure and I've learned a lot about working with devices and troubleshooting hardware issues in Linux[Wiki]. On that count, I'm very happy.

I got the LIRC issue resolved: Turned out (as I had a sneaking suspicion it was) to be DOS-style line breaks. Found myself a great little utility called flip which fixed that right up.

There's no problem watching recorded shows while recording another either, so the box is now doing full service on our entertainment center (pictures coming). I did manage to get a little clearer output but there are still portions of the interface that are unreadable, so I'll be pursuing the PVR-350 output route. Besides providing a crisper picture, it'll let me use the hardware decoder to ease the load on my cpu during playback.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-31 13:32:31.176256+00 by: Shawn

Update: It's been several days now and I'm finding I'm gonna need to get on the job of moving the output to the Hauppauge decoder. The CPU is pretty constantly under heavy load - even when it's not recording it's flagging commercials and transcoding the video. Playback is still watchable, but suffers a bit from occasional hitches.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-11 04:29:15.038815+00 by: meuon

Issue: 100gb of /myth is not enough if you don't go back to actually watch, and then delete what you told it to record. Of course, I'm doing hi-quality, and it ate some hard drive space in a hurry. Time to think about WHY am I doing this? - Oh, because I can. - I have to admit watching a few shows skipping over the ads and BS filler is pretty kewl. Nancy and I watched 3 shows in under 30 minutes the other night.