Editorial: 2006-04-20

 

MythTV, a Hobby

 4/20/06 - It's time to reveal one hobby that I have, and give some impressions of it, so if others are interested, they can at least have some real-world impressions of what it's like.  That hobby is MythTV, basically a TiVo that I've built myself.

 I first encountered MythTV in early 2004. I had been toying with the idea of building a media center to serve music and videos to the rest of the computers in my house, and came across MythTV in my search.  Now, just to clarify, I only had one computer I was using, and  I was in an apartment, not a house.  But I was thinking about the future and what all I wanted to do when I did have a house.  By playing with the ideas now, I could be better prepared when I did have a house.

What I was looking for was some way to put all the files on a computer, and then be able to access them across the network, that was about it.  MythTV was so much more, and was free.  Besides just accessing files across the network, it also had the capability to run "Frontend" servers that could have a clean, simple UI.  These frontends would allow anyone to play music, or watch videos, without having to figure out what program to use to play them, or searching for them in the file structure.

All this was great, but it wasn't even the main goal of MythTV.  The original purpose was to provide a way to watch and record television, allowing the "Pause live TV" functionality made so famous by TiVo, ReplayTV, and Ultimate TV.  It is run on top of the free Linux operating system, and itself comes free of charge to anyone who wants to use it.  The only limitation is that you can't sell it to anyone else.  

I was impressed with the capabilities, but I didn't have the hardware required to use MythTV as a  VCR replacement, and I didn't want to purchase hardware when I knew my existing hardware would have to be replaced someday anyways.  I was planning on using leftover pieces as much as possible to see how it worked.  So I put together a simple machine, loaded it all up (using KnoppMyth) and got a basic, non-TV version running on an old computer I had in my closet.  It worked alright, but couldn't handle much more than music and low-quality video.  Le Sigh.

 Later in June 2004,  I upgraded my main computer, and put the old motherboard and memory into the "Mythbox."  This was a big improvement.  I could play music and video without it bogging down the system completely, but still no TV.  Now that it looked more promising, I invested in a slightly better soundcard (I think it was $10), and went and got a hardware-encoding TV tuner, the PVR250.  That was around $100, but what it would allow me to do would be worth the cost, at least to me.

Since my existing video card had TV out, I decided an upgrade would be doubly useful, so I upgraded that, and was able to now hook my MythTV up to the TV, and use the remote control.  It took a little tweaking, but by this time newer versions of MythTV and KnoppMyth had come out, and things were flowing more smoothly everytime. I received a new hard drive as a present, and put that in the Mythbox, along with my old hard drive from my main computer when I upgraded that to a 40GB drive.

It's been a while since I upgraded MythTV, I'm not on the latest version, but haven't seen the need.  It does everything I need to, including automatic commercial detection, and skipping during playback, and works pretty well.  I use it with the over-the-air signal, and even though the picture can be grainy on some channels, it works suprisingly well.

My wife Carolyn uses it without any issue, and we've both grown quite accustomed to it.  No longer slaves to the TV schedule, we set the Mythbox to record shows we want to see, and then watch them when we have the time.  It's a total change to your TV lifestyle, and it's hard for me to watch TV at other people's houses because of the lack of control that it means.

 The total cost for building the Mythbox has been more than a TiVo, but the feature set is much more impressive, and the abilities will only continue to grow as time passes.  The real benefit will come when someday we have a house, and I have multiple machines around the house that can watch or listen to whatever they want (as long as we have it), whenever they want, without any hassle.  I'm really looking forward to that.

 -Luke


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