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MythTV   -   2005/06/02Viewed 384 times this month, last update: 2008/12/09

I have wanted the capability to record video to compressed computer files for years. I have come close, with a TV capture card and ffmpeg, but not quite. The quality was poor, and it maxxed out my CPU, making my workstation unusable for work.

Fearing the upcoming HDTV broadcast flag, I recently bought a pcHDTV card, which captures HDTV signals, and decodes the MPEG video stream within. Capturing video from a device that generates a MPEG stream is very easy, since it's just a copy operation for the computer, storing the data to disk, rather than trying to compress each of the 30 image frames per second. Well, since only CBS is broadcast in HDTV where I live, the card isn't terribly useful yet.

But owning the card piqued my interest, so I researched the state of hardware compression cards for Linux, and found that the Hauppauge PVR-150/250/350 cards are fully supported, and inexpensive. I was able to find a PVR-150 card at CompUSA in Mission Viejo for just over $100. I also found out that the Motorola DCT2000 digital cable decoder box I get from Cox Communications is also supported by Linux, in that control of channel changing can be accomplished with a small program (that comes with MythTV, in contrib/dct-channel) that talks to the DCT2000's serial control port via a standard DB9 serial cable.

That was all it took. I installed MythTV, and configured the PVR-150 and channel changing program for my cable box in about one hour. With very little effort, I now had a fully capable PVR in my Linux desktop. A $100 200GB drive later I had oodles of recording space. (100 hours of normal TV at high quality!) All that, coupled with my DVD burner means I can keep any show I want forever.

It takes some getting used to, given that I'm very used to the Tivo interface, but it works very well, and even has several features a Tivo box does not, my favorite of which is: It's client-server. This means that the server program sits in the background recording shows while you use your computer for other things. When you want to watch a show, you startup the client, and go. And it gets even better: You can have multiple clients! So you can connect to the server on your desktop from your laptop in bed, or on the couch. MythTV also supports both the PCR-150 and pcHDTV cards at the same time, and as many other cards as you can shove into your computer. With hardware compression cards, you could record a dozen shows at once! I still love my Tivo, and it's interface is more friendly, but the Tivo I own now will be the last one I ever buy, and it's days as the primary box in the living room are numbered. One last thing, for you doubters out there: MythTV has automatic commercial skipping, and it really works!

Update: 2008/12/09: High Definition!
As was suggested in the comments by Will, and due to some reading and experimenting I did, I went out and picked up Cox's HD cable box, the one with a firewire output port. Following this howto, it freaking works! Fantastic HD picture, and MythTV supports it directly. Man I love MythTV!

Matt Bell (2005-06-02): I'm using Snapstream's beyond TV on mine and love it. I also just got Comcast's HD DVR. It is a tough compromise to make though since the UI is dreadful and the hardware is slow and buggy. Given the options though, it does work and seeing shows in HD is totally worth the hassle of using the lousy platform since it can record 2 HD shows at a time and comcast has quite a few HD channels in my area.
They are showing all of the IMAX films on the inhd channels lately

Steve Kehlet (2005-06-03): Erik, that's awesome! I want to try it! If you find a nice, cheap PC and--especially--a decent remote control for remote Myth frontends, please post about it. I'm with Matt though, HDTV is a big hang up for me here... I want Myth + HDTV. I'm looking at defecting from Tivo and trying the Cox HDTV + PVR offering.

Erik (2005-06-03): When I went by the Cox office to pick up the second cable box for MythTV, I grabbed the pamphlet on the HDTV tuner they were offering. (Not the DVR) It is the Motorola DCT5100. It has three output modes, RCA, s-video and component. It should be possible to use a HD tuner card to use these outputs, although I think mine, the pcHDTV card only decodes HD signals from RF. However, the DCT5100 does have (wait for it...) a Firewire output port. I can't find anyone using it, but with the right social engineering at Cox, it could be made useful.

Will (2005-06-03): There are posts on macosx hints about using the firewire port to hook up to your mac to pull HDTV off of those boxes. Might be able to adapt that for linux.. its basically a standard DV stream.

Erik (2005-06-03): It's worth a shot!

See also: DVD Burning Under Linux


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