About three weeks ago, my DVD recorder died. I was pretty grumpy, as it cost ~£100, even if it was a ‘cheapie’ from ASDA, and it will take millennia to decompose. Also, I was playing CD’s via it and it had the irritating habit of switching the audio to whatever tv channel it was tuned to whenever the CD finished – pretty jarring. So rather than buy a new DVD recorder and CD player to integrate into my home AV setup, I thought I’d build myself a MythTV box, which would also allow me to pause live tv, use a live programme guide, etc. I approached this with some trepidation, since MythTV is rumoured to be a pig to setup.
Short version of this; got it working, fantastic promise, but woeful documentation and still much promise unrealised. But what it can do, oh boy!
Samsung SyncMaster T200HD (already bought previously from the nice people at RicherSounds.co.uk)
Yamaha Amp (Nine years old now with only RCA and optical in – anything new I’d buy would have HDMI interface these days)
ASRock IONSTAR Atom 330 Nettop PC (White, as the black was out of stock and not likely to come back in stock at the same price, according to the nice man @LinITX)
Hauppauge Nova-T Stick
RF Wireless Mini Keyboard with Touchpad
I bought the Nova-T first, because it was £25 in PCWorld, and if I couldn’t get it working I hadn’t shelled out too much.
First of all, I plugged it into my Acer Aspire One netbook, and installed the Myth Backend and Myth Frontend packages. After about three hours mucking around I got the setup to view live Tv and another couple of hours got recording working. The most difficult thing I found was not the hardware but MythTV itself – the Nova-T was recognised by the 9:04 Ubuntu desktop install I had on the netbook. Random parts of the IR remote that came with the USB stick worked, but not completely enough to be useful. This was the last time the remote worked, and I’ve since given up on it.
Having proved the concept, I went shopping for the bits. I wanted something that was as likely to work together, and fit together as easily as possible, but also small and quiet. LinITX have been great on this in the past, so that was my first port of call, as all the stuff is most likely to work with Linux. I ended up with the ASRock because it came with everything built in – including HDMI, and optical out, which was something of a surprise. The downside was that there was no room in the box for a PCI style card (the usual way to do the TV tuner card, as the USB ones were historically flaky – this advice now seems superseded)- that’s OK, its one of the reasons I bought the USB one, but its one more thing that can get disconnected.
The box, when it arrived, is tiny – even smaller than the Shuttle PC’s. Its not quite entirely silent, but its certainly no louder than my DVD recorder was if left on standby, and no complaints from A, the cats or Fred!
I installed Mythbuntu 9.10 – risky given it was days after the release, but the OS went on smoothly, autoconfiguring a number of useful things, such as VNC, SSH, Samba access and prompting me that restricted source drivers were available (I’m sorry, I went for them. Can’t say it made that much of a difference, though), and kicking off the MythTV setup.
Setting up a working MythTV session is a lot of guesswork and headscratching, not everything is logged to the /var/log/mythtv/mythbackend file (or similar files in that dir), there are no manual pages for the Myth programs (but are for their perl scripts that pull in the listing data – bizarre), and the myth setup forces you to do all the work in the graphical frontend – which promptly didn’t scroll the output, so for interactive pages, it appeared to have hung. Major bug and PITA – I had to google for ways to turn off the full-screen aspect of the applications to regain mouse control on the ‘scroll bars’. You might be able to run these scripts manually – but good luck finding out what they are, or where, or how to invoke them. Its all possible, but you need to read the output, and the logs, and the commands with –help to get an idea of what is going on.
Myth backends are basically three parts; the TV tuner selection (mostly painless if you can see it with dmesg or lspci/lsusb etc), allowing you to have multiple tuners (nice touch, elegant, but introduces a lot of complexity), the channel selection (what channels are available, and wheer you get the listings information), and tying the two together. Yes, the last is a manual step, and the most likely to go wrong, in my experience.
The second, listings data is what caused me the largest amount of problems. The MythTV box was up and running within a couple of hours, but it took another week of late night hacking to get the listings data to both appear on screen, and in the schedule database (this worked fine in 9.04, perhaps bugs were introduced in the 9.10 version?). The idea is you get the listings data from either over the air info, or another xml source. I ended up needing to configure mine to get both – as with just the EIT (over the air), there was no schedule info for recordings, and with just the XML (from the Radio Times, thank you Auntie Beeb!), there was no listings info on the interface. Most bizzare.
Useful command to read the help for here is mythfilldatabase – use the ‘-v all’ flag, and watch the output closely. Also, check your ~/.mythtv directory contents. If your Mythfilldatabase is failing every night, try running it with the –update flag, and again, watching the output closely (there’s a lot). I had to delete the ‘community channel’ (whatever that is) from my channels file as the xmltv perl modules have a bug in the Mythbuntu 9.10 release that errored out on this (which caused the whole process to fail with non-obvious errors). Developers! I should not have to consider running strace on your app! Use syslog, FFS!
Websites & tutorials that were helpful were;
MythTV Ubuntu Installation Guide (This is what got me started and pointed me at helpful docs – thanks!)
‘Ethics Gradient’s guie t MythTV DVB setup (gotta love another Iain Banks fan!)
‘Mythic Beasts’ MythTV Setup
The Ubuntu Forums (I never actually posted a question, but felt I could have done, other people had had similar problems).
Don’t bother with the MythTV site – the documentation used a custom HTML presentation that takes up a third of the screen with useless borders, and gives you no diagnostic info, and makes lots of assumptions as to your knowledge.
So what’s cool about it?
Well, having a box that records live TV, can have multiple tuners, and records TV programs in a format I can copy off and watch on the laptop, with a pretty GUI that A. can use, that also plays DVD’s is cool in and of itself.
Its open source, so at least I *can* troubleshoot it.
There are a number of cool keys to control aspects of playback if you’re using a keyboard. Most people use some kind of media centre remote, but the keyboard works find for us now. I have a bluetooth remote on order that should relegate the keyboard to advanced functions only (don’t recommend the keyboard I bought actually, the RF interface is lossy/subject to interference – last thing you need when trying to type terminal commands and not having every key press register..).
Built in ad detection and a keypress to skip – works too!
Records both TV and Radio.
MythMusic plugin – can import to Ogg, mp3 or FLAC – seriously thinking about re-importing all my worthwhile music as FLAC. playlist functionality takes a little getting used to, but better with MythWeb (see below). Seriously needs a playlist importing tool. Album art appears to be broken – I copied across a load of FLAC I’d added art to, that it didn’t see. The Myth Docs for this are actually pretty good.
MythBackup plugin – save programs to DVD, to play in any DVD player (not tested this).
MythVideo – play any video files you might have around the place (say, DivX..).
Backend/frontend seperation. You can install just the frontend, point it at an existing backend, and use it over the network, inc streaming. Not tried this, interested to over VPN..
Remote controllable via telnet interface – there is a Android app for this, amongst others. Had issues getting it working, so stay tuned (hah! See what I did there?).
DVD import - not tested this yet, but should be able to rip DVD’s into the internal video library like you would a CD.
MythWeb – this turns the whole experience from great to awesome. An HTTP interface that allows you to control the box, book & delete recordings,stream or download recorded progams or music. Makes searching the listings & booking easier than using the remote, not that that is particularly hard. Can be password protected (although this means the http user/pass is needed for every streaming file – a problem in a music playlist), so I may make this available via the router for use outside the home..
MythExport - a plugin that transcodes the files into mp3/ogg, or iPod sized video if requested after the program is recorded and creates an RSS feed for the resulting file. Having problems getting this working, but sweet if it does – all those Radio 4 programs I miss because BBC doesn’t podcast them yet, I can grab and create my own podcast feed of!
MythVodka – a plugin that is a wrapper around iPlayer. Again, not got this working (but not tried yet), so…
Its a server in its own right. So I can run podcastamatic on it, use screen for multiple remote sessions, and generally do anything I can with a Linux desktop.