MythTV

Why

We had a TiVo for quite some time. We started with a Philips HDR112 Series 1 TiVo, which I upgraded with a TiVoNET board and two 120GB hard drives (which I later upgraded to two 300GB hard drives). Until you have a TiVo, you cannot appreciate how much better a TiVo is than a VCR.

However, the Series 1 TiVo had some shortcomings. It did not allow us to

While some of these shortcomings were addressed with the Series 2 TiVo running the Home Media Option, I did not want to upgrade to the Series 2 TiVo only to solve some of these shortcomings. Since MythTV appeared to address all of TiVo's shortcomings, I decided to give MythTV a try.

Now, MythTV is used for all our home media needs. We have retired our TiVo, Lansonic DAS-750 and Turtle Beach AudioTron AT-100.

What

MythTV is split into two parts: the backend and the frontend. The backend schedules and records the programs. The frontend plays back the recorded programs as well as other media on the network. There can be one or more backends and one or more frontends. If there is more than one backend, then one backend is designated the master backend for the purpose of storing data and managing resources. Frontends and backends can be run on the same computer or on separate computers.

Our MythTV setup has one backend and one frontend per television (currently two).

MythTV Master Backend

I set up the MythTV master backend to run on our server.

Hardware

I added 3 single tuner Hauppauge PVR-250 MCE cards for receiving and MPEG2 encoding NTSC analog cable television programs. These cards require the IVTV drivers. Like the other MythTV related packages I am using, RPM packages for these drivers are available from ATrpms.

Later, once they became available, I purchased 3 single tuner Broadband Technologies AirStar-HD5000-PCI cards for receiving unencrypted digital ATSC (both 8PSK and QAM modulation) programs. I purchased 3 so that I would have spare broadcast flag free hardware just in case support of the broadcast flag becomes a legal requirement. Since our server had only 3 PCI slots, I replaced one Hauppauge PVR-250 MCE card with one Broadband Technologies AirStar-HD5000-PCI card.

When I upgraded our server, I lost one PCI slot. As a result, I replaced the Broadband Technologies AirStar-HD5000-PCI with a SiliconDust HDHomeRun networked digital television tuner. Since the HDHomeRun has two tuners, the backend has two ATSC tuners.

At the same time I added the Hauppauge PVR-250 MCE cards, I added two Maxtor DiamondMax 10 300GB SATA hard drives for storing MythTV recorded programs. In order to reduce the chance of losing recorded programs (once, we lost all the recorded programs on our TiVo when one of the hard drives failed), the drives are in a RAID 1 configuration.

When I upgraded our server, I upgrade the two DiamondMax 10 hard drives to two Seagate Barracuda ES ST3750640NS 750GB SATA 3.0Gbps hard drives.

Eventually, because these 750GB drives began to run out of space, I ugraded the two Seagate Barracuda ES ST3750640NS drivers to two Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EADS 2TB SATA 3.0Gbps hard drives.

Software

I set up the MythTV backend software using Jarod's Guide as a starting point. I use yum to download all the MythTV related software packages from ATrpms. This includes mythtv-setup, mythtv-backend, mythtv-frontend (needed for commercial flagging) and mythweb.

MythTV Frontend

Hardware

Initially, I ran the frontend on VIA EPIA motherboards. I chose these boards because they have models that support

Initially, before the VIA EPIA SP motherboards were available, I used the VIA EPIA M motherboards. The VIA EPIA M motherboards have the VIA CLE266, which supports SDTV MPEG2 decoding. I used the VIA EPIA ME6000 because it is fanless. The VIA EPIA SP motherboards have the VIA CN400, which is claimed to support HDTV MPEG2 decoding (but not under GNU/Linux). I use the VIA EPIA SP8000E because it is fanless.

In addition to the VIA EPIA M and SP motherboards, I have experimented with the Commell LV-667 motherboard. The Commell LV-667 motherboard is attractive, because it supports DVI-D and HDTV component output. However, since these motherboards require a fan and an extra connector for digital audio output, I still prefer the VIA EPIA SP boards.

In addition, I considered buying either a VIA EPIA EN motherboard or a VIA EPIA CN motherboard because they have faster fanless microprocessors and the VIA CN700. However, instead of being an improvement, the CN700 appears to be a major step backward. Therefore, I will not be getting either of these motherboards.

Rather, if I were to have a need for a new fanless Mini-ITX form factor system, then I would likely get the ZOTAC IONITX-B-E. With NVIDIA's VDPAU capable proprietary drivers, this motherboard supports HDTV playback, making is superior to the VIA based Mini-ITX solutions.

In addition to the Mini-ITX form factor motherboards, I have two MicroATX for factor motherboards: the ASUS M2NPV-VM. and the ASUS M3N78-VM These motherboards are attractive because they have supported DVI-D output, SDTV/HDTV output and NVidia video. In addition, they support relatively powerful processors (I am using an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ (Venice core) and an AMD Athlon X2 4850e (Brisbane core)), making the MythTV frontend more responsive. However, the MicroATX form factor is large compared to the Mini-ITX form factor, and these motherboards require a fan. This is not as bad as it first appears, because the case is still no larger than typical stereo equipment, and because the fans can to large a slow moving making them relatively quite. In fact, these two systems make less noise than the fanless VIA EPIA SP8000E system that I have.

AMD has promised good Open Source Linux graphics drivers. When this becomes a reality for their newer graphics hardware, I would like to experiment with an AMD (AMD CPU + AMD (ATI) graphics) based frontend.

In addition, Intel has promised lower power CPUs and good Open Source Linux graphics drivers. When this becomes a reality at a reasonable price point, I would like to experiment with an Intel (Intel CPU + Intel graphics) based frontend.

For a Mini-ITX case, I use a Casetronic Travla C137-90W. While I like this case, I wish that the front did have a USB port and did not have a Compact Flash slot.

For a MicroATX case, I use an Antec NSK2480. If I were to build a MythTV frontend located where a LCD display would be useful, then I would use the Antec Fusion Black.

Initially, I used the Ira-3 universal IR remote control receiver. However, in one of our environments, we were having trouble with the IR reception. Therefore, I switched to the Microsoft Windows Media Center IR Remote Control. The Microsoft Windows Media Center IR Remote Control had better IR reception. Second, it connected to the computer using USB interface rather than serial interface, allowing the computer to detect and configure this remote control automatically. Third, it supported waking the computer from S3 sleep as long as the motherboard supports waking from S3 sleep. Finally, I have tried a DViCO Fusion Remote MCE, which works well and is less expensive but is not as comfortable to hold.

Hardware Recommendations

After all the experimenting, I recommend the following hardware for the MythTV frontend.

If the frontend is in a relatively small room (e.g., a bedroom, a den or a workout room), then it can be paired with the Logitech Z-5500 5.1 Speakers and a 37" LCD TV to form a complete system. With this setup, you have a complete, fully digital, fully networked home entertainment center for under $3000.

Software

I run MiniMyth on the motherboards. At this time, I am the main developer of MiniMyth. As a result, MiniMyth works on all my hardware and does everything I need.