Building a PVR project

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Building a PVR project

Post by Void Main » Fri Sep 15, 2006 6:56 pm

I just picked up a used Compaq slimline desktop from work for 40 bucks. It came with a 15GB drive and 512MB of RAM. I took the drive out and put in the voidmain web server and put 256MB of the RAM in another server that needed it. I pulled my DVDRW drive out of my main desktop and swapped out the CD that came in it and stuck a 250GB hard drive I had in my external USB storage case I was using for backups. I ordered a Hauppauge 350 card that just arrived today and stuck in it and now I am in the process of installing Fedora Core 5 and then I'll install MythTV v0.20. This should make a really nice PVR, will let you know how things go. This is what I should end up with:

http://www.mythtv.org/modules.php?name=MythFeatures

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Post by worker201 » Fri Sep 15, 2006 10:25 pm

After reading about PVRs on Wikipedia, I have some questions. What kind of TV service do you have? Analog, digital, satellite? The wikipedia article lists some very interesting things about copy protection and set-top boxes.

My base understanding is that the signal comes in through the card, goes through the processor, and then straight to the hard drive. RAM in this case would act as a buffer, in case one of the pipes gets backed up, right? Wouldn't more RAM be better?

If this goes smoothly, I could see trying it out myself. There's hundreds of thousands of cheapo desktop boxes out there that can be had for spare change. Too bad I don't watch any TV!

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Post by Void Main » Fri Sep 15, 2006 10:36 pm

I'm not a big TV watcher either but what the heck, I can do it for pretty cheap. A guy I work with has been running MythTV for a while now and has been telling me how cool it is so I couldn't resist. From what I understand 256MB should be plenty. I have analog cable. The machine will also get the weather, store movies, burn DVDs, etc. In fact I should be able to transfer my old VCR home movies to DVD through it. There are all sorts of cool plugins for some very cool things.

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Post by Void Main » Sat Sep 16, 2006 6:17 pm

I'll tell you one thing. Getting things to work isn't the easiest job in the world but I do have the core features pretty much figured out and working. There is a very nice HOWTO for FC5 + MythTV here:

http://wilsonet.com/mythtv/

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Post by Void Main » Sun Sep 17, 2006 4:57 pm

Ok, I have most of the kinks worked out and I am quite impressed with the results. I have to give warning though. It was quite a job going from "never having used Myth" to getting a fully functional Myth box built and get a good comfort level for how everything works. It basically took me the entire weekend even using that nice step by step tutorial. Of course most of that time was just getting familiar with how Myth works and how to tweak things like remote control assignments to getting the size and position of the video output to the TV right.

Once you get everything working though it's extremely easy to use and has some very cool features. You can play music, view your pictures, play videos, get your news and weather, rip CDs and DVDs, record TV, play/pause/rewind live TV, etc, etc. It has a web interface where you can browse the channel listings and click to schedule recordings. You can even view your weather, pictures, and play your music via this web interface. There are a lot of other modules out there to do all kinds of things.

There are a couple of things I have found that would be neat if it had but it doesn't like being able to start your music playing while viewing a slideshow of your pictures. It seems you can only use one module at a time and not mix them. I have a feeling this will be possible at some point in the future. At any rate, I am very happy with the results. Now I should probably pick up another TV card or two so I can watch TV and record something else at the same time, or do picture in picture, or record multiple shows simultaneously, etc...

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Post by worker201 » Mon Sep 18, 2006 12:02 am

That's awesome that you got it working, makes me think it might be possible for me to do someday.

So: the tv tuner card you bought costs $150, and the computer you picked up for $50. Plus the cost of a 250GB hard drive and a whole weekend of messing around. I can't help but notice that a TiVO system with 80GB of storage that can record 2 channels at once is only $250 right out of the box at BestBuy. Aside from the crappy proprietary lockout fiasco, are you really getting a good deal here? While MythTV under Linux will probably give you more control and more options over the long run, is it wise to ignore the money value of the TiVO system? Please comment.

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Post by Void Main » Mon Sep 18, 2006 9:05 am

worker201 wrote:That's awesome that you got it working, makes me think it might be possible for me to do someday.

So: the tv tuner card you bought costs $150, and the computer you picked up for $50. Plus the cost of a 250GB hard drive and a whole weekend of messing around. I can't help but notice that a TiVO system with 80GB of storage that can record 2 channels at once is only $250 right out of the box at BestBuy. Aside from the crappy proprietary lockout fiasco, are you really getting a good deal here? While MythTV under Linux will probably give you more control and more options over the long run, is it wise to ignore the money value of the TiVO system? Please comment.
Well I actually got the card for $129 off of Amazon but if you don't need TV-OUT you can get a much cheaper one. The 150 I think you can get for around $70. If your video card has TV-OUT you can use that. In fact there are advantages to using a regular video card like being able to do GL, etc. Also, I only paid $40 for the old machine but I took the drive and memory out for other uses so I only used ~<$20 worth of the machine on the PVR. Of course I did get 384MB of used memory from Amazon to put back in it for $12. I also swapped out my DVD+-RW drive from my main desktop so might tack on another $20 there. I don't remember what I gave for the drive but it was a Tiger Direct special so I know I got it for very cheap but yeah figure about the price of a Tivo.

Now, I've never used a Tivo so I don't know exactly what it's capabilities are however there are several reasons I can think of that make the home brew version a better deal.

1) You have to pay a monthly subscribtion fee for Tivo (~$12/mo).
2) MythTV is completely customizable
3) all the non-TV related plugins available for MythTV
4) Not sure if Tivo has the web interface but I am finding that to be an EXTREMELY cool feature of MythTV
5) I would never ever use a Tivo considering how they spit on the spirit of the GPL.
6) It's cool knowing I built it myself

I also back up all my important data from all my other machines (web server, laptop, desktops) to this PVR box. A cron job + rsync keeps a nice second copy of my data. This only takes up about 30G of the 250G on the PVR.

There is a lot of info on the comparisons out there:
http://www.google.com/search?q=comparis ... v+and+tivo

This guy has written a lot of nice MythTV articles:
http://www.oreillynet.com/articles/author/692

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Post by Void Main » Wed Sep 20, 2006 8:32 am

I was playing around with all the OSD (On Screen Display) themes and none of them were set up exactly how I liked. When I change/browse channels I wanted to see the channel number, the call sign, the title, content description, time, etc laid out in a certain way. I used the "isthmus" theme as a base because it was very close and then just hacked the osd.xml to arrange everything where I wanted it and sized the way I wanted it. Very cool!

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Post by Void Main » Wed Sep 20, 2006 11:20 am

This thread was getting way off the topic that I wanted it to be so I started a new topic and put all the off-topic posts there. It's not a big deal because I find the off-topic comments interesting but I just wanted to keep this thread more on the technical side. Here's the new thread:

http://voidmain.is-a-geek.net/forums/vi ... php?t=1878

Thanks!

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Post by Void Main » Wed Sep 20, 2006 11:54 am

For anyone using MythTV and wants to use my isthmus OSD modifications:

http://voidmain.is-a-geek.net/files/myt ... 0.20-1.tgz

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Post by Void Main » Thu Sep 21, 2006 12:04 pm

I have just heard some more information about Tivo that makes me glad I didn't buy one. From what I understand in addition to the other things I mentioned before (monthly subscription fee, etc) it won't burn your recordings to DVD, at least not on the base model. It also won't skip commercials because as it honors the broadcast flags. That alone would remove it from the list of viable options in my book.

Myth does a fine job of burning recorded videos to disk, and without commercials, automatically (if you configured your settings to automatically skip commercials). I burned my first DVD last night of a recording and it worked great. It has a great interface for selecting videos, selecting the encoding options (SP/LP/EP, etc) and it creates a nice menu on the DVD for you from a selectable theme. I was actually shocked at how powerful yet easy this process was.

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Post by ZiaTioN » Thu Sep 21, 2006 3:46 pm

Damnit Void! I think I am going to have to do this now...

One question, where does MythTV get it's guide info from?

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Post by Void Main » Thu Sep 21, 2006 5:03 pm

It uses xmltv to get the data from here:

http://www.zap2it.com/

More specifically here:

http://labs.zap2it.com/

You just have to create yourself a free account and answer 3 or 4 poll questions every 3 months (not a big deal at all) and you get the data for free. You set up a job to update the guide data daily and it will keep guide data for 12 days into the future in your database. This guide is available both onscreen with the remote control and via the web interface. I must say I really like the guide a lot. It's really laid out nicely and can't imagine anything I would do to improve it. I almost want to expose my web interface on the void server so you can play with it but then everyone would be scheduling recordings of girls gone wild for me. :)

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Post by ZiaTioN » Thu Sep 21, 2006 7:30 pm

Which wouldn't really be a bad thing, would it? :-)

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Post by Maniaman » Mon Sep 25, 2006 9:08 pm

Oh my, I have to do this now. I finally have a reason to finish my VCR computer project (building a computer inside of an old VCR case).

Would an 80gb drive be sufficient? I don't plan on recording a whole lot of videos and leaving them on there.

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