Why have Tivo when you can have Freevo? I say… Why have Tivo when you can have MythTV! Yes, for those of you that don’t know it yet, you can build your own DVR and finally escape those monthly fees. And if that wasn’t a good enough reason to build one, here are some more: It will allow you to burn your recordings to DVDs, it will include a jukebox to store and play all your music, it will allow you to rip CDs and DVDs, includes a Photo Gallery utility, includes emulators for your favorite game consoles, includes a web browser, displays the weather and the news, it will stream over-the-air cable or satellite programs just like you would with a Slingbox. basically your own linux home theater PC. All of this in a single installation package. Convinced? All you need is an old computer and a fantastic free software named Mythbuntu, and you will be on your way to having the best DVR system ever imagined!.
Why I chose Mythbuntu
Mythbuntu is basically a Ubuntu Linux distribution specially configured to act as a standalone DVR. Mythbuntu comes with MythTV pre-installed, its purpose is to simplify MythTV’s installation, which can get complicated for the average user. So why did I choose Mythbuntu over all other PVR software? Simple, it runs on Ubuntu Linux and if you are familiar with Ubuntu you know that in general, hardware works right from the start without the need to look for drivers. Second, Ubuntu has a large community, making it easy to get fast support.
Other alternatives to Mythbuntu are Knoppix, Mythdora, Freevo, etc. There are also alternatives to MythTV itself, however, they are not as feature rich and some are commercial; some of these include SageTV and Beyond TV.
That being said… any MythTV installation can get really complicated if you do not follow some directions. Unfortunately, directions on the web are either too specific and complicated or to simple to be of any use. With this article I will try to achieve a balance.
Equipment used for this project
1 - Mythbuntu
2 - Old P4 computer (whatever you have is fine as long as you don’t go too slow. Nothing is as they say, don’t believe this will run on a PII with 64 mb of ram because it will not!)
3 – Graphics card with TV-out connection or TV with VGA connection.
4 - 1 GB of ram (I choose more than the minimum recommended, it speeds up booting and video trans-coding time).
5 – 160GB Hard Drive (It’s what I had available, you can choose your own. The bigger, the more space you will have to store your recordings).
6 – Digital tuner card: Hauppauge WinTV HVR 1600 . You can purchase these new for about $100. Something I must mention is that recording in digital format will only work for public channels, like ABC, CBS, NBC. etc. If you are using a cable company, they usually encrypt all channels except the public ones. Analog tuner card: Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250 TV tuner card. MythTV is designed to run with this card from the start, with the least amount of tweaking possible. You can find them used for around $50 on eBay. One drawback with this card is that you will be degrading the quality by recording in Analog format however it is more versatile than a digital card since it will allow you to record all channels.
PLEASE READ 1 THROUGH 9 BEFORE YOU PROCEED AND DO EACH STEP IN ORDER!!!!, otherwise you will waste time troubleshooting errors.
1 – Download the Mythbuntu ISO and burn it to a CD.
2 – Boot the computer with the Mythbuntu CD and go through the installation process.
3 – If your Hard Drive is not empty make sure you select “Use entire disk“, optherwise Ubuntu will share the space proportionally with the operating system already installed on you hard drive.
5 – Set it to log in automatically, otherwise it will ask you for a password every single time you boot your computer.
6 – Select the “Primary Backend w/ Frontend” configuration option.
7 – Don’t enable remote control for now, I recommend using a bluetooth keyboard; it works extremely well.
8 – Choose your Video Card and enable the Video out connection. If you are fortunate enough (like me) to have a VGA connection on your TV, you can skip this step.
9 – At the end of the installation, when you get to Configure MythTV, don’t do anything, just hit forward and restart the computer when prompted. You could try configuring MythTV at this point, however you need to get familiarized on how to move around in MythTV first, because you are going to be returning to the backend and frontend configurations extensively.
10 – Once the installation process finishes, as you reboot, you will find yourself in the MythTV frontend. Exit out of the MythTV frontend by hitting escape.
11 – When you get to the operating system running in the background, go to:
Aplications -» System -» Update Manager and do all the updates.
Note: Sometimes when you reboot Mythbuntu, it might not go to the frontend automatically but it will go to the desktop instead, advising you to install MythTV again. That just means you left the installation CD in the tray. Remove CD and reboot.
Moving arround in MythTV
Note: If you are familiar with MythTV you can skip this section and go to the next one “Configuring MythTV”.
MythTV is basically a program running on an operating system just like any other, however, it is setup in a particular way. To help yourself moving around in Mythbuntu you will have to get familiar with its three parts. These three parts are: 1) The Backend, 2) The OS and 3) The Frontend. The following is a chart i’ve created to help you visualize. As you can see, you have to go through the OS every time you want to move from the Frontend to the Backend.
|What is the Backend?||What is the OS?||What is the Frontend?|
|This is your interface to configure MythTV. Here is were you tell MythTV which card you are using, where you will get your TV listings from and what type of connection you will be using to get these channels from, (S-Video, RCA, Coaxial, etc).||It is the operating system on which MythTV is running; Ubuntu in this case. You will have to go through it every time you wish to travel between the Frontend to the Backend. It has all the capabilities of Windows, and best of all its free.||This is basically the main screen. It is what you see when you turn your machine on. What any regular user will use to schedule your recordings, watch those recordings, watch TV and rewind Live TV etc. It is basically your friendly user interface.|
• To get to the OS from either the Frontend or the Backend you hit “ESC”
• To get to the Frontend from the OS you either go to a terminal window and type mythfrontend or click on
Aplications -» Multimedia -» MythTV Frontend.
• To get to the Backend from the OS you either go to a terminal window and type mythbackend or click on
Applications -» System -» MythTV Backend Setup.
To get you up and running in the least amount of time possible, we will only focus on three categories in the Backend: Capture cards, Video sources, Input connections.
Step 1: Capture Cards (Option #2 on the Backend)
(Click on image to enlarge)
Click on Capture cards -» New capture card -» Choose card type.
This is were you tell MythTV what TV Tuner card you will be using. To setup the digital Hauppauge WinTV HVR 1600 TV tuner card follow these instructions. For the analog Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250 TV tuner card, set capture card to “IVTV MPEG2 Encode Card” if using WinTV PVR-250. If you already have a different TV card lying around and want to play with it, use the MythTV card list to match your card with the right card type setting. Hit ESC when done, to return to the backend’s main menu.
Step 2: Video Sources (Option #3 on the Backend)
(Click on image to enlarge)
Click on Video Sources -» New video source -» Choose your source.
This is where you specify were you will be getting your TV listings from. TV listings are the charts containing the same program schedules that you see on places like the TV Guide channel, or on you cable or satellite program guides. These guides can be imported to MythTV, making it easy to pick which program you would like to record, this is also referred to as Electronic Program Guide (EPG).
For those of you that have any type of paid TV service like cable, or satellite. Currently and due to legal issues, the only way to obtain these listings in the United States is by subscribing to schedules direct. If you live outside the United States, you can use XMLTV.
If you do not have Cable or Satellite, it is not imperative that you have a Schedules Direct account, now a days with the start of digital television, program guides come included in the TV signal. MythTV can grab the guide straight from the signal, all you have to do is change the first setting from “Schedules Direct” to “Transmitted guide only (EIT)“.
You can also get by without a video source, however, it will be more cumbersome and time consuming to schedule recordings, since you will have to enter the program’s date and time manually, instead of clicking on the chart. To record from a TV program you do not need to get the TV listings interface, you can just set it to record on channel 3 for a specific amount of time, and make sure your cable or satellite box is set to the channel you want to record.
Step 3: Input Connections (Option #4 on the Backend)
(Click on image to enlarge)
Click on Input Connections -» Choose your connection -» Scan for channels on that connection.
This is were you tell MythTV through which port on the TV Tuner card it is supposed to get the signal from. This part also associates that port with the Video Source (E.G My DirecTV Box is linked to the MythTV box though an s-video cable. You have to specify that there, otherwise it will use the default which is the Coaxial Input on you TV tuner card)
MythTV is obviously a lot deeper than what it is described in this article. However the purpose of this article is to help you understand how to move around on the MythTV interface and how to get your PC DVR system up and running in the simplest and fastest way possible, then you can play around with it to finish building your Linux home theater PC and fine tune it to your liking. Don’t forget to read my other MythTV related articles.