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DIY Linux HDTV – Pack a Lunch

May 11, 2005

Extremetech has yet another good do-it-yourself article, this time on building a Linux HTPC, part 4 of their “Microsoft-Free Home” series.

I was secretly pleased to see that they didn’t find this an easy task — trying to get MythTV or KnoppMyth running exceeded my pain threshold a few months ago.

They’re nice enough to warn you about this early on –

Before you embark on trying to build a Linux-based Home Theater PC (HTPC), you have to ask yourself a question: “How much time do I have to dedicate to bringing up a Linux-based HTPC?” If the answer is “not much,” then a Linux-based HTPC is probably not something you should build. Assembling the hardware is pretty easy, and the physical assembly process takes a half-hour to 45 minutes. Installing the OS can be a very straightforward affair as well. But installing extra drivers as well as installing and configuring a PVR media application (and its required packages) are not trivial tasks, and the road ahead is laced with hidden potholes.

Basically, it comes down to “what’s your time worth?” — the same hardware plus a couple of hundred dollars worth of software can have you running you running SageTV, BeyondTV or MCE on Windows XP in an hour or two.

On the other hand, if you’re a rabid anti-Microsoft type (personally, I don’t care about running Windows on my TVs, as long as it isn’t on my desktop) and have ninja-like Linux skills or time to kill, then this may be the project for you.

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5 Responses to “DIY Linux HDTV – Pack a Lunch”

  1. Arthur Times, Jr. on October 4th, 2005 2:23 pm

    Linux has taken great strides in removing much of the installation obstacles that it had in the past by way of package management tools. Those who say otherwise are either trolls or uninformed. Tools like yum, apt-get and portage remove the headaches of dependencies because they handle it for you. If application ‘B’ needs application ‘A’ to run then the installers will download and install ‘A’ before it downloads and installs ‘B’. It’s simple.

    There are guides for installing mythtv (wilsonet.com springs to mind) and if you have quality hardware and marginal linux skills you can install all necessary software and have a complete working mythtv system within an hour. I know because I’ve done it.

  2. Jason Turner on November 21st, 2005 12:11 pm

    While additional time is required to get a Linux Media PC running, it is more than offset by capabilities not yet attained in the Microsoft world. As soon as MCE provides the following abilities I currently have, it’s not for me

    1) Simultaneously record 3 HDTV channels while watching a 4th prerecorded show on a single PC.
    2) Stream prerecorded shows, audio and video remotely to any web browser.
    3) Provide free VOIP service.
    4) Ignore the broadcast flag.
    5) Accurately strip out commercials as a background task.
    6) Allow easy expansion (lack of need to reformat or loose content) of Hardware RAID 5 and Software based RAID devices as need for additional or higher resolultion content is required.

    Linux is limited only by hardware capabilities.

  3. Chuck Lawson on November 22nd, 2005 12:52 pm

    > Linux is limited only by hardware capabilities.

    …and the capability of the user to successfully install and configure Linux, the application, and the drivers.

    Which is not to say that MythTV isn’t very capable, just that getting it running can be a pretty enormous task for those who aren’t already conversant in the ins and outs of configuring Linux and Linux applications.

    For whatever it’s worth, item 1) is do-able on MCE – there is a fairly simple registry hack to add as many tuners (ATSC/NTSC) as you have bus bandwidth to handle.

    Since both are limited to recording OTA HD today, I’m not sure how often three simultaneous HD recordings will be useful; I’m in the number 6 market, and most nights I’d be hard pressed to find 3 actual HD broadcasts OTA that I want to record at the same time. Doubtless this will change, though.

    Re: Item 3) There is at least one Skype plugin that I’m aware of; probably a few others.

    Re: Item 4) There is no Broadcast Flag to ignore, thus far. This may change also. I’d be happy if MCE just ignored the Macrovision flag.

    Items 2, 5 and 6 would be handy, though.

    I’m sure I’d probably like MythTV a lot; I’m just not willing to spend the time crawling up the learning curve it’s required of me every time I’ve tried to install it, however.

  4. Dan Mueller on January 12th, 2006 8:40 pm

    You can’t READ the Wilsonet.com howto in an hour (I’ve been checking it off and on for the last two years the dude is comprehensive). My yum and or aptget updates always take an hour or more over broadband. I guess some people are just lucky in thier installs.

    Mythtv is awesome and worth it. It’s just not easy.

    The last time I installed it there was a faulty general public key in the dvd iso I used for the OS and sorting that out was a major PITA because I have marginal linux skills. Knopmyth didn’t work for me and my hardware (but I reccomend trying it because it’s so easy to use if it works for you)

  5. me on September 20th, 2006 10:25 am

    Similarly, linux drivers are a lot less hastle since 2.6, udev and hotplug came along. Usually it’s just a short README file + headers; though that could be tough on a newbie.

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