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Linux has been enjoying a wealth of publicity on the Desktop at the moment with Canonical, Novell, and Co pushing an image of professionalism for Linux that has been lacking up until now.

Down at ground zero however, change moves very slowly and in unexpected (to most of us at least), usually money orientated directions. The Linux Desktop 'revolution' that many of us have been hoping and lobbying for may not come about the way we expected, but we are an adaptable crowd and this is the point of my article. Adaptability.

Without a strong enough reason to change to Linux people aren't. If only there were applications that people really wanted that were exclusive to Linux. Enter Mythtv, the most mature open source media application available. Boasting features that put Windows Media Centre to shame and a zero price tag, Mythtv is just the sort of application that could change peoples perceptions on what Linux is and what it is capable of.

Here is a list of some of the features of Mythtv from the website, many of which can never be seen in Windows Media Centre due to legal issues:

  • Basic 'live-TV' functionality. Pause/Fast Forward/Rewind "live" TV.
  • Support for multiple tuner cards and multiple simultaneous recordings.
  • Distributed architecture allowing multiple recording machines and multiple playback machines on the same network, completely transparent to the user.
  • Compresses video in software using rtjpeg (from Nuppelvideo) or mpeg4 (from libavcodec). Full support for Hardware MPEG-2 encoder cards (Hauppauge PVR-250 / PVR-350). Preliminary support for DVB cards and the new pcHDTV tuner card.
  • Completely automatic commercial detection/skipping
  • Electronic Program Guide that lets you change channels and select programs to record.
  • Scheduled recordings of TV programs, and playback and deletion of those programs, all through a theme able UI.
  • A nice web interface to let you select programs to record remotely.
  • Rip, categorise, play, and visualise MP3/Ogg/FLAC/CD Audio files. (FLAC, Vorbis, and MP3 encoding). Create complex playlists (and playlists containing playlists) through a simple UI.
  • An emulator frontend. (MAME, NES, SNES, generic PC games)
  • An image viewer/slideshow application.
  • A weather module
  • DVD player / ripper module. Make perfect backups, or transcode down to smaller file sizes.
  • An RSS news feed reader module
  • All this and more for free, sounds unbelievable but its true and it can only happen because its free. A company selling software that allowed consumers to record television, cut out the ads and compress it to divx automatically via a scheduled task, might run in to some legal trouble pretty quickly. But due to to the open community nature of a project like Mythtv it resides somewhere in the grey area. All this is good and well but the million dollar question is.... Does it work?

    To test out Mythtv I assembled a fairly 'middle of the road' system with the following hardware.

    • AMD Athlon 1700xp CPU
    • 1 Gigabyte DDR Ram
    • Brooktree 878 based analogue capture card
    • Twinham Vision Plus DVB card
    • 20gb Seagate IDE hard disk for the OS
    • 100gb Seagate IDE hard disk for the OS
    • LG IDE DVD Writer
    • Installation

      As I have read many reports of nightmarish installation and dependency hell I opted to have a few plans of attack if necessary. Luckily I never needed to go further than plan B, which probably should have been Plan A if it wasn't for an inherent laziness and abundance of wishful thinking which gave birth to Plan A.

      Plan A - After some initial reading I decided to install Via Apt, the Debian package manager, on to the installation of Debian Sarge that was already on the machine. But due to a circular dependency and various other problems beyond the scope of this article that failed and I moved to Plan B.

      Plan B - Plan B was to download and install Knoppmyth, a custom distribution that automatically installs a trim Debian based media centre running a recent version of Mythtv, with all the additional modules available via apt, and a very basic Desktop environment consisting of fluxbox and little else.

      Plan B was a breeze and left me ruing the many hours spent on the ill-fated Plan A.

      The text based installation of Knoppmyth would probably be enough to scare off intrepid beginners but was reasonably straight forward, for anyone with experience installing Linux, as was the post install configuration which asked some basic questions about location, timezone and hardware. Program listings can be problematic in many parts of the world, due to changing sources and legal issues, but as I had installed a DVB card I just set up the channels to pull the data from the DVB stream. Once I was finished with the basic configuration I was dropped into a functional Mythtv with basic Media players and live TV, a simple apt-get command installed the remaining packages that I mentioned earlier.

      Too easy, on to the fun stuff.

      Testing

      First impressions... Wow.

      I have played with Windows Media Centre before, concluding that it was an overpriced clunky frontend for Windows Media Player aimed at no market in particular and ultimately doomed for failure. This was another kettle of fish altogether. Facing a similar dilemma to the child who was inadvertently locked in the candy store, I had no idea where to start, so many menu's, so many options, so many colours.

      After some serious button pushing and obligatory "oohs" and "ahhs" from my fellow housemates, who were dragged unceremoniously from whatever they were doing to witness this marvel of modern technology (although I had suspicions there enthusiasm didn't quite mirror mine), I pulled myself together.

      The logical place to start would have to be the 'Watch TV' menu so I headed back there to see what I could see. The onscreen display, although slower than those on some hardware PVR's, was clear concise and up to the task. The options for recording were mind blowing "Record In This Timeslot Every Week", "Record On Any Channel At Any Time" and many more or just plain "Record" I opted for this and got about twenty minutes worth of Spongebob for review.

      I exited from the live TV menu and headed for "Watch Recordings", not only was my recording in there, the icon for it was a small video preview of the recording itself. Very Gucci. I clicked on the preview to start playback and the recording instantly jumped to life in crystal clear fullscreen. Just as I was about to exit, however, the video jumped a little. I knew it was too good to be true, I dragged the navigational slider back a couple of minutes and to my surprise was dropped right in the middle of a commercial. Turns out that the jump wasn't a glitch at all, it was the program automatically skipping the commercials which had been flagged but not removed yet. My excitement was palpable, the housemates were called back. The "oohhs" and "ahhs" were far more enthusiastic this time and "can you only get that on Linux?" was answered with a gleeful "afraid so".

      The other menus, although possibly not as exciting as the first, were functional and well layed out. The DVD ripper/transcoder worked without issue. The music player left a lot to be desired and didn't compare to Amarok, my player of choice, but still succeeded in playing all formats of audio I threw at it, as did the video player. The video editing facilities were also in an early stage of development and served more as a glimpse of things to come than an actual replacement for other open source alternatives that are available. The emulator frontend played my ROM's flawlessly and displayed them in an easy to navigate manner. The web browser failed to display many websites correctly due to a lack of plugins but let me read my email which is all many people will want it for. The weather module didn't work for my region but was extremely impressive nonetheless and again showed the amount of polish and innovation that was possible from a community based project that was available free of charge.

      Conclusion

      All in all Mythtv is not suitable for beginners and probably never will be unless someone with commercial interests gets involved, but that would likely kill the spirit of the thing. However if you are already familiar with some basic Linux administration, or are willing to learn, you should be able to get it running and the rewards are pretty impressive. It will be going on the 'production' box in our house but will be run alongside Amarok, Firefox and Cinelarra as it isn't a suitable replacement for these fully featured applications. As far as comparing Mythtv to Windows Media Centre, there is really no comparison, Mythtv is in a class of its own and puts WMC to shame in almost every department possible. This is the sort of application that could introduce Linux to many new users and households. Well done Isaac and the rest of the team, keep up the good work.

Rate This Article: poorexcellent
 
Comments about this article
Non-idiot
writen by: The Red Baron on 2006-11-23 18:22:07
With comments like: "I have played with Windows Media Centre before, concluding that it was an overpriced clunky frontend for Windows Media Player aimed at no market in particular and ultimately doomed for failure." you're clearly just a bigot. I spent two years switching between Myth, MCE and SageTV, and at the end of the day, they are all good (and with add-ons and plug-ins are all pretty much equally capable). After 2 years I finally settled on MCE because I liked the UI best - and so might others if they took a balanced look at all the options and weren't just ignorant Linux zealots.
RE: Non-idiot written by The Red Baron:
bigot?
writen by: phil on 2006-11-23 18:36:19
hmm, so he tried it and came to a conclusion (similar to me actually! - and I`m not even a Linux user) and he`s a bigot for sharing that opinion... Sounds more like you being a bigot, insulting someone because he doesn`t agree with your views...
RE: bigot? written by phil:
cc
writen by: Juan Pablo on 2006-11-23 19:11:08
They are just jealous don't worry
RE: cc written by Juan Pablo:
not a bigot
writen by: kyle on 2006-11-24 00:49:10
i dunno if i would say bigot, but if you haven't played with windows media center then you are hardly qualified to say that myth is better than it
RE: not a bigot written by kyle:
none
writen by: contact on 2006-11-24 08:09:09
I recently found a very interesting website: http://alreadylinked.com/ There you can purchase ad space for your Blog etc.
RE: none written by contact:
Keep it factual
writen by: Juski on 2006-11-25 04:43:30
Clicked on the preview?! Dragged the navigational slider? what the...? I have no idea which version of MythTV you were using but I don't feel that's factually correct.
RE: Keep it factual written by Juski:
Legal issues re: Myth et al.
writen by: TVguyNY on 2006-11-25 20:36:47
Could someone enumerate the major legal issues that the open source pvr avoids that a non-open-source pvr couldn't get away from?
RE: Legal issues re: Myth et al. written by TVguyNY:
Media Portal Anyone?
writen by: Chris on 2006-11-26 22:47:25
Anyone out there using Media portal? I run windows xp pro so no MCE for me and I wasn't willing to pay for a new version of windows. So tried Media Portal. Does a great job for me and it's OpenSource :)
RE: Media Portal Anyone? written by Chris:
Mediaportal
writen by: Efros on 2006-12-17 12:32:58
RE: Mediaportal written by Efros:
Media Portal?
writen by: Tom on 2007-02-28 10:11:10
Can any of these programs be used to watch TV stations without getting cable or satellite TV for an extra cost?
RE: Media Portal? written by Tom:
Loved it
writen by: Tyler on 2007-03-22 21:21:55
I have tried the Linux MCE at my house and the Windows version in a store. I am sorry that you see this guy as a prick but I don't see you writing an article, and if you have I would LOVE to read it. I applaud this guy for actually doing something and trying it him self, lets see you do that.
RE: Loved it written by Tyler:
I am not a bigot either
writen by: Phil Weber on 2007-04-26 09:42:40
Hello, Well all in all I am a linux fan using a pure gentoo installation for around three years. I have to agree with this article, mythtv is not for the weak at heart; however, it is quite rich in functionality and optimizations that make it zoom where others clunk along. On my Windoze partition, used for testing purposes only, I ran up the MS MC and have to say that it was quite choppy and slow in comparison. I am not a bigot either and I don't believe that the author is. Mythtv still is in need of maturity, as it is with all software, especially with the linux kernel so that all of the newer cards are fully included in the latest kernel, but that is another story and is similar to windoze problems. Although the manufacturers are enticed to build proprietory drivers that require reverse engineering to get them into the stream, there are several out there in gpl land that on their own time do try to bring the drivers along.
RE: I am not a bigot either written by Phil Weber:
failed installing Linux MCE
writen by: karal on 2007-07-01 10:38:14
I have tried to install the Linux MCE following the instruction from the http://wiki.linuxmce.com/index.php/Installation_Guide but it failed 4 times. and there is the last log file about the installation failure. MESSAGE: Installing LinuxMCE Base Software Reading package lists... Building dependency tree... Reading state information... Some packages could not be installed. This may mean that you have requested an impossible situation or if you are using the unstable distribution that some required packages have not yet been created or been moved out of Incoming. Since you only requested a single operation it is extremely likely that the package is simply not installable and a bug report against that package should be filed. The following information may help to resolve the situation: The following packages have unmet dependencies. pluto-dcerouter: Depends: libc6 (>= 2.5-0ubuntu1) but 2.4-1ubuntu12.3 is to be installed Depends: libgcc1 (>= 1:4.1.2) but 1:4.1.1-13ubuntu5 is to be installed Depends: libmysqlclient15off (>= 5.0.27-1) but 5.0.24a-9ubuntu2 is to be installed Depends: libstdc++6 (>= 4.1.2) but 4.1.1-13ubuntu5 is to be installed Depends: libxml2 (>= 2.6.27) but 2.6.26.dfsg-2ubuntu4 is to be installed Depends: pluto-confirm-dependencies (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-confirm-dependencies (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-createdevice (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-createdevice (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-dcecommon (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-dcecommon (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-dhcpd-plugin (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-dhcpd-plugin (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-install-scripts (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-install-scripts (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-local-database (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-local-database (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-messagesend (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-messagesend (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-newmdinteractor (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-newmdinteractor (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-orbitergen (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-orbitergen (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-plutodhcp (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-plutodhcp (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-plutoutils (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-plutoutils (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-pluto-main-db (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-pluto-main-db (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-remoteassistance (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-remoteassistance (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-serializeclass (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-serializeclass (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-std-plugins (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-std-plugins (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-system-database (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-system-database (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-updateentarea (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-updateentarea (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-website-admin (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-website-admin (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-boot-scripts (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: pluto-boot-scripts (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed Depends: mce-diskless-tools (>= 2.0.0.44) but it is not going to be installed Depends: mce-diskless-tools (< 2.0.0.45) but it is not going to be installed PreDepends: libc6 (>= 2.5-0ubuntu1) but 2.4-1ubuntu12.3 is to be installed PreDepends: libgcc1 (>= 1:4.1.2) but 1:4.1.1-13ubuntu5 is to be installed PreDepends: libmysqlclient15off (>= 5.0.27-1) but 5.0.24a-9ubuntu2 is to be installed PreDepends: libstdc++6 (>= 4.1.2) but 4.1.1-13ubuntu5 is to be installed PreDepends: libxml2 (>= 2.6.27) but 2.6.26.dfsg-2ubuntu4 is to be installed PreDepends: mythtv-backend but it is not installable PreDepends: mythtv-database but it is not installable PreDepends: libssl0.9.7 but it is not installable PreDepends: atftpd but it is not installable PreDepends: etherwake but it is not installable PreDepends: mythtv-backend but it is not installable PreDepends: mythtv-database but it is not installable PreDepends: lshwd but it is not going to be installed PreDepends: mce-launcher but it is not going to be installed E: Broken packages
RE: failed installing Linux MCE written by karal:
Myth is simply better
writen by: Louis Olivier on 2007-07-20 08:46:39
Thank you for this very insightful article. I have to agree with most of what you had said and I can see how and why it got the Micro$loth losers so upset. Face it, opensource is evolution in progress. Hold on to Microsoft and be left behind.
RE: Myth is simply better written by Louis Olivier:
The article's OK
writen by: Varian on 2007-12-04 22:57:50
A little biased though (although we are all biased to some degree). I have used Windows & Linux (particularly Ubuntu) for years and have a fair bit of experience with setting up HTPC's. I agree that MCE is clunky and not worth the price but a Linux based HTPC is simply not the answer for the common man. Sadly there are more remote controls compatible with Windows PC's than with Linux boxes. Having made extensive use of MCE, MythTV, & MediaPortal - I only use MediaPortal. It is a shame that this article makes such a great deal about the free & open source nature of MythTV while completely ignoring the free and open source media centre for Windows boxes. MediaPortal has everything (and I mean everything) that MythTV has and much much more. MythTV still has an unfinished and out-dated "feel" to it and most people are looking for something more polished which is why so many sadly settle for Windows Media Centre. MediaPortal fills that niche nicely and is easy to set up. MythTV is a good programme for Linux but, as with so much in the Linux world, requires too much fiddling to get it running properly and tends to offer less than the Windows-based software does "out-of-the-box". If you are looking for a programme to arrange and allow access to your TV (complete with scheduling, recording & editing), radio, internet radio, video streams, torrented videos, DVD's, RSS news feeds, music, photos, e-mail, web browsing, wikipaedia searches, and weather and you want it for free (and you want it to be compatible with your remote control and other hardware - it can run games too) then MediaPortal is what you are looking for. Odd that it would be so completely overlooked in this article. I am neither a Windows fanboy nor a Linux fanboy but I would love Linux & MythTV to be the answer to the search for an affordable, reliable HTPC. Sadly it just isn't right now. Maybe if the Linux & MythTV gurus can swallow their pride and ask Team MediaPortal for some advice then we might be able to make a Linux-based HTPC a real option. 'Til then - it's not.
RE: The article's OK written by Varian:
Kaffeine player does include all those
writen by: Jone on 2007-12-20 03:58:36
I have satellite and terrestial digitvs in my Kubuntu 7.10 and also in other KDE-distros. TVs are in those repos already. You only have to have PCI-card (in my satellite-tv) and UBS-card (terrestial-tv) on their places when you open your desktop. I tried MythTV and many other but did not get them to work... Then one day accidentally I noticed that I have my TV:s in Kaffeine player! I think that you can get TV:s to work also in Ubuntu and other Gnomedistros when you have installet Kaffeine in those distros....!? Kaffeine is so easy to use that you dont know anythin of ....!
RE: Kaffeine player does include all those written by Jone:
you're out of your mind
writen by: tony on 2008-07-19 11:44:48
RE: you're out of your mind written by tony:

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