MythTV + MediaMVP = Time Shifted Television

I have long been slightly jealous of Darren’s MythTV setup. I kept telling myself that I have enough other projects (a.k.a. kids) to keep myself busy for the next 18 years. Plus, the VCR and TV have always been fine for our needs and up until about a month ago were working fine. The TV has never really been what I would call a great piece of electronic equipment. A great piece of something. But it was free and I can’t argue with that. It still works if not for its slightly discolored screen. The VCR is in the same boat. But it finally did give up the ghost. First it stopped rewinding tapes and then it stopped recording. So I tossed it. But that left us without a way to record Sesame Street. Dun dun dun…

Ever since the invention of the VCR, Americans have loved the ability to watch Time Shifted Television (TST). Two shows you want to watch are always on at the same time. Record one and watch the other; then watch the second show at your leisure. Simple solution. Enter the digital age. Hello TiVo. Thank you, Richard Stallman, for telling it how it is. Goodbye TiVo, hello MythTV. MythTV was created by a guy that didn’t want to have to pay the costly startup fees and crazy monthly fees associated with a commercial Digital Video Recorder (DVR) so he wrote his own software that runs on a personal computer that has a TV tuner card in it. To make things better, he agrees with Richard Stallman and released it under the GPL, which means that everyone and his dog can get it for free, use it, hack it, redistribute it, etc. So that is what I am using. Yeah!

We came very close to choosing TiVo as our DVR. I had plans to buy a basic 80 hour box and add a larger hard drive if we needed it. I also planned on buying the lifetime subscription if we liked the service. I hate monthly fees. They are the bane of my existence. “For less than a dollar a day you can have…” a thirty dollar bill at the end of each month. EVERY MONTH. But I digress. The lifetime subscription was the equivalent of 2 years of service. I figured if we liked TiVo and stuck with it for 2 years, it would be worth our while. But they (the big wigs at TiVo) came up with this grand plan to make more money and wring every last dime out of their users. The spin they put on it was something like “No up-front fees” and something about only slightly higher monthly fees in small print. The idea is that users no longer have to buy a TiVo box — they lease one as part of the 1, 2, or 3 year contract for service. When the contract is over, you can upgrade your box when you renew it. Sounds like a great plan! If you want to pay $20 a month for the rest of your life.

Enter MythTV. (I think I already said that). I figured with TiVo, the startup costs would have been about $400 including the lifetime subscription. So I set out to find parts to fix up one of my old computers to make it a worthy Myth backend (server). I looked at all the shiny boxes that you can put in your entertainment center; the ones that don’t even look like computers and are so silent they make your fridge seem noisy. They cost about 3 times what I was willing to pay. After talking some with Darren, I decided the best way to go was to have a backend with the tuner cards and a big disk drive and a itty-bitty, thin-client frontend that hooks up to the TV. So we bought a Hauppage PVR 500 dual tuner card and a Hauppage MediaMVP for the frontend. Speaking of opensource software, a group of people hacked the MediaMVP software so it can run a program that speaks the MythTV protocol (basically it is a MythTV frontend). The project is MVP Media Center (MVPMC). It is a Linux kernel running a small program. Very cool.

So now we can tell MythTV what we want to watch and decide for ourselves when we want to watch it. Now if only I could keep it running all the time (it seems to segfault now and then…) then all would be well in the Domestic Tranquility Department. 🙂

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