July 7th, 2004
Well, I’ve had my MythTV setup up and running for a few days now and thought I’d write an initial review.
The bottom line is: MythTV is awesome. It is so much nicer than anything I’ve seen before, including both ReplayTV and Tivo. Read on for the full first look.
Let’s start with the good things about MythTV. First of all, here’s the biggest benefit: MythTV has an incredible amount of power, but it doesn’t make the interface confusing. The interface is very simple and easy to use for basics for anyone already accustomed to a PVR. My wife and I both were able to navigate just about immediately.
The greatest MythTV asset over competitors lies in the recording setup. MythTV gives you all the options for recording that others do, such as record the program once, record it daily or weekly, anytime on this channel, anytime on any channel, etc. It also offers you a choice of “recording profiles”, which generally are analogous to recording quality settings on other devices.
But MythTV also has a notion of priorities. If there is a conflict — two recordings scheduled for the same time, so only one can be recorded — it uses the recording priority to decide which one to record. The higher priority wins. The default priority is zero, and you can assign positive or negative priorities to any given program. So, using this feature alone, you can already set it up very nicely. I found myself not setting up some shows to record on the ReplayTV because I sorta liked them, but never knew if they would overwrite others. With MythTV, I can add them with a very low priority, so they’ll get recorded — but only if nothing else is being recorded at the same time.
You can also assign priority modifiers based on various criteria. For instance, you could automatically add 10 points to any “one time only” recording, so your special events override most things. Priority modifiers can also be added based on channels.
It goes farther than that, though. MythTV keeps track of episodes of programs, and can automatically adjust its schedule to record a program earlier or later if the original preference would conflict with something else.
Another nice feature is that you can set an upper bound on the numer of recordings of any particular show. You can also define what MythTV does when that limit is reached. It could either just delete the oldest episode to make room for a newer one (useful for, say, news programs). Or, it can simply stop recording until you watch and delete an episode (more sensible for sitcoms).
MythTV also has a great conflict finder and resolution system. You can see a list of all the recordings scheduled in order starting from the present time, which ones will be recorded, and which ones won’t. For any particular recording, you can also see *why* it won’t record, and adjust it.
It also has some pretty powerful program finding features.
MythTV does all you’d expect for live TV viewing: pausing, replays, program guide, etc. For watching recorded programs, it has an awesome commercial skip feature. Turn it on, and you can just sit back and watch a program — no need to press any button on your remote at all. It just skips right past the commercials. I found it didn’t detect all commercials, but it has some options to tweak that I haven’t tried yet.
We have our TV in our family room on the main floor of our house. The office, where all the other computer stuff is, is in the basement on the other end of the house. There’s no satellite connection there, and reception with an indoor antenna down there is very poor.
MythTV has a nice client/server setup. You run the MythTV backend on any machine that has a video capture card. You run the frontend on any machine that has a display device. In many cases, this would be the same machine. But it can also be distributed. In my case, I put a frontend on my laptop. With that frontend, I can watch any recorded programs or live TV as if I were sitting at the “MythTV box” itself. It is a very useful and powerful capabilitiy.
You can also have video capture cards on multiple machines (or in a single machine), and MythTV will then be able to record multiple programs at once. It will integrate nicely into the schedule, and it will know the capabilities of each unit, and use it to record multiple things simultaneously if possible.
You cannot be watching live TV on multiple frontends at once, though (unless you have multiple capture cards that are not busy).
MythTV has several optional modules that you don’t normally find on a PVR. I haven’t tried all of them yet.
The most obvious is the DVD module. You can use it to play DVDs with a DVD drive. It defaults to using mplayer, but it’s easy to adjust to use the more powerful ogle player. There is also a DVD ripping feature built in that I haven’t tried.
Next is the sound module. You can use it to play audio CDs or your mp3/ogg collection. It can also rip CDs and manage playlists. For audio CDs, it will automatically look up album/track names online if it can. If your TV is on, you can have it use various visualization plugins.
There’s a similar module to manage a collection of video files, though I haven’t tried it yet.
It also has some Internet-related modules. There’s Weather, which grabs a forecast and radar picture and shows them in a format nice for a TV (large fonts, nice icons, etc.) Mythweb is a web browser designed to run on your TV. It works pretty well, considering the quality of a TV. There’s an RSS reader that will show you news headlines (and story briefs), and send hooks in with mythweb to read the details if you want.
This depends in large part on what capture card you use. I have the PVR-250, which generates absolutely excellent output. It’s the highest quality I’ve ever seen from TV (I can easily notice that when watching it on a computer monitor), even when generating fairly small output files.
No matter what card you have, MythTV offers many different choices for real-time video and audio compression. You also have an option to do automatic post-processing. For instance, you can have MythTV automatically re-encode your video to MPEG4 format after recording, even if you don’t have the CPU power to do that in real time (or your hardware encoder doesn’t support it).
This is the most difficult part, of course. You need to be fairly familiar with Linux and PC hardware to set up MythTV. So you may need to hire a neighborhood geek to set it up for you, but once set up, you should be able to manage it OK.
I’ll have more details on this in another post sometime.
My main complaints with MythTV are:
1. If you attempt to watch live TV while it’s recording something, it tells you to go delete the recording program so you can watch TV, but it doesn’t say what that program is. (Though you can just look for the green one in the “watch recordings” screen)
2. There aren’t quite as many shortcuts to skip between different menus as I’d like to see.
3. Some of the frontend options aren’t well documented.