A few days ago, I wrote about the DVR I’d assembled from an old PC and a spare tuner card. The more I look into it, the more impressed I am. This is very cool technology.
First, a little about the computer. This was originally my ‘main’ desktop machine, but probably 6-7 years ago. It wasn’t homebuilt, but built to my spec by Axis Computing in New Jersey (I believe they’re long gone).
The CPU is an AMD 500 MHz model, with 387 mb of memory. originally, it was built to process TV, and had an ATI All-in-Wonder video card. It is my understanding ATI is less than helpful in the Linux community, so that part is useless to me.
Now, for video, there’s some old, nondescript Nvidia card (I can’t even find a model number) and a Hauppauge¹ Win-TV GO card, which acts as a TV tuner.
In 2006, this is a lumbering slow machine with not much going for it. If you had one at home, you’d probably be thinking about how to get rid of it and replace it with something more modern.
The specifications for this DVR call for a much more powerful chip. It doesn’t seem to make much difference, because this works!
In order to accommodate the older hardware I’ve cranked down the quality of the video I capture. It can’t record and play at the same time either, something it should do.
A few things about this system have astounded me. First is the KnoppMyth distribution. This allowed me to stick a CD into the computer and let it do most of the rest. I had to dedicate this machine to DVR, but it wasn’t doing much before!
Second is MythTV itself. It is a visually pleasing system. In fact, as a DVR, it is much more sophisticated looking and easier to deal with than my cable company DVR.
What I can’t do is play my video on a TV – at least not now. The system is designed for that, but my set-up just doesn’t lend itself to that outcome.
The system is divided into two basic parts, frontend and backend. The backend is the guts. it’s where the recording takes place and where data is manipulated.
The frontend is how the user interacts with the system and controls it. The frontend doesn’t have to be on the same computer as the backend. In fact, I can control much of the frontend on any web browser.
With that ability, I can program this DVR from work or while on-the-road.
The frontend handles viewing the video. Right now, that means dealing with files too large to easily watch out of the house. I’ve read about some modifications that will enable me to stream the video in a more highly compressed form, and I’ll be working on that tonight.
I am not sure this method of DVR building is right for everyone. There were loads of configuration choices I had to make. I think I did OK, but I can’t be sure. Certainly, I was on my own as I decided whether this or that box would be checked or unchecked.
This is more a project for someone who enjoys tinkering – and I do. And it’s probably the kind of thing I’ll keep tweaking and refining until I break it!
¹ – Hauppauge is a company that makes video products for computers. They have some of the best video capture boards and are well respected by hobbyists. Hauppauge is the name of the town they’re in.
Alas, I think they’d probably do better in business if you could easily spell their name! I wonder how many people look for Hauppauge and give up.
In the 21st Century, spelling counts.