Comcast, Allow Me To Kvetch About Your DVR

Nearly every operation on this DVR makes you think development stopped as soon as a feature worked. No one ever considered whether it worked well.

An admission before I start. I fully concede I’m about to kvetch because one of life’s little unnecessary luxuries isn’t luxurious enough. Guilty. Get over it.

We have a very nice HD TV in the family room. It is connected to a Comcast supplied Cisco RNG200 DVR. Notice I used nice for the TV, not the DVR.

Nearly every operation on this DVR makes you think development stopped as soon as a feature worked. No one ever considered whether it worked well.

With football season underway I’ve got two games on the TV at once. The Phils/Mets take up most of the screen with the Giants/Panthers in a small window.

If you were designing this system you’d put the smaller window in a corner. It’s much less likely to intrude if tucked away.

Not on the RNG200! The inset window is where the screen’s corner would be if I was watching old school 4:3 standard def not 16:9 high def. This might be understandable if not for the fact the RNG200 knows I’m watching in HD!

I use an HDMI cable between the TV and DVR. That’s a ‘smart’ system which sends data in both directions. The DVR sees where its signal goes and knows the screen resolution.

With this system the out-of-the-way window ends up being near the middle of the action blocking things I want to see.

This is just one in a long series of almost complete and poorly enabled features.

  • On-Demand is clumsy and excruciatingly slow.
  • Scheduling a recording can take dozens of button presses just to find a show.
  • The on screen program summary is often edited as if it isn’t meant to be read.
  • Standard def duplicates of high def channels clutter things up even though as mentioned earlier the box should know I’m not interested in seeing them in 4:3.

When you see what’s available with a TiVo or even my homebuilt MythTV this seems more-and-more unnecessarily irksome. How Comcast does this in light of the competition from U-verse and the satellite providers is beyond me.

The Penguin And I Are At It Again!

This is hardcore geek work. I’m performing tasks that resemble scenes from “War Games.” I inserted a disk and within seconds the screen was full of scrolling text.

The penguin and I are at it again. This is like Ali-Frazier!

If you missed it earlier the Linux operating system is referred to as the penguin here. My homebuilt DVR runs atop Linux. Unfortunately part of the DVR isn’t working. I am too crazed to allow that.

Mythbuntu is the distribution that’s causing the trouble. I read somewhere (though I haven’t been able to find it since) MythDora supports my capture card and fixes my problem. We’ll see.

This is hardcore geek work. I’m performing tasks that resemble scenes from “War Games.” I inserted a disk and within seconds the screen was full of scrolling text.

Why is it there when it goes by so fast it can’t be read? Got me. It just does.

This is a net install. I burned a smaller file–just enough to get the computer running. My job is done. It will now go online and find whatever else is needed. The autonomous computer is currently installing 194 Mb of “fluid-soundfont-lite-patches-3.1.-4.fc12.noarch.” That’s file 65 of 1457. Isn’t that the one they download to take over the Earth?

This will take a while. I might go to sleep and let it work quietly then pick it up in the morning (by which I mean afternoon).

It partially worked before I attempted this. It’s only fair I get at least that far tomorrow.

You And The Penguin Aren’t Getting Along

I’m like the guys who built hot rods in the 50s and 60s–just with computers. That’s why I’m rebuilding something that worked fine, but could be coaxed to work finer.

“You and the penguin aren’t getting along.” It was Helaine. “I can tell.” She’s psychic about these things.

The penguin is ‘Fox housetalk’ for Linux, a computer operating system that’s sparsely used by folks at home. It is atop Linux that MythTV, my DVR software sits.

I know. This is really geeky. It’s my fun… when the penguin and I are speaking.

It hasn’t been good this weekend. Computers aren’t suppose to give you a different answer when doing the same thing multiple times. This Ubuntu Linux install did.

I’m a scrounger. I’m like the guys who built hot rods in the 50s and 60s–just with computers. That’s why I’m rebuilding something that worked fine, but could be coaxed to work finer.

I’m in the midst of rebuilding my DVR. It moved into a faster box, got a software update and acquired a digital tuner. I should be able to record non-scrambled high def shows in high def.

The problem is none of the digital station recording works! When it’s time to scan for channels it merely rolls through the dial without locking onto one. I can still record ‘old fashioned’ TV, but that’s not the point.

Others have had this problem and solved it. I will too.

At the moment it’s driving me a little crazy.

Meanwhile this newly assembled machine means two very old and now gutted computers will be thrown out. Though both are worthless the act itself pains me. It seems so wrong. It would be like throwing out wire or cable. You just don’t.

Do-It-Yourself DVR

Working on computers is a lot simpler than it sounds. Cards only plug in where they’re supposed to plug in. I’ve yet to fry one!

You know the guys who used to have cars up on blocks customizing and tweaking them until they performed exactly as the tinkerer wished? I’m that tinkerer, except with computers. That probably explains why last night when Helaine went to bed I went to work on an old PC–my DVR.

A few months ago I started recording my shows on the Comcast DVR we rent. The homebrew DVR was powered down. What I discovered was viewing video on the laptop while I’m doing other things is much more satisfying. That’s what brought this rebuild.

First an admission. Working on computers is a lot simpler than it sounds. Cards only plug in where they’re supposed to plug in. I’ve yet to fry one!

This computer was state-of-the-art years ago. It’s a P4 with 512mb RAM and a 150 gb hard drive. Even if you don’t recognize the stats, just think slow.

Luckily as a DVR it’s just fine. The secret here is the video capture cards which themselves contain a small computer specifically made to manipulate video. They do most of the heavy lifting. My two PVR-150s are the only pieces bought especially for a DVR. Together they cost around $100.

The standard program for this type of thing is MythTV. It’s an free open source program which runs on Linux. I chose to install Mythbuntu which combines MythTV and Ubuntu Linux in one distribution. I downloaded an iso file and burned it to a CD.

Surprisingly the installation went very slowly–over two hours. Then came the real tough part, configuring.

MythTV is meant to run on many different types of hardware so it needs to be custom configured. Unfortunately, as a free project put together by volunteers the documentation is a little lacking and the program’s interface non-intuitive. It took a while to understand exactly what was needed.

By 4:00 AM the box was built and everything was working. I downloaded the next fourteen days of TV listings into a MySQL database and selected a few shows to record.

This version of MythTV has some rudimentary streaming, but mostly I watch the video on my other computers using MythTV Player, another freeware program. Perfect!

What is tantalizing now is the thought of streaming my DVR to my iPhone. There are a few ways written but they all seem too complex. I’ll keep looking.

I’m also thinking of buying one more TV tuner card. This would be an ATSC, QAM card for recording HDTV digital cable (only the few unscrambled channels, unfortunately).

Like the guys with the cars on blocks this job will never be done.

About The Penguin, Again

The Linux mascot is Tux the Penguin. He’s become a joke in the Fox Family, with Helaine often reminding me how the penguin and I don’t get along.

I’ve got two penguin problems – one at home and another at work.

First I was forced to upgrade my homebuilt DVR – a MythTV installation which runs under Linux&#185. It was unavoidable. The company that was providing the TV listings stops doing so this weekend. The new group (a non-profit) that will fill the void isn’t supported by my installed system. Newer software fixes that.

I did everything I was supposed to do and ended up with a machine that was missing its web interface… the place where I program the DVR! When I fixed the web server, I found another non-working piece that was hidden by the first problem. Once I fix that, I’ll probably find more that’s busted.

At work I switched Linux versions as I moved to a faster computer. My intention was to reinstall the software that produces our tide tables intact. Right!

When run as a scheduled event (a cron job), tide tables are produced for a few cities, then nothing. If I run the program manually, no problem. Everything works fine.

Try and troubleshoot that one! I’m three hours in and no closer to a solution.

I’ll be working on both problems from home this weekend. We’ll see if the penguin and I can have a reconciliation. It’s doubtful. And yet, I’m such a dweeb at heart there’s no doubt I’ll continue installing Linux in the future.

&#185 – I really should explain what Linux is. It is an operating system for computers.

No help, right?

Linux, like Windows or OSX for Macs, is what connects the programs you run to the computer that runs them. An operating system creates standard methods for accomplishing tasks. It keeps progammers from having to reinvent the wheel with each new application.

Most Windows programs have similarities. The same goes for Macs and Linux machines. That’s because the programs you use and tying into ‘hooks’ built into the operating system.

Scary Multimedia

As I type this entry, I’m playing poker and watching 60 Minutes, all on my laptop. I’m in the family room, but I could be anywhere in the house or nearby.

Until a few minutes ago, we had been using an 802.11b Wifi wireless network. The pipe wasn’t wide enough to pass high quality video. Now it’s 802.11g.

Simply, I increased the network capacity a factor of five just by substituting one piece of hardware for another. The additional investment was under $50. The practical implication is, my DVR&#185 can now push high quality, full motion video over our in-house wireless network.

When I put the original wired/wireless network in, there was no hint it might not produce enough bandwidth. In fact, when that original network went in, my connection to the outside world was through a dial-up modem.

Now, I realize, this new network is just an interim step in a never ending search for unlimited bandwidth. I will constantly need more bandwidth in-house and more bandwidth from the outside world. There will be more reasons to push bits around the house.

Some of those reasons, like video, I understand. Other reasons probably don’t yet exist.

Here’s how more bandwidth changes my DVR. Until recently, if I wanted to look at a recorded show without sitting in front of the actual DVR computer, I copied the whole file, machine-to-machine, across the network.

Even on the fastest in-house connections, computers that are wired not wireless, it took a few minutes to move a file to the playback machine (my typical video file runs approximately 2 Gb per hour). Now I can stream to the playback machine, moving only the bits needed when they’re needed. Playback starts instantly.

This little hardware switch also allows me to use a new piece of software, the MythTV Player. I’m watching 60 Minutes using it right now.

There’s nothing about this player that looks any different as it sits on my computer desktop. What it does do is read markers produced as my DVR records shows. They point to the beginning and end of commercial breaks. This player automatically removes the commercial breaks as you watch a show… and it’s been very effective so far.

As you might imagine, this is pretty scary to over-the-air and cable television stations, which make their money selling commercials. That’s how my employer pays my salary.

Luckily for me, the immediate nature of TV news makes it relatively DVR proof. That’s not true for most entertainment programming. Viewers should understand – no one will pay for big budget programming unless there are big budget returns.

This technology is changing the landscape of television. Some of the changes will be very good. Other aspects are sad. Without revenue, highly produced programming will disappear.

What good is having unfettered access, if there’s nothing to access?

&#185 – My DVR is a homebuilt computer running MythTV software on top of Ubuntu Linux. The guts of the computer were being thrown away. I added a $75 card and extra hard drive. My only other cost was time and a modicum of grief.

My Personal, Personal Video Recorder

Months ago, from the scraps of old computers, I pieced together a Personal Video Recorder or Disk Video Recorder or Digital Video Recorder – I never know which name is right. Take your pick.

That it ran at all was a surprise!

Over time I added extra hard drive space and a new CPU/motherboard combo. Anything that could fit in, and was heavily discounted, flew its way to my house. I was happy to take out a Phillips head screwdriver and do battle. I know my way around the inside of a computer case.

I chose KnoppMyth as my software. Hmmm…. this is going to get a little geeky, but I’ll give it a try.

MythTV is a software package to ‘make’ a DVR. It runs on Linux – the operating system that talks to the hardware in your computer. Linux is an operating system, like Windows XP is an operating system.

Linux is free and freely modifiable. And, it’s free as in, “Here it is.” It’s not free as in, “Here’s a copy of Windows XP I downloaded off the net, along with this serial number.”

So far, so good.

I say Linux, there is really no specific software called Linux.

There is Ubuntu Linux and Fedora Core Linux and Red Hat Linux, etc. Each is slightly different for slightly different reasons. Remember, it’s free. If you wanted to form a group with friends or with your evil twin to make a Linux distribution, more power to you. It’s allowable and encouraged.

KnoppMyth, the DVR software I used, combines a Linux ‘flavor’ (Knoppix Linux) with MythTV. It’s downloaded and then burned onto a disk. It’s the computer equivalent of making a Betty Crocker cake.

I like KnoppMyth, but it has its shortcomings. It isn’t 100% up-to-date and there are a few nagging bugs. Any time I’ve attempted to update or fix something, I’ve broken then entire installation.

Since KnoppMyth doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer, I decided to try to roll my own MythTV installation – combining MythTV with a Linux operating system. That’s how I wasted a good part of Sunday!

My attempt was to add MythTV to Ubuntu&#185 Linux. Makes your head spin? I should have said the same thing and stopped right there.

“How tough could it be,” I said to myself?

All day Helaine reminded me, “Messing with the penguin,” the penguin being our euphemism for Linux, “never ends up being a good experience.”

Before bedtime Sunday night, I had given up on mating Ubuntu and MythTV… but I hadn’t given up on the quest.

Today, while I was at work, my PC was downloading Fedora Core 5 – another Linux flavor. It was a 3+ Gb download! Now, home and in pajamas, I’ve burning it onto five CDs.

There’s a website which describes the process of mating Fedora with the very latest MythTV version. It looks easy, though it’s 29 printed pages (honest).

I could have gone back to KnoppMyth, but that was too easy. I want the feeling of accomplishment that is only earned following feelings of frustration and angst.

I’ll report back after the installation is finished, or the penguin and I have settled our score for good.

&#185 – Ubuntu seems to be the Linux distribution garnering the most favor right now. Forgetting MythTV for a second, Ubuntu was easily installed and came fully stocked with the programs most folks need on a daily basis.

As opposed to earlier Linux distributions, Ubuntu found and installed drivers for my sound and video cards without asking. It found its IP address for web surfing. It worked right out of the box.

I would recommend Ubuntu for any non-gamer who uses their computer for web surfing, IM chatting, word processing, email and other ‘normal’ web pursuits.

Right now at least, Ubuntu and the other Linux distributions are virtually virus and spyware free and they nearly never crash!

Blogger’s note: I worked on this project until 4:00 AM. Tuesday morning, I picked it up for a while, but it’s not done yet. Amazingly, after all my original downloading, most of the install time has been spent downloading newer files to replace the ones I got yesterday.

When I was providing input, it was copying intensely dense computer code from a web page to a ‘terminal’ window. I’d hit enter and the screen would look like hieroglyphs were flashing by until I had to ‘feed the beast’ again.

Hopefully I can complete the task later tonight.

Rod Serling Documentary

I have two DVRs. One is from Comcast. Its strength is being able to record digital cable channels. As DVRs go, it’s not very good.

The second DVR is self built. It runs MythTV software – a totally free Linux based application. I claim to have installed it on old throwaway hardware, but there were enhancements as I went along. It’s not totally reclaimed from scrap.

MythTV’s strength is its software. It is elegantly programmed and takes full advantage of a MySQL database. That means I can search for TV shows by title, genre, actors. You get the idea. It even knows how to record a show once, no matter how many times it airs or how many channels carry it.

I can also program what Tivo calls a ‘season pass.’ Every episode of a single show gets scarfed up on my hard drive.

That’s what I did with PBS’ American Masters series. OK, I’ve only watched a few, but they’re on my drive, just in case.

Tonight, after Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, I decided to delve into the episode on Rod Serling. Good move.

As a kid I watched Serling’s Twilight Zone. I remember having the crap scared out of me by some episodes. They were genuinely scary without being violent and with no special effects – none!

I knew they were good, because I heard they were good. I was too young to make that kind of value judgment on my own.

Now I understand more of what Serling was about. His work seen today, some of it fifty years old or more, is very impressive.

Rod Serling worked in the Golden Age of Television. You could make the case he was an integral reason it was the Golden Age.

Black and white clips of The Twilight Zone, Studio One, Kraft Television Theater and other dramatic anthologies present TV as a different animal. Writing and acting were critical. Production values were an afterthought.

Nearly every clip has featured actors I recognized from appearances long after the 50s. Many, like Robert Redford, Mickey Rooney, Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith and Jack Klugman had distinguished careers beyond television. There were also quirky scenes with actors out of place, like Ed Wynn, normally a slapstick comedian, playing a fight trainer in Requiem for a Heavyweight, or 14 year old Mickey Dolenz in The Velvet Alley, part of the Playhouse 90 series. Mike Wallace is even there, lit cigarette in hand, interviewing Rod Serling one-on-one.

Today’s episodic television looks for quick payoffs. TV shows have multiple plots going simultaneously. We no longer have the attention span to absorb ethereal writing. Serling would be quite unhappy. Serling’s type of television isn’t done today.

There’s no way to go back in time. That’s a shame. I’m just glad there are moments like this when I can take another look at why television became such an influential medium and why, even today, so many clearly remember these shows.

How Is My DVR doing?

I really wasn’t going to write about this, but a posting’s just gone up on Digg and I figured I’d better update. The Digg story referred to this article on building a homebrew DVR using SageTV software.

Paying $80 for software – that’s so not me.

I have chosen to use KnoppMyth, a Linux distribution based on Knoppix Linux and MythTV. For the un-geeky, “Linux distribution” refers to the operating system software that speaks directly to my computer’s chips. Windows XP is an example of an operating system.

What makes Linux so interesting as an operating system is, it’s free and it’s mainly supported by its own community of users.

MythTV is the actual suite of programs (also free) which turn my computer into a DVR.

What KnoppMyth does is make them play nicely together. Once you stick the KnoppMyth disk into your CD drive, most (not all) of the work has been done.

OK – enough of the technical stuff. How does it work and what have I discovered?

I’m pretty impressed with the quality. I haven’t played much with changing the capture parameters, but the way it’s set up now, recorded shows don’t look any different from what I’d expect to see on a TV screen.

The computer is currently in Steffie’s playroom. I thought it would stay there, but moving the video as packets across my network isn’t quite as simple as I thought. It will probably move into my office, on a shelf under the TV. I’ll unplug the computer monitor and move the video directly into a TV set.

Being able to program the DVR over the Internet is amazing – very powerful. More than once I have scheduled a recording while I was away from home.

Internet programming might be a problem over the long run because Comcast changes my home IP address from time-to-time. Imagine going to work in the morning and having all your stuff moved to a secret location while you’re away.

Also on the list of impressive features is the use of a MySQL database to hold the programming information. Enter a name, title, subject – nearly anything, and the DVR will let you know when something that matches will air. If there’s a conflict, it will even figure out another time to record! That’s very cool.

I recorded a program and wanted it on a DVD. No sweat. MythTV does all the grunt work of setting that up.

The computer I’m using is from the 90s. Its hard drive is large enough to hold 30 hours of high quality video. That should be enough.

One of the advantages of this free software is my ability to play around with it and modify it. I’ve done a little. I plan on doing more.

At some point, this homebuilt DVR will make me cry. All my computer projects do at one time or another. I try and keep it all in perspective, but stuff you throw together on a kitchen table or the floor of a spare room just isn’t the same as what you buy at Circuit City or Best Buy.

I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

The Good And Bad Of Open Source

If you’ve been following the trials and tribulations of my homebuilt DVR, you’ve been listening to the good and bad of open source software.

To quote Richard Nixon, I am not a thief.

The software I’m using has been built for the common good and released under licenses that allow fairly free use. That includes the operating system, Linux, the DVR’s framework, MythTV and all the utilities I use, including an excellent program called ffmpeg.

Ffmpeg is like a Swiss Army Knife for video files. It allows the movement of these files into different formats. That’s valuable under a variety of circumstances, including mine.

In order to watch what I’ve recorded online from anywhere (and that’s my goal) I need to be able to convert the DVR’s nuv files to Flash compatible flv files. Ffmpeg should do that, and in a way which can be automated.

I’m bringing up ffmpeg, because it’s a sign of what’s good and bad about open source.

Part of the good is its free availability. That allows ‘hackers’ like me to play around in a sophisticated area of computing with readily available tools. There are all sort of additional programs built around ffmpeg. It’s like seed corn.

Part of the bad, is how these programs are supported – in other words, what happens if you get stuck? There’s no company behind it, so no company to call!

Ffmpeg depends on community based support, which runs through a mailing list. If you understand the program, you’re encouraged to share your knowledge.

When I began to have trouble, I signed up for the list, posted my question and waited… and waited… and waited.

Someone saw my question, took mercy on me, asked me to provide some error outputs and then… nothing. I sat and waited some more.

As I posted again, looking for help, members of the community responded, but they also complained about how I was posting and the fact that I was using the most current version of ffmpeg on their website – an old version.

At some points more of the conversation was about procedure than problem solving!

I jumped through hoops, doing whatever anyone asked, to try and get things working. No matter what I did though, ffmpeg failed me in the exact same way.

I was willing to put up with this stuff, though I was getting perturbed. I wonder how many others would have just bailed?

If open source is to be ‘ready for prime time,’ the spotty response to cries for help needs to be made a little more friendly. I was made to feel like a jerk or idiot or both. That’s not good. And believe me, I understand I have just bitten the hand that feeds me.

OK – so I’ve vented about what’s wrong with open source. But, there is a silver lining to this story and something that’s very right with open source.

I believe my problem was caused by a bug in the software, or maybe a part that was just never fully implemented. One of the developers saw my cries and modified the program to accommodate my needs!

Would Microsoft do that for me? I doubt it.

Tonight, when I get home, I’ll load another version of ffmpeg that should solve my problem – and will be available in the future for others like me.

Companies like Microsoft worry about open source. Why would anyone buy Windows or Office if they could get the same functionality for free?

Right now the big difference is support. It might not always be that way. It is today.

Damn You Penguin!

I’ve been fooling around with a homebuilt DVR – a MythTV box. It’s very cool and I’ve discussed it ad nauseum over the past few days.

It is based on Linux (aka – the Penguin), a free operating system. Most likely, the computer you’re using now is running some flavor of Windows. That too is an operating system.

Anyway, I love this little DVR. There are amazing tricks it can do that my current cable company DVR can’t. But, there’s one thing it doesn’t do – and that’s about to drive me nuts.

I want this thing to stream video to me anywhere I am, over the Internet. Every bit of that functionality is set, but one. I can’t convert the video files it produces to something usable in the outside world.

I consider myself pretty savvy, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a “nuv” video file. I should be able to convert it to and flv file (Flash video)… well, should and can are two entirely different things.

I spent much of last night… and the night before, sitting in front of the computer, trying to coax this conversion.

I have posted on bulletin boards and mailing lists – even sent email to strangers I thought might help. Nothing!

So, the Penguin and I are currently on the outs. If he doesn’t make me happy soon, I’ll pour water on him. That’ll show him who’s boss… because currently, it’s not me.

MythTV – My DVR

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 Hauppauge&#185 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!

&#185 – 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.

How I Got MythTV

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I accumulate computer stuff. And, as more equipment comes in, more parts move to the attic where they await… let’s call it reassignment.

I’ve just rebuilt my ‘main’ machine, replacing some of its innards. A month or so ago, a friend’s sister gave me her discarded PC. And, with Steffie at college and the proud owner of a very pretty Dell laptop, I have her old AMD500.

My junk pile is large and old. Most of what I’ve got is way behind the curve. From time-to-time I’ve forced myself to throw stuff away. It’s a painful experience.

Still, I recently found myself with an old video tuner/capture card, an older Nvidia video card, Steffie’s 500 mHz machine and a posting on (actually, here are all the Digg postings about MythTV).

The world’s best HTPC&#185 distribution now includes MythTV 0.19.fixes and lots of under-the-hood improvements since R5A30.2. Everyone should upgrade from previous versions. So stop reading and go download it via bittorrent at !

Perfectly clear now? It wasn’t to me, but a little light went on over my head.

They are referring to KnoppMyth. KnoppMyth is based on MythTV, a free set of programs to turn a computer into a DVR. KnoppMyth is referred to as “The world’s best HTPC distribution” because it allows you to put a disk in a computer and come back with the job totally done – as long as you want a computer that’s nothing but a DVR.

OK not quite that easy, but close enough.

Yesterday I downloaded files, burned a CD and began to install… and install… and install. I had no idea what I was doing and refused to read any documentation. Not only that, one critical part of the puzzle (a router) was unplugged and I didn’t realize it.

Sometime late last night, my job was sort of done. I still had to configure the system to recognize my particular hardware. And, I did.

Holy cow – I have a mainly free Tivo! That’s the point of this entry.

This old machine is somewhat limited. I can’t watch and record at the same time and the quality is good, not great. Still, I took an old computer and turned into something (oh – I hate to say this) useful.

If they’re listening at my cable company, this thing is better than the DVR I pay you for! That’s not because of the quality, but because of the amazing program guide and the ability to program it online!

All the programming info is parsed into a MySQL (if those initials mean nothing, don’t worry) database. That means it’s quickly and easily searched and manipulated.

I think I can stream what I record to any computer here on my home network or on the Internet. How cool is that? I began to follow the instructions for that conversion, but decided there wasn’t enough time tonight and temporarily ditched that idea.

This will keep me busy for a while.

&#185 – HTPC means Home Theater PC… I think.