User Manual:Introduction

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Sometime back in 2002 (before May 15th, which is his first website news posting), Isaac Richards decided he wanted something more from his television.

He says:

I got tired of the rather low quality cable box that AT&T Broadband provides with their digital cable service. It's slow to change channels, ridden with ads, and the program guide is a joke. So, I figured it'd be fun to try and build a replacement. Yes, I could have just bought a TiVo, but I wanted to have more than just a PVR -- I want a webbrowser built in, a mail client, maybe some games. Basically, I want the mythical convergence box that's been talked about for a few years now.
So, in late April 2002, I started tinkering with stuff. I bought a cheap TV tuner card from Best Buy, and threw it into my desktop box (P3-550). I started playing around with different video encoders, and eventually decided that NuppelVideo provided the best quality video for the amount of CPU it took up. It's based on a modified RTjpeg codec, and it looks rather nice, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the poor P3-550 really couldn't encode and decode video at the same time. So, I took the plunge and bought a better machine -- an Athlon XP 1800+. I based the machine off of an Abit NV7-133R motherboard, and put it into a nice black case.
See the news updates/archives for what's happened since.

As we expand this manual, some of the more technical bits in that explanation will likely turn into hotlinks, but in the meantime, read on, Mac Duff.

What is MythTV?

MythTV is a collection of software which runs under the Linux operating system, and provides the functions commonly known as a PVR or DVR (personal, or digital, video recorder) -- essentially, it's a computerized VCR, similar to a TiVo or a Replay... but since it's open source software, if you don't like the way it does something, you can always change it -- that's how much of it's current functionality came about in the first place.

In addition to the basic PVR functions of recording and playing back scheduled programs and allowing you to schedule recordings automatically in advance, MythTV has a plugin system which permits it to be extended by other programmers; plugins currently exist for playing external video, viewing photos and listening to music files, using your TV and a web camera as a videotelephone over the Internet, browsing the web, retrieving current local weather, and many other functions.

Current Version

As of late 2005, MythTV is in release version 0.18; this is probably a late-beta to gamma quality release despite its low version number (a common characteristic of Open Source Software projects). Features planned for an upcoming release, and available in the current CVS for the brave, are listed at Under Development. New features in the current release can be found at Whats New

I Want My MythTV!

MythTV isn't (yet) for everyone. While it's likely that at some point, you'll be able to treat it as an appliance, requiring no special care or maintenance, that day hasn't entirely arrived yet. There are companies selling pre-configured MythTV boxes, and those units likely are stable enough to toss on the living room shelf and hand the remote to your kids, but if you're building one yourself (or having someone build one for you), then things may be just a touch more complicated -- this is the price you pay for power and flexibility.

If you want to build yourself a MythTV box (there isn't really a great way to use MythTV unambiguously as a noun; that's my compromise), then there are two approaches you can take:

  • Build it out of all those pieces you've got laying around.
  • Buy all the pieces from scratch.

Which of those two choices you'll make depends a lot on how much money (and what parts) you've got laying around, and on how much work you want to do -- if you choose each part specifically for the task, you will likely spend a little more money, and have a lot less hassle.

I built a Myth Box for my sister, and since she is the ultimate couch potato (the machine's name is, actually, 'potato' :-), and she's a hardcore taper (want a copy of a TV episode from 1989? She might have the entire series), the machine has to be a production-quality unit.

For us, this indicated "buy all the parts new", and, since she was planning to have more than one tuner card (between 3 and 5, actually), it indicated "use hardware-MPEG tuners" as well. We'll get into those discussions in an appendix, since this manual is mostly aimed at the person with an operational Myth Box in front of them; if you haven't built one yet; check that section out -- I'll be including links to useful information for making that decision.

Basic Configuration

In the course of this manual, we will often have reason to refer to a Basic Configuration... mostly to point out something that can't be done unless you have more than that.  :-)

My idea of a Basic Configuration for a Myth Box is this:

  • First you need a Linux Distribution
  • A VGA card supporting with optional TV-out
  • 256MB (preferably 512) or more of RAM,
  • At least a 1500MHz CPU (for non-hardware-MPEG Tuner Cards) or,
  • At least a 800MHz CPU (for hardware-MPEG Tuner Cards),
  • One Tuner Card of some flavor appropriate to the TV services you have available at your location,
  • At least 60GB of hard disk space, most of which can be used for storing recordings.

This is a basic system, which will let you schedule recordings and Watch Live, though not at the same time.

Expanded Configuration

As you have money and motivation, you can expand your system in many ways.