Choosing Frontend Hardware

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Revision as of 21:15, 19 May 2006 by Zirka (talk | contribs) (MacMini: Added what I heard from the mailing list)

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This is a placeholder page to guage interest in the topic...

I've got a combined frontend/backend system in the living room, based on the fabulously easy Mythdora. As we get more addicted to it, the desire for additional frontends in other rooms in the house is increasing.

I see the goal of this page as helping poor sods like me compare the options and make a choice. I've barfed out some thoughts below.

From what I can see it looks like the choices are between:

  • MacMini
  • Mini-itx systems
  • XBox
  • MediaMVP

Ideally I think this page will have a nice "Consumer Reports'ish" comparison table... but that's beyond my wiki skills today...



An SD frontend shouldn't need a lot of hardware power. How cheap can you go and still play SD recordings from a backend?

Things to think about:

  • Does it need an optical drive?
  • MPEG4 vs MPEG2 a factor?
  • Does it really need a hard drive? Network boot, bootable CD.


Some of the mini-itx systems are fanless. How noisy are the others? Hard drive noise? DVD reader noise?


How much pain and suffering required to get things set up and running? How much 'fiddling around'? Will Mythdora, knoppmyth or another all-inclusive distro 'just work'? If network booting or other approaches used to reduce costs, how hard are they to configure?

I'm cheap, but I also value my time. If somethings going to save me $100 but take 20 extra hours to figure out it's not worth it to me...


Is there any trade-off in video or sound quality?


Is the system power borderline? Are menus slow? This attribute is mainly aimed at MediaMVP, which loses points since kids, spouse, etc will need to learn another UI.


Other nice side-benefits of a particular approach or system.

The Options


  • Pros
    • Small
    • Quiet
    • Theoretically capable of HD
    • Mac OS X binaries of MythFrontend easily available
  • Cons
    • Comparatively low support
    • No back-end software available
    • Intel support is not to the level of the PowerPC systems
  • Comments



  • Pros


  • Cons


  • Comments



  • Pros
    • Smaller than most PCs
    • Relatively inexpensive ($129 used, as of May 18, 2006)
    • Preconfigured binary disk images available on the internet
    • Remote available and easy to install
    • If softmodded, can retain ability to play XBox games
    • Can be modified to run Linux without the need to install a modchip
  • Cons
    • Hardware is mostly unmodifiable
    • Low RAM (64 MB, upgradeable to 128, but the process is risky!)
    • Not the smallest machine around
    • Is made by Microsoft
    • Recovery from hardware failure is more difficult than with other systems
    • DVD-ROM drive is sensitive to most CD-Rs, and some brands of DVD±R(W)/DLs.
  • Comments

Given the cost of the XBox, it makes a pretty decent Standard-Def frontend. The CPU has enough power to perform all the the usual MythTV bells and whistles (OSD, Time-stretch, haven't tested Picture-In-Picture) with MPEG-2 video (haven't tested those features with MPEG-4, but Linux can run MPEG-4 in MythVideo). The machine is quite stable, but depending on how you go about installing MythTV, your software might not (some prefab'd Myth disk images are slightly unstable). One useful side-benefit is that should you find MythVideo to be unsatisfactory for one reason or another, an alternative can be run as XBox homebrew (the most common is XBMC). For $129 (with the price sure to fall eventually, with the release of the XBox 360), the XBox gives you a machine capable of all the (standard definition) MythTV features, and a few extra features as well.

The machine is mostly quiet, the loudest part being the fan, which is easily overridden by either controlling the fan speed (0.9x and below delivers noticeable changes), or simply by putting something on (the fan is easily drown out by ANYTHING, and can usually only be heard when everything else is silent). While the XBox has been criticized as the largest game console known to man, it's only roughly the size of a VCR, and shouldn't be too outrageously large to install in a home media center. The DVD-ROM drive is quite functional for commercially pressed discs, but (depending on the brand of your DVD-ROM drive) is not compatible with most CD-Rs, and some brands of DVD±R(W)s, including Dual Layer media. The XBox is also phenomenally easy to set up. One cord for network, one for A/V, one for power. If the user feels it necessary, additional peripherals can be installed through the XBox's USB ports (though an adapter will be required).


  • Pros

Cheap! ?

  • Cons

Different UI ?

  • Comments

I think I read that this includes softsqueeze for tunes. ?

Comparison Table

This section intentially left blank due to authors current ignorance... :-)

Sample systems

...Links off to specific system entries in the PVR Hardware Database.