Choosing Frontend Hardware
This is a placeholder page to gauge interest in the topic...
This page currently only applies for SD boxes. HD boxes may require higher specs.
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:
- Mini-itx systems
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.
- Cooling Fan(s)
- Hard drive(s)
- Optical Drive(s)
- Fanless designs
- Some of the mini-itx systems are fanless.
- Driveless designs
- Boot from network
- Use solid state media (i.e. Compact Flash) for storing front end software
- No Optical Drive needed for front end
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.
- Theoretically capable of HD
- Mac OS X binaries of MythFrontend easily available
- Comparatively low support
- Intel support is not to the level of the PowerPC systems
- All drivers in kernel
- Hardware MPEG2 (~30% cpu usage on 1Ghz C3-2)
- SPDIF output on most boards
- Active 2d graphics driver 
- Powerful enough to decode SD Xvid with AC3
- Native SD resolutions for TV out (etc 720x576 for PAL)
- Stagnant 3d driver
- Commercial flagging slow (reports ~45fps on 1Ghz C3-2)
- Majority of boards not powerful enough for HDTV
- cpu frequency scale driver still buggy
- Models with fans are still relatively loud
- Very small on chip cache
- Some users have been plagued by a DMA controller bug (had no problems myself) 
The Minimyth project provides a relativly simple route to getting a frontend up and running based on a Mini-ITX board
- 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
- Hardware is mostly unmodifiable
- Low RAM (64 MB, upgradeable to 128, but the process is risky!)
- Not the smallest machine around
- 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.
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), by replacing it with a quieter fan (if you're prepared to void your warranty), 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).
- Different UI than other MythTV front-ends.
- The best you can get is S-Video.
- Limited support for DivX and other formats. Playback of video formats other than MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 is accomplished by using the MediaMVP as a thin client running the VNC protocol.
- You can watch and delete your recordings, as well as view the upcoming recording schedule. You can also watch live tv on any available tuner. Additional functionality, such as scheduling of recordings, commercial skip, etc are not supported at this time (13/06-06).
- Sometimes lags behind MythTV protocol changes. See the project FAQ for the latest supported version.
- Old MediaMVP hardware versions don't have optical sound without opening the box. The new MediaMVP has optical sound.
- The mvpmc firmware is loaded by TFTP server. No security, but easy.
- MediaMVP Brochure - official product information.
- MediaMVP Datasheet - official product information.
- MediaMVP FAQ
- MediaMVP Media Center - (mvpmc) is a media player for the Hauppauge MediaMVP. It replaces the factory firmware and supports playing audio and video from MythTV or ReplayTV digital video recorders, or via HTTP, NFS, and CIFS.
- hardware information - specifications, photos.
- SHS MediaMVP Forum
- Other Resources
I think I read that this includes softsqueeze for tunes.
|Device||Price||Fanless||Size||Latest version supported|
|MediaMVP||$85 - $100||Yes||Very Small||See the project FAQ for the latest supported version|
...Links off to specific system entries in the PVR Hardware Database.
- Frontend only upstairs machine
- All ATi frontend
- Groucho Frony End 01
- HD Frontend
- Mac Mini Frontend
- Low-end Frontend
- XBOX Frontend