Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dear LazyWeb: TiVo, MythTV, Decisions

So we have a TV in the bedroom now. We generally watch TV in the living room, where we have an old Series 2 TiVo that does the job. Now, in the bedroom, we miss the essential TiVo features: accessing recorded shows and pausing/rewinding/fastforwarding live TV.

As far as I can tell, these are my options:
  1. Buy a new TiVo + subscription for the bedroom.
  2. Set up a MythTV box in the bedroom that can get content from the other TiVo using tivodecode.
  3. Buy a MediaMVP or AppleTV and somehow rig it up with tivodecode so I can access content from the other TiVo. This doesn't allow me to pause/rewind/fastforward live TV, though.
Buying a new TiVo has the following costs:
  • New TiVo box: $99
  • New TiVo wireless adapter: $59
  • New TiVo subscription: ~$6/mo
  • Total over one year: $230
Option 2 is setting up a complete MythTV backend+frontend and deploying it in the bedroom. Considering that I'd have to buy a complete PC with a TV tuner, and I'd want it to be attractive and quiet, this would probably be $500-$800. Alternatively I could set up an ugly backend and an attractive frontend, but I doubt that would be any cheaper. This would allow me to have complete TiVo functionality (and more) in the bedroom, and would prevent me from falling further into the TiVo lock-in trap. It's a very tempting solution, but I'm put off by the initial cost.

The Hauppage MediaMVP seems pretty cool. It's hackable, can be made into a MythTV frontend if I ever decide to go down that road, and is super-cheap at $150. The only problem is that I'd either have to use Windows to serve it content, or hack it with MediaMVP Media Center, which doesn't seem very easy to use.

I'm not sure if I can use an AppleTV on my standard def TV. Its only advantage over the MediaMVP is sheer processing power (and easy-to-use interface if I used the provided software). It costs $229.

I guess I have to decide if manipulating live TV in the bedroom is important to me. If not, I could get a MediaMVP or AppleTV and rig up something on the server side to pull content from my TiVo and prep it with tivodecode. This could later be expanded into a full MythTV setup when I feel ready to invest in backend hardware.

However, if pausing/rewinding/fastforwarding live TV is a must, then it seems the more efficient choice is to buy another TiVo.

So, LazyWeb...what should I do? Do you use MythTV? Any compelling reasons that I should invest in setting it up?


Anonymous said...

I run MythTv: On two boxes built of harware I scrapped from other things.

Tyler said...

A MediaMVP box with a GBPVR or MythTV backend does do the job, although the relatively sluggish GUI can sometimes be annoying. But the streaming of network content works well (including internet radio / podcasts / streaming video).

Jeremy said...

What about an Xbox (original) with Xbox Media Center (XBMC) loaded on it? With XBMCMythTV, it seems like you can do everything you're wanting. Xbox + remote kit + softmod + ActionReplay (req'd for softmod) has got to be under $200.

Rusty said...

As you already have a server to store content on, you could install mythtv-backend there. Add storage as neccesary there. (Of course this presumes you have Linux running the server. Silly presumption in some circles, but likely in this case.)

For a tuner, you can either add a usb based capture device, or an ethernet based HDHomerun.

For a front end you could use the MediaMVP, or pick up a via itx based motherboard/system. I'm not sure how well the MediaMVP handles digital content from the HDHomerun, but it does a good job with mpeg2 content and mp3 files.

To be honest, for the front end almost any new motherboard, dual core greater than 2ghz processor and 1 gig of ram with a 8 gig flash card (for mythbuntu front end) and a dvd drive should work. I historically I would advise using an nVidia video card, and if one is built into the system that should work fine, but the Intel chipsets work, and ATI seems to be getting it's act together as well. The real driver is getting something with an s-video or composite out that your TV can accept. It may be a header on the motherboard if you find a board with that.

HDHomerun dual digital tuner $169 (
Wintv HVR-950 hybred tuner $50.50 buy it now on e-bay

Hardware for a front end except for dvd drive and hard drive $220 (
(that has a mpeg-2 decoder built in and _may_ be able to keep up with a digital tv stream feeding it to an onboard s-video interface.)

Caveat on the HDHomerun. It's a digital only tuner. That means no analog cable, which is still a lot of channels. Also the last I checked it did not support cablecard. (Mine doesn't have the capability) So the only digital cable you are going to get is unencrypted. If the WinTv HVR doesn't suit your needs, you may want to look into using a digital cable tunner with a firewire connection to get content to the server. (A firewire card is a lot less expensive than even the HVR. I'm not interested in renting such a tuner, so...)

I have had a Tivo. But I think the money I've invested in my MythTV setup is worth the difference. That doesn't mean you or anyone else will feel the same way.


Anonymous said...

Might I suggest a Neuros OSD? It stands for Open Source Device, and it's just that. Runs Linux with a Qt based gui, everything except their codecs is open. Pretty inexpensive too (currently $170US on amazon).

Anonymous said...

sorry forgot links

OSD on amazon
Neuros community website

Anonymous said...

Mac Mini + OSXBMC

Sandy said...

@tyler: Thanks for the heads up on the sluggish UI...that's the sort of thing that might really bug me.

@jeremy: Tempting, but huge, loud, and ugly.

@rusty: I do have a Linux server on my home network, but I'm reluctant to strain it with this kind of work. It's an EPIA CLE 6000. Thanks for all of the links, they're quite helpful. :-)

@anonymous: Wow, the Neuros looks pretty cool. I was right next to these guys at LugRadio Live, but I didn't really "get" the product. I think it's a good competitor to the MediaMVP and AppleTV, though it's a shame that there's no built-in wireless. I wonder how seamlessly you can pause live TV if you have a VCR as an input source... Definitely warrants further research. Thanks!

eleddy said...

An now for an answer of a different color: based on my previous past experience, the more tv that is watched in the bedroom the less sex is had unless you use that tv to watch porno... I suggest avoiding setting up recordable/playback tv and hook up your internet porn laden laptop (assuming you have one). For your decision making process:

TV: Commercials give you headaches
Sex: relieves headaches (deconstricts the veins)

TV: Makes you stay up later
Sex: Makes you go to bed right away

TV: Gives you snarky comments and taglines from your favorite shows like Seinfeld about how relationships suck
Sex: Enhances your real relationship and has the side effect of coercing your significant other to make you a sweet orgasm thanks filled dinner the next night

TV: $200-$800
Sex: FREE! for you anyways...

Seriously though, I think you need to figure in the amount of time you'll be spending setting this stuff up. mythtv sounds great and so does building up a box but how much time to you have to tinker with this stuff? your hourly rate should be configured into the estimate.

Btw, cable tv is dead/dying. I would triple consider long term investments of hardware.

Sandy said...

@eleddy: I totally get your viewpoint...however...

1. Ellery grew up with a TV in her bedroom, and it is her preferred location to watch TV. I prefer the living room, but she should be able to have a good TV experience, too. ;-)

2. Ellery requires the TV on in the background to get to sleep, especially when she wakes up in the middle of the night. This has no bearing on the DVR setup, but it justifies the existence of a TV in the bedroom. We got it as a free hand-me-down.

We don't watch in excess in the bedroom, in fact I hardly watch at all in the bedroom, and for ::cough:: non-mainstream content we do have a DVD player. ;-)

It's true that setting up my own system is bound to be a time suck. To an extent, projects like that can be very fun and satisfying. But there is a limit and I am keeping that in mind.

Actually, I'm toying with the idea of doing my long-planned server revamp, and just including a PVR-350 and moving the server to live under the TV. Might work...

What's that about cable TV dying? This is not something I'm aware of. Is analog cable TV on the way out?

Anonymous said...

Let us know what you choose. I am pretty much in the same situation. Xbox with Xebian (softmod) just died.

I am hesitating between Popcorn Hour A-100 (, Neuros OSD or an Xbox 360 (and find a cheap NAS that provides UPnP). I might consider Apple TV if it supports a lot of codecs but I haven't looked into it.

The big downer for Neuros OSD is that its an old product now and that it'll probably be revised soon.

Anyway, let us know what you decided and, most importantly, why.