Knowing When To Quit

I’ve spent something like nine hours this weekend trying to get my
MythTV box into a working state. I shall take a short look back over
the obstacles I’ve already overcome and the reasons why I’ve decided
that my sanity is worth more than �30.

The motley pile of electronics sat under the TV has begun to annoy me.
We have four separate devices and four separate remotes. None of which
work terribly well together. The freeview controler is going gradually
insane in its old age and the VCR sounds like helicopter when it’s
recording. Plus it’s all so un-networked. I hate the fact that I can’t
watch shows I’ve downloaded on the big TV in the living room or watch
digital TV in the bedroom.

So I have this dream that I can replace all these devices with one
shiny new computerized machine that will lead us all into the promised
land of networked entertainment. I want something that can play and
record digital TV, play DVDs and MP3s and AVIs and MOVs. And that can
do all that over the network.

Step one of my plan for global domination is complete. The house is now
covered by an 802.11g network. This took all of half an hour to set up
and has been working flawlessly ever since.

I’ll spare you the gory details of actually building the machine and instead give you a run down of the components.

  1. Athlon64 CPU – this gives me an excuse to place with 64bit linux. It’s totally unnecessary to the working of the machine.
  2. 2x Hauppauge Nova-T digital terrestrial TV capture cards -These
    are pretty much the only DVB-T cards you can buy with any ease. I
    wanted two so that I could play and record at the same time.
  3. 4x 200GB SATA drives – The more space the better I say. Plus I
    haven’t played with serial ATA yet and this seems like the perfect
  4. nVida FX5200 Graphics card with TV-out – I’m extrememly familiar
    with the ins and outs of the nvidia binary driver so I was pretty sure
    I could get the TV-out on this working. It’s also dirt cheap.
  5. Onboard sound – you don’t need facy sound so why spend the money?
    If I was plugging this into a surround sound system I might buy
    something special.
  6. Atheros based 802.11g wireless card – pretty self explanatory really.
  7. Pioneer DVD RW – I’ll probably never write DVDs on it but they are so cheap now that I couldn’t resist.

I wrapped this all up in a midi tower case from Antec. My basic feeling
is that it’s much easier to make a big case quieter and I value silence
over visual aesthetics. Plus I couldn’t have fitted all that gear into
a mini-ITX box anyway.

Thanks to all the extra packages at Atrpms the multimedia capabilities
of Fedora Core 3 can be made to work pretty much out of the box. There
are even packages for the wireless drivers and the cx88 drivers that
make the NOVA-T capture cards work. I was massivley impressed I thought
I might even get away without recompiling a kernel.

And then I came to getting the remote control to work. Oh boy. After
several days of patching kernels, rebuilding video4linux out of CVS and
trying to understand the complexities of lirc I’ve got to the stage
where I can get the OK button of my remote control to work.

However there exists a solution in the form of an extremely simple IR
reciever called irman. You can buy them here in the UK for abour �30
each. It works with practically any remote control and has been
supported in lirc for a long time. It seems likely that the cx88
drivers out of video4linux will support the remote properly in a couple
of months but I’ve reached the point where I can’t wait any longer.

There are also a number of reasons why an external IR reciever is
better than using the one built into the TV card. If I upgrade the TV
cards I won’t lose the remote control finctionality. It my remote
breaks I can replace it with a generic remote and things will still

I think that is enough rambling for one day I’ll let you know how it goes.