Home tech update…


Decided to take some time to revamp our HTPC (Home Theatre PC). Had Ubuntu 10.04 with XBMC on it. XBMC is a great idea but, like so many other things in free software these days, often doesn’t work out of the box. Updated Ubuntu and actually put a 64 bit build on the box (weirdly used a 32 bit image before – I think because I used the XBMC live CD to install) Decided not to bother with XBMC at all this time. We tend to use our TV and PC to either watch live TV or catch up TV, with the occassional Netflix/Lovefilm streamed movie. As it turns out XBMCs browser support sucks too. Decided to opt for just Myth TV on an Ubuntu box.

Myth TV is a great user interface, probably one of the best EPGs I’ve seen on any TV. I bought a PCTVSystems NanoStick DVB-T2 290e USB Freeview HD device which works out of the box with the latest Linux Kernel. This comes with a great mini antenna of its own, but also a normal aerial adapter. I was quite impressed with the reception of the antenna. Myth TV worked great with the backend (that records and received TV programmes) and the frontend (with the user interface and playback) on the same machine.

I hit a few annoying issues when running the frontend on a different machine. This is quite surprising when you think about it – a lot of the time these days you have multiple PCs and TVs in the house and if you don’t like being forced to sit through Coronation street it’s handy to relegate the missus to a different room! You would think Myth TV would support having remote Frontends out of the box. Unfortunately even though it configures 99% of the MySQL database backend it neglects the ability for the mythtv database account to connect remotely. Also, surprisingly, the mythtv db account fails locally when used from a transcoding perl script. This means logging in to MySQL as root and adding a ‘mythtv’@’*’ account and granting it all permissions on the mythconverg database. Plenty of websites with this on, just search for ‘MythTV database permission denied’.

Once those teething issues were sorted it worked well. Quite possibly the sexiest feature of Myth TV, and one that’s quite undersold in my opinion, is the ability for an Android phone to use the Mythmote application to act as a Myth TV specific remote control for a front end! Most people have their phones connected to their wifi at home, so this remote control app is a brilliant idea. It uses the local network rather than infrared to control a Myth Frontend. It also supports saving multiple front end locations, so the same app can control the living room (HTPC) frontend, my laptop frontend, or my mac mini front end. Great idea!

Also decided to set up the Myth Frontend for Mac. This was a massive, massive let down. Turns out the playback on Myth Frontend 0.25 on the mac has had hardware accelerated graphics disabled, meaning its nigh on impossible to watch any HD channels or HD recordings. This was done because the method Myth TV uses on the mac (DVADecoder) causes a kernel panic on interlaced playback. I logged a bug/feature request for them to use Qtkit instead for HD playback. This was immediately closed as invalid which bemused me. Their argument was that Qtkit wouldn’t give them a ‘Myth style playback’ i.e. pause/resume on live TV. My position is that HD playback without pause is better than no HD playback at all! They disagree. I managed to find a 32 bit build with DVA decoding enabled (at the moment even if you select it in the frontend, it will fallback to opengl!). This 32 bit build works great. A bit of an overreaction disabling all playback via DVA if sometimes it doesn’t work – you can always select a different playback option (and indeed DVA isn’t turned on by default anyway!) so their decision to do this is a bit bizarre.

I suspect a lot of the problem in linux born opensource projects is that the Mac is a second class citizen. A classic example of this is the way the bug closer responded to my bug. He said I should either install linux instead of Mac OS X or upgrade my hardware! Given I said I had a Macbook Pro and I use OS X because I don’t want to use Ubuntu (I use laptop for video editing), I found his reply utterly ridiculous. I’d expect better from a Windoze developer to be honest. It seems there is little appetite to work on Mac ports of mainstream software. If it ‘works on my machine’ they don’t particularly care about anyone else.

Managed to resurrect my Mac mini. This had a hard disk issue. Now got it set up with a new disc and Snow Leopard. I’ll use this to power the spare HD flat panel upstairs. I’m going to mount this on the wall between my two windows. I have a great view of the Peak District from the top floor here in my home office. I’ve often wondered if one very long window would be better, so am going to use the TV when not in use to displa the best HD photos of the peak district, and ones of myself and my fiancee climbing locally, so I always have a good weather picture to motivate me during the day.

Also looking at creating a live data feed set up for this screen. I’d like a mix of local (system, tv, network) and remote (stocks, news, email) alerts to show on it. Looking at using a web browser as the client. This would mean I can follow up on any news items from whichever computer I’m working on rather than be forced to use the mac. I want to keep the server side stuff to a minimum so am looking at node.js. Need to see if I can use that to access local system info, and mythtv (so mysql), as well as remote news feeds. Didn’t want to use a mix of programming languages as this would have meant at some point a complex mish mash of server side communication. Hopefully node.js has modules to do a lot of these facilities on the backend. I don’t need anything complicated really, just the ability to execute local commands (I can always write a script to do something) or fetch a remote URL.

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