Linux PC as PVR - suggestions / recommendations

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Linux PC as PVR - suggestions / recommendations

Postby e_james » Mon Oct 15, 2012 3:10 pm

Where I live in the UK the digital switchover will provide digital TV for the first time on 10th and 24th of October. Until now, apart from Satellite, only analogue was available and I didn't want satellite. I have been using my PCs and analogue video recorders to time shift interesting programmes so that I can watch them at a time of my choosing. Because I couldn't test much until the 10th, I have just discovered that many (possibly all) digital recorders work in a way which is much less convenient than the old analogue units. I have already spent significant cash in order to discover that much, and I could easily spend a lot more just to get the new digital system working about as well as the old analogue system.

Currently there are three rooms in the house with televisions and most of the recorded programmes are available either on the TV set or on a computer beside it by means of a variety of strategies including my network. As an example of the sort of problem to solve, consider the Panasonic DIGA DMR-HW100. With twin tuners and network streaming, it looks quite well suited to the task: but, on closer inspection, the only TV connection is HDMI and none of my existing TVs has that connector. In addition, it may or may not have the capability its analogue predecessors have of playing continuously from one recording to the next and the next until there is none left. I have found that facility very useful.

I have now had the thought that maybe, instead of buying digital recorders, TVs, adapters etc., a much better strategy would be to build my own video recorders using small, cheap PCs and suitable TV tuners. I could probably do it with Windows, but I would like to do it with Linux. I have often seen the comment in these forums and elsewhere that life is less stressful if you buy the hardware to suit Linux so that is the reason for this post.

I would appreciate suggestions and recommendations as to what PCs, tuners, distributions and applications are likely to be suitable. For experimentation, I have available at this time an eeePC 901, an eeePC X101CH (currently a poor choice for linux), an eeeBOX B202 and a Kworld usb digital tuner which works in Windows 7 but the software could be better.

Please bear in mind that my experience with Linux is barely beyond the beginner level (especially with video recording) and I don't have the time to learn how to cajole Linux into doing something it's not too willing to do. If it takes a week to set up something with Windows and a month to do the same with Linux, I am likely to go with Windows.
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Postby purplepenguin » Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:40 pm

hi the first application that comes to mind is Mythtv there have been a few tutorials in the mag and theres a specialized ubuntu remit called Mythbuntu.

Or there is my favorite XBMC. the next release called Frodo will have native PVR built in. XBMC Also has a plugin for the Mythtv.
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Postby nelz » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:32 pm

I'd say MythTV, despite the initial work in setting it up, because it will repay you many times over.
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Postby wyliecoyoteuk » Mon Oct 15, 2012 10:40 pm

MythTV is an excellent option.
Basically all you need is one PC with TV tuners to run the backend, and install frontends on any other PCs you want to use for viewing.
I have a PC in the living room with a twin tuner PCI card, a backend and frontend, and frontends on 4 other PCs, so you can watch over the network.
I can watch TV on my netbook in the bedroom without a tuner, for example..

MythTV can also record multiple channels from each tuner, as long as they are on the same multiplex (there are 6 MUXes in total in the UK, I think).
It has a lot of features, including manual record. (Many DVRs will only record from the EPG data).
Mythbuntu is a MythTV dedicated distro, which reduces the complexities of installation, and can run as a liveCd.
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Postby roseway » Tue Oct 16, 2012 6:22 am

There are specialist distros to help with the detailed work of setting up a PVR. Two or three years ago I built a PVR using Mythbuntu, and the way this distro was set up made configuring MythTV a lot easier than setting it up from scratch.
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Postby bobthebob1234 » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:27 pm

+1 for Mythbuntu.

Setup not as complicated as some make out (for freeview at least, satellite is a little more complicated) (or I have just done it too often!), many tutorials out there, and LXF has done features on it to.

If you get a new computer to run everything couple of points from experience;
- Gigabit network card - 100mb will quickly get saturated if streaming multiple HD videos around
- Large hard drive - I'm 50% of 3tb so far (although I have put all my DVDs on it to)
- Quiet - if it is going under the TV
- Multiple PCI slots - allows you to have lots of tuners :D
- Cooling - lots of it, and where you locate the computer too - my tuners at least can get a touch hot!

[edited to add an extra o ;-)] towy71
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Linux PC as PVR - suggestions / recommendations

Postby e_james » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:30 pm

Thanks to all for your comments.

A couple of days ago I dug out some usb tv tuners I have had for some time. Only one is digital - Kworld UB424-D. I booted up the eeePC X101CH in Windows 7, plugged in the tuner, installed the drivers etc., scanned for digital channels and made my first recording. There were a few false starts and misunderstandings but, in total, the process took about 1 hour. At this time the eeePC X101CH doesn't work well with Linux - apparently the video hardware needs at least the 3.3 kernel. The UB424-D is not supported by Linux. So I need to buy a new PC or PCs. Netbook, laptop, nettop or desktop? and I need several digital tuners (suggestions?). Assuming, for the sake of argument, that I decide on one large PC, I expect that it will take at least a day's work to discover what I don't understand about installing MythTV.

When I wrote my original post I had forgotten about MythTV. I can't remember exactly but around 2009 I tried to install MythTV in ubuntu. I did manage a wobbly black and white picture with no sound at that time. Since then, I have never got any tuner to work with linux - often because it wasn't compatible. I have since decided that the first priority is to verify that the tuner is actually functioning. In order to do that I need simple reliable software and I think I might have found one - "Me TV".

I don't have a spare room available where I can set up a desktop computer and play with it for a few days. When the analogue equipment becomes redundant, there will be some space available for the new digital equipment which I hope will be ready for use at that time. In the meantime I think a new Linux compatible netbook and some usb digital tuners will allow me to experiment and discover what works and what doesn't. There's only seven days to go but I do have the fallback position of using Windows.

bobthebob1234

I take your point about hard drive space. I have an empty 4 bay NAS box waiting to be used and 3 unused 3TB sata drives although some of that capacity is earmarked to replace an untidy collection of smaller drives. My next project is to devise an acceptable backup strategy for that amount of storage.

More comments, suggestions and recommendations are welcome. I will add my own when I have something to say and the time to write it down.
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Re: Linux PC as PVR - suggestions / recommendations

Postby nelz » Tue Oct 16, 2012 9:01 pm

e_james wrote:At this time the eeePC X101CH doesn't work well with Linux - apparently the video hardware needs at least the 3.3 kernel.


3.3 is quite old now, I'm using 3.6.2 here, so it's just a case of installing a recent enough kernel.
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Postby gn2 » Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:39 am

I too faced this problem. some time ago.
My choice was to reject the PC/Linux route and go with Freesat and a Humax Foxsat PVR.
It works perfectly, totally fuss free and very simple to use.
It has SCART outputs so can connect to older TVs or using an RF modulator and co-ax send feeds to other rooms.
You can transfer recordings to external storage by USB and watch them on other computers or modern TVs with USB and media player features.
It can record two channels and display a third at the same time.
All things considered in my view its an excellent piece of kit which I would have absolutely no hesitation in strongly recommending.
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Postby wyliecoyoteuk » Wed Oct 17, 2012 8:30 am

Cheapo USB tuners are not really the ideal path.
My Hauppuage dual tuner PCI card works well (even though it is 2 USB tuners on a PCI card) .
If you want HDTV, there are a couple of HD PCIe ones available that are supposedly compatible with Linux, but I haven't tried any.

If you want distributed TV, MythTV can do that, and you just need one PC with tuners in.
Depending on resolution and load, you may need a multi-core PC for the backend, and a gigabit network card.
I manage fine with an AMD dual core and 4 Gb memory, and it can stream SDTV to 2 PCs while recording and playing in the living room.

I must admit that the vagaries of DVD copy protection made me buy a cheap DVD player for the odd occasion that I watch DVDs.
(I tend not to watch a DVD more than once, so I've never ripped any to the hard disk).

I don't posess a TV, all my TV watching is done on monitors, mainly on the big one in the living room.
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Postby purplepenguin » Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:06 pm


I don't posess a TV, all my TV watching is done on monitors, mainly on the big one in the living room.


what monitor do you use in your living room? I was thinking of buying just a monitor I don't need something with built in tuners or speakers. I keep all my content on my server and stream freeview from tvcatchup via a xbmc plugin.
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Postby wyliecoyoteuk » Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:44 pm

A 23" Hanns-G, has HDMI and VGA
I have it connected to the PC via an Onkyo AV receiver, which also has other video and audio sources.
I find that quite large enough, as it fits in between 2 shelves in my bookcase, so I can hide it behind a painting when not in use
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Linux PC as PVR - suggestions / recommendations

Postby e_james » Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:17 am

Actually what I really want is not to record anything. I want the entertainment industry to do that for me. All I need to do is look it up and play it. Anything ever recorded at a time of my choosing. I suppose I must expect to pay something for such a service but then I wouldn't have to worry about hard drives and backups and cataloguing etc. It surprises me that the industry hasn't noticed that this strategy gets rid of the copyright issue because the customer doesn't store anything. Instead of selling content in the form of songs or movies, they sell the service of managing and distributing the content - everybody's happy. What forces me to record is the schedule. What interests me is only available at a certain time or for a limited period.
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Postby nelz » Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:16 am

Isn't that what the various streaming services offer. Netflix, Lovefilm, iPlayer and others all offer this service. There are two main disadvantages - the market is fragmented so you have to subscribe to multiple services for decent coverage and none of them support Linux because they are heavily DRMed.

With sufficient hard rive space in a MythTV box and some category based rules, I can ensure that most of the programmes I like are recorded. It also means plenty of stuff I don't want to watch is also recorded, but the delete button is easy to press.
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Postby wyliecoyoteuk » Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:38 am

Same here.
Mind you, the range of stuff I record is steadily shrinking, and I find a lot of what I record never gets watched before being deleted.
That is not auto delete due to lack of space, but just because I tend to record a whole series and delete it if the first one or two episodes are rubbish, or I record a film and delete it after watching 10 minutes. Plus I rarely keep anything after watching it, so seldom do I want to watch it more than once.
I have a 1TB disk which has never got above 45% full.
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