MythTV: HD

A long while back I found out that mythtv supports capturing video over firewire. The idea is that as long as one has a cable box where the jack is turned on, it will spit out the complete video and audio signal for whatever channel you are currently watching, even if it’s HD.

Although I didn’t think my current mythtv machine (Athlon 1700+) would be fast enough to play back HD, I could still use the firewire connection to change channels instead of my current unreliable IR method. I bought a cheap firewire card, and it worked. So I knew that, one day, I could upgrade the machine and get full HD.

So recently, I dropped 350$ at newegg.com and bought:

GIGABYTE GA-M61P-S3 Socket AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 6100 ATX AMD Motherboard $84.99
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+ $69.00
WINTEC AMPO 1GB (2 x 512MB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 $44.99
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500GB $129.99

The upgrade was pretty smooth. Here are the steps.

  1. Back up the old machine onto a firewire drive. (I ran into problems here because newer ubuntu kernels have problem with firewire, and the old VIA chipset has USB issues. Most people would have no trouble here.)
  2. Rip out the guts of the machine, leaving only the case, power supply, and dvdr drive. (and one of the IDE drives which is 160 gigs and worth keeping.)
  3. Install new mobo with CPU, heatsink, and RAM already attached. Connect the drives. (I had to buy a little molex to SATA power cable, but that was cheap. thanks microcenter!)
  4. Also install old firewire card since mobo only has one connector.
  5. Boot up, see if it works! (I ran into a snag here because I didn’t connect a secondary 12V power cable to the motherboard. The manual helped me figure this one out.)
  6. Burn an Ubuntu CD, install. (So easy!)
  7. Use synaptic to install mythtv, xine, mplayer, etc. (So so easy. The mythtv packages are very nicely done)
  8. Set up new LVM for mythtv data, joining the bulk of the old 160 gig drive and the new 500 gig drive.
  9. Restore mythtv database and mythtv data (it takes a long time to copy 240 gigs of data.)
  10. Wrestle with firewire for a long time trying to get a signal. Peruse the mythtv wiki, which contains good solutions.
  11. Get little things working like lircd, mythweb, my xine script, and surround sound. (I haven’t got surround sound yet, it requires purchasing a little SPDIF bracket and a long toslink cable.)

    It took a full, busy day, most of which was spent copying the old data and trying to get firewire to work. Everything else was pretty low-impact, including such previous headaches as installing mythtv and configuring mysql. It’s still way too hard for the average user, but at no point did I feel like I was breaking a sweat. I’ve spent a lot of time with mythtv so I know where a lot of the “unbreakme” buttons are. I know I have to set this up, or tweak that option… things that should be defaults but aren’t. I’d say 90% of the difficult stuff was because I was transferring old data and had permissions issues. If this was a new install, the only blocker would have been the firewire issue.

    All in all, a day well-spent, and now I can record and play back native HDTV streams like they were youtube videos. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to spread hardware all over the floor.

    Did I mention this cost me 350$? Compare that to the competition.

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