Introduction | Getting Started | Installing | Extras | Troubleshooting | Conclusion
MythTV is a "do it yourself" (homebrew) personal video recorder (PVR), which is a device that lets you record and watch television shows. In fact, it is more than just a PVR, it is a home entertainment personal computer (HTPC), also called a Media PC. Yet MythTV is more than a mere HTPC, it is a powerful and functional server computer that can provide users with a wide range of entertainment services. With a functional MythTV, you can:
- Pause and rewind live TV
- Schedule programs to be recorded, and watch them at your leisure
- When viewing recorded programs, you can quickly fast-forward, rewind, automatically skip commercials, and much more
- Play DVDs, VCDs, music CDs, and downloaded audio/video
- Use your TV as a computer (to browse the web, or anything else)
- Play video games on your TV
- Use your TV to play music
- Get automatic regionalized weather reports
- and much more!
MythTV is, essentially, a piece of open-source (and free) software that, once running properly, captures your television signal, records it on your hard drive, and allows you to watch those recordings off of the hard drive at a later time. The functionality of MythTV can be accessed with an on-screen menu system, with a web interface (via the MythWeb plug-in), or via a remote terminal (telnet or SSH). It is open source and highly configurable and customizable.
MythTV, and its related open-source components, are being developed by enthusiastic programmers. Everything is provided in a free and open format so as to encourage others to use the software, and hopefully expand upon it. The good news is that MythTV is free, powerful, customizable, fun to tinker with, and fun to use. It can run on any standard PC, so it doesn’t take much to get started with it!
What's the downside?
- MythTV is still developmental, and as such is not a finished or ‘polished’ product yet. Getting it to run properly can be difficult.
- The fact that MythTV runs on Linux is what makes it so powerful, but to those who don’t have any experience with Linux, this can be a major issue.
- Once MythTV is running, it is very much like a commercial PVR, in that it has an on-screen menu-interface to control all its features. However, MythTV will occasionally require some tweaking and re-working, meaning bypassing the interface and getting to the 'guts' of the system (i.e.: the Linux Operating System you have running behind the scenes).
- You need a spare PC of some sort (although this same PC can be used as a file server, web server, etc.).
- You need a capture card (which can cost $30 to $300, depending what you’re interested in).
Should I build a MythTV?
First, you should only consider building a MythTV if you look upon it as a hobby, and you enjoy tinkering with computers. Don’t build a MythTV simply because you don’t want to spend money on a commercial equivalent (you will just end up being frustrated). If, however, you are interested in a fun do-it-yourself project (that culminates in a highly useful product that your whole family will enjoy), then MythTV may be for you.
Another good point to consider is how much spare computer hardware you have lying around. If you have a lot of spare computer components at your disposal (in your home or through friends), then you can build the hardware for MythTV with very little money. Starting from scratch is also possible, but will end up costing more than a commercial equivalent (of course, your final product may be quite a bit more powerful and feature-rich). Many people who build a MythTV find that they only need to buy a few components (the capture card and maybe a bigger hard drive). If you’re only missing a few components, they can also be purchased second hand (eBay for instance) at a reasonable price. Since the hardware requirements for linux and even MythTV are fairly modest, it doesn’t cost much to get up and running.
Ultimately, the decision to build a MythTV is up to you. If you’re excited about the idea, then no one will be able to stop you.
Alternatives to MythTV
Instead of building a MythTV, you may want to consider alternatives. You can purchase commercial PVRs from a number of companies. Your local cable provider may offer a PVR. The advantage here is that they will likely guarantee compatibility with their listing services, making the transition seamless. The disadvantages are the price tag, and the inability to truly control and customize your system. Other companies build more independent PVRs. The most well known are TiVo and ReplayTV. TiVo is, by all accounts, a well-designed product and service. However, it is expensive (one has to buy the TiVo PVR, and then pay approximately $15/month for continued service), and many question the long-term viability of the company.
If you’re interested in transforming a computer into a HTPC, you can purchase Windows XP Media Center Edition, SageTV, Snap Stream’s Beyond TV, or ShowShifter. These software programs will enable you to use a PC to record television, while still having numerous other PC functionalities available. They are probably easier to setup than MythTV, but are not nearly as powerful. There is also a Mac OS X alternative, purchasing an EyeTV product and using an Apple Macintosh as an HTPC. While the Macintosh option does not have all of the features of MythTV, it does offer the UNIX stability of Linux with a better interface and generally superior hardware to all but the best PCs.
Freevo is another open source software suite that runs on linux and enables HTPC functionality. MediaPortal is an open source media center that runs on Windows XP, and GB-PVR is a free but closed source PVR client for Windows.
Lastly, you may be interested to know that MagicITX is offering pre-built MythTV boxes (no international shipping).
MagicITX no longer exists.
Another solution would be Cosmo Engineering and their MythTV offering