Media PC

Purpose

Our media PC is the household TV. It fetches TV schedules, records digital TV, and plays back movies, recorded shows, and our music collection. Its known as “the myth box” to Wired Mum and I, and just “the TV” to the kids.

Its currently in its fourth incarnation, as it tends to get rebuilt every 2-3 years. Its vital enough to the household that I don’t do much to it once its stable – no linux updates, no video driver updates etc. as more than a day of downtime makes people twitchy 🙂 Our TV doesn’t have a tuner of its own, so we’re reliant on the myth box to tune and record local digital TV.

For those who are planning on building an HTPC, or who already have one, you’ll be aware there are a bunch of requirements which will have to be met by the box which are different to how you choose and buy other computers in the house.  Having a computer in the living room means it has to fit in with the rest of the furniture in there, as well as any other technology.  By that, I don’t just mean it has to blend in aesthetically, but also integrate well functionally, so that the user experience is both familiar, and reliable.  The points which need to be considered are fairly varied – and extend beyond the typical “which case, motherboard, cpu and graphics card should I buy?”, so I’ll leave the discussion there for this page, and direct you to my article on “Choosing the HTPC thats right for you” if you’re curious to know more.

So, back to the topic at hand, our current HTPC.  Here’s the hardware breakdown:

PC Hardware

 

CPU i3-3220  (Ivy Bridge)
CPU Cooler
Motherboard Asus P8H77-M LE
Memory 2x 2Gb sticks of DDR3
Video Card  Zotac GT430 Zone Edition
Power Supply Dell L255EM-01 255W gold 80-plus PSU (OEM – non-standard ATX connector)
Storage Samsung Spinpoint F4 Ecogreen 2TB

A-Data 60GB msata SSD in a 2.5″ adapter box

Generic DVD Burner
Case Antec NSK 2480B (black ver.)

As you can see, this box is fairly antiquated – but its also a good reliable combo which makes very little noise, draws little power, and has more than enough processing power for MythTV.  Myth itself is fairly undemanding – largely because of the Nvidia graphics card, which provides hardware support for not only video decoding, but more importantly, hardware deinterlacing, via the VDPAU libraries.

The cpu, motherboard and memory were all re-used last time I rebuilt the box – the previous rebuild 2 years ago happened because I switched video cards to the GT430, to get enough processing power to deinterlace 1080i files, which the old GT210 wasn’t capable of.  This required a change of case (to fit the passive GT430), and I threw in a new storage drive at the same time.

The audio-out is taken care of by the graphics card too, via the HDMI connection to the AV receiver.

Media-specific hardware

Remote Control Hauppage MCE Remote with usb receiver
TV tuners One DigitalNow TinyTwin USB tuner, and one Sony PlayTV tuner from PS3 (4 tuners total)

The remote is a very important part of the setup, as that’s how everyone in the family uses the TV.

The Hauppage one is our second remote – the first was a generic MCE remote which came with the first tuners I bought, and which lasted us about 5 years before finally the buttons stopped working.  We only have two remotes in the living room, between the Yamaha learning remote for the receiver/blu-ray/tv, and the myth remote.  So there’s no remote clutter, and its straightforward enough that Grandma has no trouble using it when she’s baby sitting.

Yes, we do actually have a wireless keyboard, but its maybe had 30 minutes of use in the last 12 months, and spends its time in a drawer as we don’t need it.  Logging in via ssh, or just using mythweb, is far easier!

Software

TV recording/playback  mythtv
Video playback  mythtv
TV Guide data Shepherd perl script
Operating System Scientific Linux 6

I built the current mythtv setup on Sci. Linux as Centos hadn’t released version 6 at the time, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out the default kernel for Sci. Linux included all the bits for TV, including the driver modules for the usb tuners I use.

The install itself is straightforward, and the system boots straight into the MythTV menu, and never leaves unless we choose to restart myth-frontend (for which there’s a button on the remote).  The guide data script downloads its own updates, and scrapes from various sites once a day on a cron job.

I’ve been tempted lately to experiment with XBMC for video playback – integrating it with mythtv via the remote, but for now the kids are fine with mythvideo, and given its a working system, I’ll leave any experimentation to when I’m planning the next generation.

 

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  1. Pingback: Solid State drives and modding a 5th Gen iPod | My Wired House

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