Quite a while back, I believe in early 2006, I setup a home personal video recorder (PVR) using a Hauppauge 350 TV Tuner card, a small form-factor system and an old monitor, and MythTV. My MythTV distribution of choice, at the time, was KnoppMyth. However, after one or two scary attempts to upgrade KnoppMyth, and after some recent changes to MythTV, I decided to scrap KnoppMyth in favor of a new flavor: Mythbuntu.
In the last 6 months, driven by some very annoying problems with Fedore Cores 4-6 and their inability to boot on my new desktop machine, I switched all our home PCs to Ubuntu. Specifically, I chose Kubuntu (the KDE desktop version). Ubuntu has been great – easy to setup, easy to maintain, and for the hacker in all of us, just enough to keep us busy. It seemed sensible to switch to Mythbuntu, given that it was clear I needed to upgrade the PVR one more time.
What happened to drive all of this? Two things. Earlier this year, the weather plugin for MythTV stopped working. Lots of folks in the MythTV user community noticed. The cause was ironic, and simple: weather data, read from MSNBC, disappeared when MSNBC changed their interface. Of course, they’re under no obligation to baby the open source community, and the developers of mythweather probably should have seen this coming, but there we were: Mythweather was broken. In the months since, it was rewritten to work with weather.com’s XML weather data system, a more well-defined format. To get this fix, I either needed to upgrade MythTV or download the new mythweather package and compile it myself.
I decided to go shopping at KnoppMyth, to see if I could just get the upgrade from their site. To my dismay, their last update was in May of this year, and the packages available by doing a network update were really behind-the-times.
In addition, a news item on the MythTV website escaped my attention until today: channel data would no longer be available for free from the old provider, and a new non-profit group had been established by MythTV to negotiate licensing of channel data for users. At $15/3 months of data, the initial price tag was a bit much (compared to free!), but I paid it just to support the rapid and effective work of the MythTV folks. However, to get the new channel data service I needed to upgrade. KnoppMyth failed yet again.
So I shopped some more, and found Mythbuntu. Built on the latest test release of Ubuntu, and sporting the usual user-friendly installation, Mythbuntu looked perfect. I put the CDROM into the PVR, rebooted from the disc, and selected to do a new installation. Bye bye, KnoppMyth! 20 minutes later, I had a perfectly configured PVR. I put in all our program recording requests, added a few more (to get some Giants’ baseball games in there!), and we were set to go.
To boot, a few things that never worked well on KnoppMyth worked perfectly the first time with Mythbuntu. One was DVD ripping, which is essential for backing up DVDs and for making on-demand viewing a whole lot easier. That worked immediately, including transcoding the raw DVD down to a small video file with some loss of quality (not noticable on our setup). In addition, when you exit from the MythTV interface it drops you to a user login screen, where you can login as the primary system user or just wait 30 seconds for the MythTV interface to reload. The primary system user has all the programs they need to run – MythTV setup, starting and stopping of the backend, updating of channel data – available at the click of a few icons. Not bad! KnoppMyth made you type all that stuff, and their window manager was some crappy clone of Blackbox that had a thousand useless programs in its menu.
Not bad for twenty minutes’ work!