Linux Media Center

After a long time thinking about it, I’m finally decided to use a computer as my media center. I already have a DVD recorder, which uses Windows as OS and, of course, which fails a lot :-( , and that every time it loses the signal for a single millisecond, it hangs, and you have to reboot it by plugging it out. Also, I’ve been using a USB hard disk, which has “media center” capabilities, but which doesn’t accept all video files I have, even though I first test them with mplayer on my Linux box, where they work. Also, I use only once in a while my HI-FI system, given I listen to music on the computer most of the time. So, it’s time for a change, and for removing lots of wires and hardware from my living room :-)

But I still have some doubts that, I hope, dear lazyweb can help me solve:

  1. I’ve tried the S-video output on one of my servers, and it worked great with the S-video integrated in the graphics card. Since I need to buy a new computer for this media center, I assume all graphic cards with S-video output integrated would work the same way, right? That is, I just need to configure X for the TV output, no need to use atitvout or anything similar, right?
  2. For audio output, what would be the best way? Using separate speakers, or buying a cable to connect the audio output of the computer to the input on the TV? I’ve got a very good 5:1 sound system on my desktop machine, but of course I’d prefer to keep it on my “office” room, where I’ll still be listening to music for hours every day.
  3. As for software, I’m going to use MythTV unless someone convinces me there’s something better. MythTV seems to include everything I need (recording, TV, DVD, Music, … even a web browser), and seems to be quite healthy from what I heard.
  4. As for normal computer usage on TV, my previous experience is that it’s quite hard to read the fonts on the TV, and since the only screen the computer will be connected to is the TV, I’m worried I might not be able to do some tasks. On a virtual terminal, on text mode, it’s not perfect but you can read it quite well, but on the graphical mode, it’s quite hard to read. Is there any solution to this?
  5. I have bought a Pinnacle PCTV 400e, which is the only one I’ve found that can be used for the satellite antenna cable I have. I’ve read people with good experiences with this, but I’d love to hear more opinions.

Any other pointers, ideas?

11 thoughts on “Linux Media Center”

  1. Well, you can use everything you want and in fact until know I tried MythTV, Freevo and VDR. From my experience VDR is the far best of a stand-alone system and gives the best “consumer electronic”-fealing.

    Of course it only works if you use a DVB card and setup is far easier when you use a full-features one but as you have satellite, I guess you have DVB, too. With a full-features card you neither need X, nor any powerful hardware. And as those cards have a audio/video output, you don’t have to care about output signals and can connect directly to your TV.

    The drawback is, that the audio (mp3, etc.) support is possible not as great as it is on other media systems as they concentrate more on the TV/DVD/Video tasks. Video playback is done by mplayer.


  2. Im personally old good VDR. Its best program for managing DVB card, run as server and client (you can schedule recording programs), revind, etc. And it has long history, so its optimised to run on low end hardware. It has ability to use SoftCAM(maybe not legal, but in my opinion I can use ‘air’ as I want, and nobody can force me to pay for it). The minus can be complicated configuration(caused by complxity, and modularity of vdr), and theres no vdr patches for new xine (but ubuntu edgy eft provides vdr, and older xine especially for it)

  3. Hi Rodrigo!

    #1 If I were you I wouldn’t buy an ATI for Linux. NVIDIA has better drivers by far, although I didn’t prove S-Video with any card I had.
    #2 The cheapest method is connecting PC output to TV input with an audio cable. The problem with that is that you must turn on TV to listen your music. The best way is a good audio card with optical output and a speaker system that supports this method. Optical is the best way since it’s only one cable from PC to speakers, but there are other systems. The matter is that audio card support is not very good in Linux (for high level card, I mean). Maybe you can think about that later and just connect in the cheapest way to the TV
    #3 I can’t help you about it. I use Zattoo ( to watch TV via streaming and it’s awesome and free :)
    #4 It depends on your TV, if it support HD, you image can be even better than in a VGA monitor. I fact, many monitors of these TV screens has VGA inputs which can offer a very high quality.
    #5 Again, I can’t help you with that since I don’t have any TV tuner card.

    Have luck!

    Tampoco soy un experto en el tema, simplemente es lo que yo puedo aconsejarte :)

  4. I can confirm that it’s easy to setup S-Video out on NVIDIA cards (though you’ll need to use the proprietary driver, not the free one). I would agree that buying an ATI card would be a very dumb idea.

    I use Freevo on my HTPC purely because MythTV hangs it solid. I don’t know why, it’s some quirk with the graphics card. Freevo *works* great: the trick is *configuring* it, which since the configuration files are in pure Python and are not brilliantly documented can take anything from several hours to a week. But once you get it going it will truck along great, and is easily usable by people who know nothing at all about computers.

    Audio – depends what you have available. I use a Chaintech AV-710 (it’s a cheap card with a bit-perfect SP/DIF output), connected via SP/DIF to a Pioneer receiver, which is connected to my speaker setup. All my other equipment (Playstation, Wii, cable box etc) is connected to the same receiver. However you do it, I’d say what you want is to set it up so all your equipment uses the same output. I wouldn’t buy separate speakers *just* for the computer, it gets messy. Since you seem to have a hi-fi setup in the same room, can’t you connect the media PC into that? It would seem to be the sensible way to do it.

    4 – run at a low resolution. I use 640×480. This is all a standard def TV is capable of displaying, anyway, so you’re not losing anything.

  5. I have connected my computer in another room to my stereo, and I love this setup, because I can listen to internet radio without having the noise oft the computer that way.

    I use a cheap
    00:0b.0 Multimedia audio controller: C-Media Electronics Inc CM8738 (rev 10)
    soundcard, because this is one of the few cards that can do 44.1 (for music CDs)
    on the digital output without resampling (music is pushed bit-identical to the
    output). Cost me about EUR20, and has optical and electrical SPDIF.

    IMHO that is the best way to go for remote audio, as there are lots of options for
    boxes to hook up to your stereo that will cope with SPDIF digital audio. I use an
    Arcam Black Box for this
    but basically any modern 5.1 receiver should do.

    As for TV output, at work I use a cheap ATI Radeon (7000 or 9250 or something)
    to hook up the computer to a TV set, and it works just fine without too much problems.
    If you connect the TV beforehand, the card mirrors the monitor output (which is just what I want). A bit larger fonts, and 800×600 is quite usable.

  6. I’d like to echo Steve-o’s comments.

    Without knowing the capabilities of the TV you have, (presume it is a CRT with s-video as it’s best input, i.e. no progressive, not hd, no vga in) an n-vidia card (or even an Intel video chipset possibly, not tested) is probably your best option for getting video to the TV. There are a variety of other options as well. My own mythbox runs vga into a video projector.

    Audio will always be a matter of discussion as to ‘what’s best?’ Long runs of cable to the TV or a tuner are not your friends in the analog world. They are also not preferred in digital, but you may end up with better results than having a PC next to the TV.

    Speaking of a PC next to the TV, if you really are just interested in s-video and analog audio, you may want to think about using a Haupauge MVP thin client. I needs a dhcp server that also acts as a tftp server, so the cable router is out as a dhcp server, but you end up running a single cat 5 cable run from the mce at the tv to the computer. It doesn’t work directly with wifi, but with an ethernet-wifi bridge you could even do without that cable. (Remember however don’t use anything slower than 802.11g. a, g or n should all be fine)

    If your TV supports stereo in, that’s the easiest destination for your audio cable. It will be limited to stereo however, so your 5.1 out isn’t going to do a lot of good. If you have a home theater audio setup in the TV room, feeding it from the digital out of the spidf interface of the audio card will give you better surround audio, but you will end up with having to turn on both the stereo and the TV for best movie experiences. However if you just want to play audio, you can do so without having to have the TV on as a result.

    MythTV supports separate front and back end systems. You can use something like a MCE initially, or a fairly low end system that some people would even consider throwing away. With a few exceptions for standard TV, (PAL, NTSC, SECAM) you shouldn’t need any more than a 400-500 mhz processor. I would recommend faster if you want to use some of the music player’s visualization modes. You can get by with even slower if you use a video card that has hardware mpeg decoding built in.

    The Knopmyth Wiki is a great place to find out more about setting up specific hardware, and what tuners work well, etc. Start at the knopmyth site, and in the links page jump to the wiki.

  7. I use a Linksys NSLU2 [1] as media hub. It runs mt-daapd [2], wizd [3] and oxyl~box [4]. mt-daapd serves music only via DAAP (iTunes) share, the latter two are video servers that serve the content up to my Pinnacle Showcenter 200 [5]. I also use a RoKu Soundbridge [6] as audio client. The setup isnt 100% foolproof, but the server progs are all open source, and you can also use oxyl to serve up to anything running VLC to stream the content.

    The upside is that i can have my NSLU2 and the harddisks far away from the living room, and thus keeping it quiet. The Showcenter 200 has no moving parts. Oh, and it has digital audio outputs, so DD / DTS all go well too :)

    [4] – german only, but forums are intl.

  8. Hi, I have been rolling my own mythtv opensuse RPMs for about 2 years now. My SPEC gets the latest svn. Check the above link to get to it.

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