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Old 10-15-2012, 10:21 AM   #1
e_james
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Linux PC as PVR - suggestions / recommendations


Where I live in the UK the digital switchover will provide digital TV for the first time on 10th and 24th of October. Until now, apart from Satellite, only analogue was available and I didn't want satellite. I have been using my PCs and analogue video recorders to time shift interesting programmes so that I can watch them at a time of my choosing. Because I couldn't test much until the 10th, I have just discovered that many (possibly all) digital recorders work in a way which is much less convenient than the old analogue units. I have already spent significant cash in order to discover that much, and I could easily spend a lot more just to get the new digital system working about as well as the old analogue system.

Currently there are three rooms in the house with televisions and most of the recorded programmes are available either on the TV set or on a computer beside it by means of a variety of strategies including my network. As an example of the sort of problem to solve, consider the Panasonic DIGA DMR-HW100. With twin tuners and network streaming, it looks quite well suited to the task: but, on closer inspection, the only TV connection is HDMI and none of my existing TVs has that connector. In addition, it may or may not have the capability its analogue predecessors have of playing continuously from one recording to the next and the next until there is none left. I have found that facility very useful.

I have now had the thought that maybe, instead of buying digital recorders, TVs, adapters etc., a much better strategy would be to build my own video recorders using small, cheap PCs and suitable TV tuners. I could probably do it with Windows, but I would like to do it with Linux. I have often seen the comment in these forums and elsewhere that life is less stressful if you buy the hardware to suit Linux so that is the reason for this post.

I would appreciate suggestions and recommendations as to what PCs, tuners, distributions and applications are likely to be suitable. For experimentation, I have available at this time an eeePC 901, an eeePC X101CH (currently a poor choice for linux), an eeeBOX B202 and a Kworld usb digital tuner which works in Windows 7 but the software could be better.

Please bear in mind that my experience with Linux is barely beyond the beginner level (especially with video recording) and I don't have the time to learn how to cajole Linux into doing something it's not too willing to do. If it takes a week to set up something with Windows and a month to do the same with Linux, I am likely to go with Windows.
 
Old 10-15-2012, 03:41 PM   #2
jefro
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I admit that providers of tv over satellite and other means do some neat tricks and the hardware is mostly paid for in monthly payments. Hard to beat them exactly.

I use a small amd a6 and a silicondust and it works pretty well. The tuner can be accessed over the network by any computer and maybe some other devices. Stored video might be able to be streamed.

You have to look at the latest video for linux docs for clues to what tuner may work in your area and under linux.


Rant ahead.

Living in the US we have been screwed by the FCC. Most channels used to be received in rural areas when they were analog. Now with digital the power went down 10x and there is no more sort of getting the channel. It either does work or not. No more grainy signal. I used to get VHF channels 200 miles and now I can't get uhf signals with the best antenna 30 miles away. I live on a hill and can see the transmitter and still can't get one of the local channels
 
Old 10-15-2012, 04:28 PM   #3
onebuck
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Moved: This thread is more suitable in <Linux-Hardware> and has been moved accordingly to help your thread/question get the exposure it deserves.
 
Old 10-15-2012, 05:04 PM   #4
JaseP
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Mythbuntu and a couple of HDHomerun network tuners... Coaxial antennas connections. Use whatever PC front ends you want to go to the TV (there might even be a working XBMC version for the Rasberry PI, that could grab up the recorded MythTV stuff,... don't know as my system's not set up like that). Frontends for MythTV run just the frontend part... Windows has a stand-alone MythTV player, at least I heard that once...

I'd suggest LinuxMCE, but the learning curve is too steep for Linux newbies, and the system is more finicky in terms of hardware... think $$$ or £££s.

Recording digital streams is actually easier on a system than analog, because the tuner cards just record the streams (using DMA, direct to disk, if available). Analog tuners require you to transcode... And by the way,... your USB digital tuners probably require a CPU assist,... not the best scenario.

Oh, ... and MythTV has all kinds of tablet and phone support...

The hardest thing about setting it up are the channel scans,... But you only have like 2-3 stations in the UK,... right?!?!

By the way,... 10th-24th,... You must be in N. Ireland, then?!?!

Last edited by JaseP; 10-15-2012 at 05:18 PM.
 
Old 10-15-2012, 05:35 PM   #5
serafean
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Hi,

I have a home server which receives TV through a USB tuner. This tuner is managed by tvheadend which supports network streaming (via http or a custom binary protocol named htsp). On the display side I have xbmc (which has implemented support for xbmc). The streaming part works perfectly. The tuner doesn't work 100%, but that's another story. All this runs on Gentoo, which isn't suited for you (you don't want to spend configuring).

How it works at home : the server (acting as an AP and many other things) distributes channels over the network, any PC with a properly configured xbmc (which took about 10 minutes) can watch TV.
If I understand your request correctly, this is what I would do : one server with multiple tuners, all managed by tvheadend. And for the separate TVs, I'd create some kind of dumb client (such as with the raspberryPi, or your eeePCs, however I don't know their video decoding capacity).
I am not very well versed in the different "easy" distros, so I can't help much there. For tuner selection, linuxtv.org wiki is quite a good resource. As for hardware, if you want to go for HD video, with x86 I'd say go Intel, with ARM, i hear the raspberryPi works...

If you want to experiment, install linux on one of your boxes, set up the tuner and tvheadend. Then install xbmc with PVR support (windows version here)- which isn't yet in an official release - on any other machine and try it out.

Serafean
 
Old 10-19-2012, 12:39 PM   #6
e_james
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Thanks to all for your comments. Apologies for the delay in replying. I've been researching the suggestions and other ideas as they came to me and I have now made some experimental purchases. Some of you may have noticed that I also posted my question on 2 other Linux forums with varying degrees of success.

http://www.linuxformat.com/forums/vi...=108361#108361
http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2071245

Until now I had never heard of the Silicondust tuner. I looks quite impressive. I have one on order.

I have also ordered -
Acer Aspire One D257 10.1 inch Netbook (Intel Atom N570 Dual-Core Processor)
Hauppauge WinTV - Duet has Dual DVB-T Digital TV Receiver (probably linux compatible)
ClimaxDigital DTV395 USB 2.0 DUAL DVB-T TV Tuner
TerraTec Cinergy T Stick Dual RC Dual DVB-T Tuner USB 2.0 (probably linux compatible)
Dual Freeview Tuner USB TV Receiver & Recorder
Deliveries are expected between 22nd and 25th.

I already have an Aspire One D257 (N570) which appears to be generally compatible with Lubuntu 11.10 but it's fully committed to other work and not available for experiments. Until the new Aspire arrives the most convenient computer for experiments is the eeePC X101CH, which raises some additional questions. At this time it is configured to dual boot Windows 7 starter and Lubuntu 12.04 which has updated to kernel 3.2. With this kernel I now have a proprietary video driver, but if I install it, X stops working. There's probably a simple procedure to deal with this, but the only way I know is to reinstall lubuntu. I could probably speed up the process by making a backup image of the root partition. According to my research, so far, the video card should achieve the correct resolution with kernel 3.3 or better. It definitely works with Knoppix 7 (3.4) although it apparently needs more work because the refresh rate is still listed as 0.0.

I did try the MythTV installation a few years ago with very limited success. I once got a wobbly black and white picture with no sound. It doesn't help when the instruction manual doesn't quite match the actual circumstances and some expert interpretation is required.

So, until the Acer arrives, I propose to try installing MythTV and / or tvheadend on the eeePC just to get the feel of it. Since I have no compatible tuners, I can't test that part of the installation but I could maybe try out the streaming and other features. These are some of the questions that come to mind -

Can I upgrade the kernel and how far and will the result be good enough?
If I upgrade the kernel, what effect does that have on routine updates?
Should I stick with Lubuntu 12.04 (I don't understand Unity) and install MythTV or should I try installing MythBuntu or something else?
What exactly is "streaming"? I suspect the answer to that question is as complex as the answer to the question "What exactly is Linux?". Apart from TVCatchup, iPLayer, 4OD etc., I don't use streaming (I think). Almost all of my recordings are avi files using DivX or XviD at 700kb/s with mp3 audio. I discovered, years ago, that a network data rate of at least 10Mb/s would allow me to play these files from network drives in just the same way as I would from a local drive using Windows media player or Totem movie player and that is what I do.
Do I need MythTV or tvheadend? If I use them, is "streaming" the only option?
Is streaming the only option with the silicondust Homerun?

JaseP
On the 24th I believe Northern Ireland gets the full 6 digital terrestrial multiplexes with 79 channels but my location (Larne) only gets 4 multiplexes and 17 channels unless the aerial is good enough to receive the Divis transmitter.

serafean
It has been my observation over the last few years that the tuners which are commonly available (i.e. recent models), are mostly unsupported by linux, while the models well known to linux are hard to find (i.e. obsolete).
 
Old 10-19-2012, 02:11 PM   #7
JaseP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by e_james View Post
Can I upgrade the kernel and how far and will the result be good enough?
There are regular kernel upgrades, handled by the package management system. For version upgrades, see below.

Quote:
If I upgrade the kernel, what effect does that have on routine updates?
If you upgrade through the package manager, synaptic, it should be painless. I do not recommend upgrading a full system (i.e.; Ubuntu 10.04 upgrade to 12.04). That usually goes poorly. For full upgrades, I recommend a new install, and migrating saves data. Partitioning helps with this. Stick to LTS releases to avoid version upgrades, as much as possible.

I do not recommend modifying your own kernel. Regular kernel updates (within versions) will break things.

Quote:
Should I stick with Lubuntu 12.04 (I don't understand Unity) and install MythTV or should I try installing MythBuntu or something else?
For MythTV, I'd recommend Mythbuntu for ease of setup.

Quote:
What exactly is "streaming"?
Fundamentally, streaming is just pushing the video signal over the network. The local machine picks that up decodes it as necessary, and displays it.

Quote:
Do I need MythTV or tvheadend? If I use them, is "streaming" the only option?
You have options,... MythTV kind of hordes its recordings, names the files based on the channel and recording date, (looks like a string of numbers) and provides the metadata through its frontend, as indexed in its database. To have access to recordings, you need to either be running the MythTV frontend, have copied the mpg files out of the Myth recording directory and renamed (and maybe transcoded) them, or have a program that is capable of tapping into the MythTV mySQL database and playing them right from where they are.

I've never used TVheadend,... So I don't know about how that works.

Other, locally saved, or network stored, files can be accessed by any media center software (like XBMC, for example). Sometimes, you'll have to correct the MetaData,... as these apps "guess" what the file is,... and with Video, often guess wrong. Music is usually ID'd correctly.

You can also copy entire DVDs to ISO files and play them back that way, complete with menu options. VLC is superb for that.

VLC can also pick up the HDhomeruns directly using the HDhomerun gui app. It's not designed to be pretty, and I don't know of any pretty apps for using it for direct TV viewing with it. MythTV is best for that, but that comes with its own overhead.

I strongly recommend that your media center server also act as a SAMBA file server to give platform independent access to all media files. That way, you can access them from any device in the network, as long as it supports SAMBA shares.

Quote:
Is streaming the only option with the silicondust Homerun?
The HDhomerun streams its channels over Ethernet. The PC (or multiple PCs) just pick up the data stream directly over the network. Apps (including MythTV) just pick up those streams and either save them directly to disk, display or transcode them (for smaller files, for example).

Quote:
JaseP
On the 24th I believe Northern Ireland gets the full 6 digital terrestrial multiplexes with 79 channels but my location (Larne) only gets 4 multiplexes and 17 channels unless the aerial is good enough to receive the Divis transmitter.
I wiki'd your location,... beautiful place. And, 4 Multi's and 17 channels won't cause a system built off of 2 HDhomeruns to break a sweat.

You can probably build a makeshift antenna that gets way better signals than some of the commercial ones,... especially if you have attic space and are handy with tools.

Last edited by JaseP; 10-19-2012 at 02:18 PM.
 
Old 10-19-2012, 03:23 PM   #8
jefro
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http://www.linuxtv.org/wiki/index.php/Hauppauge
 
  


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