Thursday, August 27, 2009

PVR fail: Espresso, home

After a day of tinkering with getting my PVR happening on my old laptop, I'm willing to say, "I'm giving up, I'll try again in a few years when the software is better."
I had some problems.
First of all, I was trying two softwares at once. MythTV, on Linux, and GB-PVR on Windows XP. They each had a unique set of problems:
  • MythTV was running pretty smoothly, and I successfully set it to record things on TV, and it successfully recorded them. It soon overwrote them, however, as my hard drive gradually filled up. You see, Myth records everything you watch, whether you tell it to or not. That way, you can pause and rewind what looks like live TV any time you want. It won't keep all the recorded data forever. Things expire, or other things take priority. So at the end of the day, after recording episodes of Bewitched, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, some interview with the original cast of The Cosby Show, and The Family Guy, unfortunately all I was left with was The Family Guy. Even more unfortunately, it was actually an episode of Scrubs. Even more even more unfortunately, it was a clip show episode of Scrubs. Fail. Also, a few things weren't working: firstly, the remote control that came with my TV tuner. If I press, say, the number 2, it comes up in the terminal as "22222222222222222222" until I press something else. With the same remote, that doesn't happen in Windows. This issue is being worked on, but seems a fair way off yet. Might just need another remote. Also, my motherboard isn't supported for waking up the system to record something in the middle of the night. Essentially, I would have to leave this thing on all the time if I wanted it to record something. Scenario: I'm going away for four days, and want it to record The Simpsons. I have to leave my laptop on the whole time I'm gone. That's not cool. Even a VCR can do better than that. Also, suspend and hibernate aren't working. So every time I turn it off and on, it has to be a full shut down. I know from experience that suspend, hibernate, and the remote control (when it's solved) will each require at least an hour of Google-searching, forum-scouring, code-pasting, kernel-building, and head scratching. Or I could give up now and just use the VCR.
  • GB-PVR seems to be a simpler, more user-friendly package. MythTV makes a big deal of its "by developers, for developers" existence, and so the tinkering can go pretty far, and there seems to be about seven places you can go to look through options and settings to find that box you need to untick to make everything work. GB-PVR has most of it in one place. But it has bigger problems. MythTV scanned for channels, and found them. Just like a TV or set-top box or dude-with-an-FM-radio-tuning-knob would. GB-PVR needs to know where the channels are. It needs an EPG source first, before it will find any channels. BUT if it had the channels already it could easily get the EPG over the aerial. This is a quite irritating chicken-and-the-egg situation: it can't get the EPG without channels, and it can't get channels without an EPG. The alternative is an online XML source of EPG data. Unfortunately, the XMLTV situation in Australia is a bit of a shitfight at the moment. EPG data is actually copyrighted, and I assume require a license fee to reproduce. The alternative is to get hundreds of volunteers to manually type in which shows are on and when, every week. Nobody wants to do that. As a result, all the free XMLTV sources in Australia that I found online appear to have shut down. There is one pay service, called Ice TV. I signed up for a free 30-day trial, downloaded a (quite hefty) XMLTV file for the next week of programming, loaded it into GB-PVR...but it still couldn't find ANY channels through my TV tuner card. Maybe it doesn't like my card. I could continue tinkering around with that for another day and wonder why it doesn't like me, or I could just use the VCR.
So I have a few options.
  1. MythTV doesn't like my motherboard or remote control. I could purpose-build a system purely for MythTV use. The cost of this will easily run beyond that of an off-the-shelf PVR. And there will still be no guarantee that it will run as well as I want it to.
  2. Try GB-PVR with another TV tuner card.
  3. See what off-the-shelf PVRs are out there these days.
  4. Just use the VCR, or
  5. Wait for Windows 7.
Commenter Ben asked on my post last week: what do I have against Windows? It's a good question. Windows is pretty bloody annoying most of the time, but at least it works. And Engadget gave a pretty favourable review of Windows 7 Media Center. After experimenting with not-quite-there-yet and not-yet-version-1.0 products I really like the idea of buying something that has been released with some sort of guarantee of being usable by its users. Then again, that was the idea with Vista, wasn't it?

We will return to coffee-related things some time tomorrow. Apologies to anyone who vomited with boredom at the content of this post. I hope you aimed away from your computer.


  1. Interesting post... and I got mentioned :P. Hurrah for that. Now I just need a link to my blog and my life is complete...

    Personally, I'd just go with #5 - wait for Win7. I've been running the 7100 RC since April this year, and I have to say that EVERYTHING just works! I haven't needed drivers for many things - for example, my TV tuner card and USB wireless adapter - plugged em in, recognised instantly, with generic (but perfectly fine) drivers being installed within 30 seconds.

    Then again, what real advantages does this running-TV-through-laptop situation offer? Compare it to a PVR - I know some things, like network connectivity (streaming recorded TV all over your house :P) can't really be done with a normal PVR - but would you ever use that feature? PVR would require less dicking around as well...

    I dunno... they're my thoughts anyway. You could always build yourself a properly designed home theatre PC (HTPC). There are cases specifically for this (Antec ones are pretty nice - they look like another component of your average hi-fi system) and plenty of guides and 'builds' on the net for your perusal.

  2. By the way, could you care to confirm the rumoured Cat Empire album to be released early-mid next year (May 2010-ish)?

    Haha, cheers. Would be great if you could :P...