Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Making my own MythTV box, part 1...

Well, I'm thinking of putting together a DVR. I don't particularly need one - we don't even have cable - but it should be a fun project to work on. Also, I often see something that I would like to record - a show, commercial, etc, because it would make a good illustration for a talk. Plus it will be nice to burn DVDs of our favorite shows.

Anyway, I have my Athalon 1800 Linux box that I really don't use very often. I need to add a lot to make this work, though:

First is a TV receiver card. The main decision here is whether or not to get a card with hardware MPEG-2 compression. Without H/W compression, the CPU needs to do it. My machine can probably handle this, but especially as I plan to use this box for other things as well, I think I'll pop for the extra $40 or so. The Hauppauge PVR-150 seems to be a pretty standard card.

Second, I'll need a bigger hard drive. Right now, I have a 40GB drive in the machine, with about 10GB used. At about 1GB/hr give or take (depending on the quality of the recording) this isn't enough. People seem to like Seagate's 120GB Barracuda drive.

Now I'll need a way to get video back to my TV. I don't wan't to only watch my computer monitor. I have several options here - I could get a TV card with composite video out (ie the Hauppauge PVR-350), I could get a VGA to composite video converter, or I could get a new video card that has composite video out. The first option is more expensive, and the second option I worry about picture quality. I found I can get a good video card with S-video and composite from GIGABYTE for under $40.

I don't have any sound yet - my box has neither a sound card nor speakers. Again I have several options - if I got the Hauppauge PVR-350 sound would be automatically routed back to my TV. This is a tempting option, because it would elimintate the need for the new video card. I would still have to buy a sound card (I think), but I wouldn't have to buy speakers. That makes it come to about the same price (PVR-350: $169, compared to $86 PVR-150 + $40 video + $34 speakers = $160) . However, the audio controls would be on the tv, and need a seperate remote (actually I probably could configure it to use the same remote with lirc). Plus, aftermarket speakers should provide much better sound than the TV, especially since I want to use this box to play mp3s. Additionally, the PVR-350 is out of stock at newegg. So I think I'll buy some speakers.
I don't want the top of the line (I'm not really an audiophile), but I don't want a peice of junk either. So after some minimal research, I decided on a Sound Blaster Live! card and Logitech X-230 speakers.

I need to connect this to my network, and I am in a different room, so I need to get a wireless adaptor. This card looks good.

Ok, we're almost done (I hope - this is getting expensive!). Last thing is a DVD burner. I was surprised to see how much they've come down in price - $40 for a Lite-On DVD Burner!

Finally, I plan to use MythTV software. Theroetically, it would be fun to try to write my own, but we'll save that for another rainy day. For now, I'll use some free software to get this up and running. MythTV seems to be a solid open source package, with a lot of features, plus it runs on Linux, and I want to keep this as a Linux box. Of course I can always try other software later if I feel like it.

Ok, lets tally it all up:
Hauppauge PVR-150 $86
Seagate Barracude 120GB $86
GIGABYTE video card $38
SB card $32
Logitech speakers $34
Wireless adaptor $28
Lite-On DVD Burner $40
Grand Total: $344 Yikes!

In comparison, I could buy a TiVo for $150. But this will not burn DVDs, has much less storage space, dosn't give me better speakers than my TV, plus it costs a an additional $13/month (so after about a year, it becomes more expensive). Also, with a homebuild system, I will never have to worry about any restrictions on what I can record and how long I can keep my recordings. Most importantly though, I wouldn't get to build my own system that I can tweak whenever and however I want. If I really wanted to build an analogous system to TiVo, I could probably do so for a comprable price (cheaper video capture, smaller HD, no DVD, no wireless, etc).

Ok, so now I need to decide whether or not to actually do this. Its a lot of $$ for something we really don't need. I do have Christmas money I could use, plus I'm getting ready to sell some old guitar stuff on ebay. So I can probably convince Andi to let me do this. We'll see. Stay tuned to see how it turns out...

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