Mar 10, 2008

New Version of MythTV .21 Released

V.21 of MythTV was released the 8th of March. Release notes are here. It has been a while since the last update and the developers have gifted us with many changes. Most exciting to me is the addition of volume groups. This means that MythTV can be set up to manage and record on multiple drives without using RAID or LVM. This means less complexity and the ease of adding or removing a drive depending on your storage needs. Mythweb has been improved and features added like a streaming window you your recordings that can be played in the browser. Another claim is that the frontend memory has been reduced by 75%.

When this is added to the source repositories I will do a review on all of the changes and improvements to give you my take.

Mar 5, 2008

Hauppauge HD-PVR, Mythtv, and the Analog Hole

Update to this article here

I have been eagerly following a piece of hardware from Hauppauge called the HD-PVR because it records HD from component video in 1080i and 720p with a hardware encoder. I first read about this device from the Snapstream blog here. The analog video out of most HD set topped boxes and HD players has been called by the industry as the "Analog Hole". This is because the signal from the component output is not encrypted or protected from recording such as HDCP protects the HDMI digital connections that are becoming the standard recently. There is some sample video and frame capture from these forum threads found at this link. Here is a single frame captured by the device showing the great quality that can be recorded from the component inputs.

I think it is a smart move by the powers that be to push digital (HDCP encrypted) signals are so much better than analog, but the truth is that they are very close if not identical.

The other big problem I have foreseen is that the 2009 analog cutoff is quickly approaching. This means that analog over-the-air is going away which is no great loss since over-the-air and Clear QAM HD is much better and DRM free. The part which worries me is my own opinion that Cable providers are also going to follow the lead and phase out the analog cable channels and reclaim that huge bandwidth that they take up and instead have more internet capacity or on-demand programming. Think about it. Everyone would have to have a digital cable box rented from the cable company and the cable company would be able to sell services on the reclaimed bandwidth; it is a win-win.

So cable boxes and cable cards will be the only way to tune the new channels and you can be sure they are well protected against copying and being used on the consumer's own terms. So far Cable Labs is restricting cable cards to PCs with Vista and a specialized bios and they will never allow Linux and Mythtv to use the Cable Card intentionally. So this analog hole will be the only way to record HD from digital channels that would otherwise be protected by strong encryption that can be dynamically keyed and protected.

This HD-PVR and devices like it would be the only way to record digital cable with Mythtv until the analog hole is closed sometime in the future. I hope there is a strong market for the device and other similar devices come on the market. Here is a release about the device from CeBIT I found today on Pocket-lint.

"The new Hauppauge HD-PVR is a plug-in USB stick with a built-in H.264 HD encoder to view and record HD video on a PC. The package also includes software to create HD disks for playback on a Blu-ray player. The new HD-PVR stick can encode 720p and 1080i HD sources at up to 13.5 Mbps on the fly to the PC's hard disk. "

So officially the HD-PVR will first support Vista and XP but linux drivers could be an option from Hauppauge. Since this device streams over USB someone will make this work with Mythtv eventually. This device solves a problem I have been worried about for a while now. I may even get digital cable!

Update to this article here.

Mar 3, 2008

Everex gPC Mini, The Perfect Mythtv Box?

I found this hardware today on and I immediately thought of a Mythtv frontend. This has the power to be a frontend and backend but hard drive space would be the limiting factor there. USB hard drives would be fine for this form factor and they do work with Mythtv. This mini pc will be very efficient and help offset some of it's cost by energy conservation. I know the full desktop that I currently use for Mythtv takes up much more power than this pc. My budget does not allow the 500 dollar price tag, but it will be interesting when the price on this hardware eventually falls. The Everex Cloudbook laptop is priced around 400 dollars but does not have the higher end specs that this gPC does.

Most sources I have read say that Newegg will be selling the gPC on March 1st but I have not seen it as of today the 3rd.

Everex gPC Mini Specs

1.86GHz T2130
6.7" x 8.9"
1.65" thick
gOS Linux
DVI, S-Video, FireWire, 4xUSB, Gbit LAN, S/PDIF, Card Reader
Intel GMA950 video, DVD burner

Feb 20, 2008

An Open Letter to Netflix: Instant Viewing Hard Limit of 4 Computers

I recently emailed this letter to about the negative experience I have had with their 4 computer limit on "Instant Viewing"

"To Whom it may concern,

I recently have run into your 4 device limit on computers (or installations on the same computer). I had no idea that this was a limitation. I have called and discussed this with your customer support and they have told me about this limitation put on Netflix from the content providers. The customer representative has assured me that "anywhere Netflix could, they wrote this information". This of course refers to the Terms of Service and other fine print areas scattered throughout. This is not a good solution! I am a computer savvy user and I have never heard about or read about this fixed limitation of your service. Why not let the user know about this limitation on the Browse Instant page letting them know to be careful about which computers to activate? Maybe a count of the numbers that are active and some kind of name given at activation that would identify them. Being completely above the board in this area would make it seem like Netflix was on our side looking out for the user. I would not have felt the animosity towards Netflix after blowing away multiple activations on computers that I have reformatted not being aware of this.

Other Suggestions
1. Netflix would be much better off would propose that you first try to work a solution involving an ability to reset these activations through a call to customer service. This would be similar to the way that Apple's Itunes has 5 computers that are active at a time but can be reset in case of a hardware failure etc. The user would then have to reactivate all computers at that point and then choose the 4 he or she wanted to be active.

2. Another way that may help users like me is to offer the ability to deactivate a computer before it is reformatted or sold so that one would not loose an activation. This would probably not be against copyright holders wishes. One could even limit the 4 activations down to one with this ability offering tighter control of the copyright holders content. Just be sure to offer a reset in case of a hardware failure in this case to ward off more angry callers.

Thanks for your attention, "

So if you ask really nicely they will offer a one time 5th and final activation on your account. This would not be repeated in following years. The count does reset Mid-January of each new year no matter when an account was started. The customer support representative mentioned a couple of other tips. Ghosting the Windows drive and restoring does allow one to effectively transfer the activation onto new hardware. He also mentioned that if one got another membership that that would give them 4 more activations. This might be a temporary fix if you are out of luck. You could buy the 8.99 one at a time for this. He mentioned that if one tried to activate a bunch of computers through 2 week trials etc. that the fraud team would investigate this behavior.

Please let me know in the comments of any of your experiences and tell your friends about this!


Netflix response

Thank you for your suggestions and we've passed them on to the product


Feb 12, 2008

VMWare Mythtv Frontend

I just built a really fast machine with a Core 2 Quad Intel processor. I saved a wishlist from Newegg of the specifics of the machine JarkHD Machine Wish List. I keep one windows machine to play pc games and this was my new machine for gaming. I have been annoyed that I could not watch Mythtv from my Windows box. I have tried the alternatives to watching Mythtv on Windows and none of them work well at all. I thought finally I will be able to make a frontend for Mythtv on a virtual machine with this new beast. I have tried this in the past and always blamed the machine for the 1 frame per second performance. I used the free VMWare server 1.0.4 and made a Ubuntu 7.10 virtual machine. When I installed and configured Mythtv-Frontend I tried an HD show I had recorded. Once again the frame rate was terrible so I tried a SD show with the same results. (It was a little better) I noticed that the CPU usage was close to 75% which I have never witnessed with this machine. I have tried this same setup with the VMware tools installed and have had no luck. The conclusion I have come to is the video driver can not keep up with the frame rate needed to watch Mythtv. This same problem is true of the PS3 which lacks a driver for the video card. Maybe VMWare will accelerate the graphics more and this will work in the future.

Feb 8, 2008

Mythtv: Upgrading Ubuntu 7.04 to 7.10 with the Update Manager

I wanted to write a quick note about my upgrade experience to Ubuntu 7.10. Flawless! I saved any of the config files that I had changed for some reason unless they were frivolous. This was the first time I have used the automatic upgrade for a major version change. I have it in my head that when you change OS's, and sometimes when it has just been a long time, that it is better to format the drive and start fresh. Of course this assumption was because of Windows and the ugly registry. The only thing I had to fix was to re-install ffmpeg that I had built with divx and xvid functionality. Basically I went to the source folder and I did a make install again. This cleared it right up.