I recently came across this story on Slashdot and it really got me interested in the whole PVR scene. To be honest I didn’t really know this sort of application even existed. Sky launched a product recently called Sky+ which gives this type of service but you have to have their digital package to start with. When you add it all up it’s pretty expensive, particularly if you don’t want all the extra channels that comes with the Sky Digital package.

After reading through the MythTV website and seeing what it could do I decided to see if I could get my own PVR up and running. The first decision I had to make was what Linux distribution to use. I already had Debian installed so I thought that might be a good start. I gave up on this pretty quick though because I had issues with package dependancies. Then I came across KnoppMyth. I don’t know why but every time I tried booting the CD it kept crashing. I tried a few times but gave up after a while. Eventually I came across this website (commly referred to a Jarod’s MythTV guide). It explains how to install MythTV on a Fedora system. It seemed to offer really good and detailed instructions so I went with it.

The next decision was what Tuner to go with. I already had an ancient Hauppauge Wincast card but I’m a glutton fot technology and I really liked the sound of the new Hauppauge PVR-350. After looking around a number of shops the cheapest I could find was at Amazon.

Here’s my hardware lineup…

  • Dell Dimension 4550
  • CPU: P4 2.8 GHz
  • Memory: 256MB
  • Video: ATI Rage 128 Pro Ultra
  • Sound: Intel 82801DB-ICH4
  • Tuner: Hauppauge PVR-350

The first task was to install Fedora. I’ve installed quite a few distributions in the past but I hadn’t installed a Redhat distribution in years. I have to say, their install program is really good, by far the best I’ve seen. The whole install process was very quick and easy. The only problem I had (and I always have this problem with Linux on this machine) was getting ALSA (for sound) to work. The acid test was to see if I could get any sound by issuing this command…

/usr/bin/aplay /usr/share/sounds/KDE_Startup.wav

These are the changes I had to make…

  • Added this alias sound-slot-0 snd-intel8x0 to /etc/modprobe.conf
  • Muted everything in ALSAMixer except Master, Headphone, PCM. Set these to 74
  • Disabled the KDE sound system, aRts (it seems to hold on to the sound device) Control Center->Sound System->Enable Sound System

After I got sound working I followed Jarod’s guide to the T. Everything went pretty smoothly but there were a few hiccups. I’ve summerized most of what I came across below.

  • In the section “Running X on the PVR-350’s TV-Out” there’s s section on rebuilding your system’s initial ramdisk. Before running the script /sbin/mkinitrd-ivtv I had to edit it. I replaced the string tveeprom with tveeprom-ivtv.

  • I’m on NTL’s basic package so when I was setting up the channels in mythtvsetup these are the channels I used.
    Channel Frequency ID XMLTV ID
    RTE1 A11 rte-1.rte.ie
    RTE2 A6 rte2.rte.ie
    TV3 A9 tv3.ie
    TG4 A15 tg4.ie
    BBC1 A17 northern-ireland.bbc1.bbc.co.uk
    BBC2 A18 ireland.bbc2.bbc.co.uk
    UTV A13 utvlive.com
    Channel 4 30 channel4.com
    E4 21 e4.channel4.com
    Sky 1 A19 sky-one.sky.com
    Sky News A24 sky-news.sky.com
    MTV A21 mtv.co.uk
    Discovery 34 discoveryeurope.com
    Nickelodeon A22 nickelodeon.co.uk
    CNBC A32 europe.cnbc.com
    Setanta A20 1.setanta.com
  • One of my biggest problems was getting MythFrontend sized & positioned on the screen so that I could see all the fields & buttons. To correct this I went to the screen Utilities/Setup->Setup->Appearance->Screen Settings. These are the values I entered…
    GUI Width: 662
    GUI Height: 545
    GUI X Offset: 38
    GUI Y Offset: 10
  • My next problem was positioning the on screen display (OSD). What was happening was that the channel name and program information were half on screen and half off screen. After some reading I found that the problem was due to overscan/underscan. To correct this problem I went to the screen Utilities/Setup->Setup->TV Settings->Playback->Overscan. These are the values I entered…
    Vertical over/underscan percentage: 4
    Horizontal over/underscan percentage: 4
    Scan displacement (X): -8
    Scan displacement (Y): 0
  • My final problem was that the EPG wasn’t centered on the screen. To fix this I went to Utilities/Setup->Setup->Appearance->Screen Settings and ticked the box marked “Use GUI size for TV playback”.

Now that I’ve finally got my Myth box up and running there are only four remaing issues that I can’t seem to fix.

The first of these is channel changing. It’s taking about 3 to 4 seconds to go from one channel to another. Apparently this is normal behaviour. It’s to do with the way MythTV buffers the your TV signal. It’s a real pain though.

The second problem is that when you exit the program guide you get a black screen. You can still hear the TV but there’s no picture. To get it back I have to press a key on the remote that will refresh the screen, e.g. change channel, show program info.

The third issue is that I can’t get teletext. This is something to do with the PVR-350 I think.

My final issue is that I can’t control sound output from MythTV. What this means is that I have to use the TV’s volume controls. This works of course but it does mean I need two remotes, one for MythTV and one for the TV.