MythTV: The Free DVR
MythTV's price can't be beat, but caveats and a learning curve need to be considered.
MonolithMC HD
The MonolithMC HD is an out-of-the-box MythTV option for consumers.
April 16, 2007 by Ben Hardy

MythTV is an open source Linux/Mac OS X software application that, when installed with all its components, becomes a home entertainment center, complete with digital video recording (DVR), media streaming, and a host of other capabilities. It’s a free alternative to DVRs and media centers, and it’s constantly updated via add-on modules developed by the MythTV user community.

Once installed, MythTV brings many of the same features as a cable-company-issued DVR. Basic, recognizable features include the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward live TV. With the proper hardware, dual tuner cards allow for multiple simultaneous recording; a slick user interface and menu interfaces with electronic program guides, enabling shows to be browsed, selected, and recorded by any number of criteria, including genre and actor. With available plug-ins (e.g. MythVideo, MythMusic, MythDVD), the MythTV media center can store, manage, and stream music and video files.

How to Get MythTV: The Hard Way
There are two ways to get MythTV working in your home. The hard way is to build a machine with all the minimum hardware requirements and then go about the somewhat arduous task of installing and configuring MythTV on that machine.

“MythTV is a an open-source application that was written for developers, by developers,” says Andrew Barbaccia, creator of the Monolith Media Center, one of a few units available on the market pre-configured to connect to TVs and home networks and run MythTV virtually out of the box. “Installing the application on your own is a process,” he adds.

To wit, one must first build a system with the necessary hardware. To assist the DIYer, MythTV creator Isaac Richards has set up, an online resource with the necessary downloads, FAQs,  and step-by-steps needed to assemble a MythTV machine.

It’s important to note that choosing MythTV over TiVo or another DVR isn’t a casual decision, especially for novice DIYers and folks unfamiliar with open-source software. As Barbaccia notes, MythTV is a developer-driven application with a learning curve.

How to Get MythTV: The Easy Way
For the average consumer not versed in the language of Linux, coding, and PC assembly, there’s an easier way to have your MythTV and use it, too. Entrepreneurial types like Barbaccia have discovered a niche market selling MythTV-ready media center units to those who can’t be bothered to build one on their own. Barbaccia, a senior at Penn State, says he ships about three or four Monolith Media Centers a week. “It started as a project to build my own TiVo,” says Barbaccia.

The Monolith Media Center comes in three forms:

  • The entry-level Monolith MC has a single analog TV tuner, a 200GB hard drive, and a DVD recorder.
  • The MonolithMC DT has two analog tuners, which lets the user record two shows at once. The DT also has a 200GB hard drive and DVD recorder.
  • The high-end MonolithMC HD has specs similar to the DT—dual tuners, 200GB hard drive, DVD recorder—but it can also record the unencrypted over-the-air (OTA) or QAM HD channels, which include the local broadcast channels (ABC, NBC, etc.). Note: Premium HD channels (ESPN, Discovery HD) are encrypted and cannot be recorded with the MonolithMC HD.

All units allow for upgraded hard drives (up to half a terabyte) and RAM (up to 1GB). Prices range from $699 to $999.

“The MonolithMC takes the developer out of the equation,” says Barbaccia. Monolith owners don’t need to worry about the every-changing face of MythTV, either: each unit automatically checks for updates to the application and will alert the owner in the event of an operating system update.

MythTV Support
MythTV doesn’t offer a tech support hotline to call when the going gets tough. There is, however, a large and growing community of MythTV users and contributors who have set up Web sites, forums, and FAQs for the ambitious DIYer. There’s the aforementioned, which features a discussion forum for users (subscription to the list is required) and a wiki-powered section with a nice layout and easy-to-find information.

Users can also drop by, another user-driven resource site with international technical support forums. French, Spanish, German—it’s all written here.

There’s also a couple books on the subject worth checking out: “Hacking MythTV” and “Practical MythTV: Building a PVR and Media Center PC” are both available through Amazon.

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Ben Hardy - Contributing Writer
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.

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