Finding the right mediacenter for my needs

Introduction
xbmc logoCombine all the media one

    has (television, pictures, movies, sound fragments,…), and think about the number of devices one needs to have. A computer for viewing those foto’s, where some media fragments and pictures are located. Then we have our hifi set for our cd’s & dvd’s, maybe even a tuner for the satellite connection. In the old days there was even a VCR involved… In my mind WAY TOO MANY devices! So I went looking.

    The first move I made in this area was to transform my old XBOX to a media center. The software I used for this was XBMC (Xbox Media Center). But this setup turned out to have two disadvantages:

  • Legal : Microsoft isn’t too fond of the project, and it balances on the line between legal & illegal. Therefor the software isn’t easy to obtain, as one needs (read: should) to compile it theirselves.
  • TV : There is no direct TV option in XBMC. One would be able to create an integration using uPNP, but then again… it wouldn’t be “native”.

So I had my tv tuner & my xbox for all my media needs… But being human, I still wasn’t fully satisfied. 😉

Choose a provider
My personal preference always tends towards products of alternative vendors instead of the mainstream ones. There are two reasons which trigger this for me:

  • Price : They are mostly cheaper than the market leaders.
  • Competition : Competition results in innovation. Someone (or some company) who’s in a monopoly doesn’t seem tended to innovate much, but instead will revert to just raking in the money.

There are currently three players in the television market

  • Telenet : providing analog (almost deprecated) & digital television thru cable
  • Belgacom : providing idTV/ipTV over (their own) adsl connection
  • Tv Vlaanderen : digital satellite provider

So I choose the cheapest and only open player on in this market, being:
Tv Vlaanderen
They are the only one that allow the usage of your own hardware. Where Telenet & Belgacom both do the “vendor lockin” as they are accustomed to being market leader in the originating segments.

The requirements
The setup I wanted needed to support the following:
Functional

  • Watch LIVE tv (local & extended)
  • Record TV shows
  • View videos & clips
  • View my photos

GreenNon-Functional

  • Stable
  • Performant
  • Silent
  • “Green” (low power consumption)
  • A high Waf

Finding the right mediacenter
The options
Check Eirik Solheim’s blog for “The media center software list“. It’s a very good list of the options available. After checking the requirements versus the given products, I was left with three options:

The MythTV attempt
Being the linux enthusiast I immediately jumped towards MythTV. It’s one of the oldest (open) htpc projects running to my knowledge, and it ran on linux. Yet I experienced a lot of problems installing/integrating various components within MythTV. This was mainly due to the fact that I choose my hardware without carefully looking that EVERYTHING was simply supported. Some annoyances that I faces:

  • Getting the TV-out to work with my integrated ATI x1250 : I managed to get it working, but I’m not alone (judging the hits on the related article)!
  • Slow : Even after various performance tweaking, it was still slow. I managed to get a huge performance boost after getting the ATI drivers installed, but still that wasn’t the way it should be.
  • Various issues with my antec case : Patching, recompiling, etc to get a semi functional setup… no tnx 😡
  • Getting the TV channels imported (DVB-S scanning) : Various guides, different methods, none worked… after a lot of janitor work, I managed to get it working.
  • EPG : xml tv isn’t the most simple thing to configure, thank god there are some wrappers for it (check the gentoo forum)
  • CAM : My CAM needed a firmware option, but no options available in linux to update thru a TechnoTrend CI module
  • TechnoTrend remote : Supported? Yeah right! 😉

So in the end it failed on various fronts, where my own annoyances even exceeded the Waf factor!

Next! … Team Media Portal
Team Media Portal Pack Shot ReflectionAfter a week of fiddling with a lot of small annoyances I had to get over the fact that not all things should be in Linux. Ati has come a long way to support Linux drivers, but they aren’t where they should be. But still they manage to provide more than what TechnoTrend & Antec do for Linux support. So I switched towards “Team Media Portal to see if a Windows base would provide me with a better driver support.

  • ATI
    Drivers weren’t an issue, install went fluidly. The only issues that I faced what a bug in the chipset.
  • TechnoTrend
    I got the drivers/utilities installed. Here I must admit that it wasn’t a “next, next, …, finish” situation as one would expect; but the end result is what is should be.

  • Channel Scanning
    Plain simple setup, good gui, top work by the dev team!
  • EPG
    Doing this thru the supplied WebEPG was clearly documented & proved to be a lot simpler then implementing an xmltv integration.
  • Antec Case
    The basic antec software works, but I still have to work on the Media Portal integration. (TODO)

The hardware
For those interested in which hardware I used:

  • Case : Antec Fusion
    PRO: Great design (stylish, low noise, cool), Power Supply Included, VFD (LCD Screen & infrared receiver)
    CON: VFD is designed to work with MCE
  • Motherboard : Asus M2A-VM HDMI
    PRO: Integrated Graphics Chipset (with HDMI), Asus Features
    CON: Ati isn’t supported that well in Linux, 64bit isn’t supported by MediaPortal
  • DVB-S Receiver : TechnoTrend S-1500 + CI Module & Remote
    PRO: Cheap (150€ for the S-1500 + CI Module + Official TV Vlaanderen Mediaguard CAM + Remote)
    CON: Remote only (officially) supported in their own MediaCenter application (free, but not interesting, unless if you want to debug)

Outro
I hope this article may prove valuable for others who attempt the same as I did. One golden lesson here; If you’re going for the Linux variants, double/triple check the hardware you’re going to buy. I mean it;. check for errors too, for every option! Some simple things may keep you busy for several days/nights…. 😉

MediaCenter Together

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