This weekend I spent quite a bit of time replacing my ailing Windows Media Center PC with MythTV (using the Mythbuntu installation). I am sure it would have been easy enough to start with a clean distribution and install all the needed parts, however, Mythbuntu already has everything rolled in so it was a no-brainer. Overall I would have to say it was a pleasant experience. I did lose about a terrabyte of previously recorded TV since it was stored in Microsofts video format, but sometimes you just have to deal with the collateral damage.
Installation of MythTV is fairly straight forward, but it was a huge change from setting up WMC where it would just automatically detect the tuners and just work. Setting up capture cards in MythTV is not much harder than it is in Windows. The one extra step you have to take is setting the default input for the capture card which in my case was setting the tuner to the default input. Another big difference was setting the channel guide listings. In WMC you just enter your zip code, select your cable provider and it just worked, with MythTV that is not exactly the case, in the States at any rate. The listing provider here will give you a 7 day free trial and after that it is $5 a month or $20 a year. When you compare that cost to the cost of a Windows license just to run your home theatre I know which I would rather pay.
After getting the base system configured is where the real fun begins. I have a 1TB drive installed in the HTPC machine where I keep all of my recorded media that needed to be setup. In Windows, this is a matter of setting the storage to the drive, in Linux the process is a little more convoluted. First I reformatted my drive to an ext3 filesystem and then mounted that to my Linux file system at /var/lib/mythtv (the default location where MythTV stores all its data) and created an entry for it in fstab so it would automatically be mounted at boot. Then I recreated the directory structure on my mounted partition. I also have a 500GB external drives I mounted and set in fstab to use for videos and created a symlink to it from the mythtv data directory. All things considered, these are just basic tasks you need to perform in linux on a day to day basis, but when you are used to working on the desktop these are things you may or may not be comfortable with so you might not be in your comfort zone.
Once everything was up and running it was just a matter of playing around with it. I have used WMC for about 5 years or so, so I was interested to see how I would like it and I was not disappointed. It did take a little getting used to (if you don’t have everything configured just right it has a habit of crashing MythTV front end and you need to restart it), but once you have everything working smoothly it really is a dream. There are a lot of options for setting up your scheduled recordings that I have not really played with in depth, but it is definitely functional and WMC could really take some notes on how to accomplish this better.
However, where this really shines is in the video management. My kids love to destroy DVDs. No matter how many times I tell them how to handle them, always put them in their case, etc, etc, invariably then end up on the floor or playing frisby with them. So to save my investment I started using Handbrake to make a backup of my purchased DVDs and then safely put the discs away so they would not get ruined. When the kids wanted to watch a movie they could go to Movies in Media Center or connect to Media Center through the XBox 360 to watch their movies. I was pleasantly surprised that with UPnP, the Xbox 360 will easily pick up MythTV and allow streaming the videos.
Another huge feature that MythTV has over WMC is the Mythweb plugin. One of the greatest features in my opinion are the TV functions, the ability to view TV guide listings from any computer on your home network. If you want to record a show just find it in the guide, click on the program then schedule your recording. You can also manage your recording schedules and view upcoming programs that are scheduled to record. This is a feature Windows Media Center should have added ages ago. I cannot tell you how many times we have run into the living room to check the channel guide or just to make sure a show was recording. Now we can check from any room with a computer.
Not only can you manage your shows through the Mythweb interface, you can also watch your recorded shows through the web browser as well either as an ASX stream or you can do a direct download if you are not at the house to watch it.
The same applies to your stored videos as well, you can easily watch any of your movies stored on any web browser. If your browser does not support that file type, you can easily copy the url into an application (such as VLC media player) that can play a video from a web stream.
Overall I would have to say I am happy with the transition from Windows Media Center to MythTV. I will not say there were not obstacles that had to be overcome and there are still plenty of tweaks that I need to make to have everything running smoothly. Since I am no longer running Media Center, the buttons on the remote do not always function as they did before, however, after using WMC for years I am sure that there will be a little bit of a learning curve. On the bright side, you can easily edit the configuration of the remote control through an XML file so it is just a matter of spending time to really RTFM and get things working.